(Revelation, Chapters vi.-viii.)
|God Almighty! King of nations! earth Thy footstool, heaven Thy throne! Thine the greatness, power, and glory, Thine the kingdom, Lord, alone! Life and death are in Thy keeping, and Thy will ordaineth all: From the armies of Thy heavens to an unseen insect's fall.
|Reigning, guiding, all-commanding, ruling myriad worlds of light; Now exalting, now abasing, none can stay Thy hand of might! Working all things by Thy power, by the counsel of Thy will. Thou art God! enough to know it, and to hear Thy word: 'Be still!'
|In Thy sovereignty rejoicing, we Thy children bow and praise, For we know that kind and loving, just and true, are all Thy ways. While Thy heart of sovereign mercy, and Thy arm of sovereign might, For our great and strong salvation in Thy sovereign grace unite.|
-- FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL.
The Area of the Storm.
Goodness arouses evil. Faithfulness to Christ stirs opposition. This is a commonplace. A piece of white-hot metal plunged into cold water makes a great fuss. Two areas of sharply different temperatures in the atmosphere above us coming suddenly together make a storm.
Purity entering an atmosphere of impurity and insisting on staying, and on keeping pure, creates a lively disturbance. The tempter was aroused to his subtlest effort when Jesus appeared. There is no such demoniac activity recorded as when Jesus walked among men.
So crowning a king arouses opposition, if there be opposition. And the active taking of the reins of government has intensified the opposition when it was strong enough to make a stand. The striking illustration of this in the Bible is King David. After Saul's death the men of Judah anointed David king. That was the signal for an immediate attack by the chief of the forces of Saul's house. And this was succeeded by a long war, before David was acknowledged as king over all Israel. The clearing-up storm in his realm lasted a good while before good weather came.
Here in this Revelation scene we have been looking at our Lord Jesus is represented as stepping forward to take possession of His realm. It is natural to expect a storm. This will be a signal to the opposition to rally all its power. But there can be no question about the outcome of such a set-to. That storm proves to be a clearing-up storm in the realm. It is to be followed by such fine moral weather as has not been known before. But the storm itself proves to be a terrific one for the earth while it lasts.
The greater part of this little end-book is taken up with a description of that storm. But before we turn to this book itself and its storm, we want to get our bearings a bit, so as to understand better what is here. Revelation is the knot in the end of a big bunch of threads. We shall understand the knot better by knowing more about the threads before they are tied into the knot.
The storm area proves to be very large. It takes in the whole earth. The Bible is a big book in its outlook and grasp. It deals with the whole earth, and the whole race. The thoughtful Bible student comes to have a broad outlook, as well as a close lookout about his own front and back doors.
It is fascinating to study the geography of the Bible. We talk about the world growing smaller. That refers of course to the rapidity of transit. It is only within a few hundred years that we have learned of the earth being round. The Bible map includes practically the whole world as we have come to know it.
The centre of the world as seen on this map may seem a little surprising. We Americans feel that the centre of things is here. The Englishman knows that it is in London; and lately the Germans have had the same exclusive sort of knowledge about Berlin. The Chinese has long called his country |the Middle Kingdom,| in the sense of its being the central kingdom about which the rest of the world revolves. But here the centre is seen to be on the boundary line, practically, between Orient and Occident, reaching out an embracing arm to each.
We have a broad division of the earth into East and West. The differences between the two, in civilization, mode of thought, religion, language, and so on, are so radical as to make it seem that there was no point of contact. At least this has been emphasized much by western writers on the East. We are disturbed just now here in the far West over the Oriental, Chinese Japanese and Indian crossing the far boundary line between Orient and Occident and coming into the United States and Canada.
Yet East and West have always overlapped at the middle boundary line. There is a great mixture of races in the strip where the eastern edge of the West and the western edge of the East come together. It is the strip running roughly north and south where Russia's western border and Turkey's touch Germany and Austria and Greece, including the never-at-rest Balkan Peninsula. Constantinople sits on the dividing line between East and West, with the worst of both civilizations within her confines. Here the hemispheres touch and their life currents intermingle and flow together.
Scientific research seems to find good evidence that all our European civilization, which of course means American too, may have been brought over by Eastern immigrants from central Asia long ages ago, Asia coming into Europe. Perhaps we Westerners would not despise the Easterners so contemptuously and patronizingly if we knew how much we are probably indebted to them for our civilization as well as for our Hebrew and Christian faith, our Bible, and the Christian restraining bulwarks of our common life.
The old common point of contact between Orient and Occident was the strip of land forming the western edge of the Orient at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Palestine has been for centuries the common roadway of all nations, East and West. No bit of earth has been so tramped and trampled by the feet of all nations and races. This has been the battlefield of the nations through long centuries. The ends of the earth have met here. It is interesting that the waters that wash its western shore are called the Mediterranean Sea, that is, the middle-of-the-earth sea.
Here then is the centre of the map. It is the centre of all things in the Bible. And it has proven to be at the centre of human action through history, attested by the very name given to the chief body of water there.
Jerusalem, the capital city of this Palestine strip, was the centre of a world power in the early ages. It has been the world capital. And it has in turn been fought over and conquered by every world power. No city has been a world centre of action during as long a stretch of time, and to as many different nations.
Out from this centre the action of the Bible reaches north to Russia, south to Africa (Ethiopia), east to China (Sinim, Isaiah xlix.12), and west to Spain. That practically includes the world of our day. America is of course merely a transplanted seedling of Europe.
Those great Hebrew leaders called prophets had a world outlook. They were world messengers. It is intensely interesting to take a piece of paper, and pencil a rough map of the nations named in their messages, notably Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Beginning at Jerusalem and Israel they reach first this way, then that, up and down, back and forth, until the whole world of action of that day has been touched. They were men of world size. They had a world outlook and a world message.
But then God's man always has. The world outlook of Jesus was tremendous. And every true disciple of Jesus Christ has the world outlook. Grace broadens as well as refining. It is one of the endless outworkings of sin that tends toward that narrowing provincialism which everywhere hinders so much, and so intensely.
Now in this world map in the Bible geography two cities stand out beyond all others, Jerusalem and Babylon; Jerusalem the centre of God's people and of God's plans, Babylon the centre of the opposing worldly power. These are the two outstanding cities of the Bible world.
Between these two there is an enmity and warfare that is practically continuous. Jerusalem comes to be the typical of God's people and power and kingdom. Babylon stands out likewise as typical of the power and kingdom always and innately opposed to God and to His people. The conflict between the two seems irrepressible and irreconcilable. It is never out of view.
Babylon has been the centre, under successive dynasties, of a world empire, including not only part of Asia, but reaching west to Europe and south to Africa. It sat practically in the connecting strip of Orient and Occident, ruling over both. In the dim dawn of history a God-ignoring, and so really a God-defying and man-exalting movement, centred in the city called Babel. And from that time on that city, and its successor Babylon, have seemed as though possessed with a spirit of antagonism to God and His people. It is as though it were the earthly headquarters of the blasphemous unseen evil forces.
This is a simple bit of geography lesson in the Old Testament. This is the map that lies ever open in these older pages, with its two capital cities marked large. And this indicates the area of the storm, and the two central points where its outburst will centre.
Studying the Weather Forecast.
It is interesting to find a weather forecast of this storm. The old Hebrew prophets were close students of national and world-wide weather conditions, and much given to making forecasts of impending storms. Even in the New Testament there is this distinct prophetic or foretelling strain running throughout. The father of John the Baptist is told of his son's birth; and Mary, of the unusual birth of her divine Son. The disciples are told of the coming of the Holy Spirit. And Agabus tells of a great famine coming. In these instances the fulfilment follows soon after the event is foretold.
The destruction of Jerusalem, foretold by Christ, had at least a part of its fulfilment in the terrible Titus siege of 70 A.D. Our Lord said that He would return to earth in great glory, and that there would come a great tribulation to all the earth, and repeated the old prophecy of a restoration of the Hebrew kingdom. These have not yet occurred.
But the book of the Revelation is distinctively the prophetic book of the New Testament. It deals almost entirely with events that are yet to come. It would be natural that it would fit into the prophetic parts of the Old Testament. So that one who is somewhat familiar with the prophetic books of the Old naturally comes more intelligently to this prophetic book of the New.
It is true that most of us have a sense of bewilderment about prophecy. We seem to feel that it requires great scholarship and profound study, and that an understanding of it is not possible to the common run of Christians. And so we largely leave it out as not understandable.
Yet prophecy is simply God's plans for the future, together with a revelation of other events which are not in His plan, but which He sees will happen in the future. In it He tells us what He means us to understand. And more than this, our understanding will have practical bearing on our attitude toward evil and compromise. It will affect our faith, making it steadier, especially when evil seems triumphant and overbearing. It will make our prayer more intelligent and confident.
There are certain things we all know. As we read back into these pages we know that the break-up of the Jewish nation, which began with the Babylonian Captivity, came to a terrible climax in a complete break-up after the rejection of Christ. We know that the other nations commonly called Gentiles (i.e., the nations) have had supremacy in the earth. Israel was at one time acknowledged as the great world power, with many subject nations, in Solomon's time.
But Gentile supremacy begins back in the time of these Old Testament pages. There is to-day practically no belief that this will ever be changed, except perhaps by a stray Jew here and there, who still holds to his old Bible, and except by those Christians who discern God's plan, and believe both in Him and in it.
In the absence of an understanding of that plan of God, it has been common to apply all the glowing prophetic Hebrew promises to the Church. The result has been that Israel and the Kingdom have been confused in our minds with the Church. And this has become the commonplace in the common Church consciousness.
It is quite possible for the person of average good sense to get something of a simple, broad grasp of the prophetic books. It involves reading repeatedly so as to get familiar with the contents, and rapidly so as not to get too much absorbed in details.
It is needful to use a common-sense interpretation in getting at the meaning. It is a simple law that one principle of interpretation should be applied uniformly and consistently to all parts of any one document. If I say arbitrarily, |this part is rhetorical; it doesn't mean just what it says, but something else; and this other part means just what it says,| clearly I am reading my own ideas and prejudices into the book.
It is much slower, and takes more pains and patience, to keep at it until all parts gradually clear up to us, first this bit, then that, until part fits part, and all hang together. But there is great fascination in it, and one's reverence for this revelation of God's Word grows deeper.
Of course there is rhetorical language here as everywhere. |The Lord is my shepherd| is clearly rhetorical. For God is not a shepherd, and I am not a sheep, but a man. But under this simple, clearly rhetorical language the tender, personal relationship God bears to me is beautifully expressed. That such language is rhetorical is clear to every mind alike.
And there is a picture language here, such as speaking of purity of character as |white garments.| The honest, earnest, unprejudiced seeker after truth quickly recognizes these, and learns to become skilled in discerning what is meant. We come to see that Israel means Israel, not the Church. Jerusalem means that city in Judea, and so on.
Of course it is needful that there be an openmindedness, a humble, teachable spirit, willing to accept the real truth, no matter how it may shake up one's prejudices and prearranged schemes of thought. And, above all, there should be a constant prayerfulness of spirit, to learn just what our God is seeking to have us know. Of course there are depths here for the scholarly, profound minds. But we ordinary folk can get a simple, clear grasp of God's plan and revealed insight into the future if we go at it in this thoughtful, prayerful way. And it will be a great help to us to do so.
Three Great Unfulfilled Events.
Let us take a swift glance at these prophetic books of the Old Testament. It helps to remember the natural way in which these prophetic books grew up. These prophets were preachers and teachers. Here are some people going up to the temple service one day in Jerusalem. As they get near the temple they notice a little knot of people standing yonder at a corner listening to a man talking earnestly. Isaiah, fresh from the presence of God, is talking out of a burning heart to the crowd.
A visitor from another part of the land says curiously to his companion, |What's that?| The other replies: |Oh, it's only Isaiah talking to the people. He is a good man, that Isaiah, a well-meaning, earnest man, but a little too intense, I fear.| And they pass on to the temple service. By and by Isaiah stops. The moving congregation scatters. He slips quietly down to his house, and under the Spirit's holy, brooding presence writes down a part of what he has been saying. So there grew up the rolls to which his name is attached.
In some such simple, natural way these prophetic books grew up, always under the Holy Spirit's guidance and control. They are full of intense fire, and of the homely talk of street and market and fireside. There are two sorts of these prophets, the preachers like Elijah and Elisha and those who wrote as well as spoke, and whose names are preserved in these books.
There are seventeen of these little books. They fall easily into four groups. The first group contains those belonging in the time before the nation was exiled. It is a period of about one hundred and fifty years, roughly, beginning in the prosperous reign of Uzziah and running up to the time when the nation was taken captive to Babylon. Isaiah is the most prominent prophet of this period, and with him are Hosea, Micah, and Amos, all of whom may have been personally acquainted; and also Zephaniah and Habakkuk.
The second is the exile group, Jeremiah preaching in Judah, before and during the siege, and to the remnant left behind in the land; and Ezekiel and Daniel bearing their witness among the exiles in the foreign land.
The third group is made up of those who witnessed after the people are allowed to return to their own land again. The writer of the second part of Isaiah probably preached to the people as the opportunity came to return to Jerusalem. Haggai and Zachariah stirred up the returned people to rebuild the temple. Joel and Malachi witnessed probably a little later in the same period.
The fourth is the foreign group. Obadiah sends a message to the neighbouring nation of Edom; and Jonah and Nahum are sent with messages to Nineveh. If one will try to make a picture of these people and events by reading the historical books, and then watch and listen as the prophets talk, it will do much to make these prophetic books full of the native atmosphere in which they grew up.
Now there are three things that gradually come to stand out in these prophetic books. Much of what is being said is of immediate application. It refers plainly to affairs being lived out then. Then certain things are plainly fulfilled in the coming of Christ. And again there is a great deal that clearly has never been fulfilled but is still future. It is the latter part that naturally is of intensest interest.
Now in this latter part, dealing with the future, three things stand out clear and sharp above the rest. There is to be judgment upon Israel for their iniquities. The changes on this are rung again and again. And this stands out as much in the preaching of the Captivity time, and of the Return, as before the Captivity. But in the midst of severest judgment there will be a remnant spared. The tree is cut down, but the stump is spared; and there is life in the stump. But above these there stand out these three things.
The first thing stands out big. It is the thing the nation never forgot. The believing Hebrew still clings to it. The wailers at the wall of Jerusalem to-day never forget it. It is this: there is to be a future time of great glory for the nation of Israel in their own loved land. The kingdom is to be restored, but with a glory indescribably greater than ever known. This is the bright golden thread, thick and strong, running through from end to end.
It will come through that spared remnant. The old stump will put out a new shoot. It will be through the coming of a great king, who will prove to be their greatest king, and will reign not only over Israel, but over all nations as tributary to Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital city both of Israel and of the whole earth. At its beginning there will be a gathering of Israel from among all the nations where they have been scattered. To assist these scattered pilgrims to get to their own land, the tongue of the Egyptian sea on the southwest is to be destroyed; and the waters of the Euphrates on the extreme east are to be so scattered or dried up that men can walk over dry-shod.
When the great king comes there will be genuine penitence among the people over their past sins, and they will become a wholly changed people. Israel will be a nation converted by the power of the Holy Spirit through the conversion of the people individually. There will be at this time a resurrection of God's people who have died.
The new reign and kingdom is to be one of great spiritual enlightenment to all nations. There will be everywhere a new, remarkable openmindedness to God and His truth. And there will be the same visible evidence of the presence of God at Jerusalem as when the pillar of fire and cloud was with them in the wilderness. That wondrous presence-cloud is to be always in view.
This sounds to our ears like the highly coloured visionary dream of some over-enthusiastic Hebrew. Yet this is a calm statement of what is found here. And be it keenly marked, it is a picture which the godly Hebrew of the old time never lost sight of. This is the first thing that stands out in these prophetic pages.
The second thing stands out distinctly. Preceding this wondrous kingdom the earth will be visited by terrible judgments. There is an awfully dark shadow before the blaze of light breaks out. A terrific storm will come before the sun shines out in its new strength. All nations will combine to make war against the Jew. Their forces will be gathered at Jerusalem. At the head of the coalition will be a power called Babylon. There will come a terrific battle, victory for the coalition will seem assured. The sufferings of the Jews will be indescribable.
Then there will come a day never after to be forgotten. In the midst of the indescribable horrors of that battle, when things are at their worst for the Jew, then comes the deliverance. Suddenly Jehovah will appear out of the heavens, with a great company of holy ones. His feet will stand upon Mount Olivet to the east of Jerusalem. There will be a terrible earthquake, and an equally terrific shake-up of the heavenly bodies. The luminaries, sun, moon, and stars, will be darkened. There will be terrible judgments visited not only upon the earth, but upon the evil spirit powers. Repeated emphasis is put upon the judgment to be visited upon Babylon.
All this will sound like a veritable fairy tale to many who are not familiar with this Book of God; the unlikeliest thing imaginable. Yet this is the thing seriously set forth throughout these old prophetic pages. I have given a few references in footnotes. But these few scattered passages of themselves will not give an adequate conception of what these pages hold.
There is all the fascination of a novel, and immensely more and deeper fascination than any novel, in reading these prophetic pages repeatedly in the way already spoken of till their mere contents become somewhat familiar. Then taking paper and pencil, running through again, and drawing off patiently and carefully, item after item of these prophecies plainly not yet fulfilled, and then slowly and painstakingly put them together in what would be a simple, logical order.
It will be helpful, in reading, to remember that it is a common thing with these writers to speak of a future thing as already past. It is a bit of the intensity that sees the thing that is yet to come as already accomplished. And one should discern between the immediate thing that may likely occur in that generation and the far-distant thing. A careful noting of the language will make the difference clear.
This is the second thing that stands out, the visitation of judgments.
Then there is a third thing. This terrible visitation of judgments comes in connection with, and at the close of, a time of great persecution of the Jew by the nations. Jeremiah speaks of it as the time of Jacob's trouble, and the Man of Fire tells Daniel that there will be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time. This persecution of the Jew, and the visitation of judgments on the earth as a deliverance from it, are connected with the setting up of the Kingdom.
These are the three things that stand dominantly out in these prophetic pages as distinctly-future, the great Jew persecution unprecedented in intensity, the visitation of terrible judgments on the earth, and the coming of a glorious kingdom. And the three are connected. We know that no events have yet taken place that at all satisfy the language used of these three connected events.
This is the simple outline of expected coming events with which the thoughtful reader of God's Word is supposed to be familiar. The reverent student of God's promises and plans and revelations would naturally have all this clear and fresh in his mind as he turns to open the pages of the prophetic book of the New Testament.
Forecast of the Great Storm.
Now it is of intense interest to note that our Lord Jesus speaks of these same three things, at much length, and with much emphasis; the persecution, the visitation of judgments, and the kingdom. It came to me as a great surprise and with startling force when I realized, after gathering out this summary from the Old Testament, that the three things that stand out so sharply there are the very things Jesus speaks of here with such fulness and emphasis.
He puts special emphasis on the time of persecution as of unprecedented horror and ferocity. He plainly indicates that this will be directed not only against the Jew, but against His own followers. Three times this talk of His on Olivet just before His death is given at much length. That talk is given to a little group of Jewish disciples who have broken with the Jewish leaders, and who become the great leaders of the Church formed at Pentecost.
He speaks of that terrible experience as |great tribulation,| |such as there hath not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, nor ever shall be.| We shall find it spoken of in this book of Revelation as |the tribulation, the great one.| It has come to be spoken of commonly as |the tribulation| and |the great tribulation.|
With all this fresh in mind, a run back through the Old Testament brings out that it is spoken of there much more than we may have realized. The warning to Israel, at Sinai, as they made the covenant of allegiance with God, of the bitter punishment that would come if they were untrue, has seemed many times as though couched in very intense, almost extreme language. But it is found to fit into these later descriptions of this great tribulation to come. That warning is repeated, in as intense words and with a greater fulness, by Moses in his series of farewell talks in the Plains of Moab, and it runs through the song he left for their use.
The experiences of the people of Israel in Egypt are found to be an illustration of the coming experience at the end, great persecution and suffering, then great deliverance through a visitation of judgment upon their persecutors, and great revelation of God's glory following. And the experience of the three young Hebrew exiles in Babylon comes to mind. They went through the fire, seven times heated, and they had a marvellous deliverance, and then high promotion.
Certain Psalms shine with new light in the light of this terrible truth. Chief among these is the Ninety-first. Quite likely it grew up out of the experience of Israel at the last before leaving Egypt. It, of course, has its practical use in one's daily life. But the vividness and intensity of its meaning will probably never be realized as during the coming tribulation days. Nor will the exultant note running through the nine Psalms immediately following it be appreciated as by those experiencing deliverance when the tribulation is over. The Forty-sixth Psalm, and the Psalms of praise immediately following it, likewise seem to get new light.
It is quite probable that very much, all through this Book of Psalms, will be understood and appreciated fully only by the generation of God's people that go through the tribulation and know the deliverance following. Much of the old Book of God is quite meaningless to the Christian who has had no tribulation experience. That is, I mean who has never known opposition in his Christian faith, or who has slipped easily along when there is opposition.
The outstanding features in the Old Testament of this great experience are terrible persecution of the Jew, deliverance at the very worst pitch of extremity, by a visitation of judgment on their enemies, and by Jehovah coming in person for their deliverance; and then the great Kingdom following.
The outstanding features spoken of by our Lord Jesus in His Olivet talk agree with this, but go much more into detail, especially about the tribulation. The tribulation will be preceded by wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecution. There will be many false religious teachers, many Christians untrue to their faith, and a great increase of wickedness. This is a sort of foreshadowing.
The tribulation itself will find all this enormously intensified. It will begin with some astonishing act of blasphemy in the temple in Jerusalem, run its terrible course, and close with a series of judgment-events, earthquake, heavens shaken, and great distress, ending in the visible appearance of the Lord Jesus Himself, out of heaven on the clouds. And this will be a signal for great penitential mourning among the people on the earth.
This, then, is the simple, broad outline with which the thoughtful reader of God's Word would naturally be familiar as he turns to this prophetic book at the end to get our Lord's last message to His followers.
Getting a Broad, Clear Outlook.
As we turn now again to the book of Revelation it will help us to remember the general plan followed in its writing. It is like a series of dissolving views of the same scene, each of which lets us see the same thing from a different point of view.
This is a simple teaching rule for getting a clear grasp of what is being taught. We are familiar with it in the Bible. The story of creation is told in the first chapter of Genesis, and then told again in the second chapter with details not given in the first, the two together presenting the complete story. The historical books of Chronicles present one view of the kingdom of Israel, the official. The books of the Kings give another look at the same period; and the prophetic books a wholly different view as seen by these rarely spiritually minded men of God. Daniel is shown four visions of future events, all covering the same general stretch of events, but with a fuller description, here of one part and there of another. The four Gospels are a familiar illustration of the same principle in teaching and story-telling. This is the plan followed here.
I was impressed anew with the practical value of this method one day in St. Petersburg. We had gone to look at the panorama of the siege of Sebastopol, then on exhibition in a huge, round building. It will be remembered that the British and French allied themselves with Turkey and Sardinia in an attempt to restrain the encroachments of Russia on Turkish territory. The famous charge of Balaklava, immortalized by Tennyson, is remembered as the most stirring event of that war. Its chief event was the siege of Sebastopol on the Crimea peninsula, in the Black Sea.
At the panorama we stood as though on a high central point in the city of Sebastopol, with the view spreading out in all directions. To the north lay the harbour with the Russian ships securely bottled in by the attacking fleets. To the west a body of French soldiers were retreating, hotly pursued by Russian troops, while in the distance British troops are hurrying to the relief of the French.
Then we looked east, where the fighting was going on at close range, the wounded being carried away and the reserves hastening up to take their places. And again we turned to the south, where the battle raged fiercest. The face of the commanding officer stood out so vividly. And we almost shrank from the fierceness of the fire. And the smell of powder almost seemed stifling.
And as I stood brooding afresh on the horrors of inhuman war, I was tremendously impressed that only by such successive views could I get such a grasp of that memorable siege. I had a more intelligent and vivid understanding of it than ever before.
And so it is that we may get a simple, clear, and real grasp of the tremendous tribulation time that is coming, that it is presented to us in this fashion, first one distinct view, then another, and another, till some understanding of the whole begins to get hold of us.
We have seen the Lord Jesus, in the vision in chapters four and five, as He comes forward to take an advance step. We have seen the tremendous outburst of praise in heaven as He steps forward. This step and scene are in heaven. The earth is wholly unaware of it at that moment.
Now all that follows is connected directly with that advance step. This is the significant thing to get clearly fixed in mind. At the present time our Lord Jesus is still walking among the candlestick Churches watching and waiting. We are still in that waiting time. The Holy Spirit still dwells in the Church on earth.
At some time in the future, no one knows, nor can know, just when, the Lord Jesus will rise up in readiness for an advance move. He will withdraw the Holy Spirit from the Church up into His presence again |before the throne.| Then in connection with this advance step there will occur on the earth the things spoken of in these pages following. This is the tremendous fact to keep clear, the immediate connection between these happenings on earth and His new move in heaven.
We come now to these happenings on earth. There are seven distinct views given here in this section, chapters six to the end of the book. There is a great detail in description which it would be both instructive and interesting to study out. But we want to get at the essential things. And so we will give our time and thought to these essentials.
Our Lord Jesus is represented as about to take possession of His realm. The first step is a dispossessing of the claimants in possession. This furnishes the key to what follows. The descriptions are of the process of cleaning out the evil forces. At the close of this we find Him taking possession (in chapter twenty) and reigning over the earth.
These descriptions make it clear at once that this is the tribulation so much spoken of in these preceding pages. What follows fits so into what has been spoken of that the identification seems complete. The thing our Lord Jesus is revealing here tallies with what He had told John before on Olivet.
There comes first a general description of the whole period (chapters vi.-vii.). Then follows a description of how these happenings will come. It will be through the withdrawal of restraint and so the loosening out of evil (chapters viii.-ix.). During this whole period there will be a special faithful witnessing on earth, in the midst of the riot of evil, to God and His truth (chapter xi.).
A detailed outline of the run of events follows, giving much additional information, picturing the rise and characteristics of the leader of the tribulation time, and the manner of its close (chapters xii.-xiv.). There follows this a description of the judgments and the supreme contest with which the period closes (chapters xv.-xvi.). There is a description of the organized system of evil, and then of the fall of the capital of the system (chapters xvii.-xviii.) And then follows the actual coming of our Lord Jesus, the setting up of the kingdom, and subsequent events (chapters xix.-xxii.).
A General Look at the Storm and Its Close.
We turn now to the first of these. It begins with a crowned One seated on a white horse going forth conquering and to conquer. This description agrees with the much fuller description of the Lord Jesus near the end of the book, as he goes to the earth for the decisive close of the tribulation.
This gives fresh emphasis to the fact that what follows is the direct result of His advance step. At once there follows on earth a time of war, famine, death, and of persecution to the death of God's people. There is no hint as to how long this goes on. It is brought to a close with an earthquake and an equally terrific disturbance of the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars, something unknown before.
The utmost consternation is created on earth. All conditions of men, crowned kings, merchant princes, men of autocratic power financially and politically and socially, join with the humblest in hiding themselves in the great holes made by the earthquake. They feel that the time of judgment has come, and they are not ready for it.
The description of their terror tallies remarkably with the prophetic language used by Isaiah, even as the whole description fits into our Lord's Olivet talk. This is seen to be a general, rapid vision of the whole tribulation period.
Then there follows what clearly seems to be a parenthesis fitting in just before the great earthquake. The earth and sea have been terribly torn up by the earthquake. This parenthesis begins with a command that the earth and sea be not hurt until certain things have taken place.
This fits the two events of the parenthesis in just before the ruinous earthquake takes place. The two events are of a radically different sort from what has just been told. They are thus put by themselves, and the run of evil and of judgment upon it, put by itself, so keeping these two quite clear, following the general plan of the book.
There are two events in this parenthesis. There is what is called the |sealing| of a certain number of the Hebrew tribes on the earth. Twelve thousand of each tribe are sealed, making a total of one hundred and forty-four thousand. The word |seal| is used in two senses in the Bible, as a means of fastening up a writing or roll, and, in the New Testament, commonly for the presence of the Holy Spirit in a human life.
The seal in this second sense was a mark of ownership. Paul tells us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, so indicating that we belong to the Lord Jesus, who gives us this evidence of His ownership. If this simple, natural meaning be taken here, it would mean that at this time the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon the Jew. The spiritual regeneration spoken of so frequently in the prophetic pages takes place at this time.
The significance of the numbers should be noticed. Twelve is the number commonly used in the Bible, for corporate completeness, to indicate that a group is complete. Twelve times twelve would simply represent a fully completed corporate number. That is to say, upon the entire body of Jews then living on the earth the Holy Spirit is poured out, thus marking them once again as God's peculiar people, restored fully to favour after the long national rejection.
The second event is of equally intense interest, indeed to us of non-Jewish birth it has yet greater interest. John is up in heaven. It is from that point of view that he sees. Now he is suddenly startled. All at once there appears before his eyes a group he had not seen before. He describes it as a great multitude, actually countless, out of all the peoples of the whole earth, a great polyglot polyracial world company.
They are clothed in white, holding the conqueror's palm in their hands, and singing, making wondrous music. John is getting another taste of the music of heaven. And their singing is a signal for a fresh outburst of praise by the angels, the elders, and the living creatures. All this seems to occur suddenly, this appearance of this new company before the throne.
John gazes spellbound, wondering who these are, and where they come from, and what this means. And he is told that these are they that come out of the tribulation, the great one, down on the earth. Then in a few exquisitely tender, heart-touching words their happiness is described.
These two events occur just before the terrible earthquake and the shake-up of the earth's heavenly bodies. Just before the judgment that closes the tribulation this double event takes place, the conversion of the Jews, and the catching away out of the tribulation distress on earth, up into the presence of the throne, of the followers of our Lord Jesus.
We remember that that great Jew, Paul, was converted by the appearance of Jesus in the heavens above him. We remember that in the Olivet talk Jesus says that His followers will so be gathered up to Himself at the time of His second coming. These two events, taking place here, tell us what has happened down on the earth. In his vision John, being in heaven, sees these things as they appear from above.
This is the first view of the tribulation. It begins with the moment when our Lord Jesus up in heaven begins action, describes the characteristics of the tribulation on earth, and closes with the national regeneration of Israel, and the catching up from earth of Christ's true followers.
Evil Let Loose.
The second view runs through chapters eight and nine. Chapters ten and eleven to the close of verse thirteen make a distinct parenthesis. And then this view is picked up again at eleven, fourteen, and runs to the close of that chapter. But this final bit in chapter eleven is merely a connecting link with what comes later. Practically the whole of this view is in chapters eight and nine.
It closes with an earthquake, so connecting it with the final event in the first view. It begins with a period of prolonged silence, which would seem to answer to the hush in the great volume of praise in the first view, when the Lamb takes the sealed roll. So it carries us back to the same starting-point as there.
There is first a striking scene before the throne, where John sees a golden altar. On this there is being offered incense, which is said to be added to the prayers of all the saints. Incense and prayers rise together before God. Then an angel pours some of the fire of this prayer-altar into the earth, and a storm follows. So these two views, first and second, have another common starting-point, the beginning of a storm.
This is a very suggestive scene. The prayers of all the saints, both in earth and heaven, have a decided restraining influence over evil down on earth at the present time. At the close they will become a decisive influence in the cleaning-up process on earth, and the bringing in of the new order.
Then follows a fourfold description of distressing events on earth, which are caused by fiery influences coming out of the heavens. The language used seems to make clear that it is through a loosening out of the powers of evil that the tribulation comes.
In the picture language of the vision, |a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea,| with injurious results to water, to life, and to shipping. A mountain is a common figure in the Bible for a great ruling power. So Israel is called by Isaiah. The seventeenth chapter of Revelation speaks of seven kingdoms as seven mountains. In Jeremiah, Babylon, which is spoken of repeatedly and typically as being the embodiment of evil and of opposition to God, is called: |O destroying mountain ... which destroyest all the earth, (I) will make of thee a burnt mountain.| It speaks here also of |a great star, burning as a torch,| that fell upon the rivers and makes them bitter as wormwood. These two things seem to suggest clearly that the great hurt done to sea and vegetation, to all life, and through the obscuring of the heavenly lights, is a result directly of the powers of evil having been loosened out.
The long restraint upon evil through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is now withdrawn in the withdrawal of the Spirit. His withdrawal is practically an answer to the tacit prayer both of world and Church. That prayer is being answered. The |One| who restraineth has been withdrawn. This it is that makes the tribulation on its negative side. The awful character of the demons from the pit is so utterly beyond human experience up to that time that there seem no adequate words to describe them.
The Gospels are full of the awful activity of demons on earth in possessing men. In our own land there is not wanting plenty of evidence of men horribly possessed by demons. In the older countries of Europe this experience is much more marked. But it is in heathen lands that it is most marked, where even the very air seems charged with evil forces, as though these unseen demons swarmed about.
Yet all this sort of thing is now under restraint. What it will mean to have that restraint withdrawn, and the horrid hordes here described free to do as they will, no imagination can depict. This is well called the first woe, and an awful woe it will be. Mercifully there is a time limit set on this demon activity.
Following this comes the loosing out of another horde of demons, as difficult of description, and yet more terrible. They seem countless, yet there is a limit to their numbers. The supreme Hand is never wholly withdrawn. These have power to kill as well as to torment. This is the second woe. It is most strikingly noticeable that neither of these things has influence to make men penitent.
The last item of this view is given in chapter xi.14-19. The announcement is made that the sovereignty of the world is transferred to our Lord and His Christ. The temple of God is seen open, and some further action takes place, but the detail of it is reserved for another view. Such is the terrible sight in the second view of the tribulation time. Evil is loosened out, apparently unrestrained, and yet under restraint. This it is that makes the tribulation on its positive side.
The parenthesis in the description of this view has been spoken of. It runs through chapters ten and eleven to the close of verse thirteen, and contains two chief things. The first is a little group of three items. There is a fresh description of our Lord Jesus as He is seen standing with one foot on the sea and the other upon the earth, and holding a little open book. Then seven thunders roar out. John is about to write, but is told not to. That terrific storm coming is far greater than can be told. Then comes the solemn declaration that there will be no further delay, but that at once shall be finished up this terrible time of judgment. Then follows a personal word to John. These three items make up chapter ten.
God's Faithful Witnesses.
Then comes the second thing, in chapter eleven on to verse thirteen, which proves to be the third view of the tribulation. It shows that during the whole of this tribulation time there will be a special faithful witness being borne to God and His truth. As the Holy Spirit is being withdrawn from the Church, these two men begin their special ministry of witnessing.
The place of that witness will be Jerusalem. But recent events will have brought a greatly diversified population to that city from all parts of the world. So that the witness becomes world-wide in its immediate reach, and probably in the reports of it that go out.
While there is good reason for thinking that these two witnesses may be Enoch and Elijah, the two men of Bible record, one before the Flood and one after, who were distinctively God's witnesses, and were taken away without death, yet it is best not to stop over a matter that has been and is apt to be a matter of mere idle speculative talk. The thing worthy of note is that as the Holy Spirit's distinctive witness is withdrawn there will be these two special witnesses sent to Jerusalem for a witness that will be world-wide in its extent and influence. Such is God's gracious patience and longsuffering.
These two men are clothed in mourning as a part of their witness. They have miraculous power in protecting themselves against attack, and in withholding rain, and sending plagues among the people, and in turning water into blood, to give force and effect to their testimony. Their witness continues through twelve hundred and sixty days.
John had already been told that Jerusalem would be trodden under foot by the nations for forty-two months. We are apt to think that it has been trodden under foot or desecrated by the nations for an immensely longer period. But prophecy never gives any reckoning of time for Israel, except when Israel is an organized nation. It is concerned with telling Jewish national events.
At this time the Jews have their national organization again in Palestine. For forty-two months after the nation has been newly set up the city will be so trodden under the desecrating feet of the nations. This is the first hint of time we have had. The witnessing and the desecration of the holy city will continue side by side for three and a half years.
At the end of this period evil will be given full swing over these witnesses. They are killed and their bodies left lying in the streets, while the international crowds make merry because their tormentors, as these two are called, are gone. Then before the terror-stricken gaze of these crowds the two men come to life, and are caught up into the heavens. Is this the moment when all are caught up? Quite possibly. Then comes the terrible earthquake as at the end of the other two views.
The one distinctive thing told here is that during the tribulation, in the midst of all the blasphemous reign of unrestrained wickedness, there will be the unbroken, faithful witnessing. This seems to explain why the account comes as a parenthesis in the account of the awful riot of evil. During the worst of the evil there will go on unbroken the faithful, gracious testimony of God's truth and love.
The Lawless Leader.
The fourth view takes the longest sweep of any, thus far, goes into much more detail, and gives much fresh information. It runs through chapters twelve to fourteen. In the intensely picturesque language of a woman arrayed in the most glorious splendour and dignity and power imaginable the nation of Israel is depicted.
This woman is with child. In more intensely dramatic language Satan is pictured as standing before the woman waiting to destroy her child as soon as born. The child is born, a man-child, who is to rule all the nations with autocratic sway. He is caught up to heaven, and his mother flees into the wilderness from the serpent. This is the opening action of this view.
The meaning lies open on the face. Israel gave birth to the man Jesus, who foiled all the attacks of Satan and ascended to heaven. The old prophetic characteristic of connecting events far apart without reference to intervening time is marked here. The long interval between the break-up of the Jew nation and its taking shape again as a nation, which has lasted nineteen hundred years roughly, comes between the last word of verse five and the first word of verse six.
The prophetic writing takes no reckoning of Israel, except as a nation. The woman fleeing into the wilderness is Israel organized again as a nation suffering persecution. She is so persecuted for twelve hundred and sixty days, but divinely protected and preserved. Such is the first act of the drama pictured here.
Then we are told why the woman flees, that is, the explanation of this special persecution of the Jew this time. Satan has had his headquarters somewhere in the heavens, below God's throne, but above the earth. Now, after a conflict, he is cast out of heaven, down to the earth. Here is a third event that comes approximately at the beginning of the tribulation time, Satan is cast down to the earth.
The Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the Church up to heaven, so removing the restraint upon evil. Satan is cast out of heaven and comes down to earth. Thus there is a double intensifying of evil on the earth, the withdrawal of restraint, and the presence of the evil one himself. And as the witness of the Holy Spirit is withdrawn the special witness of the two men in Jerusalem begins.
The defeat of Satan in this heavenly conflict draws out a burst of praise from the upper hosts. It is because of the great victory of our Lord Jesus in His death that this victory is gotten. They overcome because of the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death, -- a threefold cord that could never, and can never, be broken or successfully resisted.
This explains the special persecution at this time of the reshaped Jewish nation. It is the outburst of the rage of the freshly defeated Satan. But the Jew is protected. The armies that would swallow the Jew up are swallowed up by the great earthquake that closes the tribulation time.
The length of this persecution is put in two different ways, twelve hundred and sixty days, and |time, times, and half a time.| This latter phrase seems to be an old Oriental or Hebrew way of saying a year, two years, and half a year. The same length of time is expressed in yet another way in the eleventh chapter, forty and two months. The time is thus put in three different ways, that we may know surely that it means just plain three and a half years of our common time. It is significant that the dragon makes war with |the rest| of the woman's seed. This can only mean the Church, which of course was born in the Jewish nation. This is the first run of events in this view.
Then follows a description of the awful leader of evil during the tribulation time. It is significant that, as Satan is cast out of heaven down to the earth, this leader appears among men. He has great intelligence and power and is the very embodiment of blasphemy. He is described as a strange mixture of wild beasts, having the chief characteristic strength of each, the cunning of the leopard, the feet of the bear, and the mouth of the lion.
He is the personal representative on earth among men of Satan. There is something strangely uncanny in the suggestion that he is some former leader, who died, and is now raised from the dead. There seems to be nothing too daring for Satan to attempt in his impious opposition to God. This leader comes into great prominence and power. All the world wonders after him. And they worship Satan, who is recognized as giving his power to this notorious leader.
He comes to be accepted as the world ruler, and is commonly worshipped by the people. And he not only persecutes God's people, but overcomes them. A limit of time is set to his sway. It is the same as already noted for Jerusalem being desecrated, for God's two witnesses, and for the persecution of the Jew, i.e., forty and two months, three and a half years.
It is striking that in the midst of the description of his terrible reign there comes a word that sounds like an echo from those messages to the Churches. |If any man hath an ear, let him hear.| Then the word goes on warning, pleading, and encouraging. In the midst of these blasphemous conditions every man must do as he personally decides. He may yield to this evil and become a captive of evil, bound hand and foot. He may try to use the world's weapons in fighting God's battle, but will find himself outmatched in their use. He may rise to the true level, and steadfastly cling to his faith, and endure, and by faith be victorious in the end.
The description goes on to tell of the blasphemous worship demanded of all. This leader has an assistant or lieutenant to whom he deputizes great power. He makes an image to his chief, and demands all to worship at this shrine. He has supernatural power, that is, devilishly supernatural. He performs great miracles, even calling down fire from heaven. He gives breath to the image and makes it speak. And he punishes with death any one who refuses this blasphemous worship to the leader and his image. And every one is required to have a mark on his hand or his forehead as indicating his loyalty to the leader. Whoever refuses is unable to buy or sell. It is the boycott principle carried to the last extreme.
While God's two witnesses are doing miracles by divine power this lieutenant is doing them by devilish power. So the fearful account goes on. One can easily imagine the vast crowds swayed by the idolatrous worship, and the intense suffering and distress among those who insist on being steadfast and true in their faith.
Now in the midst of all this terrible scene John is suddenly and tremendously startled by something else.
In the vision John is in heaven looking down on these scenes on the earth. Now his attention is attracted by a scene that suddenly takes place before his eyes in heaven. It is a scene of wondrous winsomeness and beauty. It stands out in sharpest contrast with what is going on on the earth.
There's a great company standing around the Lord Jesus, before the throne. They are singing a wonderful song to the accompaniment of harps, which they have. The volume of music is like the voice of many waters, or like great thunder. There is a simple, fine description of the character of these singers. They are pure, and they are obedient. In their purity they are as undefiled virgins, the highest possible statement of purity. And they follow the Lamb unquestioningly whithersoever He goeth with fullest obedience.
Who are these, and where have they come from so suddenly, at this moment, into the presence of the One on the throne? The description tells just what has happened. When things are at their devilish worst down on the earth the Lord Jesus has caught up His own from the earth. And they have become like Him in character, for now they see Him face to face as He is.
This recalls the scene, essentially the same, back in the first view, in chapter seven, where the great multitudes are suddenly seen before the throne with palm branches, songs, and white garments. It is the same company as there. But there is a difference in telling the numbers. There they are too many to be counted. Here they are said to be a hundred and forty-four thousand. It is symbolical, a picture number, the number of full corporate completeness as with the Spirit-baptized Jews in chapter seven.
The believers caught up out of the great tribulation have been joined by the trusting hearts of all time who have been waiting in the Father's presence for this glad day. The number is now complete of all from creation's earliest dawn, who by grace have followed fully, regardless of hindrance or opposition. This great climax is thus seen by John in sudden and sharp contrast with the climax of hellish evil on the earth.
Then John is shown the steps by which this climax is reached. Verses six to the close of this chapter seem clearly to be a detail of what has gone before, describing the steps by which this climax is reached, and then reaching further to the judgment upon the evil. During the iniquitous scenes being enacted on earth an angel is seen flying in mid-heavens calling to the people on earth, in warning, to give their worship and reverence to God only. The gracious wooing of God never ceases.
Another angel follows, calling out that the great system of iniquity, in which they are enmeshed, is doomed. A third gives solemn warning that those who yield to the terrible pressure, and engage in the blasphemous worship, will be surely and terribly punished. Again there comes another echo of the strain of pleading in the Church messages. In the midst of just such conditions as prevail then, the saints can be steady in keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
And down into the awful persecution being waged comes an encouraging voice from heaven. There is special blessing from God on all those who remain true, even unto death. There will be sweetest rest for them, and their faithful witnessing and suffering shall be all noted and acknowledged and rewarded as they come up into the Father's presence.
And then follows the blessed harvest of the righteous whose wonderful arrival in heaven has already been told in the opening scene of this chapter. And then follows the awful harvest of evil down on the earth, the visitation of judgments coming at the very end of the persecution.
So closes this long remarkable view of the tribulation. It connects back with the nation of Israel. Its beginning is connected practically with the casting of Satan down to earth. It gives a description of the leader and the nature of the persecution, and a brief statement of the steps with which it ends. And it states in three different ways that the length of time involved is three and a half years.
A Bitter Cup to Its Dregs.
The fifth view is, not of the whole tribulation time as with these others, but of only a part, the closing part. It speaks of the visitation of judgments, the great climactic battle, and the earthquake, with which the period is brought to its end.
It connects at the point in the fourth view where those who have been suffering in the tribulation are seen standing before the throne singing with harps. It is said that they are singing the song of Moses, who had the experience of tribulation and deliverance in Egypt, and the song of the Lamb, who went through the worst tribulation experience in His contest with Satan and sin on our behalf.
It connects also with the close of the second view, where the temple is seen opened and the ark of the covenant is seen. That covenant is now to receive further fulfilment. God never forgets His promises and agreements. Seven angels have seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God. In this way is told the visitation of judgments now described as taking place at this time.
In the first view the picture is of seals being broken or opened, which indicates the execution of a document. The trumpets of the next view indicate a commanding call to action; the seven thunders, not written, a great storm. These bowls or vials indicate the administration of a dose of bitter-tasting medicine. The visitation of judgments by God is commonly spoken of in Scripture in this language.
Then follows the description of the judgments upon men's persons, and everything concerning their life. Men's bodies are diseased, the water is unfit to drink, the food supply cut short; they suffer with terrible heat, and then darkness. But there is no penitence. The Euphrates is said to be dried up, suggesting that it is the great river at or near the world's centre of action. So, it is said, the way is prepared for the kings that come from the east.
And the prophetic bit in Isaiah comes to mind about men passing over the Euphrates at the time of the great gathering of the Jews. As though aroused by all this to bitterest opposition there is increased demon activity, and through it a great gathering of all nations, at a place named in Palestine, for a great battle.
Then a terrible climax comes in the earthquake, with which the first, second, and third views closed. It is the worst earthquake ever experienced. It centres in |the great city,| Babylon, the capital of the whole system of wickedness. With the storm is a terrible hail. The description tallies with that in the close of the first view, and with the vivid prophetic bit in Isaiah ii.10-22.
There's no suggestion of how much time all this takes. The judgments visited on Egypt at the deliverance of Israel are described at much greater length, running into ten items. Yet all could have occurred within five weeks, allowing for brief intervals. Whether these judgments occur in succession, or all at once, or partly in both ways, they could all come within a very short time. This fifth view depicts the final scene. It gives the visitation of judgments ending the tribulation period, describes a great pitched battle, in which all nations are involved, and ends with the earthquake. This is the third of the three great woes.
The sixth view is of the great system of wickedness in the world, through which the tribulation comes, and which is judged at its close. The description is full of details of great interest and instructiveness, but we can only have time at present for the essential thing being taught. The Spirit takes John into a wilderness. To the Spirit's eye wherever wickedness has sway, whether vulgar or polished, political or commercial, cunning or brazen, it is a wilderness.
Here is shown a woman gorgeously clothed, prodigally bedecked with jewels, and having a cup in her hand, made of gold, but full of vile filth. Upon her forehead appears a description: |Mystery [or explanation of mystery], Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.| This woman is riding upon a strange beast; it is scarlet-colored, with seven heads and ten horns, and full of blasphemous names. This is the startlingly suggestive picture.
Who is this woman? And what is this beast upon which she is seated? The whole description taken together suggests that she is meant to stand for the whole system of wickedness which has had such sway in the world from earliest time until the end. And the beast represents typically the dominant governmental powers. The two have always worked together. There has been a consistent unity of spirit and of characteristic, and a persistent devilishness marking the wickedness in the world throughout the ages.
It has been as though there were an unseen spirit power tirelessly at work behind all the varied manifestations of evil. The dominant characteristic always has been blasphemy of God. It has controlled thrones and royal power, and has had unlimited gold at its command. And it has always been an enemy, subtle or open, cunning or violent, of God and His people.
That system or genius of evil is represented in the Old Testament as finding expression in one great political power after another, but chiefly in the power of Babylon. Babylon stands typically in these older pages, not merely for the great empire of the Euphrates, but for the unseen spirit of evil lying behind that power, and making use of it to carry through its own foul purposes.
But that unseen evil spirit power has found more than one agency to dominate and use. Babylon long since passed off the stage as a political factor. But the power of evil has not ceased. It is distressing to note another great organization behind and through which the power of evil has worked. What is the system that has, for the past sixteen centuries, been supported by the various great civil governments?
There is only one answer. It is the organization known as |the Christian Church.| And the term Church must be taken here in its fullest, broadest meaning. Its great main stem historically is the Roman Catholic Church. The first great split-off was the Greek Orthodox Church. The Church of England was a later break-off. These, with the various government-ally supported Churches, and those free of such support, and various ancient primitive bodies, -- these all together make up the organization known as |the Church.|
The two symbolical characteristics of this woman and the two dominant characteristics of this historical Church are the same. The Church has been and is supported almost wholly by the civil governments, and used by them in furthering their policies. And it has been active in persecuting to death the people of God who would not yield to its domination. It has been marked by intolerance of all not yielding to its wishes, and especially of the Jew. That intolerance has been carried not only to the extreme of blood, but a riot of bloodshed. This is utterly heart-breaking to realize and to repeat.
The woman is said to be |drunken (1) with the blood of the saints, and (2) with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.| The twofold statement is seen to cover the two great periods, before Christ and since. And it covers also the two great powers through which the spirit of evil has chiefly worked in those two periods. But the name given first in the plains of Shinar, and used characteristically of the God-defying power of evil, is given here, Babylon. It will be Babylon again at the very end after the Church system is overthrown.
It is plainly said that the beast represents the great civil or governmental power in its final stage, the shape it will be in at the end when these events occur. The chief dominating political power of the world will have passed through a succession of changes, seven kingdoms successively following each other. At the end there will be a combination of some sort, with ten great subdivisions, and one great head over all.
But at the last, the civil power will discard the Church, and persecute it. The spirit of evil thus gets embodiment typically in the great Babylon power, then in the Church, and at the very last, in a coalition of civil powers heading up in a new Babylon.
Then follows announcement of the fall of Babylon. The city is regarded here as the earthly capital of the organized system of unseen evil spirit power at work in the world. The city and the system are inseparably allied. The name Babylon is used in the Bible for both system and city.
If the question be asked what city is meant here, there can be but one answer. From the twelfth of Genesis on the Bible never touches history, except as history touches Israel as a nation. A thoughtful review of the book makes this clear. And this book of Revelation is a gathering-up of Bible threads, and only these. There is only one city in the Bible record that answers to the description here, |the great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.| |Babylon the great.|
But the old Babylon lies in ruins. And its ruined condition has been quoted as the fulfilment of the famous passage in Isaiah xiii.19-22. It should be carefully noted that the present conditions at the site of old Babylon do not seem to satisfy fully the language of that passage. It would seem to be another illustration of the rare use of language in the Bible, which adapts a passage accurately to one event, and then to a second event, a long time afterward.
This would, of course, involve the rebuilding of the old capital of the Euphrates. The reverent student quietly notes the movements taking place in that part of the world, but restrains mere curious speculation, as he continues fervently to pray, |Thy kingdom come.|
This eighteenth chapter of Revelation seems like an echo of that intense twenty-first of Isaiah, and indeed of a strain sounding all through the prophetic books. One familiar with the old writings is not surprised to find this echo; he expects it. No echo of God's voice or purpose is ever lost. God never loses any of the threads out of His hand.
Hallelujah! He Comes.
The seventh view presents the climax. It includes from chapter nineteen to chapter twenty-two, verse five. It presents in full the great scene that closes this tribulation period; touches the kingdom in a bare word so as to fit it into its place in the scheme of events being outlined; and then gives the final wind-up after the Kingdom time is over. We want to look now at the portion connected immediately with what has just gone before, the description of the wondrous close of the tribulation, in chapters nineteen, verse one, to twenty, verse three.
John hears a great outburst of worship and praise in heaven. It resembles the outburst back in chapter five, when the Lamb took the book. But it is seen to be yet greater than that. Its joy and delight seem wholly unbounded. Again the living creatures and the four and twenty elders lead the song that bursts out.
John tries to tell how great was the volume of adoring song that fills all heaven. It is like the voice of a great multitude, like the waters that he had heard many a time breaking in deafening roar on the rocky coast of Patmos, like the mighty thunders which he had heard so much in these visions.
And the song they sang explains the exuberance of their singing, |Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty reigneth.| At last He reigneth. In the earlier parts of the book God is spoken of as |He who is and who was, and who cometh.| As later events are described that last part |who cometh| is significantly dropped. Clearly at these points being described He has come. Now the great realization bursts out from countless voices, the Lord, our God, the Almighty reigneth!
And John is bidden to write the words whose refrain has filled such a place in hymns and devout speech, |Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb.| And the one who seems to be serving as John's guide puts peculiar emphasis on all that is being revealed by saying, |these are true words of God.|
John is so overwhelmed that he falls down to worship this one. And then he finds that this is one of his own redeemed brothers of the earth. And as He quietly bids John give his worship to One only, He adds very significant words: |the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.| The whole genius and soul of all this wealth of prophecy is to point men to our Lord Jesus Christ, God to us.
And now comes the event toward which the ages have looked. The heavens open. And our Lord Jesus appears coming in glory to earth. At last He comes. There's a wonderful description. He comes as a conqueror, riding forth to judge the earth righteously, and to make war on evil. His eyes are as a flame of fire, and upon His head many diadems. He has a name indicating that He is all alone in the experiences He has been through, and in His character. He comes as King of kings and Lord of lords, to rule all the earth with a new absolutism, to right all wrongs, and visit the indignant wrath of God upon all sin.
As He appears an angel gives warning of what is coming. In words that are an echo of Ezekiel's, long centuries before, he calls to all the scavenger birds of the earth that haunt battlefields to come to a great feasting time. And John sees the vast armies of the nations of the earth all gathered together for a last mighty battle, under the leadership of the great leader of lawlessness and his lieutenant.
And the utter impotence of their struggle against God is revealed in the quietness and brevity with which their defeat and capture are told. Satan's great earth leader and his chief who deceived the people with his miraculous power, both are taken and forever put away. And then Satan himself is chained and fastened securely in the abyss. Such is the tremendous consummation quietly told in a few lines. And then follows the setting up of the glorious kingdom on earth.
Whatever the immediate circumstances under which the Second Psalm was penned, it will be readily seen how it fits into this situation at the end.
|Why do the nations tumultuously assemble,
And the peoples meditate a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against Jehovah and against His Anointed, saying,
'Let us break their bonds asunder,
And cast away their cords from us.'|
But their efforts seem so puny, and the result so one-sided, that
|He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh:
The Lord will have them in derision.|
And we remember that, in these Revelation pages, it is always with the sword of His mouth that the Lord Jesus is said to fight, as we read on:
|Then will He speak unto them in His wrath,
And vex [or trouble] them in His sore displeasure; [saying] 'Yet I have set my King
Upon my holy hill of Zion.'|
Then the Son speaks:
|I will tell of the decree:
Jehovah said unto me, 'thou art my Son;
This day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'|
And the writer of the Psalms closed with a word of earnest counsel to the kings of earth:
|Now therefore be wise, O ye kings:
Be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve Jehovah with fear,
And rejoice with trembling [awe],
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, For His wrath will soon be kindled.
Blessed are all they that take refuge in Him.|
Thus it is seen that these seven views describe (1) the general characteristics of the tribulation time; (2) the way in which it comes, that is, by the withdrawal of restraint and so the loosing of evil; (3) the faithful witness being borne throughout the period; (4) the great evil leader and the character of the persecution he wages; (5) the visitation of judgments upon earth with the great gathering of nations to battle against God; (6) the world system of evil; and (7) the coming of our Lord Jesus to judge evil and set up the kingdom.
Still He Waits.
It will at once be noted that these things group up, naturally and easily, under three headings. First, there is a terrible persecution of God's people. This will end in a visitation of judgments, including great plagues. There will be a gathering of the armies of all nations, and a great battle. It will end in a decisive defeat for them by the personal coming of the Lord Jesus, and will be accompanied by a terrific earthquake and an equally terrific shake-up of the heavenly bodies connected with the earth, sun, moon, and stars. Then comes the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth. These three things stand dominantly out.
It comes as a surprise to one who has not been thinking especially about it, to find how these three things are the same three that stood out so prominently at the close of the study of future items in the old prophetic books. It is natural that it should be so, of course, since the Book of God is one in its essential unity.
But there is a great fascination in finding the parts to come together so simply and naturally. As we gather up the Old Testament pages these three things sift out and group together as distinctly not yet fulfilled, and so future. As we listen to our Lord Jesus talking, again these same three items are emphasized by Him. And now the same three are found here.
Dr. A. F. Schauffler tells of a striking experience he had in connection with his mission work in New York City. A letter came to him from a stranger in Germany. It said: |I know you are a city missionary. I am sending a trunk in your care. Inclosed in this letter you will find a piece of paper cut. A man will come and present to you a piece of paper matching this piece. Please give him the trunk.| And enclosed in the letter was a piece of paper cut in zigzags.
Letter and paper were laid away to await developments. Some weeks later a stranger came in and presented a queerly cut piece of paper, saying: |I think you have a piece that matches this.| Dr. Schauffler got out his piece of paper, laid the two side by side, found that they matched, and said to his visitor: |There's your trunk.|
Even so these prophetic pages of the New Testament are found to fit exactly the pages of the Old, written centuries before. It is not surprising, however. One hand cut the paper into two pieces in Germany, and naturally they fitted when put together in New York. One Hand has guided the men writing in both Old and New.
When Jeremiah was first called to his work as God's messenger he was shown in vision the branch of an almond tree. The almond tree is the earliest of all trees to wake from its winter's sleep at the first hint of spring warmth coming. And so it was called the |watching| or |watcher| tree. Then God said to Jeremiah: |Even so, I eagerly watch over my word to bring it to life and fruitage at the very earliest opportunity.| And so the word of this watching God and its fulfilment match, regardless of the thing we call time, even running into centuries.
And it is very helpful for those of us who have had a sort of dread of prophecy as of a vague something that we can't understand, to find after all how simple it is. Just three great items stand out of these prophetic pages that are waiting fulfilment.
Such is the seven-fold view, which is taken up almost wholly with the clearing-up storm in the King's realm. But all this is still future. We are still in that waiting time. Our Lord Jesus still stands among the candlesticks. Still He is waiting for His Church to be faithful. He still waits for each of us who is a bit of His Church. He is depending on us to be faithful, by His grace, day by day, during this waiting time. And while He waits all His limitless power is at our disposal, as we follow His leading. We may take as much as we need. But the taking must be with the life.
A dear missionary friend told of a simple experience that meant much to him. We were walking together in the town in Korea where his mission work is. His school was the centre of the recent troublous times in Korea, and the storm seemed to rage about his own person at its outburst. As we talked all his native teachers and several of his older students were in prison. The experience he told me was of earlier days in this country, but had come back to his memory as a great refreshment during the troublous times.
He was a professor in a small college in our Middle West. Special funds were being raised, for extension. He was to ask a certain man of wealth for a large donation. He planned and prayed much, and at last went to see the man in another city by appointment. He had a keen sense of the responsibility of his task.
As he entered the building where the man's office was he was greeted cordially by a young man whom he remembered as a former student, to whom he had been friendly in some time of minor need. But he had not connected him in his mind with this wealthy man, whose son he was. Now as the former student learned of his professor friend's errand, he said with all the confidence of a son on good terms with his father:
|Come right in; father's here.|
As they stepped into the man's office the son said, simply:
|Father, this is an old friend of mine. He's all right. Give him whatever he wants.|
And the father, busy at his desk, with barely a look at the appointed visitor, reached one hand over for his checkbook, and simply said:
|How much do you want?|
My friend, taken completely by surprise at the unexpected turn of events, managed to name the large sum he had been thinking and praying over so much. And before he could quite recover from his surprise, he found himself outside walking up the street with the coveted check in his pocket, praising God for such an answer to his prayers. It had been years before, but as we walked and talked it all came back with a fresh flush of feeling.
The present is a waiting time. It may seem to some as though they are in the wilderness. Clear and distinct comes a quiet voice:
|What'll you have? Whatever you choose to ask, for My Son's sake.|
May we reach out to take as much as He is reaching down to give. But the taking must be with the life.
Ezekiel xxv.-xxxii., xxxviii.-xxxix.
Daniel, throughout, notably vii.-xii.
The book of Isaiah falls naturally into two parts, chapters i.-xl., and xli.-lxvi. The historical allusions in each make it quite clear that these two parts belong in two periods far apart. One hundred and eighty years intervene between the close of the time stated in Isaiah's first chapter as the period of his ministry and the beginning of the return from exile into which the second part fits.
But the full inspiration of the second part is in no wise affected. This rarely Spirit-controlled man modestly or unconsciously withholds his name from his writings. And they are grouped by the old Hebrew compilers with those of Isaiah.
Isaiah xi.1-9; xxxii.1-6.
Isaiah xi.11-16; xxvii.12-13.
Jeremiah xxxi.8-19, 33, 34.
Isaiah xxvi.19; Daniel xii.2.
Isaiah xxiv.1-13, 17-20; ii.12-19; Micah vii.15-17.
Zechariah xii.1-9; xiv.1-2.
Isaiah xxiv.21-22; xxvii.1.
Matthew xxiv.-xxv; Mark xiii; Luke xxi.
Matthew xxiv.21, 29.
Revelation vii.14 literally.
II Corinthians i.22; Ephesians i.13; iv.30.
Revelation viii.10, see also ix.1; Isaiah xiv.12-15.
In regard to Elijah, see Malachi iv.5-6. John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, and of him our Lord said, |this is he who was to come.|
Yet the events of judgment spoken of in Malachi did not take place when John the Baptist and Jesus came. The events spoken of prophetically in connection with His coming are divided into two groups, those of graciousness, finding fulfilment at the first coming, those of judgment followed by graciousness, at the second coming. So John the Baptist fulfils the Elijah part at the first of these two; in all probability Elijah himself at the second part, i.e., |before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come.|
In regard to Enoch, the passage in Jude, verse 14, is of significance. The language, |Enoch prophesied, ... the Lord came, etc.,| is probably spoken in the sense, familiar in the Bible, of a future action seen as already done. Here Enoch is spoken of as prophesying or preaching, not to the people before the Flood, but to a certain class of men belonging to Jude's generation, that is to the Church generation. The likeliest meaning of the words is that Enoch, the seventh and so on, will prophesy, saying, |behold the Lord cometh,| and so on to close of verse 15.
Psalm xi.6; lx.3; lxxv.8; Job xxi.20; Isaiah li.17, 22, 23; Jeremiah xxv.15-17; Ezekiel xxiii.31-33; Habakkuk ii.16; Zechariah xii.2.
Chapters xvii. and xviii.
Revelation i.4, 8; iv.8.
Revelation xi.17; xvi.5.