Can Change the World Again.
The Revelation of John - Chapter XI
Commentaries on the Entire Bible
In this remarkable chapter, the interest of the first great series of symbols and prophetic events culminates. We reach the crisis and culmination.Vs. 1, 2 treat of the temple, the altar and the worshipers; then follows the case of the two witnesses, their functions and powers; their martyrdom and its locality; the exultation over their unburied bodies; their resurrection and ascension to heaven; the consternation of their enemies and the convulsions that ensued (vs. 3-13); the sounding of the seventh angel's trumpet the song of heaven, and the closing scene in the upper temple (vs. 14-19).
1. And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
2. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
When Jeremiah and the old prophets contemplated and predicted the capture of Jerusalem, the fate of the temple could not be overlooked; indeed it was the first and central thought. No one prediction from Jeremiah made so much impression upon the people as that which declared (Jer. 7: 1-15, and 26: 6)"I will make this house like Shiloh." So in the present case the temple must needs come to mind before the doom of the city is consummated.The "reed like a rod" and the measuring of the temple are in imitation of Ezek. 40.Remarkably the best manuscripts omit the clause, "and the angel stood," the passage reading literally"There was given me a reed like a rod, saying," etc., i. e., one, some one not defined, saying.As to the significance of this transaction, no other view seems to me admissible save thisthat it puts in other symbol what we had in chap. 7: 1-8, viz., the sifting out for salvation of all the precious elements from among the ancient covenant people before the last crushing blow should fall. The Simeons and the Annas, the devout and honest worshipers of the true God, must be carefully measured off and removed away, and possibly the symbol may include the idea that all which is worth preserving in the temple itself and its altarall its embodied truths, all its symbolic power, all its hallowed associationsmust be husbanded with a wise economy and treasured away safely before the storm of ruin shall engulf both city and temple. But the "court without the temple"always far less holyleave out; it is given to the Gentiles; the holy city they will tread proudly and insultingly under their feet three years and an half.The great event predicted here is doubtless the siege and ultimate sack, pillage, and utter destruction of both city and temple by the Romans. The language in part ("trodden under foot") follows that of Jesus himself (Luke 21: 24): "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles." But the time and in general the symbols take their shape from the very analogous case of the famous desecration of the temple by Antiochus as foretold by Daniel (8: 10-14, and 11: 31). This accounts for the duration named here"forty two months"this being precisely the period given by Daniel, and proximately the duration of the siege and sack of Jerusalem by the Romans.That Jerusalem is certainly meant by "the holy city," I do not see how any one can reasonably doubt. So of "the temple" and "the altar," we are all afloat if we abandon the literal, normal sense of these words, and consult our fancy for some ideal sense which neither John or his first readers could possibly have thought of. Let us not forget that the writer is a Jew; that he was perfectly at home in whatever pertains to the temple, the altar, its worshipers, the court without and the holy city; that many of his readers also were familiar more or less with the Jewish sense of these words; so that it is simply impossible that they could have given any other sense to these words than what I have here assumed. Consequently here is one of the landmarks of our prophetic interpretation. We know that the temple, altar and holy city were standing at the time of this vision; we know they were on the very eve of their desolation; we know therefore that this desolationso "shortly" after these visions were seen and recordedcan not possibly be any other than that effected by the Roman armies A. D. 70. It should be some comfort to us to know where we are in place and in time in this series of prophetic events. It gives a pleasing sense of certainty in the results of our investigations.
3. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
These two witnesses, here sprung upon us suddenly with no pre-intimation, are prominent and important characters in this series of prophetic events. I hardly need say that the diversity of opinions respecting them among commentators has been almost endless. My readers will excuse me from giving even a catalogue of these discordant opinions, and much more from discussing and combatting thembetter pleased that I should labor to present if possible a fair interpretation of the whole passage which will meet all its exigencies and satisfy every reasonable requirement.
I will first state briefly my views of the two witnesses: then explain particular words and phrases throughout the passage; and close with my reasons for adopting this view of their meaning as symbols in preference to any other.
I think these two witnesses are not literal but representative men; that we are not to look among the apostles or the early Christian martyrs to find precisely the two individual men in whom these conditions shall all meet; nor do I at all accept those more wild theories which make them the Old and the New Testament scriptures; or the Jewish church and the Christian; or the Waldenses and the Albigenses, etc., but I take them as representative characters, standing for all those Christian witnesses for the truth of whom Jesus himself was at the head, and his faithful disciples and apostles, walking in his steps, filled up the ranks till the fall of Jerusalem. The thought doubtless holds closely to those who testified for Christ before the Jewish nationwho were the Lord's gospel witnesses, proclaiming to the Jews both its messages of mercy and its threatened doom of judgment unless they should repent. John the Baptist heads the list in time; Jesus, in prominence, dignity and power; but a host of those menStephen, James, Peter and Paul, fill up the catalogue.In a symbolic representation it can not be expected that all these individual men should appear. The number two is chosen probably because "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word" by Jewish law "was established." There may also be a tacit allusion to the historic fact that Jesus sent out his first witnesses two and two into every city. According to Mark (6: 7) the twelve were sent out thus, and according to Luke (10: 1) the seventy.These remarks will give my general views of these two witnesses.
In the phrase, "I will give power unto my two witnesses," there being no Greek word for "power," it is better to give the phrase a broader sense, perhaps thus: I will commission my two witnessesI will give them the responsibility of prophesying; or, not improbably, I will give them every help they needa heart of boldness, words of wisdomaccording to Christ's promise: "It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak" (Mat. 10: 19). "Twelve hundred and sixty days" is itself a symbolic period representing special trial, temptation, conflict. The antecedent historic facts which made this period of three and a half years so memorable, sacred and significant, and which fitted it so admirably for a symbolic type of like trying periods in all coming ages, stand in the book of Danielthat mournful and most afflictive desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. With these historic facts in view, standing in a prophecy entirely fresh to the mind of John in Patmos, we need go no further to account for this designation of time. It matters not how long precisely the witnesses represented by these two, did actually testify to the Jews before the fall of their city. To these symbolic representative men is assigned a period which is itself symbolic and suggestive of calamity and trial to God's people.The numerous theories as to these two witnesses which assume that they lived and prophesied twelve hundred and sixty years instead of so many days must be discarded as utterly baseless. See the special Dissertation in the Appendix. The same remarks apply to the "forty two months" of v. 2 above.That they are clothed in sackcloth testifies that they are men of kindred spirit with Elijah and John the Baptist.
4. These are the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
The older manuscripts have "Lord" instead of "God;""the Lord of all the earth."The two olive-trees and the two candle-sticks (lamp-stands) are from Zech. 4, where they represent the two sacred orderscivil rulers and priestsunder whose spiritual care God had placed his people and through whom he imparted to them religious truth and spiritual grace. The two witnesses are also God's servants in a similar capacity, doing a similar service to his people. This should suggest that they, like their prototypes, are representative men, symbolic personages.
5. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any than will hurt them, be must in this manner be killed.
This fire from their mouth devouring their enemies, is bold, striking imagery, but not incongruous with the tone of this book. See 9: 17, 18. If we might think of it as literally done, it would make them formidable, not to say terrible to their enemies because they had God on their side and his fearful judgments were sure to fall in terrible retribution upon those who sought their blood.
6. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
The word rendered "power" has more precisely the sense of prerogativea certain responsible function entrusted to them, correlated to their special work.In the last clause we might render somewhat more literally, "To smite the land with every plague," etc. The former part of the verse makes an historical allusion to Elijah and the rain (1 Kings 17: 1); the latter part to Moses and the plagues on Egypt (Ex. 7: 19). The case of these witnesses recalls to mind those heroic and divinely honored saints; but we must not too hastily infer that they were to do precisely the same things. In so plain a case of historic allusion, it may be very difficult to decide bow closely analogous their actual deeds will be to the historic model. The witnesses were men working in the spirit and power of Elijah and of Moses and in somewhat analogous circumstanceslike them having to do with mighty hostile forces, and withstanding them in the strength of the Lord of Hosts. Perhaps this is all we can safely say.
7. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
Shielded by God's protecting providence they live till they have finished their testimony; but then the beast from the bottomless pit prevails against them so far as to take their lives. This beast (not zoon but therion) corresponds to the "great red dragon" of the next chapter, i. e., he is Satan himself.Bearing in mind that Jesus Christ in his earthly life and labor was "the faithful and true Witness"the first and chief witness for God before the Jewish people, and that his history therefore naturally determines the type of this representative sketch of the two witnesses, we naturally look into his well known history for the leading outlines given here. We remember how through many perils he lived till he had finished his testimony; how Satan then entered into Judas and through Judas betrayed him into bloody hands; how he himself said"Now is your hour and the power of darkness," as if well aware that his chief antagonist was Satan, and that in this struggle his own life was to be taken. So of all the martyrs, Satan was really the great murderer. His instigations set wicked men upon this work. He was the Great Leader in this war upon the persons and the lives of the saints.
8. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
That their dead bodies lie unburied in the streets indicates extreme insult. In the current sentiments of all the ancient nations, no rites were more sacred than those of sepulture; no fate was deemed more dreadful than to lie unburied.In the general sense of insult, this feature was applicable to Jesus in the matter of his death, while in its precise literal sense it fails to apply, because by God's special interposition he was "with the rich in his death" (Isa. 53: 9), and had an honorable burial. But his murderers intended the extremest insult, and in every other point they carried out their purpose. In the fact, therefore, the signification of this feature meets his case. A description of two representative witnesses should aim to meet the average features of the great body of those who are represented. This rule is faithfully observed in the points made here.But the paramount interest and priceless value of this verse are in the fact that it gives us so precisely the localitythe place where the witnesses fell; the place which was obviously the principal scene of their witnessing testimony. The prophetic finger is carefully put upon the very city. It is one which in view of its spiritual character might be called Sodom (as in Isa. 1: 10) or Egypt as embodied in Pharaohhis hardened heart resisting God's authority persistently, despite of a long series of fearful judgments; but dropping all figures of speech, it, was precisely the place where the Lord Jesus was crucified. This is perfectly definite. No words could be more so. There never was but one city of which this could be said in such a connection as this. What the city was called "spiritually" might indicate it sufficiently to many readers; but to make the identification of the city perfect, and to leave no possibility of mistake, the tongue of inspiration said, "where their Lord also was crucified" and met his death as they met theirs. The improved text gives us here, "their Lord;" not "our."As to this locality for the martyrdom of the two witnesses, the reader will readily, recall those very significant words of Jesus (Luke 13: 31-35) when certain Phansees said to him, "Get thee out and depart hence, for Herod will kill thee;" and he replied, "I must walk to-day and to-morrow, and the day following (a very short time only, and then my life will be taken here in this guilty city), for it can not be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would have gathered thy children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings but ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!" The blood of her murdered prophets and apostles, and greatest of all though not the last in time, the murder of her own Messiah, sealed her doom of unutterable desolation! This fact stands out among the most salient points in this entire chapter. It explains the fact that the murder of the two witnesses within the walls of Jerusalem is the last thing before the blast of the seventh trumpet and the mighty fall of that great city. Other historians may paint the physical agenciesmay give us the work of the Roman legions without and of suicidal factions within: but God's prophetic finger sketches the moral causesthe damning sins that sealed her doom.
9. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
10. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
11. And after three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
Here is the hellish exultation of their murderers over the fallen martyrs. The triumphing of the wicked is always short:this was. The time designatedthree and a half daysfollows the symbolic usage of three and a half as the standard period for calamity. Probably the naming of this duration is due mainly if not solely to the influence of this standard usage. There may possibly be a tacit allusion to the interval between Christ's death and his resurrection, commonly called three days.After the three and a half days, the Spirit of life from God entered into them (the mode of stating the fact follows Ezek. 37: 5-14), and they rise aliveto the unutterable consternation of their murderers! Precisely this sudden alternation from diabolic exultation over his death to horror and dread at his rising, must have been the experience of the chief priests and scribes in the case of Christ's death and resurrection. Three days merry and exultant,then horror-stricken in amazement and terror!The unwarranted assumption that prophetic days are really historic yearsso often wrought into the interpretation of these witnessescan lead to nothing but error, misconstruction. See. Appendix, Dissertation I.
12. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
I can not resist the conviction that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sort of ground-work for this part of the representation. In fact his case seems to have been very prominent throughout, as it naturally should be because he was really the foremost and greatest of these witnesseshis life, his preaching and his death having unsurpassed moral significance as bearing upon the doom of the Jewish city and nation. It is therefore entirely natural that the case of these two representative witnesses should receive such a shading, should take on such a type, as, would continually Suggest the case of Jesus himself as the great model witness. Otherwise it would have missed its main object.If the reader understands what I have all along been saying, he will not ask me whether I can find any two apostolic witnesses whose dead bodies lay unburied in Jerusalem three days and a half, over whom their murderers exulted so long, but who then rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in the very sight of their astounded murderers! To make such a demand is to ignore the representative, symbolic character of the whole passage and insist that it shall he taken as a literal statement throughout. It might as well be insisted upon that every word, every picture, every symbol in this book of Revelation shall be construed literally.
13. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
These convulsions in the material world were most appropriate foretokens of the fearful ruin of the city, and fit premonitions of the blast of the seventh trumpet. That during the siege of the city facts did literally occur to which these points of the representation might correspond, is matter of history; and yet it would be quite another thing to show which out of many earthquakes this was that occurred "on the same hour," and what "tenth part of the city" it was that fell, etc. Such minuteness of application in a prophecy of this sort should by no means be expected.It is supposable that the case of the Roman "centurion and they that were with him" watching Jesus on the cross, who saw the earth-quake and the things that were done, and feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Mat. 27: 54) may have thrown its influence into these features of the representation.
Having thus endeavored to explain what is said of these "two witnesses," it remains to state briefly my reasons for adopting this construction rather than the literal one which I understand Prof Stuart to hold, or any of those vague modern constructions which find these two witnesses in the Old and the New Testament; or in the Mosaic and the Christian dispensations; or in the prophets and the apostles; or in any of the true churches in the dark middle ages; or anywhere else according to the fancy of the interpreter.(1.) That, as above explained, they are representative men, is in harmony with the symbolism of this entire book. Here the fact stated briefly and in general is that the human figures which appear in the scenery of this book are representative characters. I adduce the "twenty-four elders," representing glorified saints in heaven; "the hundred and forty-four thousand," sealed from among the Jews, who represent the early Jewish converts to Christianity; the horsemen of 9: 16 who represent the Roman legions, not precisely in point of numbers but of formidable power; the "woman" of chap. 12 who represents the church, and her "man-child," representing Jesus; the woman of chapter 17: 1-7, 18 who represents the great city, Rome. This law of prophetic symbolism seems to be throughout this book universal and invariable. Consequently it ought to apply in the case of these two witnesses. None but the most stubborn difficulties, no reasons save the most stringent, could justify a violation of a law otherwise universal.(2.) This construction harmonizes with v. 3, which compares these two witnesses to the two olive trees and the two lamp-stands of Zech. 4. This comparison, brought in here to introduce these two witnesses and explain who they represent and how they are to be taken, should be in itself decisive. As those two olive-trees and lamp-stands were representative objects, standing for a class of men, so are these.(3.) This construction has enabled us to interpret the entire passage in a way at once pertinent, facile, natural and forcible. This consideration should of itself have great weight.(4.) It harmonizes with the facts of the case. Such witnessing men did go forth among the Jews to testify the great truths of the gospel. Their mission began properly with John the Baptist, and ended only with the fall of their city. Jesus himself led this witnessing host. Stephen witnessed till, like his Lord's, his murdered body fell in that guilty city. In great numbers these witnesses fell in Jerusalem. But the case covers not those only whose bodies fell there but those who elsewhere, even "in strange cities" (Acts 26: 11), were persecuted by Jews, traduced before the Roman authorities, and brought to a martyr's death.(5.) It harmonizes with the moral purpose of this prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. Considered as written to the seven churches, then suffering some degree of persecution and probably fearing more and sorer yet to come, it could not fail to impress them with the heroic sublimity of the martyr's life and death; with the certainty of a glorious reward; and consequently with the spirit of a lofty faith and a noble Christian endurance. With such an example before them as that of these two witnesses, suggesting so forcibly the witnessing life, the martyr's death and the glorious resurrection of their own Redeemer, how could they shrink before any peril of life that might threaten, or any hardships of prison or exile? Especially when they saw that the blood of martyrs shed in Jerusalem brought down upon that wicked city the exterminating judgments of the Almighty, it must have impressed them with a sense of his righteous retribution upon his incorrigible foes, and assured them that God was on their side in the fullness and glory of his power both to save and to destroy, and that they need not at all fear the final triumph of the wicked because they have their brief moment of fiendish exultation over the men they have vilely and causelessly murdered.Thus this construction of the entire passage would avail to bring home to the souls of the first readers of this book a grand and most impressive moral power toward steadfast endurance and heroic boldness for the truth, as well as a sense of God's righteous justice and of his certain victory over every foe. Such as these are beyond all doubt the moral purposes of the entire book. The point of my present argument is that this view of the two witnesses coincides perfectly in its moral purpose with the whole book, and therefore must be the true one.For these reasons, each strong in itself and all united making a complete demonstration, I must accept and maintain that these two witnesses are representative characters, standing for the noble band of witnesses for Christianity, sent of God to his ancient people with his last appeal before the fall of their city and temple.
15. And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
16. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshiped God,
17. Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.
18. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and the saints, and to them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.
The sounding of the seventh trumpet should be a crisis, a great consummation. The seven seals are all broken; the seventh and last was resolved into seven trumpets and here we have reached the last of these. Hence some signal events are here. What is this crisis? If, a catastrophe, i. e., a great convulsion, a mighty ruin, the question arisesA convulsion of what sort? A ruin of what? If the result be only joyful, why is it so, and what is the ground of the joy?All commentators concur in finding some extraordinary event in this seventh trumpet. Many think it to be the beginning of the Millennium, or the final judgment at the end of this world, and the opening of a new order of existence for the redeemed. Hence there is special interest and importance in this questionWhat is this seventh trumpet?
My view is that in its primary sense and application, it is precisely the fall of Jerusalem before the Roman armsJerusalem being considered as the grand antagonist power against Christianity in that early Christian age.I shall attempt to justify this view by showing: (1.) That this description (vs. 15-18), fairly and scripturally interpreted, not only admits but demands this interpretation;and (2.). That the course of the receding seals and trumpets and the slaying of the witnesses brings us precisely to this great eventto no point short of this and to no point beyond it.
1. It should be carefully noted that the results of this seventh trumpet are shown us only as seen and felt in heaven. The prophet does not give us one word nor one symbol which represents things seen or done on earth, save as we may infer them from what is said and sung by the hosts above. He first hears great voices in heaven and tells us what they said; then more definitely the twenty-four elders (representatives of the church on earth) take up their song of thanksgiving and with several new particulars set forth the occasion and grounds of their joy in this event by reciting what God had so gloriously done. It is only from these sources that we learn precisely the things revealed under the seventh trumpet.Again, it should be carefully noted that these heavenly hosts contemplate this event only on its joyous sideonly as hearing upon the progress and triumphs of Messiah's kingdom. There may have been another side to the scene, one of fearful catastrophe; of awful carnage; of utter wreck to human hopes and affectionsto the life and the heart of a great nation; but of this entire side of the case, these heavenly songs say nothing. Yet it would be a very strange inference (it has been made often) that should conclude from the silence of heaven's songs as to any catastrophe, that there actually was none. Why should it surprise us that those holy ones before the throne should think of the fall of the first, most obstinate and most malign opponents of the gospel as a glorious triumph of Immanuel, and should contemplate this event only on its Godward sideonly as related to the retributions of his glorious justice and to the triumphs of truth and salvation over all the earth? I acquiesce most entirely in this view of their song and believe this to have been the light in which they contemplated the fall of apostate Judaism and of its representative city.
Let us now turn to the words heard in heaven.In the phrase, "The kingdoms of this world," etc., the oldest manuscripts and the concurrent voice of the best critics give the singular, "The kingdom of this world," the precise sense therefore being that the rule, the sway of this world, rather than the civil power over its several kingdoms, passes into the hand of our Lord.The just interpretation of this language must be learned from Old Testament prophecy and New Testament usage. I can present this matter here only by the briefest allusions, e. g., to Gen. 49: 10, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah ..... till Shiloh [the Messiah] come; him shall the people obey:" to Ps. 2: 8, "Ask of me and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance:" to Ezek. 21: 27, "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more; until he come whose right it is and I will give it him;" or to the scope of Daniel's series of great world monarchies which terminate with giving to the Messiah "dominion, glory and a kingdom; that all people, nations and languages should serve him, and his dominion be an everlasting dominion," etc.In New Testament usage Jesus takes up this term, "kingdom," and this strain of premise, from the Old Testament prophets, and speaks during his life-time of his kingdom as just at hand. The apostles after his ascension spake of it as already set up. If we examine this matter quite carefully, we shall see that the divine forces to be used in establishing this kingdom were essentially twofold: the spiritual, of which the gift of the holy Ghost was central; and the physical, to be employed under God's providential rule in the destruction of opposing powers, and first and most prominent of all, apostate Judaism and its stronghold, Jerusalem. Hence the kingdom of the Messiah was in one important sense given to him upon his formal inauguration in heaven at his ascension; and yet in its human aspect and development, its date properly turned on two grand events: (1.), The descent of the Holy Ghost, revealing and bringing into the great field of spiritual work this divine power; and (2.) The overthrow of Jerusalemthe first grand manifestation of the physical, material forcesthe first putting forth of the great hand of God to sweep away opposing powers and to foil Satan in the very point of his chief antagonism.It will be noticed that in several passages Jesus speaks of his "coming" when the connection and the circumstances compel us to apply this word to his powerful hand in the overthrow of Jerusalem. Thus, Mat. 16: 28, "There be some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom:" and in Mat 24: 3, 34, to the question,. "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" Jesus answered in various particulars, and then, said, "Verily, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." The leading thought in this chapter is that with which it beginsthe destruction of the city and temple.The New Testament conception therefore of Christ's setting up his kingdom on the earth gives us, on the side of its spiritual forces, the descent of the Holy Ghost; on the physical side, the overthrow of Jerusalem. These were great, central, representative events, and they serve net only to date the beginning of his kingdom, so that it could be said after these events to have come, or to be set up, but they are the precursor, the pledge, the prophecy of further victoriesthe grand assurance of final and perfect victory over every foe, even till Jesus shall rule, one and alone, sole King and Lord of all the earth. No doubt it is somewhat in this prospective aspect and hearing of this first event, considered as foreshadowing and guaranteeing other like victories onward in future time, that the song of heaven is so exultant. This very song is a prophecy. It seizes upon the first grand display of God's providential forces in the destruction of his antagonist, and confidently forecasts the final and perfect victory. Thus I understand the meaning of the great voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and he shall reign forever and ever." The elders, speaking for the ransomed already gathered home before the throne, give thanks to God that at length he has taken to himself his great power and has begun to exert it.Their enumeration of particulars (v. 18) should be carefully noted: "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath has come." The allusion here is to Ps. 2: 1: "Why do the heathen [the nations] rage?" taken up by Peter (Acts. 4:25, 26): "Who by the mouth of David hast said, Why did the heathen rage?" etc. "The kings of the earth stood up and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together," etc. The vital fact was that when God brought forth his anointed Son into this world to make him "Lord of all," the nations were enraged and took his life; and now God's wrath is come upon them in righteous but terrible retribution! The correspondence in the language is half obscured by our English translation, which should have preserved the relation between their wrath and God's wrath by translating either, "The nations were angry and thine anger has come;" or, "The nations were wroth, and thy wrath has come." The idea is that God met them hand to hand with their own weapons. They persecuted his Son and his people unto blood: God meets them with his opposing forces unto blood! They had madly cried, "Crucify him! and if there is any blood to be shed for it, let it be the blood of ourselves and of our children!" whereupon the Almighty took up their challenge, and now the blood of the slain Jesus has come upon them and their children, till there is no spot unstained in all that doomed city!"And the time of the dead that they should be judged"not of all the dead indiscriminately, good and bad, and of all the ages; but specifically, as to the point in handthe time of the dead martyrs, whose cry for this very judgment we heard from under the altar at the opening of the fifth seal. It was told them that there was to be a short delay, and then judgment would fall upon their persecutors; God's cause would be avenged, and his and their foes must fall. Now, therefore, appropriately, the twenty-four elders, who heard that prayer of the martyred dead, allude to the fact that the time has come at length! So the next clause plainly implies: "And that thou shouldst give reward unto thy servants the prophets and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, small and great." Not to the old Hebrew prophets alone, though they are in a sort included, as we may have noticed in Christ's own allusion to the moral causes which demanded the fall of Jerusalem: "Thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent [apostles] unto thee" (Mat. 23: 34-38). All the martyred deadthe two slain witnesses and all the host whom they representall the persecuted, afflicted ones, small or great, are now to have their reward in the fearful, significant, yet joyful overthrow of this first and chief antagonist of Christ in his kingdom. The Almighty God has come down to destroy them that are morally destroying the land, whose crimes have made society rotten to the core, who have broken down all civil law, all wholesome restraint upon the most diabolic passions of depraved human hearts. Almost never on the face of human history have men seen a more terrible significance to the words, "them that destroy the earth" [land], than is shown in the history of Palestine during the lapse of the generation which perished within the walls of Jerusalem on her fall.Thus it appears that this description of the events of the seventh trumpet, when scripturally interpreted, not only admits but demands the construction which applies it to the fall of Jerusalem.
2. It remains to show that the course of the preceding seals and trumpets has brought us precisely to this great eventto no point short of it, and to no point beyond.
Let us begin with the date of this book, the actual present of the writer, which must be put about A. D. 65. Then "the things, that must shortly come to pass," "for the time is at hand," must commence very soon. Then the first four seals describe scenes so closely analogous to the events predicted by Christ as immediately preceding the fall of Jerusalem that we can not mistake in applying them also to those times. The martyrs whose souls are seen under the altar at the opening of the fifth seal were to wait yet but a little season ere God would hear their prayer, and judge and avenge their blood on their persecutors and murderers. Here, under the seventh trumpet "the time of the dead [martyrs] that they should be judged" (11: 18) has fully come. This "yet for a little season" can not carry us beyond the fall of Jerusalem; it can not close earlier than that event. Then the sealing of the one hundred and forty-four thousand (chap 7) must be the rescuing of a great multitude of Jews by their cordial reception of Jesus, who thus yielded to the testifying and exhorting of Peter (Acts 2: 40) when he said, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." This gathering in of Jewish converts was mainly closed up before the blast of ruin swept over their city.The sixth seal sets forth unutterable terror and dread.Of the seven trumpets developed from the seventh seal, the first four portend the gathering storm, set forth the skirmish fires, the flying charges that precede the grand assault. The fifth trumpet foretokened rather torture than deathmen's hearts trembling under woeful anticipations and that sinking of hope into the bitterness of despair which befell the Jews when their destiny to national ruin became inevitable, corresponding to the point made by Christ touching the same period"men's hearts failing them for fear." Then the sixth trumpet set forth the gathering hosts of Roman legions closing in upon the doomed city. Must not this be the last precursor of the final crisis?But two things more are to be shown; the symbol of the temple and altar measured out for salvation, and the court given over to the Gentiles to be trodden under their heathen feet; and then the history of the two witnessestheir mission, their martyrdom, the contempt heaped upon their unburied remains, their glorious resurrection and the preliminary crash upon the great city that ensued;all these things are the last immediate precursors of the final fall of that city long spared and warned and wept over by the Great Man of Sorrows, but hopelessly incorrigible and therefore hopelessly doomed to ages of desolation! The time has come for the bolts of vengeance to leap from the hand of the Almighty; the strong angel has solemnly affirmed with hand uplifted"There shall be delay no longer;"therefore we are brought to precisely the crisis of her final fall: the seventh angel's trumpet involves itnothing less; nothing more.
It may not be amiss to suggest two other thoughts, viz., (1.) that the omission in this passage of all symbols of destruction of all effort to paint the final crash of the falling city and nation may be itself implied in the prohibition, "Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered and write them not" (10: 4). Also (2.) that rhetorically this omission is sublimely grand. The power of awful symbol would seem to have been exhausted already. It is not easy to conceive how any thing more appalling or more dreadful could have been devised, worthy of the momentous catastrophe. In such an emergency, silence is wisdom; or rather, it is wise to forbear any attempt to present the fearful catastrophe in darker colors. The perfection of art and skill is now to leave the rest to the imagination, and let men infer it from the impressions it makes upon the holy witnesses thereof before the thronethe enraptured songs that thrill all heaven in the sublimely grand forecast of the Great Conqueror's triumph!
19. And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.
As heaven was opened to the seer at the beginning of this great series of prophetic visions (4: 1), a yet nearer view is perhaps indicated here by the setting open of the heavenly temple. Obviously it is the holy of holies, the most holy apartment of the temple, that is here opened to view, for within it is seen "the ark of the covenant," the sacred symbol of God's perpetual relationship to his covenant people as their faithful God. It was a precious thought to the pious Jew that the holy places and things made with human hands were only the patterns of things in the heavens where was a holier temple, a more sacred altar, a more glorious ark of the covenant overshadowed with sublimer wings of cherubim, and disclosing a far more august splendor of the visible glory. This conception seems to be assumed here; the open door into that upper temple brings to this seer's view especially the heavenly ark of the covenantthe standing witness in this case that God remembered his true and enduring people, and had sent his angel of destruction down with the judgments of retribution upon their persecutors."There were lightnings, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail;"and what were these but the echoes of the dreadful storm of divine vengeance foretokened by the blast of the seventh trumpet? These convulsive heavings and throbbings of the great heart of nature were in sympathy with the divine indignation against the awful wickedness which had murdered the Son of God and which had long made Jerusalem crimson with the blood of prophets and apostles and martyrs for Jesus. Similar convulsions of nature appeared (see 8: 3-5) when the smoke of incense significant of the prayers of saints went up before God out of the angel's hand, and he filled his censor with fire of the altar and cast it to the earth; then "there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." Yet more precisely analogous were the scenes when the seventh angel "poured out his vial into the air (16: 17; 18), and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven from the throne, saying, It is done!" Great Rome is foredoomed to fall! Then "there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty, an earthquake, and so great." Why should not these mighty agencies of the material world, God's ready servants, manifest their sympathy with the will and the emotions of their omnipotent Maker and Sovereign? When his infinite mind kindles to the demands of a righteous indignation and a terrible retribution upon the incorrigibly guilty, why should not all nature speak out with her voice of thunder and let her lightnings blaze and make the solid earth shake to her foundations? Such demonstrations are most befitting; they are the witness which all nature bears to her sympathy with her King.
Here the curtain falls and the first grand drama of this apocalyptic book closes. The first great antagonist power which sought to strangle Christianity in its birth was practically wiped out. That malign, invincible hate which could not bear the pungent rebukes of Jesus while he lived, which would not receive God's word from his lips, which pursued him unto death, and then pursued his followers with like rage, "breathing out threatening and slaughter," and which according to history excited persecution against the faithful witnesses for Christ wherever they went, had gone to the full length of its line, and at this fatal point had encountered the Almighty God and must needs drink the cup of his retributive vengeance! That bloody and morally hardened city has gone down with a crash of destruction: there is joy in heaven over her fall! It witnesseth that the kingdom of Jesus Messiah is victorious: it prophesieth that every foe of this kingdom must fall; and all the holy around the throne above have joy therein!
Before I close this first main division of the book and pass on to the second, I must pause for a moment to say in support of the interpretation above given
1. That only one system of interpreting this book can be true. If this be the true one, then no other system, entirely unlike this can be.
2. That I have no heart for polemic commentary. It may sometimes be a duty to bring up and expose the errors of interpretation into which I judge that good men have fallen; but it can never be a pleasant duty; and for the most part I have purposely left it undone, comforting myself with this view of the case: that presenting and sustaining the true interpretation will satisfy intelligent minds better. If the interpretation presented is adequately supported and intelligently accepted, no adverse system can have like adequate support, and therefore may be left to fall by its own weight.
3. I therefore close this statement of my views respecting the first great persecuting power of this book by calling the reader's attention to the principles and laws of interpretation laid down in the Introduction. Have they, or have they not, been fairly and faithfully carried out?
(1.) First in the order of place and in my view first in importance, is the rule"Come to this book to learn what it teaches; not to make it teach what you will." On this point all I can or need say is that I have diligently sought to make the book its own interpreter and to keep my mind free from all preconceived theories whatever. Each reader will judge how far this purpose may seem, to have been fulfilled.
(2.) By the second rule the predictions of the book must be interpreted in harmony with Gods own declarations as to the time of their fulfillment.In language which must legitimately apply to the great body of this book, and therefore certainly to the entire prophetic portion now gone over (chaps. 4-11), the divine author has said, "the things must shortly come to pass;" "the time is at hand." Our interpretation makes the time shortprobably not exceeding five years at farthest. Yet this period of time, declared of God to be "short" and "near at hand," is made by some systems of interpretation about two thousand years! They stretch the prophetic events of these chapters (4-11) down to the Millennium, and some of them beyond it, even to the final judgment! Have they not altogether overstepped the limitations which God himself has set?This mistake is the more palpable and the less excusable because those interpreters do not even claim that they find any counter or qualifying statements declaring that the time contemplated for the fulfillment of any of these prophecies (chaps. 4-19) is not short but long. There is no such counter testimony, in like manner definite and precise,over against these averments that the time is short. Therefore the assumption that the time is long is not only opposed squarely to God's own statements, but has nothing definite in this part of the book to rest uponnothing whatever but the demand of a preconceived scheme of interpretation!
(3.) The third rule insists that when God interprets his own symbols, we must accept and follow his interpretation.So far as these divine interpretations appear in the Old Testament, the symbols used here being manifestly found and interpreted there, the case comes under our eighth rule.Instances of symbols interpreted in this book directly will occur more abundantly in subsequent chapters. "We have one of no small importance in chap. 11: 4, which explains the two witnesses by comparing them to the two olive trees and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the whole earth"with unquestionable reference to Zech. 4, and showing therefore that these two witnesses are representative characters, not individual men; and that their function is that of revealing the true light of Godpreachers of his word and ministers of his grace to mankind. I have interpreted the two witnesses accordingly.
(4.) The fourth rule binds us to interpret in harmony with whatever allusions the book contains to known historic events and localities. In its description of those who are saved out of the ruin there implied, the seventh chapter gives us the usual well defined historic distinction between Jews and Gentilesone hundred and fortyfour thousand Jews; and then "a great multitude that no man could number of all nations," who of course are Gentiles. Consequently this prophecy refers to a period when converts to Christ were gathered from both Jews and Gentiles, and therefore shuts off many schemes of construction which at this point have reached far beyond the apostolic age, even down to the sixth or eighth century, where no history gives any notice of conversions from the Jews.
In chap. 11 these historic allusions stand out with great distinctness. Here is the temple still standing, but very near its fall; here is the very city of Jerusalem, designated spiritually as a second Sodom or Egypt, but literally as precisely the place where the Lord was crucifiedallusions therefore that positively fix the place and the time of these great events which are the climax and consummation of the plagues foretold thus far in this book. It is not easy to see how God could put the finger of prophecy more squarely upon Jerusalem and its once holy but now desecrated temple than he has done here. Coupled with the general limitation of the great events of this book"near at hand"these historic allusions to time and place are surely decisive. I have therefore interpreted accordingly. Moved and guided by the one supreme purpose to follow God's own teaching, how could I interpret otherwise?
(5.) Our fifth rule requires that we follow whatever indications the book may give to show that Christians then or recently living were the martyrs to whom it refers, and their persecutors the men whose destruction is here foreshown.Bearing in mind that all these things were shortly to come to pass, and comparing what is said in the special letter to Smyrna (2: 10), and in that to Pergamos (2: 13), with the scenes at the opening of the fifth seal (6: 9-11), it seems to me clear that John's first readers must have understood those martyred saints to be of their own age and from their own churches; and of course their persecutors were also men of their own times. Consequently I have felt bound to interpret accordingly. This limitation shuts off all those schemes of interpretation which find the fifth seal far along in the Christian centuries from four to six or eight hundred years after Christ.
(6.) Our sixth rule recognizes the fact that several successive seals are broken before the prophecy gives any definite name or clew to the parties intendedeither to the Christians who suffered, or to their persecutors whom God would smite with plagues; and it infers from this silence that the first readers of the book, remembering what was said of the time being near at hand, would know who were meant without any precise naming. They understood their own times. The limitations with which the book both opens and closes held them to their own times for both these partiesthe Christians martyred, and the wicked men who murdered them. The omission of both their names and locality through so many chapters is readily accounted for on this assumption. Our interpretation has been put in harmony with this principle or law of interpretation.
(7.) The book has an obvious moral purpose, viz., to sustain and inspire the faith, courage and endurance of Christians in peril from persecution. We must interpret in harmony with this most obvious moral purpose. We do so when we find the events very near their own times and their own homes, for such events always thrill men's souls intensely. Following this rule, we must assume that they in the main understood the book; consequently that it spake of things then near at hand, and did not speak of things entirely beyond the range of their possible knowledge. This rule therefore practically shuts off all those schemes of interpretation which run these prophetic events onward down through the subsequent centuries, even to the end of the world.
(8.) Our eighth rule demands that symbols borrowed from the Old Testament should be construed in general harmony with their usage there.Accordingly I have interpreted the horses of the first four seals in harmony with their prototypes in Zech. 1 and 6, grouping them to give one comprehensive idea, here as there, and not dissociating them utterly and spreading them out over whole centuries of human history. The sealing of the thousands (in chap. 7) I found in Ezekiel's similar marking of holy men, and construed accordingly.The "books," both the first with its seven seals, and the second, the "little book," I trace to Ezekiel's roll, and therefore take to be prophetic disclosures of impending judgments.The descriptive points given of the two witnesses are obviously gathered from sacred history, either of the Old Testament or of the New. I have interpreted accordingly.
(9.) And finally I have aimed, especially in the closing verses of chap. 11, to use freely and yet not abuse that great law of prophecy by which the mind passes over by analogy from a nearer event to events remote, but in their great underlying principles similar. Thus the songs of heaven upon the fall of Jerusalem sweep over the ages and grasp the downfall of every great opposing force, and take in the glorious inspirations of the final triumph of Christ over all the powers of darkness, sin and Satan. Thus those sublime words both fill their place as related to the immediate catastrophe which called them forth, and also follow the law of numerous Old Testament prophecies in rising grandly from the particular to the generalfrom the one limited but typical, foreshadowing event, to the grand and final consummation of all gospel labors and conflictsthe reign of Jesus Messiah, supreme and universal.