Expositor's Bible Commentary
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.
SECOND CONSOLATORY VISION AND THE SEVENTH TRUMPET.
FROM the first consolatory vision we proceed to the second: -
"And there was given unto me a reed like unto a rod: and one said, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. And the court which is without the temple cast without, and measure it not; for it hath been given unto the nations: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months (Revelation 11:1-2)."
Various points connected with these verses demand examination before any attempt can be made to gather the meaning of the vision as a whole.
1. What is meant by the measuring of the Temple? As in so many other instances, the figure is taken from the Old Testament. In the prophet Zechariah we read, "I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof."1 To the same effect, but still more particularly, the prophet Ezekiel speaks: "In the visions of God brought He me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south. And He brought me thither, and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate. . . . And behold a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man s hand a measuring reed of six cubits long by the cubit and an handbreadth, so he measured,"2 whereupon follows a minute and lengthened description of the measuring of all the parts of that Temple which was to be the glory of God’s people in the latter days. From these passages we not only learn whence the idea of the "measuring" was taken, but what the meaning of it was. The account given by Ezekiel distinctly shows that thus to measure expresses the thought of preservation, not of destruction. That the same thought is intended by Zechariah is clear from the words immediately following the instruction given him to measure: "For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her;"3 while, if further proof upon this point were needed, it is found in the fact that the measuring of this passage does not stand alone in the Apocalypse. The new Jerusalem is also measured: "And he that spake with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel."4 When God therefore measures, He measures, not in indignation, but that the object measured may be in a deeper than ordinary sense the habitation of His glory. (1 Zechariah 2:1-2; 2 Ezekiel 40:2-5; 3 Zechariah 2:5; 4 Revelation 21:15; Revelation 21:17)
2. What is meant by the temple, the altar, and the casting without of the court which is without the temple? In other words, are we to interpret these objects and the action taken with the latter literally or figuratively? Are we to think of the things themselves, or of certain spiritual ideas which they are used to represent? The first view is not only that of many eminent commentators; it even forms one of the chief grounds upon which they urge that the Herodian temple upon Mount Moriah was still in existence when the Apocalyptist wrote. He could not, it is alleged, have been instructed to "measure" the Temple if that building had been already thrown down, and not one stone left upon another. Yet, when we attend to the words, it would seem as if this view must be set aside in favor of a figurative interpretation. For -
(1) The word "temple" misleads. The term employed in the original does not mean the Temple-buildings as a whole, but only their innermost shrine or sanctuary, that part known as the "Holy of holies," which was separated from every other part of the sacred structure by the second veil. No doubt, so far as the simple act of measuring was concerned, a part might have been as easily measured as the whole. But closer attention to what was in the Seer s mind will show that when he thus speaks of the naos or shrine he is not thinking of the Temple at Jerusalem at all, but of the Tabernacle in the wilderness upon which the Temple was moulded. The nineteenth verse of the chapter makes this clear. In that verse we find him saying, "And there was opened the temple" (the naos) "of God that is in heaven, and there was seen in His temple" (His naos) "the ark of His covenant." We know, however, that the ark of the covenant never had a place in the Temple which existed in the days of Christ. It had disappeared at the destruction of the first Temple, long before that date. The Temple spoken of in the nineteenth verse is indeed said to be "in heaven;" and it may be thought that the ark, though not on earth, might have been seen there. But no reader of the Revelation of St. John can doubt that to him the sanctuary of God on earth was an exact representation of the heavenly sanctuary, that what God had given in material form to men was a faithful copy of the ideas of His spiritual and eternal kingdom. He could not therefore have placed in the original what, if he had before his mind the Temple at Jerusalem, he knew had no existence within its precincts; and the conclusion is irresistible that when he speaks of a naos that was to be measured he had turned his thoughts, not to the stone building upon Mount Moriah, but to its ancient prototype. On this ground alone then, even could no other be adduced, we seem entitled to maintain that a literal interpretation of the word "temple" is here impossible.
(2) Even should it be allowed that the sanctuary and the altar might be measured, the injunction is altogether inapplicable to the next following clause: them that worship therein. And it is peculiarly so if we adopt the natural construction, by which the word "therein" is connected with the word "altar." We cannot literally speak of persons worshipping "in" an altar. Nay, even though we connect "therein" with "the temple," the idea of measuring persons with a rod is at variance with the realities of life and the ordinary use of human language. A figurative element is thus introduced into the very heart of the clause the meaning of which is in dispute.
(3) A similar observation may be made with regard to the words cast without in Revelation 11:2. The injunction has reference to the outer court of the Temple, and the thought of "casting out" such an extensive space is clearly inadmissible. So much have translators felt this that both in the Authorized and Revised Versions they have replaced the words "cast without" by the words "leave without." The outer court of the Temple could not be "cast out;" therefore it must be "left out." The interpretation thus given, however, fails to do justice to the original, for, though the word employed does not always include actual violence, it certainly implies action of a more positive kind than mere letting alone or passing by. More than this. We are under a special obligation in the present instance not to strip the word used by the Apostle of its proper force, for we shall immediately see that, rightly interpreted, it is one of the most interesting expressions of his book, and of the greatest value in helping us to determine the precise nature of his thought In the meanwhile it is enough to say that the employment of the term in the connection in which it here occurs is at variance with a simply literal interpretation.
(4) It cannot be denied that almost every other expression in the subsequent verses of the vision is figurative or metaphorical. If we are to interpret this part literally, it will be impossible to apply the same rule to other parts; and we shall have such a mixture of the literal and metaphorical as will completely baffle our efforts to comprehend the meaning of the Seer.
(5) We have the statement from the writer’s own lips that, at least hi speaking of Jerusalem, he is not to be literally understood. In Revelation 11:8 he refers to "the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt." The hint thus given as to one point of his description may be accepted as applicable to it all.
We conclude, therefore, that the "measuring," the "temple" or naos, the "altar," the "court which is without," and the "casting without" of the latter are to be regarded as figurative.
3. Our third point of inquiry is, What is the meaning of the figure? There need be no hesitation as to the things first spoken of: "the temple, the altar, and them that worship therein." These, the most sacred parts of the Temple-buildings, can only denote the most sacred portion of the true Israel of God. They are those disciples of Christ who constitute His shrine, His golden altar of incense whence their prayers rise up continually before Him, His worshippers in spirit and in truth. These, as we have already often had occasion to see, shall be preserved safe amidst the troubles of the Church and of the world. In one passage we have been told that they are numbered*; now we are further informed that they are measured. (* John 7:4)
It is more difficult to explain who are meant by "the court which is without the temple." But three things are clear. First, they are a part of the Temple-buildings, although not of its inner shrine. Secondly, they belong to Jerusalem; and Jerusalem, notwithstanding its degenerate condition, was still the city of God, standing to Him in a relation different from that of the "nations," even when it had sunk beneath them and had done more to merit His displeasure. Thirdly, they cannot be the Gentiles, for from them they are manifestly distinguished when it is said that the outer court "hath been given unto the nations: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months."1 One conclusion alone remains. The "court that is without" must symbolize the faithless portion of the Christian Church, such as tread the courts of the house of God, but to whom He speaks as He spoke to Jerusalem of old: "Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth: they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them."2 (1 Revelation 11:2; 2 Isaiah 1:13-14)
The correctness of the sense thus assigned to this part of the vision is powerfully confirmed by what appears to be the true foundation of the singular expression already so far spoken of, "cast without." Something must lie at the bottom of the figure; and nothing seems so probable as this: that it is the "casting out" which took place in the case of the man blind from his birth, and the opening of whose eyes by Jesus is related in the fourth Gospel. Of that man we are told that when the Jews could no longer answer him "they cast him out."1 The word is the same as that now employed, and the thought is most probably the same also. Excommunication from the synagogue is in the Seer s mind, not a temporal punishment, not a mere worldly doom, but a spiritual sentence depriving of spiritual privileges misunderstood and abused. Such a casting out, however, can apply only to those who had been once within the courts of the Lord’s house or to the faithless members of the Christian Church. They, like the Jews of old, would "cast out" the humble disciples whom Jesus "found";2 and He cast them out. (1 Joh 9:34; 2 John 9:35)
If the explanation now given of the opening verses of this chapter be correct, we have reached a very remarkable stage in these apocalyptic visions. For the first time, except in the letters to the churches,1 we have a clear line of distinction drawn between the professing and the true portions of the Church of Christ, or, as it may be otherwise expressed, between the "called" and the "chosen."2 How far the same distinction will meet us in later visions of this book we have yet to see. For the present it may be enough to say that the drawing of such a distinction corresponds exactly with what we might have been prepared to expect. Nothing can be more certain than that in the things actually around him St. John beheld the mould and type of the things that were to come. Now Jerusalem, the Church of God in Israel, contained two classes within its walls: those who were accomplishing their high destiny and those by whom that destiny was misunderstood, despised, and cast away. Has it not always been the same in the Christian Church? If the world entered into the one, has it not entered as disastrously into the other? That field which is "the kingdom of heaven" upon earth has never wanted tares as well as wheat. They grow together, and no man may separate them. When the appropriate moment comes, God Himself will give the word; angels will carry off the tares, and the great Husbandman will gather the wheat into His garner. (1 Revelation 2:24; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 3:4; 2 Comp. Matthew 22:14)
4. One question still remains: What is the meaning of the forty and two months during which the holy city is to be trodden under foot of the nations? The same expression meets us in Revelation 13:5, where it is said that "there was given to the beast authority to continue forty and two months." But forty and two months is also three and a half years, the Jewish year having consisted of twelve months, except when an intercalary month was inserted among the twelve in order to preserve harmony between the seasons and the rotation of time. The same period is therefore again alluded to in Revelation 12:14, when it is said of the woman who fled into the wilderness that she is there nourished for "a time, and times, and half a time." Once more, we read in Revelation 11:3 and in Revelation 12:6 of a period denoted by "a thousand two hundred and threescore days;" and a comparison of this last passage with Revelation 11:14 of the same chapter distinctly shows that it is equivalent to the three and a half times or years. Three and a half multiplied by three hundred and sixty, the number of days in the Jewish year, gives us exactly the twelve hundred and sixty days. These three periods, therefore, are the same. Why the different designations should be adopted is another question, to which, so far as we are aware, no satisfactory reply has yet been given, although it may be that, for some occult reason, the Seer beholds in "months" a suitable expression for the dominion of evil, in "days" one appropriate to the sufferings of the good.
The ground of this method of looking at the Church’s history is found in the book of Daniel, where we read of the fourth beast, or the fourth kingdom, "And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given Into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time."1 The same book helps us also to answer the question as to the particular period of the Church’s history denoted by the days, or months, or years referred to, for in another passage the prophet says, "And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease."2 The three and a half years therefore, or the half of seven years, denote the whole period extending from the cessation of the sacrifice and oblation. In other words, they denote the Christian era from its beginning to its close, and that more especially on the side of its disturbed and broken character, of the power exercised in it by what is evil, of the troubles and sufferings of the good. During it the disciples of the Saviour do not reach the completeness of their rest; their victory is not won. Ideally it is so; it always has been so since Jesus overcame: but it is not yet won in the actual realities of the case; and, though in one sense every heavenly privilege is theirs, their difficulties are so great, and their opponents so numerous and powerful, that the true expression for their state is a broken seven years, or three years and a half. During this time, accordingly, the holy city is represented as trodden under foot by the nations. They who are at ease in Zion may not feel it; but to the true disciples of Jesus their Master’s prophecy is fulfilled, "In the world ye shall have tribulation."* (1 Daniel 7:25; 2 Daniel 9:27; 3 Joh 16:33)
The vision now proceeds:
"And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the Lord of the earth. And if any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man shall desire to hurt them, in this manner must he be killed. These have the power to shut the heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophecy: and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they shall desire. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them. And their dead body lies in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. And from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations do men look upon their dead body three days and an half, and suffer not their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and make merry: and they shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth. And after the three days and an half the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which beheld them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they went up into heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell; and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons: and the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven (Revelation 11:3-13)."
The figures of this part of the vision, like those of the first part, are drawn from the Old Testament. That the language is not to be literally understood hardly admits of dispute, for, whatever might have been thought of the " two witnesses " had we read only of them, the description given of their persons, or of their person (for in Revelation 11:8, where mention is made of their dead body - not "bodies" - they are treated as one), of their work, of their death, and of their resurrection and ascension, is so obviously figurative as to render it necessary to view the whole passage in that light. The main elements of the figure are supplied by the prophet Zechariah. "And the angel that talked with me," says the prophet, "came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of sleep, and said unto me; What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? . . . Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. ... Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil put of themselves? And he answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth."1 In these words indeed we read only of one golden candlestick, while now we read of two. But we have already found that the Seer of the Apocalypse, in using the figures to which he had been accustomed, does not bind himself to all their details; and the only inference to be drawn from this difference, as well as from the circumstance already noted in Revelation 11:8, is that the number "two" is to be regarded less in itself than as a strengthening of the idea of the number one. This circumstance further shows that the two witnesses cannot be divided between the two olive trees and the two candlesticks, as if the one witness were the former and the other the latter. Both taken together express the idea of witnessing, and to the full elucidation of that idea belong also the olive tree and the candlestick. The witnessing is fed by perpetual streams of that heavenly oil, of that unction of the Spirit, which is represented by the olive tree; and it sheds light around like the candlestick. The two witnesses, therefore, are not two individuals to be raised up during the course of the Church’s history, that they may bear testimony to the facts and principles of the Christian faith. The Seer indeed may have remembered that it had been God’s plan in the past to commission His servants, not singly, but in pairs. He may have called to mind Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, Elijah and Elisha, Zerubbabel and Joshua, or he may have thought of the fact that our Lord sent forth His disciples two by two. The probability, however, is that, as he speaks of "witnessing," he thought mainly of that precept of the law which required the testimony of two witnesses to confirm a statement. Yet he does not confine himself to the thought of two individual witnesses, however eminent, who shall in faithful work fill up their own short span of human life and die. The witness he has in view is that to be borne by all Christ’s people, everywhere, and throughout the whole Christian age. From the first to the last moment of the Church’s history in this world there shall be those raised up who shall never fail to prophesy, or, in other words, to testify to the truth of God as it is in Jesus. The task will be hard, but they will not shrink from it. They shall be clothed in sackcloth, but they shall count their robes of shame to be robes of honor. They shall occupy the position of Him who, in the days of His humiliation, was the "faithful and true Witness." Nourished by the Spirit that was in Him, they shall, like Him, be the light of the world,2 so that God shall never be left without some at least to witness for Him. (1Zech. 4; 2 Joh 8:12. Comp. Matthew 5:14)
Having spoken of the persons of the two witnesses, St. John next proceeds to describe the power with which, amidst their seeming weakness, their testimony is borne; and once more he finds in the most striking histories of the Old Testament the materials with which his glowing imagination builds.
In the first place, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies, so that these enemies are killed by the manifest judgment of God, and even, in His righteous retribution, by the very instrument of destruction they would have themselves employed. Elijah and the three companions of Daniel are before us, when at the word of Elijah fire descended out of heaven, and consumed the two captains and their fifties,1 and when the companions of Daniel were not only left unharmed amidst the flames, but when the fire leaped out upon and slew the men by whom they had been cast into the furnace.2 This fire proceeding out of the mouth of the two witnesses is like the sharp two-edged sword proceeding out of the mouth of the Son of man in the first vision of the book.3 In the second place, the witnesses have the power to shut the heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophecy. Elijah is again before us when he exclaimed in the presence of Ahab, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word," and when "it rained not on the earth for three years and six months."4 Finally, when we are told that the witnesses have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they shall desire, we are reminded of Moses and of the plagues inflicted through him upon the oppressors of Israel in Egypt. (1 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12; 2 Daniel 3:22; 3 Revelation 1:16; 4 1 Kings 17:1; Jam 5:17)
The three figures teach the same lesson. No deliverance has been effected by the Almighty for His people in the past which He is not ready to repeat. The God of Moses, and Elijah, and Daniel is the unchangeable Jehovah. He has made with His Church an everlasting covenant; and the most striking manifestations of His power in bygone times "happened by way of example, and were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come."* (* 1 Corinthians 10:11)
Hence, accordingly, the Church finishes her testimony.1 So was it with our Lord in His high-priestly prayer and on the Cross: "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do;" "It is finished."2 But this "finishing" of their testimony on the part of the two witnesses points to more than the end of the three and a half years viewed simply as a period of time. Not the thought of time alone, but of the completion of testimony, is present to the Seer’s mind. At every moment in the history of Christ’s true disciples that completion is reached by some or others of their number. Through all the three and a half years their testimony is borne with power, and is finished with triumph, so that the world is always without excuse. (1 Revelation 11:7; 2 Joh 17:4; John 19:30)
Having spoken of the power of the witnesses, St. John next turns to the thought of their evil fate. The beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them. This "beast" has not yet been described; but it is a characteristic of the Apostle, both in the fourth Gospel and in the Apocalypse, to anticipate at times what is to come, and to introduce persons to our notice whom we shall only learn to know fully at a later point in his narrative. That is the case here. This beast will again meet us in chap. 13 and chap. 17, where we shall see that it is the concentrated power of a world material and visible in its opposition to a world spiritual and invisible. It may be well to remark, too, that the representation given of the beast presents us with one of the most striking contrasts of St. John, and one that must be carefully remembered if we would understand his visions. Why speak of its "coming up out of the abyss"? Because the beast is the contrast of the risen Saviour. Only after His resurrection did our Lord enter upon His dominion as King, Head, and Guardian of His people. In like manner only after a resurrection mockingly attributed to it does this beast attain its full range of influence. Then, in the height of its rage and at the summit of its power, it sets itself in opposition to Christ’s witnesses. It cannot indeed prevent them from accomplishing their work; they shall finish their testimony in spite of it: but, when that is done, it shall gain an apparent triumph. As the Son of God was nailed to the Cross, and in that hour of His weakness seemed to be conquered by the world, so shall it be with them. They shall be overcome and killed.
Nor is that all, for their dead body (not dead bodies1) is treated with the utmost contumely. It lies in the broad open street of the great city, which the words where also their Lord was crucified show plainly to be Jerusalem. But Jerusalem! In what aspect is she here beheld? Not as "the holy city," "the beloved city," the Zion which God had desired for His habitation, and of which He had said, "This is My rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it,"2 but degenerate Jerusalem, Jerusalem become as Sodom for its wickedness, and as Egypt for its oppression of the Israel of God. The language is strong, so strong that many interpreters have deemed it impossible to apply it to Jerusalem in any sense, and have imagined that they had no alternative but to think of Rome. Yet it is not stronger than the language used many a time by the prophets of old: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. How is the faithful city become an harlot! . . . righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers."3 (1See Margin of R.V; 2 Psalm 132:13-14; 3 Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 1:21)
If, however, this city be Jerusalem, what does it represent? Surely, for reasons already stated, neither the true disciples of Jesus, nor the heathen nations of the world. We have the degenerate Church before us, the Church that has conformed to the world. That Church beholds the faithful witnesses for Christ the Crucified lie in the open way. Their wounds make no impression upon her heart, and draw no tear from her eyes. She even invites the world to the spectacle; and the world, always eager to hear the voice of a degenerate Church, responds to the invitation. It "looks," and obviously without commiseration, upon the prostrate, mangled form that has fallen in the strife. This it does for three days and a half, the half of seven, a broken period of trouble; and it will not suffer the dead body to be laid in a tomb. Nay, the world is not content even with its victory. After victory it must have its triumph; and that triumph is presented to us in one of the most wonderful pictures of the Apocalypse, when they that dwell on the earth - that is, the men of the world - from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations, having listened to the degenerate Church’s call, make high holiday at the thought of what they have done. They rejoice over the dead bodies, and make merry: and they send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth. We are reminded of Herod and Pilate, who, when the Jewish governor sent Jesus to his heathen brother, "became friends that very day."1 But we are reminded of more. In the book of Nehemiah we find mention of that great feast of Tabernacles which was observed by the people when they heard again, after long silence, the book of the law, and when "there was very great gladness." In immediate connection with this feast, Nehemiah said to the people, "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto the Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength"2; while it constituted a part also of the joyful ceremonial of the feast of the dedication of the Temple that the Jews made the days of the feast "days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor."3 Taking these passages into account, and remembering the general style and manner of St. John, we can have no hesitation in recognizing in the festival of these verses the world’s Feast of Tabernacles, the contrast and the counterpart of the Church’s feast already spoken of in the second consolatory vision of chap. 7. (1 Luke 23:12; 2 Nehemiah 8:10; 3 Esther 9:22)
If so, what a picture does it present! - the degenerate Church inviting the world to celebrate a feast over the dead bodies of the witnesses for Christ, and the world accepting the invitation; the former accommodating herself to the ways of the latter, and the latter welcoming the accommodation; the one proclaiming no unpleasant doctrines and demanding no painful sacrifices, the other hailing with satisfaction the prospect of an easy yoke and of a cheap purchase of eternity as well as time. The picture may seem too terrible to be true. But let us first remember that, like all the pictures of the Apocalypse, it is ideal, showing us the operation of principles in their last, not their first, effect; and then let us ask whether we have never read of, or ourselves seen, such a state of things actually realized. Has the Church never become the world, on the plea that she would gain the world? Has she never uttered smooth things or prophesied deceits in order that she might attract those who will not endure the thought of hardness in religious service, and would rather embrace what in their inward hearts they know to be a lie than bitter truth? Such a spectacle has been often witnessed, and is yet witnessed every day, when those who ought to be witnesses for a living and present Lord gloze over the peculiar doctrines of the Christian faith, draw as close as possible the bonds of their fellowship with unchristian men, and treat with scorn the thought of a heavenly life to be led even amidst the things of time. One can understand the world’s own ways, and, even when lamenting that its motives are not higher, can love its citizens and respect their virtues. But a far lower step in declension is reached when the Church’s silver becomes dross, when her wine is mixed with water, and when her voice no longer convicts, no longer " torments them that dwell on the earth."
In the midst of all their tribulation, however, the faithful portion of the Church have a glorious reward. They have suffered with Christ, but they shall also reign with Him. After all their trials in life, after their death, and after the limited time during which even when dead they have been dishonored, they live again. The breath of life from God entered into them. Following Him who is the first-fruits of them that sleep, they stood upon their feet.1 They heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. They went up into heaven in the cloud; and there they sit down with the conquering Redeemer in His throne, even as He overcame and sat down with His Father in His throne.2 All this, too, takes place in the very presence of their enemies, upon whom great fear fell. Even nature sympathizes with them. Having waited for the revealing of the sons of God, and in hope that she also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God,3 she hails their final triumph. There was a great earth quake, the tenth part of the city (that is, of Jerusalem) fell; and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons. It is unnecessary to say that the words are figurative and symbolical, denoting in all probability simply judgment, but judgment restrained. (1Comp. Revelation 5:6; 2 Revelation 3:21; 3 Romans 8:19; Romans 8:21)
The last words of the vision alone demand more particular attention: The rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The thought is the same as that which met us when we were told at the close of the sixth Trumpet that "the rest of mankind which were not killed with these plagues repented not."* There is no repentance, no conversion. There is terror; there is alarm; there is a tribute of awe to the God of heaven who has so signally vindicated His own cause; but there is nothing more. Nor are we told what may or may not follow in some future scene. For the Seer the final triumph of good and the final overthrow of evil are enough. He can be patient, and, so far as persons are concerned, can leave the issue in the hands of God. (* Revelation 9:20)
The two consolatory visions interposed between the sixth and seventh Trumpets are now over, and we cannot fail to see how great an advance they are upon die two visions of a similar kind interposed between the sixth and seventh Seals. The whole action has made progress. At the earlier stage the Church may be said to have been hidden in the hollow of the Almighty s hand. In the thought of the "great tribulation" awaiting her she has been sealed, while the peace and joy of her new condition have been set before us, as she neither hungers nor thirsts, but is guided by her Divine Shepherd to green pastures and to fountains of the waters of life. At this later stage she is in the midst of her conflict and her sufferings. She is in the heat of her warfare, in the extremity of her persecuted state. From the height on which we stand we do not look over a quiet and peaceful plain, with flocks of sheep resting in its meadows; we look over a field where armed men have met in the shock of battle. There is the stir, the excitement, the tumult of deadly strife for higher than earthly freedom, for dearer than earthly homes. There may be temporary repulse and momentary yielding even on the side of the good, but they still press on. The Captain of their salvation is at their head; and foot by foot fresh ground is won, until at last the victory is sounded, and we are ready for the seventh Trumpet.
Before it sounds there is a warning similar to that which preceded the sounding of the fifth and sixth*: (* Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:12) -
"The second Woe is past; behold, the third Woe cometh quickly (Revelation 11:14)."
These words are to be connected with the close of chap, 9, all that is contained in chaps. 10 and 11:1-13 being, as we have seen, episodical.
The seventh Trumpet is now sounded: -
"And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever, And the four-and-twenty elders, which sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give Thee thanks, O Lord, God, the Almighty, which art and which wast; because Thou hast taken Thy great power, and didst reign. And the nations were roused to wrath, and Thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to Thy servants the prophets, both the saints and them that fear Thy name, the small and the great, and to destroy them that destroy the earth. And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His covenant: and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail (Revelation 11:15-19)."
1. By the kingdom of the world here spoken of is meant, that dominion over the world as a whole has become the possession of our Lord and of His Christ; and it is to be His forever and ever. There is no contradiction between this statement of St. John and that of St. Paul when, speaking of the Son, the latter Apostle says, "And when all things have been subjected unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subjected to Him that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all."1 The "kingdom" thus spoken of by St. Paul is that exercised by our Lord in subduing His enemies, and it must necessarily come to an end when there are no more enemies to subdue. The kingdom here referred to is Christ’s dominion as Head and King of His Church, and of that dominion there is no end. Of more consequence perhaps is it to observe that when it is said in the words before us, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, there is nothing to lead to the supposition that this "kingdom" becomes Christ s by the conversion of the world. The meaning simply is that evil has been finally and for ever put down, that good is finally and forever triumphant. No inference can be drawn as to the fate of wicked persons further than this: that they shall not be found in "the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."2 Were additional proof needed upon this point, it would be supplied by the fact that in almost the next following words we read of the nations being roused to wrath. These are the wicked upon whom judgment falls; and, instead of being converted, they are roused to the last and highest outburst of the wickedness which springs from despair. (1 1 Corinthians 15:28; 2 2 Peter 3:13)
2. The song of the four-and-twenty elders. We have already had occasion to notice that song of the representatives of redeemed creation in which the four living creatures celebrated "the Lord, God, the Almighty, which was and which is and which is to come."* The song now before us, sung by the representatives of the glorified Church, is cast in precisely the same mould of three ascriptions of praise to the Lord. But in the third member there is an important difference, the words "and which is to come" being omitted. The explanation is that the Lord is come. The present dispensation is at its close. (* Revelation 4:8)
3. The events of the close are next described. It is the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give reward to God’s faithful servants, to whatever part of mankind they have belonged, and whatever the position they have filled in life. The whole family of man is divided into two great classes, and for the one there is judgment, for the other reward.
4. Before passing on it may be well to call attention to one or two particulars in these verses which, though not specially connected with that general meaning of the passage which it is the main object of this commentary to elicit, may help to throw light upon the style of the Apostle and the structure of his work.
(l) Thus it is important to observe his use of the word prophets. The persons spoken of are obviously in contrast with "the nations" and "the dead to be judged," and they must include all who are faithful unto death. Already we have seen that every true follower of Christ is in St. John’s eyes a martyr, and that when he thinks of the martyrs of the Church he has a far wider circle in view than that of those who meet death by the sword or at the stake. To his ideal conceptions of things the martyr spirit makes the martyr, and the martyr spirit must rule in every disciple of the Crucified. In like manner the prophetic spirit makes the prophet, and of that spirit no true follower of Him in whom prophecy culminated can be devoid. In this very chapter we have read of " prophesying " as the work of the two witnesses who are a symbol of the whole Christian Church, and who prophesy through the thousand two hundred and threescore days of her pilgrimage. We are not therefore to suppose that those here called "prophets" are either prophets in the stricter sense of the word, or commissioned ministers of Christ. All Christ’s people are His "servants the prophets," and the idealism of St. John distinctly appears in the designation given them.
(2) The next following clause, which we have translated in a manner slightly different from that of both the Authorized and the Revised Versions, is not less important: both the saints and them that fear Thy name, instead of "and to the saints, and to them that fear Thy name." It is the manner of St. John to dwell in the first instance upon one characteristic of the object of which he speaks, and then to add other characteristics belonging to it, equally important, it may be, in themselves, but not occupying so prominent a place in the line of thought which he happens to be pursuing at the moment. An illustration of this is afforded in John 14:6, where the words of Jesus are given in the form, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." The context shows that the emphasis rests wholly on Jesus as "the Way," and that the addition of the words "the Truth, and the Life," is only made to enhance and complete the thought. Here in like manner the contents of what is involved in the term "the prophets" are completed by a further statement of what the prophets are. They are "the saints and they that fear God’s name." The twofold structure of this statement, however, again illustrates the manner of St. John. "The saints" is, properly speaking, a Jewish epithet, while every reader of the Acts of the Apostles is familiar with the fact that "they that fear God" was a term applied to Gentile proselytes to Judaism. We have thus an instance of St. John’s method of regarding the topic with which he deals from a double point of view, the first Jewish, the second Gentile. He is not thinking of two divisions of the Church, The Church is one; all her members constitute one Body in Christ. But looked at from the Jewish standpoint, they are "the saints;" from the Gentile, they are those that "fear Thy name."
(3) The verses under consideration afford a marked illustration of St. John’s love of presenting judgment under the form of the lex talionis. The nations were "roused to wrath," and upon them God’s "wrath came." They had "destroyed the earth," and God would "destroy" them. In studying the Apocalypse, all peculiarities of style or structure ought to be present to the mind. They are not unfrequently valuable guides to interpretation.
The seventh Trumpet has sounded, and the end has come. A glorious moment has been reached in the development of the Almighty’s plan; and the mind of the Seer is exalted and ravished by the prospect. Yet he beholds no passing away of the present earth and heavens, no translation of the reign of good to an unseen spiritual and hitherto unvisited region of the universe. It would be out of keeping with the usual phraseology of his book to understand by heaven, in which he sees the ark of God s covenant, a locality, a place "beyond the clouds and beyond the tomb." His employment of the contrasted words "earth" and "heaven" throughout his whole series of visions rather leads to the supposition that by the latter we are to understand that region, wherever it may be, in which spiritual principles alone bear sway. It may be here; it may be elsewhere; it seems hardly possible to say: but the more the reader enters into the spirit of this book, the more difficult will he find it to resist the impression that St. John thinks of this present world as not only the scene of the great struggle between good and evil, but also, when it has been cleansed and purified, as the seat of everlasting righteousness. These in the present instance are striking words: "to destroy them that destroy the earth." Why not destroy the earth itself if it is only to be burned up? Why speak of it in such terms as lead almost directly to the supposition that it shall be preserved though its destroyers perish? While, on the other hand, if God at first pronounced it to be "very good;" if it may be a home of truth, and purity, and holiness; and if it shall be the scene of Christ’s future and glorious reign, then may we justly say, Woe to them that destroy the habitation, the palace, now preparing for the Prince of peace.
However this may be, it was a fitting close to the judgments of the seven Trumpets that the "temple" of God that - is, the innermost shrine or sanctuary of His temple - should be opened. There was no need now that God should be "a God that hideth Himself."1 When earth had in it none but the pure in heart, why should they not see Him?2 He would dwell in them and walk in them.3 The Tabernacle of the Lord would be again with men.4 (1 Isaiah 45:15; 2 Matthew 5:8; 3 2 Corinthians 6:16; 4 Revelation 21:3)
When too the shrine was opened, what more appropriate spectacle could be seen than "the ark of His covenant," the symbol of His faithfulness, the pledge of that love of His which remains unchanged when the mountains depart and the hills are removed? The covenant-keeping God! No promise of the past had failed, and the past was the earnest of the future.
Nor need we wonder at the lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and the earthquake, and the great hail that followed. For God had "promised, saying, Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which are not shaken may remain."* (* Hebrews 12:26-27)