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This principle of exposition appears also to be confirmed by another consideration.
The Apocalypse is, as has been observed already, a sequel to Hebrew Prophecy. It is the continuation and consummation of the Prophecies of Daniel and Zechariah. It is the Work of the same Divine Author. It may therefore be presumed to have been composed on a plan similar to that of those Prophecies.
Now, if we examine the prophecies of Daniel and Zechariah, we find that they are not progressive prophecies. The predictions and visions in the Book of Daniel are not riveted together like links in a continuous chain. They form a system of collateral chains, not, indeed, all of equal length.
Or, to adopt another figure, they are like a succession of Charts in a Geographical Atlas.
The first vision in the Book of Daniel anticipates the end. It represents a prophetic view of all the Four great Empires of the World, following one another in succession, and ending in the consummation of all things, and in the glorious sovereignty of Christ'. It is like the Map of the two Hemispheres which stands first in our books of Geography.
By a process of repetition and amplification, the same Four Empires are afterwards displayed under another form, and are delineated with great minuteness of detail; and this representation is also closed with a prophetic view of the establishment of Christ's kingdom, and the overthrow of all His enemies'.
These comprehensive Prophecies are followed by other Visions, displaying, in greater fulness, portions of the same periods as those which had been comprised in those comprehensive Prophecies; just as the Map of the two Hemispheres in an Atlas is followed by separate Maps, on a larger scale, exhibiting the several countries contained in the habitable Globe.
The Prophecies of Zechariah are framed on the same principle.
It might have been anticipated, that the Apocalypse, which was dictated by the same Divine Spirit who inspired the Hebrew Prophets, and Who is a Spirit of order, would be constructed in the same method as those other Prophecies of Daniel and Zechariah, of which it is the sequel and the completion. "As Daniel," says Dr. Lightfoot', "gives a general view in his second chapter, of his own times to the coming of Christ, and then handles the same thing in another scheme in the seventh chapter, and then doth express at large and more particularly, some of the most material things that he had touched in those particulars, so does St. John in the Apocalypse.'
On examination of the Apocalypse, we find our anticipation realized; we find also that, as was already observed, all the ancient Interpreters of the Apocalypse adopted this principle as the groundwork of their expositions'; and there is good reason to believe, that the Apocalypse will be better understood, in proportion as this principle is more generally accepted.
The first Visions of the Apocalypse were displayed to the Evangelist on the First Day of the Week, the Day of Creation, the Day of Christ's Resurrection, the Day of the Coming of the Holy Ghost. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day," says St. John. The prophetic Visions of the Seals and the Trumpets are grouped in the two sets of sevens. They begin as it were with the first day of the week of the Church's existence, when she arose to new life in the Resurrection of Christ; and they proceed through a week of labour and suffering till she comes to the Sabbath of her Rest, and to the glorious Octave of Resurrection to Immortality'.
4. Recapitulation. After the unfolding of the prophetic roll, the writer pauses for a short time before the conclusion of all things, and recapitulates summarily what had been revealed ®.
5. Verbal identity. The points of approximation, coincidence, and contact of contemporaneous chains of prophecy will be found to be marked by St. John in the Apocalypse by certain words, which may be called catchwords, which rivet them together at those particular points, and indicate to the reader the place at which he has arrived in the chronological train of the prophecy, and which also serve to connect his prophecies with those of Daniel and St. Paul on the same subject'.
VI. Recognizing these principles derived from ancient Expositors, and from the character of the Apocalypse itself as connected with Hebrew Prophecy, we may proceed to observe, that the
1 Dan. ii. The Vision of the Image.
2 Dan. vii. The Vision of the Four Beasts.
"Non aspiciendus est ordo dictorum, quoniam sæpe Spiritus Sanctus, ubi ad novissimi temporis finem percurrerit, rursus ad
The Vision of the Ram and He Goat. See also eadem tempora redit, et supplet ea que minus dixit." Victo
• This principle is thus stated by Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau, and Martyr, who lived in the Third Century, and is the earliest Commentator on the Apocalypse, whose exposition is now extant:
rinus in Apocalyp. vii. See below, on viii. 1.
6 Rev. i. 10.
7 See above, on Luke xxiv. 1.
8 See on Rev. xx. 1-7.
? See note on vi. 8, and see below, on xiii. 4.
Church in the present day enjoys greater advantages for the elucidation of the Apocalypse than were possessed by any previous age.
1. First, we may here advert with thankfulness to the benefits we enjoy in the collations of ancient Manuscripts of the Apocalypse which were little known to the last century'; and in a large collection of critical helps which have given to the text of the Apocalypse a certainty and clearness which it had not for more than a thousand years'.
The present generation enjoys an inestimable benefit in possessing a correct text of the Apocalypse'. In order to a right interpretation of the Apocalypse, the best help is to be found in the Apocalypse itself. S. Augustine has well observed, that this Book is composed in such a manner as to exercise the diligence of the Interpreter; and that by comparison of one passage with another, the obscure parts may be illustrated and made clear'. Indeed there is scarcely a phrase or sentence in the Apocalypse, however difficult it may seem to be at first, which may not be elucidated by means of some other phrase or sentence in the same book.
2. This aid is enhanced by the light derived from the language of Hebrew Prophecy, especially as read in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, the Version which was read by the Churches to which St. John wrote. The very words of Daniel and Zechariah, as presented by that Version, reappear in the Apocalypse'; and thus the prophecies of the Old and the New Testament stand side by side like the Two Candlesticks in the Apocalyptic Vision, and blend their rays together and illumine the eyes of those who study them by the aid of that united light.
3. Another great advantage which we enjoy, as compared with earlier ages of the Church, for the right understanding of the Apocalypse, is the exposition afforded by the best Interpreter of prophecy,-TIME.
Time, and Time alone, reconciles the seeming antecedent discrepancies which are characteristics of true Prophecy; its hand unties the prophetic knots, which human sagacity could never loose; it refutes the vain conjectures and rash speculations of Expositors who would make themselves into Prophets; it demolishes and removes what is false, and establishes and perpetuates what is true.
The holy Prophets themselves could not interpret their own prophecies'. They were inspired to prophesy; but were not empowered to expound what they prophesied. "No Prophecy is of its own interpretation," says St. Peter. "The Prophets searched diligently, what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify"." Prophecy was "a light shining in a dark place 1. It glimmered faintly at first, like the dim morning twilight, but as it approaches its fulfilment, it becomes more clear, till at length the day dawns, and the future becomes present, and the prophecy is illumined by the event.
The Prophets did indeed preach plainly, that Almighty God will hereafter raise the Dead and judge the World, and reward the righteous with everlasting life. They proclaimed these things in clear language; for these were moral truths which all were concerned to know. But the future
1 See below, on the Ancient MSS. and Editions of the Apocalypse, pp. 162, 163.
2 It is no disparagement to the labours of those learned and pious men who framed our Authorized VerSION to say, that the English Translation of the Apocalypse is capable of considerable improvements. More has been effected by modern Criticism for the Text of the Apocalypse than of any other portion of the New Testament. See below, p. 162.
It is much to be regretted, therefore, that some English Expositions of the Apocalypse should have been based on the English Version of this Book, without careful reference to the Original. Some grave errors,-which need not be specified, have thus found their way into many vernacular popular Commentaries on this Book, and have been widely disseminated to the great detriment of the Study of Prophecy.
It may also be noticed here, that some important words in the Apocalypse have been received from the English Version, in a sense which, at the present day, affords no adequate notion of their meaning, e. g. beasts for (wa living creatures (iv. 6-9, &c.); Avxvía, candlestick, a word which does not suggest the idea of the infusion of oil, and does not correctly represent the Auxía of the Temple (Rev. i. 12, 13. 20; ii. 1; xi. 4); pïáλn, vial (v. 8; xv. 7; xvi. 1-4), and other words which will be specified hereafter in the following notes.
Various Reading is of so little importance, that the right-handedness of Apostles (dexteritas Apostolica ') is not to be preferred to the left-handedness of transcribers ('sinisteritas librariorum")." For a summary of the Critical History of the text of the Apocalypse, the reader may refer to Lucke's Einleitung, pp. 464 -491, and what will be said below on this subject. See pp. 162, 163.
3 It is true that none of the varieties of readings affect any question of Christian doctrine. But as has been well observed by Bengel, "though no Various Reading is of so great importance, that the fundamentals of Christianity depend upon it, yet no VOL. II.-PART IV.
S. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, xx. 17: "In hoc libro obscure multa dicuntur ut mentem legentis exerceant; et pauca in eo sunt, ex quorum manifestatione indagentur cætera cum labore." 5 This may be seen at a glance in Mr. Grinfield's "Parallela Apocalyptica," from the LXX. Scholia Hellenistica, Lond. 1848, pp. 887-944.
6 Rev. xi. 4. We are compelled to use the word Candlestick; the reader will bear in mind what it meant. See note 2 in this page.
7 See Dan. xii. 8; viii. 26, 27, and note above, on 1 Pet. i. 10. 2 Pet. i. 20; and Bp. Butler, Analogy II. vii., who thus speaks, "To say that the Scriptures can have no other or further meaning than those persons thought or had who first wrote them, is evidently saying that those persons were the original, proper, and sole Authors of those books; i. e. that they are not inspired. I think it clear that the Prophets did not understand the full meaning of their predictions."
82 Pet. i. 20. 91 Pet. i. 11. 10 2 Pet. i. 19.
actions of Men, and Nations, and Churches, were described by the Prophets in a very different manner from this. They were couched in enigmas, which Time only could solve'. They were wrapped in a mantle of obscurity which Time only could take off. And with good reason. For otherwise Divine Prescience might seem to fetter the Human Will; whereas the characteristic property of God's Foreknowledge is, that it foresees every thing, and forces nothing. It leaves the liberty of the Human Will untouched. Whatever is foretold by God will be done by man; but nothing will be done by man, because it is foretold by God.
Prophecy has a probationary office; it tries the faith, and excites the vigilance, and exercises the patience, of the faithful who give heed to it. But it does not apply any constraint, it allows itself to be neglected; and, as a penalty for the carelessness or blindness of those persons who neglect or misinterpret it, it often permits them to become witnesses of its truth by fulfilling it.
But, if the Interpretation of a Prophecy had been declared at the same time as the Prophecy itself was delivered, then Prophecy would not have had this disciplinarian character, and doctrinal and moral use.
The fulfilment of Prophecy in a manner at variance with previous human expectation constitutes the essence of the proof, that Prophecy is not the work of man, but of God; and it makes Prophecy to be what it is, an invaluable auxiliary to the cause of the Gospel of Christ.
4. Hence it is clear, that those persons are in error, who look to the Early Fathers of the Church for interpretations of prophecies which were not fulfilled in their age.
Every thing which has happened since their time, is beyond their province, and appertains to those who live now. Indeed, as far as the Interpretation of Prophecy is concerned, the earlier Christian writers, who lived in the childhood of its growth toward fulfilment, were the moderns; and we, who live now, are the ancients. We live in the old age of the world; and may profit by the wisdom which length of days gives. And it is our duty to use the benefits of our vantage-ground, by applying History to interpret Prophecy.
The Ancient Christian Expositors had a correct view of the general design and method of the Apocalypse. But even the inspired ancient Prophets were not Interpreters of Prophecy; and uninspired ancient Expositors were not Prophets. The early Christian Expositors could and did interpret those prophecies which had been fulfilled in their days, and their expositions of those prophecies are of great value.
The fact, that none of the Fathers, who lived before the sixth century, were of opinion that the prophecies of the Apocalypse concerning the struggle of Babylon the Great against Christ, and the overthrow of its power, had been fulfilled in that period, presents a very strong presumptive objection to the theory of those interpreters, who suppose that those prophecies were exhausted in primitive times, particularly by the destruction of Jerusalem, and of heathen Rome.
But the early Fathers could not expound unfulfilled Prophecy. They themselves have taught us that "Prophecy is an enigma before its fulfilment," and that it is to be interpreted by the event. And we, who live in later times, should be ungrateful and undutiful to Almighty God, and should be acting very unwisely, if we were to close our eyes to the noonday light which the History of a thousand years has, by the dispensations of His Providence, poured upon the pages of the Apocalypse; and if we were to go back to the vague guesses of those who lived in the dim twilight of fifteen hundred years ago. We should do the Ancient Christian Expositors much wrong, if we did not suppose, that they themselves, if they lived now, would be the first to set us the example of profiting by the light of History, which Almighty God has vouchsafed us for the interpretation of Prophecy.
5. The Apocalypse is the last work of Divine Prophecy. It is the only Prophetic Book of the New Testament; and it continues and consummates the prophecies of the Old Testament; and its range extends from the first Advent of Christ to His Second Advent, and to the Day of Judgment. Nearly two thousand years have passed since the Apocalypse was written. It may therefore be
Every prophecy," says S. Irenæus (iv. 26. 1, nâσa poφητεία πρὸ τῆς ἐκβάσεως αἴνιγμά ἐστι καὶ ἀντιλογία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἀποβῇ τὸ προφητευθεν, τότε τῆς ἀκριβεστάτης ἐπέτυχεν ἐξηγήσεως), “ is an enigma and a contradiction to men before its fulfilment; but when the season of its accomplishment has arrived, then it receives a clear exposition of its meaning."
2 See St. Paul's statement, Acts xiii. 27, "They that dwell at Jerusalem, and their Rulers, because they knew Him not, nor yet
anticipated, that diligent study of the History of the Christian Church will throw much light on the prophecies of the Apocalypse; and this anticipation is fully realized by a careful examination of this Divine Book, which, when read by the light of the History of Christendom, is fraught with instruction, encouragement, and warning.
The Apocalypse is a sacred text-book for the devout Christian in the study of Church History. It is a holy manual of comfort in times of trial, and of guidance in times of difficulty. It is like those Living Creatures, which it describes as "full of eyes'." It is gifted with spiritual foresight, and adjusts itself with more than human flexibility, and with ever-living and ever-moving pliancy, to the circumstances of the Church, and supplies prophetic cautions against varying forms of error. It is like a holy Oracle, a divine Urim and Thummim, ever uttering a divine voice, and ever showing a Divine light, according to the needs of the Church.
VII. These uses of the Apocalypse are not frustrated or impaired, because there are, and ever will be, many persons, who refuse to recognize the fulfilment of its prophecies in the annals of History.
1. The fact, that many persons do not acknowledge the fulfilment of prophecies, does not prove that those prophecies have not been fulfilled. We know assuredly, that the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, have been fulfilled in the actions, teaching, and sufferings of Jesus Christ. But the fulfilment of those prophecies is not universally acknowledged; although the evidence of that fulfilment has been open to the world for nearly two thousand years'. The Jews themselves, to whom those Prophecies were given, and who heard those Prophecies every week in their Synagogues, did not recognize their accomplishment in Jesus Christ. They themselves "fulfilled them by condemning Him." Some even who are called Christians do not own that fulfilment. Even those prophecies which have been most clearly fulfilled do not exercise much practical influence over a great mass of Mankind. And to Heathen Nations, who make the greater part of Mankind, the fact of their fulfilment is unknown.
The Prophecies also, which related to the destruction of the Old World by the Flood; and of Sodom and Gomorrha by fire; and of the City of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, have been fully accomplished. Those fulfilments are pledges and warnings of the universal Judgment to come. They therefore concern the eternal interests of all men. And yet they seem to have little effect upon the practice of the world at large.
The fact is, that many men pass their lives in a dream. They do not duly reflect on what it most concerns them to consider. They do "not discern the signs of the times." They do not meditate upon them. They are engrossed with the affairs of this world; absorbed with its cares, and allured by its pleasures. They do not apply themselves with an attentive mind, and a teachable spirit to examine the evidence of the case. And it is the nature of Prophecy that it requires such examination. Otherwise, it is like music to the deaf, or pictures to the blind. It is therefore an admirable instrument of moral discipline in God's hands. It proves men, whether they have those moral qualifications of forethought, seriousness, earnestness, patience, docility, meekness, obedience, self-denial, love of God, and perfect submission to His Will, which are requisite for admission into the Kingdom of God.
They who are endued with these gifts and graces, will not be perplexed and staggered by the fact, that many persons, even among those who are eminent in learning, and intellectual ability, but are wanting in the moral qualifications, and spiritual graces, which constitute the Christian character, do not acknowledge the fulfilment of prophecies, which may be proved to have been fulfilled.
Rather they will remember, that those prophecies would not be true, if all persons acknowledged their fulfilment. The Prophets of the Old Testament predicted, that many would not believe their report. That report has not been believed by many persons celebrated for erudition, such as were some of the doctors of the Jews, who were well versed in the letter of those prophecies, and were principally concerned in them; to whom also they were originally delivered, and who heard them recited habitually in their ears, and read them in their native tongue. They did not understand those prophecies; they even fulfilled those prophecies by not believing them; for their unbelief was predicted by those prophecies; they fulfilled them by denying their fulfilment, and by doing those very things which the prophecies predicted they would do. And thus the
1 Rev. iv. 6. 8.
2 Acts iii. 21.
3 See above, p. 154, note.
• Matt. xvi. 3.
5 Matt. xvi. 3. Luke xii. 56.
Incredulity of those who did not believe those prophecies is an argument for the Credibility of those prophecies; and confirms the faith of the Church which receives them, and which believes in Him as the Messiah, of whom those prophecies speak.
2. In like manner, it has been prophesied in the Apocalypse, that many persons will neglect its warnings, and that they especially, whose sins it describes, will not be brought by them to repent1.
The Apocalypse has foretold the existence of a great City exercising a dominant sway over many nations'; it has predicted, that this City would be smitten with spiritual blindness, and will not believe the report which is uttered by the Holy Spirit in this divine Book; but will fulfil these prophecies by its sins, and by its destruction; and that, even after its destruction, many of its adherents will still despise the warnings of the Apocalypse; and that Nations will rise in rebellion against Christ, and will recklessly rush on to their own ruin, and will fulfil the words of this prophecy which they have despised; and will prove the truth of the Apocalypse by their own utter discomfiture".
Therefore in reading the Apocalypse we need not curiously inquire, whether all persons are agreed that its prophecies have been fulfilled, or are now in course of fulfilment. Such an agreement is not to be expected. The Apocalypse would not be true, if all recognized its fulfilment.
But the question to be carefully considered, and calmly examined, is this-whether there is sufficient evidence to satisfy well-instructed, reflecting, and judicious persons, that some of these prophecies of the Apocalypse have been fulfilled, and that others are now in course of fulfilment.
Such an examination, candidly, calmly, and patiently conducted, will probably lead the inquirer to the conviction that this is the case.
But on this proposition it would be premature to dwell here. Rather let us appeal to the Book itself. Let us examine its prophecies, and consider the evidence which will be adduced in the following notes in elucidation of them; and let us rest assured, that, as years pass on, the value of the APOCALYPSE will be more and more generally acknowledged, and that the truth of its divine words will be more deeply felt by the wise and faithful in heart; "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book "."
VIII. On the Date of the Apocalypse.
1. S. Irenæus affirms that the "Revelation was seen not long before his own day, but almost in his own age, at the close of the reign of Domitian"."
The Emperor Domitian died on the 18th day of September, A.D. 96
The common era Anno Domini begins about four years too late, and therefore the date of the Apocalypse is about the one hundredth year after the birth of Christ.
The authority of S. Irenæus, who was probably an Asiatic by birth, and who had conversed with S. Polycarp, the scholar of St. John, seems almost sufficient of itself to determine this question of date. It is also confirmed by other evidences.
S. Irenæus states that the Revelation was seen at about the close of the reign of Domitian. We learn from Tertullian, contemporary with Irenæus, that Domitian persecuted the Christian Church. Nero, he says, was the first Emperor who used the sword against the Church, and the next who imitated him was Domitian'. Eusebius relates that some of the Christians were banished by that Emperor, and confined as prisoners in a small island off the coast of Etruria; and then he proceeds to relate that St. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos by Domitian. St. John describes himself as a companion of the Asiatic Churches in tribulation, and as having been brought to the Isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ 10.
He also refers in the Apocalypse to persecutions of Christians, especially of Antipas, who had been slain as a Martyr for Christ at Pergamos ", one of the Seven Churches of Asia.