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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ revelation-17.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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It is necessary that we should all bear in mind, if we have not observed it before, thatRevelation 17:1-18; Revelation 17:1-18 does not pursue the chronological course of the prophecy. It is a description, and not one of the visions that carry us onward. The seventh bowl contained under it the fall of Babylon, which "was remembered before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath."
This chapter explains how it was that Babylon was so offensive to God, and wherefore He judged her thus sternly. But, in point of fact, in giving the description of Babylon, the Holy Ghost enters even more into an account of her relations with the beast, the imperial power of which we saw not a little last night. Accordingly these are the two main objects of judgment brought before us in the chapter. It is true, the beast's judgment is only referred to as a defeat under the hand of the Lamb. The particulars are reserved for a later point in this prophecy. We must therefore look a little into the two objects Babylon and the beast.
The principle is very clear. Man has always sinned in one or other of these two ways, looking now at sin in its broadest forms. The woman the strange woman sets forth corruption, human nature indulging itself in its own evil desires, irrespective of God's will. The beast is the expression of the will of man setting itself up in direct antagonism to God. In short, one may be described as corruption, and the other as violence.
There is, however, a great deal more than this on the subject, and given with great precision in scripture, because this is merely the principle of sin in one or other form from the beginning. It will be observed that in this case it is one of the angels that had the seven bowls who comes forward and says to John, "Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore (or harlot) that sitteth upon [the] many waters." There were two particular effects of her evil: the one, illicit commerce with the kings of the earth; the other, intoxicating the inhabitants of the earth with the wine of her fornication.
"So he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness" a thorough waste as to the knowledge or enjoyment of God. The woman was there seen sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast, i.e., the well-known imperial power of the Roman Empire, "full of [the] names of blasphemy" in its wicked opposition to God, and clothed with the forms we have already seen "seven heads and ten horns." The Spirit of God regards it in its final shape and completeness, as far as it was permitted to attain it, "The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls." Everything that could attract the natural man was there; and all that which to him looks fair enough on the side of religion. But she has a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication.* Idolatry is the awful stamp that she bears, and this too both in what she gives to man, and in what is written on her forehead before God. "Upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth."
*Most copies, it would seem, read τῆς γῆς , "of the earth;" the Alex. and others give αὐτῆς , "of her." The Sinai MS. has both.
Men have been beguiled here and there, and from an early date, to set aside the true bearing of this chapter. Sometimes they have contended for its application to pagan Rome. Sometimes, again, they have sought to turn it aside toward Jerusalem in her corrupt state. But a grave consideration soon disposes of both views by the relation to the beast, and more particularly by what will be shown a little farther on. The application to old pagan Rome is harsh and purposeless enough; but the attempt to refer it to Jerusalem is of all schemes the most absurd; for, far from being borne up by the imperial power, Jerusalem was trodden down by it. If there was any Gentile power since John's day, which did not sustain but persecute and suppress Jerusalem, it was Rome, instead of being a gaudy harlot mounted on that vast empire.
At the same time the attempt to apply Babylon to ancient Rome is almost as unhappy; and for a plain reason. As long as Rome was pagan, there was neither the full bearing of the seven heads, nor did so much as one of the ten horns exist. The decem-regal division of the broken empire in the West, as all know, was long after Rome had ceased to be heathen. Nobody can dispute that this remarkable cluster of kingdoms in Europe was the fruit providentially of the destroyed unity of the Roman empire when the barbarians invaded it. With that love of freedom which they carried from their German forests, they would not allow the one iron rule of the ancient empire to subsist longer, but set up each their own kingdom in the different fragments of the dismembered empire. Thus the attempt to apply it during the pagan period is altogether futile on the face of the matter. We shall find that the scripture affords much light to decide the true bearing of the prophecy, and that no application to the past can possibly satisfy the conditions satisfactorily. If ancient times failed fully to meet the requirements of the chapter, it is evident that the middle ages are passed without its fulfilment as a whole. When we come to the full application of the prophecy, we must look onward to the latter day.
This falls in with what we have seen of the book in general; but I do not deny that certain elements which figure in the Apocalypse then existed and still exist. No one can soberly deny that Babylon in some sort had a place then; but that the special, and above all, the full character of Babylon was manifested as here portrayed is another matter. We may surely say her cup was not yet full. There was not yet fairly out before men what God foresaw as that which must finally provoke His judgment. Again, to my mind it seems demonstrably true that the relation to the beast here brought before us must in all fairness be allowed to look onward to a later stage of Babylon. Thus there is no question that some of the actors in the final scenes of the great drama were already there, as the reigning city, and the Roman empire. Moral elements too were not wanting: the mystery of lawlessness had long been at work, though the enemy had not yet brought in the apostacy, and still less the manifestation of the lawless one. But whatever subsisted then, that which the Spirit here presents as a whole cannot be found realized at any point of time in the past. We must perforce therefore look for a still more complete development before the Lamb judges the beast after the ten horns along with it shall have destroyed Babylon.
There is another remark to make. It is hard to see how Roman city, or anything civil connected with it, could be called "mystery." It is partly because of this that many excellent men have endeavoured to apply the vision to Romanism; and I admit that there is found a measure of analogy. That religious system has an incomparably nearer connection with this mysterious harlot than anything we have yet spoken of. There is no doubt that Rome in some form is the woman described in the chapter: the seven heads or hills clearly point to that city, which of all cities might best and indeed alone be known as ruling over the kings of the earth. There is therefore much to be said for the ]Protestant application of the chapter as compared with the Praetorist theory of pagan Rome. Yet it will be found imperfect, for reasons which, I think, will be clear to any unbiassed mind.
There stands the solemn brand graven, not on the blasphemous beast, but on the forehead of its rider, "Mystery, Babylon the great." The question is, why is she thus designated? If only an imperial city, what has this to do with mystery? The simple fact of conquering far and wide, and of exercising vast political power in the earth, does not constitute any title to such a name. A mystery clearly points to something undiscoverable by the natural mind of man a secret that requires the distinct and fresh light of God to unravel, but which when revealed thus is plain enough. And so it is with this very Babylon that comes before us here. Justly does she gather her title from the old fountain of idols and of combined power without God: confusion being here the characteristic element, the designation is taken from the renowned city of the Chaldeans, the first spot notorious in both respects.
But the attempt, again, to apply what is said here to a future city of Babylon in Chaldea seems to me no less vain. There is a distinct contrast between the city John describes and the ancient Babylon, in that the latter was built on the plain of Shinar, while the former is expressly said to have seven heads, and these explained to mean seven mountains. I admit that there may be something more in the symbol than the literal hills of Rome, because they are said to be also seven kings. At the same time we are not at liberty to eliminate such a feature out of the description. It is written to be believed, not to be ignored or explained away.
In short, it would seem that God has hedged round His own draft of Babylon so as to make it quite plain that Rome, city and system, figures in the scene; and this too necessarily involving a medieval description, though the full result will not be till the end of the age; for she rides the beast or empire characterized so as naturally to involve the past barbarian irruption and the resulting ten-kingdomed state. Again, that it supposes Rome after it had professed the name of Christ I think is not to be doubted, if only from the expression "mystery" attached to Babylon. It clearly contrasts this mystery with another. We have not to learn what the other mystery means; we know well that it is according to God and godliness. But here is a mystery altogether different: "Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth."
Here were joined good and evil in godless union, for the worse, not for the better, this alliance, unholy in principle, irremediable therefore in practice, between God and the natural man, who substitutes rites for the grace and word of God, for the blood of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, and employs the name of the Lord as a cover for grosser covetousness and ambition, yet more aspiring than the vulgar world. All these things have their place in Babylon the great. She is, the mother of the harlots, but also (and with still deeper guilt) of the abominations of the earth. This brings in idolatry, real shameless idolatry too, not merely that subtle working of the idolatrous spirit that every Christian has to guard against. Here it is the positive worship of the creature besides the Creator, yea, and notoriously more than He. For who knows not the horrors of Mariolatry? Babylon is the parent of the "abominations of the earth." It is not therefore a question of virtual idols suitable to ensnare the children of God, but of that which is adapted to the earth itself, thorough-going palpable idolatry.
Such is God's account of Babylon the great. Take notice of this (which confirms the application just now contended for), that when John saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, he wondered with great wonder. Had it been simply a persecution from pagans, what was there to wonder at in their deadly hatred of the truth and of those who confess it? That an openly heathen metropolis, devoted to the worship of Mars, and Jupiter, and Venus, and other wicked monstrosities of pagan mythology should be irritated with the gospel which exposes it all, and should consequently seek to injure the faithful, was to be expected, and a necessary result, directly that the uncompromising spirit of Christ was known. Had those who preached said nothing about heathen vanities, had they merely presented the gospel as a better thing than anything the pagans could boast, I do not doubt that the pagans themselves would have acknowledged thus much. And it is pretty well ascertained that there was a discussion among them, even to the suggestion by one of the most wicked of their emperors, whether Christ should not be owned and worshipped in the Pantheon, hundreds of years before Constantine, indeed from the earliest epoch of the gospel. But there never was the thought of giving Christ the only place He could take. For Christ has not only a supreme but an exclusive place. Now there was nothing more repulsive and fatal to paganism in every form than the truth revealed in Christ, which exposed every thing that was not itself not the truth, definite and exclusive. Consequently Christianity, as being directly aggressive on the falsehood of heathenism, was of all things the most offensive to Rome. That pagan Rome, therefore, should set itself against Christianity was to be expected, and so the fact proved.
But it was no such evil which astounded the prophet. He was filled with astonishment that this mysterious form of evil, this counter-testimony of the enemy (not antichrist, but antichurch), should seem and be largely accepted as the holy catholic church of God, that Christendom, if not Christianity, should at the same time become the bitterest of persecutors, more murderously incensed against the witnesses of Jesus and the saints of God than ever paganism had been in any country or all ages. This very naturally filled him with intense wonder.
"And the angel said unto him, Wherefore didst thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman." Had he really penetrated under the surface, and seen that beneath the fair guise of Christendom the woman was, of all things under the sun, the most corrupt and hateful to God, it would not be so much to be surprised at. Therefore says the angel, "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, that hath* the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, beholding the beast that he was, and is not, and shall be present." The closing phrase here is the description of the beast in its last state, in which it will come into collision with Babylon. Let us bear this in mind. It will help to show us that, whatever may have been the past conditions of Babylon, there is a future one; and it is in that future one that Babylon is to perish. For remark, the beast or Roman empire is described here as that which once existed, which then ceased to exist, and which assumes a final shape when it reappears from the bottomless pit. Bad as pagan Rome was, it would be false to affirm that it ever had come out of the bottomless pit. When the apostle Paul wrote to the, saints at Rome, he particularly specified at that very time the duty of absolute subjection on the part of Christians to the powers which then were. Of course the application to the Roman empire would be immediately in the mind of any Christian at Rome. There was no doubt at all of the character of the emperor; there never had been a worse than he; yet God took that very opportunity to lay this on the Christians as their duty to the worldly authority outside and over them. It was ruled in general that the worldly powers were ordained of God. But this is not to emerge from the bottomless pit.
*The description here is simply character, not dates. If a person drew from this, for instance, that the boast was to carry the woman, Babylon, when it had as a fact all that is meant by the seven heads and the ten horns, it would be an error. The angel implies nothing of the sort. It is a question here of distinctive character, apart from that of time, for which we must search other scriptures.
But there is a time coming when power will cease to be ordained of God; and this is the point to which the last condition of the beast refers. God in His providence did sanction the great empires of old; and the principle continues as long as the church is here below. Hence we have to own the divine source of government even when its holders abandon all such thoughts themselves, and maintain their rule in the world as a thing flowing from the people irrespective of God. But the day is coming when Satan will be allowed to have things his own way. For a short time (what a mercy that it must be only for a short time!) Satan will bring forth an empire suited to his purposes, as it springs from Satanic principles which deny God; and this is part of what appears to be meant by the beast ascending out of the bottomless pit. It "shall go into perdition," it is therefore added, "and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and shall be present." "Yet is" is a most unfortunate expression. It is the fault, however, of the bad Greek text of Erasmus, Stephens, etc. It should be, "and shall be present."* There is no thought of making such a paradox to perplex the mind. The true reading here is neither hard nor doubtful save to unbelief. There is no paradox in the message whatever. It is all plain and simple "the beast that was, and is not, and shall be present."
* Even the Complutensian editors give the right text here; and it would seem that Erasmus failed to use his MS. aright. For according to unquestionable testimony the Reuchlinian copy has καὶ πάρεστι like some half-dozen cursives, which was probably a mistake for πάρεσται .
But all this will be a great reversal of man's history and political maxims. There never has been a like experience. What empire has existed, then sunk, and finally reappeared, with higher pretensions and power, only to perish horribly? It is altogether foreign to history. One of the most approved axioms is, that kingdoms are just like men in this respect, that they begin, rise, and fall. As man does not believe in the resurrection of man, it is no wonder that he does not believe in the resurrection of an empire. The chief difference is that in man's case it is God who raises him, whereas in the empire's not God but the devil will raise it again. Beyond controversy, however, it is a most unusual and abnormal reappearance, which is altogether exceptional in the history of the world. Accordingly the resuscitated Roman empire will carry men away by a storm of wonder at its revival. Little do they know, because they believe not what is here written, that it is about to come out of the abyss or bottomless pit. That is, Satan will be the spring of its final rise and power; he, and not God in any way whatever, will give it its character.
"And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there (or they) are seven kings." I have already touched on the double force of the symbol mountains. "Five are fallen, one is, the other hath not yet come." That is, the sixth head (reigning then in John's day) was the imperial form of government. Nothing of the sort can be plainer. We have here a note of time of signal value. A seventh should follow; and what is more, the seventh was in one aspect to be an eighth. "And the beast that was, and is not, even he is an eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth unto destruction." In one sense it would be an eighth, and in another sense it would be of the seven; the eighth perhaps because of its extraordinary resurrection character, yet one of the seven because it is outwardly old imperialism again. This explains, it seems to me, the wounded head that was afterwards healed. It is of the seven in that point of view, because it is imperialism; but it is an eighth, because it has a diabolical source when raised up again. In this way there never has been anything of the kind before.
"And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have not yet received a kingdom; but they receive authority as kings (not at but for) one hour with the beast." They are all to reign concurrently with the beast. This also is a no less important element for understanding the chapter. All who have looked back on the history know, that when the ten kings appeared, there was no beast or imperial power. It was the destruction of the imperial unity of Rome that gave occasion for the well-known ten kingdoms which the barbarians set up afterwards. I am not raising any question about the ten. We know that sometimes there were nine, sometimes eleven or more; but supposing this all perfectly certain, I affirm that, according to history, they did not receive their power as kings for one and the same time with the beast. This is the meaning of "one hour with the beast."
The very reverse is the undeniable fact. They received their power as kings when the beast ceased to exist. Thus the difference is complete between past history (if we look at the extinction of the empire and the rise of the ten kingdoms) and the certain fulfilment of the prophecy in the future, when we look at what God has really told us. I do not acknowledge the language to be either difficult or ambiguous. Man alone is to blame who has misapplied it. Yet one allows freely a partial application already. We can quite understand that God would comfort His people in the dark ages by this book; and a very imperfect glimpse at its real meaning might in His grace serve to cheer them on in their trials as far as it went. From Rome saints had suffered; and it was easy to see that the revealed persecutress is called Babylon, and identified with the governing city of Rome. So far they were right. Nor is there any real reason to wonder at their deriving help from partial light. It was but an imperfect view they got even of justification; a far scantier perception, if they could be said to have had any, about Christ's Headship of the church, His priesthood, or almost anything else. And thus it was but a little glimpse they had of prophecy. But we can understand that the Lord could and did make that little go far, and do no little good.
But is there any reason why we should content ourselves with the measure enjoyed of old? Such is the hard bondage which mere historical tradition imposes on its votaries. Holding on to what others knew before them, or little more, they reduce themselves to a minimum of the truth. When God is so gracious, His word rich, full, and deep, it does seem sad to see His children content with just enough to save their souls, or keep them from positive starvation. In presence of grace I do not think this is for His glory, any more than for their own blessing. The only right principle in everything is to go to the source of divine truth, and to seek there refreshment and strength and fitness for whatever our God calls us to. And unquestionably God has been awakening the attention of His people in a remarkable manner to the value of His word, and not least of all to the portion we are now examining.
It is plain that what the verse contemplates is neither the Roman power when there was one head of the empire, nor the eastern or Byzantine part of it after that partition, nor the western state of division under the kings who succeeded the deposition of Augustulus; for in the medieval state there may have been ten kings (in contrast with the ancient state of the beast without them but no beast or imperial system with its chiefs. This is what drove men to the idea of making the pope to be the beast. But that idea is wholly insufficient to cover or meet the word of God, which gives clear and strong reasons that prove the mistake of applying this to the pope as its complete fulfilment. For that which comes distinctly before us in this one verse is the twofold fact, that the ten horns here contemplated receive their kingly power for the same hour or time as the beast, and not subsequently, when his rule was extinguished. He gets his power and they get theirs for one and the same time.
This disposes of many a web of comments; for we find at once what is perfectly simple, what any child of God who believes this to be the word of God must own. Bringing in history here embroiled the subject; and those who appeal most to its evidence are the very men who seem in this to ignore its facts. But the most ordinary knowledge suffices; for who does not know from the Bible that there was a Roman empire when Christ was born, one emperor, and no such state as that empire divided into ten kingdoms? We find a decree going forth that all the world shall be enrolled. Of course there must needs be a consultation with the kings, when the kings exist and become an accredited part of that empire, as rulers subordinate to the beast. But no; it was an absolute decree that went forth, and this indisputably, from a single head of the undivided empire. Centuries after came in, not only the division into east and west, but the broken up state of the west, when there ceased to be an imperial chief. But the prophecy shows us the beast revived and the separate kings reigning for the same time, before divine judgment destroys them at the coming of Christ and His saints. Hence this certainly must be future.
How this precisely fits in, let me say, with the state of feeling in these modern times; for "constitutionalism," as men call it, is the fruit of the Teutonic system supervening on that of the broken up Roman empire. It was the barbarians who brought in the prevalent ideas of liberty as well as feudalism, and accordingly it is they that have firmly stood for freedom; so that all the efforts to reconstitute the empire which have been tried over and over again have hitherto issued in total failure. The reason is manifest there is a hinderer "one that letteth." It cannot be done till the moment comes. When its own season arrives, as it surely will, the divine hindrance is to be removed, and the devil then is allowed to do his worst. The political side of this is described here with surprising brightness and brevity. The ten horns with the beast are all to receive authority the beast of course wielding the imperial power, they as kings, all during one and the same time before the end comes. Clearly, therefore, it is future. It is impossible to refer it to the past with any show even of reasonable probability, I will not say of reality or truth. Scripture and facts refute all such theories.
"They have one mind, and give their own power and authority to the beast." Hitherto the reverse of this has been true in history. The horns have constantly opposed each other, and even sometimes the pope. Since then the world has not seen the imperial power to which all bow. Have we not all heard of the balance of power? This is what nations have been constantly occupied with, lest any one power should become the beast. If some few have joined on one side, some are sure to help the other, because they are jealous of any one acquiring such a preponderant authority: and power as to govern the rest. But in the time really contemplated here all this political shuffling will be over. "These have one mind, and give their own power and authority to the beast," or their imperial leader. "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them (for he is Lord of lords and King of kings), and they that are with him, called, and chosen, and faithful."
But still we have not the end of Babylon yet. Her part in the corruption of the high and the intoxication of the low her idolatrous character has come before us. We have seen her connection with the beast; but there is a conflict coming. The woman was allowed to ride the beast to influence and govern the empire first, but at last to be the object of hatred to the ten horns and the beast, who expose, rob, and destroy her. "And he saith to me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." Such was her influence stretching out far beyond the beast.
The Gothic hordes were not yet incorporated with the empire, still less were they horns of the beast, nor did they give their power to it, but destroyed it rather. They broke up the beast yet more than Babylon. Past history therefore in no way suits the prophecy. "And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast." Here I am obliged to say that our authorized version, and not merely it, but our common Greek Testaments, are altogether wrong. This is known so well, and on such decided grounds, that it would be unbecoming to withhold the fact. There is no uncertainty whatever in the case. It is certain that we ought to read (not "upon" but) "and* the beast." This is of great importance. The horns and the beast join in hating the whore. Not only are they supposed to be coexistent, but united in their change of feeling against Babylon. The friendships of the evil are not lasting. "These shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire." It is not the gospel, nor the Holy Spirit, but the lawless revived Latin empire with its vassal kingdoms of the west, that combine and destroy Babylon. Unhallowed love will end in hatred. They will then treat her with contempt and shameful exposure. Next they will seize her resources. Finally they will destroy her. Can anything be less reasonable (even taking that ground, low as it is) than that the various rulers of the western powers, Catholic kings, join the Pope in destroying his own city, or his own church, whichever Babylon may be made? Some evade the difficulty by referring the desolation to the Gothic powers; and these Protestants, as if they were mere Praeterists! What confusion! Is not this reason enough for saying that not even the shadow of solid ground appears for the system?
*It now appears that the Cod. Reuchlin. Capnionis, which was used by Erasmus, and lately discovered after a long obscurity by Dr. Delitzsch, reads καὶ (not ἐπὶ ) τὸ θ . as the Complut. Polyglot, and all editions of the least critical value. Scholz's note ("rec. cum cdd. pl.") is a myth. I am not aware of any MS. in its favour, though some versions represent it.
Hence the effort of some to prop up a manifestly false reading. It is due to the exigency of a notion which fears and is irreconcilable with the truth in this place. "The ten horns which thou sawest AND the beast" would give unquestionably the right form of the verse.
Thus everything implies their simultaneous presence for the same time and common action with the beast, in plundering and then destroying Babylon. God uses them for this object,-the setting aside of her, the great religious corruptress, whose centre is found at Rome. We can easily understand that the overthrow of the ecclesiastical power is necessary to leave a full field unimpeded for the imperial power to develop itself in its final form of violence and rebellion and apostacy against the Lord. Yet religion, be it ever so corrupt, acts as a restraint on human will, as a government does, however evil. Even the worst of governments is better than none. That a corrupt religion is better than none I will not say: at any rate it troubles men; it is a thorn in the side of those who want no religion at all. Hence the horns and the beast join together and desolate the harlot. That kings had dallied with her, that the beast had once borne her up, will only turn to gall the more bitter to her, who, faithless to God, had staked the usurped and abused name of Christ to win what was now lost for ever. "For God put [it] into their hearts to do his mind, and to do one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." It is a time of strong delusion, be it remembered.
"And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city, that hath kingship over the kings of the earth." None but Rome corresponds. "The woman" is the more general symbol designating her as the great imperial city; "the harlot" is her corrupt religious character, embracing papal Rome, but not ending with Popery as it is.
Revelation 18:1-24 need not delay us long. It is a description, not of Babylon's relation to the beast, but of the city's fall, with certain dirges put into the mouth of the different classes that groan because of her extinction here below. But along with that God warns of her ruin, and calls on His people (verse 4) to come out of her. "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sin., have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities." Then the word is, "Award her even as she awarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she mixed, mix to her double. In as many things as she glorified herself, and lived luxuriously, so much torment and sorrow give to her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am not a widow, and I shall in no wise see sorrow."
That is, Babylon is viewed in this chapter not so much in her mysterious and religious form, giving currency to every kind of confusion of truth and error, of good and evil, intoxicating, corrupting, and seducing, as all can see, through her wickedly religious influence; but she is viewed here as the most conspicuous aider and abettor of the world in its luxuries and delights and the pride of life, of what men call "civilization." This is accordingly traced in our chapter with considerable detail, and with the sorrow and vexation of all the different classes who on the fall of Babylon groaned over her destruction, and the loss of their wealth and enjoyment.
But the graphic account does not end until the Spirit of God shows us another view of Babylon altogether. A mighty angel takes a stone and says, when he cast it into the sea, "Thus with violence shall be thrown down Babylon the great city, and shall be found no more at all." The reason is given at the close; not only "by thy sorcery were all the nations deceived," but above all "in her was found [the] blood of prophets and saints, and of all the slain upon the earth."
What a solemn and weighty fact in the government of God! How can it be said that this vile, corrupt, idolatrous system of the last days was guilty of the blood of all martyrs? She followed and had inherited the spirit of all, from the days of Cain, who had lifted up their hands against their righteous brethren. Instead of taking warning from the wickedness of those before her, who had seduced on the one hand, and persecuted. on the other, she had, when she could, gone on increasing in both, until at last the blow of divine judgment came. It is thus that God is wont to deal as a rule in His judgments, not necessarily on the one that first introduces an evil, but on those that inherit the guilt, and perhaps aggravate it, instead of taking warning by it. And when God does judge, it is not merely for the evil of those then judged, but of all from the first budding of it till that day. This is not unrighteous, but, on the contrary, the highest justice from a divine point of view.
We may illustrate it by the members of a family. Supposing, for instance, a drunken father: if the sons had one spark of right feeling, not only must they feel the utmost shame and pain on account of their parent, but they would endeavour (like the sons of Noah who had a due sense of what was proper to their father) to cast some mantle of love over that which they could not deny, yet would not look at, but surely above all things they would watch against that shameful sin. But alas! there is a son in the family, who, instead of being admonished by his father's wickedness, takes license from it to indulge the same. On him the blow comes, not on the wretched parent. The son is doubly guilty, because he saw his father's nakedness and felt it enough to hide. But he ought to have withstood it I do not mean in vengeance (for that belongs to the Lord), but as holily hating the sin itself, yet withal in the deepest compassion for his parent. But far from that he has, on the contrary, persevered in the same evil course, as badly or worse than his father. Then and thus is aggravated guilt in the case of this wicked son.
It is a precisely similar case here. Babylon had once heard the varied testimony of God; for what had she not heard of truth? The gospel had been preached there, as she of Chaldea was not without law and prophet. Babylon must hear, I do not doubt, the final testimony of God the gospel of the kingdom that is to go forth in the last days; but she loves her pleasure and power, and refuses truth. She will despise everything really divine; she will only use whatever of God's word she can pervert for increasing her own importance, and gaining a greater ascendancy over the consciences of men, and enjoying herself more luxuriously in this world; for she will go far to obliterate all remembrance of heaven, and to make this world a kind of paradise which she embellishes, not with pure and undefiled religion, but with the arts of men and the idolatries of the world.
This it is precisely which will bring out the indignant judgment of God upon the last phase of Babylon, so that the guilt of all the blood shed on the earth shall be imputed to her, and she may be judged accordingly. It does not hinder, of course, that in the judgment of the dead each man is judged for his own sin. This remains true. The day of the Lord on the world in no way sets aside His dealing with individual souls. The judgment of the dead is strictly individual, judgments in this world are not. His blows on this world come more nationally as on Israel; incomparably more severe, as in possession of greater privileges, is the judgment of corrupt Christendom, or Babylon as it is called here. But according to His principle of government it is not merely personal guilt, but that which, from despising the testimony of God, is thus morally accumulating from age to age in the ratio of the testimony of God and the wickedness that has been indulged by men in spite of it. This may suffice for Revelation 18:1-24.
"After these things I heard as it were a great voice of a great crowd in heaven, saying, Alleluia, the salvation, and the glory, and the power of our God: for true and righteous [are] his judgments: because he judged the great harlot, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And they said Alleluia a second time; and her smoke goeth up unto the ages of the ages." The Spirit of God contrasts with the fall of Babylon the marriage. of the bride, the Lamb's wife. Babylon was the spurious church as long as it was a question of the church, and the final corrupter when it could be no question of this longer, and there went forth the closing testimony of God. I do not doubt that there was a corrupt form in connection with Israel in times past. That is, there was first the literal Babylon, of course; but here it is symbolical. A mysterious lawlessness inherits the well-known name of Babylon when Rome is brought forward; and it does not merely embrace Christian times, but the end of the age after the church has gone, when the course of divine judgment comes. Bear this in mind: to leave the last part out is fatal to any accurate understanding of the Revelation.
We find, accordingly, the four and twenty elders and four living creatures here brought before us for the last time. That is to say, the heavenly saints are viewed still as the heads of the glorified priesthood, and also the executive in the administration of God's judgments. But a voice issues from the throne, saying, "Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. And I heard as it were a voice of a great multitude, and as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of mighty thunders, saying, Alleluia, for the Lord God the Almighty reigneth.* Let us be glad and exult, and give the glory to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready." Now we find the symbol of the bride brought before us, and the elders and the living creatures disappear. The bride is in view.
*It is the aorist in Greek, which in such a case as this it is difficult correctly to represent in English; for neither "reigned" nor "hath reigned" could convey that God had entered on His kingdom, but rather that it was past.
Are we then to understand that the elders and the living creatures are together taken absolutely as the bride now? that those who were meant under the figures of the elders and of the living creatures assume the name and figure of the bride? In my opinion it is not absolutely so. The elders do show us the heavenly heads of priesthood (embracing, as I believe, the Old Testament saints and those of the New); i.e., they are not limited to the church, Christ's body. Then, when the Lamb and His purchase by blood are celebrated in heaven, the four living creatures join the elders, though each is distinct. The glorified saints are to administer power in a way far beyond angels. The living creatures are, from Revelation 5:1-14 coupled with the elders, as we find them in the beginning of Revelation 19:1-21.
But now, when those symbols disappear, because of a new action of God (namely, the consummation of the church's joy), the elders and the living creatures disappear, and we have not the bride alone, but another class of saints, who at once come forward. "And to the bride was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints." I say "righteousnesses," not "righteousness." It is not what Christ puts on them, but a recognition even at this time of whatever has been of God the working I do not deny of the Spirit of Christ. But it is what each saint has, though the blessed thought here is that the church has it not merely in the way of each person possessing his own; the bride has the whole of it (that is, the church in glory). The individual has his own fruit too. This remains true also in its own place, as we shall find; and when it is a question of reward, this is precisely the grand point; but when it is a question of the bride above, that is the way in which it is presented here, as we may see clearly from verse 8. The Spirit of God implies that it is decidedly not the righteousness here which is by another, and we thereby imputed righteous, but righteousnesses personal and actual. Of course the other is true. Before God we have that which is found only by and in Christ, which is another and a higher character altogether as compared with the righteousnesses of the saints.
Besides the bride thus arrayed, "He saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb." Here you may see the reason for saying that the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures are not absolutely the church, because when that symbol applies, and the one of the bride comes forward, we have got others too. What I judge, then, is that the guests, or those that were called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb, refer clearly to the Old Testament saints. If so, they are there in the quality not of the bride, but of those invited to the marriage of the Lamb; but I do not think them the Apocalyptic saints for the simple reason that, as shown in the next chapter, the Apocalyptic saints are not raised from the dead yet. These remain as yet in the condition of separate spirits. That is not at all the way in which the guests are spoken of. I think, therefore, that the elders and the living creatures comprehend both the Old Testament saints and the church, the bride of Christ, that consequently, when the bride is mentioned, there were these others who had been included in the elders and the living creatures, but who are now seen as a separate body. No doubt all this may seem to some a little difficult, but it is no use evading what is hard. We must face difficulties; we must bow to the word; we must seek to learn through all. We do not mend matters by hasty conclusions, we only complicate the truth. And it appears to me that here we are bound to account for the presence of these others that are at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, but appear as guests, and not at all in the quality of the bride. In general this has been either passed over in the chapter, or some unsatisfactory inference has been flung out, which can only embroil the prophecy. I do not, of course, complain of particular persons, but of the general vagueness in which the passage has been taken unless, indeed, the more common course be not to ignore it.
Then the prophet falls down to pay homage to the angel; and this gives rise to a weighty admonition. It is not only that the angel corrects the act by asserting that he is a fellow-servant of him and of his brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. On that account it was altogether out of place to pay homage to him instead of to the God who had sent him to serve. But he tells us further that the Spirit of prophecy, who prophesies in this book, is the testimony of Jesus. Thus the divine testimony is not confined to the gospel or the church, but the prophetic Spirit which characterizes the Revelation as a whole, after the church is translated, is equally a testimony of Jesus. This is most important, because it might be (as it has been) forgotten by some who make the gospel and the corresponding presence of the Spirit to be the same at all times; as others have thought, because Revelation 4:1-11 and sequel treat of Jew and Gentile, and the state of the world under God's judgments, that this cannot be a testimony of Jesus at all. But it really is. "The Spirit of prophecy" and such it is all through the Revelation after the seven churches are done with "is the testimony of Jesus." We know the Holy Spirit rather as a spirit of communion with Christ. By and by, after our translation to heaven, He will work, and as vitally in those who bow to God, when it will be the reception of the prophetic testimony which is here owned to be none the less the testimony of Jesus.
Then heaven is opened, and for a sight most solemn. It is not now the temple opened there, and the ark of the covenant seen when Israel's security is seen, as the object of God's counsels; nor is it a door opened above, as we saw it when the prophet was giving his introduction to the prophecy of God's dealings with the world as a whole, though in both cases all manifestly clusters round the Lord Jesus. But now heaven is opened for yet graver facts, and of incalculable moment for man and the universe and the enemy. It is Christ Himself about to be displayed in His rights as King of kings, and Lord of lords; and this in the face of the world. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse." Victorious power put forth to subdue is the meaning of the white horse. "And he that sat upon him called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war." It is no longer a question of sustaining His saints in grace, but of sovereign power for judging the earth. "His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many diadems." There was judicial discernment with the distinct possession of all titles to sovereignty.
"And he had a name written, that no man knew but he himself." He is coming forth in indisputable human glory, but the greatest care is taken to let us know that He had that which was above man above the creature; for "no man knoweth the Son but the Father." Here it would seem we have just what answers to that: this name none knew but He Himself. He was a divine person, whatever new position He assumes for the world. "And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood." He comes to execute vengeance, and with a sign of death for rebels. "And his name is called The Word of God." He was the word of God in the revelation of grace; when known, by and by, it will be as the executor of God's judgments. He equally expresses what God is. The gospel of John and the Revelation perfectly disclose both, whether in grace or in judgment. "And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white, pure."
Here we learn at once of what His train consists. They are glorified saints, and not angels. And this is entirely confirmed byRevelation 17:1-18; Revelation 17:1-18, where it was told us that they are with Him when He comes. When the beast dares to fight with the Lamb He shall overcome the beast; and they that are with Him, "called and chosen and faithful" terms, as a whole, entirely inapplicable to the angels. The angels are never "called," although they may be "chosen;" and though termed holy, I do not recollect that they are ever spoken of as "faithful." "Faithful" is what belongs to a man. It supposes the effect and the exercise of faith. "Called" is most evidently inapplicable, because calling supposes that the person is brought out of one condition and raised into another and a better one. This is never the case with an angel. The fallen angels are not called, and the holy angels never need to be they are kept. Calling is the, fruit of active grace on God's part towards man, and only towards him when fallen. Even man himself when he was innocent in Eden was not called. Directly he had sinned, the word of God came, and he was called. It is very evident, therefore, that the saints in a glorified state are here represented as following the Lord out of heaven. They are not seen here as the bride. This would have been altogether inappropriate for such a progress: when the King comes forth riding to victory in the judgment of wicked men of the world, it is not in the quality of bride, but of armies or hosts, that the saints follow Him; and these include no doubt the guests as well, i.e., all the glorified take their place in His train.
At the same time you will mark that these are not said to be executors of judgment as Christ is.* It is to Him that God has given all judgment not necessarily to us. We may have a special task in it, but this is not the work for us, as it seems to me. Hence. there is no sword proceeding out of our mouth; nor are the saints or heavenly hosts said to be arrayed in such a sort as the Lord. It is simply said that the glorified are to follow the Lord in victorious power, and nothing more, "clothed in fine linen, white, pure." Angels we know from other scriptures will be there, but of this we hear nothing here. But "out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron." What makes it the more notable is this, that the rod of iron is promised to us not the sword. Then there is the reigning power, but not the execution of judgment in this awful fashion which is attributed to the Lord Himself. But He "treadeth the winepress of the fury of the wrath of the Almighty God" another character of judgment never attributed to the saints, that I know of. "And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords."
*It is the more strikingly characteristic, because of such language as Psalms 149:6-9, which speaks of all the saints contemplated on earth for the day of Jehovah.
Then follows the proclamation of the angel, and the invitation to the supper of the great God, to eat the flesh of all the great ones of the earth. "And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, Come, gather yourselves together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat flesh of kings, and flesh of chiliarchs, and flesh of strong [men], and flesh of horses, and of those that sit on them, and flesh of all, both free and bond, both small and great." And then comes the gathering and the battle. "And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken" (taken alive), "and with him the false prophet that wrought signs in his presence, with which he deceived those that received the mark of the beast, and those that worshipped his image." Thus the second beast is no longer seen as an earthly power, but as a prophet-of course a false prophet. All the energy to mislead men in the presence of the first beast was long in his hands, and now nothing more is spoken of. The spiritual power is wholly in the hands of the false prophet. It will be understood when one says "spiritual" that none is meant save of a wicked kind.
"Alive the two were cast into the lake of fire burning with brimstone." Thus eternal judgment was executed at once. They were caught in flagrant treason and rebellion: what further need of any process of judgment whatsoever?
"And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which [sword] proceedeth out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh." Their doom was awful, but by no means after the same sort as their two leaders.
Then another and immensely important act is described the binding of Satan. He is no longer to be allowed to prowl about the world ensnaring and destroying. "And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years." It is not therefore his final judgment. The angel least him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal over him, that he should no more deceive the nations, till the thousand years should be completed: after these things he must be loosed a little time."
And then we come to a most cheering disclosure: "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of those beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus, and on account of the word of God: and those who had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and had not received his mark upon their forehead, and on their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." I do not suppose that many words are required by the present audience to show that we are not to understand the scene as a mere figure of Christianity. There are probably but few, if any, here who do not understand it as the fore-shadow of a real resurrection. In short, it is not tropical language, as when it is said of the prodigal son "This my son was dead, and is alive again;" or of the restoration of Israel, which is compared to a resurrection from the dead for the rest of the world. Here the vision was of thrones with sitters, and others caused to join them; and the inspired explanation is that it is the first resurrection the rising of the just from the dead. Let us look at the different groups that are seen to have part in the first resurrection.
First, "I saw thrones, and they sat upon them." The thrones were already filled. Instead of judgment being executed on them, it was given to them. They themselves were to judge. Who were they? Who are the persons thus invested with judicial authority of so glorious a nature and to reign, as we see later, with Christ? Clearly the same saints whom we have seen first set forth by the elders in heaven, subsequently by the elders and the living creatures, next, by the bride and the living creatures at the marriage-supper, and finally by the armies that followed the Lord out of heaven.
It is no longer a question either of celebrating the ways and counsels of God, or of the war with the beast and king. Accordingly it is another figure. It is reigning. There are thrones filled with certain persons, who reign along with Him. Thus the language of symbol is as definite as any other. There is no lack of precision, but the very reverse. Peculiar energy indeed attaches to symbolic language. But what is also of consequence to observe is, that John saw souls the souls of those beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus, and on account of the word of God. These are the martyrs of Revelation 6:1-17, those long since seen under the altar, poured out like burnt-offerings to God. It will be remembered that it was said to them that they must wait. They had cried to the Sovereign ruler to avenge their blood on their foes, but they were told they must wait a little for some others, their fellow-servants and their brethren, to die as they had. Here accordingly we have them all. For there follows another company of martyrs who suffered when the beast set up his worst and final pretensions. When the second beast appeared, he even strove to put to death those who would not worship the beast, nor pay homage to his image, nor receive his mark. These compose the third class here spoken of.
The first were such as came out of heaven after Christ, being already raised from the dead and glorified. Consequently they sat upon the thrones at once; while the two latter classes, described in the rest of the verse, were still in the separate state "and the souls." Take this quite simply and literally. It does not mean persons merely, but the souls of beheaded persons. He saw their condition: it was part of the vision.
Here were thrones, and people sat upon them, changed 'before this into the image of Christ's glory. Then come others in the condition of separate spirits or souls, whom the prophet saw two different classes of them those beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God, and those who refused the beast in every form, The proof of the third class should have been given a little more distinctly than in our version. It should not be "and which had not," but rather, "and those who had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, neither had received his mark upon their forehead, and on their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." Thus such as were in the separate state were reunited to their bodies, and lived and reigned like those who were already on the thrones. They "lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
Thus nothing can be simpler or more beautiful than the way in which this verse sums up the Revelation as a whole. The visions of this prophetic book open, not with the rapture of saints to heaven, but the sight of saints already raptured, often before the seer in the visions, but seen always in a complete condition without addition to their number. Accordingly the rapture of the church with the Old Testament saints must have already taken place, all (as I have no doubt) being caught up at the self-same time to be with the Lord above.
We have seen that these follow the Lord out of heaven, and are next seen enthroned. When the Lord takes His own throne, they take theirs by grace. But, further, we find that the saints who had suffered for Christ, during the time that the others were in heaven, are now reunited to their bodies and live, the Lord waiting for the last martyr that He might not leave out one of those who had died for His name. All the sufferers, either in the early persecutions of Revelation 6:1-17, or in the later persecutions (see Revelation 15:1-8) up to Babylon's extinction, were now raised from the dead. They lived, and were put therefore into a place and condition suitable for reigning with Christ, no less than the Old Testament saints and the church itself. Such is the meaning of the verse "The rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection."
Let it be carefully observed here that the first resurrection does not mean all rising exactly at the same moment. This is a mistake. We know that the change of all those caught up takes place in the twinkling of an eye. but it does not follow that various bodies are not raised at different times. For certain there are two great acts of resurrection, one when the Old Testament saints and the church are caught up to heaven, the other when Satan was bound after the beast and false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire, as well as Babylon judged. Thus (without speaking of the resurrection of the wicked at the close) there were certainly more acts than one, not to speak of the two witnesses put to death and caused to rise after three days and a half, when the spirit of life entered them, and they not only arose, but went up to heaven, as we know. I speak not of anything that might be deemed exceptional or peculiar, but of two acts of raising saints. From the manner in which resurrection is referred to in scripture, does not God leave room for this? "I will raise him up at the last day." "At the last day" does not mean merely an instant of time. Whether it were the Old Testament saints and the church, or the Apocalyptic saints, if I may so distinguish them, it was in an instant that each were raised, but there was some space between them. What is there to hinder it? There is no expression in the word of God which binds all to rise at the same instant. Those that do rise at the same time rise, no doubt, in a moment; but that there are to be various acts of resurrection is not only not contrary to scripture, but required by its own descriptions. This verse declares it, and there is no other interpretation that can stand even a moment's fair discussion.
This being so, it adds immense clearness in the understanding of the book. And what shall we say of the wonderful wisdom of the Lord? It is called "the first resurrection." This does not intimate we have seen that there is only one act of raising, but that all who share that resurrection, whenever raised, are raised before the millennium begins; so that when the reign of Christ takes place, all such have part in the first resurrection, including Christ Himself, raised at least 1800 years before the church; then the church, with the Old Testament saints; then these Apocalyptic saints at any rate some years after. All this gives us a true and just view of the various parties that have a share in the resurrection. "This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."
It has been remarked by another, and justly, that the expression "they shall be priests of God and of Christ" summarily puts out of court the interpretation that supposes a figurative resurrection. For it is clear that, though principles might reign, to be priests is quite inconsistent with a mere figure. It is also clearly a personal reward to those who had suffered.
When the thousand years expire, Satan reappears on the scene to the sorrow and ruin of the Gentiles who were not born of God. But it is for the last time, not of the age only but of the various dispensations of God. "And when the thousand years are completed, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to war." This is clearly of moral importance. The glory of the kingdom does not preserve when men in their natural state are exposed to the adversary. The millennial nations, "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea," fall a prey to Satan.
"And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city." The beloved city is Jerusalem; the camp of the saints, I presume, is a larger circle and embraces all of Israel and the Gentiles who, being converted, refuse Satan's deceit. It is an evident contrast with the state supposed in the wheat-and-tare field of Christendom which is found at the end of the age. Wheat and tares grow together till the process of judgment separates. At the end of the millennium the righteous and the wicked form two distinct arrays, though even then there would appear to be a line drawn between the surrounding camp, and the beloved city Jerusalem on earth, where the Jews were. The unrenewed of the nations are now compassing them with their countless hosts, as if to eat them up like grasshoppers. "And fire came down out of heaven from God, and devoured them. And the devil that deceiveth them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where both the beast and the false prophet [are], and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages."
Then follows another scene still more solemn the most awe-inspiring of all we can contemplate, at the same time full of blessing for the Christian to look onward to as that which will for ever put aside every trace of evil, and vindicate good where man must altogether fail. Here accordingly is seen but one throne. It is the divine judgment of man eternal judgment. Even when God was judging providentially in the beginning of the Apocalyptic visions (Revelation 4:1-11), associated thrones were seen. When Christ came personally to judge and govern the quick (Revelation 20:4), there were thrones; for the risen saints reign with Him. But now there is but one throne: Christ judges the dead. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away." This is of immense moment doctrinally, because it decisively proves that it is altogether unfounded to assume, as is popularly done, that the Lord only returns at this juncture. In the coming of the Lord all include His coming to the habitable earth. Now manifestly, if the Lord does not come before this, there is no world to come to; for the earth and heavens are fled. The common notion, therefore, that the coming of the Lord is at this point is an evident fallacy upon the face of this scripture that describes it, not to speak of others elsewhere. It is not a syllogism that is wanted or that can satisfy here: only require, only believe, the word of God. A single verse dispels clouds of arguments. "I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled; and place was not found for them." I admit that afterwards no doubt the new heaven and the new earth are seen; but who contends that this is the sphere to which the Lord comes? To this earth He is coming, and not merely to the new earth in the eternal state. To the same world in which He suffered, according to the scriptures, He will come back. But for the eternal judgment heaven and earth are fled away; and then we see the new and eternal universe. Hence He must have come back previously to both. With this agrees His coming out of heaven in judgment of the earth, described inRevelation 19:1-21; Revelation 19:1-21. He came to the world, and avenged His people on the beast and the false prophet with the kings and their armies; and after that the risen saints reign with Him over it a thousand years. I say not on but over the earth. He with the glorified saints will have their home on high, but none the less shall they reign over this very world for the allotted time.
Then, as we have seen, comes the final test of the nations of the earth after that kingdom has run its course, and the devil let loose once more deceives flesh and blood after the analogy of all other dispensations. That age of visible glory is inefficacious to change the heart of man, though in the absence of the enemy and the controlling presence of the great King, they render feigned obedience for a long while. It can govern and bless but not convert man. Even the proclamation of the grace of God is powerless save it be brought home by the quickening energy of His own Spirit. In short, no testimony can avail, no work, power, or glory without the word of God applied by the Spirit of God. But in this is shown what it is of importance to see the true nature of the kingdom or millennial reign. "That day" does not mean a time when everybody will be converted, but when the Lord Jesus will govern righteously when overt evil will be judged, and good be sustained perfectly for a thousand years. When any wrong is done, it will be dealt with. As far as the display of government goes, it is according to God morally, and for His glory, though I deny not for a moment that there are elements of evil which are never allowed, but kept under if not expelled. But that the heart of man even so is not renewed becomes manifest, when Satan at the close deceives all that are not converted; and these, as we are told, are countless "as the sand of the sea."
Do not wonder at the vast numbers, or at their defection. The thousand years of peace and plenty will have given occasion for an ever-growing population, spite of a world thinned by divine judgments which open that era. It is to be supposed that it will far exceed anything yet seen on the face of the earth. At the beginning there will have been carnage, as we know, among both the western powers and the eastern powers. In fact, we may say, all nations will be desolated by judgments of one kind or another; but for all this the world proceeding for a thousand years with every outward blessing, and the most admirable government administered by the blessed Lord Himself, will issue in the teeming and prosperous races of mankind. It will be a state of nature unexampled for the fruits of the earth and the enjoyment of all that God has made here below. Consequently there will be an increase in population such as never has been approached since the world was made, yet it afterwards appears, that Satan will not fail to turn the masses of the nations into one vast rebellion against the objects of God's special favour on the earth the saints wherever they may be, and the beloved city of Israel, as we have seen.
Then comes not the destruction only of these rebels by divine judgment, but the dissolution of heaven and earth. And Jesus sits on the great white throne. It is the judgment of the dead as such, who now rise and give account of their deeds. All the dead are there who had not part in the first resurrection. The, nature of the case exempts of course the saints of the millennium;* and this very simply, because they are never said to die at all. There is no scriptural reason to infer that any saint dies during the thousand years, but rather the contrary. Scripture is positive in Isaiah 65:1-25 that death during the millennium only comes as a specific judgment because of open rebellion. When a person dies, it will be a positive curse from God; if he die even a hundred years old, it will be like a baby dying now. Man converted will then not merely reach the natural term if I may so say of a thousand years, but pass that bound. If alive before the thousand years, he will live after the thousand years; in fact, literally he will never die, though I do not doubt, on general principles, that the saints of the millennial earth will be changed at the very time when the heavens and earth disappear. Of course they will be preserved through that crisis in some sort of way suitable to divine wisdom. God has not told us how, nor is it our business. He has reserved the matter, though not without enough to guide our thoughts, as we have seen. It is one of those cases which every now and then appear where God checks and reproves our foolish curiosity, as He alone knows how to do perfectly. "Flesh and blood," we know, "cannot inherit the kingdom of God." According to the general scope of scripture, then, we may be quite sure that these saints, kept during this universal dissolution of the atmospheric heaven and the earth, will be translated to "the new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness," in a condition new and meet for the eternal state into which they are ushered. Let others speculate, if they will: I am persuaded that he who essays to conceive the details is merely striving to draw a bow beyond the power of man. For I am not aware that any scripture treats of the subject, beyond laying down principles such as we have sought to apply to the case.
* None, however, can be exempt from being manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, or from giving an account of all done in the body. But no believer comes into judgment. (John 5:24 compared with Romans 14:1-23 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-21.)
"And the dead were judged," but not out of the book of life, which has nothing to do with judgment. "The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Why then is the book of life mentioned? Not because any of their names were written therein, but in proof that they were not. The book of life will confirm what is gathered from the books. If the books proclaim the evil works of the dead that stand before the throne, the book of life offers no defence on the score of God's grace. Scripture records no name whatever among those judged written there. There was the sad register of undeniable sin on the one side; there was no writing of the name on the other side. Thus, whether the books or the book be examined, all conspire to declare the justice, the solemn but most affecting righteousness, of God's final irrevocable sentence. They were judged every man according to their works. "And if any one was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." Thus the only use that seems made of the book is negative and exclusive. Not that any of those judged (and the scene described is solely a resurrection of judgment) are said to be written there: we are shown rather that they were not found in that book.
Again, death and hades are said to come to their end, personified as enemies. "And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." Thus was concluded all dealing on the Lord's part with both soul and body, and all that pertains to either. The race was now in the resurrection state either for good or for evil; and thus it must be for ever. Death and hades, which had so long been executioners in a world where sin reigned, and were still doing their occasional office where righteousness is to reign, themselves disappear where all traces of sin are consigned for ever.
In the first eight verses of Revelation 21:1-27 we have the new heaven and the new earth, but besides, awful to say, the lake of fire. Indeed it must be so, because, as we read in the end of the last chapter, there the lost were cast. But still it is a very solemn fact to read, and that which we are bound to preach that even in the perfect state of eternity, while there is the brightness of the heaven and of the earth into which no evil can enter, you have all the evil that ever has been all the wicked of every clime and of every age cast into the fixed condition of eternal judgment in the lake of fire.
Observe another very important fact. All the dispensational names of God disappear. It is only God and man now. There is nothing more to hear of nations; nothing more to do with separate countries, kindreds, or tongues. It is the eternal state; and also, in fact, the fullest description of that state which is furnished in the Bible. But a very different point of interest is to be observed.
Although there is such a levelling of human distinctions, and men have to do directly with God that is men raised from the dead or in their changed condition we still see the holy Jerusalem "the holy city, new Jerusalem," separate from the rest of those that fill the new heaven and earth. This is of great importance, because if the new Jerusalem be, as I have no doubt it is, the bride the Lamb's wife, then we have her separate condition asserted in eternity. "I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God" (alluding to this very city) "[is] with men." That is, the tabernacle of God is regarded as a separate object, no doubt associated with men, but not confounded with them. Men are not regarded as composing this tabernacle; they co-exist. "The tabernacle of God [is] with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God. And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor sorrow, nor crying nor shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
All things are thus made new; and, further, "these words are faithful." Nothing more is to be done. "And he said unto me, It is done. I am the, Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be to him God, and he shall be son to me. But to the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part [is] in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
Here occurs a remarkable change in the sequence of the visions, though easily understood; for it must be evident that there is nothing to follow this in point of time. We have just seen that it is the eternal state. Consequently, here we must most unquestionably go back to be shown an important object in the prophecy which could not, without interrupting its course, have been described before. In short, it is as we saw in Revelation 17:1-18, after Babylon had been brought before us in the course of the prophecy. We had seen Babylon twice: first, in the circle of God's warnings and testimonies; and then as the object of God's judgment under the seven bowls. Then we have a description of Babylon given. It would have been incongruous to bring in that long description before, because this must have interrupted the flow of the prophetic stream.
Exactly the same thing is repeated here, and what makes it more apparent is the similarity of the introduction on each occasion. "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." Who does not see that this is precisely analogous to the verse which opened the description of Babylon? I take it, therefore, that God intended this analogy to be noted by us; that it is not a pursuance of the prophecy, but a description of the holy city previously named, just as the other was a description of the corrupt city, whose judgment had been announced. We had Babylon with a spuriously ecclesiastical but a really murderous character, and at the same time guilty of corruption with the kings of the earth. Here is seen the holy city coming down out of heaven from God, which is declared to be the bride, the Lamb's wife, in the plainest contrast with the great harlot. Yet to this heavenly city, after Christ comes, the kings of the earth bring their offerings and their homage; but there is no excitement of the nations, no filthiness of fornication, no abominations, no blood-guiltiness. In short, Babylon, the disgusting counterpart of the holy city, in earthly ambition seeks the kings and the masses for her own present objects, while the other suffers now and will reign then. The one therefore throws much light upon the other.
But what I particularly call your attention to is the exceeding importance of heeding the retrospect at the bride, or new Jerusalem here, and the consequent removal of the difficulty caused by taking the last vision of this book as part of the prophetic series which begins in Revelation 19:1-21. Not so. It is an added digression for the purpose of describing an object already named passingly in the foregoing series, which closes at Revelation 21:8. As Revelation 17:1-18 was a descriptive digression, so is the portion from Revelation 21:9. The account given of Babylon inRevelation 17:1-18; Revelation 17:1-18 does not follow Revelation 14:1-20 or Revelation 16:1-21 in point of prophetic time, but differs from them in structure. It gives a retrogressive account of Babylon's character, and shows how it morally compelled the divine judgment. So here a description is given of the bride, the Lamb's wife, and we learn how it is that God will use her for unmeasured goodness and blessing and glory in the millennium, as the devil during this age has used Babylon to accomplish his wicked plans here below. Just as the city of man's confusion was seen in her vile, degraded, and degrading relations with the beast, this city is seen in her pure and glorious relations with the Lamb.
"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in [the] spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." It is not into a wilderness the prophet is carried, but he is set on "a mountain great and high," and shown not the great, but. the holy city Jerusalem. The great city was either guilty Jerusalem or Babylon. This city is seen now as the holy vessel of divine power for governing the earth during the millennium, "having the glory of God: and her brightness was like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."
Then follows a description of the wall, gates, foundations, and general position. "Having a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names inscribed, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel." It was important, just because it is the bride, the Lamb's wife, to show that angels are there, and further, that Israel is not forgotten. The very name indeed shows something similar; not of course that the church can ever be earthly. Still God does not forget His ways with His people; and the angels here are only in the quality of porters, if we may so speak; they are at the gates. And as for the twelve tribes of Israel, they are merely written there, nothing more. No hint whatever is given that they constitute the city, but there is the inscription of their names outside. That city will be a constant remembrancer of those who went before restored Israel here below, as undoubtedly it will be used for their blessing during the millennium, but not for theirs only. We shall find, on the contrary, its aspect is toward the universe, yet is there the special place of Israel; and quite right it is that it should be so. "On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." These would appear to be (save Judas Iscariot, of course) the twelve apostles that were peculiarly associated with Christ in His suffering path on the earth. God is sovereign. It is not meant that he who was more honoured in service than any of the twelve, he whom the Lord used for bringing out the church of the heavenly places, will not have his own most singular dignity in this glorious scene. Still God acts in a wisdom far above man, and holds to His principles even there. The twelve apostles of the Lamb will accordingly have their own special place. We can fairly trust God that He will not give a worse place to Paul; yet I do not think that this is his place.
"And he that spoke with me had a golden reed as a measure, that he might measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and its length is as much as the breadth." Thus there is a completeness and perfection about it suited to its present character.
Afterwards we come to the description of itself, of its wall, its building, its foundations, and its gates. Here it is the city described in itself, on which we need not now enlarge.
Further, a negative point of great importance is presented by the seer, "And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty is the temple of it, and the Lamb. This, was no lack. On the contrary, it proved the immediateness of communion. The temple would suppose a medium. The absence of a temple is therefore no loss but a gain for this city. It furnishes material for a contrast between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly city, because if there be one thing more remarkable than another in Ezekiel's description, it is the temple. But here there is none; a temple is for the earth. The heavenly city, which is the full expression of blessedness on high, has no temple because it is all a temple. "The Lord God is the temple of it, and the Lamb as far as we can speak of any. "And the city has no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they should shine for it." This too must not be viewed as if it were a loss. As for the earthly land and city, the moon will have her light increased to that of the sun, and the sun shall be sevenfold. But here there is neither; and this again is an evidence of gain, not of loss. "For the glory of God enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof." Creature lights are gone.
After "the nations" in verse 24 omit the words "of them which are saved." You must with the best authorities leave out this addition, if you would have the true force of the verse. It is a wholly unwarranted interpolation. "The nations shall walk in the light of it," Any one of spiritual judgment can see that it should not be "nations of them which are saved." What would be the meaning, if so read? We can understand a remnant saved out of one or more nations; but who ever heard of "nations of them which are saved"? It is altogether unfeasible, and it shows how carelessly we read the Bible that people are not stopped by such an expression. The fact is, in the very best authorities it does not exist at all. The "saved" is a term which, so far from belonging to the nations, is expressly applied to the Jewish remnant when it is a technical term. But "nations of them which are saved," is a most anomalous expression, and betrays man as the author of it.
"And the nations shall walk in the light of it." It is plain that they are not in this city. "The kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto it" not into but unto. That is, it is simply an expression of the homage that they pay. "And the nations shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for night shall not be there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations unto it. And there shall in nowise enter into it anything that defileth, nor making abomination and a lie: but only those written in the book of life of the Lamb." Moral unfitness has its just censure; but sovereign grace must be asserted also.
Then we have another glorious description. "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." It is not now lightnings and thunders and voices. These were simply the characters of provisional judgment that filled the interval after the church was gone, and before the reign with Christ. But when Christ and the church peacefully reign, such is the imagery that suits "a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the broadway of it, and of the river, on this side and on that, [the] tree of life," bearing not merely as the original one did, but now according to the fulness of the provision of God's grace for man, for man in glory first, but for man on the earth also, but for man in glory "producing twelve fruits, in each month yielding its fruit: and the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations." Man on the earth has his portion in the goodness of a God who is manifesting His kingdom. "And no curse shall be any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him." All this description closes in verse 5.
After that we have the admonitions to the end of this book. On these I may say but a very few words.
Verse 6 commends these sayings afresh. And the coming of the Lord is urged in connection with it. "Behold I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book." Then again the character of it, as derived from Christianity having already taken its place, is asserted. "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book." In Daniel's time, and even to Daniel himself, the book was sealed. The old oracles were sealed then: not so John's. "And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is near." In Daniel's time it was not at hand. To the church the end is always near. In her own course, and in the matters of her portion, the church does not know time at all. Everything that belongs to the body of Christ is unearthly and unworldly. The church is heavenly; and in heaven there are no times nor seasons. There may be lights of the heaven to mark times and seasons for the earth, and again on the earth. But the church consists of souls called out from the earth, and is not of the world: consequently to the church the time is always at hand. When Christ at God's right hand was announced, even from the very beginning, He was ready to judge the quick and the dead. He remains in that condition of readiness from the time when He sat at God's right hand till the present. The church goes on according to the will of the Lord, who might according to His own purpose lengthen or abridge the space. It is entirely in His hand, and in none other's. Whereas for the Jew, there are necessary dates and momentous changes that must take place; and hence, as Daniel represents the Jew, we have the difference kept up. To the Christian this book is not sealed. All is opened, and this because we have the Holy Ghost dwelling in us; "for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." Therefore we find in connection with the book a most solemn warning. "Let him that is unrighteous be unrighteous still: and let the filthy be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." When the hour comes that is spoken of here, it is not for us, but for those who will be found after we are gone. All is then fixed. There will be no time for seeking mercy, as it were: whatever the state in which the Lord at His coming will find us, all is closed up and fixed. Accordingly, "Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me." We. see that it is in connection with the foregoing not merely His coming for us who will keep the sayings of it, but for those whom He will find here below "to give to each as his work is."
Further, after this Jesus introduces Himself, as well as sends His angel. "I Jesus sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright the morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come: and let him that heareth say, Come: and let him that is athirst come: let him that will take the water of life freely." Thus the name of Christ, not merely as the root and the offspring of David, but as the bright morning star, calls out responsively the heart of the church, and this too under the guiding activity of the Holy Ghost. The church cannot hear of Him as the bright morning star without at once desiring that He should come. She does not, it is true, say, "Come quickly." This would not be fitting for the church nor the Christian. Patience or endurance of hope is what becomes us. But it is blessed that He says, "I come quickly;" and it is only Christ who in scripture ever says so. But we as properly say, "Come." We desire that He should come quickly, but we leave this to Him, because we know His love, and can trust Him. We know that if He tarries, it is not that He is "slack concerning His promise," but that "His long-suffering brings salvation to many." And who would defraud either the soul of salvation, or the Lord of showing it? "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come." It is to Jesus. To whom else could they say it? The bride breathes out this word to the bridegroom; and the Holy Ghost it is that gives strength to her desire that He should come. But there is a message also for others. There. is a word to him that hears. "Let him that heareth say, Come." He is urged to take up the same cry. If you are a believer, do not be afraid, even if you know but little; for the Lord neither forgets nor slights those who may be comparatively unintelligent. He has, I think, exactly that class in view when He sanctions the calling him who hears to say "Come." The bride represents those that are spoken of in the normal possession and enjoyment of their privileges. There are many who are not so; but the Lord does not forget them. "Let him that heareth," then, "say, Come." If they have only heard His voice, this after all is the incalculable boon; yea, it is the turning-point of all blessing. It is not the enjoyment of all, but it is the hinge on which all depends. It is the way to all, if it be not the actual entrance into and enjoyment of it. "Let him that heareth," then, be encouraged to "say, Come." There is nothing in Jesus to harm him; there is every thing to bless there is Himself to be enjoyed, even if they have failed in the full knowledge of it here below.
But then while there is such a call to Christ, while the believer is not to be afraid, but to call on the Lord to come, the church does not forget those that are poor sinners, let them be deeply conscious of it, or let them be those that are only made willing by the grace of God (which is the feeblest expression of the sinner's need, just as you have the feeblest expression of the saint in the previous call). So we find the Lord has room for all that is the fruit of His own grace only, for the appeal of grace, even when there is not the answer to it. Yet grace despised necessarily ends in judgment. "And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
Then the book concludes after a solemn warning against either adding to or taking from its contents. "He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." "Surely I come quickly." After so long a tarrying how blessed! After so many sorrows, trials, difficulties, dangers, how sweet to have such a word, and to know that He who speaks is the holy and the true, and surely about to come in the faithfulness of His love! He will not fail to take up the gage He has given our hearts. He is coming, and coming soon for us.
May our hearts answer freely to His word of love and truth with our "Amen." His grace be with all!