Many readers of the Bible treat it as though it were like a “puzzle-picture,” where we have to “find a face,” or “a man,” or some other object. No matter what part of the Bible may be read, the one object seems to be to “find the Church.” For, the “Word of truth” not being rightly divided, or indeed divided at all, the whole Bible is supposed to be about every one, in every part, and in every age; and the Church is supposed to be its on pervading subject.
This arises from our own natural selfishness. “We” belong to the Church, and therefore all “we” read “we” take to ourselves, not hesitating to rob others of what belongs to them. Here is a case in point. Open your Bibles at Isa. 29. and 30., and at the headings of the pages, at the same opening we read, “Judgment upon Jerusalem,” and “God’s mercies to His Church”! This is a “dividing” of the word (by man) indeed ! but whether it is “rightly dividing” is another matter. The book is declared to be “The vision of Isaiah…which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” And yet in spite of this, the blessings spoken of Judah and Jerusalem are taken away and given to the Church, while the curses and judgments are kindly left for “Judah and Jerusalem!”
On this system of interpretation the Bible is useless for the purposes of Divine revelation. It is made a derision to its enemies, a ground for the attacks of infidels, while it becomes a stumbling-block to its friends. And yet it is on this same principle that the Apocalypse is usually treated. Everywhere the Church is thrust in :
- John (in ch. 4:1) represents the Church;
- the living creatures, or Cherubim (ch. 4.) are the Church;
- the four and twenty elders (ch. 4., 5.) are the Church;
- the 144,000 (ch. 7.) are the Church; *
- the great multitude (ch. 7.) is the Church;
- the “woman clothed with the sun” (ch. 12.) is the Church;
- the man-child (ch. 12.) is the Church;
- the bride (ch. 19.) is the Church;
- the “New Jerusalem” (ch. 21.) is the Church;
- the “seven churches” are the Church;
and so they go on, until the humble reader of the book is bewildered and disheartened. No wonder the book is neglected. The wonder would be if it were not.
* Notwithstanding they are expressly stated to be “of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” Had it been for judgment that they were sealed, we should never have heard of these being “the Church.”
Now, it is with the object of lifting those who desire to understand this prophecy out of the quagmire of tradition that we propose to write these papers.
We believe we shall best accomplish our object by departing from the usual custom of expositors, and leaving the interpretation of words and sentences and verses until after we have learned the scope of the book, and ascertained the great principle on which all interpretation must be based.
Let us say at once that we believe, and must believe (1), that God means what He says; and (2), that He has a meaning for every word that He says. All His works and all His words are perfect, in their choice, order and place: so perfect, that, if one word or expression is used, there is a reason why no other would have done.
On these lines we shall proceed to put forth and explain our theses or propositions: begging our readers not to start at the bare statement of them, but prayerfully to test the reasons which we shall give; and to remember that, while some are sufficient of themselves to establish our position, yet, we depend on the cumulative evidence of the whole of them taken together.
Our great fundamental proposition – which we may as well state at once – is, that
The Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse
However startling this may sound and may seem to some of our readers, we implore you not to dismiss it, but to test the reasons we shall give by the Word of God itself, and to weigh them in “the balances of the sanctuary.” Try to forget all that you have “received by tradition,” and ask from whom you learned this or that. Be prepared and ready to unlearn anything that you may have received from men, and learn afresh from the Word of God itself.
The first chapter furnishes us with fifteen proofs of our fundamental proposition. Our first point, in proof of our great proposition, is
I. The five-fold division of the Bible
The whole Bible is divided into five great divisions, each determined by its subject-matter.
- The Old Testament has for its subject the King and his coming Kingdom, in promise and prophecy.
- The Four Gospels the Kingdom offered and rejected. The King crucified by Israel in the Land.
- The Acts and earlier Pauline Epistles; the King and Kingdom re-offered (3:19-21); and rejected, by the Dispersion in Rome (Acts 28:25, 26).
- The Later Pauline Epistles. The Kingdom in abeyance. The King made Head over all things to the Church.
- The Apocalypse. The Kingdom set up with Divine judgment, in Power-Glory. The King enthroned.
Then, during the fourth of these, we have the Epistles relating to the Mystery – the Church of God – during this present interval, while the King is in heaven and His Kingdom is in abeyance; and, while the preaching of “the gospel of the kingdom” is suspended, and “the gospel of the grace of God” is proclaimed. Of course, if there is no difference between these two pieces of “good-news,” and the kingdom is the same thing as the Church or Body of Christ, then there is an end of the whole matter; not merely of our task, but of the Bible itself. For, if words do not mean what they say when used of a plain, literal, matter of fact like this, then words are useless for the purposes of revelation altogether. We have concealment and confusion in its place; and an Apocrypha instead of an Apocalypse.
But, believing in the perfection of God’s words, and not merely of his Word, we submit that we have here a first great reason for our proposition, that the Church (the body of Christ) is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
It will be easier to receive this when we come to accumulate the evidence. We submit this first reason, simply asking our readers to believe what God says.
II. The Hebrew character of the Book
Though this may be considered by some as a minor point, it is so important that it must not be passed over. Most critical commentators have to deal with it: because from the earliest times the enemies of the Book have made use of this undeniable fact in order to argue that it has no right to a place in a Canon of the other Greek Books of the New Testament!
The Hebrew character of the book is shown in its use of idioms, expressions, words and phrases, which cannot be called Greek; and indeed is called by many “bad Greek.”
Professor Godet in his Studies on the New Testament, says, p. 331: “The only serious objection that can be urged against the authenticity of the Apocalypse, lies in the difference which is observable between its style, and that of the fourth Gospel. The latter is free from Aramaic expressions, the former is saturated with them.” And again (p. 351), “the Apocalypse bears, from one end of it to the other, the character of a Hebrew prophecy.”
The argument based on this fact by the opponents of the Apocalypse is dealt with by scholars in various ways. But the subject is not one which would be of general interest to grammar. Those who wish to see the subject exhaustively treated are referred to the Commentary on the Apocalypse, by Moses Stuart, who devotes over twenty pages to it (pp. 190-210).
There is however another side to the question: and that is, that, while the enemies use the fact against the Book itself, we use it against the popular interpretation of it. Though the language is Greek, the thoughts and idioms are Hebrew; and this links it on, not to the Pauline epistles, but to the Old Testament, and shows that its great subject is God’s final dealings with the Jew and the Gentile; and not the Church of God.
Connected with this fact there is another, that emphasizes it in a remarkable manner. It is not only Hebrew in character as to its linguistic peculiarities, but especially in its use of the Old Testament. Only those who have most intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament can properly understand the Apocalypse. But all who know anything of old Testament history cannot fail to detect the almost constant reference to it.
All the imagery – the Temple, the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the Altar, the Incense, the heads of the twenty-four courses of Priests (the pattern of which David’s was a copy, 1 Chron. 28:19, see chap. 25., and compare Heb. 9:23, etc), all this belongs peculiarly to Israel.
The same may be said of the judgments, which follow on the lines of the plagues of Egypt, and therefore are to be just as real: indeed they are to exceed in dread reality those which were executed in the Exodus from Egypt. For it is written (Ex. 34:10) – “And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all they people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among which thou art shall see the word of the lord; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.” It is the fulfilment of this covenant with Israel which is the great subject of the Apocalypse.
But it is when we come to look at the literary connection between the Old Testament and the Apocalypse that we find evidences of the most striking kind.
If we count up the number of Old Testament passages quoted or alluded to in the New Testament,* we find that the gospel of Matthew has a very large number, amounting in all to 92. The Epistle to the Hebrews comes higher still with 102. Now both these boos are connected in a special manner with Israel. Matthew, it is universally admitted, stands out among the four Gospels as being specially Jewish in its character. And the Epistle to the Hebrews was specially written to Hebrews, and they are addressed as such.
* We take the lists as given in Bagster’s Bible.
Now, when we turn to the Apocalypse, what do we find? The result which to our mind is overwhelming. No less than 285 references to the Old Testament. More than three times as many as Matthew, and nearly three times as many as the Epistle to the Hebrews.
We ask whether this does not give the book of Revelation a very special connection with the Old Testament, and with Israel? It is undoubtedly written about the people of the Old Testament who are the subjects of its history. These will understand it as Gentile Christians can never hope to do.*
* It is most remarkable that at the present time, 1900, a movement has been commenced in Palestine to overcome the difficulty arising from the fact of Jews assembling in Palestine speaking different languages. Hebrew is to be made and to become the common vernacular! It is not only to be taught in all the Jewish schools, but all other subjects are to be learnt in Hebrew. With this fact must be stated another, and that is the recent wide-spread publication of the Salkinson-Ginsburg Hebrew New Testament by the Trinitarian Bible Society and the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, amounting to some three-quarters of a million copies.
We are merely stating certain important facts which must be taken into account by any who are seeking to find out what the Book of Revelation is all about. The facts exist, and the question is, What do they say to us?
Not until we discover this, and thus learn the scope of the book, can we hope to understand it.
III. The Church not the subject of Old Testament Prophecy
Closely connected with this foregoing point, that the book is Hebrew in character, and intended specially for Hebrews, is another undoubted fact, that the Church of God is not the subject of the Old Testament, either in history, type, or prophecy.
Passages, &c., may be found there and used to illustrate what is subsequently revealed. But this can be done only by way of application, and not by way of teaching or ofinterpretation.
Because, of the “Mystery” or the secret concerning the Church of God, we are told that it “was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25). That “in other ages it was not made known unto the sons of men” (Eph. 3:5). That is, “from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3:9). That it “hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the saints” (Col. 1:26).
These statements are “the true sayings of God,” and not our own. We have no choice but to believe what He says. If any hold that, in spite of all this, the Church was not “hid in God,” but was the subject of Old Testament prophecy, then we have nothing more to say to them; for, if they will not believe God, it is not likely they will believe us.
But, believing God, we ask whether the Church is likely to be the subject of prophecy in the Apocalypse, especially when its future is clearly foretold in the Epistles which contain the revelation of the Mystery. There we learn what is to be the future and end of the Body of Christ. The members of that Body are merely waiting to be “received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). They are waiting for their “calling on high” (Phil. 3:14). They are looking for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change their vile bodies that they may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body (Phil. 3:20, 21).
But all this, we submit, takes place before the Apocalypse opens. There we have, not the coming of the Lord to take away His Church, but, the revelation of the events which shall take place after the Church has been “received up in glory.” These events will take place during “the day of the Lord,” when He shall come not in grace, but in judgement; not in mercy, but in wrath. But this brings us to our fourth point. What is the meaning of “the Lord’s Day,” in chap. 1:9?
IV. The Lord’s Day
In Rev. 1:9 we are told that John saw and received this revelation on “the Lord’s Day.” Leaving the former part of this verse for the present, let us notice the latter expression, “the Lord’s Day.” *
* For further information on this subject see a separate pamphlet on The Lord’s Day, by the same author and publisher, 1907.
The majority of people, being accustomed from their infancy to hear the first day of the week called the Lord’s Day, conclude in their own minds that that day is thus called in Rev. 1:9 because that was the name of it. But the contrary is the fact: the day is so called by us because of this verse.
In the New testament this day is always called “the first day of the week.” (See Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2.). Is it not strange that in this one place a different expression is thought to refer to the same day? And yet, so sure are the commentators that it means Sunday, that some go as far as to say it was “Easter Sunday,” and it is for this reason that Rev. 1:10-19 is chosen in the New Lectionary of the Church of England as the 2nd Lesson for Easter Sunday morning.
There is no evidence of any kind that “the first day of the week” was ever called “the Lord’s Day” before the Apocalypse was written. That it should be so called afterwards is easily understood, and there can be little doubt that the practice arose from the misinterpretation of these words in Rev. 1:9. It is incredible that the earliest use of a term can have a meaning which only subsequent usage makes intelligible.
On the contrary, it ceased to be called by its Scripture name (“the First day of the week”), not because of any advance of Biblical truth or reverence, but because of declension from it. The Greek “Fathers” of the Church were converts from Paganism: and it is not yet sufficiently recognized how much of Pagan rites and ceremonies and expressions they introduced into the Church; and how far Christian ritual was elaborated from and based upon Pagan ritual by the Church of Rome. Especially is this seen in the case of baptism.*
* See The Buddha of Christendom, by Dr. Robert Anderson, C.B. Hodder and Stoughton, page 68 and chap. 9.
It was these Fathers who, on their conversion, brought the title “Sunday” into the Church from the Pagan terminology which they had been accustomed to use in connection with their Sun-worship.
Justin Martyr (114-165 A.D.) in his second Apology (i.e., his second defence of Christianity), says,* in chap. 67. on “The weekly worship of the Christians,” – “On the day called SUN-DAY all who live in the country gather together to one place… SUN-DAY is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of SATURN [i.e., Saturn’s day]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the SUN, having appeared to his apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”
* T. and T. Clark’s edition, pages 65, 66.
It is passing strange that if John called the first day of the week “the Lord’s Day,” we find no trace of the use of such a title until a hundred years later. And that though we do find a change, it is to “Sunday,” and not the “the Lord’s Day” – a name which has become practically universal.*
* The French, Spanish, and Italian nations have retained the Roman Pagan names. The English is tainted with Scandinavian mythology. The 1st day they call Dies Dominica, the Lord’s Day (i.e., the day of the lord, the sun). All the Oriental nations called the sun “lord.” The Persians called their god Mithra (the sun), i.e., the lord Mithra. The Syrians called it Adonis, which is from the Hebrew Adonai, lord. The Hebrews called it Baal (which means lord) and Moloch. Porphyry, in a prayer to the sun, calls him “Dominus Sol.” The Romans kept the Pagan name, Dies Dominica (the day of the lord sun), for the first day of the week; but called the others by the names of the moon and planets to which they were dedicated. Thus we have Dies Lunae (day of the moon), Dies Martis (day of Mars), Dies Mercurii. (day of Mercury), Dies Jovis (day of Jupiter), Dies Veneris (day of Venus), Dies Saturnii. (day of Saturn).
Some Christians still perpetuate the name of the Lord’s Day for Sunday: but it is really the survival of a Pagan name, with a new meaning, derived from a misunderstanding of Rev. 1:9.
Objection has been taken to the interpretation of “the Lord’s Day” here, because we have (in 1:9) the adjective “Lord’s” instead of the noun (in regimen), “of the Lord,” as in the Hebrew. But what else could it be called in Hebrew? such objectors do not seem to be aware of the fact that there is no adjective for “Lord’s” in Hebrew; and therefore theonly way of expressing “the Lord’s Day” is by using the two nouns, “the day of the Lord” – which means equally “the Lord’s Day” (Jehovah’s day). It is useless, therefore, to make any objection on this ground; for if a Hebrew wanted to say “the Lord’s Day,” he must say “the day of the Lord.”
In the Greek there are two ways of expressing this (as in modern languages); either by saying literally, as in Hebrew, “the day of the Lord” (using the two nouns); or by using the adjective “Lord’s” instead. It comes to exactly the same thing as to signification; the difference lies only in the emphasis.
The natural way of qualifying a nouns is by using an adjective, as here – (…) (kyriakee) Lord’s; and, when this is done, the emphasis takes its natural course, and is placed on the noun thus qualified (“day”). But when the emphasis is required to be placed on the word “Lord;” then, instead of the adjective, the noun would be used in the genitive case, “of the Lord.” In the former case (as in Rev. 1:9), it would be “the Lord’s DAY.” In the latter case it would be “THE LORD’S day.” The same day is meant in each case, but with a different emphasis.
By way of illustration and proof, we may call attention to the fact that we have the corresponding expressions concerning another “day.” In Luke 17:22 we have “the days of the Son of Man,” where the emphasis must be on “THE SON OF MAN” (as shown by the context). While in 1 Cor. 4:3 we have “man’s DAY,” with the emphasis on “day,” marking that “day” as being actually present, as it now is. This is so clear from the context that it is actually translated “judgment,” which is exactly what it means. The apostle says – “It is a very small thing, that I should be judged of you, or of man’s DAY.” The emphasis is on day, because the time in which we now live is the time, or “day,” when man is judging. Another day is coming, and that is the day when the Lord will be present, and He will be the judge. This is the reason why the adjective (…) (anthropinee) man’s is used in 1 Cor. 4:3; and this is why (…) (kyriakee), Lord’s is used in Rev. 1:9. So far from the use of the adjective being an argument against our conclusion, it is an argument in favour of it. For what is the “DAY of the Lord” or “the LORD’S day”? The first occurrence of the expression (which is the key to its meaning) is in Isa. 2:11.* It is the day when “the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted.
- * It should be noted that the expression (…) (yom Jehovah, the day of the Lord) occurs (in the Hebrew Bible) sixteen times, viz., Isa. 13:6,9. Ezek. 13:5, Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:14; 4:14. Amos 5:18 (twice), 20. Obad. 16 (Heb. 1). Zeph. 1:7, 14 (twice), and Mal.4:5 (Heb. 3:23).
- In four other places where we have in the English Bible “the day of the Lord,” the Hebrew has the preposition lamed (…) for or to, before the word Jehovah. In Isa. 2:12, Ezek. 30:3, and Zech. 14:1 it means “a day for Jehovah”; and in Zech. 14:7 it means “a day (known) to Jehovah.”
- In other places where we have in English “the day of the Lord,” there is some other word between yom and Jehovah in the Hebrew (such as “wrath” or “vengeance;” i.e., the day of the wrath of the Lord)! and therefore these cannot be included as examples of this expression, “the day of the Lord.”
- In the New Testament the expression occurs four times; viz., 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2 (according to all the critical Greek texts and R.V., instead of “the day of Christ.”) 2 Pet. 3:10, and Rev. 1:10.
- It is remarkable that all these occurrences are stamped with the number four, which marks that day has having special relation to the earth. In the New Testament four times. In the Old Testament, with the preposition, four times; and simply yom Jehovah 16 times (i.e. the square of four). This is merely a note in passing, but it is most significant.
That is the one great object of all the future events, seen by John in vision, and recorded for us in the Apocalypse.
One other fact has to be stated, and that is the reason why the first day of the week came to be called “Sunday.” It was called by the Pagan “Dominus Sol,” the Lord Sun. Hence the Latin name “Dies Dominica,” used by the early Christian Fathers for the Sunday, and the speedy transition of its name from “the Lord Sun” to “the Lord’s Day,” and then “Sunday.” Bingham (Ant. 20., sec. 5) mentions the fact that it was the custom in the Primitive Church to replace heathen days and festivals by those which were Christian. We see one result of this in our Yule-tide and Christmas. Bingham (Ant. 20., sec. 2) also mentions the fact that the early Christians were charged with being worshippers of the sun. Tertullian also admits that Christians were only looked upon by some as a sect of sun worshippers: * while some account for this on other grounds: (e.g. the sects of the Gnostics and Basilideans having retained or introduced solar forms of worship). Yet these facts are better and more fully accounted for by the adoption of the name “the Lord’s Day” for the Sunday; while it serves to throw light on the transition from the original name of “the first day of the week.”
* Tertullian Ad Nationes, Bk. 1., chap. 13., and Apologeticus, C. 16. (Latter half).
From all this evidence we feel justified in believing that the Apocalypse consists of a series of visions, which set forth the events connected with “the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” which will take place during “the Lord’s DAY;” that day being so called because it is viewed as being then present; and as it had been called heretofore in prophecy, “the day of the Lord.”
V. The Titles of Christ
The titles used of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Revelation afford further evidence as to the Church of god not being the subject of that Book. We propose to consider seven of these, all used in the Introduction (chap. 1). The most important of these is that given in connection with his vision in chap. 1:13-16. In ver. 13, He is called
(1) “The Son of Man”
This is a title connected with the Lord Jesus in relation to the earth. Its first occurrence in Psa. 8 fixes its peculiar signification. That Psalm begins and ends with a reference to the “earth,” and, after speaking of “the Son of Man,” it adds: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands.”
It will be found, therefore, that wherever this title occurs, it always refers to the Lord Jesus in connection with His dominion in the earth.* And, when used of His second coming, it refers to the judgment which He is then and there to exercise.
* See The Divine Names and Titles, by Dr. Bullinger.
It is most remarkable, and so remarkable as to make it practically conclusive, that this title, while it occurs eighty-four times in the New Testament, is never once used in the Pauline epistles addressed to Churches; thus proving that this title has nothing whatever to do with the Church. But while it has no connection with the Church, in the Epistles, it occurs no less than eighty times in the four Gospels and Acts, because there we have Christ on the earth, and the presentation of the King and the Kingdom. But, when again he reveals Himself by this title, it is in the Book of Revelation (1:13 and 14:14).*
* Between the Gospels and the Revelation there are only two occurrences, on where Stephen sees Him (Acts 7:56) in a vision, standing as though to avenge the blood of His servant, then being shed on the earth (anticipatory of His action in the Apocalypse); and once in Heb. 2:6, where it is merely a quotation of Pslam 8.
Thus we are pointed to the fact, and told (if we have ears to hear), that the Apocalypse relates to the coming of “the Son of Man” to exercise judgment in and assume dominion over the earth.
It is remarkable that the first use of the title in the New Testament is in Matt. 8:20, where it is said: “The Son of Man hath no where to lay His head”: and the last is in Rev. 14:14, where the Son of Man is seen “having on His head a golden crown.” Both are connected with his “head,” and with the earth; while in the latter there is associated both judgment and dominion.
The significance of this title is further proved by its contrast with the title “Son of God” in John 5:25-27: “Verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of THE SON OF GOD, and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also; because He is THE SON OF MAN.”
It is thus clear that the use of this title twice in Revelation (1:13 and 14:14), and not once in the Church Epistles, is a further proof that the Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
The Church has no more to do with Christ under the title of “The Son of Man” than the Syro-Phoenician woman had anything to do with Him as “the Son of David.”
We ought to add that this fact is a key to all the passages where this title is used: and shows that Matt. 14 and 25 have nothing whatever to do with the Church of God, because of the use of this title in 24:30, and 25:31. Both refer to His coming in clouds to the earth in judgment, after the Church has been taken up, and after the Great Tribulation.
* Nine is the number of judgment (see Number in Scripture by the same Author).
** Ten is the number of ordinal perfection.
It is (…) (pantokrator) and means having dominion over all, and is used in the Old Testament as the Septuagint translation of “Lord of Hosts” (Heb., Jehovah, Sabaioth; see 2 Sam. 5:10; 7:25, 27).
In Revelation the title is used in 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15, 22.
“The Lord of Hosts” means Jehovah of the hosts in heaven above, and on the earth beneath; and especially of the hosts of Israel. Its first occurrence is (as usual) most significant (see 1 Sam. 1:3, 11; and 4:4), when Israel was reduced to a low estate – oppressed by the Philistines. All had failed. The Judges had failed. The priests (witness Eli) had failed: there was “no king in Israel:” and God’s sanctuary was defiled.
But the revelation of this title at this juncture, and here used for the first time, told of the blessed fact that there was going to be a king; and a judge too; as well as a Priest upon His throne; that the sanctuary was going to be cleansed (Rev. 11.), and the oppressors of Israel destroyed. Israel is, conversely, called “The Lord’s Host” (see Exod. 12:42), when, at the moment of the formation of the nation at the end of the 430 years of sojourning and servitude, and the birth of the new nation at the Exodus, we read these most significant words: “and it came to pass at the end of the 430 years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out of the land of Egypt.”
And further, we may note that, in Joshua 5:14, 15, we have the real connection between “the Lord of Hosts” and “The Hosts of the Lord.” Jehovah-Jesus announces His coming as “the Captain of the Lord’s Host,” to lead them on, to fight their battles, to judge the nations, and give them rest, and settle them in their own land.
Now, we ask, Is it not most significant that this is the title used here in the Apocalypse, nine times? Does not the fact speak to us and say that, when that book opens Israel is in low estate? That Priests and people alike have failed, and there is “no king.” Does it not say that “the Captain of the Lord’s host” is coming down as their judge and vindicator, to deliver them from their oppressors, to fight for them, and give them rest, and to bring them into their own land?
Surely the association of this title, Pantokrator, with the Lord of Hosts in the Old Testament, and with Israel; its frequent use in Revelation, and its practical absence in the Church Epistles, shuts us up to the fact that we have in this book, not the Church, but that which concerns the Jew and the Gentile.
It is in this book we have that which the first occurrence of the title in the Book of Psalms relates to:
“Who is this King of glory (i.e. this glorious King)?
The Lord of Hosts – He is the King of Glory.”
And it is the object of the Apocalypse to show how this comes about, and how He becomes the King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). And how all “the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (11:15). Then, too, will Israel fulfil the forty-sixth Psalm, and say:
“The Lord of Hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
* Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Westcott and Hort.
In chap. 22:6 we have the same title. Thus at the end of the book and at the beginning we have this peculiar title, which seems to enclose all that the book contains, and stamp it all with that which the title signifies. What is signifies is clear from the place where we first find it, vix., in the second of the twelve divisions of Genesis (chap. 2:4 – 4:26). This division is called “the generations of the heavens and of the earth.”
In the Apocalypse we have the final results of all that pertains to the heavens and the earth.
The title “Lord God” is the title used in this division, which treats of the settlement of man in Paradise, or garden of the Lord. In the New Testament it first appears in the Apocalypse; where it has reference to the undoing of the effects of the curse (describe in that section of Genesis), and to the making of the earth again into the Paradise* of God – the garden of the Lord.
* The word Paradise occurs in the New Testament three times. Luke 23:43, where the Lord spoke of it in promise and prophecy; in 2 Cor. 12:9, whither Paul was caught away; and in Rev. 2:7.
The title implies all this: viz., that God is about to do all that Jehovah has revealed. For Elohim is the God of creation and the commencement of life, while Jehovah is the God of revelation and the development and sustainer of life with regard to His covenant People. Elohim (God) expresses the power which accomplishes; Jehovah (Lord) the gracewhich provides.
Hence in Gen. 2:4 – 4:26, and in Rev. 1:8, and 22:5 we meet with this title; which links the two books together in a most remarkable manner, and gives the pledge that Paradise lost will become Paradise regained; and that the curse which drove man out shall no longer keep him out, but shall be “no more” for ever.
This use of the title “Lord God” thus assures us that He who made the promise of Gen. 3:15, that the Serpent’s head should one day be crushed, will, in His own day (the Lord’s day), finally crush the Serpent’s head.
The fact that this title is never used in connection with the Church of God, affords us one more great and important proof of our proposition that [the] Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse, but that it has to do with the Jew and the Gentile.
(4) “The First and the Last” (1:11).
This title is used in Rev. 1:11. It is used again in 1:17, 2:8, and 22:13, but is never found in connection with “the Church of God.” On the other hand, it is a title closely associated with “the Jew and the Gentile,” as the following Scriptures will testify.
Is. 41:4,5: “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Jehovah, THE FIRST AND LAST; I am He. The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid.”
Is. 44:6: “Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts; I AM THE FIRST, AND I AM THE LAST; and beside me there is no God.”
Is. 48:12: “Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel, my called; I am he; I AM THE FIRST, I ALSO AM THE LAST. Mine hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.”
Is it not clear, almost to certainty, that when the Lord Jesus specially reveals Himself by this title, never using it again till He claims it in the book of Revelation four * times, He means to teach us that He is come to act on behalf of Israel and in connection with that People with which this title is thus peculiarly associated?
* Four being the number that relates specially to the earth.”
This is a title used only in this book (1:5). Many kings are mentioned and referred to in the book: but the Lord Jesus comes as their “Prince;” “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
The word is (…) (archon), and occurs in the New Testament 37 times. It is used of earthly rulers, and spirit rulers of this age; also of Christ (only of Christ) in relation to the earth; but never in relation to or in connection with the Church. He it is of whom His God and Father has declared, “I will make Him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). It is in connection with the earth that He comes, in Revelation, and hence this title is used. Another testimony to the truth of our proposition.
(6) “Who is to come” (1:8).
This also is a definite title of Christ; (…) (ho erchomenos), THE COMING ONE. It is not, who is “about to come,”* as though it were announcing a fact or an act, as being near at hand: but, it describes a person who has this for His special title, by which He came to be known. He has borne that title ever since the great prophecy and promise of Gen. 3:15. From that time the coming “seed of the woman” has always been the hope of God’s People, and hence He is “The Coming One.”
* This would be (…) (ho mellon erchesthai)
True, He was rejected; therefore that coming is now in abeyance. The book of Revelation is a prophecy giving further details concerning that same coming. The Church of God waits for the Saviour, not as the coming one to the earth. It is as going ones we wait for Him, looking to be caught up to meet Him in the air.
“The Coming One” is His special title, which connects Him with the Old Testament prophecies. The title is never once used in any of the Church epistles. We have it variously rendered: –
- “That cometh,” Luke 19:38. John 12:13.
- “He that cometh,” Matt. 3:11; 21:9; 23:39. John 1:15; 3:31 (twice).
- “Who coming,” John 1:27.
- “He that shall come,” Heb. 10:37.
- “Which (or that) should come,” John 6:14; 11:27.
- “He that (or which) should come,” Matt. 11:3. Luke 7:19,20. Acts 19:4.
- “Which is (or art) to come,” Rev. 1:4,8; 4:8.*
* “Which art to come,” In Rev. 11:17, was inserted by a later scribe, thinking to make it harmonize with 1:4,8; and 4:8. It must be omitted according to all the Critical Greek Texts (G[r]. L. T. Tr. A. [WH.]) and the R.V. It clearly is out of place here, because the twenty-four elders say, “We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and reignedst” (not hast reigned). The coming had already taken place in Rev. 11:17: and therefore the title of “the Coming One” is omitted in this passage.
S9teen times we have the title in the Gospels and Acts and Heb. 10: 37; and then, not again until Revelation; when it is used three times of Him who was about to fulfil the hope of His People. This again stamps this prophecy as having to do with Christ as God, who “is” (essential being), and “was” (in eternity past), and is “the coming one” (time future).
(7) “The Living One” (1:18).
“I am He that liveth, and was dead” (1:18). (…) (ho zon), THE LIVING ONE. Like the previous title, it is used as a special designation of the One whose unveiling is about to be shewn to John. Its use is peculiar to Daniel and Revelation. The two books thus linked together by it are linked as to their character and subject matter in a very special manner. It is used twice in Daniel:- Dan. 4:34 (31*) and 12:7; and six time in Revelation:- Rev. 1:18**; 4:9,10; 5:14; 10:6; and 15:7.**
* Verses in parentheses indicate the number of the verse in the Hebrew Bible, where it differs from that of the English Bible.
** It is referred to in 2:8, but not used.
In Dan. 4:34 (the first occurrence), we read of Nebuchadnezzer, “I praised and honoured HIM THAT LIVETH for ever; whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.”
That exactly expresses what He who reveals Himself by the title, “He that liveth,” in Rev. 1:18, has there come to do.
He is coming with the armies of heaven (Rev. 19:14) to take the kingdom and the dominion, and to do his will among the inhabitants of the earth (not the church or the churches).
Dan. 12:7 and Rev. 10:6 are so similar that we put them side by side. Both refer to and contrast Christ’s relation to eternity and to time:
|“He (the angel) held up his right hand and his left to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that is shall be for a time, times, and a half, and … all these things shall be finished” (Dan. 12:7).||“And the angel… lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware byhim that liveth for ever and ever… that there should be time (RV. marg., delay) no longer” (Rev. 10:5,6).|
Who can doubt that Daniel and Revelation are identical as to their scope; and that they relate, not to this present church period at all, but to the time when “he that liveth,” or the Living One, shall come to exercise dominion in the earth, and this in connection, not with the grace of God, but with “the wrath of God” (Rev. 15:7)? The double testimony of two witnesses, in Daniel and Revelation, bespeak the fact that this title relates entirely to the earth, and to man.*
* For six is the number which marks it as relating to man; while the total number, eight (twice four) connects it with the earth.
The church is heavenly in its calling, its standing, its hope, and its destiny. But here, everything relates to the execution of judgment on the earth, and upon man.
There is a related title which is also very significant, “the living God.” This is used in both Testaments, and indiscriminately, because it has no special reference either to Israel or to the church; but because of a latent reference it always has, to idols, and to judgment on idolaters. This is often expressed in the context; but where it is not actually expressed in words, the thought of idols and idolatry and idolaters has to be supplied mentally.
The title (“the living God”) occurs 13 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew), and twice in the Chaldee (Dan. 6:20,26), fifteen times in all. It begins in connection with apostasy (13), but ends in grace and blessing (15=3X5). In the New Testament it occurs sixteen times (4X4), the square of four, four being the number specially associated with the earth. The whole matter is so important and full of interest, that we venture to give all the references.
The first, Deut. 5:26 (23) gives the key (as usual) to the whole. It is in connection with the giving of the Ten Commandments (with special reference to the second, 4:19), when they “heard the voice of the living God (Elohim) speaking out of the midst of the fire.”
We say that the title here used is in connection with idolatry; and especially in its most ancient and universal form, sun-worship. A few verses before (Deut. 4:19), we read, “Lest thou lift up thine eyes to heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and to serve them,” etc.
The whole heathen world worshipped the sun and the host of heaven; because they “associated with them certain human characters who had really performed the actions which were thence ascribed to the celestial bodies.* The sun had various attributes; and one was “the living one.”** The sun has a conspicuous place in freemasonry; and sun-worship has its ramifications throughout the whole world. We cannot impede our argument by giving further details here. We have put them together in an Appendix, where our readers may see the evidence for themselves.
*Faber’s Mystery of Pagan Idolatry, vol. 2:223.
**Adventures in New Guinea, p. 56.
Our point is this; that the first use of the title “the living God” has to do with the voice out of the midst of the fire; and the last use of it (in Rev. 7:2) is where God’s servants are sealed with “the seal of the living God,” so as to be kept from the then coming most awful phase of idolatry the world has ever seen, even the worship of the Beast; and to be preserved from and through the consequent judgments which shall come on those worshippers.
In Deut. 22:40,41, we have (not the title, but) words which connect the thought contained in it with that time of judgment.
Deut. 32 contains that “Song of Moses,” of which Rev. 15:3 speaks, and the time referred to is Apocalyptic time. “For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me” (Deut. 32:40,41).
Ps. 18:46-48 (47-49). “The Lord liveth…It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me. He delivereth me from mine enemies:” etc.
The title also has to do with Israel’s restoration and deliverance. See Jer. 16:14,15; 23:7,8. The judgment on those who use this title of idols is described in Amos 8: 14. If our readers will compare all the occurrences which we now give of this title, “the living God,” they will see how (as a whole) they refer to Israel, to Gentiles, to the earth, to idolaters, and to idols.
Deut. 5:26 (23). Josh. 3:10. I Sam. 17:26,36, where David uses it against the defiance of Goliath. 2 Kings 19:4,16. Isa. 37:4,17, where it is used against the reproach of Sennacherib. Ps. 42:2 (3); 84:2 (3), where it is used with a latent reference to the false gods which others worship and seek. So Jer. 10:10; 23:36, and Hos. 1:10 (2:1).
In the New Testament the usage is the same. Matt. 16:16; 26:63. John 6:69. Acts 14:15. Rom. 9:26. 2 Cor. 3:3; 6:16; 1 Thess. 1:9 (idols). 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:10; 6:17. Heb. 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; and Rev. 7:2. S9teen in all (4 in the Gospels and Acts, 4 in the Church Epistles, 3 in the Pastoral Epistles, 4 in Hebrews, and once in Revelation).
Enough has been said on this particular title, and upon the seven as a whole, to show that they all link on the book of Revelation to the Old Testament and the Gospels, and not to the Church; and that their cumulative testimony is that Christ is revealed in this book, not in the character in which He is presented to the Church of God, but in that character in which He is revealed in the Old Testament in relation to Israel and the Earth, which is again taken up in the Apocalypse.
There are other titles of Christ in this book which all add their own testimony; but these we can leave for the present, till we come to them in their own place. Enough has been said to show that these titles assumed by the Lord Jesus in the first chapter of this book shut it entirely off, by way of interpretation, from the Church, which is His Body.
VI. The People of the Book – “Servants”
This expression tells us who the person are who are specially concerned in this book; and to whom the Revelation of Jesus Christ is shown. At the very outset we are thus warned that we are no longer on, but quite off, the ground of the Pauline Epistles, which are addressed to “sons,” and not to “servants.”
The word is (…), doulos, and means a bond servant.
Now, without denying that the members of the Body of Christ are in a certain sense the servants of Christ, yet it is also perfectly clear that this is not their title as to their standing in Christ before God. It is distinctly declared to each of them, “Thou art no more a servant, but a son” (Gal. 4:7). This is the one great point which is insisted on with reference to their new position in Christ.
Throughout the Old Testament, in passages too numerous to be counted, God’s People Israel are constantly spoken of as His servants. This fact is too well known to need anything more than its bare statement.
Its significance will be at once seen when we come to the New Testament Scriptures. There we find the same use of the word whenever Israel is in question. It occurs 124 times; but as in 39 of these it refers to domestic servants, or those who serve man, we have to deal only with the 85 occurrences where it is used with reference to God. Of these 85, no less than 59 are in the Gospels and Acts. Only six in the Church Epistles (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:22; Gal.1:10; Eph. 6:6; Phil. 1:1; Col:4:12), and six in the general and other Epistles (2 Tim. 2:24; Tit. 1:1; Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 2:16; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1).
But while this is the case with the Epistles, the word “servants” occurs no less than fourteen times in the book of Revelation, and this, not in the exceptional manner, as in the Epistles, but as the one specific and proper title for those who are the subjects of the book.
In the Epistles the use is peculiar, as an examination of the passages will show. Out of the whole twelve, six are in the first verse of the Epistle,* describing the special character of the writer. For while all sons serve, and are in a sense, therefore, servants, yet “servants,” as such, are not necessarily sons. In other words a “son” may be called a servant, but a “servant” can never be called a son.
* Rom., Phil., Tit., Jas., 2 Pet., and Jude.
Hence, the writers of the Epistles, being all engaged in special service, might well be called servants. And the Apocalypse, being written concerning Israel, the Israelites are, as appropriately, always spoken of as “servants.”
This evidence may not seem conclusive in itself; but, taken with the other reasons given, it adds its cumulative testimony to our position that the book of Revelation has not the Church of God for its subject.
As the members of the Body of Christ, we are “in Christ.” We have received a sonship-spirit, whereby we cry, Abba – i.e., my Father, “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:15-17).
“As many as are led by Divine-spirit (i.e., the new nature) are sons of God; for we have not received a bond-service spirit” (5:14,15). This is enlarged upon in Gal.4:1-7, where the fact is still more clearly enforced and taught.
May we not ask why, if the Apocalypse be all about the Church of God, the people are never spoken of by this their new designation of “sons,” but always by the title used of those in the Old Testament who were under the Law? Is it not passing strange that this should be so? And is it not the duty of those interpreters who see the Church as the subject of the book, to explain to us this striking peculiarity?
Even in the Gospels, in speaking to the Twelve, the Lord Jesus specially calls their and our attention to such a change in the relationship, which had then taken place. Not so great a change as that revealed and contained in the Mystery. He had been showing them somewhat of the future, and He says (John 15:15), “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends.” In the Apocalypse, He is about to show them things which must come to pass hereafter; and He does not even call them “friends,” still less does He speak of them as “sons,” but He goes back and takes up still more distant ground, and calls them, without exception, “servants.”
A careful study of the Old Testament with reference to this word “servants” will help to strengthen our position. In Lev. 25:42, Jehovah declares of them, “they are my servants.” Deut. is full of references to this great fact: and, when we pass to the Apocalypse, and read it as the continuation of God’s dealings with Israel, then all is clear; and we have no problem to solve, as to why all is turned from light to darkness, and the “sons of God” are suddenly spoken of as “servants.” Neither have we any difficulty to explain as to why those who are declared to be no more “servants,” but “sons,” are continually called servants, and not sons.
Even John himself, in writing by the same Spirit for the Church of God (1 John 3:2), when speaking of them, says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God,” and he calls them this in view of their seeing Him as He is, and their becoming like Him. But when he is writing for those who will be on the earth during the times of the Great Tribulation, he is Divinely inspired to speak of them, not as “the sons of God,” but as the “servants of God.”
We repeat once again, in order to make this point quite clear, that while “sons” may perform some special service, and therefore may, on that account, be called “servants:” “servants,” on the contrary, whatever may be the service rendered, can never occupy the position, or have the title, of “sons.”
VII. The Title of the Book
Our next evidence is the title given to the book by the Holy Spirit who inspired it. It is not “the Revelation of St. John the Divine,” which is man’s title for it. Indeed, among the later MSS., we find fifteen or sixteen various titles; but the Divine title given in the text, is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The word (…) apocalupsis. Hence the title of “Apocalypse” so frequently given to the book. It is from the verb (…) apocalupto to unveil, from (…) apo away from, and (…)~kalumma a veil. Hence Apocalypsis means a taking away of a veil (as when a statue is said to be unveiled), and thus bringing into view that which had been before hidden as by a veil. Unveiling is the equivalent English word.
It is used, of course, in two senses: viz., of a bringing to knowledge by the removing of the veil of ignorance; or of the visible appearance of one who had previously been unseen, as though hidden by a veil.
Our point is that, whenever this word is used of a visible person or thing, it always denotes the visible manifestation of that person; and it is the same in the case of all material or visible things. This is not a matter of opinion, but it is a matter of fact, on which our readers can easily satisfy themselves by examining the passages. The word occurseighteen times; and in the following ten places is used of a person.
- Luke 2:32 – “A light to lighten the Gentiles,” literally “a light for a revelation to the Gentiles.” What was this light? It was a person, even the Saviour in Simeon’s arms, of whom he could say, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”
- Rom. 2:5 – “The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Here it refers to the visible judgment of God, which will be manifested to all in “the day of wrath.”
- Rom. 8:19 – “The manifestation of the sons of God:” i.e., the visible revelation of the sons of God, when they shall appear and be manifested in glory with Christ (Col. 3:4).
- 1 Cor. 1:7 – “Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, without doubt, it refers to the personal appearing of Christ. This passage occurs in one of the earlier epistles of St. Paul, written during the Dispensation of the Acts, while the offer of the Kingdom and the King was still open to Israel (3:19-21), before the sentence of judicial blindness was passed upon Israel (Acts 28:25,26). The words Parousia (1 Thess., &c) and Apocalypse were suitable for that Dispensation; and, of course, necessitated the personal presence of the Lord Jesus.
- 2 Cor. 12:1 – “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Here the word is joined to visions as though it meant visible manifestations of the Lord. Verse 7 may mean either a revelation of truths, or visible scenes of glory, or both.
- Gal. 1:12 – “I neither received it (i.e., the Gospel which he announced) from man, neither was I taught it [by man], but by a revelation (i.e., a vision or visible appearance) of Jesus Christ.” There is no reason whatever why the word should not have both meanings. Why should not the Lord have appeared to him, and made known to him that message which was given to him? It must have been made known to him in some way; and he distinctly says it was by Jesus Christ (not by the Holy Spirit). Therefore it must have been in one of those many “visions” which he says he saw at different times; and probably during those three preparatory years which he spent in Arabia (Gal. 1:17,18). In verse 16 it is the verb that is used and not the noun, and therefore it does not come within our inquiry.
- 2 Thess. 1:7 – “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.” Here, though the English uses the verb, the Greek has the noun, and reads, “And to you who are troubled, rest with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with His mighty angels.” There can be no doubt about this passage. (See below, the chapter on “The scope of the book, gathered from its place in the Canon.”)
- 1 Pet. 1:7 – “Might be found unto praise and honour and glory at (the) revelation of Jesus Christ.” The context shows that the meaning here is the same as in 2 Thess. 1:10, and refers to His visible manifestation with His People in the air at His Revelation. But, if Peter’s words are taken as referring to the remnant, then the visible manifestation is to them.
- So in verse 13, we have the same expression, “at (the) revelation of Jesus Christ.”
- Also in 4:13 where we read of the time “when His glory shall be revealed;” i.e., visibly manifested.
Now from all these ten passages, is it not clear that the word Apocalupsis, when it refers to what can be seen (such as a thing or a person), always means that visible manifestation of that person or thing?
If so, that is what we have in this book. We have an account of the various events which are to take place in heaven and on earth, connected with His visible unveiling. It is His Apocalupsis which God gave Him the right or authority to show, make known, or represent to his bondservants what must shortly come to pass.
It is this thrusting of the sense of making known a truth into the word which, when used of a person, means the appearance of that person, that has led people commonly to speak of this book in the plural, “the Revelations.”
We have therefore, in the Title of this book, further evidence that the subject of this whole book is the visible appearing of Jesus Christ in power, and glory; and for judgment in the earth. It is not a series of revelations about Jesus Christ; but the book which gives us the particulars about the events which are connected with His revelation or appearing. And it is made known, it says, specially, to his “servants,” as we saw in our previous point.
VIII. The Descriptions of the Book
The descriptive titles given to this book mark it off as being special in its nature, distinct from the other books of the New Testament; and in character and keeping with the prophetic books of the Old Testament. It is called
1. “The Word of God” (1:2).
This is not used as a general term, of the Scriptures or of the Bible, as such:* but in a special sense, not uncommon in the Old Testament, of the “word which comes from God,” or which He speaks. Hence, a prophetic message, e.g.,
- 1 Sam. 9:27. Samuel said to Saul: “Stand thou still awhile, that I may show thee the word of God.”
- 1 Kings 12:22. “The word of God came unto Shemaiah, the man of God (i.e., the prophet), saying.” (Compare 2 Chron. 11:2; 12:15.)
- 1 Chron. 17:3. “The word of God came to Nathan.” (So 2 Sam. 7:4.)
* Though, of course, as the Bible is made up of the words of God, we may conveniently and very truly use “the Word of God” of the Scriptures as a whole. See Jer. 15:16.
It is difficult to distinguish between the written Word and the Living Word. Both make known and reveal God.
In Gen. 15:1, we read “The Word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield,” etc. Here, it is evidently the Living Word, though it may include both.
When we come to the Apocalypse, we are at once prepared for both — Vision of the Living Word, and also the prophetic word of the Living God; both making known to the servants of God the visions and words of “this prophecy” (ver. 3). Five times we have this expression in this book.* Not in the common sense, as in the Gospels and Epistles, but in this special sense of a prophetic message.
* Chaps. 1:2; 1:9; 6:9; 19:13; 20:4.
In 1:9 John tells us he “was in the Isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Leaving the latter expression for a moment, we may remark that the popular interpretation of the word “for” is based on a tradition which doubtless sprang from a misunderstanding of these words. There is no idea of banishment in them. It was no accident which lead to the giving of this prophecy. John went to Patmos “for” the purpose of receiving it (as Paul went into Arabia, Gal. 1:17). “On account of” is the meaning of the word here used, for “for.”* If his preaching of “the Word of God” was the cause of this being in Patmos, another expression would have been used. See Exposition below, on 1:9.
* As in Heb. 2:9, “For the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour;” and verse 10 – “For whom are all things and by whom are all things.” So Rom. 4:25, “on account of.”
Verse 2 tells us that “the word of God” consisted of “the things that he saw.” How could John be banished to Patmos because of, or by reason of, the things which he saw in Patmos! No, the truth here recorded is that John was there on account of (i.e., to receive) “the word of God,” i.e., the prophetic message, even “the words of this prophecy.” There is a second descriptive title which stamps this book. It is called
2. “This Prophecy” (1:3).
Seven times we have the word prophecy in this book,* and prophecy is its one great subject.
* chaps. 1:3; 11:6; 19:10; 22:7,10,18,19.
It is “prophecy” for us, therefore, and not past history. It is prophecy concerning the events which shall take place “hereafter” during the day of the Lord, i.e., during the day when the Lord will be the Judge, in contradistinction to the present day, i.e., “man’s day” (1 Cor. 4:3) during which man is judging (to the painful experience of most of us). See Exposition on 1:10.
Even “Historicists” take some part of this book as prophecy. Most “Futurists” take from 4:1 as prophecy. But we fall back on the first blessing in verse 3: “Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of THIS PROPHECY.”
That reading commences at once; that hearing commences with the reading. Neither is to be postponed till some future time, or to some particular part of the book: nor are we to be left in ignorance as to where our reading and our blessing commences. We believe that “this prophecy” means “this prophecy,” and that we begin at once to read it and to get the blessing. It cannot be that we are to read on and wait till we come to some particular verse where the blessing commences. Our attention to what is written is not to be postponed. All the words are “the words of this prophecy.” John was to bear witness of “all things that he saw” (ver. 2); and the command is “what thou seest write in A BOOK.” What we have therefore is in “a book;” and that book contains all that John saw and heard; and it is called “this prophecy.”
The whole book, therefore, is prophecy for us. It is “those things which are written in it” which we are to keep: and it is as a whole Book that we propose to deal with it. We feel it safer to be guided by what God Himself calls it than by what man tells us as to what part is prophecy and what is not. If they who tell us this were agreed among themselves it would be something; but when they differ, we cannot gain much by listening to them.
The evidence afforded by this title is, that, as the whole book is prophecy, the Church of God is not the subject of it: for, as we have seen, the Church is not the subject of prophecy, but of “revelation.” The future of the Church is given and written for our reading and blessing in the Pauline Epistles; especially in 1 Thess. 4., where the Apostle Paul speaks “by the word of the Lord,” which means, here as well as elsewhere, a prophetic announcement. Further, we may add that, when John is told that he is to prophesy again (10:11), it is not about the Church, but about “peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”
Now, this may mean the testimony concerning Him (the Gen. of the object or relation); or, the testimony which comes from Him (the Gen. of the subject or origin), i.e., which he bore. If we take it as the former, it then agrees with the whole prophetic word, which is concerning Him as “the coming One.”
If we take it in the latter meaning, then it refers to the nature of the testimony which the Lord Jesus bore when on earth; and does not go outside it. That testimony related to the kingdom and not to the Church.
The word for “testimony” is worthy of note. It is (…), marturia (fem.), and not (…), marturion (neuter). Now, when there are two nouns from the same root, one feminine and the other neuter, there is an unmistakable difference, which has to be carefully noted and observed: i.e., if we believe that we are dealing with “the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” as we most certainly do.
The difference here is clear and decided, and a few illustrations will be convincing. The neuter noun, ending in (…)(-ion), denotes something definite and substantial, while the feminine noun, ending in (…)(ia), denotes the matter referred to or contained in or relating to the neuter noun.
- Emporia is merchandise; while Emporion is the place or building where the merchandise (emporia) is stored (the Emporium).
- Apostasia are the matters concerning which there is defection, falling away, forsaking or revolt (Acts 21:21, 2 Thess. 2:3); while Apostasion is the act of falling away, or the document, etc., which contains it. Hence it is the technical term for a bill of divorcement (Matt. 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).
- Georgia is tillage; georgion is the field where the tillage is carried on. (1 Cor. 3:9 only).
- Gymnasia denotes the exercises (1 Tim. 4:8); gymnasium, the place or building where the exercises are done.
- Dokimee is the examination or proof (Rom. 5:4; 2 Cor. 2:9; 8:2, 9:13, 13:3; Phil. 2:22); while dokimion is the trial, at which the examination is made and the proofs given (Jas. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:7 only).
- Mneia is remembrance or mention (Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2, 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:3; Philem. 4); mneion is the tombstone or sepulchre where the mention or remembrance is made.
- Soteria is a saving or delivering (and is the general word for salvation in N.T.); while soterion is the act of saving, and almost the person who delivers. See Luke 2:30 (where it is “seen”) and 3:6. Acts 28:28; Eph. 5:17.*
* In some cases these references support these facts; in other they must be re-interpreted by them. It will be noted that the accentuation of these words in -ion intimates that they are all properly adjectives: hence the actual noun to be supplied in each case will vary with the nature of the noun from which the adjective is formed. The general distinction, however, holds good: that the words in -ia represent a process, orhabit, and that, too, under its feminine, not masculine, aspect; while the neuters represent some special act, or instance of this habit or process, or some material or instrument by which, or place in which, the habit is carried out, or the process carried on.
Now, in the Apocalypse, we have maturion (the neuter), testimony, only once (Rev. 15:5), where it is used of a thing, “the tabernacle of the testimony,” i.e., the tent and tables of stone which were placed therein. In every other place (nine times) we have marturia, i.e., the testimony given or witness borne (1:2,9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11,17; 19:10, twice; 20:4). In all these cases therefore, it is testimony or witness borne, as a reference to them will show.
It seems, then, quite clear that, where we read in this prophecy of “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2,9; 12:17; 19:10, twice*), it means the testimony which the Lord Jesus bore or gave on earth as “Jesus” in the days of His humiliation (not as the Christ as raised from the dead).
* In 20:4 it is doubtless the testimony concerning Jesus for which those who gave it were beheaded. (The Gen. of relation.)
The testimony was, as we have already said, concerning His kingdom and concerning Israel (see Rom. 15:8); and it is the same testimony which the same Jesus gives in the book of this prophecy.
IX. Certain expressions in Chaps. 1-3
There are certain expressions used throughout the Apocalypse which are wholly unlike any expressions used in connection with the Church of God or in the Church Epistles.
Some of these are sufficient in themselves to show that the Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse, and have been already noticed. But there are others of importance which require more lengthened treatment; so we group them together under this heading, referring our reader to the Exposition which follows, where supplementary comments on them will be found.
To find these expressions we will not now travel beyond the first chapter, except for one expression which occurs seven times in chaps. 2 and 3.
There are sufficient in chap. 1. to show us how the Holy Spirit has, at the very threshold of this book, used these expressions for our consideration and our guidance.
We find seven of these expressions:
(1) “Unto Him that loved us” (1:5).
Because “Christ loved His Church and gave Himself for it,” we seem unable, from our natural selfishness, to rise above or beyond the thought of ourselves. We, naturally, fill our own vision and see nothing beyond ourselves.
The thought that Jehovah said of Israel, “Yea, he loved the people,”* does not enter into our minds for a moment. Gentile hatred of the Jew, added to our own natural selfishness, quite cuts out the Jew, not only from the Old Testament, but out of the Apocalypse also.
* (…) chavav, a very strong word for love, which occurs only in Deut. 33:3, and is taken by “The Chovevi Zion” (the lovers of Zion) as the title of that modern Jewish society.
And yet is it strange, with the repeated assertions which Jehovah makes of His love for Israel, that not only should Israel be passed over by Bible-students, but this love actually taken from Israel and appropriated to the Church; depriving Israel of God’s love and blessing, and leaving for them only the judgments and the curses. And yet we have such passages as these concerning Israel:-
- Deut. 7:7,8. “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people. But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you,” etc. (See also Deut. 6:37; 23:5, etc.)
- Hos. 11:1,4. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt… I drew them with the cords of a man, with bands of love.”
- Isa. 43:4. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.”
- Jer. 31:3. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”
- And the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, says (Isa. 54:10), “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy upon thee.”
We are quite aware that these passages are all appropriated by the Church to itself; and, therefore, we can hardly expect them to be received in evidence that the words in Rev. 1:5 are not the words spoken by the Church. But we must be content to leave the matter here. “These are the true sayings of God:” and if people will not believe what God says we can hardly expect them to believe what we say.
Of course we can make an a fortiori application of these words; but that is quite another matter. If Israel can say, “unto Him who loveth us,” how much more can we say so according to Eph. 5:25, Acts 20:28, etc.? But we are dealing now with interpretation; and we must rest content with simply stating that, by interpretation, these Old Testament passages speak of Jehovah’s love to Israel, and not to the Church. And, this being so, the words in Rev. 1:5 may we be spoken by the godly remnant of Israel, as they will afterwards be the language of the whole People.
We would further anticipate, here, what belongs properly to our exposition of chap. 2:4: The first charge brought against His People in this book, viz., “thou hast left thy first love.”
What is this, but what Jehovah calls, in Jer. 2:2, “the love of thine espousals,” and in Ezek. 16:8, “the time of love.” Read the whole of Ezek. 16 and Ex. 19:4-6, and say whether we have not here the true key to Rev. 2:4.
But, before we leave this expression, we must give the correct rendering of the whole verse (1:5), according to all the Critical Greek Texts and RV. (referring our readers to our further comments in the exposition below).
Unto him who loveth us (it is the present tense, (…) (agaponti) loveth, and not (…) (agapesanti) loved; for Jehovah’s love for Israel is an ever-present love, yea, it is “everlasting”) and loosed us (past tense, (…) (lusanti) loosed, and not (…) (lousanti) washed) from (…) (ek) from or out of; not (…) (apo) away from) our sins by (not “in”)his blood.”
(2) “Kings and Priests” (1:6)
The correct text and translation is as follows, and read on from the last expression: “And made (not hath made) us (Tregelles read (…) (heemin) for us) a kingdom, (all read (…) (basileian) a kingdom; instead of (…) (basileis kai) kings and) priests to his God and Father (or priests to God, even His Father).”
we have the same expression in chap. 5:10, where the Greek Text has to be corrected in a similar manner. There the alteration of the text has been the parent of all the wrong translations made of it. It is the song, the new song, sung by the four living creatures, and the twenty-four elders.*
* The number four and multiple of four (4X6) marks these and their song as pertaining to the earth and to man as such, not the Church.
They say (ver. 9): “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open its seals; because thou wast slain and madest a purchase for God (the word “us” must be omitted according to Lachmann, Tischendorf, Alford, Westcott and Hort, and R.V. There is an Ellipsis. The R.V., having taken out “us,” has supplied “men” in italics. We may supply “a People,” or translate as we have done. All the Texts agree in altering the pronouns that follow in this and the next verse. This necessitates the omission of “us” here. If one is changed, all must be changed for the sake of consistency and sense. But this entirely does away with the supposition that these heavenly beings were themselves redeemed, or were the subject of their own song (See below, on chap. 5:9) by thy blood (a purchase, namely) out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and didst make them (so all the Texts and oldest MSS.) to our God (Alford omits these words) a kingdom (so all the Texts and best MSS.) and priests, and they shall reign (so all the Texts and oldest MSS.) over the earth” (see further on chap. 5:9,10 below).
Here we have again the expression “a kingdom and priests.” While we have not a word like this in the Church Epistles, yet we have a passage in the Old Testament where very similar words are used, and truth declared of Israel. Ex. 19:5,6: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”
True, these words are found in the New Testament; but they are in the Epistle addressed to the sojourners of the Diaspora”* : i.e., “the Dispersion,” a believing remnant of scattered Israel. These are the People who are concerned in the promise of Ex. 19:5,6, and Rev. 1:6 and 5:10: and not the Church of God.
* (…), scattered abroad, came to be the technical term for the dispersed portion of Israel. It is found in LXX. Jer. 34 (Sept. 41.) 17. Ps. 147:2 (Sept. 146:2). Judith 5:19. Compare Josephus, Wars, 7.3. In the New Testament we have the word in John 7:35. Jas. 1:1. 1 Pet. 1:1. (We may compare the technical use, in Holland, of the term “The Beggars”).
(3) “His Father” (1:6).
This is the part of the expression which we have just considered: and it is important. Twice we have it in this book, spoken of Christ (1:6 and 14:1), but not once in the Pauline, or Church Epistles.
There, in every one of the Epistles addressed to the Churches (seventeen times), it is always “OUR” Father. See Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal.1:4; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2, 4:20; Col:1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1,3, 3:11,13; 2 Thess. 1:1,2, 2:16. Also in 1 Tim. 1:2; Philem. 3.
When we say that we have “His Father” in revelation, and never in the Epistles; and “our Father” in the Epistles and never in Revelation, we have said enough to show that we have here a further point, affording its cumulative evidence to our fundamental proposition that the Church of God is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
(4) “Kingdom and Patience” (1:9).
John is the “brother” specially of those who were of the seed of Abraham. The term can hardly be used here, we submit, either of mere human brotherhood, or of Christian brotherhood, when all else in this chapter and in the book is so evidently stamped with a Jewish character.
John says, “I am your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience with Jesus.”
Here (according to all the Critical Greek Texts and the R.V.) the words “in the” before “kingdom” must be omitted; and the word “in” must be inserted before “Jesus”: while the word “Christ” must also be omitted after “Jesus.” The verse then stands as we have here given it. The R.V. inserts the italics “which are in Jesus.” The word (…) (en), in, may well be rendered, with; as it is rendered 138 times in the New Testament; and then there is no ellipsis to be supplied.
Here is companionship in patient waiting. For that is the meaning of the word rendered “patience,”* and it always has the thought of endurance underlying it.
* It occurs seven times in this book: 1:9; 2:2,3,19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12.
It is a patient-waiting and enduring in tribulation; yet a patient waiting and expectation of the “kingdom;” and all this “with Jesus,” for “this man after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God from henceforth expecting till his enemies shall have been placed as a footstool for his feet.”
He is “expecting,” and He is also patiently waiting (see 2 Thess. 3:5, margin), and so are we with Him, but the waiting referred to here is a patient endurance in tribulation and for the kingdom.
We, too, as members of the Church of God have need of patience, and endurance; but we are looking, not for the kingdom, but for the KING Himself (not as King, for He is not so proclaimed till His enemies are subdued); and though we, too, exercise this patient endurance in tribulation, it is not in “the tribulation,” but we are waiting to be taken away before that tribulation comes upon the earth. This expression therefore is worthy of note, and its evidence has to be added to the other expressions used.
(5) “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged Sword” (1:16).
There can be no question as to the meaning of this expression. The (…) (rhomphaia) a sharp or two-edged sword, is four times attributed to the Lord in this prophecy, viz., 1:16; 2:12,16; 19:15,21.* And in each case it has to do with slaying and not with speaking; with deeds and not with words.
* It occurs also in Luke 2:35, making five times in all.
It is “the captain of the Lord’s host” come with his sword (Josh. 5:13). It is the sword of Jehovah come to execute His judgments (Isa. 34:6); and with which He will plead with His people (Is. 66:16). It is the sword referred to under other titles (Isa. 11:4 and 2 Thess. 2:8), with which, at His coming in judgment, He will destroy the Man of Sin, the Lawless one.
the sword is no priestly weapon; nor can it have any relation to or connection with the Church of God in any aspect whatsoever: for grace characterises all relations between “Christ and His Church.”
(6) “A Great Voice” (1:10,12).
This expression links on the book of Revelation to the book of Deuteronomy, especially if we regard it in the connection with the fire, with which it is associated in each case.
Ten times is the voice of God speaking “out of the midst of the fire” heard in Deuteronomy: viz., chaps. 4:12,15,33,36; 5:4,22(19)*, 23(20), 24(21), 25(21), 26(23).
* The figures in a parenthesis denotes the different verse numeration of the Hebrew Text.
Here, in Rev. 1:10, John hears “a great voice,” and it is connected with fire, for the eyes of the speaker were “as a flame of fire” (ver. 14) and his feet “as if they burned in a furnace” (ver. 15).
- In Deut. 4:12 (the first reference) the expression is associated with the giving of the Law, and the declaring of Jehovah’s Covenant (4:13).
- The second is a command to “take heed” to the voice (4:15), and keep from idolatry.
- The third and fourth are connected with their turning to the Lord when scattered among the nations, seeking Him and finding Him in the “Tribulation;” and the being obedient to that voice in “the latter days” (4:27-36). This tells us of the latter days in Revelation, when they will be brought to hear the “Voice” (4:33,36), and to attend to it.
- The fifth is again associated with God’s Covenant to which He will be true (5:4).
- The sixth and seventh with the giving of the Law, 5:22(19), 23(20).
- The eighth with the greatness and the glory of Jehovah (5:24, Heb. 21).
- The ninth and tenth are references to it by the People (5:25,26).
All these are brought together, and combined, and fulfilled in the Apocalypse, when Israel will again hear that Voice and, take heed to it, and in their Tribulation turn unto the Lord and seek His face and find Him and rejoice in the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God.
(7) “He that hath an ear, let him hear” (2:7).
This expression is absolutely Hebrew in its character, origin, and use. It is never used with reference to, or in connection with, the Church of God.
By application of course it told those who first read it of the cause of all declension – failure to hear what the Spirit had already said to the Churches by the Apostle Paul. Byapplication also, it reminds us of the same cause today. But the interpretation which will exhaust the seven-fold expression is that which leaps over the present Church period, and links together the Gospels and Acts with the Apocalypse.
The expression (which is slightly varied in form) as first used in the Gospels is connected solely with, and marks, a change of dispensation. When used again in Revelation another great change of dispensation is about to take place. It is to be wrought by “the Son of Man,” who has received authority to show it to “His servants.”
Such a change could be known only to God, ruled and over-ruled by Him. None but Divine foreknowledge, therefore, could make it known. The Son of Man alone made use of this weighty expression: and on fourteen separate occasions He called for the deepest attention to what was being announced.
Now, the number fourteen is most significant; twice seven, denoting a special Divine revelation made by “the Son of Man.” And these fourteen* are divided into six and eight(just as seven is divided into three and four). For six of them occur in the Gospels and eight in the Revelation. Six were spoken by Him as the Son of Man on earth, and eight as the Son of Man from glory. Six being the number pertaining to man, and eight being the number connected with resurrection.**
* The occasions were 14, but the actual occurrences of this example of the Figure are sixteen on account of the repetition of the Parable of the Sower in the parallel Gospel records. Sixteen is a square number (4X4) marking completeness.
** For the significance of these numbers see Number in Scripture.
The six occasions on earth are Matt. 11:15; 13:9,43. Mark 4:23: 7: 16, and Luke 14:35. The eight from Heaven are Rev. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; and 13:9. These, like the sixin the Gospels, are Dispensational, and are thus associated with the great change in God’s relation to the earth, to “the Jew and the Gentile,” which was about to take place.
The first use of the expression in Matt. 11:15 is most significant, and stamps it as belonging to the setting up of the kingdom with power and glory. Elijah’s presence on the holy mount characterises the scene there as representing the power and coming of that kingdom (Matt. 16:28; 2 Pet. 1:16,17,18), while Mal.4:5 (Heb. 3:23) connects Elijah’s ministry with the setting up of that kingdom.
It has been proclaimed of John before his birth “he shall go before Him (i.e, Messiah) in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17); and again, in Luke 1:76,77, it was announced: “And thou, child, shalt be called prophet of the Highest *: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by (marg., for) the remission of their sins,” etc.
* This title is always connected with dominion in the earth. See Gen. 14:18-22.
John the Baptist was therefore invested with Elijah’s “spirit and power” (i.e., Elijah’s spiritual power), and was specially designated as “the prophet of the Most High.” Therefore our Lord could say in Matt. 11:14,15: “If ye will receive him, this is (i.e., represents) Elijah which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
But “their ears were dull of hearing” (Matt. 13:15), fulfilling the dispensational prophecy of Isa. 6:10: Therefore they did not “receive him;” and, consequently, “Elijah the prophet” is still to come. Hence it is that, in the Book which relates to the events connected with the ministry of Elijah and his work in connection with the restoration of the kingdom, we again meet with this dispensational admonition: which takes us back not merely to Matt. 11:15, but to Mal. 4:5, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Thus we have in the expression another proof that the Church of God is not the subject of the Apocalypse; and that we are reading here, not of the period belonging to the ministry of Paul the Apostle, or of the period of present Church history, as the historicists assert; but, of that which belong to the ministry of “Elijah the Prophet.”
X. The Character of Christ’s Advent (1:7).
Another of the points which prove that the Church of God is not the subject of the Apocalypse is the character of Christ’s Coming which is there announced and described; and with which its events are connected.
This has been already partly shown under the headings of “The Day of the Lord” and “The Son of Man.” But it is now more definitely stated and distinguished.
The coming of Christ for His Church is quite a different event, and belongs to quite a different Dispensation. The end for which the Church is waiting is not judgment or tribulation, but to be “received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16), to be “called on high” (Phil. 3:14), to be changed and have glorious bodies like our Saviour’s own body of glory. Their seat of government exists now in heaven, from whence they look for the Saviour (Phil. 3:19-21).
That coming is into the air, and not unto the earth; it is in grace, and not in judgment; it concerns those who are “in Christ,” and not either Jew or Gentile as such.
Nothing is revealed in the Old Testament or in the Gospels about this coming. Those books know nothing of it. This coming concerns the Mystery, which was kept secret from times eternal, and was “hid in God.” The church of God (which is the Mystery) waits for one thing as its consummation, and that is to be “received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). But this is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
To make this more clear we must compare what we call the “second” Advent with the “first.” When the Coming of the Lord was announced in Micah, 5:2, it was announced as a coming forth; and in Zech. 9 as a coming unto. The former speaks of the coming forth at Bethlehem, the latter of the coming unto Jerusalem.
There was nothing in those prophecies to tell the Jewish reader whether there would be any interval between these events, or what that interval would be. The Jewish Bible student might think there was a discrepancy; while the Jew with the mind of a “higher critic” might see a greater difficulty, and refuse to believe either Scripture.
But we, today, with our knowledge, know that there was an interval of more than thirty years between the two events. Both refer to one and the same Coming, but to two different stages in it; and that all the events between them go to make up what we speak of as the “first Coming.”
We believe that it will be exactly the same with regard to what we call the “second Coming.” There will be the same two stages, with a similar interval (or longer it may be) between them, and all the events (which are recorded in the Apocalypse and elsewhere) will go to make up what we speak of as “the second Coming.”
There will be the coming forth (as at Bethlehem) of “the Lord Himself” and the calling of His saints on high (Phil. 3:14), and the receiving of them in glory (1 Tim. 3:16); and then, later on, to fulfil all the prophecies which related to His People Israel; and, as the Son of man will “come unto” the earth, to take unto Himself His great power, and reign. This latter coming is connected with “the Day of the Lord,” and it is that which is the subject of the Book of Revelation.
Chap. 1:7 settles this for us: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.”
Only Jew and Gentile are in this verse, and not the Church of God. This is the Coming of which the Old Testament speaks. It knows no other. See Dan. 7:13 and Zech. 12:9,10, which is the Scripture referred to here.*
* It might be rendered “the Land” better than “earth” in Rev. 1:7.
This is the Coming which the Lord spoke of when on earth in Matt. 24:30,31; 26:64, and elsewhere (mark the “ye”). What He there said is perfectly clear, and in perfect harmony with all that had been said in the Old Testament. To read Eph., Phil., and Col. into the Gospels is only to create confusion; and make a difficulty where none before existed: it is to use one truth for the upsetting of another truth.
The same difficulty is created when we arbitrarily introduce these later Prison Epistles of Paul into the Apocalypse. To save us from making such a disastrous mistake, the Holy spirit gave special instruction in 1 Thess. 5., immediately after He had inspired the revelation of 1 Thess 4. If we heed this and learn its great and important lesson, all will be perfectly clear.
1 Thess. 5:1. “But of the times and the season, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.”
Why, “no need”? Simply because the Coming forth into the air and our “gathering together unto Him” there, do not depend on any time or season. His “Coming unto” the earth does; but that is not what he had been speaking about in the chapter immediately before (Thess. 4.).
2. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”
It is the “day of the Lord” which (as we have seen above) is the subject of the Apocalypse: and in Rev. 3:3, the Lord distinctly warns as to His Coming “as a thief,” which is the very opposite of what we read of in Eph., Phil., and Col., and even in 1 Thess. 4., 5. For mark the sudden change of pronouns in the latter chapters.
3. “For when THEY shall say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden destruction cometh upon THEM…and THEY shall not escape.”
It is this “destruction” which the Apocalypse describes. It is this which gives its character to “the day of the Lord.” It is “sudden,” and comes “as a thief;” and it comes upon “THEM” and “THEY,” not upon us: for mark the change of pronouns again.
4. “But YE, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake YOU as a thief.”
Here, our point is distinctly, emphatically, and categorically stated, with a precision and explicitness which leaves nothing to be added. Can anything be more clear than the fact that the Church of God is not the subject of the Apocalypse? And that the “Coming” which is the subject of this book is not the Coming for which the Church of God is now longing, waiting, and looking?
If some of our points are cumulative in their evidence, this one point, by itself, is sufficient to establish our fundamental proposition that the Church of God is not the subject of the book of Revelation, either in prophecy or in history.
The book is “prophecy,” as we have seen; and therefore it awaits a future fulfilment in “the day of the Lord,” when the Lord Jesus shall be unveiled as the Son of man, and every eye shall see Him.
XI. The Vision of the Son of man.
This is essential, for it is directly associated with the object and purpose of the book. The only other place in the whole Bible where we have anything like it is in Daniel 10:5,6, where in every particular the resemblance is the same. His girdle is of gold; His eyes as fire; His feet as brass; His voice as many waters (Rev.), and as a multitude(Dan.); His countenance as the sun (Rev.) and the appearance as lightening (Dan.).
In Daniel it is “a certain man” (Heb. one – a man). In Rev. it is “one like unto the Son of Man.” The Two Visions being identical as to the Person and as to His appearance, and also as to the effect on Daniel and John respectively, it is not more than probably that the purpose is also the same in each case?
In Daniel we are expressly told why the Vision was sent. “Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days; for yet the vision is for many days… I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth” (Dan. 10:14, 21).
The expression, “thy People,” is most significant. It is not the Church of God which is in question, but Daniel’s People, Israel. This People had been the subject of Daniel’s prayer (Dan. 9:4-19). He call them (in speaking to God) “Thy People” (vv. 15, 19); and in the answer to the prayer (9:24), as well as here (10:14) and in 12:1, the angel speaks of them to Daniel as “thy people.”*
* It is beautiful to notice that when Daniel confesses the sins of this People he uses, throughout, the pronouns, “we,” “us,” and “our” (see verses 5-10, 14-16). But when he pleads with God for them on the ground of the everlasting covenant, it is always “Thy” : “Thy People,” “Thy City,” “Thy Sanctuary,” “Thy righteousness,” Thy great mercies,” “Thy Name’s sake.”
Is it not certain that this People is the subject, and what is to befall them in the latter day is precisely the import, of the vision which John saw in Rev. 1:13-16. It had been given to that glorious One to show unto His servants things which shall be “hereafter,” and that was what was to befall Daniel’s people (Israel) “in the latter days.”
In Rev. we have “the latter days” – even “the Day of the Lord,” and the time has come to show John that which is noted in the scripture of truth. The people, therefore, who are the subjects of the Revelation, are Daniel’s People, and not the Church of God.
XII. Revelation: The Complement of Genesis.
The Apocalypse is connected very closely with the Old Testament, and not as we have seen with the New; with Genesis, and not with the Church Epistles. Indeed, the connection between Genesis and Revelation is so marked that many have noticed it.
It will be only necessary for us therefore to exhibit the likenesses and contrasts in parallel columns. No comment will be necessary. In Genesis we have the book of the Beginning; in revelation the book of the End (not the whole period which we call A.D., but the end of it).
The Apocalypse completes all that Genesis begins, and introduces the New Creation, lest we should think there is nothing beyond. In Genesis we have therefore the primal creation and the history of the curse which came upon it: Revelation tells how that curse will be removed, and the New Creation brought in.
In Genesis we have Satan’s first revolt, and in Revelation his final revolt. The parallel between the two books may be thus set forth: –
|The Earth created (1:1)||Earth passed away (21:1).|
|Sun, moon and stars for Earth’s government (1:14-16).||Sun, moon and stars connected with Earth’s judgment (6:12; 8:12; 16:8).|
|Sun to govern the day (1:16).||No need of the sun (30:23).|
|Darkness called night (1:5).||“No night there” (22:5).|
|Waters called seas (1:10).||“No more sea” (21:1).|
|A river for Earth’s blessing (2:10-14).||A river for the New Earth (22:1,2).|
|Man in God’s image (1:26).||Man headed by one in Satan’s image (13.)|
|Entrance of sin (3.).||Development and end of sin.|
|Curse pronounced (3:14,17).||“No more curse” (22:3).|
|Death entered (3:19).||“No more death” (21:4).|
|Cherubim first mentioned in connection with man (3:24).||Cherubim final mention in connection with man.|
|Man driven out from Eden (3:24).||Man restored (22.).|
|Tree of life guarded (3:24).||“Right to the Tree of Life” (22:14).|
|Sorrow and suffering enter (3:17).||No more sorrow (22:4).|
|Man’s religion, art, and science, resorted to for enjoyment apart from God (4.).||Man’s religion, luxury, art, and science, in their full glory judged and destroyed by God (18.).|
|Nimrod, a great rebel and King, andhidden anti-God, the founder of Babylon (10:8-10).||The Beast, the great Rebel, a King, and manifested anti-God, the reviver of Babylon (13., 18.).|
|A flood from God to destroy an evil generation (6-9.).||A flood from Satan to destroy an elect generation (12.).|
|The bow the token of God’s covenant with the Earth (9:13).||The bow, betokening God’s remembrance of His covenant with the Earth (4:3; 10:1).|
|Sodom and Egypt, the place of corruption and temptation (13., 19.).||Sodom and Egypt again (spiritually representing Jerusalem) (11:8).|
|A confederacy against Abraham’s people overthrown (14.).||A confederacy against Abraham’s seed overthrown (12.).|
|Marriage of first Adam (2:18-23).||Marriage of last Adam (19.).|
|A bride sought for Abraham’s son (Isaac) and found (24.).||A Bride made ready and brought to Abraham’s Son (19:9). See Matt. 1: 1.|
|Two angels acting for God on behalf of His People (19.).||Two witnesses acting for God on behalf of His people (11.).|
|A promised seed to possess the gate of his enemies (29:8).||The promised seed coming into possession.|
|Man’s dominion ceased and Satan’s begun (3:24).||Satan’s dominion ended and man’s restored (22.).|
|Sun, moon and stars associated with Israel (37.).||Sun, moon and stars associated again with Israel (12.).|
|The Church not preconfigured.||The Church not to be looked for.|
It is surely impossible for us to read these solemn parallels and contrast without coming to the conclusion that there must be the closest possible connection between the two books.
- They are joined together by God in a way so that no man can put them asunder.
- God has joined the Revelation to Genesis; man joins it with the Epistles.
- God has joined it with Jews, Gentile and the Earth; man joins it with Christendom.
- God has joined it with what He had before written in Genesis; man joins it with what man has written himself in Church history!
Can perversity go further than this? Is it any wonder that the book is misunderstood by so many, and neglected by most? For what can be made of it when such elements of confusion are introduced?
When God has placed the key to the book at the very threshold, in the first chapter, man deliberately ignores it, and makes another, which he presents to those who would fain enter; but, when it is tried, it is found that none of the wards fit the lock, and the door either has to be forced, or all hope of entrance abandoned!
And yet, when we look at the general scope of the book which will be given later on, how wonderous it is! How Divinely perfect! And, at the same time, how simple and easy! So simple that a child can become interested in it, and the humblest saint understand it.
XIII. The Summary of its Contents (1:19).
In chapter 1:19 we have the summary of the contents of the whole book. It is the misunderstanding of this verse which, we believe, has led so many astray, and turned so many into the wrong channel. This verse is usually taken as referring to three things, marking off the book into three divisions:
- The things which thou sawest (past).
- The things which are (present).
- The things which shall be hereafter (future).
Having got these three divisions, then comes a difference of opinion as to exactly where and how these contents of the Book are to be divided. But there is another rendering which we wish to present, suggested, in part, by Moses Stuart and Dean Alford. This removes all such difficulties, and shows that there is no such three-fold division; and that instead of three subjects we have only one.
John was instructed to write what he had seen. It is clear, therefore, that this first chapter is the Introduction to the whole Book, and consequently, like all other Introductions, is written, or supposed to be written, last of all. For, at the very commencement (in 1:2), it is said of John that he “bare record of the Word of God (i.e., as we have seen, the prophetic message), and of the testimony of Jesus Christ (which He bore) and of all things that he saw.”
If this chapter then be not written after John had see these things, the words are without meaning; for in that case John had as yet seen nothing!
Verse 19 (which we are considering) is part of this Introduction, and therefore the words “which thou sawest” are used in the same sense as in verse 2. John had seen, or is supposed to have seen, all the Visions of the Book when the command to write was given to him. This explains why the word “therefore” must be added in the Greek (according to all the Critical Greek Texts and the R.V.). Moreover, it is specially declared at the very end of the book (chap. 22:16), “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto THESE THINGS in the assemblies” : showing that “the things which thou sawest” refer, not as is generally supposed, only to the things in chap. 1., but to the contents of the whole book.
Having seen all these things the command is – “Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and what they are (i.e., what they signify),* even the things which shall come to pass(i.e., happen, as in Acts 26:22) hereafter.”
* As to this rendering, “and what they ARE,” the verb to be is constantly translated to mean or signify. See:
- Matt. 9:13 “But go ye and learn what that IS” (A.V. and R.V. meaneth).
- Matt. 12:7 “but if ye had known what that IS” (A.V. and R.V. meaneth).
- Luke 15:26 “He asked what these things WERE” (A.V. meant; R.V. might be).
- Acts 2:12 “What IS this?” (A.V. and R.V. What meaneth this).
- Acts 10:17 “Now, while Peter doubted in himself what this vision WAS which he had seen” (A.V. What this vision should mean; R.V. might mean).
So, “and what they ARE” should be rendered “and what they mean,” or signify.
According to this rendering, which may be rejected as an interpretation, but cannot be condemned as a translation, there is only one thing stated as the subject-matter of what was to be written, and not three things. It relates not to past, present, and future, but to the future alone – “hereafter,” or, as it says in Dan. 11:14, “in the latter days.”
Some lay a stress on the words (…), meta tauta, which mean literally after these things. But an examination of other places where they occur will show that when used in narrative they may imply historical sequence (as in Luke 5:27; 10:1; 12:4; 17:8; 18:4. John 3:22; 5:14; 7:1; 19:38; 12:1. Acts 13:20; 18:1); yet when used in connection with promise or prophecy, they, as naturally, are indefinite, hereafter. (John 13:7. Acts 7:7. 1 Peter 1:1, where it is rendered “should follow,” and has not followed even yet). In any case, the A.V. and R.V. both render the expression “hereafter” where it occurs in Revelation, viz., 1:19; 4:1; and 9:12, in a prophetic sense.
There is no necessity therefore for anyone to regard any portion of the book as relating to the present church period. This (in which we live) is the Dispensation of the Holy Spirit; but that (which is the subject of the Revelation) is wholly the Dispensation of the Son of Man – the revelation or unveiling and manifestation of Jesus Christ.
That is still future. The book which describes it must likewise be future also, and relate only to “the things which shall be hereafter.” See further notes on chap. 1:19.
XIV. The Seven Assemblies as a Whole (1:11).
We must here, at the outset, remove the greatest source of all the misunderstandings which have arisen with regard to these seven “churches.” The fact of their being called “churches” has naturally led commentators and students of this book to infer that it is the Church of God, or at any rate the historic Christian Church, which is meant.
The difficulty is thus arbitrarily created. The Bible student is at once confronted with an overwhelming difficulty. He has read the Epistles which are addressed to the churches by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul; and, on turning to the Epistles in Rev. 2 and 3, he is at once conscious of a striking change. He finds himself suddenly removed from the ground of grace to the ground of works. He meets with church-officers of whom he has never before heard; and with expressions with which he is wholly unfamiliar: and he is bewildered.
Two courses are open to him: either to try and force the words into a meaning to suit both, thus lowering the standard of the Church of God, and the Christian’s own standing in Christ; or, to invent some purely imaginary interpretation and baseless hypothesis by applying them to Christendom, and holding that instead of seven assemblies we have seven stages of Church history: some going so far as to give the very years which mark off these periods.
Those who feel this to be a very difficult task, and lack the knowledge of history which is absolutely essential to this system of interpretation, wonder why God gave to Jesus Christ to show unto His servants what must come to pass hereafter, and yet expected them to become deep students of history in order to understand what He has revealed!
No wonder that most Bible readers, after struggling for a time with this fantastic idea, give it all up in despair; abandoning the reading of the book, and losing the “blessing” which is pronounced upon its readers. As a first step toward removing this great evil, let us note at once that the word (…) (ecclesia), rendered “church,” is by no means limited to the restricted sense which is thus forced upon it.
Ecclesia means simply an Assembly: any assembly of people who are called out (for that is the etymological meaning of the word) from other people. Hence, it is used of the whole nation of Israel as distinct from other nations. The Greek word Ecclesia occurs seventy-five times in the Septuagint Translation of the Old Testament, and is used as the rendering of five different Hebrew words. As it is used to represent one of these, seventy times, we need not concern ourselves with the other four words.
This Hebrew word is (…) (Cahal), from which we have our English word call. It means to call together, to assemble, or gather together, and is used of any assembly gathered together for any purpose. This Hebrew word Cahal occurs 123 times, and is rendered: “congregation,” 86 times; “assembly,” 17; “company,” 17; and “multitude,” 3 times: but is never rendered “church.” Its first occurrence is in Gen. 28:3 – “that thou mayest be a multitude (margin, assembly) of people,” i.e., a called-out people. That is what Israel was, a people called out and assembled from all other peoples.
In Gen. 49:6 we read – “O my soul, come not thou into their secret (Council or Senate); Unto their assembly (cahal), mine honour, be not thou united.”
Here the word cahal is used, not of all Israel as called out from the nations, but of the assembly of those called out of form the Tribal Assembly (or Council) of the tribes of Simeon and levi.
Then, it is used of the worshippers, or those called out from Israel, and assembled before the Tabernacle and Temple, and in this sense is usually rendered “congregation.” This is the meaning of the word in Ps. 22:22: “In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee;” and verse 25: “My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation.”
This is the usage of the word in the Gospels, and even in the Acts of the Apostles before the new use, which the Holy Spirit was going to make of the word, was revealed.
When Christ said, “Upon this rock will I build my Ecclesia,” He did not use the word in the exclusive sense in which it was afterwards to be used, but in the older and larger sense in which the word had been before used, which would embrace the whole assembly of His People, while not excluding the future application of the word to the Church or Body of Christ when that secret should have been in due season revealed.
When the Spirit, by Stephen, speaks of the Ecclesia in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), he means the congregation of pious worshippers of God at the Tabernacle. When the Lord added to the Ecclesia daily (Acts 2:47), He added to the number of those 120, who first assembled themselves together in the upper room in Jerusalem.
When Saul says he persecuted the Ecclesia of God, he does not use the word in the limited sense, which it subsequently acquired after he had received the special revelation concerning it: but in the sense in which it had been used up to, and in which it was used at, that time. It means merely that he persecuted the People of God – the congregation of God. He is speaking of a past act in his life which took place long before the revelation of the secret, and his words must be interpreted accordingly. We must not read into any of these passages that which was the subject of a subsequent revelation! which passages are perfectly clear without it. The word Ecclesia in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and (for the most part) in the Acts, must be taken in the sense of its earlier usage as meaning simply the congregation or assembly of the Lord’s people, and not in the sense which it acquired, after the later and special signification had been given to it by the Holy Spirit Himself.
As we have already abundantly shewn, in the consideration of our foregoing thirteen points, the Apocalypse is linked on to the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Acts (and not to the later Pauline Epistles), and we ought to use the word Ecclesia in the sense in which it is there used; and not, surely, in the newer and special sense which it acquired, and in which it is used, in the Epistles.
In the Pauline Epistles we read nothing about an “angel” as having to do with the churches of God which Paul planted. But we do meet with the word Angel in connection with the Synagogue; (though not in the Old Testament). There, there was an officer, who was called Sheliach Tzibbur (…): Tzibbur meaning Assembly; and Sheliach, the Angel orLegate of the Assembly, and the Leader of Divine worship, from (…) (shalach) to send.
The chief officer was the Archisynagogos, or “Ruler of the Synagogue;” and after him came the Sheliach Tzibbur; or “Angel of the Assembly,” who was the mouthpiece of the congregation. His duty it was to offer up public prayer to God for the whole congregation. Hence his title; because, as the messenger of the assembly, he spoke to God for them.*
* See Jennings’ Jewish Antiquities; and Article Synagogue in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopaedia, vol 3:903.
When we have these facts to our hands, why arbitrarily invent the notion that “angel” is equivalent to Bishop, when there is not a particle of historical evidence for it?
Episcopoi, or Bishops, are clearly spoken of in other parts of the New Testament (though not in the modern sense of the term. See Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). But the office of “Angel” in the Church of God is never used either inside or outside the Word of God. One might just as well argue for the popular interpretation of the word “angel,” from the fact that the word has been so used and applied by the “Catholic Apostolic” Church within recent times.
Add to this the use of the word synagogue, which we have in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9. Here again translators mislead us. For, while the Greek word occurs 57 times in the New Testament, and is translated synagogue 55 times, it is rendered “assembly” in Jas. 2:2, and “congregation” in Acts 13:43.
It should, of course, be rendered synagogue in these two places, as well as in all the others, as it is in the R.V. (though in Jas. 2:2 it has assembly in the margin). Had the A.V. so rendered it in Jas. 2 it would have marked and emphasised the fact that James wrote “to the Twelve Tribes which are scattered abroad,” and would have shown how his epistle has a present point of appeal to the scattered people,* as well as a direct future application to them, like that of the seven epistles in Rev. 2 and 3. In any case, the use of the word “synagogue” in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9 stamps these Epistles as Jewish, Satan’s synagogue being put in opposition to the other assemblies.
* As well as saved a great deal of controversy as to the anointing with oil, etc., in Jas. 5:14; and as to “faith” and “works.”
When the word Ecclesia, in the Apocalypse is rendered “Church,” and the word “Synagogue” in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9, is interpreted of the church, it is playing fast and loose with the “words which the Holy Ghost speaketh,” and which He has employed, not only for His revelation, but for our instructions.
We hold that the Apocalypse contains a record (by vision and prophecy) of the events which shall happen “hereafter” in the Day of the Lord; that the whole book is concerned with the Jew, the Gentile, and the Earth, but not with the Church of God, or with Christendom; or with the latter only so far as the present corruption of Christianity shall merge in the great apostasy, and form part of it, after the Church, the Body of Christ, shall have been removed.
But there will be a people for God on the earth during those eventful years. There will be the remnant of believing Israelites; the 144,000 sealed ones; the great multitude; and other bodies of faithful ones who are referred to all through the Book (see chaps. 7., 11., and 12:17). In which latter passage we read of “the remnant of her (the woman’s) seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Will not these need special instruction? Have these been forgotten by Him who sees the end from the beginning? The Pauline Epistles will of course be of use as an historical record of what will then be past, just as we have the record of Israel’s history in the Old Testament now.
Our answer to these questions is that God has provided for their instruction, and warning, and encouragement, in the second and third chapters of this book. Right at the beginning they are the first subjects of Divine remembrance, provision, and care. Their needs must be first provided for, before anything else is recorded of the things which John saw; and there they will find what is specially written for their learning.
Even now, the nucleus of this Remnant is being prepared. Hundreds of Jews are believing in Christ as the Messiah, who know nothing of Him as the Saviour. And even among the unbelievers in Israel a political movement is on foot which may speedily lead up to and issue in the events of which Revelation treats.
Of course this means that we are to consider the interpretation of Rev. 2. and 3 as future, and belonging to the “hereafter.” As to application, we, of course, quite understand, and readily admit that these epistles have been read by the saints of God all through the ages; and all who have thus read them have received a blessing according to the promise. We may so read them now, ourselves, and apply them, so far as we can do so consistently with the teaching for this dispensation of grace, contained in the Pauline Epistles. Applying these thus we leave the full and final interpretation for those to whom it will specially belong hereafter.
Few are aware that the evidence as to the existence of these assemblies as churches is very scanty. Indeed, concerning some, not only is evidence wanting; but concerning others it is quite opposed to their ever having existed at all.
Tertullian* (about 145-200) says that leaders of certain sects, such as Cerdon and Marcion, rejected the Apocalypse on the ground that it could not have been written by John, inasmuch as (among other reasons) there was no Christian Church in existence at Thyatira in the time of John.
* Contr. Marcion 1:1.
Epiphanius (who wrote about A.D. 367) deals with the Alogi, a sect which disputed the genuineness of the Apocalypse, and on the same grounds. He quotes their words: “moreover, some of the [the Alogi] again seize on this passage in this same Apocalypse [Rev. 2:18]. And they allege, by way of opposition, that it is again said: ‘write to the angel of the Church which is in Thyatira,’ although there was no Christian Church in Thyatira. How then could he write to a church which was not in existence?” *
* (…) Epiphanius Adversus Haereses, Book II., Vol. 1. Haeres 51. Sec. 33 (Migne’s Ed. Vol. 41. , p. 948).
The answer of Epiphanius acknowledged the historical fact: but his answer was that St. John wrote to the church at Thyatira, not because it was then in existence, but because it would be at some future time. We do not see how he could have given a better answer.
In A.D. 363 was held the Council of Laodicea. It was attended by thirty-two bishops of Asia, among whom was the bishop of Ephesus. This Council framed a list or canon of the sacred books, but the Apocalypse was not included in the catalogue.
How can we account for this as a historical fact if these seven churches were all then existent; and if these epistles were sent to them at the time, Laodicea being one of them? The facts being what they are, the enemies of the Bible draw from them an entirely false conclusion. They use them against the authenticity and genuineness of the Apocalypse, and against its claim to a place in the Canon of Scripture.
We, on the contrary, strongly hold the canonicity and inspiration of the Apocalypse, but we use the undoubted historical facts against a false system of interpretation which is a very different thing. An opponent of the Bible, in a large and important work, uses the common system of a apocalyptic interpretation as an argument against all Scripture. Speaking of Revelation, he says, “As all parties admit that it contains the destiny of the church, each sect has applied it to itself, frequently to the exclusion of all others.”
All parties, we are thankful to say, do not admit to the popular system of interpretation; and our present object is to show that there is a “more excellent way,” not of interpreting it, but of believing it; a way which, while it honours it as the word of God, satisfactorily meets the erroneous conclusions drawn from facts.
If these “churches” are future assemblies of Jewish believers on the earth, after the Church has been “caught up to meet the Lord,” then all is clear, consistent, and easy to be understood. The real difficulty is created by attempting to read the Church into the book where it has no place.
As to the “seven lamp-stands,” ought not this expression at once to send our thoughts back to the one golden lamp-stand of the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:31-39). ONE lamp-stand with seven lamps, indicative of Israel’s unity in the Land and in the City? Here, the scattered condition of the nation is just as distinctly indicated by the fact that the seven lamps are no longer united in one lamp-stand. The nation is no longer in the Land, for Jerusalem is not now the center; but the people are “scattered” in separate communities in various cities in Gentile lands. So that just as the one lamp-stand represents Israel in its unity, the seven lamp-stands represent Israel in its dispersion; and tells us that Jehovah is about to make Jerusalem again the center of His dealings with the earth.
We must further note that John was not told to send seven separate letters to seven separate assemblies, as is generally assumed and believed. Indeed the contrary is the fact. The great Voice said, “What thou seest, write in A BOOK and send IT unto the seven assemblies.”
Over three-quarters of a million copies of this Book of the Revelation have in the last few years been placed in the hands of the Jews throughout the world. We allude to the Salkinson-Ginsburg translation of the New Testament in Hebrew, published by the Trinitarian Bible Society, and distributed by the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, and by other similar agencies throughout the world.
So that “the book” has been and is being sent to those for whom it was written, and at no distant day many assemblies of Jews will hear and read the words of this prophecy, and a people be prepared who will keep “the words of this prophecy,” and receive in a special manner the blessing pronounced in 1:3.
They will be able to understand what is now so inexplicable to Gentile Christian readers. We find nothing in our Pauline Church Epistles that fits into what is said to these assemblies. But those readers will be at once reminded of the various stages of their own past history, and they will find in almost every sentence some allusion to the circumstances in which they will find themselves as described in this book.
We will show this; first, from the references made to their past history; and when we come to deal with these Epistles separately, we will, in some circumstance in the Apocalypse itself, give a reference to nearly every sentence in these seven Epistles.
It is a remarkable fact that
Seven past phases of Israel’s history
are referred to in these Epistles: and the literary order in Revelation corresponds with, and answers to, the historical order in the Old Testament.
1. EPHESUS – The Day of Israel’s espousals. (Exodus).
In the Epistle to the Assembly at Ephesus, the reference is to Exodus: to God’s love in choosing them out of Egypt, and them making them a nation. See Hos. 11:1: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” In Jer. 2:2 we see this “first love,” which Jehovah calls “the love of thine espousals.” And in Ezek. 16 we have a full description of the workings and outcome of this “first love.” The whole of Ezek. 16 must be read with Ex. 19:4-6. It is this “first love” which Israel is here charged with having “left.” This is the beginning of all the subsequent evil.
2. SMYRNA – The Period of Israel’s wanderings. (Numbers).
In Smyrna, we have a reference to a definite time of trial. In the wilderness it was forty years. Here it is ten days. If any wish to make this stand for ten years it must be on their own responsibility. We only press the point that a corresponding time of trial is referred to; and that it is a definite and limited time.
We are aware of the “interpretation” proposed as to there having been ten persecutions of “Christians” between A.D. 57 and 284. But unfortunately for this theory, there is nothing said here as to any number of separate persecutions: but only as to the duration of one! It is evident that no system of interpretation which is based on such imaginations will be of any service to us in our understanding of this book.
The year-day system, as a principle of prophetic interpretation, is a human invention; and as unnecessary as it is mischievous.
- When God says a “day” He means a day, and when He says a year He means a year. Even in those very passages where He makes one day to stand for a year, the words are used in each case in their literal sense and natural meaning.
- When the spies were gone 40 days, and Israel was made to wander 40 years (“a year for a day”), “day” means day and “year” means year (Num. 14:34). Because God thus orders it here, we have no authority to do this on our own responsibility in every other place.
- When Ezekiel was told to lie on his left side 390 days, it does not mean that he was thus to lie for 390 years! And when Jehovah says, “I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity according to the number of the days, 390 days” (Ezek. 4:4,5), it is clear that “days” means days, and “years” means years.
- And when Ezekiel does the same with respect to Judah, 40 days, Jehovah says, “I have appointed thee each day for a year” (Ezek. 4:6, and see margin). We have the same plain and literal statement of facts.
- When human interpreters take upon themselves to “appoint” the same in other cases, whether 1260 days or “ten days,” or any other number, they incur a very grave responsibility. They do not adopt this “system” in other prophecies, and dare not. For when, in Gen. 7:4, God says, “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights,” it is said to have been so fulfilled. (vers. 10, 12).
- When, in Gen. 40:12, 13, it is said “the three branches are three days,” the fulfillment is given in verse 20: – “And it came to pass on the third day,” etc. (not year).
- When God prophesied of the flesh that He would give Israel to eat, the days meant days (Num. 11:19, 20).
So here, in Rev. 2:9, the expression “ten days” means ten days: and many Jews in many cities already know what it is to suffer an anti-Semite tribulation for days together. Why not here and under these circumstances? Haman had one day given to him to “destroy the Jews”! Why not another “Jews’ enemy” be allowed ten days? And what is this or any such period to do with the Church of God, which has nothing whatever to do with “times and seasons” (1 Thess. 5:1)? It is quite probable that the time referred to here may that of Matt. 24:9, 10, and Isa. 66:5.
3. PERGAMOS – The Wilderness Period. (Numbers)
In Pergamos we have the reference to Balaam, which will have its counterpart in a yet future day. Through “the counsel of Balaam” (Num. 31:16, etc.) Israel was entrapped and led into the worst form of Midianitish idolatry, when “Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor” (Num. 25:3).
In the coming future day Pergamos will be in a special manner the seat (or throne) of Satan (2:13; and compare 13:2), and a form of idolatry more awful than that of Baal-peor will be on the earth. Peter, writing to the Dispersion, tells of this future time in 2 Peter 2., and in verse 15 he speaks specially of their “following in the way of Balaam the son of Bosor.”
Jude also connects his description of a similar phase of idolatry with “the error of Balaam” (verses 10-13). It is clear, therefore, that that special feature of idolatry connected with Balaam’s “counsel” is referred to in Rev. 2:14, and will be revived in the period described in the Apocalypse.
And, as, upon this great evil the special judgment of the “sword” was sent and executed (Num. 31:1-15), so here. He who speaks to the same People of the same evil, speaks also of the same judgment, “I will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16), which threat will be carried out in chap. 19:21. This is why we have that special mention of the “sharp sword,” describing the speaker in 2:12, referring to the same feature of the Vision as seen in 1:16.
4. THYATIRA – The Period of Israel’s Kings. (1 and 2 Kings).
In the Epistle to Thyatira we have the reference to another and more intensified form of idolatry as developed and established in the days of Ahab, king of Israel; another who, like Balaam, “made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 16:30).
Ahab was the first king who officially introduced and organised he most abominable form of heathen idolatry that the human mind ever conceived (1 Kings 16:33). See Revised Version, where the special significance of this abomination is conveyed and contained in the word “Asherah.” To particularise on this form of idolatry would be only to defile the mind. The Lord Himself in this Epistle (Rev. 2:20-24) gives a clue to it. We may, perhaps, add that what was introduced into Israel by Balaam (see Rev. 2:14) became elevated into a national religious system under Ahab and Jezebel, as it had long been recognised among the heathen nations around.
What that religious system of licentious idolatry was is well known; but something may be gathered from a recently-discovered Papyrus,* containing about a sixth of theAscension of Isaiah, which had before been known only in an Ethiopic Translation (except a mutilated Lectionary in Paris). The origin of this Papyrus is very ancient, and its historical facts may be taken as correct, separated from its vaticinations. It says, speaking of the condition of things in the days of Israel’s Kings – “And Manasseh turned aside his heart to serve Beliar [i.e., Belial]; for the angel of lawlessness who ruleth this world is Beliar, whose name is Malambuchus. And he delighted in Jerusalem because of Manasseh, and made him strong in Jerusalem. And sorcery and magic increased, and divination and auguration and fornication and the persecution of the righteous at the hands of Manasseh… And when Isaiah the son of Amoz, saw the lawlessness which was being committed in Jerusalem, and the worship of Satan, and his triumph, he withdrew from Jerusalem, and settled in Bethlehem of Judea.”
* Now in Lord Amherst’s collection, and published under the title of the Amherst Papyri (Oxford Press).
The Papyrus goes on to speak of Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, as being “the teacher of the four hundred prophets of Baal;” and tells how Isaiah “called Jerusalem Sodom, and the rulers of Judah and Israel he named people of Gomorrah.” This was of course in reference to the special sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. See Isa. i., &c.
Many proofs abound to show that some similar system will yet be revived. None can be imagined which would more quickly and universally take hold upon the world, and unite all communities – and even the worst of characters, by making all, thus, to become religious, and yet able to degrade and gratify the instincts of human nature under the guise of religion.
Nor can we conceive any form of corruption which would mark off the people of God more effectually, and cause them to be separated from the abounding wickedness around them.
This is the best explanation which can be given of those solemn verses, Rev. 9:20, 21: or rather, it is this passage which is itself the explanation of the awful character of Antichrist’s great universal system of Religion, which even God’s plagues, up to the point of time there referred to, will have failed to remove, and which will call down the yet greater judgments of “the seven vials.”
These verses (Rev. 9:20, 21) are so weighty that we must them in full.
“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils (RV. marg.demons), and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
Our point, however, must not be forgotten, which is, to draw attention to the fact, that the mention of this evil in these Epistles corresponds with the historical order in Israel’s history in the Old Testament.
5. SARDIS – The Period of Israel’s Removal. (1 and 2 Chronicles).
We have had four references to Israel’s history in the Old Testament, and as four is the number connected with the earth, so these four have been connected with Israel in the earth and the Land; and with the culminating sin of departure from the love of God manifested to the Nation. Israel had “left her first love,” forsaken God, and joined herself to idols in the most abominable form.
This is the climax of Israel’s sin. All else in this history is judgment, until Israel is removed from the Land and taken away out of God’s sight. His name is practically blotted out, never again to be a separate ten-tribed kingdom. So blotted out, in fact, that men speak today of the lost* ten tribes.
* Not that they are “lost” in the proper sense of the word: but the proverbial expression is significant.
Indeed, the prophecy of Deut. 29:20 is fulfilled, not only as to the individual and to the Tribe; but there is an application to the whole nation. In Deut. 29:18, 20 (17, 19) there is the threat to blot out the name of the “man” or “tribe” who shall introduce idolatry. As a matter of fact, the Tribes of Dan and Ephraim were the first to introduce it; and their names are blotted out from the tribes of those who are to be sealed in Rev. 7.
It is in this Epistle, next in order (to the assembly at Sardis) that we have the reference to this silence, in the promise to the few names of such as have not defiled their garments: “He that overcometh… I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father and before his Angels” (Rev. 3:5).
6. PHILADELPHIA – The Period of Judah’s Kings. (2 Chronicles).
We have had two references to Israel’s history, and now we are to have two references to Judah’s, and these refer, not any more to failure, sin and judgment; but to the hope of restoration and blessing. As Ahab, king of Israel, was the first to introduce and establish the Asherah worship, so the reference here, in the Epistle to the assembly of Philadelphia, is to Hezekiah, king of Judah, who did much to destroy it and cast it out.
In 2 Chron. 31:1, Hezekiah “brake in pieces the pillars (marg. obelisks), and hewed down the Asherim” (R.V.). His two predecessors, like himself, are described with special reference to their connection with the Temple and with the Temple worship. Indeed, these three kings of Judah are linked together as being three of the four reigns in which Isaiah prophesied, namely, “Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah” (Isa. 1:2).
- Jotham “entered not into the temple of the Lord” (2 Chron. 27:2).
- Ahaz “shut up the doors of the house of the Lord” (2 Chron. 28:24).
- Hezekiah, at the beginning of his reign, “in the first year, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord” (2 Chron. 29:3).
In Isa. 22:22 there is a further reference to this point. Shebna, the Treasurer, had misused his trust for his own glorification (see Isa. 22:15-19). On this account he was ordered to be deposed, by Divine command, and “the key of the house of David” was laid upon the shoulder of Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah (vers. 20-25): “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so the shall open, and none shall shut, and he shall shut, and none shall open” (ver. 22).
Eliakim means God will raise up: and there can be no doubt whatever that we have here a prophetic reference to Christ, whom God would raise up. Indeed, the whole passage (vers. 20-25) reads more like prophecy than history; and points very distinctly forward to the Temple which He Himself will build, and will fill with His glory.
It is remarkable to notice how, in writing to this Assembly in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7), the Lord takes these very words and applies them to Himself, saying: “These things saith he… that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” The reference here to Isa. 22:22 is unmistakable, and it is clear that we have a reference to another and subsequent, but closely connected, event in the Old Testament history.
With this reference we can understand the announcement to the Assembly of Philadelphia in Rev. 3:8: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” And we can understand also the reference to the Temple in the promise, “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out” (Rev. 3:12).
We are taken right on, beyond Jerusalem and its Temple, to the days of final blessing, even to the new Jerusalem and “the Temple of my God,” when Isa . 62:2 shall be fulfilled: “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.”
When this is exactly what is promised in Rev. 3:12, “I will write upon him my new name,” it is difficult to understand how such a promise could ever have been diverted from Israel to the Church: taken away from what it is directly associated with; and applied to that with which it has no connection whatsoever.
7. LAODICEA – The Period of Judah’s Removal. (The Minor Prophets).
We reach, in this last Epistle, the lowest point of Judah’s degradation, in that long line of departure from God, from the day Israel left her “first love,” even the day of her espousals, when brought forth out of Egypt, down, down through one vast scene of idolatry and judgment, until we find that nation described in the Epistle to the Assembly in Laodicea in a condition of spiritual destitution such as characterised the People in the period of the Minor Prophets.
Indeed, so complete is the correspondence, that to see it we must wait till we take the Epistle sentence by sentence, and look at the passages from the Prophets, which we shall there place side by side. We give one or two as examples:
|Rev. 3:17 – “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”||Hos. 2:5, 8, 9 – “For their mother hath played the harlot;… for she said, I will go after my lovers that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink… For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness. And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers,” etc. etc.|
The whole of Hosea 2-5., 12:8, etc., must be read to see the pointed reference to this stage of Israel’s condition. Compare also Hag. 1:6; Jer. 13:25, 26; 5:27; Zech. 11:5, 13-18.
|Rev. 3:18 – “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”||Compare with this Isa. 55:1, 2; Hos. 2:3; Jer. 13:25, 26; Isa. 59:10; 66:17; See also Mal.3:3|
|Rev. 3:19 – “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”||Isa. 43:4 – “Since thou was precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.”So Deut. 7:8; Deut. 8:5 – “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.”Mal.3:7 – “Return unto Me and I will return unto you” is another form of Rev. 3:19.|
In verse 16, the Lord speaks of spueing out the angel. This is the very expression used prophetically in Lev. 18:25-28 of Israel; where Jehovah warns that, if they adopted the abominations of heathen idolatry, the Land might spue them out (compare Jer. 9:19; Ezek. 36:13, 17).
All this shows that the references in this last Epistle do not in any way fit the Church of God, but agree in every particular with Israel’s history, and are referred to so as to enlighten them from their own past history, and thus warn them as to future evils which will then surround them.
When the Church has been removed, and Israel is again dealt with, the religious condition of the nation will exactly correspond with its condition at the Lord’s first coming. There will be, as there was then, plenty of religion. Isa. 1: 10-15 minutely describes the state of things, as they were then and will be again in the future.
The truth of “this prophecy will be amply evidenced – “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” The Pharisee’s prayer (Luke 18:11, 12) exemplifies it. The parables of the great supper, the wedding garment, etc., describe it. The people were blind. The answer to the question, “Are we also blind?” (John 9:40, 41) proves it.
The call to the wedding feast will be, as then, individual. Matthew was called, Zacchaeus was called, and many others; and those who heard that call were unable to resist its commanding and enabling power. It is the great wedding feast of Rev. 19:9 to which the parables pointed.
These “servants,” to whom this epistle is addressed, will understand the solemn warning, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad” it was announced “the judge standeth before the door” (Jas. 5:9). The then nearness of the Judge is the thought conveyed in this announcement. He will be then near at hand, and ready to be revealed.
We are aware that the warning in chap. 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock,” has been universally interpreted of the nearness of the Saviour in grace to those living in this present Church Dispensation, and this has been fostered by painters who have done so much to present perversions of Scripture to the eye. It is a perversion which just suits the old nature, for it puts man in the place of Almighty God, and turns the Lord Jesus into a helpless suppliant. All this is foreign to the doctrines of grace, and makes them all of none effect.
Moreover, this popular interpretation is out of keeping with the context. For, all through these seven Epistles the Lord is in the character of a Judge, rewarding His “servants” according to their “works.” To those looking for Him and ready to receive Him, He appears according to His promise in Luke 12:35-40: “let your loins be girded about and your lights burning: and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord, when he cometh, shall find watching: Verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the good-man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” Here, we have the “Son of Man;” the “servants;” the illustration of the “thief;” the “watching;” the “knocking;” the “opening,” and the “sitting down to meat.” Surely we have in Rev. 3:20, the fulfilment of this prophecy.
How simple it all is when we look at this Epistle as relating to backsliding Israel, and read it in the light of the Prophets and the Gospels. How much more satisfactory to find these illustrations in the Old Testament Scriptures, instead of being occupied with the conflicting and fanciful references to certain phases of ecclesiastical history, which have no Scriptural foundation whatever, and rest entirely on human imagination. All is confusion as to interpretation, and error as to doctrine, the moment we introduce the Church or the present dispensation into these Epistles.
We have seen enough in the consideration of this fourteenth point to furnish us with further evidence that the Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse. The same is seen when we look at our last point, viz., the order of the promises contained in these Epistles.
XV. The Promises to the Seven Assemblies.
As we have seen that the references to the Old Testament in the seven Epistles correspond with the historical order of the events, so it is with respect to the promises contained in these Epistles. The literary order follows the historical order.
They are written to a People supposed to be well-versed in the history of the Old Testament, and well-acquainted with all that had happened to their fathers and had been written for their admonition. Instructed in the past history of their nation, they will readily understand the relation between the testings and judgments in the past with which they are familiar, and those similar circumstances in which they will find themselves in a yet future day.
While the historical events connected with the rebukes are carried down from Exodus to the period of the Minor Prophets, the promises cover a different period; commencing with the period of Eden, and ending with the period of Solomon.
The subjects of the rebukes follow the order of the departure of the People from Jehovah. Their decline and apostasy is traced out in the historical references contained in these Epistles. All blessing depended on the national adherence of the chosen nation to the conditions of the Covenant made with them from the days of the Exodus to the days of the Minor Prophets.
We see them, in the history, coming down, down, down; till we find them stripped of all blessing (nationally), poor, miserable and blind. All that seems to be hoped for, or looked for, among the People is a few individuals who will speak to one another and think upon the Coming One (Mal. 3:16). Later, we see these in the persons of Zacharias and Elisabeth (Luke 1:5,6), Simeon (Luke 2:25), and Anna (Luke 2:36-38), and others, “who were waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and looking “for redemption in Jerusalem.” (Compare Mark 15:43 and Luke 24:21).
We have seen that this same historical order is followed in these seven Epistles to the Assemblies. But when we turn to the PROMISES, then all is different. They proceed in the opposite direction. The order, instead of descending – from Israel’s highest ground of privilege (Exodus) to the lowest stage of spiritual destitution (Minor Prophets) – ascends, in the counsels of Jehovah, from tending a garden to sharing His throne.
This will be readily seen as we trace it out in the promises made in Rev. 2: and 3. But first we must note that they are all intensely individual. There is no corporate existence recognised as such. Each one of the seven promises commences with the same words, “to him that overcometh.” This answers to the language of the Four Gospels, and the Epistle to the Hebrews: e.g., “He that endureth to the end,” and resists all the flood of evil by which he will be surrounded, he shall be saved.
Such phraseology is foreign to the language of the later Pauline Church Epistles. The whole period covered by “the day of the Lord” is called the final meeting of the ages, or the (…) (sunteleia); but, the crisis in which it culminates is called the (…) (telos), the end of the age. Both are rendered “end” in the New Testament, but the use of these two words must be carefully distinguished.
Sunteleia denotes a finishing or ending together, or in conjunction with other things. Consummation is perhaps the best English rendering.* It implies that several things meet together, and reach their end during the same period; whereas telos is the point of time at the end of that period.** For example, in Matt. 24:3 the disciples ask, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the sunteleia of the age.”
* The word occurs only in Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 34:3; 28:20, which shows that this verse refers to a yet future day. And in Heb. 9:26, which refers to the sunteleia of the former dispensation. It is the Septuagint rendering of (…) (keytz) in Dan. 12:4, 13.
** Telos is significant in this connection, in Matt. 10:22 and Rev. 2:26.
In His answer to this question the Lord speaks of the whole period, and covers the whole of the sunteleia. But three times He mentions the telos
- to say that “the telos is not yet” (verse 6);
- to give a promise to him “that shall endure unto the telos” (verse 13);
- to mark the crisis in verse 14, which comes immediately after the close of the preaching of “the gospel of the kingdom.” “Then shall the telos come.”
The sign of the telos is the setting up of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” Thus the telos, and he who endures to this, the same shall be saved, and will be among the overcomers specially referred to in these seven Epistles; to whom these promises are made, and to whom they peculiarly refer.
They are seven in number, as we know: but we have to note that the seven here, as elsewhere, is divided into three and four. Each Epistle ends with two things:
- an injunction to “hear;”
- a promise to him that “overcometh.”
In the first three Epistles the Promise comes after the Injunction. In the last four it comes before it.
This is because the first three are connected, by reference, to what is written of the Divine provisions in the books of Genesis and Exodus (the Garden and the Wilderness); while the latter four are connected with the Land and the thrones of David and Solomon: the number three marking Heavenly or Divine perfection; and the number four having to do with the earth.
refers to Genesis 2., the promise being, “I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). God begins from Himself. The Apocalypse related not only to Israel, but to the earth; and the first promise goes back to Eden and to the “tree of life.”
The way to that tree was lost: but was “kept” (or preserved) by the cherubim (Gen. 3:24). These cherubim next appear in connection with the way to the Living One, in the Tabernacle, and are thus linked on to Israel. Only in Israel’s restoration can the way to the “Tree of Life” be restored.
Sovereignty and government on the earth is the great subject of the Apocalypse; therefore the promise goes back to the point where sovereignty was ignored and government was overthrown. This becomes the starting-point. That is why the cherubim reappear in the Apocalypse, intimately associated with this work of restoration of Divine Government on the earth. their song is of “creation” (Rev. 4:11). Their likeness is to creation. Their song is of the redemption of Israel (not their own. See the notes on them in chap. 4 and 5.).
2. The second (SMYRNA) “The Second Death” (Gen. 3)
refers to Genesis 3., the promise being “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (2:10, 11). The reference is to Genesis 3., where death first enters. But the promise goes beyond this; for it relates not merely to the death which came in with sin, but to the “second death,” which is revealed in Rev. 20:14; 21:8.
3. The third (PERGAMOS) “The Hidden Manna” (Ex. 16)
refers to Exodus. The promise is, “I will give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it” (2:17).
It is in this third Epistle, which refers to the wilderness period and Balaam’s counsel, that we have a special reference to the manna, the wilderness sustenance, of which Exodus contains the record. “Bread from Heaven” and “Angels’ food” (Ps. 78:24,25) are set over against the lusts of the flesh and spiritual idolatry. The manna was to be “hidden” in the Ark of the Covenant, “that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt… so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony to be kept” (Ex. 16:32-34). This “hidden” food is for remembrance; to remind them that God can supply the remnant of His People in the coming day, when none shall be allowed to buy or sell (Rev. 13:16,17), and therefore to buy food to eat, unless they consent to bear the “mark of the Beast.”
God supported His People in the wilderness, where they could obtain no food: Why not here? The false prophets will eat to the full at the table of another Jezebel: Why should not God “furnish a table” (Psa. 78:19) for His own in that coming day, in that wilderness whither they will flee (Rev. 12:14)? The one was literal: why not the other? Why go out of our way to seek for a strange interpretation alien to the subject, when we have one ready to hand in the Old Testament Scriptures which are being referred to? That manna was to be “hidden,” and “kept,” to remind them that God can still, and will again “furnish a table in the wilderness,” that they may again be “nourished for a time, and times, and half a time” (Rev. 12:14).
There is a further promise as to the “white stone” and the “new name.” Again we ask, Why go to our own imaginations, or to Pagan customs, for interpretations, when we have in this same book of Exodus* the account of the stones on which the names of the Tribes were engraven: Two on the High Priest’s shoulder, with six names on each (collective); and twelve on the breastplate, with one name on each (individual). The individual names being placed “upon his heart” (the place of love), and the collective names “upon his shoulders” (the place of strength) (Exod. 28:8-30).
* In the Hebrew Canon Exodus is called the Book of “the Names.” See Names and Order of the Books of the Old Testament, by Dr. Bullinger.
Besides these stones there were the stones of the “Urim and Thummin,” of which little or nothing is known. These may have “white” for aught we know; but we do know that they were associated with a hearing and answering God dwelling in the midst of His People.
Here, amid their scenes of trial and tribulation, when God’s people will find themselves in another wilderness, they are reminded, by this Exodus-promise, of Jehovah’s presence with them; and of the blessed fact that He has their names in remembrance; that His love is everlasting; that His strength is almighty, and able to nourish them when their enemies might prevail and human resources fail.
4. The fourth (THYATIRA) “The Morning Star” (Num. 24)
refers to the books of Numbers and Samuel. The promise is, “to him will give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Rev. 2:26-28).
Here again the literary order in the Apocalypse goes forward with the historical order: for it is in the book of Numbers that we have the basis of this promise given to the same People, who were the subjects of it there. For “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall mite the corners (marg. princes) of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city” (Numbers 24:17-19).
This promise and prophecy had a first foreshadowing fulfilment in David; showing what was in store for David’s Son and David’s Lord: even for Him who was the “root and the offspring of David.” Luke 1:31-33 tells of His conquest, and of His reign on David’s throne.
David, we have said, foreshadowed it: for he could say in the words of his song, “thou hast girded me with strength to battle; them that rose up against me hast thou subdued under me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me…. Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the mire of the street” (2 Sam. 22:40,41,43).
This was the theme of David’s song “in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies.” And this heralds the yet more glorious song in honour of David’s Lord when the kingdoms of the world shall have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever (Rev. 11:15).
The promise is given in this fourth Epistle, because the prophecy of Numbers 24:17-19 has never yet been really fulfilled. “The day-spring (the morning star) did visit His people” (Luke 1:78); but He was rejected; and therefore the fulfilment remains in abeyance, as well as that of Luke 1:31-33.
In Rev. 2:26-28 the time is at hand for the fulfilment of it. Hence the promise is repeated; and in chap. 20:4 we see it accomplished; for the “morning star” shall then have risen (Rev. 22:16), and the prophecy of Psalm 2 shall be fulfilled.
5. The fifth (SARDIS) “Names Confessed” (2 Sam. 23)
refers again to the times of David — not the beginning of his reign, but to the end of it. It is a double promise, negative and positive, and both have to do with the names of individuals.
“I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (3:5).
The reference is to “the last words of David” in 2 Sam. 23. They follow “the words of this song” in the previous chapter. These “last words of David” were uttered as he was about to give up the throne and the kingdom to Solomon; when the conflict was to end, and issue in dominion, and in a glorious reign of peace: foreshadowing the time when this promise of Rev. 3:5 is about to be fulfilled, and the Apocalyptic judgments are about to issue in millennial glories.
“I will not blot out his name.”
“I will confess his name.”
So runs the double promise, and it is exactly what we see in the history which is thus referred to. David is confessing the names of his overcomers, and the confessing of them begins, “These be the names of the mighty men whom David had” (2 Sam.23:8).
They had “gathered themselves to him” in the day of his rejection. For, though he had been anointed as king, he was not as yet sitting on his own throne, but was in the cave Adullam, or the place of testimony.*
* Adullam means their testimony.
They had gone to him in their distress and debt and bitterness of soul (1 Sam. 22:1,2), and David “became a captain over them.” They had followed him through all his conflicts: and now, on the eve of the era of glory and peace, their names are confessed before all. Their deeds are announced, and their exploits are recorded. But there are some who are “blotted out.”
Joab is not there, though “Abishai, the brother of Joab,” is there (2 Sam. 23:18); “Asahel, the brother of Joab,” is there (verse 24); “Nahari…armour-bearer to Joab,” is there (verse 37); but not Joab himself. He was a “mighty man.” He had been the commander-in-chief of David’s forces, a valiant soldier, a great statesman and wise counsellor; but, while he was all this and more, he was not an overcomer, for his heart was not right with David. He remained loyal when Absalom rebelled; but he took part in the treason of Adonijah.
Ahithophel is not there; though we read of “Eliam the son of Ahithophel” (verse 34). He was David’s greatest counsellor; so wise, that when he spoke “it was as if a man had enquired at the oracle (or word) of God” (2 Sam. 16:23). But he was not an overcomer, and he is not “confessed” even before men. He took sides with Absalom in his rebellion; and he is blotted out from this list of names.
Abiathar, too, is blotted out, for not even is his name here. He was David’s beloved friend (see 1 Sam. 22:20-23), but he was not an overcomer. He remained loyal in the treason of Absalom, but joined in that of Adonijah. The other names are duly confessed.
The scene is unspeakably solemn; and has, by application, a warning voice for all. But, by interpretation, it comes with special force in this promise to the Assembly at Sardis, and refers to the fulfilment of Matt. 10:32, 33 and Luke 12:8, 9.
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
Thus this promise refers not only to that solemn past scene in Israel’s history, but is shown to be closely connected with the Four Gospels, and points on to the scenes of final judgment and glory in connection with David’s Lord, and “a greater than Solomon.”
6. The sixth (PHILADELPHIA) “The Temple” (Sam & Kings)
refers to Solomon, as does the seventh (Laodicea). In the former the reference is to the “Temple” and to the “City;” while, in the latter, it is to the “Throne.”
The promise runs (3:12), “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and my new name.” The reference here to Solomon is unmistakable. He it was who built the temple, and put in its porch those mysterious pillars “Jachin and Boaz” (1 Kings 7:13-22; 2 Chron. 3:17).
“And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the fight pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin (i.e., He shall establish): and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz (i.e., In it is strength).”
Strength and permanence were thus announced to all who entered that wondrous Temple. The Temple of God is brought in this Epistle into contrast with the Synagogue of Satan, and those were of the latter who “say they are Jews and are not.” That synagogue has neither strength nor permanence. But the overcomers are endued with Divine strength, and shall have eternal inheritance, for they “shall go no more out.”
Moreover, the promise refers to the name of the overcomer being written in “the city of my God.” There can be only one interpretation to this promise. Anyone acquainted with Old Testament phraseology will at once go back in memory to such Psalms as 48., 122., and 87. In this latter we read:
“Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised:
In the City of our God — His holy mount.
Beautiful for situation, The joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion,
The sides of the north, the city of the great king.
As we have heard, so have we seen;
In the city of the Lord of hosts,
In the city of our God: God will establish it for ever” (Psa. 48:1, 2, 8)
“His foundation is in the holy mountains.
Jehovah loveth the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of thee,
O city of God. Selah.
I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me:
Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia,
This one was born there.
And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her.
And He, the Most High, shall establish her.
Jehovah shall count, when he writeth up the peoples
‘This man was born there.’ Selah.
As well the singers, as the players on instruments [shall say]
‘All my springs are in thee'” (Psa. 87.).
True, the chapter-headings of the A.V. may call this “the nature and glory of the Church.” But we shall prefer to believe God in so plain and literal a description of “the city of God:” and those who are the subjects of the promise will have a blessed knowledge of what it will mean to be written “in the city of my God.”
Ezekiel (chap. 13.) also addresses Israel; but as he speaks not of promises and blessings, it is not interpreted of the Church, but it is left for the persons mentioned; though they are not more clearly defined here than in the above Psalm. In verse 9 we read of those who “shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am Adonai Jehovah” (Ezek. 13:9).
The promise in Rev. 3:12 refers to the New Jerusalem (chap. 21 and 22.). If the city of David and Solomon was such that “glorious things” were spoken of it as “the city of God,” what will be the glories of that city which “cometh down out of heaven from my God”? And what will be the blessing of Zion and Jerusalem when, as written in Isa. 62:1, “the righteousness thereof shall go forth as brightness and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth”? Then it is that the promise is given, “Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” (Compare Isa. 60:14). In Isa. 62:4 and 12 we have further instruction as to this “new name” referred to in Rev. 3:12.
7. The seventh (LAODICEA) “The Throne” (Kings & Chron.)
refers to the throne, of which Solomon’s was in every respect the ideal type. This, the highest promise, is given to the overcomers in the lowest condition of Israel’s degradation, which is described as in danger of being “spued out.”
What that was we have already seen (page 89), and now we have the chiefest of all the promises. The overcomers in that last terrible condition of things are the ones who most need the greatest of Divine help and encouragement. Hence the highest promise is given.
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
To Solomon is the great promise of the throne vouchsafed through David.
“When thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee… and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” ( 2 Sam. 7:12, 13).
The defection of those who should follow Solomon on that throne was foreknown and provided for. The whole of Psalm 89:should be read in this connection, as explaining how and why the throne should come to be in abeyance. After referring to this in verse 14, the promise goes on: Yet
“My mercy shall not depart away from him…
“And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee:
“Thy throne shall be established for ever” (2 Sam. 7:15, 16).
How and when this promise will be fulfilled, after the period of chastening referred to in verse 14 (of 2 Sam. 7.) shall have ended, is described in Dan. 7. There we have fully set forth how “the Son of Man” shall receive the kingdom and the throne, and how “the saints of the Most High” shall share that throne with Him, as promised in this Epistle.
The title used in Dan. 7., “The Most High” is very significant, and shows that the whole scene relates to the earth. Whenever this title is used this is its meaning and teaching. Its first occurrence, in Gen. 14:18-24 marks it as belonging to the “possessor of heaven and earth.” It was as “the Most High” that He divided to the nations “their inheritance” in the earth (Deut. 32:8), which, as its “possessor,” He alone had the right or the power to do. In Psa. 83:18 He is called “the Most High over all the earth.” And so it is in all the thirty-six occurrences of the title in the Old Testament.
The expression, “the saints of the Most High,” tells us that the people referred to are an earthly people, even those whose promise is an earthly throne and an earthly kingdom. Not the church of God, therefore, whose calling, standing, hope and destiny are heavenly.
Four times is the expression used in Dan. 7. In verse 18 “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” In verses 21, 22 the fourth Beast “made war with the saints and prevailed against them (as related in Rev. 13:7); until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to thesaints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.”
In verse 25 the Beast “shall speak great words against the Most High,” &c. (as related also in 2 Thess. 2:4, and Rev. 13:5, 6). In verse 27 we read that “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
These are the “elect,” who shall be “gathered together from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other,” when the “Son of Man” shall come down on the earth (Matt. 24:30, 31). Then shall His “call” go forth, “Gather my saints together unto me.” This is when He will call “to the earth, that He may judge His People” (Psa. 50:4, 5; read the whole Psalm).
And when, later, in Matt. 25:31, we read, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory”: then there will be a different gathering, not of His “elect” (see Matt. 24:31), but “before him shall be gathered all nations,” * according to Joel 3:1, 2 and 11, 12.
* See the structure of the whole of this great prophecy of Matt. 24 and 25. in Things to Come, vol. vi., p. 103.
This throne of the special judgment of the “nations” leads up to and ends in the permanent throne of Divine government, according to Jer. 3: 17. Then will this promise be fulfilled to the overcomer:
“I will grant to sit with Me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne (Rev. 3:21).
This promise, therefore, like all the others is not given to the Church of God. The members of that glorious body will have already been ‘caught up to meet the Lord in the air,” and will have had their part in the “gathering together unto him” there, before the cry of Psa. 50:5 goes forth to “the earth, that he may judge his people,” and “gather his (earthly) saints together.”
Thus we have traced the upward path — the ascending scale of the seven promises of these seven Epistles, and seen how are they to be interpreted of Israel, whose downward path is here also so wonderfully set forth in these same Epistles.
This concludes our fifteen preliminary points; and we submit that their cumulative evidence establishes our fundamental position that, the “Church of God” does not form the subject of the Apocalypse. Our interpretation confines that subject to the “Jew” and the “Gentile” (I Cor. 10:32). Whether “the word of truth” is thus “rightly” divided is for our readers to determine for themselves, according to the evidence which we shall put before them.