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A Brief Commentary On The Apocalypse by Sylvester Bliss


1. THE GRAMMAR of any science is a development of the principles by which it is governed. As the science of interpretation must be founded on some fixed and uniform laws, the unfolding of these is the first step in the study of prophecy.

2. BIBLICAL EXEGESIS and SACRED HERMENEUTICS, are terms applied to the science of interpretation, or of learning the meaning of Biblical words and phrases.

3. THE USUS LOQUENDI, is the usual mode of speaking. When applied to the Scriptures, it denotes the general scriptural use of words.

4. To learn the meaning of scriptural terms, their general use must be ascertained, by comparing their contexts in the several places of their occurrence.

5. PROPHECY is the prediction of a future event. The term sometimes denotes a book of prophecies (Rev.22:18); and sometimes a history. -- 2 Chron.9:29.

6. CONSECUTIVE Prophecy gives the succession of future events in the order in which they will transpire. Examples. -- See Dan.2d, 7th, 8th, 11th, and Rev.6th and 7th, 9th to the 11th; 12th and 15th, &c.

7. DISCURSIVE Prophecy presents future events, irrespective of the order of their occurrence. Examples. -- ISAIAH and the minor prophets.

8. CONDITIONAL Prophecy is when the fulfilment is dependent on the compliance of those to whom the promise is made, with the conditions on which it is given. Examples. -- |If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, and do them: then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.| Lev.26:3, 4. |But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you, I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain; for your enemies shall eat it.| Ib. 14-16.

|And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day: that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.| Deut.28:1, 2. |But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day: that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee,| &c. Ib. 15.

Predictions of mere national prosperity, or adversity, are usually conditional. When the condition is not expressed, it is implied. Example. -- The Lord said unto Jonah, |Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.... And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.... And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them: and he did it not.|

For all cases of this kind, the Lord has given the following general RULE: |At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.| Jer.18:7-10.

9. UNCONDITIONAL Prophecy includes all predictions which are absolute in their nature. Examples. -- |But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.| Num.14:21.

|For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.... For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.... Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.| Isa.60:2, 3, 12, 21.

|But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.| Micah 4:1.

10. A VISION is a revelation from GOD, supernaturally presented. Future events are made to pass before the mind of the seer, as if actually transpiring. Examples. -- See the prophecies of ISAIAH, AMOS, OBADIAH, &c.

11. A SYMBOLIC VISION is where the future events, instead of being presented to the mind of the prophet, are represented by analogous objects. Examples. -- The prophecies of EZEKIEL, DANIEL, ZECHARIAH, and JOHN, are of this kind.

12. A LITERAL Prophecy is where the prediction is given in words used according to their primary and natural import. Examples. -- Num.14:21-35; Jer.25:1-33.

13. Prophecy is figurative when it abounds in tropes, as in much of ISAIAH and the minor prophets; and it is symbolic, when symbols instead of the objects themselves are presented -- as in DANIEL and JOHN.

14. POETRY is writing thus constituted by the metrical or rhythmical structure of its sentences; and is not necessarily any more figurative or obscure than prose writing. It is, also, a term sometimes applied to the language of excited imagination and feeling.

The Poetry of the Bible consists in Hebrew parallelisms, where the idea of the preceding line is repeated, or contrasted, in the succeeding one. Examples. -- The Psalms, ISAIAH, and other prophets.

15. HIGHLY FIGURATIVE, or SYMBOLIC Prophecies -- the laws and use of Tropes and Symbols being understood are not necessarily more equivocal, enigmatical or obscure, than those which are literal.

16. LITERAL FULFILMENT of prophecy is prophecy fulfilled in accordance with the grammatical interpretation of its language.

17. LITERAL INTERPRETATION, when technically applied to the interpretation of prophecy, is not opposed to tropes or figures of speech, but to spiritual interpretation. It interprets the language of the Scriptures, as similar language would be interpreted in all other writings.

18. SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION (mystical) seeks, in the language of Scripture, a meaning that is not expressed by any of the ordinary rules of language. It sets at defiance all the laws of language, and makes fancy the interpreter of prophecy. |It subjects clear predictions to an exegetical alembic that effectually subtilizes and evaporates their meaning.| -- Bush.

19. ULTRA LITERAL INTERPRETATION is a disregard of the peculiarities of symbols and of the several kinds of tropes -- understanding them as if they were literally expressed.

20. SYMBOLS and TROPES are literally explained, when interpreted in accordance with the grammatical laws which respectively govern their use.

21. PROPHETIC SYMBOLS are objects, real or imaginary, representative of agents or objects possessing analogous characteristics. All agents or objects seen in symbolic visions are symbols. The inspired explanations of symbols are always literal, except when they are affirmed to be the same as some other symbol which represents the same object, as in Rev.17:9.


I. |The Symbol and that which it represents resemble each other in the station they fill, the relation they sustain, and the agencies they exert in their respective spheres.| -- Lord.

II. The Symbol and that which it represents are of the same, or they are of different species, kinds, or rank, according to the nature and use of the symbol.

III. |When the Symbol is of such nature, or is used in such a relation that it can properly symbolise something different from itself, the representative and that which it represents, while the counterpart of each other, are of different species, kinds, or rank.| -- Lord.

Example. -- Dan.7:3, beasts; v.17, governments.

IV. |Symbols that are of such a nature, station or relation, that there is nothing of an analogous kind that they can represent, symbolize agents, objects, acts, or events of their own kind.| -- Ib. Example. -- Dan.7:9.

V. |When the Symbol and that which it symbolizes differ from each other, the correspondence between the representative and that which it represents, still extends to their chief parts; and the elements or parts of the symbols denote corresponding parts in that which is symbolized.| -- Ib.

VI. |The Names of Symbols are their literal and proper names, not metaphorical titles.| -- Ib.

VII. |A single agent, in many instances, symbolizes a body and succession of agents.| -- Ib.

VIII. Symbols of the same kind, and used in the same relations, always represent one class of objects; and when the office of a symbol has been once shown, the same symbol, similarly used, always fills a like office. They are never used arbitrarily.

IX. While like symbols represent like objects, the same agents are often indicated by different symbols.

Thus, a church may be symbolized by a city and a woman; and government, by a beast and a mountain, &c.


Ancient of Days -- The Most High. -- Dan.7:9, 22.
Candlesticks -- Churches. -- Rev.1:20.
Carpenters -- Destroyers of governments. -- Zech.1:21. Days -- Years. -- Num.14:34. Ezek.4:4-6.
Horns, of a wild beast -- Kings or kingdoms succeeding to a divided empire. -- Dan.8:22 and 7:24.
Heads, of a wild beast -- Kings or forms of government. -- Rev.17:9, 10. Image, of different metals -- A succession of governments. -- Dan.2:37-42.
Incense, or odors -- Prayers. -- Rev.5:8 and 8:4.
Lamb, the -- Christ. -- Rev.5:6, 9, 10.
Lamb's wife -- Risen saints. -- Rev.19:7, 8.
Lake of fire and brimstone -- The place of the second death. -- Rev.20:15.
Likeness of a man -- The Lord. -- Ezek.1:26, 28, and 8:2, 4. Linen, fine and clean -- Righteousness of saints -- Rev.19:8. Mountains -- Kings, or forms of government. -- Rev.17:9, 10. New Jerusalem -- The redeemed Church, or the Bride, the Lamb's wife. -- Rev.21:9, 10.
Revivification of dry bones -- Resurrection of the dead. -- Ezek.37:11, 12.
Stars -- Angels, i.e., messengers of the churches. -- Rev.1:20. Souls of martyrs living again -- The first resurrection. -- Rev.20:4, 5. Stone, becoming a mountain -- Kingdom of God. -- Dan.2:45. Waters -- Peoples. -- Rev.17:15.
Wild Beasts -- Governments. -- Dan.7:17.
Woman -- A city. -- Rev.17:18. Explained to be a church. -- 21:9, 10.

24. TROPES are figures of various kinds, used to illustrate the subjects to which they are applied. -- They embrace the Simile, Metaphor, Prosopopoeia, Apostrophe, Synecdoche, Allegory, &c.

25. LAWS OF FIGURES -- (a.) |The terms in which they are expressed are used in their ordinary and literal sense.| -- Lord.

(b.) |The agents or objects to which figures are applied are always expressly mentioned. Figures, in that respect, differ wholly from symbols, which never formally indicate, unless an interpretation is given, who the agents, or what the objects are which they represent.| -- Ib.

(c.) |The figurative terms are always predicates, or are employed in affirming something of some other agent or object; and are therefore either nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs.| -- Ib.

(d.) |As their terms are used literally, the figure lies, when they are employed in an unusual manner, simply in their being applied to objects to which they do not properly belong.| -- Ib.

(e.) |They are used accordingly in all such cases for the purpose of illustration, and their explication is accomplished, not by assigning to them some new and extraordinary meaning, but simply by conjoining with them the terms of a comparison which expresses the relation in which they are employed.| -- Ib.

(f.) |It is in metaphors and personification only that acts and qualities are ascribed to agents and objects that are incompatible with their nature; or do not properly belong to them.| -- Ib. Theo. & Lit. Jour., vol.1, p.354.

26. A SIMILE, or comparison, is an affirmation that one agent, object, or act, is like, or as, another, -- there being a real or imaginary resemblance. Sometimes only the mere fact of a resemblance is affirmed. At others, the nature of the resemblance is indicated.

Examples. -- |As for man, his days are as grass.| Psa.103:15. |Whose garment was white as snow.| Dan.7:9.

27. ANTITHESIS is a contrast, or placing in opposite lights things dissimilar.

Example. -- |The wicked are overthrown and are not; but the house of the righteous shall stand.| Prov.12:7.

28. A METAPHOR is a simile comprised in a word, without the sign of comparison. It is an affirmation of an object, incompatible with its nature -- i.e., it affirms that an object is, what literally it is only like; or attributes to it acts, to which its acts only bear a resemblance.

Examples. -- |He is the Rock.| Deut.32:4. |Her gates shall lament and mourn.| Isa.3:25.

A metaphor may be a simple affirmation of what an object is, or it may embrace |the agent, the act, the object, and the effect of an action.| -- Lord.

(a.) When an object is affirmed to be what it only resembles, that of which the affirmation is made is always literally expressed.

(b.) |When a nature is ascribed to an object that does not belong to it, the acts or results affirmed to it are proper to that imputed nature, not to its own.| -- Lord.

(c.) |The meaning of a metaphorical passage is precisely what it would be if a comparison only were affirmed.| -- Ib.

29. AN ELLIPTICAL METAPHOR is where the figure is incomplete. An object, instead of being affirmed to be what it only resembles, is introduced by the name proper only to that resemblance. The literal name of the object and the affirmation to complete the figure are to be supplied.

To find the meaning of an elliptical metaphor, trace the word through the Bible, and find to what object such metaphorical term is applied. Example. -- |And in that day there shall be a Root of JESSE, which shall stand for an ensign of the people.| Isa.11:10. Explanation. -- |I [JESUS] am the Root and the offspring of DAVID.| Rev.22:16.

30. PROSOPOEIA, or PERSONIFICATION, is an address to an inanimate object, as if it were a person, and had intelligence. -- Lord. Example. -- |Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.| Deut.32:1.

31. AN APOSTROPHE is a digression from the order of any discourse, and a direct address to the persons of whom it treats, or to those who are to form a judgment respecting the subject of which it treats. -- Lord. Example. -- |Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom: give ear unto the law of our GOD, ye people of Gomorrah.| Isa.1:10.

32. AN ALLEGORY is a narrative in which the subject of the discourse is described by an analogous subject, resembling it in its characteristics and circumstances -- the subject of which it is descriptive being indicated in its connection. Examples. -- See Ezek.31:3-9; Ps.80:8-16; Jud.9:8-15.

Past historical events, instead of supposititious ones, are sometimes used for illustration. When thus used they serve as allegories, without affecting their original historical significance. Example. -- Gal.4: 22-31. See also Rom.9:7, 8; 1 Cor.9:9, 10, and 10:11.

33. A PARABLE is a similitude taken from natural things, to instruct us in the knowledge of spiritual. Examples. -- Matt.13th, and 21:28-41.

The Parable differs from the Allegory in that the acts ascribed are appropriate to the agents to which they are attributed. In the Allegory, acts may be ascribed to real objects which are not natural to those objects. Example. -- See Judges 9:7-15.

The Parable is sometimes used to denote a prophecy, (Num.23:7); sometimes a discourse, (Job 27:1); sometimes a lamentation, (Micah 2:4); sometimes a proverb, or wise saying, (Prov.26:7); and sometimes to indicate that a thing is apocryphal. Ezek.20:49. The terms parable and allegory, are often wrongfully applied.

34. A RIDDLE is an enigma -- something to be guessed. Example. -- See Judges 14:24-18. It is sometimes used to denote an allegory. Ezek.17:1-10.

35. TYPES are emblems -- greater events in the future being prefigured by typical observances, |which are a shadow of good things to come.| Col.2:17.

36. THE HYPOCATASTASIS, or substitution, is a figure introduced by Mr. LORD, in which the objects, or agents, of one class are, without any formal notice, employed in the place of the persons or things of which the passages in which they occur treat; and they are exhibited either as exerting, or as subjected to an agency proper to their nature, in order to represent by analogy, the agency which those persons are to exert, or of which those things are to be the subjects. Example. -- |O, my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.| -- Isa.3:12, -- expressive of the manner in which they were misled by their rulers and kept from the truth.

37. A METONYMY is a reversion, or the use of a noun to express that with which it is intimately connected, instead of using the term which would literally express the idea. Thus the cause is used for the effect, the effect for the cause, the thing containing for that which is contained in it, &c. Example. -- |Ye have eaten up the vineyard.| Isa.3:14 -- meaning the fruit of the vineyard.

38. A SYNECDOCHE is the use of a word expressive of a part, to signify the whole; or that expressive of the whole, to denote only a part -- as the genus for the species, or the species for the genus, &c. Example. -- |Man dieth and wasteth away; yea man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?| Job 14:10.

39. A HYPERBOLE is an exaggeration in which more is expressed than is intended to be understood. Example. -- |I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.| John 21:25 -- meaning that a great number might be written.

40. IRONY is the utterance of pointed remarks, contrary to the actual thoughts of the speaker or writer -- not to deceive, but to add force to the remark. Examples. -- |No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.| Job 12:2.

|And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.| 1 Kings 18:27.

41. THE INTERROGATION -- while its legitimate use is to ask a question -- is also used to affirm or deny with great emphasis. Affirmative interrogations usually have no or not in connection with the verb. Example. -- |Is not God in the height of the heavens?| Job 22:12. Examples of a negative. -- |Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once?| Isa.66:8. |Can the rush grow up without mire?| Job 8:11.

42. EXCLAMATIONS are digressions from the order of a discourse or writing, to give expression to the emotions of the speaker, or writer. Example. -- |O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest!| Psa.55:6.

43. FABLES are fictions -- additions to the word of GOD. All false theories and doctrines supposed to be based on the Bible, all interpretations of Scripture which do violence to the laws of language and falsify their meaning, and all opinions which are the result of mere traditions and doctrines of men, are to be classed as fables. Mark 7:8-13; 1 Pet.1:18; 1 Tim.1:4; 4:7; Tit.1:14.

44. SYNCHRONOUS SCRIPTURES are the several passages which have reference to any one and the same event.

Each portion of Scripture respecting any subject, must be considered in connection with all the Scriptures that refer to the same subject. -- Compare, for example, Dan.2:34, 35, 44; 7:18, 27; Matt.6:10; 13:37-43; 35:34; 1 Tim.4:1; Rev.11:15-18.

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