Last Updated on : Thursday, November 20, 2014
|Thirteen Lectures On The Apocalypse|
Revelation Chapter 14
Daybreak after night -- the Lamb on Mount Zion -- the 144,000 who are with Him -- who they are -- their virginity -- the meaning -- their song that no man could know -- the women, with whom the 144,000 are not defiled -- following the Lamb -- the everlasting gospel preached in the hour of judgment -- the summons to the world -- the result -- catastrophe to Rome -- warning proclamation to the nations -- the threatened torment to the worshippers of the image -- the smoke of their torment -- not the orthodox hell -- a terrible epoch in the history of Europe -- the blessedness at that time of the dead dying in the Lord -- the white cloud, and the sickle-armed Son of Man sitting thereon -- a hieroglyph of coming retribution -- the angel coming out of the temple, and the angel coming out of the altar -- stages in the work of judgment -- the 1,600 furlongs of blood to the horse bridles -- a horrid picture -- the glorious sequel.
THERE is a very great contrast between the scenes exhibited in this. 14th chapter of Revelation, and those we had to look at in the 13th. It is the contrast expressed in the statement: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning". The chapters in
question exhibit this fact in symbol, so far as concerns the class of whom Jesus said, "Blessed are ye that weep now". We have the long, dark, distressful history of Europe under the militant Papacy in chapter 13, and the inauguration of the joyous morning in chapter 14. For this reason chapter 14 is more interesting. It brings light, and life, and cheer, after the gloom resulting from the ascendancy of the Man of Sin. The history of the Man-of-sin power is in reality an unbroken history, from the apostolic age to the Lord's coming in power and great glory. The chapters in question show it. Paul shows it in saying of his own day, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work; only that which hindereth must be taken out of the way. Then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming". From the "already-working" point in Paul's day, to "the brightness of the Lord's coming", is an unbroken line. It shows us the Papal system lasting till the Lord's coming. Revelation 13 shows us the shape and attitude of the power during the longest part of the unbroken line. Chapter 14 shows us the glorious event at the end of the line.
"I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." We know who the Lamb is: "The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" -- Jesus, the Son of God. Why did John see him stand at his coming "on mount Zion"? The gospel of the kingdom gives us the answer, which cannot be obtained from the teaching of the day: Zion was the seat of David's government in the land of promise. To Jesus belongs the throne of David (Luke 1:32). On that throne he will sit in the age to come (Isaiah 9:6). Occupying this, he must needs reign on Mount Zion (Micah 4:7; Isa. 24:23), in harmony with what is written in the 132nd Psalm, verses 13-14: "The Lord hath chosen Zion: He hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell." It may be said, this is treating Zion literally when, by the character of the Apocalypse, it ought to be construed symbolically. The answer has already been before us in connection with the symbol of the Euphrates. Literal objects are introduced as the basis of the symbolical representation of events having to do with those literal objects. As the Euphrates, a literal part of the Turkish Empire, is used to represent symbolically that empire, so Zion, a literal element in
the kingdom of David, is introduced symbolically to represent that kingdom.
With the Lamb is a great company. They are stated to be "an hundred and forty and four thousand." This, of course, is their symbolic, not their literal number, for they are literally defined as a "great multitude, which no man could number" (Rev. 7:9). Twelve is the numerical root of the divine economy upon earth -- 12 sons of Jacob -- 12 tribes of Israel -- 12 apostles of the Lamb. Twelve multiplied by 12, constituting what is mathematically termed a "square" of the number, yields 144, and thousands are added to show that multitudes are embraced. An Israelitish multitude is the idea conveyed by the number 144,000.
Some have distressed themselves with the idea that 144,000 is the exact number of the company of the chosen. They think of that as a small number, and the opportunity of salvation slight in consequence. They think if that number is made up, there is no use trying. There is no need for this distress. Even if 144,000 were the exact number (and no man knows the exact number: doubtless, it is fixed), so long as the door is unshut, no one walking in will be turned back: the open door, and his walking in, would be proof of inclusion among the number; for Jesus has said, "All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me: and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
The 144,000 had "the Father's name written on their foreheads" -- "his Father's" name -- the Lamb's Father's name -- the name of God. This shows that the 144,000 consist of enlightened persons. The forehead is the symbol of the understanding, and the name of the Father, the knowledge of God. The ignorant of the things of God have no place among the 144,000, whose chief characteristic is the knowledge of God. This is in harmony with what Jesus said: "This is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). As it is written, "The foolish shall not stand in thy sight" (Psa 5:5); "They are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them (Eph. 4:18). Some despair at these facts, as though they involved exclusion from the kingdom of God. The right use to make of them is to make them a reason for the diligent obedience of the precept which says: "If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord; and find the knowledge of God." "Be diligent to make your calling and election sure."
The common habit is to treat these things with indifference. Let the anxious avoid the common habit, and obey the commandments, and they will experience the truth of those words of wisdom: "All the words of my mouth are ... plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."
How did John see the 144,000 occupied? "They sung as it were a new song." This is the scriptural way of expressing a new deliverance. When David had just been delivered from distress, he said that God "had put a new song in his mouth". The new song of the 144,000 points to the fact that they have just attained that mighty deliverance which awaits all the sons of God at the Lord's coming -- deliverance from the feebleness of mortal nature, and from all the cares and evils that afflict present life, and from the constitution of the evil world. It is a song of great and joyous exultation. Their voice, John says, was "as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder ... as the voice of harpers harping with their harps This is a great change from the aspect in which he saw the same company in chapters 12 and 13. There they were a feeble community, a remnant of the woman's seed -- cast out and prevailed against by the nightmare monsters of the vision. Here they are enthroned on Mount Zion, in power and exultant joy. Who would not endure "the light affliction" of the present down-trodden state to obtain a place in that shining and exultant throng? -- a vast and impressive multitude, even if only 144,000 mortals; but what shall we say of the countless multitude of powerful and glorious immortals?
John heard the voice "from heaven", although the performers were on Mount Zion. This is due to the sense in which heaven is apocalyptically employed. When the Lamb and the 144,000 are enthroned in Mount Zion, preparatory to the earth's subjugation, they are in heaven in the sense in which the great red dragon of chapter 13 was in heaven. They are in the arena of political power, from which they will expel all rivals in "the war of the great day of God Almighty." Their vocation is to reign together over all the earth, as "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 5:10). Before they can do this, they must execute the judgment decreed against the present powers or governments of the earth. It is recorded of them that this they will do (Dan. 7:22; Psa. 149:5-9;
Rev. 2:26-7). But before they proceed upon this work, they have a time of rejoicing together at their first meeting, after the judgment of the household has eliminated all the worthless elements from the assembly. It is in the act of celebrating this preliminary festival of love and joy, that John sees them engaged in the opening verses of the chapter we are considering. "No man can learn that song, but the 144,000." That is, no one can take part in the song who does not constitute part of the assembly; for the song is declaratory of facts which can only be affirmed of themselves, viz., that they are redeemed (immortalized), and appointed kings and priests unto God.
"These are they that were not defiled with women, for they are virgins." This is not to be taken literally, of course: for, literally, a great proportion of them will be women, such as Mary, of whom Jesus said she had chosen the good part, that should not be taken away (Luke 10:42); and the women who, along with the men, were baptized on believing the gospel preached by Philip (Acts 8:12); and the wives, who are "heirs together" with their husbands of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). If it were taken literally, it would exclude the bulk of the apostles, who were married men. If not literally, it must be taken figuratively. The question is, what sense attaches to it understood in the figurative sense? We find the answer in the name given to THE WOMAN, exhibited to John as the symbol of Rome -- the mother of harlots. These harlots are the women with whom the 144,000 are not defiled. What are they? If Rome be the mother (and she is called so in universal ecclesiastical usage -- "the mother Church"), the daughters must be recognized in her offshoots. These are numerous throughout the world. All national Churches, and all sects and denominations that own a Roman parentage and acknowledge Roman Catholics as "fellow-Christians", are included with Rome in the Apocalyptic phrase: "the Mother of Harlots, and the abominations of the earth." To have fellowship with them is to be defiled with the "women" of the Apocalypse. The constituents of the 144,000 are all of them clean from this defilement. They have all in their day and generation been outside the national and popular communions. These communions are incorporations of superstition. They use the names connected with divine knowledge, but of the knowledge itself they are in large measure -- (so large as to be almost totally) -- ignorant. Their theology is the crystallized ecclesiastical traditions of the Papal ages, instead of the embodiment of scriptural knowledge. The consequence is, that
"the Churches" are "refuges of lies" instead of strongholds of truth. They are institutions, with which no one can be in harmony Without being guilty of unbelief and disobedience; for they rest on dogmas inconsistent with the faith once for all delivered to the saints -- the gospel of the kingdom and the name of Jesus; and inculcate and observe precepts which cause the doers of them to "do those things which they ought not to do, and to leave undone those things which they ought to do". Our position as Christadelphians is a disagreeable one, in standing aloof from the professions of Christianity; but we must remember that our hope of inclusion in the joyous ranks of the 144,000 rests, among other things, on that very isolation which is so inconvenient at the present time: for "these are they which have not been defiled with women: for they are virgins."
"These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." They do so in the most comprehensive sense -- now and hereafter. Their mind in the case is expressed in the words, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest". Peter meant this in a personal sense: but it has a spiritual sense which everyone readily understands. To follow Christ is to do as he commands. This is the policy that causes exclusion from the Churches; for the Churches do not obey his commandments or believe in his glorious gospel. The following of the Lamb must be a present following in order to be a future following. Those who do not follow now will not follow then. Those who do not suffer with him will not reign with him. Those who do not "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" are not of the 144,000. Those who follow him in his humiliation will follow him in all his glory when the day for his enthronement on Mount Zion arrives. There will be a wonderful reversal of the rule of honour then. It is certain disgrace to be identified with the testimony of God in the present age; how greedily will men covet Christ's recognition in the day of his coming -- in vain! "Him that honoureth me, I will honour"; this is the rule, and this is the day for the first part of it. We honour God by believing and obeying Him in the day when all rests as yet on His promise. "He that denieth me before men, him will I deny": this is what Jesus says concerning the coming day. Let us not be sorry, then, at having the opportunity of suffering shame for his name.
They are "the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb." This shows they are not the finish, but only the beginning of the glorious triumph of God's work on earth. After "the firstfruits" comes, by
and by, the harvest. There will be a great harvest at the end of the millennial age as the result of the work of Christ and the saints in ruling the world a thousand years. Multitudes will ripen for immortality under their reign, to be glorified at the end, when "the last enemy, death, shall be destroyed." Then will be realized the consummation proclaimed at the close of the Apocalypse: "There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain: for the former things are passed away".
"In their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God." We are to understand this in the light of David's statement: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile The statement that they are without fault does not mean that they never had any fault: for they are made to declare to the Lamb that they have been "washed from their sins in his blood." It means that they are justified men -- men forgiven -- to whom their faith and obedience of Christ have been counted for righteousness. But, of course, this involves the idea of personal righteousness. It would be a mistake to conclude that because they are men that have been forgiven, therefore they are destitute of personal righteousness as their leading moral characteristic. This is the mistake practically made by most systems of popular religion -- perhaps by Revivalism most glaringly of all. No one can be an obedient servant of Christ without possessing in the very act the quality of righteousness; for righteousness is obedience. "The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9). "The righteous shall scarcely be saved" (1 Pet. 4:18). These are apostolic declarations, uttered for the warning of believers. The fact that the righteous are men whose "transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered", does not interfere with the fact that they are men who acquire that forgiveness in the attitude of faith and obedience towards Christ. There is no reason for the theological tradition that the saints are the blackest sinners -- Without one plea, except that "Jesus died for me". Jesus says, "I will give to every one of you according to your works ... He that keepeth my works unto the end, will I give power over the nations ... To him will I grant to sit with me in my throne". Such are at last forgiven men -- men having to confess failings, which are passed by in the mercy of God, through Christ; but their case is very different from that of men who live in indifference, unfaith, and disobedience.
"And I saw another angel fly in
the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." This follows the enthronement of the 144,000 on Mount Zion. It is, therefore, after Christ has come and raised, and judged, and immortalized his brethren; and after he has, with them, made his appearance in the affairs of the world as a new political power. It is, in fact, after the overthrow of Gog; for Jesus and his brethren are not enthroned on Mount Zion till Gog has been driven out of the land. This overthrow having been effected, we have here the government of Christ established in the Holy Land, entering into diplomatic relations, so to speak, with the rest of the world which is still unsubdued. The angel flying in the midst of heaven is the symbol of the divine ambassadorship, through which they will be addressed. The message he delivers is styled the everlasting (the aionian) gospel, or gospel of the age, because it is the proclamation of the glad tidings peculiar to the age. The gospel of our day is the glad tidings of what God proposes to do: the gospel of the age is the glad tidings of the hour having come for the accomplishment of that purpose. It is a proclamation addressed to the political world in general. The mode of address is something new in the history of politics -- something at strange variance with the attenuated and insincere refinements of modern diplomatic speech. It is a blunt summons to do something of which governments know nothing, except as "cant": "Fear God, and give glory to him." This strikes the key-note of the coming dispensation. It is the great difference between the present and the future age. Human convenience is the rule of the present age: "Glory to God in the highest" is the motto of the future. The human race will be much more interesting, and much more loving one to another, when the supremacy and proprietary rights and ineffable excellence of God are practically and heartily recognized among them. The summons to yield this recognition is the first demand of the coming age upon the present age. The form in which it is required in the first instance is obeisance to the Lamb: "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little". This is the practical form of the message to "the kings of the earth", when Jehovah [Yahewh] has set His king on the holy hill of Zion (see Psa. 2).
Asking them to do homage to Jesus enthroned on Mount Zion, will be to ask them to" Fear God, and give glory to Him"; for the bowing of the knee to the name of Jesus is "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11).
"The hour of his judgment is come." This shows the time to which the scene refers. There is an hour appointed for judgment. Until its arrival, it seems as if God were taking no notice. He keeps silence and men suppose Him ungrateful, though a moment's consideration of the history of the past would dispel the delusion. The fact is He proceeds methodically. "He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). When the day arrives, the world will be apprised of the fact and summoned to give attendance, as the symbol before us informs us. As we learn from a subsequent portion of the Apocalypse, the response at first is a rebellious one. They gather their forces to make war upon Jehovah's [Yahweh's] King: not understanding who he is. Their presumption appears to receive a severe blow at the outset; for after the angel had delivered the message of summons, John says "There followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." This appears to intimate a catastrophe at this stage to Rome itself as the historical and geographical centre of the Papal corruption. In another chapter further on, her engulfment after the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah is plainly foreshown: and here we appear to have the time of its occurrence indicated -- viz., just after the rejection of the first summons from Christ enthroned on Zion.
The destruction of Rome does not open the eyes of the nations subject to her direction; for there follows a warning which would be unnecessary in that case. "The third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name."
This shows the survival of the
system symbolized by "the beast and his image", after Rome itself has gone crashing into the abyss. The constitution of European society in Church and State continues after the disappearance of Rome. That disappearance is the knell of the whole system and the opening stroke of the impending vengeance as it were, but it fails to be read aright by the deluded peoples. It will doubtless be explained away as a natural calamity to which no significance is to be attached; and with a sense of ease and confidence, they proceed to organize themselves in middle Europe for a strenuous resistance to the power that has already summoned them and backed its summons with power, but whose nature they misapprehend as totally as Pharaoh misapprehended the power he was opposing in Egypt. It is while this resistance is organizing that a second message is addressed to the European populations, warning them against identification with the opposing camp, assuring them of the judicial penalties impending upon the Papal system in all its ramifications, and upon all who sympathized with it. They are told of the full cup of unmixed wrath about to be poured out, and of the torment resulting to those who may have to drink it. This indicates that those who at the last moment dissever themselves from the enemies of the Lord will find sparing mercy at His hand to the lengthening of their lives and their admission to the kingdom of God as mortal subjects. There may be a remnant who will favourably respond: the publication of the warning implies as much: but as regards the bulk, the message falls on heedless ears, and the worshippers of the beast rush on to the torment awaiting them in the presence of the Lamb against whom they advance, and whose power comes terribly forth to their destruction, causing the smoke of their torment to ascend up to the ages of the ages.
We know the use that is made by the believers in popular theology of this verse, to uphold the orthodox idea of hell fire. They quote this high figure of the Apocalypse as the description of a literal fact. It is the characteristic in general of the orthodox treatment of the Scriptures, to "spiritualize" literal truth, and to literalize that which is figurative and symbolic. The inapplicability of the symbol in question to the popular hell must be evident, from the place it occupies in the representation of events transpiring subsequent to the Lamb's enthronement in Mount Zion with the 144,000. Their hell is always at work: this is a torment to be inflicted at the coming of Christ. The torments of their hell are presided over by the devil: this is
inflicted "in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb". Their torments are for the vile of mankind in general: this is for a special class, defined as "the worshippers of the beast and his image."
It is not necessary to argue this question with you; but it is as well, perhaps, in passing, to refer to this bearing of a strongly coloured symbolism which, on the face of it, gives countenance to popular ideas of hell torment. It is, in fact, the description of the vengeance which awaits the great European Apostasy at the coming of Jesus, when "revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction" (2 Thess. 1:7). It is what Paul describes as a "fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:27); and Malachi, as "a day that will burn up the wicked, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch" (Mal. 4:1). To say of this tormenting outburst of judgment in a symbolic vision, that the smoke of it will ascend up for ever and ever, is to say that it will be perpetual in its triumph over those overwhelmed by it -- that there will be no recovery from the catastrophe. They have no rest day nor night when the hour for the infliction of the judgment has arrived; and its effect, when consummated, is for ever -- after the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, "who are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude, verse 7), though "overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her" (Lam. 4:6).
It will be a terrible epoch in the history of Europe, when the devouring judgments of God are sent forth like the lightning in all the earth, from the presence of the Lamb and the 144,000. The people will then see and feel the heinousness of the offence of which they are guilty, in submitting to the lying prescriptions of the blasphemous imposture of Rome. The faithfulness of those who have stood aloof, in all ages up to the last moment, will then be fully vindicated, and their wisdom manifest. The prospect of it inspires the saints with patience, as saith verse 12: "Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." When the prospect is realized, the meaning of a certain writing which John was commanded to write, will be abundantly apparent. John says (verse 13), "I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea,
saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them": that is, the blessedness of the dead dying in the Lord will be manifest from this point of time, when the dead, having arisen, behold the judgment of God executed on the head of the wicked, and their own labours past and then present, accomplished in the benign administration of the world in the reign upon which they will enter with Christ. The usual way to understand the passage is illustrated in its frequent inscription on tombstones. It is taken to declare a blessedness in John's day for the dead in general dying in the Lord. That this is a mistake must be evident from the specification of a time for the commencement of the blessedness. Understood in the ordinary way, it would mean that the dead dying in the Lord were not blessed before Jesus' day; and what, then, about the ordinary conviction that for all ages before then, the righteous dead had entered upon blessedness and rested from their labours? This cannot be the meaning. The meaning cannot be perceived without a knowledge of the truth which teaches that the dead are dead, and that not until the coming of the Lord do they enter upon their blessedness as spectators, and executioners of the divine judgments that will precede the glorious establishment of the kingdom of God in all the earth. Then they enter upon "the rest that remaineth for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9); and then their works accompany them in the results that accrue to them from those works, concerning which Jesus says He will "give to every man according to his works". It may be, however, on this point that the new translation is right which makes the Spirit the follower with the saints in the works they accomplish in the day of power.
The scenes in chapter 14 up to this point have all to do with the opening events of the judgment to be executed at the appearing of Christ. They show us the sequence of events: 1, the enthronement of the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion; 2, the summons addressed to the nations to fear God in view of the arrival of the hour of judgment; 3, its enforcement by the overthrow of Babylon; and 4, the issue of a warning to the world at large as to their attitude towards the beast and image system of things in Europe. Verse 14 introduces us to the execution of the judgment itself: "And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud sat one like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the
cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which hath power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horses' bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs."
The whole of this symbolism is so plain as to speak for itself. First, the white cloud: we all know the sense in which a cloud is figuratively used: Paul supplies it in the phrase "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb: 12:1). The cloud stands for a multitude; "white", the colour for righteousness: a righteous multitude. The Son of Man, crowned, sitting thereon -- the Lord Jesus enthroned in the midst of his brethren. A sharp sickle in his hand: a reaping act about to be put forth. The vine-clusters, upon which the reaping operation is performed, the leading sinners of the present evil world. This is shown by the fact that "the vine of the earth" being reaped, they were "cast into the winepress of the wrath of God." It is a beautiful hieroglyph of the work of retribution to be performed upon the earth by Christ at his coming. There is great profit in the contemplation of it. There is a time for the performance of the work: "The time is come for thee to reap." Therefore let us not be weary at the apparent indifference of God to the present situation. It is a time when godlessness has overgrown the earth, and come to fine development; for "the harvest of the earth is ripe." Therefore let us not be unduly distressed at the utter barrenness of all spiritual things, which characterizes the present constitution of society everywhere. The actual situation, as we find it in our bitterness, is in harmony with the prophetic forecast of the Apocalypse: and our lonely strangership, in the present order of things, is a good augury of our position before God, though hard to bear. The day of rectification is at the door: "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall
say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psa. 58:10).
The hieroglyph evidently reveals stages in the work of judgment. First, the Son of Man is implored by an angel to use his sickle. This may intimate that the actual execution of judgment in the first instance, though a matter of purpose, will be in answer to the petition of the glorified equal-to-the-angel multitude. The Son of Man complies, and the earth is reaped. The first stroke of the judgment is dealt, affecting, probably, the neighbourhood of the land of promise where he takes up his stand. Then another angel, sickle-armed, issues from the temple, and obeys the command to reap, received from another angel, coming out of the altar. This would point to a further extension of judgment, probably into remoter countries, carried out by the saints issuing for that purpose from their headquarters in the Holy Land, and carrying fire and sword into the dominion of the fourth beast, where, in former ages, they were placed under the altar in the bloody persecutions to which they were subjected. The slaughtered saints are personated by the angel coming out of the altar, now having power over fire (judgment), and crying for vengeance, like the blood of righteous Abel. In response, the winepress is trodden "without the city" -- away from the Holy City, which becomes a quiet habitation; and the process is so terribly effective that the blood flows in torrents, so deep as to reach to the horses' bridles, for a long space. This is the symbolic indication of the sanguinary nature of the outpourings of vengeance that hangs over the world, when "the slain of the Lord shall be in that day from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the face of the ground" (Jer. 25:33). "The indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter" (Isa. 34:2).
"For sixteen hundred furlongs": the root of this number is 40, thus 40 x 40 = 1,600. For this reason, Dr. Thomas has suggested that it represents forty years of judgment on the nations, after the analogy of 40 years of judgment on Israel in punishment of their rebellion in the wilderness. It may be so. It seems strange to represent time by distance; but the strangeness diminishes when we remember that in Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream, seven cattle and seven ears of corn stood for seven years (Gen. 41:26-27). The spirit of God is fertile in its similitudes
and analogies. Some have suggested that the 1,600 furlongs are the measure of the country (in Italy), where the hand of God will be most severely felt. There is no certain guide in the Apocalypse as to the exact meaning. But this much is clear -- that it is intended to express a time of unprecedented bloodshed and destruction. Its value in this sense is without obscurity. It is a confirmation -- (in a very striking form) -- of all we read in the Scriptures concerning the crisis of the work of God upon earth -- "a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness" -- "a time of trouble, such as never was" -- a day when "the haughtiness of men shall be made low and the Lord alone exalted." Christ's comparisons of the day of his coming to the flood, and to the destruction of Sodom, carry the same sense. The prospect is a terrible one. It will make no impression till realized. Men will laugh at it as an idle fancy, till the appalling thunders of divine wrath begin to spread terror through the world. Blessed are they who put their trust in Him. The blessedness will be manifest then.
The whole chapter, though a chapter of brightness as regards what it ultimately means, is a chapter at once dark and lurid with judgment. It tells of the dreadful scenes to be enacted upon the earth before the promised blessing can come. Shall we turn away from it, because less pleasing than some aspects of the divine purpose? This were worse than idle. It is an essential feature of the divine plan, and one to inspire gladness in view of the need for it. The world can never be brought to God without a display of judicial power: the inhabitants of the world will never learn righteousness till the judgments of God are in the earth: the kingdom of God can never be established till the kingdoms of men are destroyed. The new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, can never be developed till the old is broken up and dismissed; with great tumult. There must be a clearing of the old foundations, a pulling down of the old institutions, a wiping out of the old principles, a destruction of the thousand long-standing sentiments and views of society that are antagonistic to wisdom and righteousness, before there can be established an order of things in which glory to God will be the highest principle, and goodwill among men the prevailing habit. For this necessity God has provided, and Rev. 14 symbolically exhibits the provision He has made.
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