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Rise, and measure the temple of God.
The living temple of Christ’s Church and the two witnesses of the Word written and the sacraments
The temple and altar, and them that worshipped therein, were capable of measurement. They were not like the unorganised multitude, formless, creedless, undisciplined, without the court. The temple, the altar, and its priesthood and the worshippers, have strength of form and organisation, and the beauty of order. So the apostles organise the Church, set in order its worship, establish its discipline. Standing before the Incarnate Son of God, who in the spiritual organism of His temple, the Church, reveals Himself, and bearing their corroborating testimony to the faith are the two witnesses of the sacraments and the written Word.
1. Consider first the witness of the sacraments.
(1) They are the instrumental life-givers. For Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, is to the new creation what God, “Creation’s secret force,” is to the old.
(2) So likewise the sacraments enlighten. Baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, declares the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity as the fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. It manifests our sinful condition and the need of a washing away of sin.
(3) The sacraments are witnesses. The Church, filled with sacramental life, bears witness to the world.
2. Turn we next to the other great witness, the written Word. The written Word self-evidences its own inspiration. (Bp. Grafton.)
The extent and limit of the true Church of God
At the time of this prophecy the literal temple was no more. The once-holy city was defiled by the “abomination of desolation.” Then the true temple, the true holy city, existed in “the Church of the living God.” The outer enclosure is not to be reckoned as a part of the temple in this Divinely appointed remeasurement. All this most impressively sets forth the fact that Zion’s external buildings cover a much wider space than the real heartworshippers whom God will own. There may be, and there are, large masses of people at the outer fringe of our Christian services. But ii now a heavenly messenger were to come among us who was appointed to measure the real living temple of God, would it not turn out that, of a very large part of our surroundings, the order would be, “Measure it not”? This measurement from on high is ever going on. And if the great Lord of the Church saw fit to show us in a vision who are in His Church and who are not, many would be without whom we thought were in, and many within whom we thought were out. But not by any human hands can the true temple of God be built; nor yet by any human eye can its limits be discerned. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
The measuring of the temple
I. The measuring. But as in those other representations we cannot think that material earthly buildings are meant, or any literal measurements whether of city or temple, so here we regard the temple as telling of that glorious spiritual fabric of which we so often read under like imagery in the Epistles of St. Paul, and the measuring is a metaphor to signify that careful investigation and scrutiny whereby true knowledge is gained.
1. God has an ideal for everything, a standard to which He would have it conform. He had in the creation of the world. And He looks down from heaven--so we are told--to see what is done upon the earth; He taketh account of all that men do.
2. Christ is the ideal Man, and therefore called “the Son of Man.” He did in all things so answer to His Father’s intent that He was the “beloved Son in whom” God was “well pleased.”
3. And this “measuring “ is continually going on. There is an inward monitor as well as an outward one.
4. How grateful we should be for this! “Lord, with what care Thou hast begirt us round!” so sings holy George Herbert; and one evidence of this care is in the constant bringing before our consciences the rigid rule of right.
II. The measured that are spoken of here. The temple, the altar, and the people.
1. The temple of God. It was a symbol and type of all Israel, if not of the whole Church of God (St. Paul, “In whom the whole building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple unto the Lord”) Therefore we may take “the temple of God” as representing the Church in its outward form. Now, God has His ideal for this. What is it? By this supreme test will all our Church organisations be tried. What fruit have they borne in that which is the end of all religion? No antiquity, orthodoxy, catholicity, popularity, beauty, wealth, or any other such plea will stand if God’s standard be not answered to, and His demand for “good fruit” be not met. The axe will fall, and the tree will go down.
2. The altar. This also was to be measured. We may take “the altar” as the symbol of the worship of the Church. Is our worship fervent? On that altar was an ever-burning fire. Is it spiritual? Does it ascend up to God as the smoke of the sacrifice mounted up into the heavens--symbol, beautiful, striking, appropriate, of that uplifting of the heart, that real outgoing of the soul after God, which belongs to all true worship? And, above all, is it sacrificial? The altar was for sacrifice. Worship that has not this element in it will be rejected when that measurement of the altar told of here takes place. Sacrifice means giving up something which we should like to keep. Was not Christ’s sacrifice such? Is not all sacrifice such?
3. The people. “Them that worship therein”--so we read. Now, the Divine ideal for these may be learnt by noting what was not to be measured. And we are told in Revelation 11:2 that “the court which is without the temple … measure it not.” It was to be cast out, left out of the reckoning altogether. Now, the outer court of the temple was the addition of Herod; he was given to erecting magnificent buildings, and the addition of this outer court did undoubtedly add much to the splendour of the whole fabric. But such court had no place in the tabernacle nor in the temple of Solomon or that of Zerubbabel. But Herod had made this outer court in the temple at Jerusalem. It was thronged by all manner of people. There it was the money-changers had their tables, and they who bought and sold doves. The Gentiles might come there, though they might not pass into what was especially the temple, and which was sacred to Israelites only. And so it represented all those outer-court worshippers, those mixed multitudes which are found associated with God’s true people everywhere--of them, but not truly belonging to them.
III. The meaning of all this. It was because a time of sore trial was imminent, close at hand. God ever has, even in the worst of times, a remnant. And He takes notice of them, and will keep them securely, whilst those who are not as they are subjected to His sore judgments. The measuring means preservation for the faithful, judgment for all else. (S. Conway, B. A.)
The cause of right on earth
I. The cause of right on this earth has its measuring rule (Revelation 11:1-2).
1. In the human world there is right and wrong. There is the temple of God, etc. At the same time there is the court that is outside--a sphere discarded by the right and trampling on the holy. This, however, is only for a time.
2. Right here has its measuring line. Take the “temple” here as the emblem of right on the earth, and the “reed” as that of the moral law of God--the law that measures moral character. It is a plummet that sounds the deepest depths of being: it is a moral analyst to test the quality of every thought, affection, and deed.
II. The cause of right on this earth has its mighty defenders (Revelation 11:3-6).
1. They do their work in sadness. “Clothed in sackcloth.” It is not a light work to stand up against a corrupt world and struggle against an age grinning with selfishness, sensuality, and cupidity.
2. They contribute Divine light. The “olive trees” fed the lamps and the “candlesticks” reflected the light. Were it not for the Divine defenders of the right, grand heroes in moral history, all the lamps of truth would go out, and the whole race would be mantled in midnight.
3. They exert tremendous power (Revelation 11:5). Their words flash devouring flames, so shake the corrupt moral firmament under which their contemporaries are living, that the very heavens seem shut up and the rolling streams of life seem turned into blood.
III. The cause of right on the earth has its terrible antagonists (Revelation 11:7-13).
1. The antagonists of the right are malignant; they not only murder, but they exult in their cruelty. The spirit of persecution is an infernal virus that gallops through the veins of the intolerant persecutor, and physical violence is the weapon.
2. The antagonists of the right are ever frustrated.
(1) Their victims were Divinely reanimated.
(2) Their victims ascended to heaven.
(3) With their ascension terrible calamities befall the earth.
IV. The cause of right on the earth is destined to triumph (Revelation 11:14-19).
1. The rapture and adoration of the good. “The kingdoms of this world.” What have they been? What are they now? Hellish mimicries of eternal right and power. Like muddy bubbles on the great stream of life, they have broken into the clear and fathomless river of rectitude and will appear no more, and this will continue for ever and ever. Well, then, might the righteous Worship and thank God.
2. The increased accessibility of heaven. “The temple of God was opened.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The temple of God
I. Its peculiarity. By “the temple of God,” which John is commanded to measure, understand the true Church of Christ. The altar of incense is named, to denote the militant state of the Church, whose employment is prayer; in distinction from that of the Church triumphant, which is praise. The censer is in the hand of the “kings and priests unto God” below, the harp is in the hands of those above. That the measurement is to be confined to the altar and worshippers within the temple is obvious also from the refusal of its extension to the court; “But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not.” If whatever is without the temple be precluded from the measurement, all that to which it applies must of course be considered within.
II. Its measurement. Rise and see how far we have proceeded with the prophecies. Observe in what state we left the Church l Let a correct measurement be taken before we proceed further. Measure how far the building is advanced, and see what remains to bring it to perfection. See what injuries the temple of God has sustained from fierce and sanguinary attacks. It has suffered much, but behold it still abides. See now what the work is, after weathering its storms. “Rise and measure the temple of God.” Measure too the altar. Take the dimensions of the altar of incense which has been reared for prayer and praise. Take the degree of faith in the everliving Intercessor. Measure the devotions of the sanctuary. Mark the plenitude and purity of the incense rising before the throne. Measure too the worshippers. Observe the number of professing Christians. Measure the spiritual stature, and gauge the heart of each one. Measure them that worship therein. There must be a certain breadth, and length, and depth, and height of character. There must be a certain depth of humility and self-renunciation, a certain height of faith and devotion, a certain length of integrity and zeal. View them as worshippers, and there is a certain height to which they must attain, in feeble imitation of the dignity of Him that sits upon the throne. The breadth of the believer’s principles, the depth of his emotions, a certain breadth of sincerity and charity, the length of his hopes, the height of his joys, are far beyond the narrow bounds within which his whole being was formerly confined. His soul is enlarged. He is created anew in Christ Jesus. He has risen above this earth, and has attained a spiritual stature that brings him into fellowship with the Father, and with His son Jesus Christ. His conversation is in heaven.
III. The desecration of the court by the Gentiles is the remaining particular in relation to this temple. This court is nominal Christianity, which now, for the first time, began to assume a distinct character. It was the necessary consequence of an alliance between the Church and the world, it has been far more prejudicial to the real interests of the Church than the most virulent persecution. This court is further said to be “given unto the Gentiles.” It remains only to speak of the court being given unto the Gentiles, and the holy city to be trodden under foot. “I will give power,” it is afterwards said, “unto My two witnesses and they shall prophesy clothed in sackcloth.” It brings before us the permission of the awful reign of anti-christian darkness, for the development of the whole principles of evil in contrast with good. It coincides with the surrender of the Church by God, to that ardent desire for worldly conformity which the severest chastisements had failed to repress. They would not retain the gospel in its simplicity, but would rely upon an arm of flesh; therefore God suffered them to be spoiled by thieves and robbers, who entered not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbed up some other way. (G. Rogers.)
The right temple
Jesus Christ in what He has done as the way in which God dwells with us, and we with God, is the temple that we are thus to measure.
I. First, this is a temple that endureth for ever; a temple of eternity, a house, as the apostle calls it, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Blessed are they that dwell in this temple. And who are they that take such account of it as to understand the eternity of it, the certainty of it, that Christ is indeed a house not made with hands, that He is indeed eternal in the heavens.
II. A temple of plenty. “We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, even of Thy holy temple.” Ah, God the Father is well pleased, Christ is satisfied with the travail of His soul; and “we,” poor sinners saved by mercy, brought out of eternal privation into this eternal plenty, “shall be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, even of Thy holy temple”; a temple from which sin and death are for ever excluded; a temple into which sin and death cannot enter.
III. A temple of government, as you may see in the last verse of this chapter: “The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament.” Now heaven here means the New Testament dispensation, and there will never be another dispensation after the one we have now. But will there not be glorification? That will not be another dispensation; that will only be a continuation of the present. It is true preaching will end, the ordinances of the present dispensation will end; but we shall always have the same Jesus Christ, and the same God, and the same covenant, and the same life, and the same sanctification. Christ’s kingdom shall reign through all ages, and never be moved; and everything must be subservient to the government of Christ’s kingdom. And hence it is said that when this temple was opened “there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and a great hail.” What are the lightnings? Why, God’s Word. His arrows shall go forth as lightning, whether it be to strike an Ananias and Sapphira dead, or to pierce the hearts of three thousand sinners, and make them cry, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” whether it be for judgment or for mercy. These lightnings are God’s Word; and when the temple is opened, that is when Christ is revealed, then these lightnings come. And there were “voices.” There is the voice of salvation: there is the voice of “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” There is the voice of the deep soul trouble; there are the various voices of all the experiences of the people of God: glorious voices of exaltation, triumph, victory, and satisfaction. And then there are thunderings: and what are they? Why, God’s Word. The child of God sometimes gets rather sleepy, some thundering Scripture will come into his mind, create fears, and doubts, and tremblings. This is what one calls being called into the secret place of thunder--but it does the soul good. And an earthquake. Why, regeneration is an earthquake. It swallows up what you were before; swallows up your former hope, and makes you feel that you yourself will be swallowed up in hell. Many a sinner, when God begins His work in this earthquake-like way, has exclaimed with the Psalmist, “Let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.” “And a great hail.” What is that? Storms of persecution and tribulation. If the lightning seem to be against you, yet your God holds the lightnings in His hand, and though the thunderings may seem to be against you, yet the Lord governs those thunderings, and though revolutions alarm you, yet the Lord governs these changes, and though you may be persecuted, and storms and persecutions may fall upon you, yet the Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. (James Wells.)
The holy city shall they tread under foot.--
The true Church reduced
The Church of God will be greatly reduced in its apparent numbers by the open desertion of the powers of the world. This desertion will begin in a professed indifference to any particular form of Christianity, under the pretence of universal toleration; which toleration will proceed from no true spirit of charity The pretended toleration will go far beyond a just toleration, even as it regards the different sects of Christians. For governments will pretend an indifference to all, and will give a protection in preference to none. All establishments will be set aside. From the toleration of the most pestilent heresies, they will proceed to the toleration of Mahometanism, atheism, and at last proceed to the positive persecution of the truth of Christianity. In these times the temple of God will be reduced almost to the holy place, i.e., to the small number of real Christians who worship the Father in spirit, and regulate their doctrine, and their worship, and their whole conduct strictly by the Word of God. The merely nominal Christians will all desert the profession of the truth when the powers of the world desert it. And this tragic event I take to be typified by the order to St. John to measure the temple and the altar, etc. (Bp. Horsley.)
I will give power unto My two witnesses.
The preacher a witness and a prophet
1. The prophecy under consideration gives us an undeniable evidence of the Divinity and truth of the gospel.
2. The prophecy under consideration assures us of the continuance of the gospel ministry.
3. We are here taught what is the character of Christ’s approved ministers, and what are the duties which he requires of them.
(1) They, as witnesses, are to bear testimony to the gospel by professing their own faith in it, by exhibiting the evidences of its Divinity, by defending it against the cavils of unbelievers, by exemplifying the virtues of it in their conversation, and by sacrificing in its cause their worldly interest, and even their lives, if occasion should require.
(2) They, as prophets, must preach the Word with plainness of speech, adapting themselves to common capacities: they must speak with demonstration of the Spirit and with power, commending themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God: they must declare the whole counsel of God, however disgustful any part of it may be to vicious and corrupt minds: they must reprove prevailing iniquities, and confute licentious errors, whoever may practise the former or patronise the latter.
4. This prophecy teaches us that in times of prevailing infidelity and corruption there is always a pointed opposition to the ministers of the gospel. If men wish to exterminate the religion of Christ, they will first oppose the means of its support; and of these one of the chief is a learned and godly ministry.
5. We are taught in this prophecy from Whence arises the enmity of wicked men against the stated launchers of religion. St. John says that when the witnesses shall be slain, they who dwell on earth “shall rejoice over them, because these two prophets tormented them.” How did these prophets torment them? Not by persecution; for they possessed neither the power nor the authority to persecute; but merely by proclaiming those solemn truths which condemn the practice, expose the guilt, and announce the punishment of irreclaimable sinners.
6. Another observation which here presents itself to us is that the Christian Church is meek, humble, and peaceable. So she is represented in this prophecy. She suffers persecution from her enemies, but does not persecute them in return. Her deliverances are effected by the hand of God, not by her own hand. The main instruments of her defence are the excellency of her religion, the purity of her works, and the fervour of her prayers. These weapons of her warfare have proved mighty through God to confound the devices and defeat the power of those who sought her overthrow.
7. We are taught the great efficacy of the prayers of good men. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
The two witnesses
I. The character of the two witnesses. “The two witnesses” are the Son and Spirit of God; the doctrines of their Divinity, or, more particularly, the justifying righteousness of the one, and the regenerating influence of the other.
1. These are the two principal witnesses of God in the Church. They are witnesses of the highest credibility, and to whom alone God would commit His cause. They are best qualified to give evidence upon a subject in all the particulars of which they have been personally concerned. They are the parties to whose care the whole affairs of the Church have been officially consigned. They alone are acquainted with the whole mind and will of God.
2. They are frequently spoken of as witnesses for God in other parts of the Scripture (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 55:4; John 5:31-32; Joh 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Hebrews 10:14-15; 1 John 5:6-10; 1 John 5:20, etc.).
3. This view of the two witnesses is sustained by the preceding allusion. Their emblems are “water and blood.” In the court of the temple are the water and the blood. Here are the altar of burnt-offering and the brazen sea; or, in other words, the “water and the blood.” These are the only furniture of the court. The altar is between the entrance to the court and the brazen sea; and the brazen sea is between the altar and the door of the tabernacle. None without passing by these could enter the holy place.
4. The two witnesses we have named agree with their denomination as prophets. The claim of the Son and the Spirit to the title of the two prophets of God in the Church, above all others, is substantiated by these two Scripture declarations: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him,” and, “When He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth.”
5. Our selection of these witnesses accords with the metaphorical illustration of them in the fourth verse. They are the olive trees from which, and the golden pipes through which, the oil of grace is supplied to the Church of God. These olive trees are represented to John as still standing before the God of the earth. Are they not then “He who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” and the Spirit of Christ which testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow?
II. The rejection of these witnesses. “And I will give unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy, clothed in sackcloth.” (G. Rogers.)
The continuous witness
The Lord calls forth His faithful witnesses, and makes promise that their voice and testimony shall not be silenced, even though the holy city be trodden underfoot. Mark--
I. The unfailing testimony. Throughout the entire period during which the usurping worldly power shall oppress and tread down the adherents to the truth, the voice of testimony is heard. It cannot be silenced. Forty and two months is the holy city trodden underfoot; a thousand two hundred and three score days do the witnesses prophesy. Not any particular two; but the confirmatory two. The number may be minished; but the voice is clear. One herald is sufficient to make a proclamation.
II. The painfulness of witnessing against evil and threatening judgment is but too obvious. The witnesses prophesy, “clothed in sackcloth.” So must all who stand in opposition to evil find the painful bitterness of their sad duty.
III. The divine defence of the witnesses. “If any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth.” The Lord defends His witnesses; His anointed must not be touched. The word of their mouth is itself a penetrating sword of flame; nor can the adversaries of truth escape those external judgments which fire always represents, and which the God of truth uses for the punishment of evildoers, This is further seen in--
IV. Their punitive power. But it is of a nature correspondent to the entire character of the gospel. “They shut up heaven. Sad indeed is it for them who stay the holy work of the heavenly witnesses. For if their work be hindered it is as the shutting up of the heavens--no spiritual rain, no teaching. The world is the sufferer. The loss is unspeakable. By the removal of the earth-preserving salt--the Word--a plague is brought upon the earth. Alas! though the testimony is continuous through all the time of the worldly oppression, yet the witnesses are finally slain! Here the vision may be for the comfort of the witnesses to the truth themselves. And we reflect--
V. Upon their temporary destruction and final triumph. They are slain, and so far the world triumphs. So it did with the one faithful and true Witness. Or we may see here a temporary triumph of the evil worldly spirit, and the final supremacy of the truth. Probably the former. But in either case the faithful witnesses to the truth are assured in this, as in many other ways, of the final reward to their fidelity and the final triumph over them who make them their foes. (R. Green.)
The two witnesses, their testimony
I. Why the saints and people of God are called witnesses. Because it is their work and business to bear witness to the truths and ways of Christ, in opposition to the ways of antichrist. This is the work that we are born for: For this cause, saith Christ, was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth. This is the work of our generation, witness-bearing to the truths of Christ in opposition to the ways of antichrist, in anti-christian times. You will say, What shall I do that I may be found faithful in this witness-bearing; what shall I do that I may witness a good confession in these days of ours? Something by way of rule. Be sure that your testimonies do agree. Though there be a hundred witnesses about a business, if their witness does not agree it will be of little worth. And now so it is, Christ’s witnesses this day are divided into many opinions and persuasions, but they may agree in the main for Christ, they may all agree in opposition unto antichrist. If then you would have your witness valid and good, labour, you that are the witnesses, for unity in your testimony. Again, if you would witness a good confession in these days of ours, then you must be willing to own the truth of Christ, to own it whensoever you are called thereunto. It is said, our Saviour Christ He witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate. Pray what kind of witness was it? Was it any long confession, or large? No; but the manner of it was this: when they called Him before them to give an account of any fact, He left them to prove it. When they called Him to give an account of the doctrine that He held, “Art thou the King of the Jews”? then He owned it. He left them to prove the fact, and He owned the truth; so should we do. If you would witness a good confession in these days of ours, then you must be willing also for to suffer for the truth of Christ. Those that cannot suffer for the truth of Christ and run the hazard of a suffering, they cannot bear their witness fully. See how they go together in Revelation 13:10. If you would witness a good confession, then take heed that when you have borne your testimony you do nothing that may revoke the same, either directly or by consequence. Thus by way of rule. And now by way of means. If you would be faithful in bearing your testimony, in bearing witness to the truths of Christ in opposition to the ways of antichrist, observe what the root is that a good confession grows upon, and labour for to strengthen that. Now what is the root that a good confession grows upon, but faith working by love? Labour in the work of self-denial, and use yourself now to deny yourself. In the next place, take heed that you be not scared too much with the scarecrows of the times, but go to God for boldness, that you may be emboldened with the boldness of the Holy Ghost.
II. But then what are these witnesses more expressly in regard of their number, and in regard of their quality? In regard of their number they are two: “And I will give power unto My ‘two’ witnesses.” Two is but a few, and yet it is enough to bear witness, for “out of the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” Two, a few, and yet enough. The note is this: Christ will always have enough to bear witness to His truth in the darkest times. But then as for their qualification, For their quality: “These are the two olive trees,” at Revelation 13:4. If you look into Zechariah, from whence this is taken, you will find the two olive trees are the godly magistrates and ministers, by whose assistance the golden oil is emptied into the candlesticks and lamps. But what are the two candlesticks? Our Saviour tells you that “the seven golden candlesticks are the seven Churches.” They were seven; now in anti-christian times reduced to a lesser company, two candlesticks. Though, as I said before. Christ will lose none in the latter times, yet in anti-christian times reduced unto two. These are the two candlesticks. Christ tells you the candlesticks are the Churches; so then put this together. Would you know what these two olive trees are, and the two candlesticks? They are the godly magistrate and godly minister in conjunction with the saints of God and Churches of Christ. Here we may see who those are that are fit to bear witness of Christ in anti-christian times, to bear their testimony. They are to be a fruitful, profitable people, and a lightsome people, that can hold forth light unto others in some measure.
III. In sackcloth; What is that? If you ask what this sackcloth means, it represents the sad and afflicted condition that the saints and people of God shall be in in anti-christian times. Is it not a sad thing for the saints to be persecuted to the very gates of Zion? And if Christ’s witnesses shall be in sackcloth 1,260 years, will not you be contented to be in sackcloth three or four years?
IV. Prophesy--what is that, and how did it come to pass that they shall prophesy in the time of their sackcloth? Prophesy--what is that? Why prophesying is sometimes taken in Scripture for the revelation of the mind of God, whereby a man doth foretell things to come. Prophesy is taken for a declaring and making known of the mind and will of God. For, I pray, do but mark, this their prophesying and witness-bearing seems to be all one. “I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy in sackcloth.” I will give power to them; they shall have their orders to preach from Myself; they shall have power from Me to preach, and to prophesy, and to bear their testimony.
V. But then what is the defence and guard that these witnesses have, whereby they are guarded and defended in their prophesying? The text saith, “If any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies.” What then is this fire that proceeds out of the mouth of the witnesses but the devouring judgments of God, whereby the enemies of God’s people are destroyed by the prayers and threatenings of the people of God that come out of their mouth.
VI. What are the great things that these witnesses will do in the end of the days of their prophesying and of their sackcloth? “These have power to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.” (W. Bridge, M. D.)
The beast … shall make war.
Against the beast
I. Among the foes which attack the Church of the Lord, either alternately or in solid phalanx, the present age is exposed particularly to one--the Beast, which sometimes arms himself with demoniac force, and again adorns himself with demoniac wisdom, but who nevertheless is, and always remains, a beast, combining in himself antagonism to God and humanity. Keeping these things in view, let us consider the signs of the times. Behold in modern heathenism man making himself an ape, and, even through the midst of baptized Christianity, the doctrine noised abroad that human history does not emanate from God, in no sense has its source in God; that, in fact, in the sense of a conflict for moral freedom, there can be no history of any kind, not to mention the possibility of a sacred history. Nothing is left but natural history, and that includes only three pages: following the title, under which the name of the author is wanting, there stands on the first legible page an animal; on the second, a man; on the third, death. Ancient heathenism was only a departure from universal revelation by means of nature and conscience; but modern paganism is apostasy from the perfect revelation of God in His Son. This is heathenism more mischievous, more difficult of cure! Hold fast, O man, to what thou hast, and what thou art in moral conviction, in order that no animalised wisdom, and no false prophet, rob you of the crown of your personality, which descended to you from God, and flashes back to God. Ye human souls, a brute has no power to elevate nor to degrade itself; that is why it is a brute and no more than nature; man, however, designed for God’s child and Christ’s co-labourer, must, if he is determined not to follow his calling, fall deep and ever deeper, until he sinks beneath the brute. There certainly never has been a period when the word “humanity” has been so much preached and praised as in ours; but a figure of speech is not yet a fact. Christianity, in truth, has so little conflict with the rights and duties indicated by that word “humanity,” that it, the rather, was first to make the word a truth. “Behold the Man!” through Him by whom a new order of things arose, so that there is no longer bond nor free, male nor female, Greek nor Scythian, but all are one in Christ Jesus, one redeemed, regenerated, baptized humanity. In order to be humane, humanity has need of the Son of Man, who is the Son of God. When, in the preceding century, France was inscribing the word “humanity” on all her banners, and always with new embellishment, she began with dethroning God, and ended by murdering her king. The guillotine--that was her fraternity!
II. It is time that we leave off boasting, and awake and lay hand on our weapons, and startle the beast back to his dismal hole. The Scripture indicates three weapons to be used in the conflict against the beast, when it exclaims: “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” From these words we derive strictness of discipline the simplicity of the cross, the power of prayer. (R. Kogel, D. D.)
Where also our Lord was crucified.
The Cross of the Lord Jesus
This passage strikingly identifies the Master and the servants--our Lord and His witnesses. They were to suffer as He suffered and where He suffered: one with Him in life and death, in shame and glory; one with Him on the Cross, in the grave, in resurrection, in ascension, and on the throne. “Where also our Lord was crucified.” It is the last reference to the Cross of Christ in the Bible, and corresponds well with that frequent expression in the Revelation, “the Lamb slain”; carrying us back to “the seed of the woman” and “the bruised heel.”
1. It was the place of guilt and condemnation (Matthew 27:22; Matthew 27:26; Matthew 27:28).
2. It was the place of shame (Hebrews 12:2).
3. It was the place of weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4).
4. It was the place of pain (Hebrews 13:12).
5. The place of the curse (Galatians 3:13).
6. The place of rejection (John 19:6).
7. The place of hatred (Matthew 27:25).
8. The place of death (Matthew 20:18-19). (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Good things found in the Cross
This Cross, where so many evil things meet, is the place where all good things are to be found. God gathered all the evil to that spot, that He might utterly make away with it, through Him who took all the evil on Himself, that He might bring out of it only good.
1. It is the place of propitiation (Leviticus 16:15; Romans 3:25). The altar was there for the burnt-offering. The place without the gate for the sin-offering was there.
2. It is the meeting-place (Exodus 29:42). It is the place where we meet with God, and God meets with us in friendship, and love, and joy. It is the place where the Father meets the prodigal and embraces him.
3. It is the place of love. God’s love is there, shining in its full brightness, unhindered and undimmed.
4. It is the place of acceptance. Here we become “accepted in the Beloved.” Here the exchange takes place between the perfect and the imperfect. Believing in the perfect One, we become “complete in Him.” (H. Bonar, D. D.)
What the Cross accomplished
The Cross accomplished such things as the following:--
1. It removed the wall of partition (Colossians 2:14).
2. It made peace (Colossians 1:20).
3. It has secured oneness (Ephesians 2:15-16).
4. It has brought life (2 Corinthians 13:4).
5. It contains power (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23).
6. It is the focus or centre of all wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24).
7. It crucifies the world (Galatians 6:14).
8. It furnishes a theme for glorying (Galatians 6:14).
9. It is the model and test of service (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).
10. It is the badge of discipleship (Luke 14:27).
11. It is God’s way of salvation (Acts 10:39-43).
12. It is the measure of Christ’s endurance and obedience (Philippians 2:8).
13. It is the pledge and standard of Divine love (Romans 5:8).
14. It is the revelation of God’s character (1 John 4:10).
15. It is God’s lamp of light.
16. It is the universal magnet (John 12:32).
17. It is the universal balm and medicine.
18. It is man’s estimate of sin.
19. It is God’s verdict against sin, and His estimate of it (Romans 8:3).
20. It is man’s estimate of the Son of God.
21. It is God’s interpretation of law and its penalties.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
A great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither.
The voice from heaven
I. We shall regard it, first, As a summons sent at the appointed hour to every saint. When the time shall come, fixed by irreversible decree, there shall be heard “a great voice from heaven” to every believer in Christ, saying, “Come up hither.”
1. This should be to us--each one of us, if we be in Christ--the subject of very joyful anticipation. To some Christians it will be not only joyful in anticipation, but it will be intensely delightful when it arrives.
2. To change the note a moment; while this should be the subject of joyous anticipation, it should also be the object of patient waiting. God knows best when it is time for us to be bidden to “Come up hither.” We must not wish to antedate the period of our departure. I would not wish to die while there is more work to do or more souls to win.
3. As this “Come up hither” should excite joyous anticipation, tempered by patient waiting, so it should always be to us a matter of absolute certainty as to its ultimate reception. I can understand a man being in doubt about his interest in Christ, but I cannot understand a man’s resting content to be in these doubts.
4. I think very often, besides joyfully anticipating, patiently waiting, and being confidently assured of it, the Christian should delightfully contemplate it.
II. We will take the text this time, not as a summons to depart, but as whisper from the skies to the believer’s heart, The Father seems to say this to every adopted child. Nor will your Father and my Father ever be content till every one of His children shall be in the many mansions above. And Jesus whispers this in your ear. “I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I elm, that they may behold My glory.” Jesus beckons thee to the skies, believer. Lay not fast hold upon the things of earth.
III. These words may be used as a loving invitation to unconverted persons. There are many spirit voices which cry to them, “Come up hither; come up to heaven.”
1. God our Father calls thee. Sinner, thou hast many troubles of late; business goes amiss. Dost thou not know, sinner, this is thy Father saying, “Come up hither”? Thy portion is not here; seek thou another and a better land.
2. But more, the Lord Jesus Christ has also beckoned to you to come. Thou hast heard that He made a way to heaven. Is not a road an invitation to a traveller to walk therein?
3. The Spirit of God strives with thee and cries, “Come up hither.” The Spirit of God wrote this book; and wherefore was this book written? Hear the words of Scripture, “These are written that ye might believe,” etc.
4. Moreover, does not thy conscience say the same?
5. And, last of all, the spirit of your friends departed cry from heaven to you to-night--that voice which I would you could hear, “Come up hither.” I adjure you, ye sons of saints in glory; I adjure you, daughter of immortal mothers; despise not now the voice of those who speak from heaven to you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Voices from heaven
And we, too, hear voices from heaven, saying unto us, “Come up hither.” Did we not, how grovelling our desires, our pursuits, our very natures would be!
1. There is, first, a voice even from the lower and material heaven, calling on our souls, and urging them to ascend. The stars of the firmament, and the sun, and the moon, speak as well as shine. They “utter forth a glorious voice”; a voice which not only declares the glory of God, but exhorts the spirit of man. Come up hither! Come up into the vast domains of space, and count our numbers, and compute our size, and bathe in our brightness, and learn what we can tell you of height and of depth, of splendour and of power. Stay not always below. Breathe not always in mist and vapours. Regard not earth so exclusively and so long, as to rest in the conclusion that earth is all.
2. We do not stop, however, but only begin with these works, all bright and eloquent as they are. They introduce us to Him who made them; to Him from whose fountain they draw their light, and of whose voice their own is but an echo. God delegates not to His creatures, but reserves as His own right, the highest converse with His likeness, the human soul. He is the Father of spirits, and He will speak Himself to His children. And from the heaven where He dwelleth He says to them, Come up hither. Come up into the spiritual dwelling-place of your Creator, and birthplace of your own souls. Remain not so constantly in your temporal residence, as to forget the way to that abode where My children are to live for ever. Come up hither by faith now, that hereafter you may come in by sight. Come up by hope, that when hope shall disappear, it may be Swallowed up in fruition. Come up by charity and good works done in the body, that when your bodies are resolved into dust, your souls may be prepared for that happy and holy kingdom into which sin and impurity cannot enter. Come up hither by the exercises of piety and the strength of Divine love. Come, and see My face, and be to Me as sons.
3. But there is another to whom we are dear, even His own Son, who dwells with His Father; and He also calls us from the same heaven, saying unto us, Come up hither l Here are the mansions which I have been preparing for My disciples. Cause not My labour for you to be vain. I earned My reward, that ye might share it with Me. I would not lose one soul that I once bled to redeem. Come up hither. There is room for you, and for all.
4. And now we hear other great voices from heaven, saying unto us, Come up hither! They are the voices of “the glorious company of the apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” “the noble army of martyrs,” the innumerable multitude of saints and sealed servants of God, which no man can number, of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues. Come up hither I they cry, and witness our joys, and be encouraged by our success.
5. There are few to whom I am speaking who do not hear other voices yet, which, though not more animating than the last, are, by the provision of God, nearer to the listening ear, and dearer to the soul. There are few who do not number in their families those whose places are vacant at the table and the hearth, but who are not reckoned as lost but only gone before. And when the business of daily life is for a while suspended, and its cares are put to rest--nay, often in the midst of the world’s unheeded tumult--their voices float down clearly and distinctly from heaven, and say to their own, Come up hither! Our infirmities are relieved; our strength is renewed; our fears and doubts are flown away; our sins are forgiven. Hearken to us, and be comforted! Come to us, when your journey is done! (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
The great voice from heaven
No argument is needed to show that the word “up” is used in a figurative and not in a literal sense, What heaven is we do not know. The truth is that between physical and moral relations there is often a close analogy. The physical world in which we live is the type of the world to which we are going; the conditions of being, the relations of matter in which we are practised here--motion, rest, distance, nearness, weight, buoyancy, power, resistance, birth, life, growth, death--all these are physical ideas; yet we cannot talk about spiritual or heavenly things without employing these terms; and they were meant to be used by us in this way. Of course the essential excellence of heaven consists in the moral purity and perfection of which it is the home. And between moral purity and perfection and physical elevation there seems to be a constant and, perhaps, a necessary relation. Perhaps the human mind is so constituted that it will associate these ideas. The fact is worth noting, because we are not always aware that when we seem to be speaking in the soberest prose we are often using words poetically. We talk of the higher life, meaning, of course, the purer and better life; we describe one whom we know as possessing a lofty spirit, as governed by an elevated purpose, as having a high standard of conduct. The analogy between physical height and moral excellence is most clear and vivid. We go down into cellars and dungeons, into caverns and morasses, into sloughs and pitfalls, into floods and depths of ocean. A great part of our physical discomforts and dangers are encountered in going down. We go up to solid footing, to pure air, to wide prospects; many of our more pleasurable sensations are the result of ascending. The voice from heaven which says, “Come up hither,” means to us a great deal. It means, Come up out of the fens and quagmires, out of the cellars and the dungeons, out of the miasma and the darkness--up to the heights where the sun always shines, where the air is always pure and sweet, where the eye sweeps a wide horizon that girdles fertile plains and shining lakes and winding rivers and glorious summits. “It is only a figure, then,” somebody may say. That is as if one should stoop to pick up a pebble and should exclaim, as he held it in his hand, “Only a diamond!” How much more rich and precious is the figure than any mere literalism could be! We conceive of heaven rightly both as a state of being and as a place of residence. Holding, then, both these conceptions of heaven in our thought, let us listen to the great voice out of heaven saying unto us, “Come up hither!” Heaven as a state is not beyond the reach of those who dwell upon the earth. Heaven came down to earth when Christ came. It had always been coming, indeed; but there was more of it here when He came than ever before. The announcement of the Saviour’s coming by the Forerunner--what was it? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There is a life that springs from the earth and that clings to the earth; a life whose central motive is appetite or passion, or some form of selfishness a little more refined; a life that is ruled by material ideas and forces; a life whose maxims and methods are all earthly and sordid. There is another life that has its inspiration in heaven, and that lifts us up toward heaven; a life whose central motive is love; whose source is the indwelling of God’s spirit in the soul; a life that enthrones the nobler faculties and makes the grosset nature serve the higher; that holds the appetites in check, and subordinates material things to spiritual; a life whose joy is found in giving rather than in getting. These two realms of experience--the upper and the lower--lie close together, and both of them invite us by motives of their own. There is that in us which responds to the solicitations of the realm of sense, and there is that in us which answers to the call from the spiritual realm. Unhappily many of us, I fear, spend most of our days down below. Our affections are set on things on the earth, rather than on the things above. Now and then we make an excursion into the heavenly realm, but we do not stay there long. (W. Gladden, D. D.)
And the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The judgments of God
1. The judgments of God’s mouth, and the judgments of God’s hand--the word and the work of God--the manifestation of His truth by verbal announcement, and the manifestation of His truth by providential dispensation, are alike efficacious, through the Divine blessing, to the conversion of the souls of men. “The remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
2. The terrible judgments of the Almighty, overwhelming the wicked with alarm and awe, are the last means--where the other have been despised and unavailing--by which infinite mercy operates for the salvation of the souls of men (Proverbs 29:1).
3. These means are also, historically or prophetically, the last means by which shall be accomplished that national regeneration which shall precede and usher in the glory of the millennial era, which is thus described by revelation (Revelation 11:15).
4. “Wars and rumours of wars,” “and great earthquakes in divers places, and famines, and pestilence, and fearful sights and great signs from heaven,” shall be the principal instrumentalities of judgment by which the enemies of God and His Church shall be dealt with in these predicted “days of vengeance.”
5. The present condition of Christendom--its Churches and its nations--viewed in the light of prophetic intimation, reveals that “monitory pulse-like beating” which is symptomatic of the approaching end.
6. In the meantime, let the Church of Christ, by the enterprise of faith and the devotion of worship anticipate the anthem of her triumph when, commingling her own gladness with the hymnal joys of the world’s jubilee, she shall sing (Revelation 11:17). (Thos. Easton.)
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.
This text is generally quoted in a missionary connection, and associated with the conversion of the heathen. But it is of much wider scope than that. There are plenty of Christians that want converting, plenty of Churches that want Christianising. The progress of all life in our planet has been a progress from the animal upward to the intellectual, the moral, the spiritual; from mere brute force to the dominion of thought and reason. Ages back mere bigness of mass seemed to count for everything. The so-called “antediluvian” monsters were rampant. As life developed mere bigness became of less and less account, and brain became of more account. Those who can influence mind are the true monarchs of creation. This is the realm in which Christ’s supreme triumphs are to take place. Christ will fascinate and possess the mind of the world, and the mind will rule all the rest. “Strong beliefs win strong men, and then make them stronger.” The masculine but humane morality of Jesus Christ must more and more commend itself to the thinking and influential portion of society. Ideas and institutions which have been long prevalent go down before a superior idea. So shall it be with many world-ideas in presence of the truth of Christ. Many institutions have lived and done their work. They have served their day and generation, but now they have waxed old, and are ready to decay and vanish away in the presence of a nobler ideal. Still, we are not to disparage the old because the new has come. The present forms of animal life are far superior in development and attainment to those whose remains are found in the tertiary rocks. But the forms of to-day could not have existed without the forms that went before. Those very things which Christ’s law and spirit will supplant have been important factors in human progress. When the Apocalyptic dream of the New Jerusalem, the Christian state, the city of God, finally and triumphantly established upon earth, shall find complete fulfilment, it will be characterised by a fuller embodiment of the law of Christ in every sphere of human relationship and conduct. For instance, the kingdom of Art shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. It has become so to a great extent. All the noblest paintings, all the grandest buildings in the world during the Christian era, have been the product of the Christian imagination. Certainly the sublimest music owns this inspiration. We need not fear the complete annexation of this kingdom, because the genius of the true Christianity is hopeful and happy. The kingdom of Literature would, in like manner, come under the dominance of Christian ideas. It is hard to say at present whether this tremendous engine for good or evil works most good or evil. What a blessed thing it will be when the domain of literature becomes the domain of Christ; when nothing will be written or read the tendency of which is not to the true elevation and edification of the human mind; when editors shall all be men of conscience, and the venal pen shall be as much an archaeological curiosity as the stone hatchet; when we shall be able to take up any book and feel that it will be safe for our children to read; when we can open even the latest novel from Paris with the confidence that none of our finer sensibilities will be shocked, and that an atmosphere will not be introduced into the home whose poisonous vapours we should shudder to think that our young people will breathe. The kingdom of Commerce, too, shall one day fall under the rule of Christ. That will be indeed a blessed day when men can trust one another, and when all shall be worthy of that trust; when another man’s property shall be as sacred in our eyes as our own; when public funds shall be administered with the same scrupulous integrity with which our own are dispensed. The realm of Amusements, too, shall come under the same rule. The prophecy will find its fulfilment not in the expression of any particular forms of recreation, but in the Christianising of them all. And will it not be a grand day when the kingdom of Politics shall be sanctified by the Spirit of Christ? When debates shall be purged from the pettiness of personality and the rancour of recrimination; when offices shall be filled with the sole aim that the commonwealth shall receive the services of its most capable citizens; and when the statesman’s ruling principle shall be not to catch votes, but to redress wrongs and establish righteousness. And then may we not hope that even the Church itself in that happy day shall come under the dominion of the law of Christ? No longer to be the collection of ecclesiastical antiquities, the museum of theological curiosities, the arena of strife and debate that it is to-day, but the abode of ideal men and women, the home of all the sweet and pure Christian virtues. Then Christians shall no longer “bite and devour one another”; “giving the enemy occasion to blaspheme.” Their energies shall be converted into light, and not into heat, and men will be willing to rejoice in that light. But how shall those great results, of which we have spoken in other spheres, be achieved unless the Church be first true to herself? It is through her that these beneficent impulses upon society must come. We must begin by being ideal Christians if the world is to become an ideal world. (J. Halsey.)
The glory awaiting the Church on earth
I. The probable condition of the world in the accomplishment of this prediction. It will be characterised by--
1. The universal dissemination of Christian knowledge.
2. The general prevalence of religious life.
3. The increase and glory of the Christian Church.
4. The diffusion of happiness throughout the world. Christianity is the parent of morality, industry, patriotism, public spirit.
II. The probable means by which this great event will be produced.
1. The preaching of the gospel.
2. The active zeal of Christians.
3. The operations of Divine providence.
4. The effusion of the Holy Spirit.
III. The duties which arise in anticipating this great consummation.
1. To seek the possession of personal religion.
2. To render all assistance to accelerate the advent of this glorious period.
3. To unite in prayer for the accomplishment of this prediction. (Homilist.)
The kingdom of God
We can imagine, I suppose, that when the Revelation of St. John the Divine was taken to the different Christian Churches, in the upper chambers where they were accustomed to meet together, or in the secret places where they gathered for fear of persecution, after they had read these glowing pages, they must have parted with new feelings of hope in their hearts. They would expect that a time would come speedily when the persecutions would be memories of the past, and the kingdom would be set up, of which they had been reading in such vivid colours. Yet the day passed by, and the Roman power remained, and the Temple, sacred to Diana at Ephesus, was as stable as ever. It happened then as it has happened to many a one since. So it must have been with many of those of the ancient Church, when, all eager and expectant, they found the vision was sealed for the time; they must go their way and tarry until the time should come when the promise would be fulfilled. We can scarcely be surprised at finding that they looked for a very literal fulfilment in the shape of a kingdom which should, by the exercise of power, bear down all opposition. They were told of a great king who went forth “conquering and to conquer.” The tradition of the old Jewish Church was of a people going forth as the Lord’s messengers to crush down all the Lord’s enemies. Again, the majority of Christian people, when they found that the promise could not be realised in that way, looked for something totally different. The promise seemed impossible of literal fulfilment. The kingdom of God became totally distinct from the kingdom of the world. It was something which could only be reached when this world was over. When persecution broke out, when the people were dragged to prison, men felt that the kingdom of God was not of this world, but of that which is to come. And so, little by little, people had that expectation for the realisation of this promise. Does the Christian Church of to-day have the same expectation? Is there any possibility of the realisation of this promise? I would suggest that the realisation is to come through our changed ideas about the kingdom of God; that the kingdom of God does not mean power victorious, but that it means love victorious; that the kingdom of God means what St. Paul does when he writes, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” What I want to leave in your minds is the conviction that the crown of thorns is the crown of glory; that the Cross is the throne on which Christ is exalted. What do these two things mean--the crown of thorns and the cross of shame? They mean the extremest manifestation of infinite love. Christ has said that love is greater than hate; love is greater than infamy. And that is the only principle on which “the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.” The Christian Church is slowly abandoning the idea of conquering by mere power. The Christian Church is slowly losing the idea of the kingdom of this world becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ in the persons of those who pass away beyond this world, and become the subjects of a kingdom which has nothing to do with this world. His kingdom shall come on this earth by the individual members copying the example of Jesus Christ, and believing in the revelation of that love which overcame sin; so that the people who live upon this earth shall be willing subjects of Divine love, and living in perfect love to their fellow-men. (Bp. Courtney.)
It is related of Hannibal that, when he had led his men to one of the higher ridges of the Alps, they began to murmur, and requested that they should be reconducted to their native country. Standing on an eminence and waving his hand, the intrepid Carthaginian General directed their attention to the plains of Piedmont below. “Behold,” said he, “these fruitful vineyards and luxuriant fields. A few more struggles, and they are all your own.” These were inspiring words, and they had the desired effect. May we not apply them to the subject of missions, and say, Behold, from the mount of promise, the nations of the earth at the feet of the Church’s exalted Head! A few more struggles on the part of His followers, and voices shall be heard, not in heaven only, but from the innumerable and widely scattered tongues of earth, giving utterance to the joyous announcement, “The kingdoms of this world are become,” etc.
The kingdom of heaven and its progress
You might as well stand on the banks of the Mississippi and be afraid it was going to run up stream as to suppose that the current of Christendom can run more than one way. What would you think of a man who should stand moonstruck over an eddy, and because that didn’t go right forward, declare that the whole flood had got out of its course? So in the stream of time. The things that appear in our day all have bearing on the coming triumph of the gospel and the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. (H. W. Beecher.)
Jesus will conquer the world
Yonder in the cathedral at Vienna the Emperor Frederick is represented, standing with arm uplifted, and at the tip of his extended fingers are the five vowels, A, E, I, O, U, which, being interpreted, means, “Austria est imperare obi universo”--“Austria will conquer the world.” Another and a gander figure meets the gaze of every Christian of to-day, no matter where his standpoint, and the inscription thereon is in letters of fire: “Jesus est imperare obi universo”--“Jesus will conquer the world.” (C. W. Boot.)
The four-and-twenty elders … fell upon their faces and worshipped God.
The heavenly life
I. It is a life of worship.
1. The persons who are worshipping are described as twenty-four elders. They are the Universal Church, the blessed of the old covenant and of the new; and yet, as persons and representatives, are portrayed as leaders of the heavenly worship.
2. Their dignity. They are “before God,” i.e., in His immediate presence, and sit upon thrones. They are said also to have crowns (Revelation 4:10). This is a picture in which vision, repose, kingly power, and victory each has a place.
3. Their worship. Observe, it is an act--they “fell upon their faces and worshipped God.” Sitting upon thrones, contemplating God, was their habitual condition; but worship was the active expression of their sense of the Divine majesty. They offer Him inward and outward adoration.
II. It is a life of thanksgiving.
1. This arises from the clear realisation of their indebtedness to God for all. Gratitude is apt to be chilled by the sorrows, the sufferings, and the uncertainties of this present life. When it exists in the soul it has to struggle with life’s burden, and its expression is like the transient rays of light which pierce the cloud that darkens the landscape. But the song of the redeemed is called forth by the sight of the Giver, and the dark problems of earth are solved in the light of heaven (John 13:7).
2. It arises from the possession of “the gift of glory.” Grace is more precious than all the gifts of nature; but glory is greater than grace, as the flower is more than the bud. The consciousness of having “attained to the true end of their being elicits from the worshippers the anthem of thanksgiving with a fulness and a sweetness in the heavenly Jerusalem with which the songs by the waters of Babylon could never compare.
3. It arises from a deeper sense of unworthiness than can ever be felt on earth. What was the casting of their crowns before the feet of the Most High but a protestation that their excellence and their victories were due to the grace which He had vouchsafed to them?
4. It was a corporate oblation of thanksgiving--“We give,” etc. Each has his own joy, and each can enter into the joy of all.
III. What Divine perfection did they hymn? The eternity of God.
1. This perfection belongs to God alone. He alone is without beginning. This is the root-distinction between Creator and creature. He is, in the language of Daniel, “the Ancient of days” (Daniel 7:22). He is from Himself; with Him is “the well of life.” None other is self-derived. He alone possesses His life without succession, unchangeably (iota simul).
2. Every creature has a beginning. “The creature is from that,” says St. Augustine, “which is as yet not.” As being is a base of all gifts, so creation is at the root of all worship. The realisation of God as the Beginning and End of our being is essential for worship. The elders grasped the difference between Creator and created. They offered Him, their God, “glory, and honour, and praise.” Why? “Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are, and were created.” Here every one and everything we see is created and transient; the line between eternal and temporal is clearly marked where the Eternal makes Himself known and seen.
1. The importance of worship as a preparation for the heavenly life.
2. The spirit of thanksgiving should enter more fully into our religion, which is sometimes lacking in brightness, trust, and unselfishness.
3. The contemplation of the eternity of God, “Thou art from everlasting,” produces many fruits. There is a certain delight in the contemplation, as in regarding some vast and magnificent object, as the heavens or the sea. Then the thought of an eternity in the future, of the endlessness of human life, must stir within us hopes and fears--“hope of glory,” and fear of missing it. Such a conception will always create in us a sense of the littleness of things present, in comparison with things eternal. (Canon Huchings, M. A.)
We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come.--
The omnipotence of God
I. in the original production of all creatures. It is God alone who can create. Man, in the exercise of his wisdom and ingenuity, may indeed form and invent many things, but he must have the materials to work with: when God formed the world He found no materials to work with--He created the materials Himself. He called them into being with His irresistible voice: and when He surveyed the various works of His hands, we are told, they all met with His full approval: “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.” All the works of God are finished works; they will bear, as they invite, the closest and most minute inspection; and unlike the works of man, when most examined they will be the most admired. We may notice also the power of God in the greatness of some of His works, and in the smallness of others. The earth which we inhabit is said to be eight thousand miles in diameter, but what is this when compared with the body of the sun, which gives us light day after day, and which is said to be a million of times larger than the earth we inhabit, and ninety millions of miles distant from it. The smallness again of many creatures is equally surprising, as is the greatness of others.
II. In the preservation and government of his creatures. “He upholdeth all things by the word of His power.” The planets revolve in their appointed circuits with the most unerring and minute exactness. The various seasons succeed each other in their regular and appointed order. The great and wide sea also, whose billows roar and threaten to overwhelm the earth, is kept by the power of its Maker within its proper and prescribed limits. We may again observe the same Almighty power in making such constant and abundant provision for the vast family of the universe. All the innumerable tribes of beings which inhabit the earth, the air, and the water, “these all wait upon God.” The moral government of God is still more wonderful to contemplate.
III. In the work of our redemption by Christ Jesus. How manifest was this in the person of our Divine Redeemer Himself! And when we come to consider the first planting of our holy religion in the world, by means so feeble and so unlikely to all human appearance, and notwithstanding obstacles so great, we shall see with what propriety the gospel is spoken of as “the power of God unto salvation.” The gospel also is intended to produce a great inward change. The corruption of our nature is such as to render this change absolutely needful; and it is a change so considerable and complete, that it is called in Scripture a “new creation”; this, of course, can only be effected by the power of God. And the apostle, as if wanting language to express the greatness of this power, says, “and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.” One exertion more of the Divine power let us dwell on. When Moses beheld a hush on fire, and yet not consumed, he turned aside to behold it with admiration. In that burning bush he beheld the emblem of Israel afflicted in Egypt, yet not destroyed; and may we not also perceive in it an emblem of the true Christian, “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation”? And what but the power of God is sufficient for this purpose? Lessons:
1. That God should be held in reverence and adored.
2. Let this Almighty God be also feared.
3. Blessed are they who put their trust in Him. (J. L. F. Russell, M. A.)
The omnipotence of God
Every attribute of God is proper and useful object of our consideration, as being apt to remind us of our duty, and excite us to the practice of it, for which purposes this of omnipotence, mentioned in the text, is of much avail, and deserves serious consideration.
1. God is παντοκράτωρ, as having a just right and authority over all thing, being naturally the sovereign Lord and Emperor of the world.
2. He is also such inregard to His infinite power, as that word may signify omnipotent.
3. He is also so, because He doth actually exercise all dominion, and continually exert His power, according to His good pleasure; “for the Lord hath prepared His throne in heaven, and His kingdom ruleth over all,” etc.
4. God is παντοκράτωρ, as the true proprietary and just possessor of all things; “the heavens,” saith the Psalmist, “are Thine; the earth also is Thine,” etc.
5. Also as containing and comprehending all things by His immense presence and infinite capacity. “I fill heaven and earth,” said God in Jeremiah; and King Solomon in his prayer observes, “the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee,” etc.
6. God is παντοκράτωρ, in regard that He sustains and preserves all things (Nehemiah 9:6; Colossians 1:17).
I. If God be the just sovereign of all things, having a right to govern the world, and actually exercising it, then--
1. We see our condition here; that we live not in an anarch, or in perfect liberty to follow our own will, etc.
2. We understand our duty as subjects and vassals, etc.
3. We may hence discern the heinousness of every sin as committed against the crown and dignity of God.
4. We may learn what reason we have to be content in every condition, since our station is allotted to us by unquestionable right.
5. It is a matter of great consolation to reflect that we and all the world are under such a governor, who is no usurper and tyrant, but a most just, wise, and gracious sovereign.
II. The belief of God’s immense and uncontrollable power is also of great importance and influence on practice.
1. It serves to beget in us a due awe and dread of Him.
2. It consequently dissuades and deters us in a high manner from sin, nothing being more reasonable than that advice of the preacher, “contend not with him that is mightier than thou.”
3. Whence the consideration of this point may dispose us to weigh well our counsels.
4. It may also serve to depress confidence in ourselves, and in all other things, as to any security they can afford.
5. It may be of special efficacy to quell and mortify in us the vices of pride, arrogance, self-will.
6. Also to breed and nourish faith in God, as to the certain performance of His word and promises, which, be they never so difficult, He is so able to perform.
7. Hence also particularly it may produce and cherish faith in the sufficiency of God’s providence, and induce us entirely to rely on it.
8. It affords comfort and encouragement to us in the undertaking and prosecution of honest and prudent enterprises, giving us hope and confidence in their success.
III. That notion of the word “almighty,” which implies God’s being universal proprietary and possessor of all things, has also many good uses. We may thence learn--
1. That we are not our own, and therefore are obliged to submit with patience to His disposal of us.
2. We ought to be content with that share of accommodations which He allows, since all things are His, and we can claim nothing from Him.
3. To be satisfied when He withdraws that of which He has before afforded us the enjoyment.
4. To be heartily thankful for all we ever have or enjoy.
5. Carefully to manage and employ all which is put into our hands for His interest and service.
6. To be humble and sober, not to e conceited, or to glory in regard to anything we love.
IV. That sense, according to which the word signifies God’s containing all things by His immense presence, is also of most excellent use. We thereby may learn with what care, circumspection, modesty, and integrity we ought always to manage our conversation and behaviour, since we continually think and speak and act in the immediate presence of God, “whose eyes are on the ways of men.” Hence also we are prompted to frequent addresses of prayer, thanksgiving, and all kind of adoration.
V. The consideration that God upholds all things, and consequently ourselves, in being, may powerfully deter us from offending Him; for put the case that our life and all the comforts of living depended on the bounty and pleasure of any person, should we not be very waxy and fearful of offending such an one? (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)
The temple of God was opened in heaven.
The vision of the heavenly temple
I. The vision of the heavenly temple. “The temple of God was opened in heaven.”
1. A spectacle of surpassing grandeur. Its revealing splendour drinks up the mists of ages, and solves enigmas that have puzzled the wisest.
2. A spectacle of Divine government. Our God and King is enshrined in the heavenly temple; from thence He governs all things in the interest of His Church, contending with and defeating her enemies. The unexplained procedures of His government will soon be made clear.
3. A spectacle of loftiest worship. There is no true worship without thanksgiving and praise.
II. The suggestive disclosure of the heavenly vision. There was seen in His temple the ark of the Testament. We regard the ark disclosed in this vision as a symbol of God’s faithfulness.
1. In carrying out the covenant of redemption. He selected the Jews as the nation through which He intended to reveal His saving purposes to the world. The work of atonement was conceived, developed, and carried out in harmony with all the attributes of the Divine character.
2. In rewarding the faithful. Designated in three different grades-- Revelation 11:18.
(1) His servants, the prophets--men prominently active in His cause.
(2) The saints--eminent for piety.
(3) Them that fear Thy name, small and great--men of varying degrees of attachment to God. All rewarded according to their works.
3. In taking vengeance on His enemies. These enemies are described in Revelation 11:18 as those who destroy or corrupt the earth. This done by wars and desolations, by abuse of secular and spiritual powers, by evil doctrines, by flagrant sins, which cry for vengeance. All such enemies God will “punish with everlasting destruction.”
1. The most imposing revelation in the heavenly temple will be that of God’s faithfulness.
2. The contemplation of that faithfulness, while it stimulates the righteous, may well alarm the wicked. (G. Barlow.)
The ark of His testimony.
The ark of the covenant
(with Jeremiah 3:6):--
I. The symbol reverenced. This ark was the object of great reverence, and very fitly so, because it symbolised God’s presence. They saw no similitude, for what likeness can there be of Him that filleth all in all? But they knew that God’s excellent glory shone above the mercy-seat, and they thought of the ark in connection with the Lord, as David did when he said, “Thou and the ark of Thy strength.” It was, therefore, a thing greatly to be reverenced, for God was there. That presence of God meant blessing, for God was with His people in love to them. Moreover, the ark was held in reverence by the Israelites because it was their leader. Marvel not that the men of Judah paid great reverence to this ark when in so many ways it was a token for good to them. What they did to this ark is mentioned in the text.
1. They recognised it as the ark of the covenant of the Lord. They were wont to say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” They spoke much of it, and prided themselves upon the possession of it.
2. They remembered it, as the text plainly informs us. If they were captives they prayed in the direction in which the ark was situated; wherever they wandered they thought of God and of the coffer which represented His presence.
3. They visited it. On certain holy days they came from Dan and from Beersheba, even from the uttermost ends of their land, in joyful companies, singing and making joyful holiday as they went up to the place where God did dwell between the cherubim.
4. They were accustomed also to speak highly of it, for in the margin of your Bibles you will find, “Neither shall they magnify it any more.” They used to tell to one another what the ark had done; the glory that shone forth from it, the acceptance of the offering whose blood was sprinkled upon it on the Day of Atonement, and the testimony which was heard from between the cherubic wings.
II. That reverence obliterated. They were to say no more, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” Yet that fact was to be a blessing. Observe that the words are not spoken as a threatening, but as a gracious promise. Now, this cannot merely mean that they would be without the ark, for they would certainly understand that to be a sign of Divine anger. Neither would the mere absence of the ark fulfil the prophet’s words; for if the ark were gone they would remember it still. If they could not visit it, yet it would come to their minds, and they would speak of it. It was somehow to be a boon to them that they should speak no more of the ark of the covenant, for the text was delivered in the form of a promise. The fact is they were to have done with the symbol because the substance would come. Our Lord Jesus by His coming has put out of His people’s thoughts the material ark of the covenant, because its meaning is fulfilled in Him, and this--
1. In the sense of preservation. We think nothing of the ark now, and we think nothing of the tablets of stone; but we do think everything of Jesus Christ, “who is made of God unto us righteousness”; for He has completely kept the law; for He said, “Thy law is within My heart.” It was not within His heart alone, but within all His life; His whole thoughts, words, and acts went to make up a golden chest in which the precious treasure of the perfect law of God should be contained. O come, let us magnify His blessed name!
2. Next, the ark signified propitiation; for over the top of the sacred box which held the two tables of the law was the slab of gold called the mercy-seat, which covered all. We will not talk of that golden covering now, but we will speak of Jesus, our blessed Lord, who covers all.
3. The next word is a very blessed one: and that is, “covenant.” I thank God that in Jesus Christ we have a covenant of grace which can never fail, and can never be broken, and in Him we have all that our souls desire: pot of manna and rod of Aaron; covenant provision and covenant rule we find in Him.
4. Fourthly: because this ark was the ark of the covenant of God it was from it that He was accustomed to reveal Himself, and so it is called the “ark of testimony.” Jehovah often spoke from off the mercy-seat to His waiting people. We say no more, “the ark of the testimony,” but we rejoice that God was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, and saw the Father in the Son.
5. This ark also signified enthronement; for the top of the ark was, so to speak, the throne of God. It was “the throne of the heavenly grace.” There God reigned and dwelt, that is, typically. We talk no longer of the ark, and of its gold, and of its crown, and of its golden lid, and of the winged cherubs; for the Lord Jesus is infinitely better than these. Oh, our beloved Lord and Master, Thou dost chase away these shadows from our minds, for the very throne of God art Thou!
6. Out of this grows the next idea, that as it was the place of God’s enthronement, so it was the door of man’s approach. Men never came nearer to God on earth typically than when they stood in the holy place close by the ark. Israel was nearest to God symbolically on that day when the atonement had been made and accepted, and her priest stood before the ark awe-stricken in the presence of God. You and I need not speak of the ark of the covenant, for we have a blessed way of approach. We do not come to Christ once in the year only, but every day in the year, and every hour of the day. He who came but once in the year came tremblingly. The Jews have a tradition that they put a cord about the foot of the high priest, so that if he should die before the ark they might draw out his corpse, such was their servile fear of God. The tradition shows what was the trembling nature of that entrance within the veil: how different from the apostle’s words, “Let us come boldly unto the throne of the heavenly grace “! We are not afraid of being stricken with death there: we are full of reverence, but we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear. There is no approaching God except in Christ; but in Christ our approach to God may be as near as possible.
III. This reverence transferred.
1. First: Let us say that Jesus is our covenant. We are told, “They shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” People must talk, it is natural to them--what else are their tongues for? Let us, then, say concerning Christ that He is the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Come, let us each one say it for himself--“Lord Jesus, I am in covenant with God through Thee. Jesus, thou art my propitiation, by Thee I approach unto the Father.”
2. The text takes you a step further, for it says of the original ark, “neither shall it come to mind, or (margin), neither shall it come upon your heart.” Let Christ come upon your heart, and dwell there. Let us not have Christ in the head, but Christ in the heart. Know all you can about Him; but love Him on account of everything you know; for everything we learn about Christ ought to be another argument for affection to Him.
3. And next, if we should ever grow dull or cold at any time, let us take the third step in the text, and let us remember the Lord. If I have not this enjoyment now I will remember it, and struggle till I find my Lord again. O my Lord, I will remember Thee. If I forget Thee, let my heart forget to beat.
4. The next thing is, let us visit Him. We cannot set out on journeys now to go to Jerusalem on foot--little bands of us together; yet let us visit Jesus. Let us continually come to the mercy-seat alone. Who that knows the worth of prayer but wishes to be often there? Next, let us come up by twos and threes. You that live at home and seldom get out, could you not every now and then during the day say to your maid, if she is a Christian, or to your sister who lives with you, “Come, let us have a five minutes’ visit to the ark of the covenant; let us go to the Lord and speak with Him; maybe He will speak with us”?
5. The last thing is, “neither shall that be done any more”; but the margin has it, “neither shall that be magnified any more.” Transfer your reverence, then, and as you cannot magnify the literal mercy-seat, come and magnify Christ, who is the real mercy-seat. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The ark of His covenant
I. The covenant always near to God.
1. Whatever happens, the covenant stands secure.
2. Whether we see it or not, the covenant is in its place, near to God.
3. The covenant of grace is for ever the same, for--
(1) The God who made it changes not.
(2) The Christ who is its Surety and Substance changes not.
(3) The love which suggested it changes not.
(4) The principles on which it is settled change not.
(5) The promises contained in it change not; and, best of all--
(6) The force and binding power of the covenant change not.
II. The covenant is seen of saints. We see it when--
1. By faith we believe in Jesus as our Covenant-head.
2. By instruction we understand the system and plan of grace.
3. By confidence we depend upon the Lord’s faithfulness, and the promises which He has made in the covenant.
4. By prayer we plead the covenant.
5. By experience we come to perceive covenant-love running as a silver thread through all the dispensations of providence.
6. By a wonderful retrospect we look back when we arrive in heaven, and see all the dealings of our faithful covenant God.
III. The covenant contains much that is worth seeing.
1. God dwelling among men: as the ark in the tabernacle, in the centre of the camp.
2. God reconciled, and communing with men upon the mercy-seat.
3. The law fulfilled in Christ: the two tables in the ark:
4. The kingdom established and flourishing in Him: Aaron’s rod blossomed.
5. The provision made for the wilderness: for in the ark was laid up the golden pot which had manna. The universe united in carrying out covenant purposes, as typified by the cherubim on the mercy-seat.
IV. The covenant has solemn surroundings.
1. The sanctions of Divine power--confirming.
2. The supports of eternal might--accomplishing.
3. The movements of spiritual energy--applying its grace.
4. The terrors of eternal law--overthrowing its adversaries. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29