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THE SIXTH GROUP
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE THREE ENEMIES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Ch. 17-20)
As the fourth group Revelation 12-14) represents the conflict of the three enemies against the Lamb and those who follow him with preliminary indications of their overthrow, so this sixth group, to which the fifth formed a sort of prelude, represents the judgment on the three enemies. In doing this, it does not stand merely at what is altogether general, but goes as far into detail as it could properly do without transgressing the limits which separate prophecy from history. In many respects we have here the most important part of the book before us. The striking clearness and accuracy with which we have here unfolded to us the most important evolutions in the history of the church, during the times which we can now long back upon, strengthens our faith in looking forward with confidence to the one event announced here, which still belongs to the future, ch. Revelation 20:10.
Whoever has attained to a right apprehension of the meaning of this group, he will find it a tabernacle into which he can retreat in tempestuous times. It is capable of affording an inexpressible rest and confidence to the soul.
The arrangement is as follows. In the representation of the conflict waged by the three enemies against Christ and his church, a descent is made from Satan down to the two beasts; but here, inversely in the representation of Christ’s victory, a rise takes place from the two beasts to Satan. In the first beast, again, it rises from the destruction of the two last heads, which, in St John’s time, were still present and future, the two last phases of the ungodly power of the world, in its heathen state, to the destruction of the beast itself. In the time of the Seer, the beast oppressed the church through the medium of the sixth head, the Roman monarchy; and through the medium of the possessor of this monarchy, the great whore, the Babylon of the then present time
Rome. The judgment of the great whore, the destruction of Rome in its property as the heathen mistress of the world, is unfolded in ch. 17. And now the ungodly power of the world must be conducted under the directing hand of God through its seventh and last phase, which, as had already been imaged in ch. 13, by the ten horns on the seventh head, was to possess, not a united, but a divided character, consisting of ten kings or kingdoms. These, as is said in Rev 17:14, by way of anticipation, were to war with the Lamb, and the Lamb was to overcome them. The overthrow of heathen Rome, which is simply and in some sharp features announced in ch. 17, is vividly portrayed in ch. 18. The prophecy as to its matter makes no advance here. The aim is only to imprint deeply in men’s minds what had already been represented in ch. 17. In ch. Revelation 19:1-4, the whole of this first part, so important and consolatory for those who, in the time of John, were sighing under the persecutions of Rome, and struggling with her seductions, concluded by the Te Deum laudamus of the just made perfect, celebrating God’s righteous judgment upon Rome.
This first song of praise of the heavenly church, which magnifies the grace of God contemplated as already past, is immediately followed up in ch. Revelation 19:5-10 by a second, which anticipatively gives thanks for what was still to be done, even to the setting up of the kingdom of Almighty God, and the celebration of the marriage feast of the Lamb; so that it forms the introduction to all that follows. The following portion represents how these anticipations are gradually realized. By means of the two songs of praise the whole of the group is divided into two great halves—the first containing the victory over the enemy, that at the time of the Seer pressed so hard upon the church; the second, the victory over all the other enemies.
First, in ch. Revelation 19:12-21, in further enlargement of what was indicated in ch. 17, we have the victory of Christ over the ten kings, the instruments of his judgment on Rome. Along with these, as the last phase of the heathen worldly power, the ten horns on the seventh head of the beast out of the sea, the beast himself also, the heathen state, goes down, and his tool likewise, the beast out of the earth, the false prophet, the God-opposing wisdom of the world.
Of the three enemies of the kingdom of God in ch. 13, two now lie prostrate on the ground. Ch. Revelation 20:1-6 represents how the third, Satan, is rendered for a time harmless. He is shut up for a thousand years in hell, and allows to the church, during that thousand years, a secure and unimperilled existence.
At the end of the thousand years opportunity is given to Satan anew for seduction; the earth again rises up against heaven; the church on all sides is heavily oppressed; but fire comes down from heaven and consumes her oppressors (“he who reads, let him understand.”) Satan is for ever disarmed of his power, and the final judgment overtakes all, who during the course of time have acted in a hostile manner toward the Lord and his church, ch. Revelation 20:7-15.
Now, since all the enemies of the kingdom of God have been brought to desolation, the opening song of praise has found its realization, the Almighty God has taken to himself the kingdom, the joyful time of the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the only thing that remains as an object for the seventh and last group is, the solemnization of this marriage.
Ch. 17. This chapter, according to the just remark of Bengel himself, divides itself into three parts, marked by the angel thrice commencing his discourse with the word, he spake, etc.
In the first part the judgment of the great whore, that sits upon the beast with the seven heads and ten horns, is shewn. The two others give the signification of the symbol. The first treats, as preparatory to the second, after the introduction in Revelation 17:7, of the beast in Revelation 17:8, of his seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11, of the horns in Revelation 17:12-14. The second treats of the whore and the judgment that is held upon her, Revelation 17:15-18.
Revelation 19:1. After these things I heard as a voice of a great multitude in heaven, who said, Hallelujah! The salvation, and the glory, [Note: The expression: and the praise, which is added in some MSS., and which Luther adopts, has been taken from ch. 4:11.] and the power is our God’s. The saints, who were called on to rejoice in ch. Revelation 18:20, that God had avenged their judgment on Babylon, here express their joy in an act of praise for this great display of his grace. Even from that passage it is clear of what elements the great multitude in heaven is composed, of saints with apostles and prophets at their head. We are led also to the same result by Revelation 19:4, where the four and twenty elders appear as the kind of elite of the great multitude in heaven. To the church of the just made perfect belongs also the great voice in heaven, in ch. Revelation 12:10. So also the great voice that said, in ch. Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his anointed, and he will reign for ever and ever;” and the voice of the great multitude here in ver.6. What more is to be understood of the great multitude is to be derived from ch. Revelation 7:9: “After these things I looked, and behold a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands.”
John hears as a voice of a great multitude. The as, which is wanting in Luther, here and in Revelation 19:6 (as also in ch. Revelation 4:6) points to the visionary character of the scene, and serves to distinguish between what was internally seen and the reality. The expression, “in vision,” in ch. Revelation 9:17, has a corresponding import. It is enough if only here and there allusion is made to the difference between the vision and the reality. In substance these allusions belong to ‘the whole. The powerful voice of the great multitude did not actually sound, but there was only the likeness of it expressed to the mind of the Seer. That an as enters here essentially into the nature of the discourse is plain from the consideration that a victory is celebrated, which in the reality did not belong to the time then present, but to the distant future. In the reality the great voice only sounds then, when God has judged the great whore.
Hallelujah is found in the whole of the New Testament only here, where it occurs four times, in reference to the victory of God over the earth, the signature of which is four. It is borrowed from the Psalms, of which fifteen either begin or end with Hallelujah. In Psalms 104:35 it has its original place; and there can scarcely be a doubt that allusion is here made especially to that passage. It is there said, “The sinners shall be consumed from the earth, and the wicked shall be no more. Praise the Lord, my soul, Hallelujah.” The sinners are the wicked heathen host, that had gathered together against the Lord and his kingdom. By her hallelujah the church of the Lord, amid the great tribulations which she had to suffer from the world, had stirred herself up to faith and confidence; it was the shield which she held up against despair; and now with it the heavenly church celebrates the victory over one of the particular phases of the worldly power. The triumphant hallelujah looks back to that which was of old sung in the vale of tears. The preservation of the Hebrew word, as in the case also of Amen and Hosanna, serves like a visible finger-post to mark the internal connection between the church of the New Testament and that of the Old, in like manner as the “vater unser,” at which only an unchurch-like pedantry could take offence, points to the historical connection between the Christianity of Germany and that of the Latin church (Paternoster).
The salvation, etc. Amid the troubles of this life they had often doubted, whether salvation did then truly belong to their God. That the great whore with impunity destroyed the earth with her fornication, and was drunk with the blood of saints, seemed to be a mighty proof to the contrary. But now all these clouds are dispersed. The destruction of the destroyer, and the redemption therewith connected of the suffering church, has proved the Lord to be the only possessor of salvation. There is an allusion here, as at ch. Revelation 7:10, to Ps. 3:9, “Salvation is the Lord’s.” There the prayer is grounded upon this principle; here its answer is celebrated in the bestowal of salvation. But the whole doxology rests here upon the doxology of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever, Amen;” for the genuineness of which this very passage affords decisive evidence, and shows that the omission in copies, certainly both numerous and important, only arose from its having been omitted by Luke, and from the immediately following context apparently being such as to render a concluding formula out of place. There redemption out of evil is grounded in the power and glory of God, here the power and glory are deduced from the redemption out of evil. We have here the same use of the three as there, only instead of the kingdom, which still had not fully come into being, there stands here anticipatively salvation. But the allusion to the kingdom follows in Revelation 19:6, as also in Revelation 19:3 there is the for ever, and the Amen in Revelation 19:4. The inverting of the order of the words, “the glory and the power,” is in itself a matter of small moment. But the other arrangement: the power and the glory, has here also important authorities on its side. The allusion to Matthew 6:13 has also on its side the analogy of the reference to Psalms 3:8; grant us salvation, for salvation is thine—thine is the salvation, for thou hast granted us salvation; deliver us from the evil, for thine is the power and the glory—thine is the power and the glory, for thou hast delivered us from evil. So, too, is the analogy of the hallelujah, which is also taken from the mouth of the militant church. Then, there is the fact, that even in ch. Revelation 12:10 there is an allusion to the doxology of the Paternoster. After the completion of the work of redemption a loud voice there proclaims in heaven, “Now is come the salvation and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.” The realization of the doxology in the Paternoster is there anticipated by faith. Here it has in part entered in the reality, only the kingdom, the dominion still awaits its full realization. There, too, a three number. While the glory is wanting there, here the kingdom is wanting. There is, again, an allusion to the doxology in ch. Revelation 11:15, where the great voice proclaims from heaven, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of the Lord, and of his anointed, and he will reign for ever and ever.” The expression it has become there, rests upon the it is of the Lord’s prayer. Finally, we should be the less disposed to resist the idea of an allusion here to the first Gospel, since such allusions pervade the whole of the Apocalypse—see, for example, at ch. Revelation 1:7, Revelation 2:7, Revelation 3:3; Revelation 3:5, Revelation 6:12, Revelation 11:11-13, Revelation 14:11, Revelation 18:21. An allusion specially to Matthew was the more natural here, as among the three first Gospels this of the fellow-apostle of John, everywhere occupies the foreground in the Apocalypse; which is a remarkable fact, and fraught with important results. From the thine is in the fundamental passage, we are here also not to render: the salvation, etc. be, but must understand, is. So also, the reading, of our God, is shewn by the fundamental passage to be the correct one, in opposition to the reading: God the Lord, κυριῳ?͂? τῳ?͂? θεῳ?͂? which besides has little external support. The word shoved in by Luther also—the praise—is against the fundamental passage.
The Song of the Redeemed on Account of Rome’s Judgment
Ch. Revelation 19:1-4. In response to the call of the voice from heaven in ch. Revelation 18:20, the church of the just made perfect here celebrates God’s judgment on Rome. First, the multitude of believers come forth praising and giving thanks in Revelation 19:1-3. Then, in Revelation 19:4, its heads and representatives, the four and twenty elders. These are joined by the four beasts, as representatives of all creatures on earth, that had fallen under the dominion of the oppressor of the world. With this full-toned conclusion, the subject of Rome’s overthrow is brought to a close.
Revelation 19:2. For true and righteous are his judgments, for he has judged the great whore, that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and avenged the blood of his servants out of her hand. The truth and righteousness of God’s judgments (comp. ch. Revelation 16:7, also Revelation 15:3), lays the foundation for his being the sole possessor of salvation; his glory and his power, and the general principle, that his judgments are true and righteous, is again established through the true and righteous judgment, which he has executed upon Rome. It is characteristic of true piety to draw the general from the particular, out of facts to provide for itself ladders on which it rises to instructive, consolatory, edifying truths.
In regard to the great whore and her fornication, that is, the cunning policy, by which she sought to bring the world and Christians to destruction, comp. on ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 17:1-2. In regard to the expression, that corrupted the earth, comp. on ch. Revelation 11:18, “and to corrupt (destroy) those that corrupted (destroyed) the earth.” The fundamental passage is Jeremiah 51:25, where it is said to ancient Babylon, “Behold I am against thee, thou corrupting mountain, saith the Lord, who dost corrupt the whole earth,”—the mountain, a symbol of the mighty kingdom. From this fundamental passage, which itself refers to Genesis 6:11-13, it is plain, we are not to think of moral corruption.
The clause, “he has avenged the blood of his servants out of her hand,” intimates, that the offence, of which the faithful had complained in ch. Revelation 6:10, is now set aside. We should compare 2 Kings 9:7, “And I avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord out of the hand of Jezebel.” Along with the resemblance of the matter, the peculiar expression, out of the hand, is a satisfactory proof, that allusion is made primarily to this passage, and only through the medium of it to Deuteronomy 32:43, “He avenges the blood of his servants.” To avenge out of the hand, is spoken with similar pregnancy to that in ch. Revelation 15:2, “to conquer out of the beast.” So long as the blood remained unavenged, she had it, as it were, in her hand, under her power. By means of the revenge it is withdrawn from her.
Revelation 19:3. And they spake a second time, Hallelujah, and her smoke goes up for ever. That is repeated, which was designed to be made emphatic and strong; comp. Psalms 62:11, “God has spoken one word, and there are two, that I have heard,” Job 33:14, “Once God speaks, and twice, though it is not thought upon.” Here the repetition points to the greatness of the fact, which is not attended merely with a momentary result; so that it goes hand in hand with the addition, “her smoke goes up for ever and ever.” Similar is Exodus 15:21, where, after the overthrow of Pharaoh with his host, the oldest type of the overthrow of Rome, Miriam utters a second time with the chorus of women, what Moses had said the first time with the men, “Sing to the Lord, for the sea;” and thus the fact becomes stamped, as it were, with the seal of completion.
The and joins to that, which in Revelation 19:1-2 follows after the Hallelujah, and which is repeated here in thought, though not in words. We are not to suppose, that the heavenly voices only utter the Hallelujah the second time; and that the words, “and her smoke,” etc., are added by the prophet. For he describes only what he hears and sees, and restrains himself from introducing any such intermixture of his own; which would be the more unsuitable here, as the heavenly song of praise is only concluded in Revelation 19:4.
In Isaiah 34:9-10, it is said of Edom, the type of the ungodly heathen world, “Her land shall be burning pitch, day and night it shall not be extinguished, its smoke shall go up for ever and ever.” This fundamental passage shews, that here ch. Revelation 18:9; Revelation 18:18 is to be compared, and not ch. Revelation 14:11, where everlasting fire is used as an image of the torments of hell.
Revelation 19:4. And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down, and worshipped God that sat upon the throne, and said, Amen, Hallelujah. The four and twenty elders, the heavenly representatives of the church, their elite as it were, stand forth, because the multitude of believers had begun the song of praise, and the flock cannot be separated from their shepherds; and also because the point of view from which the matter is contemplated is that of the revenge of God for the blood of his servants. The four beasts follow, the representatives of the living creation upon earth (see in ch. Revelation 4:6), to present their thanksgivings for the redemption of the earth, which the great whore had corrupted by her fornication— comp. Isaiah 13:7, where it is said in regard to the overthrow of old Babylon, “the whole earth is at rest, is quiet, they break forth into jubilee.” We may, perhaps, here as in ch. Revelation 5:8, regard the elders as the only speakers—comp. however ch. Revelation 5:14, where the four beasts utter a similar Amen, as also the angels in ch. Revelation 7:12.
In ch. Revelation 11:15, ss. also, precisely as here, the multitude of believers first step forth, and then the company of elders. But there is this difference, that here the heavenly representatives of the church only assent, while there the theme merely indicated by the multitude of believers is expanded by them. The Amen, Hallelujah, is from Psalms 106:48.
The Amen, Hallelujah, forms the conclusion of the extended and important announcement of the Seer upon the fate of heathen Rome. On this point we have a few additional remarks to make.
That by Babylon, and by the great whore, heathen Rome is denoted, was understood even in the earlier ages of Christianity, during the dominion of Rome itself, and while the fulfilment was in progress; and that, not merely here and there, but by all who followed generally the historical exposition.
Irenaeus, in B. V. c. 30, on the ground of this interpretation, expects the partition of the Roman empire among the ten kings.
Tertullian says, that Babylon is with John the figurative designation of the city Rome, which was as great as ancient Babylon, equally proud in respect to her dominion, and equally, too, a persecutor of the saints of God. [Note: Adv. Mar. III. c. 13: Sic et Babylon etiam apud Johannem nostrum Romanae urbis figura est, proinde magnae et regno superbae et sanctorum dei dibellatricis. So also adv. Jud. c. 9.] Lactantius says, with evident allusion to the Apocalypse, that the announcements of the prophets foretold, under the veil of another name, the immediately approaching downfal of Rome. [Note: Instit. L. VII. c. 15, sect. 17: Quod si haec ita sunt, quid restat nisi ut sequatur interitus senectutem? et id futurum brevi, conciones prophetarum denunciant sub ambage aliorum nominum, ne facile quis intelligat. Comp. s. 11: Romanum nomen, quo nunc regitur orbis (horret animus dicere, sed dicam quid futurum est) tolletur de terra.] Jerome always remains consistent with himself, in understanding by Babylon, the great whore of the Apocalypse, the Rome of his own day. It was not in his view an exegetical conjecture, but he considered it as a matter quite established, and generally recognized. [Note: So he says in his epistle, which in the year 386 he wrote in the name of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella, in order to warn her to flee from Rome to Bethlehem (epist. 46) Lege Apocalypsin Joannis, et quid de muliere purpurata, et scripta in ejus fronte blasphemia, septem montibus, aquis multis, et Babylonia cantetur exitu, contuere. Exite, inquit dominus, de illa, populous meus, et ne participles sitis delictorum ejus, et de plagis ejus not accipiatis. See also his Comm. on Isaiah 24, where he speaks of the spiritual Babylon, whose judgment is described in the Apocalypse of John.] Orosius in B. II. c. 1, represents the Roman state as the antitype and continuation of the Babylonian, and pursues the parallel between the two farther, in ch. 2 and 3, and in B. VII. c. 2. The testimony of Bereugandus was given formerly.
Here we must examine a natural objection to this view, of which no notice has been taken in the preceding exposition. Rome, it is said, at the time of the overthrow of her dominion, had already renounced her heathenism. Is it credible, that God would have punished Christian Rome for the sins that had been committed by heathen Rome? [Note: This point was raised even by Berengaudus on ch. 17:8: Sed dicet aliquis, Quomodo per mulierem meretricem Romani designantur, cum illis temporibus, quando hae gentes diversas clades generi humano intulerunt, Romani Christiani exstiterint. Substantially, too, he gave the right answer: Ad quod nos respondemus, quia per mulierem meretricem non electi, qui ex eadem gente fuerunt, intelliguntur, quippe mundi gloriam pro amove gloriae coelestis contemserunt: sed reprobi sive pagani sive Christiani fueriut. Illorum ergo potestas ab iis gentibus destructal est, qui impia dominatione genus humanum premebant.]
We remark, first of all, on the other side, that at the period when the judgment here announced began to be executed, heathenism still reigned uncontrolled in Rome, and that it continued to have a deep root there when the prophecy was actually going into fulfilment, when nothing but the shadow remained of the old dominion and glory. Constantine despaired of getting heathenism properly extirpated in Rome, and transferred the seat of empire to Byzantium, (see Gieseler’s History I. 2, p. 7). In the days of Jerome heathenism still had the ascendancy in Rome; and according to his commentary on the epistle to the Galatians, Rome was the capital of all superstition—comp. on ch. Revelation 4:3. The Christian zeal of Theodosins was not able to reach its end in Rome, (Gieseler, p. 29). Even in the fifth century it was still the centre of heathenism. [Note: How powerful the heathenish element was at Rome in still later times, strikingly appears from what Orosius relates, in B. VII. c. 38, of the attempt made against Rome by the Goths under Rhadagaisus: Hoc igitur Romanis arcibus imminente, fit omnium paganorum in urbe concursus, hostem adesse cum utiquo virium copia, tum maxime praesidio deorum potentem: Urbem autem ideo destitutam et mature perituram, quia deos et sacra perdiderit. Magnis querelis ubique agitur et coutinuo de repetendis sacris celebrandisque tractatur. Fervent tota urbe blusphemiae, vulgo nomen Christi tanquam lues aliqun praesentium temporum opprobriis gravatur.]
But farther, even with the formal conversion of Rome to Christianity, it did not cease to be the object of the judicial agency of God delineated in this prophecy. For that conversion was in great part a merely external one. The sinful corruption, that had established itself in the time of Rome’s supremacy, continued to work still. It had penetrated so deeply, that the state, as such, was no longer capable of regeneration, and the renewing power of Christianity could take effect only on individuals. The overthrow of the Roman state itself shews this. This could not have happened, if the state had undergone a real revival through the Gospel. The same, too, is abundantly proved by the testimonies of those, who lived in Rome during the execution of the divine judgments. [Note: We have a striking picture of the corrupt state of Rome, especially in the work of Salvianus, composed in the first half of the fifth century, de gub. dei. In B. VI. c. 14, he says: Quae spes Christiania plebibus ante deum est, quandoquidem ex illo tempore in urbibus Romanis haec mala non sunt, ex quo in Barbarorum jure esse coeperunt? Ac per hoc vitiositas et impuritas quasi germanitas quaedam est Romanorum hominum et quasi mena atque natura, quia ibi praecipue vitia ubicunque Romana. In B. VII. p. 134: Prope idem omnes, paene unus gurges, omnium gula; paene unum lupanar omnium vita. See also p. 137, and again, p. 155: Minime minim est, si respublica Romana aliquando patitur quod jamdudum meretur. Haec impuritas in Romanis et ante Christi evangelium esse coepit, et, quod gravius est, nec post Evangelia cessavit.] Materials of another kind had to be sought for the formation of a Christian state; and these presented themselves in the people of the ten kings of the Apocalypse, the Germanic tribes.
But that in the midst of the divine judgments, which alighted on the whole Roman state, as being now incapable of deliverance and full of corruption, the protecting grace of God should manifest itself in the case of individuals—this was expressly announced beforehand in the Apocalypse. For it contains an address, in ch. Revelation 18:4, to the people of Christ, who might be in Rome. At the same time in this book a veil is spread over the future existence of a Christian Roman state, which is to be explained on the ground, that this state was not to be a truly Christian one. That the grace of God, however, did really manifest itself in the way of granting deliverances, may be proved from many remarkable facts in history. [Note: Orosius says, in B. II. c. 3: Hic et Christiani fuerunt qui parcerent, et Christiani proper quorum memoriam et in quorum memoria parceretur. And again, in B. VII. Ci. 39, in regard to the taking of Rome by Alarich: Adest Alaricus, trepidam Romam obsidet, turbat, irrumpit. Dato tamen praecepto prius, ut si qui in sancta loca praecipusque in sanctorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli basillcae confugissent, hos imprimie inviolatos securosque esse sinerent.] To this also it is to be ascribed, that amid the full and complete destruction, which in accordance with the prophecy befel Rome, in her imperial power and majesty, as the great whore, “the great city, which had dominion over the kings of the earth,” still the city itself, which was so often on the brink of entire destruction, continued to stand. It was otherwise with ancient Babylon, whose place can now hardly be discovered, because it possessed none of God’s people.
What was historically realized in the course of centuries is in the prophecy compressed into one scene. This prophetical mode of representation was not understood by many of the older expositors, who perceived that imperial Rome was the object of the threatening. Overlooking the difference between prophecy and history, they supposed, that in the history some single event was to be pitched upon, which the Seer must have had in his eye. Thus Grotius points to the taking of Rome under Attila, Bossuet to the taking of Rome under Alarich. While they thus set in the place of the whole process that developed itself in the history of the world a single section of the process, they gave to the advocates of the view, which refers all to the Papacy, an important advantage, which these understood well how to employ. See Vitringa, for example, in his closing remarks on ch. 18. With such weapons, the interpretation that applied the prophecy to Papal Rome, was not to be driven from the field.
Ch. Revelation 19:5-10. In these verses we have the porch to the building of Revelation 19:11 to Revelation 20:15. A voice from the throne, the voice of the Lord of the church, calls upon the whole people of God to praise him, Revelation 19:5. The church of the Lord responds to this call; by faith anticipating what is to come, she rejoices in the thought, that the kingdom of God has entered, that the marriage of the Lamb has come, that the bride appears in suitable apparel, Revelation 19:6-8. The angel who stood at the side of St John, affirms the truth of the facts, which form the theme of the heavenly song of praise, Revelation 19:9. John is gladdened by this glorious message, testifies his profound regard to him, who had communicated it on behalf of himself and the church, and the angel returns his acknowledgment, Revelation 19:10.
We cannot here think of a continuation of the preceding song of praise, which was raised over the destruction of Babylon, seen in vision as already accomplished. For, apart from the difference in the contents, the preceding scene was brought to a proper close. But we find in other parts of the Apocalypse songs of praise, which anticipate what is to come, comp. Revelation 15:2-4, Revelation 11:15-18.
Revelation 19:5. And a voice went out of the throne and said, Praise our God, all his servants, and ye that fear him, small and great. According to ch. Revelation 16:17, the voice from the throne can only belong to him, who sits upon the throne. We cannot understand it of God the Father, as appears from the call, “Praise our God.” So that the voice must be the voice of Christ, who, according to ch. Revelation 5:6, occupies the space between the throne with the beasts, and the elders; according to ch. Revelation 7:17, is in the midst of the throne; according to ch. Revelation 3:21, sits with his Father on his throne; whence the throne is to be regarded as that of God and of the Lamb, ch. Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:3. We are also led to refer the voice to Christ by comparing ch. Revelation 14:1, where we find the company of the saints in an act of adoration gathered around their Saviour after the attainment of victory; and by ch. Revelation 15:3, where the Lamb sings with his people the song of redemption. It becomes the author of salvation to his people to call upon them to give thanks for it.
The voice cannot be attributed to the cherubim, not merely because they are not upon the throne, but because from their whole position they are not properly qualified for addressing such a call.
It is of especial importance to note, that the voice of Christ proceeded from the throne, as this betokened, that he is equal to God in power and glory. The preceding song celebrated a salvation, which, as exhibited in the vision, had already been accomplished. Here a still higher salvation must be celebrated, which is contemplated even in the vision as future, and only begins by and bye to unfold itself in the portions that follow. The security, that this anticipative song of praise belongs to another sphere than that of pleasant dreams, could only be afforded by the true and proper Godhead of Christ. As the God of Jesus Christ (comp. ch. Revelation 3:12) and of his saints (comp. the declaration in John 20:17, “I go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”), God manifests himself in the most glorious manner, by conducting the church through the severest conflicts to victory and final glorification. [Note: The correct reading is τῷ? θεῷ? ἡ?μῶ?ν ; comp. the הודּ ו לו in Psalms 100:4, and especially Psalms 116:1, where the Hallelujah is coupled with הודו ליהוה . The LXX. have often αἰ?νεῖ?ν with the dative; for ex. In 1 Chronicles 16:36; 1 Chronicles 23:5. The reading of τὸ?ν θεὸ?ν ἡ?μῶ?ν has arisen merely from an ignorance on the part of copyists regarding this Hebraism.] In regard to the words, “all his servants and ye who fear him, small and great,” comp. on ch. Revelation 11:18.
Revelation 19:6. And I heard as a voice of a great multitude, and as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of loud thunder, saying, Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty has taken the kingdom. Bengel: “Here is the accomplishment of what was called for in Revelation 19:5.” On the words, “as a voice of many waters and as a voice of loud thunder,” see at ch. Revelation 14:2. In regard to the βασιλεύ?ειν , to reign = to take the government, see at ch. Revelation 11:17. The full realization of the word is to be found at the close of ch. 20. For, there we see all hostile powers lying prostrate in the dust. The subject of the church’s song of praise is twofold; first that the Almighty has entered on the kingdom, (this here), and then that the marriage of the Lamb is come (in Revelation 19:7-8). The first is the negative side; the foundation of the dominion of God is the overthrow of the enemies (comp. on ch. 1 Kings 19:6); the second is the positive. As soon as the enemies of God are cast down, the glorification of the church breaks forth. Before this, immediately after the atonement of Christ, it is said in ch. Revelation 12:10, “Now is come the kingdom of our God.” What existed there in the germ must now be developed and unfolded, and it is here anticipated in respect to this state of coming development and unfolding. Ch. Revelation 11:17, is directly parallel. We have here no “new stage of what was announced there;” cannot possibly have it, as there already a time was spoken of, when not merely a particular phase of the worldly power, but this power itself was to fall under the heavy stroke of the Lord. There, however, the general plan only was announced, and here we have the plan filled up.
Revelation 19:7. Let us be glad and rejoice and give him the glory; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. The words: let us rejoice and be glad, seem to allude to those of our Lord in Matthew 5:12, (comp. 1 Peter 4:13). To give honour or glory to God, is as much as, to ascribe it to him, to acknowledge it as existing—comp. on ch. Revelation 4:9, Revelation 11:13, Revelation 16:9.
On this very account, to give glory, is at the same time, to give the glory; that glory, namely, which God has manifested in the great events now under consideration.
That we must distinguish between the arrival of the marriage and its celebration, appears from the added clause, “and his wife has made herself ready.” If the wife has first made herself ready, then the wedding cannot yet have begun. As to the future, the song of praise merely anticipates what lies within the limits of this group. But the group reaches no farther than to the immediate approach of the wedding. The solemnity itself belongs to what comes after. The marriage is come, whenever the wedding-day has dawned.— Here, as always in the New Testament, where the relation of Christ to his church is represented under the image of a bridegroom, as in John 3:29, there is a reference to the song of Solomon (comp. on ch. Revelation 3:20).
The marriage here is not the marriage- feast, as Vitringa falsely infers from Revelation 19:9. Here, where the subject of discourse is the Lamb and his wife, or the church in its entire fulness, the marriage is in its proper place. There, where individual believers are spoken of, it is fitly the marriage- supper. Revelation 19:9 alone shews, that γά?μος here is the marriage itself.
As over the transcendent future manifestation of the glory of God there may be descried the quiet and concealed glory, which he exhibits even in the times of the militant church, his reigning now in the midst of his enemies, so there is implied here the close internal connection, which Christ has with his church from the first foundation of it onwards through every dark and troubled age—comp. Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always even to the end of the world,” which contains in the background the surpassing display of glory, that is to be made to the triumphant church. It is as if he then first brought home his bride. In Matthew 9:15, also the time, that stretches from the death of Christ to his return, appears as a time of absence for the bridegroom. In the parable of the ten virgins the return of the bridegroom is in the first instance expected. According to 2 Corinthians 11:2, the marriage of Christ to his bride, the church, is only to take place in the future. In Ephesians 5:25-27, the church is represented as a bride adorned for a future marriage. We may learn from ch. Revelation 13:8, the reason why Christ appears here under the name of the Lamb. It is in Christ’s sacrifice, in his bloody atonement, that his whole relation to the church has its root, that the state of glory also has its root, to which he leads them. The anticipative character of this doxology discovers itself here quite plainly. Here the marriage is already at the very door. But it is only in ch. Revelation 21:2, that the new Jerusalem comes into view, prepared and adorned as a bride for her husband. We are here, therefore, already beyond the victory of the ten kings, beyond the thousand years, beyond the last victory over Gog and Magog. Those, who fail to perceive the anticipative character of the song, are driven to such constrained suppositions as the following—that the subject of discourse here is not properly the marriage union with the Lamb, but only an “ante-past for the justified.”
The wife of the Lamb has made herself ready. In a looser sense, the betrothed was sometimes called the wife of the bridegroom—comp. Deuteronomy 22:24; Genesis 29:21; Matthew 1:20; and here, ch. Revelation 21:9, “Come, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” The making ready has respect to the worthy reception of the bridegroom. To make ready for the coming of the bridegroom, is represented in the parable of the ten virgins, as the great object of the church during the whole time that was to elapse between the first and the second appearance of the Lord. And, according to the parable, the preparation consists especially in having oil in the lamp—the emblem of the Holy Spirit—that is, in having the name of Christian, an anointed one, as something more than a mere name. Special allusion is made here to Matthew 25:10. Only those who were ready, went in with the bridegroom to the marriage.
Revelation 19:8. And it was given to her to be arrayed in a clothing of fine linen, shining, pure. For the linen are the righteousnesses of the saints. After the expression, “it was given to her,” we might suppose, that by the white clothing here was denoted the glory, which the bride was to receive as the reward of her preparation—comp. ch. Revelation 6:11. But the impartation of the completed glory, which alone could be thought of here, lies beyond the limits of this group. The pure, added to the shining, points to the distinction between washing and making white in ch. Revelation 7:14. And all doubt is removed by the explanation given, which informs us that by the shining and white linen clothing is meant, not the glory of the saints, but their excellencies. The reference to the activity of the bride in the work of preparation was already mentioned in the declaration, “She has made herself ready.” So that here the other side of the matter might fitly be exhibited. In ch. Revelation 3:18, also (comp. Revelation 7:14), where the white garments likewise denote Christian excellencies, the communication of the excellencies is spoken of as a gift of grace from God. In Ephesians 5:25-27, the entire preparation of the church as the bride of Christ, is represented as proceeding from Christ. The wedding garment, too, in Matthew 22:12, has respect to the spiritual preparation that is required. Accordingly, what is mentioned here, stands related to the entire preparation as a part to the whole.
The shining denotes the glory of the holy life of the righteous; the pure, their freedom from sin, their blameless and unspotted character. From the explanation subjoined the linen-clothing signifies the righteousnesses [Note: Δικαί?ωμα , the right or righteously made, signifies first a legal decision made in accordance with the rule of what is just and right, then an action in accordance with the same rule of what is just and right. So, in ch. 15:4, then in Romans 5:16; Romans 5:18; see Rothe’s Versuch über Romans 5:12-21, p. 101.] of the saints. The rule of justice and rectitude for the saints, according to Matthew 5:17, is the law of Moses. The clothing is elsewhere the symbol of men’s state—comp. ch. Revelation 7:14. By the righteousnesses, therefore, though primarily they denote particular actions, there is yet indicated here the whole moral condition, of which those particular actions are the outward expression. But let no one imagine, that there can be the condition of a righteous person, where the actions are wanting.
Allusion is made to ch. Revelation 18:12; Revelation 18:16, comp. Revelation 17:4, where the clothing of the great whore is described. There the fine linen is also mentioned, but along with it the much-assuming and much-speaking scarlet and purple, and all, too, bespangled with gold and gems and pearls—the signs and indications of a false pomp, ( 1 Peter 3:3; Grotius: Cultus estgravis ut matronae, non pompaticus qualis meretricis antea descriptae). The words: and his wife, as far as the end of Revelation 19:8, have also the import of an impressive admonition. Still, that is not the most important element; nor the most prominent, which is rather the tendency of what is spoken to administer consolation. The hardest temptation is that, which calls forth the question, who then can be saved; and the most precious promise is that which assures the church, that in spite of all the infirmities of the flesh, in spite of all temptations and assaults, she shall still be found in a condition, wherein she shall be counted worthy to meet the Lord at his coming, (comp. on ch. Revelation 14:1-5).
Revelation 19:9. And he says to me, Write, Blessed are they that are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb. And he says to me, These words are true, (they are the words) of God. [Note: From the parallel passage, ch. 22:6, we are inclined to give the preference to the reading οὗ τοι οἱ? λόγοι ἀ?ληθινοὶ? εἰ σι τοῦ? θεοῦ? . The true is here, as there, a predicate. To the second predicate there, πιστοί? corresponds here the τοῦ? θεοῦ? , these as sayings are true (they are the sayings) of God. The reading: Οὗ τοι οἱ? λόγοι ἀ?ληθινοὶ? τοῦ? θεοῦ? εἰ σιν ; seems to possess the character of a kind of solution. That the τοῦ? θεοῦ? here lakes the place of πιστοί? in ch. 22:6, is plain also from the observation of Bengel, that the ἀ?ληθινό?ς in the Revelation is only here put alone, always elsewhere in connection with πιστό?ς (comp. 3:14, 19:11, 21:5), or some other epithet. The passage, too, ch. 22:5, serves as a confirmation of the reading we prefer; it shews that the article was shoved in before ἀ?ληθινοὶ? by the copyists: καὶ? λέ?γει μου· γρά?ψον ὁ?́?τι οὐ?͂?τοι οἱ? λό?γοι πιστοὶ? καὶ? ἀ?ληθινοί? εἰ?σι . This passage and ch. 22:6 are of more importance in determining the right reading here, as the three passages are very closely related.] That the speaker is an angel, appears from Revelation 19:10. We can think only of the angel mentioned in ch. Revelation 17:1. For since then no other angel has spoken to John; and it is the same also, who in ch. Revelation 21:9 shews him the bride, the Lamb’s wife. In regard to the special commission to write, see on ch. Revelation 14:13. The blessedness pronounced on those, who are invited, carries in its bosom a woe to such as are not (comp. Luke 14:24 with Luke 14:14; Matthew 25:12); so that the words, “blessed are they,” etc. contain a stringent admonition to put away with fear and trembling whatever might stand in the way of the admonition.
The church is the bride; its individual members appear here, after the example of Matthew 22:1, ss., Matthew 25:10, comp. Matthew 9:15, as the guests, who are bidden to the marriage feast, and are thus admitted to a participation in the joy of the wedding.
The declaration, “Blessed are they who are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb,” corresponds to that in ch. Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead, that die in the Lord from henceforth.” There the blessedness has respect to the blessedness of heaven. The “from henceforth” forms the contrast to the completion of God’s kingdom; even now, not afterwards merely in the new Jerusalem. Here we have the second stage of blessedness.
By the second “and he says to me” what follows is intentionally cut off from what immediately precedes.
The expression, “these words,” or sayings, can only refer to Revelation 19:5-8. For the plural alone decides against the reference to the “Blessed are they,” etc. The announcement, also, of the marriage of the Lamb is given there too indirectly; and the benediction by itself needs no confirmation. The things meant are the great and consolatory truths of the coming of the Lord’s kingdom, of the marriage of the Lamb, of the suitable preparation of the bride and her appearance in the bright and pure linen-attire of righteousness. These truths have been communicated in the form of a song of praise by the church of the just made perfect. But this was only the visionary form, is plainly indicated by the expression, “ as a voice,” in Revelation 19:6. Substantially, they were the sayings of God, or the divine revelations, which had been imparted to the prophet by the mediation of the angel—comp. on ch. Revelation 1:1.
The emphatic assurance given of the truth and credibility of what was spoken implies that here great and glorious things are referred to, which run counter to sight and reason. When the church lies prostrate on the ground, and the world triumphs, it is indeed hard to believe that the glory of God is yet to find its absolute realization. When Christ seems to have altogether cast off his church, the whole authority of God is needed to fill it with joyful thoughts of a wedding-season. And when it is obliged to utter the complaint, Ah! my sin is ever before me! it can only believe on God’s sure word of promise what is said here of being made ready.
Revelation 19:10. And I fell before him at his feet to worship him. And he says to me: See thou, do it not! I am thy fellow-servant and of thy brethren, who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy. The angel was to John the mediator, who communicated the joyful message from the sovereign majesty of God, respecting the marriage of the Lamb and the preparation of the bride for it. John forgets, that he also had an important place in this communication for the church, and that without the Spirit of prophecy dwelling in him, the pre-requisite condition of which was his apostleship, the angel should have made it in vain. What John in his humility had forgotten, is the very thing which the angel in his humility brings out. Both, therefore, fulfil the word of Paul in Romans 12:10, “in honour preferring one another.” The contest between Jesus and the Baptist in Matthew 3:14 is quite similar. As there both was in its place—the will of Jesus to let himself be baptized by John, and the declinature at first of the Baptist, who forgot the dignity of his office and looked only to the surpassing dignity of Jesus (though he very well knew, that his declinature could not be allowed by Jesus)—so also here both the worship of John and the “See thou do it not” of the angel are in their place. We may compare Acts 10:25-26, where Cornelius falls down before Peter, while Peter raises him up and says, “Stand up, for I also am a man.” There, too, both is in keeping. It was becoming in Cornelius to take into view the surpassing dignity of Peter, in whose person the church was represented, and to fulfil the word spoken in Isaiah 49:23; it was becoming in Peter to give expression to the other side of the matter, that of the equality of all men before God, the common ground or basis on which individual differences rise.
The worship was offered here, as well on account of the information already imparted, as on account of the farther enlargement to be confidently expected after this general plan. There is a correspondence between the worship here and that in ch. Revelation 22:8-9. What the worship here anticipates, is there devoutly and thankfully contemplated as finished. This anticipative character of the worship here is a simple consequence of the anticipative character of the song of praise. Bengel quite improperly remarks, “It appears, that John had taken the word of the angel, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’ for the conclusion of the whole vision; that he had for a good while contemplated the worship and now sought to perform it.” It is quite natural that John should present his adoring thanks at the first, though still only brief and preliminary communication of these soul-refreshing facts; the more natural the more clearly he apprehended its preliminary character.
As John here did homage to the angel, so it becomes the church, which receives through John this glorious revelation, to bow before him on account of it, as also it behoves John to say to her, See thou do it not.
It is manifest, that the worship, which John paid, could imply no slight on the divine prerogative, both from the personal character of St John, and from the very tender and almost imploring tone of the angel’s dissuasion. The common distinction between the civil and the religious proskynesis (worship) is not well grounded. The true distinction lies between the proskynesis, which is due to God, whether paid directly or to those who bear his image, his representatives, the possessors of his gifts and offices; and the proskynesis, which is yielded without and in opposition to God. The God of the Bible will be honoured in those, who bear his image, and who fulfil his offices; he will be honoured in father and mother, in the men of grey hairs ( Leviticus 19:32), in princes ( Exodus 22:27), in judges ( Deuteronomy 1:17; Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:7-8), and hence also in his heavenly messengers. It is godless to refuse this honour, and its natural expression in the bending of the body, under the pretext that it belongs only to God. It is to be avoided only where there is some danger, that the instrument of divine glory shall have an independent honour ascribed to it. But in the present connection nothing of this nature is to be imagined. The honour, that is here ascribed to John, consists in his receiving from Jesus the testimony, that he had the Spirit of prophecy: where the Spirit is, there God is. But the angel is only John’s fellow-servant.
The angel describes himself as the fellow-servant of John and of his brethren, who have the testimony of Jesus. The testimony of Jesus is the testimony which Jesus delivers. According to the point of view taken in the Apocalypse the testifier is always properly Christ—comp. at ch. Revelation 1:2, Revelation 6:9. In a looser sense every true Christian has the testimony of Jesus; to be a Christian and to be a witness are coincident; comp. ch. Revelation 6:9, Revelation 12:17. But the witness-bearing exists in its highest degree in apostles and prophets: they are in the fullest and highest sense those, who have the testimony of Jesus. According to Acts 1:8 the witnessing office was by the Lord himself committed pre-eminently to the Apostles. In ch. Revelation 17:6 of this book the witnesses of Jesus correspond to the prophets in ch. Revelation 18:24. In ch. Revelation 11:3 the witnesses appear in public as prophecying. In ch. Revelation 1:2, it is said of John, that he has “testified of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Now, that the witnesses of Jesus are spoken of here in the latter sense, there can be no doubt. In ch. Revelation 22:8, after John had received from the angel the full exhibition of what was here presented to him in its general outline, he again falls down to worship him. It is said there in Revelation 19:9, “I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren, the prophets.” The prophets there correspond to those, who are here said to have the testimony of Jesus. Farther, even the word here, “I am thy fellow-servant,” shows, the subject of discourse cannot be Christians, but only God’s servants in his kingdom. The angels are servants of God as to their office. Therefore the persons, whose fellow-servants they are, must be contemplated with respect to their office, their mission (the names of angels and of apostles are alike in meaning). Comp. in regard to the apostles as servants of God, on ch. Revelation 1:1. Then, that John here is regarded, not as a Christian, but as a prophet and an apostle, and that his brethren, who have the testimony of Jesus, are not Christians, but prophets, appears from ch. Revelation 22:6, “And the Lord, the God of the Spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel, to shew to his servants, the prophets, what must come to pass.” Finally, all doubt is removed by the explanation given in this passage itself. According to it, “those who have the testimony of Jesus,” is as much as, those who have the Spirit of prophecy. With perfect justice, therefore, does Bossuet remark, “that the angel rejects the worship in order to place the apostolical and prophetical ministry on a footing with that of angels.”— The word here “worship God,” has nothing in common with that quoted by our Lord, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” This is directed only against those, who would worship a power, that sets itself up in rivalry with God and is opposed to him. Here, on the other hand, it is merely God’s grace and office that are worshipped in the angel. The dissuasion is not based on the consideration, that the worship trenches on God’s glory, but on the consideration, that it trenches on John’s honour. It is as if it were said, go directly to God with thy worship, so that thou mayest not throw into the shade the glorious dignity bestowed on thee, and represented by thee. If the worship had at all interfered with the glory of God, John would certainly never, in the face of the angel’s dissuasive, have repeated it a second time; supposing him to have been, on the first occasion (which, however, is not conceivable) carried into it by a sudden surprisal. [Note: The right view was given by Grotius: non dicet προσκύ?νησιν soli deo licite exhiberi, repugnat enim tota vetus historia, sed benigue agit, ut ei quis collegae dicat, serva hunc honorem regi.]
The for introduces the reason, on account of which the angel had spoken of a testimony of Jesus. It stands in this, that the testimony of Jesus, which alone could here be made account of, is all one with the Spirit of prophecy. That the testimony concerning Christ is at the same time the testimony of Christ, and prophecy has its source in the Spirit of prophecy—these correspond to each other. Christ testifies in the prophets through his Spirit ( 1 Peter 1:11). That these last words have been so much misunderstood, is a mere consequence of the meaning of the testimony of Jesus, in the immediately preceding clause, having been incorrectly explained. The sense would have been the same, if it had been said in the discourse of the angel himself: those who have the testimony of Jesus, that is the Spirit of prophecy.
Revelation 19:11. And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and he that sat thereon was called faithful and true, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. Heaven is opened, so that the heavenly captain may descend from thence upon the earth with his hosts. In ch. Revelation 4:1, heaven was opened, that John might ascend to heaven, in order to learn there the secret things of God. What would the earth have been, and what would it become, if heaven had not been still further opened for both purposes! if it had no more been possible to have such goings up and comings down! The difference between it and hell would then have been abolished.
What comes from heaven against the earth, obtains an easy victory. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. He, therefore, is irresistible when he goes forth in defence of his kingdom. “The men of the earth” give way before him, who comes down from heaven, and are found lighter than a feather.
That he who sits upon the white horse is no other than Christ, is put beyond a doubt by the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 6:2, “And I saw, and behold a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given him, and he marched forth conquering, and that he might conquer.” The white horse points here, as it did also there, at once to the glory of the person and to its manifestations. The white horse forms the contrast to the ass in Matthew 21. His first coming into the world was in the form of meekness, the second will be terrible, the cause of great pain to the ungodly. The white horse constantly appears anew, where the lowly form of the Saviour has been misapprehended and despised, where he has not been opened to when knocking at the door.
He, who sits upon the horse, is called faithful and true. The names of Christ in this vision are in all four. He is called faithful and true; he has a name written, which he alone knows; his name is called, the Word of God; he has a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords. Before this sacred number four, the earth, whose signature is four, must tremble. That Christ is designated the true, raises him far above the level of humanity, it bespeaks almightiness and essential Godhead (comp. at ch. Revelation 3:7, Revelation 6:10, Revelation 15:3, Revelation 16:7). This holds also of the name faithful. Absolute faithfulness or credibility pre-supposes omnipotence. All men lie ( Psalms 116:11); they all disappoint the confidence that is reposed in them, and leave in the lurch those who exercise it, ( Psalms 62:9, Psalms 108:12). “It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in men,” ( Psalms 118:8). The Lord appears here, as in all Scripture, as alone faithful and worthy of confidence. Christ’s faithfulness and truth take from his enemies all hope of victory, and from his people all fear of defeat. The words, “and in righteousness,” etc., are not a component part of the name, but they continue further the description of the nature and action, that is involved in the name. He judges and wars in righteousness, whose property it is to give to every one his own; why, then, should his church despond! how should his enemies fear and tremble! Parallel is Psalms 45:4, where the divine hero goes forth, “on account of truth and meekness—righteousness,” that is, in behalf of those, who possess these excellencies, for the protection and deliverance of the true, the meek, the righteous. The judging has precedence of the warring, to distinguish Christ’s warring from that of men, which so often proceeds from irritated passion, and in this always has its foundation. Bengel:”In the world one is often a judge and no warrior, or a warrior and no judge. But Christ is a judge and a warrior.”
The Victory of Christ Over the Ten Kings (Ch. Revelation 19:11-21 )
Christ appears at the head of his heavenly hosts, in the full glory of his nature, which is described at length by the holy Seer; so that it was from the first clear what those had to expect, against whom he went forth to battle, Revelation 19:11-16. This is still more expressly announced by the angel, who stands in the sun, and calls the birds to a feast on the corpses, Revelation 19:17-18. The description of the battle is as remarkable for its brevity, as that of Christ is for its length; quite naturally, as there can properly be no sustained conflict against him, who slays with the breath of his mouth. According to Revelation 19:19 the beast and the kings of the earth are assembled together with their hosts to fight against Christ. But presently in Revelation 19:20-21, the beast and his assistant, the false prophet, are seized and cast into the lake of fire, and a great slaughter takes place on the human enemies of Christ.
The kings of the earth under the command of the beast are described as the opponents of Christ in Revelation 19:19. By Revelation 19:15, these kings are to be regarded as heathenish; which accords with their subordination to the beast, as the beast certainly denotes the ungodly power of the world in its heathen state. The more particular account of these kings is to be found in what had been written previously of them.
This group, which represents the victory of Christ over the three enemies, first addresses itself to the victory over the beast. This beast has seven heads, denoting the seven phases of the worldly power in its ungodly heathen state. Of these seven heads five had already fallen before the time of the Seer (ch. Revelation 17:10): the Egyptian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Medo-Persian, Grecian. The fall of the sixth head, the Roman, under whose tyranny the church groaned in the time of John, has been delineated at length in the preceding portion; it had to give way to the present. According to ch. Revelation 17:12, ss., this present must be introduced through the seventh head with ten horns, which denote ten kings, the seventh phase of the worldly power in its heathen state, which was not, like the earlier ones, to have a united character but to be a divided sovereignty. These ten kings are the only powers in amity with the beast, and in hostility to Christ, which still remain on the field; the only ones, therefore, which can be understood here under the kings of the earth. Their war with Christ and their overthrow has already been described in ch. Revelation 17:14. It has also been expressly said in ch. Revelation 17:11, that with their overthrow the beast goes into perdition (comp. Revelation 19:20 of this ch.), which may also, indeed, be understood of itself, since the beast has only seven heads, and its continued existence, after the seventh and last has fallen, is not conceivable. The ungodly power of the world exists only in its particular phases.
But now the question may be asked, of what sort is the battle of Christ, that is here described, against the destroyers of the Roman empire, or, as history has determined, the Germanic tribes. We cannot think of the quiet effective power of the word, to which allusion is made in ch. Revelation 17:14. There is here, we are rather to conceive, a second power brought into view, which always goes hand in hand with that of the word. It holds with nations, as with individuals, that they only who suffer in the flesh cease from sin; that they only who are chastised, exercise themselves to repentance; that the way into the kingdom of God is only through much tribulation; that the wine-press alone brings out the wine; that the seed of the divine word takes root merely in such fields as have been opened up by the plough of God’s judgments. Every thing here bears the impress of anger; all points to blood and death; and however certainly this occupies but the foreground, however certainly there lies concealed behind the clouds of wrath, the sun of divine grace (which ch. Revelation 17:14 alone sufficiently proves), we are not by any means on that account to put it aside. The eyes of Christ are as a flame of fire; the sword, which goes out of his mouth; his iron rod, his garments stained with blood, the wine-press of his wrath, which he treads—all plainly indicate, that the mission of Christ here is one more immediately of wrath and judgment. John, however, has himself furnished us with a key. The commencement of the description of Christ’s appearance here, in ch. Revelation 19:11, presents an intentional verbal reference to ch. Revelation 6:2. This reference, therefore, must indicate that the battle of Christ described here bears the same character as the former one. But there the weapons of Christ’s warfare are hunger, pestilence, and especially bloody discord. If we take into account the history of the times, when the northern tribes roved about, a long series of scenes will present themselves to our view, in which the contents of this vision passed into reality. A heavy oppression, for example, on the part of the Hunns, was the occasion of the western Goths being converted to Christianity (Kortüm, p. 40). Attila, too, was for the Germanic tribes “the scourge of God.” The battle-field alone in the plain of Chalons was covered with 162,000 bodies. And how many other battles and distresses are not recorded in the history of that time, by which every thing was done to break the hardness of the German nations, and soften their spirit! How much, for example, had the eastern Goths to suffer in Italy from the Franks! It is said, “Frightful was the distress of many regions; in the country of the Picentians, 50,000 men were starved with hunger; many, who bent forwards to spoil dead bodies, themselves fell down dead, nay even killed one another to obtain food.” The German duke Leuthar, who broke in upon Italy about the middle of the sixth century with a great marauding host, “died of pestilence with the greater part of his men in the Venetian territory; many of them even went mad, and, like the duke himself, gnawed their own flesh.”
Revelation 19:13. And he is clothed with a garment dipt in blood, and his name was called [Note: The reading that is by much the best supported is καὶ? κέ?κληται τὸ? ὀ?́?νομα αὐ?τοῦ? ; but Luther followed the reading καλεῖ?ται . The perfect indicates that the name was even now an old one.] THE WORD OF GOD. The garment dipt in blood points to Isaiah 63:1-3, comp. here ch. Revelation 14:20. The blood, according to this passage, which is also alluded to in Revelation 19:15, is that of the enemies of God’s people. The divine hero has already vanquished six phases of the ungodly power of the world, and has thereby given a sure pledge of the destruction of the seventh, against which he now goes forth. Bengel: “All his enemies must fall before him, and contribute to the renown of his might. Thus they still yield some profit.” The name, “the Word of God,” [Note: There can be no doubt that we should render the name so. For λό?γος τοῦ? θεοῦ? , whenever it occurs besides in the New Testament, means “the Word of God,” and especially does so in the Apocalypse; comp. ch. 1:2, 9, 6:9, 20:4.] a must be used here with reference to the clothing. Otherwise Revelation 19:14 is incomprehensible. The transition from Christ to his army is there made through the medium of the clothing; and the statement respecting his name here cannot interrupt this connection; it can only contain what must serve for an explanation of the clothing. Now a bridge between the clothing and the name is supplied by Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, and pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and joints and marrow;” comp. in regard to the passage on ch. Revelation 1:16. By this the name appears as the interpretation of the apparel. To both the destroying character is common; both announce Christ as the mighty warrior, whom nothing of a created nature is able to oppose. What the Word of God is able to accomplish is shewn by the first chapter of sacred Scripture. By it heaven and earth were called into being ( Psalms 33:6). If Christ is the personal Word of God—if everything, which else is called God’s word, is but a single fragment of his nature—how should it ever be imagined that anything created could possibly stand before him? At the terrible sound of this name the ten kings must disperse like light froth. Bengel: “It is not said here, His name is called Jesus; for he manifests himself here, not as the Saviour of his people, but as the destroyer of his enemies. He will, therefore, be called here by that name, which is older than the name Jesus. The name Jesus especially unfolds his grace, and the name, the Word of God, his majesty. How deep must that, which is indicated by this name, lie in the unsearchable Godhead? A man’s word is not only that which he expresses with his lips, and causes to be heard by the ear, but that also which he has within himself in his mind, and produces in his thoughts. If this internal word did not exist, it could not be brought forth into any form of speech or utterance. If even man’s word is thus inward, how profound must be the seat of God’s word, beyond any comprehension of ours, and what emotions should it stir, as often as it is declared, in respect to the creation or to the other works and witnesses of God, God speaks, the Lord testifies, etc. Against him, whose name is the Word of God, all his enemies, and in particular the beast, are but as stubble to the fire. With the spirit or breath of his lips he will slay the wicked, Isaiah 11:4. And no sinner or liar can anywhere stand before him.” We are not, with De Wette, to understand by the Word of God him “who has revealed the Word of God, and indeed first as doctrine, then as prophecy.”For in that case this name would be appropriated to Christ as the most perfect teacher. But it is against the character of this whole section, in which only a polemical name suits one that threatens destruction; also against the connection with what immediately precedes, and against John 1 (Vitringa: Id vero aliennm est ab oratione Johannis, qui τὸ?ν λό?γον jam ante condita saecula ait fuisse in sinu patris et apud patrem). By the name of the Word of God Christ appears in the writings of John only here, in John 1 of his Gospel, and in the beginning of his first epistle. The composition of the Apocalypse by St John derives no small support from this, and all attempts have been in vain to set it aside. Some have sought to distinguish between the use of the expression here and in the other writings of John, by alleging that here the Logos or Word of God is spoken of, as if there also the Word could be any thing but the Word of God, and as if here that were not indispensable, which is there supplied by the connection. “The name (writes Köslin, p. 184) is primarily ascribed to him only in his exalted state, and now indeed first there, and inasmuch as he comes down to the earth in the capacity of an avenging judge.” As if Christ could become the Word of God in the course of time; as if the name itself did not point to a necessity in the divine nature existing even from eternity; as if Christ, because he is the Word of God, and, inasmuch as he is so, must not have been in the beginning with God! Christ is not the Word of God as the one, “who renders the divine will efficient outwardly or upon the earth,” but because he is the Word of God he does this also among other things, he throws down the kings of the earth with that same omnipotence by which he originally called the earth into existence. John, Lücke conceives, does not call the “historical Christ” simpliciter the Word, as if the name here did not, precisely as the name Michael, in ch. 12, designate Christ in respect to his divine nature, in which alone there was to be found the security for his last victory over an ungodly world. The allegation, besides, that the expression is here “copied, not that originally of John,” has been already disproved, by the consideration that the name of the Word of God here, though used essentially in the same signification as in the Gospel and the first epistle of John, is still employed in a quite peculiar and original respect. It would never have occurred to an imitator to serve himself of such an epithet as a hammer, wherewith to break in pieces the rock of the enemies of God’s kingdom. That this was by no means an obvious thought is evident from the difficulty it has occasioned to expositors.
If Christ is the living Word of God, then all particular words of God must be spoken through his mediation, nor can there be any word of God which is not also a testimony of Jesus Christ, nor again a testimony of Christ, which is not a word of God (ch. Revelation 1:9, Revelation 20:4; John 14:24).
Revelation 19:14. And the armies, which are in heaven, followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. The clothing of Christ led St John to take a comparative survey of the clothing also of his attendants; and hence it is that, in the midst of his description of Christ, which is still continued in Revelation 19:15, the army of Christ is at once brought into notice. But by occasion of the regard paid to the clothing, another thing also presents itself to the Seer, which he first makes mention of, because it runs parallel to a feature in the description of Christ, which had already been communicated. As Christ heads the expedition on a white horse, so his attendants also sit on white horses. It is natural to compare here ch. Revelation 17:14, where the called, the chosen, and the believing appear as associates of Christ’s victory. Since, according to the point of view, under which matters are contemplated in the Apocalypse and in Scripture generally, the church, even in its militant state, has its existence in heaven (comp. on ch. Revelation 13:6), it were not impossible in itself that, by the armies in heaven, the multitudes of believers should be denoted. But when we consider that the attendance of believers would not be suitable to the manifestation of Christ here represented, which, analogously to that in ch. Revelation 6:2, is a judicial and destructive one, though issuing at last in salvation; when we consider that we commonly behold the angels in the train of Christ when going forth to judge and punish ( Matthew 16:27, Matthew 25:31, Matthew 26:53; Luke 9:26; Mark 8:38; 2 Thessalonians 1:7); when, still farther, we consider that the name of the armies of heaven has been in a manner set apart in the Old Testament, and consecrated to the angels ( Luke 2:13), and also compare in this book, ch. Revelation 14:20; we shall not be able to doubt that the train of Christ is composed of angels and not of believers; and that our passage does not cover itself with that of ch. Revelation 17:14, but is to be supplemented by it. Here it is the crushing power with which Christ, as the governor of the world, attended by his angels, beats to the ground all the resistance of his adversaries, through the means which have already been represented in ch. 6; there it is the peaceful mission of the church which scatters the seed of the word in the fields that have been ploughed by the judgments of God
In the clothing of the angels here, as in ch. Revelation 15:6, where the seven angels that go out of the temple appear clothed with pure white linen, their mission is symbolized, the work they have to accomplish. The glittering white denotes his glory, the purity his righteousness.
Revelation 19:15. And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the heathen; and he will tend them with a staff of iron, and he treads the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty. It is here, as it was at ch. Revelation 1:15; after the description given of the leading parties, there follows what presents itself as worthy of remark in the kind of manifestation. First, what proceeds out of the mouth.
The eye discerns here nothing but the sharp sword, which goes out of the month; what is said besides in this verse, the tending of the heathen with the staff of iron and the treading of the wine-press, is a mere accompaniment; it serves only to explain that symbol of the all-powerful agency of Christ in judging and destroying. Hence also it is manifest that these two active operations must as to the reality belong only to the future—for the battle does not commence till Revelation 19:20—and the first is even expressly represented as belonging to the future: he will tend. Bengel remarks, “The smiting sword is there to smite or kill the nations; the staff of iron for the compulsory subjection of those who survive.” But according to the fundamental passage, Psalms 2, the iron staff serves for dashing in pieces.
The sharp sword is that of the Almighty, who speaks and it is done, and who kills by the breath of his lips (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:16, Revelation 2:12). How Christ slays his enemies with the sword of his mouth, we may learn from a prophetic example in John 18:5, “Now, when Jesus spake to them, I am he, they went backward and fell to the ground” (comp. Acts 9:4-5).
The heathen are to be thought of as angry against Christ and his church (comp. ch. Revelation 11:18, Revelation 16:19, and ch. Revelation 17:14, “These shall war with the Lamb.”) This is implied in the name itself of the heathen (comp. on ch. Revelation 7:9).
The tending of the heathen with the iron staff has already occurred in ch. Revelation 2:27, Revelation 12:5—see at the latter passage, where it was also shown, how behind the destruction salvation is concealed, behind the judgment grace.
The wine-press is that of God’s wrath (comp. on ch. Revelation 14:19). As in the wine-press the grapes are crushed to nothing, so are the heathen by the wrath of God. That Christ treads the wine-press denotes him to be the one who puts in motion the judgments of God against his enemies, brings them into play. The press of the wine is the press which causes wine to be pressed out. The wine, according to ch. Revelation 14:20, is the blood of the enemies. According to ch. Revelation 14:19, where the great wine-press of the wrath of God is spoken of, we must here explain: the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God (comp. on the fierceness of God’s wrath at ch. Revelation 16:19); and the words, “of the fierceness of the wrath of God,” must not be made to depend simply on “the wine.” In ch. Revelation 14:19 the symbol itself is made to express the energy of the divine wrath (the great wine-press); here the explanatory word conveys it: the fierceness of the wrath of God.
Revelation 19:16. And has upon his garment and upon his thigh a name written: A King of kings, and a Lord of lords. Upon the garment and the thigh, stands for, upon the garment in the region of the thigh. The thigh is brought into view here as the place where commonly, though not in this case, the sword is to be found. The sword was spoken of in the words immediately before. Precisely because it was not found here, the name is mentioned and takes its place. If the sword had been there, it would have conveyed the same import. The sword of the warrior and the ruler is everywhere the symbol of his personality and of his whole position. In Psalms 45:3-4, “Gird thy sword on thy thigh, O hero, thy glory and thy majesty. And in this thy glory ride prosperously,” &c., not merely is the sword placed in connection with the thigh, but also along with the sword and in it the glory and the majesty. “The sword is, indeed, a proper sword, but the Psalmist, viewing it with the eyes of the Spirit, sees in it a symbol of his glory and majesty, so that he is girded with the sword as if it were these, since they use it, and manifest themselves by it. The sword, spiritually considered, is always as the man is who carries it; and the matter at once presents to the spiritual mind a quite different aspect.” On the expression: a King of kings, and a Lord of lords, comp. ch. Revelation 17:14, where Christ is also denominated thus with respect immediately to the ten kings, 1 Timothy 6:15. In ch. Revelation 17:14 the fundamental passages were given in the inverse order; here they are put right.
Revelation 19:17. And I saw an angel stand in the sun, and he cried with a great voice and said, to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven; Revelation 19:18, Come, assemble to the great supper of God, that ye may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of the strong, and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all that are free and of slaves, and of small and of great. Where such a king goes forth to battle the issue cannot be doubtful. This idea is embodied in the image of the angel who stands in the sun, and even before the slaughter takes place calls upon all the birds under the heavens to a feast on the carcases. Bengel: “When a human being would inflict a slaughter on the world, in spite of the best prospects and efforts the victory may still fall into the opposite hands. But that Christ .should fail in the matter is quite impossible, and therefore the birds are invited before the conflict has even begun.” The fundamental passage is Ezekiel 39:17-20. What is said there in the prophecy against Gog, is here applied to the ten kings, as a proof that what is declared here primarily in regard to the ten kings finds its analogous application to Gog and Magog. The sun, corresponding to the space in the midst of heaven—for the birds, that fly in the midst of heaven, move about in the region where the angel stands—is the most fitting place for a herald standing in, whose voice is intended to be heard by the whole earth (comp. on ch. Revelation 8:13, Revelation 14:6). We should perhaps supply in addition, that the sun, as the natural image of the glory of God and Christ (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:16, Revelation 10:1, Revelation 12:1), is the fittest standing-place for a heavenly messenger who is to announce the victory of God and Christ.
The great supper of God forms here the sad contrast to the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19:9. Those who despise the invitation to the supper of the Lamb shall not be able to keep away from this supper. The enumeration: the flesh of kings, &c., is similar to those in ch. Revelation 6:15, Revelation 13:16. We have here four parties, the last again composed of four members, corresponding to the four members of the second and third division. [Note: As the τε elsewhere is not found in the. Apoc. it has probably been shoved in here by copyists who are fond of grammatical niceties, both after ἐ?λευθέ?ρων and after μικρῶ?ν .]
Revelation 19:19. And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to fight with him who sat upon the horse, and with his army. The kings stand under the direction of the beast—comp. on ch. Revelation 17:13, “These have one mind, and give their power and authority to the beast.” The kings of the earth are so named in Revelation 19:11, in contrast to the King of kings, who is of heaven, as worthy associates of the beast (see on ch. Revelation 13:12-13), on account of their earthly disposition.
The kings are bound together only by the common feature of their earthly temperament; apart from this there is no tie amongst them; and hence mention is made of armies. On the other hand, Christ has with him only one army.
Revelation 19:20. And the beast was seized, and the false prophet with him, who did signs before him, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast, and worshipped his image: alive these two were cast into the lake of fire, that burns with brimstone. The beast was seized, which had so often endeavoured to seize Christ in his members, St John, for example—comp. John 7:30, John 7:32, John 7:44, John 10:39. (The verb πιά?ζω often occurs in John’s Gospel, and in connections, in which elsewhere other expressions are used). Züllig: “How and by whom it is not said, but without doubt the army of Christ must here be conceived to take part, since otherwise we could not understand for what purpose it had been assembled, what is done afterwards being accomplished by the leader himself.” It is at all events significant, that the action is not expressly attributed to Christ himself here, as it is in respect to Satan in ch. Revelation 20:2.
In reference to the false prophet, comp. ch. Revelation 13:11, sq. Bengel: “Who did signs, etc., expresses the reason why the false prophet receives a like punishment with the beast, and at the same time.” [Note: The ὁ? μετʼ? αὐ?τοῦ? ψευδοπροφή?της , is recommended in preference to the reading followed by Luther, μετʼ? αὐ?τοῦ? ὁ? ψευδ .,, by ch. 13:12, 14, 15, where the second beast, the false prophet, is represented as only the servant and tool of the first.] The alive, without corporeal death (comp. Revelation 19:21), confirms the view, that the beast and the false prophet arc not human individuals, but purely ideal forms. A human individual cannot proceed alive into hell. Psalms 50:15 does not admit of being compared. For there, what is meant by alive, is in the fulness of life and strength; and in this sense also alone was it, that the rebellious company in the time of Moses went down alive into hell. That vicious realism, which is unable to distinguish between form and essence, vision and reality, must be put to the blush at ch. Revelation 20:14, where death and hell, in like manner purely ideal forms, are cast into the lake of fire.— Fire and brimstone as a description of hell-torments have occurred already at ch. Revelation 14:10-11. A lake (sea) of fire and brimstone is mentioned here for the first time; but occurs again in ch. Revelation 20:10; Revelation 20:14-15, Revelation 21:8. As the fire and brimstone point to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrha (comp. on ch. Revelation 14:10), so it is very natural to suppose, that allusion is made to the dead sea as the earthly image of hell. [Note: The expression γεέ?να occurs as little in the Apoc. as in the Gospel of John; all the three first evangelists have it.]
Revelation 19:21. And the rest were killed by the sword of him who sat upon the horse, that goes out of his mouth; and all birds were filled of their flesh. The rest, as they have been enumerated in Revelation 19:18. Bengel: “They were killed with the destroying sword of Christ, which is not of steel or iron, but goes out of his mouth, and so is a spiritual weapon of resistless might.” Comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:8. Only as a preliminary punishment does bodily death fall upon them. They shall be sent into hell at the final judgment (comp. ch. Revelation 20:12-15), if they have not meanwhile in the intermediate state attained to salvation ( 1 Peter 3:20), as those, who have only sinned against the Son of Man, and not against the Holy Spirit.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 19". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
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