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THE BOOK OF REVELATION.
On the Design and Structure of the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation.
I. 1. To understand the design of the APOCALYPSE, or Book of REVELATION, we must consider the circumstances of the Author at the time when it was written.
The writer was the beloved disciple, St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist' of Christ. At the date of the Apocalypse he was left, as is most probable, the last survivor of the Twelve. Many of his brother Apostles had died as martyrs for Christ. Jerusalem had been destroyed by the armies of Rome, according to the prophecies that he had heard from His Divine Master'. Thus the Truth of Christ's words had been manifested; and the Majesty of His Power in that Judgment, executed on those who rejected and crucified Him, had been displayed.
But now the Roman Power, which had been employed by Almighty God to punish Jerusalem for its sins, was persecuting Christianity. Under the Emperor Nero, it had slain the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul; and now in the last years of the reign of Domitian it was raging against the Church with greater violence. It had banished St. John in his old age to the Isle of Patmos, "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ"." Other conflicts were at hand. The faith of the Church was to be tried in a succession of Persecutions breaking forth at intervals for the space of more than two centuries.
When these Persecutions had ceased, Christianity would have to pass through a severer ordeal. In the fourth and fifth Centuries, the Church would be distracted by dissensions, and the True Faith would be depraved by heretical adulterations. Intestine Discords and Corruptions would expose it to the assaults of adversaries from without, who would be suffered by Almighty God to chastise Christendom.
Such calamities as these might perplex many. Many might be tempted to faint and falter in the faith, and to sink into despondency and despair. Century after century would pass away. The darkness would seem to be growing thicker and thicker around the vessel of the Church, and the tempest to be rising higher and higher; and Christ would not yet be seen walking on the waves, coming to the ship, and stilling the storm.
We, who live at a distance of more than seventeen hundred years from the date of the Apocalypse, and look back from our own age to that of St. John, know what the prospect was, which was seen by Him who dictated the Apocalypse-" the Revelation of JESUS CHRIST'."
We also know, that some things lie still beyond us, which were foretold by Patriarchs and Prophets, and were clearly foreseen by Christ. His Second Advent, the General Resurrection, the Universal Judgment, the joys of Heaven, and the pains of Hell, these things lay open to His eye.
2. If now we proceed to examine the contents of the Apocalypse, we find that it is adjusted in a remarkable manner to these circumstances.
An uninspired Christian writer, living at the date of the Apocalypse, the end of the First Century, and contemplating the divine Origin of the Gospel, and the miracles wrought by Christ and His Apostles; and reflecting on the Destruction of Jerusalem, and on the Dispersion of the Jews
1 These assertions will be substantiated in the course of this Introduction.
* Matt. xxiv. Mark xiii. Luke xxi.
3 Rev. i. 9.
for their rejection of Christ according to His prophecies, and observing the marvellous extension of the Gospel at that time, would have augured for the Christian Church a speedy and complete Victory. He would have anticipated, that after a short struggle it would have triumphed over Heathenism, as Christ had triumphed over Jerusalem. And if such a writer had also been informed, that after a conflict of little more than two centuries, with the Heathen Power of Rome, Christianity would have been accepted by the Imperial Masters of the World, he would have been strongly confirmed in that cheering anticipation.
But this is not the tone of the Apocalypse.
It reveals a long train of future sufferings, failings, and chastisements in the History of the Church. And yet it cheers the reader with the consolatory assurance, that Christ is mightier than His enemies; that He went forth in the first age of the Gospel like a royal warrior, "conquering and to conquer';" and that He enables all His faithful servants to overcome; that they who die for Him, live; that they who suffer for Him, reign3; and that the course of the Church of Christ upon Earth, is like the course of Christ Himself; that she is here as a Witness of the Truth, that her office is to teach the world; that she will be fed by the Divine hand, like the Ancient Church' with manna in the wilderness; that she will be borne on eagles' wings in her missionary career throughout the world; and yet that she must expect to suffer injuries from enemies and from friends; that she too must look to have her Gethsemane and her Calvary, but that she will also have her Olivet; that through the pains of Agony and Suffering, and through the darkness of the Grave, she will rise to the glories of a triumphant Ascension, and to the everlasting joys of the new Jerusalem; that she, who has been for a time "the Woman wandering in the wilderness'," will be for ever and ever "the Bride" glorified in heaven".
It will be readily acknowledged by those who contemplate the course of the Church from the days of St. John to the present age, that such a representation of it is in perfect accordance with the facts of the case; that it bears evidence of divine foresight; and that it was well adapted to serve the purpose of rescuing the minds of Christians in every age from the dangers of despondency and unbelief, and also from the snare of indulging in illusory hopes and visionary dreams of perfect spiritual unity, and religious purity upon earth; and that it was admirably framed to instruct and prepare them to encounter trials and afflictions with constancy and courage, and to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ; and to strengthen their faith, and quicken their hope even by those trials and afflictions, as having been foretold by Christ in this Book; and that it thus affords a pledge that the other predictions of this same Book, which reveals the full and final Triumph of Christ and the eternal Felicity and Glory of all His faithful servants, and the destruction of all His Enemies, will not fail of their accomplishment.
The Apocalypse is therefore a Manual of Consolation to the Church in her pilgrimage through this world to the heavenly Canaan of her rest.
II. In another respect also it is fraught with spiritual comfort and edification.
1. At the time when the Apocalypse was written, Jerusalem was trodden under foot by the Heathen. Her temple had been burnt by Roman armies; her Sacred Vessels had been carried to Rome; no sacrifices were offered on her altars, the sound of her holy songs had ceased; her Festivals were no more frequented by Jews from every region under heaven; her inhabitants had been scattered abroad among the nations of the earth. Almighty God seemed to have hidden His face from His people, and to have rejected them for ever. Here then was an urgent need of comfort to those who mourned, in the spirit of Jeremiah, amid the ruins of their Sion, and wept over her desolations, and remembered the city of their solemnities, and all the pleasant things that she had enjoyed in the days of old ".
This comfort is supplied by the Apocalypse.
2. It carries the reader back to the first ages of Israelitish history. It places him in Egypt, and teaches him to recognize there, in the Ancient Church of God, a type and figure of the Church of Christ. Or rather, since there is but one Church of God from the beginning of the world to the end, we may boldly say that the Apocalypse identifies the Catholic Church of Christ with God's ancient People in Egypt. It takes up the history of the Plagues of Egypt, and teaches the true Israelites
of the Christian Sion to regard them as prophetical shadows of those judgments which Christ, Who was typified by Moses, and who acted by the hand of Moses, will execute on all the Pharaohs of this world, who persecute His Church.
The Apocalypse adopts the scenery of the Exodus, and renews the Song of Moses', the servant of God, and puts it into the mouth of the Israel of God, standing in safety on the shore of a sea of glass, the calm sea of everlasting peace. It appropriates the history of the Ancient Church in the Wilderness, and teaches us to regard it as a prophetic representation of the pilgrimage of Christ's Church on Earth on her way to her land of promise; it takes the trumpets of the Priests, and blows a prophetic blast against the Jerichoes of this world; and makes us hear, with the ear of faith, the last trump of the heavenly Joshua coming to judge the earth, and leading the armies of Israel to their heavenly inheritance.
3. The Apocalypse also dwells on a later period of the Jewish History, the captivity of Babylon, and christianizes that.
The Assyrian Babylon was taken by Cyrus in the hour of its pride and revelry, and of its sacrilegious contempt of God; the waters of its great river Euphrates were drained off, and the besieging armies entered into the city by the dry channel of the stream; and in consequence of the Fall of Babylon, the People of God were delivered, and were restored to their own land.
Here was another prophetic intimation of what the true Israelites might expect to see in the History of the Church.
Many of the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the fall of Babylon, and the Temple was rebuilt. But the Ten Tribes were still scattered abroad. They have not returned to this day. But there is comfort for them in the Apocalypse. The Gospel is preached to all Nations'. The true Jerusalem every where. The Christian Sion is "the Mountain of the Lord's House, which shall be established in the top of the Mountains, and shall be exalted above the Hills, and all Nations shall flow into it; for out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." That Word, that Law, has gone forth from Sion; it has been carried by the Apostolic Patriarchs of the true Israel unto all Nations. The true Israelite finds a home every where in the true Sion, the Catholic Church of Christ. Therefore, God hath not cast off His People', but He has received them to Himself in Christ, the Seed of Abraham. Christ crucified stretched His arms on the Cross to all the World. God embraced all nations in His well-beloved Son, Who is the Everlasting Word in the bosom of His Father, and vouchsafed to allow the beloved disciple to lean on His bosom at supper, in token of that love with which He is ready to embrace all, especially in His feast of Love. This love of God for His Ancient people, the Jews, is declared in the Apocalypse of the beloved disciple, even by the tone and structure of its sentences.
The diction of the Book of Revelation is more Hebraistic than that of any other portion of the New Testament. It adopts Hebrew Idioms and Hebrew words. It studiously disregards the laws of Gentile Syntax, and even courts anomalies and solecisms; it christianizes Hebrew words and sentiments, and clothes them in an Evangelical dress, and consecrates them to Christ'.
Thus, for instance, it never uses the Greek form Hierosolyma, but always employs the Hebrew Hierusalem; and by this name it never designates the literal Sion, but the Christian Church ". It rescues the sons of Abraham from narrow, exclusive, rigid, judaizing notions; and teaches them to praise God that He has fulfilled His gracious promise to Abraham, that all nations should be blessed in His Seed, which is Christ". It consoles the true Israelite by the joyful assurance, that although
1 Rev. xv. 3.
2 See xvi. 12.
It was preached in the province of Babylon even in the Apostolic age, and a Church was formed there. See above, on 1 Pet. v. 13. Isa. ii. 2, 3. Micah iv. 1, 2.
5 Rom. xi. 1, 2.
6 John i. 18.
7 E. g. Abaddon, ix. 11. Armageddon, xvi. 16. Hallelujah, xix. 1. 3, 4. 6. Some Critics have been led by these considerations, to imagine that the Apocalypse was originally written in Hebrew. But such a theory is inconsistent with the character of those to whom it was originally addressed, the Churches of Asia, and with many internal phenomena, e. g. the name of the Beast noted in Greek Letters, xiii. 18. The design of the Apocalypse is not to Hebraize Christianity, but to Christianize Hebraism. Cp. Lücke's valuable remarks in his Einleitung, pp. 440-448.
8 See below, on i. 4. Cp. i. 5, 6; ii. 20; iii. 12; iv. 1; v. 11, 12; vi. 9; viii. 9; xiv. 12; and Lücke, Einleitung, pp. 448-464.
9"Hebraisms (says Bengel, Apparat. Crit. p. 778) pervade this Book; at first they seem rough and strange; but when you have become accustomed to them, you will think them delightful, and worthy of the language of the courts of heaven."
10 The considerations stated above may suggest a reply to the allegations of those recent writers (Lücke, De Wette, Düsterdieck, and others), who, on the ground of internal discrepancies of style, have denied that the Apocalypse was written by the Evangelist St. John. There is doubtless great difference in the diction of those two writings, and doubtless that difference of style, which arose from the very nature of the difference of subject, was designed for good reasons, some of which are stated above. On the other hand, there are some striking essential resemblances between the Gospel of St. John and the Apocalypse. This topic has been well treated by Hengstenberg on the Apocalypse, ii. p. 436, and by Dr. Davidson, Introduction iii. pp. 552-592.
11 Gen. xxii. 18. Gal. iii. 29.
Jerusalem is in ruins, and is trampled by heathen feet, yet he himself may have an enduring mansion, and a glorious inheritance in another Sion, far more magnificent than the earthly City; that he may enjoy peace and happiness under the royal sceptre of Him, "Who has the key of David"," and Who is "the Root and Offspring of David," and is the royal "Lion of the Tribe of Judah';" and that such glories, as were never seen in the brightest days of the old Jerusalem in the age of Solomon, will be displayed to his eyes by the Prince of Peace, and may be enjoyed by every citizen of the "New Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven adorned as a Bride for her Husband," and espoused in everlasting wedlock to the Lamb of God.
In a similar spirit of genuine Catholicity, expanding the mind, and spiritualizing the language of the Jewish Nation, and investing them with the light of the Gospel, the Apocalypse designates the Universal Church of Christ under the terms of a Hebrew nomenclature by the names “of the Twelve Tribes of Israel'." Thus it extends the view of the Hebrew People, and enlarges the walls of Sion and the borders of Palestine till they embrace within their ample range the whole family of mankind, and unites them as a holy people under the universal sway of Christ.
The Apocalypse also elevates the heart and voice of the Hebrew Nation, even to the courts of the Church glorified. Here the Hebrew language sounds in the solemn service of the heavenly Ritual, in which the Angelic quire sing praises to God, Amen, Hallelujah3 !
III. It deals in a similar way with Hebrew Prophecy. It is a characteristic of Hebrew Prophecy to repeat the same predictions at different times. The Apocalypse proceeds on a similar plan. It does not, indeed, mention any one of the Hebrew Prophets by name. It knows nothing of Isaiah, or Daniel, or Zechariah, as individuals. But nearly in every line it breathes their spirit, and almost utters their words. Or rather we may say, that the Holy Spirit, writing here by St. John, repeats the language which had been uttered by Himself many centuries before, in the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, which were read in the Synagogues of the Jews every Sabbath Day'. He declares that those words had not become obsolete, that they had lost none of their force and beauty after the destruction of the Temple and City of Jerusalem. On the contrary, they are instinct with new life, and clothed with fresh glory, and are receiving that fulness of accomplishment for which the Ancient Prophets and Kings had yearned, and they are yet to have a wider expansion, a nobler development, and to bring forth fairer fruit unto perfection in the glories of Christ's Kingdom, and in that heavenly City wherein is the Tree of Life watered by the River of Life proceeding from the Throne of God".
IV. Thus in reading the Apocalypse, the true Israelite is carried up to a holy mountain where the Law and the Prophets appear in glory with Christ. He ascends a hill of Transfiguration, on which the Hebrew Prophets shine, as Moses and Elias did on the Mount, with more than earthly splendour, and do homage to Christ; and he enjoys a vision of that future glory into which the faithful members of the Church of God from the beginning will be admitted by virtue of the merits of that death accomplished at Jerusalem, of which Moses and Elias then spoke ", and of which all the Prophets wrote, and to which all the Saints looked, even from righteous Abel, whose blood prophesied of Christ.
On the one hand, the Jewish Church was taught by the Apocalypse to look forward to the Gospel as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, and, on the other hand, the Gentile Christian is encouraged to look backward to the Law and the Prophets as his own Teachers; and the Law and Prophets are recognized by both Jew and Gentile, as harmonizing with the Gospel; and Jew
• See Dr. W. Lee on Inspiration, Lect. vii. p. 320.
7 Bp. Andrewes (c. Bellarmine, p. 324) says, "You will hardly find any phrase in St. John's Apocalypse that is not taken from Daniel or from some other Prophet." And Bengel observes (in Rev. i. 3) that "this Book reaches forward from the Old to the New Jerusalem, and is a compendium and consummation of Hebrew Prophecy." Cp. Dr. W. Lee on Inspiration, Lect. iii. p. 114.
There is a learned dissertation in Dr. F. Lücke's "Einleitung in die Offenbarung" (Bonn, 1852), on “Apocalyptic Literature" (pp. 40-342). Cp. Gieseler, Ch. Hist. § 31. But it
seems a precarious assumption to imagine that St. John was indebted for any of the materials of the Apocalypse to Apocryphal sources, such as the Sibylline Books, the Book of Enoch, or the Fourth Book of Ezra. Such a theory would destroy the objective reality of the Visions revealed by God to St. John, and reduce them into mere subjective creations and imaginative inventions of his own mind and that of others.
St. John beheld in the Visions of God things which other holy men before him, such as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, had been permitted to see. He was "in the Spirit" (i. 10), and so was enabled to see and hear; and he was commanded to write what he saw and heard (i. 19).
8 Rev. xxii. 1.
9 Matt. xvii. 1-4. Mark ix. 2-7. Luke ix. 28-30, 31 10 Luke ix. 31.
and Gentile are brought together as fellow-citizens, to dwell for ever in the "Jerusalem that is above, which is the mother of us all."
This work of universal reconciliation in Christ, which had been exhibited by St. Paul with didactic clearness in his Epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans, is manifested in the Apocalypse with the glowing imagery of divine Prophecy. But it is not to be imagined, that the language of the Apocalypse is therefore less distinct on the doctrinal and practical truths of the Gospel. Indeed the Book of Revelation may be called a divine summary of the Christian Faith.
It teaches that God is One, and alone to be worshipped'; that He is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things'; that in the One Godhead are three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that the honour due to the Father is to be given to the Son; that the Son of God is perfect Man; that He is the firstborn of the dead, and liveth for ever; and that we are justified by His blood; that He is our Great High Priest and King'; and that, by virtue of our baptismal incorporation into His mystical body, we rise from the death of sin by the first or spiritual Resurrection, and are made Kings and Priests to God"; that if we continue firm and stedfast in the faith unto the end, then Death is not Death to us, but is the Gate of Life"; and that they who suffer with Him and for Him do indeed reign with Him, Who is KING of KINGS, and LORD of LORDS, and Who will judge every one according to their works ", and award to every one either bliss or woe eternal, and will reign for evermore 1.
V. Such being the character of the Apocalypse, we may now proceed to consider what is the method in which its prophecies are delivered.
The true Exposition of the Apocalypse depends on the right understanding of this question.
A careful examination of the Apocalypse, and a comparison of it with other books of Inspired Prophecy, will supply the following canons or rules for its interpretation.
5. Verbal identity.
1. Anticipation. Even at the beginning of his prophecy the writer anticipates the end. "Behold, He cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him"." This consideration will aid us in interpreting the whole book.
In modern times, many persons have supposed that the Book of Revelation presents a series of Visions, proceeding onwards in a regular chronological order from beginning to end. For example, they are of opinion, that all the events which are pre-announced by the Trumpets in the Eighth and Ninth chapters, are later in time than the events foretold by the Seals in the Sixth and Seventh chapters. Many recent Expositions of this Book have been constructed on this principle.
But this theory contravenes all the Expositions of the Apocalypse that have been preserved to us from the earlier ages of Christianity. The uniform judgment of the ancient Interpreters has been correctly represented in our Authorized Version in the heading of the sixth chapter, where it is said that the Seven Seals contain "a Prophecy to the end of the world '5'
2. Repetition, 3. Amplification.
It was the universal opinion of the Ancient Expositors, that after the opening of the Seven Seals, which anticipate the end, and reveal the sufferings of the Christian Church from St. John's age to the day of doom, the Prophecy re-ascends, and returns to the first age of the Gospel, in order to start afresh, and to declare, in the seven Trumpets, the Judgments which would be executed by Almighty God on the Enemies of Christ and His Church.