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Lord, I read of the two witnesses, 'and when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them and shall overcome them and kill them'. They could not be killed whilst they were doing, but when they had done their work; during their employment they were invincible. No better armour against the darts of death than to be busied in Thy service.
The City: Its Sin and Saviour
The fact that our Lord was crucified nigh unto the sacred city is a suggestive fact we shall do well to ponder.
I. The Sinfulness of the City. Which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt. Not that the obscenity and visible horror of Sodom were features of Jerusalem, but the sacred city resembled Sodom in its internal and vicious condition. Egypt was the land of slavery and persecution, and Israel had spiritually taken the place of Egypt, reproduced the characteristics of Egypt The point specially to be observed is, that Jerusalem had become thus infamous through the abuse of religious privilege. It was a religious city that was spiritually called Sodom and Egypt; perverted religious opportunity made it pre-eminent in iniquity and retribution. All evils come to their worst in great cities; the evils exist in petty forms and inconspicuous colours in rustic scenes, but the wealth, liberty, numbers, and rivalry of a great city bring them out broadly and luridly. It is a forcing-bed where every vice attains abnormal growth. And when the benign influences of religion are rejected, the wickedness is in the same proportion aggravated.
II. The Saviour of the City. 'Where also our Lord was crucified.' Christ crucified is the one antidote for the city's wickedness and woe, even when that city is Jerusalem. We are not going to cleanse, enlighten, uplift, and idolise our cities without God; and then it will only be through God as He has been pleased to reveal Himself in His redeeming Son. Every sin that blasts the city is condemned in the cross; every inspiration that saves it flows from the cross. Calvary testifies to the everlasting righteousness of God, to His mercy to the penitent, to His sympathy and grace with up-struggling humanity. Only in the cross do we get at the root of the mischief; only there do we find the essential blessing. God is in Christ crucified, reconciling the world unto Himself; and only as sinners find their way to the foot of the cross are Babylon, Sodom, and Egypt transformed into the City of God. 'And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.'
W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 68.
References. XI. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 488. XI. 15. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 29. W. Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 389. Bishop Dowden, Religion in Relation to the Social and Political Life of England, No. 6. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 310. F. T. Bassett, Things that Must Be, p. 72. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 349. XI. 16, 17. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 18. XI. 18. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 362.
The Ark and Its New Sanctuary
I. This vision of the ark in heaven suggests that the worship of God is henceforth to direct itself towards a new centre. Under the old dispensation the ark was a witness to the root-principles of true worship. It contained within itself the mementoes of those facts and truths from which the Covenant tie between God and His people was woven, and which must ever be kept in mind by those who would enjoy fellowship with God. (1) This vision implies that the worship of a humanity regenerated by the discipline of judgment will find its centre and resting-place in the selfsame principles which were foreshadowed by the ordinances of the first tabernacle. The proclamation by great voices in heaven. 'The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,' herald a new and better theocracy; and as the ark of the Covenant was the keystone of the old, so are the truths illustrated by its emblems essentials of the new. (2) This glimpse of an ark in the celestial temple suggests that the new centre of worship is catholic and not national. (3) The vision seems to indicate the growing religious capacity of the race. John implies in this vision that all worship will at last pour itself forth where God has fixed the true mercy-seat, and the places on earth accounted holy will be left behind by the soaring faith of the believer.
II. The Covenant ark in heaven is the pledge of victory and external salvation to the chosen people. Napoleon Bonaparte once said: 'A man must feel himself a child of fortune if he is to brace his soul to fortitude'. That cynical and godless man had probably ceased to feel himself a pet of the Fates when he began to blunder, and brought about, in due time, his own irretrievable overthrow. In presence of the ark of God's Covenant in the ever-open temple, the servant of Jesus Christ may always realise that a resistless providence is on his side, and that he can suffer no final defeat. The Covenant ark in heaven is a landmark of the inheritance which God has promised to them that love Him. The ark of the Covenant seen by John precedes the pilgrim saints into the new land of promise, and asserts their birthright in 'the city whose builder and maker is God'. It puts the patriarchs in possession of that better country which they never found on earth. If we are servants of the Covenant, and in accord with its demands, it is already claiming our inheritance for us. The symbolic ark has been carried amidst exulting songs into its last resting-place. It has passed into the realms of light, and, in view of the one Church in heaven and on earth, waits there till the last weary fainting warrior, the last pale footsore woman, the last halting child, has crossed the flood, and every jot and tittle of the Covenant promise has been fulfilled.
References. XI. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1621; vol. xli. No. 2427. XII. 1-5. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 33. XII. 2. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 290.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany