Last Updated on : Thursday, November 20, 2014
|Thirteen Lectures On The Apocalypse|
Revelation Chapters 4, 5, and 6
(to verse 6)
WITH this chapter we enter upon a new division of the things exhibited to John in the Isle of Patmos. The first three chapters deal with the affairs of the friends of Christ, as organized in separate communities in various parts of the world. Christ in these gives his opinion or judgment of the condition and deportment of these various communities, and advice according to their needs, in such a way as to be beneficial to all his friends afterwards, as we have seen. He now turns John's attention to the future. "I will shew thee things which must be hereafter." John thus addressed finds himself "in the spirit", and a spectator of the scene which becomes visible to him as the result of being in that state.
The picture is a very gorgeous one. It is a picture of over-powering glory and loveliness, symbolic though it be. Nothing more sublime and beautiful could be conceived than the brilliant scene that burst upon his view. A human figure, of dazzling brightness, sits on a shining throne, over-arched by a rainbow of glowing colours. Before the throne, stretching away on all sides, an outspread ocean of glassy splendour and crystalline translucency, on which are grouped before the throne strange but glorious objects; four curiously-formed living creatures glistening all over with eyes, and twenty-four venerable men wearing crowns. Surrounding them on all sides is a countless multitude of the angelic host, forming an outer fringe of glory (chap 5:11). John watches and listens. He sees movements
and hears voices among the living symbols. The elders do homage to the central figure, casting down their crowns: the Four Beasts are instinct with life and give forth sounds of praise. The angelic environment take up the anthem, and the vault of heaven rings with the joyous and melodious outpourings of glorious myriads.
What portion of "things which must be hereafter" can be represented by this opening scene? The symbols themselves would almost bring the answer. It is a kingly picture. There is no mistaking the meaning of a throne anywhere. But it is not an ordinary throne. It is a divine throne: for there are seven lamps burning before it to symbolize the Spirit of God, as explained in verse 5, chapter 4. And the occupant of the throne is proclaimed Creator for whose pleasure all things have been created (verse 11). The most superficial consideration of the picture would suggest that the kingdom of God is here symbolized. This View becomes certain when we look at certain details.
Consider for example the words that are sung by the symbolic four living creatures and the twenty-four elders: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." We know who literally answer to this description. Christ did not die to redeem twenty-four elders and four nondescript creatures: he died to redeem those that were under the law (Gal. 4:4), and also to gather together the children of God that are scattered abroad (John 11:52) -- the other sheep he had which were not of Israel's fold after the flesh (John 10:16), viz., of the Gentiles, whom he afterwards visited by the hand of Peter and Paul, to take out of them a people for his name (Acts 15:14; 26:17-18). Consequently the twenty-four elders and four nondescript living creatures, who in song affirm these things of themselves, are but the symbols of that element of the kingdom of God which consists of the glorified brethren of Christ in their numerical totality.
But why should they be symbolized by four beasts and four-and-twenty elders? There is a very good reason which those only can appreciate who know "the hope of Israel"; and all who truly know the gospel know this. In their corporate completeness, the community to be glorified constitute "the commonwealth of Israel". So Paul styles them (Eph. 2:12), saying that by nature the Gentiles are "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel", but by the gospel become fellow-citizens therein (5:19). The hope of the gospel he styles "the hope of Israel" (Acts
28:20). The man who, though a Gentile, is adopted into the commonwealth of Israel, becomes a Jew, being a Jew inwardly; so Paul says (Rom. 2:29). The Gentile so adopted is likened to a wild branch grafted on the good olive stock of Abraham (Rom. 11:24). The salvation to which he stands related is by Jesus said to pertain to the Jews (John 4:22).
But in what way do these facts furnish an explanation of the employment of four beasts and four-and-twenty elders to symbolize the glorified community of the saints? The answer will be apparent when certain facts are called to mind concerning the house of Israel in the divinely-accomplished and recorded history of the past. When they came out of Egypt, the congregation was divinely organized in four camps, each camp having a standard on which was displayed a beast as the heraldic symbol of the camp. You will find the particulars in the 2nd chapter of Numbers.
1.--THE CAMP OF JUDAH (consisting of the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun), numbering 186,400 men (verse 9); and each man was to "pitch-by his own standard with the ensign of his father's house" (verse 2).
2.--THE CAMP OF REUBEN (consisting of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad), containing 151,450 men (verse 16).
3.--THE CAMP OF EPHRAIM (consisting of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin), 108,100 men (verse 24).
4.--THE CAMP OF DAN (consisting of the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali), numbered 156,700 men (verse 31).
The ensigns of the four camps were the four animals incorporate in the symbolic cherubim--the lion, ox, man, and eagle. These therefore become symbolic of the Twelve Tribes in four camps. The divine encampment, consisting of the tabernacle and the Levitical families, pitched in the midst of the four camps (Num. 1:53; 2:2). These Levitical families were in the days of David divided into twenty-four priestly orders surrounding the throne and conducting the service of the kingdom, which was a service of worship, in due alternate order (1 Chron. 24). Four beasts and twenty-four elders were therefore the fitting and already-appointed symbols of the kingdom of God: for the kingdom of God, as we have learnt from the gospel, is the kingdom of Israel to be restored. The throne of Christ is the throne of his father, David (Luke 1:32; Isa. 9:7): the throne of David was the throne of the kingdom of Israel (2 Sam. 5:1-5). The rearing up of Christ's throne on the earth is therefore the "raising up of the tabernacle of David that is fallen" (Amos 9:11); the raising unto
David a righteous descendant who as "a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth" (Jer. 23:5). Now Jesus promises a participation in the throne to all who secure his approval at the last (Luke 22:30; Rev. 3:21). The scene before us represents in symbol these things accomplished. The four beasts and four-and-twenty elders are eloquent on the subject. They are the heraldry of the kingdom of God, that is, of the kingdom of Israel, past and future. They as distinctly identify the kingdom of David, as the lion and the unicorn and the quarterings of the British shield identify the kingdom of Queen Victoria. The gospel of the kingdom--the hope of the restoration of the kingdom again to Israel under Christ (Acts 1:6; Luke 24:21)--this gives us the interpretation of the splendid symbolism seen by John. You know how powerless the popular theologies are to yield a clue.
See how the details of the symbolism harmonize with the doctrine of the kingdom which it exhibits. The rainbow for example was the appointed token of a covenant of peace between God and the earth's inhabitants (Gen. 9:12): here we have it a prominent object--the canopy of the throne as it were. There is more in this than may appear. It is a pledge of the stability of the glory to be revealed. The revelation of that glory is due solely to the purpose of the Creator. So far as man is concerned there is no reason why it should come, and when it comes, there is no reason why it should stay. The only reason we have for believing it will endure for ever is God's own covenant: "My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, as a faithful witness in heaven" (Psa. 89:34). This covenant is the foundation of our hope, and as we behold the gorgeous arch of coloured light over the throne seen by John, we see a guarantee of the perpetual stability of the salvation that will come with the establishment of that throne on the earth.
Then the rainbow brings another idea. It is seen after storm and when peace has come to the elements. There is storm connected with this throne, for as John looked, he saw "that out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices." These in all languages and among all men stand for the symbols of war. When the throne is established, there is war. The nations league themselves to overthrow it (Rev. 19:19). The "war of the great day of God Almighty" ensues (Rev. 16:14).
There is no doubt as to the issue: "the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful" (Rev. 17:14). The result is to overthrow the power of them everywhere (Psa. 2:9; 110:5-6; Isa. 24:21; 52:13-15; Ezek. 39:17-22; Zeph. 3:8; Hag. 2:21-22; Zech. 12:1-3; 14:1-9). What comes of this devouring outburst of judgment? "The inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). They come from the ends of the earth, and admit they have been entirely led astray in former times (Jer. 16:19). They repair in humble desire to Jerusalem to be instructed in ways of wisdom and righteousness (Micah 4:2), and follow no more "the imaginations of their evil hearts" (Jer. 3:17). Jesus speaks peace to the nations (Zech. 9:10; Ps. 46:9). They abandon war and walk in the light of the Lord (Isa. 2:4-5). After the storm comes sunshine and the resultant rainbow, speaking of peace and stability and of the blessedness with which all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham and his seed.
The rainbow over-arching the thundering throne seen by John, tells us of all those things.
Next, take the sea of glass. We might be at a loss to conjecture the significance of this part of the symbolism were we not informed further on (Rev. 17:15) that the oceanic waters shown to him stood for "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues". Though this interpretation did not apply to the sea of glass, but to the turbid sea which formed the base of the symbols representing the Roman polity, still it gives a clue. It gives us the idea of population being represented by the sea, and from this it is easy to extract the conclusion that a difference in the state of the sea represents a difference in the state of the people. Thus if a troubled sea of water stand for a mortal population with its constant uncertainties and vicissitudes, what can a fixed and vitrified translucent sea stand for but for that state to be finally reached by the agency of the kingdom of God, when the human race will be one family of peace and light? "Mingled with fire" we may understand more easily when we know that the state of the verb in the original describes a past accomplished action submitted to, and not a present state. "Having been mingled with fire" gives us the idea more accurately, intimating that the national translucency and peace will have been attained as the result of the purifying fire of judgment.
Another modification of the original will make the language of the symbol more apparent. The elders are said to have "had on
their heads crowns of gold". This ought to be stephans of gold. The stephan was a crown of a certain sort; still it was not what we understand by a crown. It was the floral wreath awarded to the victors in the Greek games--a "corruptible" wreath, as Paul terms it; in contrast to the incorruptible stephan that will be bestowed on the faithful. Its significance as contrasted with crown lies in the fact that it is only awarded after a struggle. A crown is an affair of hereditary succession: a stephan can only be acquired by individual prowess. Hence, the fact that the elders were stephaned with gold rather than crowned, intimates that the wearers had been in a previous state of conflict in which they had obtained the victory.
The four beasts were "full of eyes", and they rest not day nor night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; which was, and is, and is to come". Eyes, besides representing individualities, are indicative of perception and enlightenment. They may be regarded here as representing the enlightened state of the finally established and glorified commonwealth of Israel, when all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:34), in contrast with the blindness of Israel according to the flesh. The continual ascriptions of the four beasts speak to us of an Israel that recognizes its true position and God's relation to all, unlike Israel under Moses, who "with their mouths drew near to God, but their hearts were far from Him."
Surveying the things as a whole--the first scene witnessed by John in the exhibition of things which were to be in John's "hereafter"--it is plain that as the seven candlesticks represent the seven ecclesias, so this more complete and more glorious symbolism represented the commonwealth of Israel in its glorified and perfect state--the state contemplated in the statement by Jeremiah: "Though I make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee, yet I will not make a full end of thee". People in general are aghast at the suggestion of any connection between this symbolism and the Jewish race. They look at the Jews as they know them in their midst, and they say, "What! are these the heavenly commonwealth?" The mistake they make is in not discriminating between various parts of truth. They overlook the principle laid down by Paul, "They are not all Israel that are of Israel", or rather they misapply this principle. Because the bulk of the Israelitish stock is no part of the finally glorified commonwealth of Israel, they tacitly come to the conclusion that there is no Israel at all, but only so many immortal souls to be saved. They look at Jews who are not really Jews, lacking the
character of Abraham, and deny that there are any Jews. The truth will rectify this mistake. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets (Luke 13:28) will awake from the sleep of death when the time arrives for the setting-up of the throne of David; and they will assuredly be joined by myriads of accepted Jews of their stamp, and of as many adopted Gentiles as the Lord may approve at his coming. They will be one Abrahamic polity, and that polity--a royal institution--is symbolized by the glorious throne of four heraldic beasts and four-and-twenty elders.
But here there is an apparent difficulty. The throne was the first thing seen by John. Many things seen after have come to pass, but the kingdom is not yet established on the earth: how can the throne have symbolized the kingdom in that case? The question is answered in two ways by different classes of objectors. There is first the futurist who, accepting the kingdom as an explanation of the throne, says, the kingdom having not yet come, it follows that all the other events--in connection with the seals, trumpets, vials, etc., are all future, because they come after the kingdom in the order of vision. Then there is the orthodox objector, who grants the seals, trumpets, etc., are all past, but insists that the vision of the throne and the elders must be past too, because coming before things admittedly past: this objector contends that in fact, what John saw was a vision of what was in heaven in the days of John, and therefore a proof of the existence of multitudes of the redeemed at that time, and therefore of the existence of men in the death state. The contention of these objectors is that we must either have the seals future or the throne past--that we cannot have the seals past and the throne future--that they are both past or both future.
Looking at the matter from a merely scenic point of view, there would appear to be considerable cogency in this representation. But we must not judge the matter superficially. The right treatment of truth is carefully to give their logical place to the leading facts, and follow the conclusion to which these facts so placed lead us. Treating the matter in this way, we cannot allow unqualified futurity to a vision which connected itself with events actually occurrent in the days of John: as in explanation of the seven heads and the ten-horned beast of the sea: "five (Kings or sovereignties) are fallen; one IS: and the other is not yet come" (Rev. 17:10); and again, "The woman thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth" (Rev. 17:18). There are other reasons against the futurist view which we
glanced at in the first lecture. As to the orthodox objector, we cannot allow him to claim unqualified actuality in the days of John for a vision shown to him under the express intimation that he was to be shown "things which must be hereafter" (Rev. 4:1). Nor can we allow that dead men are alive (Heb. 11:13; Eccl. 9:5; Isa. 38:18), nor that a kingdom to be manifested at the appearing of Christ (2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Peter 5:4; Jas. 2:5) had actual existence in the days of John. The only interpretation admissible is that which suits all the facts of the case. What is that? How comes it that the kingdom should be shown first, and as an institution apparently contemporary with all the events exhibited in the succeeding parts of the Apocalypse?
The answer is to be found in the fact that in an important sense, the kingdom of God has been contemporary with human history from the beginning. Christ expresses that sense in the words which he says will be addressed to the accepted in the day of his appearing: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". All God has done from the beginning has been the preparation of the kingdom to be entered by the saints at his appearing. Christ illustrates this in all the parables which represent the kingdom as having a present relation to the affairs of men and a present operation among them. He speaks of it as a mustard seed planted, as leaven hid; as a net submerged in the waters; as a marriage feast for which invitations have been issued; as a vineyard let out to husbandmen, and so on (Matt. 13:13, 33, 47; 22:2; 21:33). If it be asked how he could speak of a kingdom not yet established as a something existing all the while, it has to be remarked that although never yet established in the form in which the saints will be invited to inherit it, it has in point of fact existed since the day that God organized Israel into a kingdom by the hand of Moses (Psa. 114:1-2; Exod. 19:6). The kingdom of God is the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:5; 2 Chron. 13:8; 9:8). Jesus told the twelve disciples that it was their Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom (Luke 12:32), and when they inherit it, how do we find them enthroned? "Sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). The kingdom of God is the kingdom of Christ, and (Eph. 5:5) the kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of David (Luke 1:32; Isaiah 9:6; Jer. 23:5). Consequently, we are enabled to understand what Christ meant when he said to the rulers of the kingdom of David 1,800 years ago: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from
you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43).
Now because of these things, it is by no means so unnatural as it would otherwise appear for the Apocalypse to represent the kingdom as contemporary with the events that were to transpire among men during the absence of Christ. Christ's own existence supplied this element of coincidence. The person of Christ as the son of David and the Son of God was the kingdom in a nutshell, so to speak. He was the power and essence of the kingdom. This kingdom is his power spread out. While this power is unspread out, the kingdom may be considered as bound up in him, as recognized by the people on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem when they sang "Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Mark 11:10). Though withdrawn from the earth, he has had to do with all that has been going on in the earth. He did not abandon the earth to itself. In fulfilment of his promise (John 15:26) he sent the Spirit upon the apostles, and through them, conducted a great work in the midst of Israel. He established an encampment among them in the order of things founded by the apostles. This encampment became a potent fact in relation to the affairs of men. It was brought to bear on all the habitable in the divine message and invitation it heralded everywhere. It became what dealers in phrases call the raison d'etre of European politics in their divine regulation. It was the representative of the kingdom of David in relation to the Gentile powers. It was the representative of the kingdom as a coming institution--as a foregone conclusion: not a contingency--not a potentiality, but a certainty, and therefore to be spoken of as all divine purposes are spoken of, in the language of accomplished fact. It was therefore exhibited first in order in the vision of "things which must be hereafter"--first as a fact in a certain form, supplying the starting point of the vision of what would transpire during the times of the Gentiles, and second, as the upshot of all the events that would so transpire. It was the enigmatic illustration of the fact that the purpose of God is the first and last in the affairs of men, and the explanation of the course of those affairs, and the termination of that course in the proposed age of glory. It proclaimed heraldically that that purpose hinges on the kingdom of David. In relation to the times of the Gentiles, the kingdom of David was first and last; and God has regulated those times with reference to the exigencies of that kingdom. The Gentiles exalt their horn over the land of Israel--not
by their own prowess, but by divine permission and arrangement because of Israel's sins. -- (See Ways of Providence). When they have accomplished the whole work of God upon Israel; the kingdom of David will re-appear. Therefore, it is in harmony with the fitness of things that the kingdom of David should be the beginning of the vision shown to John in Patmos, and the end thereof in the establishment of the Holy City as the Ruler of all the earth.
The symbols employed to represent the kingdom combine both this past and future. They recognize the political reality of the throne of David in the past as the pivot of the divine plan, and at the same time exhibit the divine purpose to establish that throne in the hands of Jesus and the saints as the basis of universal empire in the age to come. Both features are combined, and thus place is found for the apparently incompatible elements of co-existence and futurity, and escape provided from the contradictory theories of the Apocalypse already referred to. The details of the vision throughout are also by this means harmonized.
As an illustration of the difficulty created by other theories in connection with those details, we may point to the fact that the time for raising and judging the dead, and rewarding all the servants of God "small and great", arrives only under the seventh seal in chapter 11:18. How is this to be reconciled either with the idea that the redeemed were in a state of reward in heaven in the days of John, or with the idea that all the seals and all the vision comes after the exaltation of the saints at the coming of Christ? So also with the slaying of the witnesses of Jesus under the fifth seal (chap. 6:9), and the overcoming of the saints by the beast of the sea (chap. 13:7); and a number of other features that may come under our attention in succeeding lectures, all inconsistent alike with the futurist and the orthodox theory. A recognition of the Davidic character of the symbolic throne and its environment of four living creatures and twenty-four elders, relieves the subject of all difficulty on this head, and shows us a programme of intelligible and harmonious events , with the kingdom of David as its basis and starting point, and the kingdom of David as its landing place. We have now to consider
This is another subject, yet a subject arising out of the first scene that John saw. The first scene represented the kingdom in its past, present, and future. The second scene refers to the powers possessed by Jesus as the possessor of the key
of David, and the regulator of Gentile affairs, with a view to the kingdom. John says, "I saw on the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?'" The occupant of the throne is Jehovah [Yahweh], for the throne of David is the throne of Jehovah [Yahweh] (1 Chron. 29:23). David occupied it only as a vice-gerant or deputy (1 Sam. 13:14). Jesus is Jehovah [Yahweh] manifested, the Lord as well as the son of David (Luke 20:44). The Father (greater than all) had reserved a knowledge of the times and seasons, and their events filling the interval between Christ's departure and returning (Acts 1:7; Mark 13:32). This is symbolized by a sealed book or scroll, which is the scriptural symbol of inaccessible knowledge, as may be learnt from Isaiah 29:10-11. The existence of seven seals may be taken to signify perfect secrecy, besides furnishing a convenient basis for the structure of the vision. The right hand was the symbol of power: the sealed scroll in the right hand was a perfect symbol of the fact that the knowledge and control of the future was entirely in the power of the Father up to the moment that both were imparted to Jesus. The impartation of the knowledge and the control to Jesus is dramatically exhibited in the scene described.
To get the idea expressed by the opening of the seals, we must realize what is meant by the "book" in the hand of him that sat upon the throne. It is not what we are familiar with as a book, but a scroll--a number of sheets of parchment rolled round a roller one after the other, and separately held in their place by a seal to each sheet. When all are rolled round and sealed, it would be a seven-sealed scroll. Let us suppose such a scroll sealed up and containing valuable information which no one knew, we should have the ideal state of things illustrated at the moment John heard the question as to who was worthy to unloose the seals and open the scroll. To get at the information, one would have to break the seals one by one. Now suppose the information contained in the scroll was in the nature of a programme, the knowledge of which would enable the Opener to carry it out, we shall be enabled to comprehend the relation between the opening of the seals and the development of the events following. The opening of the seals may be taken as the attainment by the Opener of the knowledge of the divine purpose, and the development of the events following as his carrying that knowledge into effect in causing the events to transpire.
It is worthy of note in passing that the opening of the seals required worthiness on the part of the Opener--that is, on the part of the personage to whom should be confided the knowledge of the divine plan and power to carry it out, for this is literally what is meant. There was of course no literal scroll anywhere to be opened. There was no more a literal scroll than there were seven literal candlesticks. These were but symbols of certain realities. John heard the question, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" At first there was no response." No man... was able to open the book, neither to look thereon." This caused John great distress. He says, "I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon". A man feels strongly before he weeps. John must have felt a very strong desire to become acquainted with the contents of the scroll before he could weep at the absence of a man worthy to open it. No wonder considering that the scroll contained a delineation of the course of affairs on earth in relation to the affairs of Christ in which John was so supremely interested. All his brethren in all ages have a similar interest, but in John's case, there was a special urgency in his desire, due to the fact that he was now old, and had long been looking for the Lord's appearing; instead of which he saw only the prevalence of apostasy, the downfall of Jerusalem, and the undisturbed prosperity of Gentile power. He was permitted to be distressed for a moment that his joy and gratitude at the provision made in the case might have their proper edge. "One of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." Jesus, thus introduced as the lion of the tribe of Judah, was presently exhibited as a lamb, with marks of slaughter. "I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." Why did John see a lamb instead of a lion? Because the worthiness of Jesus to open the book was proved and manifested in the lamb-phase of his mission, even during his sojourn among men as the Lamb of God in the days of his flesh, taking away the sin of the world. His obedience unto death is the feature symbolized by "the lamb as it had been slain." Because of this obedience, Paul informs us (Phil. 2:9) "God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name". We may not
comprehend why it was necessary to put to the proof the obedience of a personage so exalted as Jesus it is sufficient that we accept the testimony that it was so: that "he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15; 2:18); that he learned obedience by the things that he suffered, and overcame with strong crying and tears, making supplication to Him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared (Heb. 5:7; John 16:33; Rev. 3:21). All these things are testified of Jesus, and illustrated here as the basis of the great honour conferred upon him by the Father as the Opener of the Scroll, or the regulator of God's providential work upon earth.
The lamb as it had been slain had "seven horns and seven eyes". This connects Jesus with the power and penetration of God. "Horn", as you know, constantly stands for the symbol of power, and eyes for sight and intelligence. Seven horns and seven eyes therefore symbolize omnipotence and omniscience. They are said to be "the seven spirits of God". If this were not a symbolic book, we would be at a loss to understand this. We might suppose there was a contradiction between this statement and Paul's declaration (confirmed by all the Scriptures) that there is but one Spirit (Eph. 4:4), and that God is that Spirit, filling heaven and earth with His immensity (John 4:24; Jer. 23:24). But being a symbolic book, there is no difficulty. Truth is expressed enigmatically. Seven, we all know, is not only characteristic of the Scriptures in general, but is peculiarly so of the Apocalypse itself--seven candlesticks, seven stars, seven ecclesias, seven lamps of fire, seven spirits of God, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven thunders, etc. Seven covers the whole ground of anything dealt with. It is the numerical symbol of completeness. The seven spirits of God is the enigmatical definition of the One Spirit, and intimates possession and harmony with that One Spirit in its whole power. It is the idea expressed by Jesus when he says "I and my Father are ONE", to which also he gives shape when he says in prayer "Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee."
It may seem superfluous at first sight that this unity of Jesus with the Father should be symbolized. In the days of John it might not have seemed so superfluous to us. Society was accustomed to the idea of sub-divided and antagonistic divinity, so to speak. Paganism, then in the ascendant, recognized a variety of gods, each god independent of the other, and having control of a separate force. Thus there was a goddess of love (Venus), a god of war (Mars), a god of thunder
(Jupiter), a god of fire (Vulcan), a god of water (Neptune), and so forth. The purport of this symbol was to show that there is but one God, that all power has its centre with Him, that the apparent diversity of power is only a diversity in the manifestation of one power, and that power the Father of all, and that Jesus was himself a manifestation of that power. Jesus is far mightier than all the gods of Paganism, supposing even they were realities, for while they each possessed but a limited power, Jesus, as the possessor of "the Seven Spirits", had received "all power in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). This truth is more strikingly exhibited in the symbol before us than if plainly defined. A lamb with seven horns and seven eyes may appear an uncouth symbol, but it is not more so than the symbols with which men are familiar in the various secret orders. Uncouth or not, it is an expressive intimation to us that in our brother and high priest, Jesus of Nazareth, the glorified Son of God, we have one who is in association with the boundless power of the Creator of the universe.
Then the Lamb takes the book out of the hand of him that sits upon the throne, which indicates the moment he receives from the Father the knowledge and power to execute the programme represented by the seals. This symbolic act is accompanied by the expression of universal homage. The four beasts and twenty-four elders fall down and sing to him that he is worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof, for reasons which they recite. It is the dramatic illustration of the great love and esteem entertained for the Lord Jesus by all standing related to the matter. This is manifest by the little word of interpretation concerning the twenty-four elders dropped in at verse 8 (chap. 5): "having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints". The saints are in the praying state--the probationary state as represented by the twenty-four elders. The elders represent the saints not only in the final glory that awaits them, but also in their contemporary adoration of Christ in their several generations, while yet in the flesh. They represent the camp of the saints--the house of David--in contemporary relation with the kingdoms of men. Therefore they say prospectively, "We shall reign on the earth",--showing that at the time of this part of the vision, they are in the position of hope: "now hope that is seen is not hope" (Romans 8:21). In addition to the four beasts and twenty-four elders, John "heard the voice of many angels round about the throne", joining in the ascription of blessing and honour and glory and power to him that sat
on the throne and to the Lamb; and also every creature everywhere took part in the mighty chorus of praise. Now as the universal exaltation of Christ, and glory to God in the highest, represented in this symbolic scene, has never yet occurred on earth, it follows that we here have linked with the incident of giving to Christ the power to open the seals because of his worthiness, a representation of the universal exaltation that awaits him, when his whole seal-opening work is completed. It is one of several instances in the course of the Apocalypse (and indeed in the Scriptures generally) where the end of a matter, ages apart from its initiation, is introduced along with its initiation as if it came immediately after. In the case before us, it gives dramatic completeness to the scene exhibited. It would be a misunderstanding however to read it as descriptive of an actual occurrence at the preparation of the opening of the seals. On no theory of the matter could such an understanding be admissible; for whereas the scene represents the praise as absolutely universal, the opening of the seals introduces us to wickedness and blasphemy on earth, on such a scale that "all nations" are exhibited in the aspect of spiritual debauchery, and repent not (Rev. 9:20-21; 13:3-4; 17:1-2). The whole work of the seals will bring the earth into a state of praise--the state depicted in the prophets as a filling of the earth with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea; and the renown of such a wonderful transformation will be "to him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb"; but at the actual opening of the seals, the state of things was that described by John in his epistle, as applicable to his own day. "The world lieth in wickedness."
Let us now look at the opening of the seals. We cannot in the short time that remains look very thoroughly into the subject. Still, much may be done in a few minutes by condensation.
The Lamb having taken the scroll in his hand, breaks one of the seals: John is summoned by a loud voice to "come and see". This is worth a moment's consideration. It was one of the four beasts that said "come and see". Now in view of the fact that the four beasts represent the commonwealth of Israel, we here have the community of the faithful exhibited as having an interest in the signs of the times. They invite John to look as the events unfold themselves. The suggestion contained in this incident is that the servants of God are always interested in the signs of the times, and watch public events from a divine point of view. They have always been of this watching class, because they have both
understanding and a strong desire for the accomplishment of the purpose of God in the earth.
John responds to the invitation to "come and see". He looks and sees something occur, at which we shall presently look. But there is a peculiarity to be considered before going on. When a seal was broken, a parchment would be unloosed from its place. This is what would literally happen in what John saw: but what connection could there be between this act and the occurrence of a scene which John could witness,--the movement of figures, the occurrence of incidents, the sounding of voices, etc.? We could readily understand how the unloosing of a seal would put the Lamb in a position to know what was written in that part of the scroll unloosed: but how could it set events in motion that John could witness? This question we have already partly considered. There is evidently a missing link between the two things. We conjecturally supply that link if we suppose the scenes to be caused by Jesus as the result of the knowledge and power acquired by the opening of the seals. Jesus, so to speak, reads in the opened scroll and knows what to do or cause to be done in consequence, like the conductor of a drama who requires the MS. before he can put a piece on the stage. We disrelish the comparison exceedingly, but perhaps it illustrates what is involved in the opening of the seals better than anything else. The opening of the seals is, of course, a pure enigma. Literally, it means the communication by the Father to Jesus of knowledge which enables him to reveal events as destined to run in the channel of the Father's purpose; and not only so, but to conduct those events to their predestined issue.
THE FIRST SEAL
being opened, John, responding to the summons "Come and see", beholds a white horse with a stephaned rider holding a bow, going forth on a conquering mission. Remembering that it was declared that the time was "at hand" for the beginning of the future things shown to John, what event or phase of things is there in the time immediately after the communication of the Apocalypse to answer to this symbol? We will best obtain an answer by asking what we are to understand by the horse. It is common to employ animals to represent political powers; e.g., the British lion. What power represented itself by the horse? Strictly speaking, there was but one State in the days of John, and that was the Roman State (leaving the barbarous parts of the earth out of the account). If the horse is a symbol of the Roman State, we ought to have no difficulty in discovering in
the Roman State in the days of John a condition of things answering to the arrowless and victorious bowman astride the white horse. As a matter of fact, the horse was one of the symbols of the Roman power. This is conclusively shown by Mr. Elliott, who cites extant coins and other evidences to show the use of the horse as the symbol of Roman power. The horse being white would indicate a work of righteousness and peace, to which the body politic of Rome was being subjected by the party represented by the rider with the stephan, having a bow but no arrow. What party could this be? The apostolic enterprise at once suggests the answer. This enterprise was a conquering enterprise of a certain sort, having the Roman Empire as the arena of its operation. It was an enterprise achieved without bloodshed, so far as the aggressions of the apostolic party were concerned. As Paul said, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:4). Again he said, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers (that is, the ruling authorities--see Titus 3:1), against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12). The bow is a symbol of speech: the victory was to be won by the use of the tongue, but without arrows as weapons of offence. This was the nature of the war carried on by the Spirit of God through the body of Christ in the days of John. It was a war of ideas,--of truth against error, of righteousness against wickedness, therefore fitly represented by an archer without arrows, and an archer wearing the stephan, the token of victory; for the apostolic testimony did in the end vanquish Paganism in the Roman state. True it is, that the faith was soon corrupted and overborne. Still, a great change was accomplished in the Roman Empire by the apostolic enterprise. Paganism was driven from the throne, and the world was brought into a nominal subjection to Christ and the apostles, which was a great gain and a preparation for the more effective form of their work which is yet to come.
If it be asked why the work of the apostles should appear to be restricted in the symbol to Rome, the answer is found in the fact that their mission was essentially a mission to the Roman habitable which comprised the entire civilized world at that time. The Roman empire, as shown in the map, supplies the geography of their work. Their "sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Rom. 10:18). It was proclaimed to every creature under heaven, in the apostolic sense of the words (Col. 1:6, 23). The apostolic work continued after the death
of the apostles by means of the ecclesias founded by them, conducted as they were by spiritually-endowed leaders. While it was in progress throughout the world, peace and liberty prevailed to a great extent during the first seal period (about eighty years) represented by the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and of the Antonines, called the family of the Antonines in the same way as we talk of the family of the Georges. Historians speak of this as the happiest period in the history of mankind on account of the absence of war and the prevalence of general prosperity--a period fitly represented by the white horse ridden by the predestined victor of the arrowless bow.
When the Antonines ceased to reign, a great change came over the Roman world, as indicated in the symbolism of
THE SECOND SEAL
Here the horse is red (signifying bloodshed), and the rider is not an arrowless bowman, but a man with a machaira in his hand. This ought to be translated a dagger: the implement most commonly used in assassination, and most appropriate to represent a time when assassination became the order of the day. Marcus Aurelius, the second of the Antonines, was succeeded by his son, Commodus, a mere youth, who differed from his predecessors in being a dissolute tyrant, who shamed public decency, and who squandered the resources of the State in debauchery and profligacy. The senate grew secretly impatient of his ways, but dared not for a time show their feelings. At length, one of its members waylaid Commodus in a passage as he was leaving the theatre, and presenting him threateningly with a machaira--the great sword or dagger of the second seal--said, "The senate sends you this", and attempted to kill him. The attempt failed and the emperor escaped. Direful consequences followed. Fired with feelings of revenge against the senate, whose hostility he had suspected, he attempted to effect their destruction by wholesale assassination. Terror reigned for a time, and the best blood of Rome flowed in torrents. At length Commodus himself fell a victim to the flood of violence he had let loose. Then there was more red-horse work. Commodus, falling before the assassin's stroke, left no successor. The senate appointed one in the person of Pertinax, who after two months endeavour to reign wisely, was assassinated by the discontented soldiery, whose allowance he abridged. The imperial purple, after being sold to the highest bidder by the soldiery, then became a bone of contention between the three leading generals of the army. A time of intestine war and
confusion ensued, and paved the way for the experiences of
THE THIRD SEAL
In this the horse was black, and its rider a man holding a pair of balances. When bread is eaten by weight, it is a sign of scarcity and famine. The blackness of the horse shows distress, and the words addressed to the balance-holder indicate its source. John heard a voice proclaiming, "A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine". These are high prices for wheat and barley, when worked out according to modern standards, and point to scarcity. But how came the high prices and the scarcity? Not from bad harvests but from heavy taxation on the part of the government, the official balance-holder of the Roman horse. This heavy taxation was the result of the reckless extravagance of the reigns of Caracalla and Elagabalus--dissolute monsters--who for ten years, first one and then the other, lavished away the treasures of the people and exhausted the resources of the empire in their prodigal favours to the army among whom they lived, and on whose support they depended. Taxation was brought to such a pitch that vast tracts of country went out of cultivation--the tiller of the soil feeling no encouragement to raise crops merely to hand over to the revenue officers. The result of this was public distress on a large scale. It became common for parents to expose their children to destruction rather than burden themselves with the impossible task of providing for them. An idea of the extent of the taxation, which crushed alike every part of the empire, may be gathered from the fact that when a change in the government was brought about by the exasperated people, taxes were instantly reduced to one thirtieth part of what they were during the reigns of Caracalla and Elagabalus.
Alexander Severus came to the throne after the assassination of Elagabalus, and his reign illustrated the admonition of the voice that John heard: "See thou hurt not (or act not unjustly by) the oil and the wine". As much as to say, that although wheat should be at famine prices owing to the fiscal extortions of the first part of the seal, there would be an amelioration of the burden towards the second part. This is what happened. Severus practised rigid economy in every branch of the administration: he relieved the provinces from the oppressive taxes invented in the former reigns, and reduced the price of provisions and the interest on money. He sought to promote
learning and the love of justice in contrast to the profligacy of his predecessors, and acted on the conviction that the best way to secure the love and loyalty of his subjects was to promote their well being. All his efforts, however, to change the colour of the horse were finally unavailing. The evils resulting from the previous reigns were too deeply planted to be removed in a short time, and though for a few years there was considerable relief, the army, becoming discontented with the economy of Severus, proved a final obstacle to his reforms, and by their hostility paved the way for the dreadful experiences of the fourth seal, which we must defer till the next lecture.
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