And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues…
The Lamb is said to have been slain from the foundation of the world. It was not the result of an accident; it was not the result of an emergency; it was something involved in the plan of the creation itself — a design of its being. Its first stone was laid with a view to the development of the sacrificial life. Was St. John, then, an optimist, or a pessimist? In the worldly sense of these words he was something different from either, and something which admitted a truth in both. On the one hand he holds with the worldly optimist that all things do work for the highest good; the universe is to him the product of love. But on the other hand, just because it is the product of love, he could never admit that it is a field for self-gratification. He found in it a sphere that, from the beginning to the end of the day, disappointed every selfish hope, wrecked every ship that sailed only for its own cargo. And why so? Because to him the essence of God was love. If God be love, the highest good must be to be made in the image of love. St. John asked himself how that could be done on the Greek principle of self-indulgence, or the Jewish principle of s physical Messiah. He felt that if the end of life were simply to wear purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day, and if life itself were amply suited to such an end, then life was incompatible with love. This world, in short, is to St. John a development and an upward development; but it is a development of self-sacrifice. The Apocalypse has been called a sensuous book; it is to my mind the least sensuous book in the Bible. It describes the process of the ages as a process of self-surrender. This, then, is the meaning of the passage, "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." It means that Christ was all along the goal of creation, and that creation is a making for Christ. More particularly, it means that the line of this world's progress has been a development of self-sacrifice. It seems to me that in this last point the writer of the Apocalypse has come nearer to a philosophy of history than all who went before him. If you take any other line of progress you will fail, in my opinion, to prove that there has been an advance in the march from the old to the new. Shall we take intellect? Do we feel that the amount of mind force is greater in the modern Englishman than it was in the ancient Greek? It would be difficult to feel it, and it would be impossible to prove it: are Plato and Aristotle inferior to the best intellects among us? Shall we take imagination? Have we reached the architectural conception which planned the pyramids? Have we outrun the triumphs of Greek sculpture? Have we surpassed the poetry of Homer? Have we sustained the fame of the mediaeval painters? Have you ever considered how much of invention is itself due to the spread of the unselfish principle? Why have the great ages of discovery been the ages after Christ? Is it not just because Christ has been before them? Is it not because the spirit of sacrifice has awakened man to the wants of man? The times of self-seeking were not the times of invention. St. John says creation is moving toward a type — a lamb slain, and it is moving toward that type in a straight line — the line of sacrifice. It is climbing to its goal by successive steps which might be called steps downward — increasing limitations of the self-life. To what extent did St. John see this? He saw in visible nature a series of gospel pictures; everything seemed to live only by losing itself. He saw the waves of the sea of Patmos passing into waves of light; he beheld the waves of light passing into eddies of the sea. It seemed to him that even in that lonely spot God had inscribed upon the walls of nature the image of a cross. By and by, before the eyes of the seer there flashed a higher order of creation, and it was clothed in the same garb — the robe of sacrifice. He passed from the pictorial representation of sacrifice in nature to its actual, though involuntary, representation in animal life. The very reference to a slain lamb is a reference to an animal sacrifice. How did St. John reconcile himself to that spectacle of an involuntary sacrifice of the animal life prescribed by the Old Testament? He said it was a type of Christ. If sacrifice be the law of the highest being, it is desirable to reach it. You can only reach anything by a repeated experience of it. There passed before him the natural sacrifices of the human heart. I believe that the cares of the heart prevent every man from living the full amount of his natural years. What is the difference, then, between the sacrifice of the animal and the sacrifice of the man? It is an inward difference; the obligatory has become the voluntary. What has made it voluntary? It is love, a force to which in the animal world nothing exactly corresponds, a force which adds to the sacrifice, and at the same time helps to bear it. And yet merely natural love is far from having reached the goal. It is noble; it is beautiful; but it is not the topmost triumph. The mother's love, the brother's love, the husband's love, the son and daughter's love, are each and all the search for something kindred to ourselves. St. John looks out for a vaster type — a love that can come where there is no kindred, no sympathy. He seeks a love that shall strive for the survival of the unfittest — the blood of a spotless soul that can wash the sins of the absolutely impure. This is to John the perfect type of altruism — the Lamb that was slain. It is the progress towards this type that constitutes to St. John the philosophy of history.
(G. Matheson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.