When we open the Book of Revelation we discover, at once, a marked difference between it and any other portion of the New Testament. It is not history like the gospels and Acts, nor practical discussions and instructions like the epistles, but we at once seem to breathe the atmosphere of prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel. As Ezekiel and Daniel were permitted to behold visions which revealed certain great events of the future, in a series of symbolic images, so there passes before the eyes of John a series of wonderful visions of which he makes record, and has left that record to the church for interpretation. The book is a book of prophecy. "God gave to him to show unto his servants the things which should shortly come to pass." In order to any clear understanding of the book we must never lose sight of its object, as stated in the opening sentence. Its object is to reveal the future. Nor is its aim to reveal some limited events of the future, but to show the things which must come to pass. In other words, its aim is to unfold the outlines of coming history as far as that history affects the fortunes of the church.
There is, unfortunately, no portion of the New Testament concerning which there has been more disagreement, and which has been less understood. The plan of The People's Testament will not allow me to occupy much space with these discussions, and I will confine myself to certain points which cannot well be passed over without prejudice to the correct understanding of the text. Among these questions are those of the Author, the Date when the work was written, the Place where it was written and the Principles of Interpretation.
I have alluded in the introductions to John's epistles to the theory of certain rationalistic critics that these were written by a "Presbyter John," whom they assume to have lived in the times of John, the apostle. There is no real evidence that such a personage ever lived. That John should speak of himself as an elder is no more strange than that Peter should so describe himself, and the fragment from Papias, which speaks of John the elder, who was a disciple of Christ, is more satisfactorily explained by the hypothesis that he alludes to the apostle, especially in view of the facts that seven apostles are named in the same paragraph, and all are spoken of as "elders," and that Irenæus says that Papias was a disciple of John, the apostle. Yet there has been an effort to show that this mythical John is the John named in the first verse of Revelation.
Without discussing whether the "Presbyter John" had any separate existence, it is a sufficient answer to this hypothesis to state that there is no book of the New Testament to whose authorship the testimony of history is more definite. Only a few years passed after the death of John, the apostle, until it was quoted and ascribed to him by writers who either knew him in person or who derived their information from those who sat at his feet. Among those early witnesses is Papias, born about A. D. 70, a disciple of John himself ("a hearer" of John, according to Irenæus) of whose writings only fragments have been preserved, but who is known to have quoted Revelation as the work of John. To him may be added Irenæus, born between A. D. 115 and A. D. 125, who tells us that he was long a pupil of Polycarp, of whom he states that Polycarp had learned many things of the aged apostle at whose feet he had long sat. Of course, with such opportunities he could not be ignorant of what John had written, yet he declares explicitly that he is the author of the Apocalypse. Several more fathers of the second century are quoted as giving the same testimony, but it will suffice to add that it is named in the Canon Muratori, the first canon of the New Testament Scriptures, dated about A. D. 170, and all doubts concerning its genuineness seem to belong to later times. Nor is any fact of history better established than that John's last years were spent in that part of Asia with which the Book of Revelation is locally associated.
Only two dates for the composition are named, (1.) that always assigned to it by the ancient church, near the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian, which extended from A. D. 81 to A. D. 96, and (2.) that which has been urged by certain modern critics, the latter part of the reign of Nero, about A. D. 65-68. The first date is supported by the historical testimony. It is urged in behalf of the second that there are internal evidences in its favor, but when these are examined they are found to resolve themselves into certain theories of interpretation and were it not for the necessity of these, this date would never have been proposed. Before stating the grounds for assigning the date to the latter part of the reign of Domitian, about A. D. 95,96, I will briefly consider the reasons urged in favor of the date in the reign of Nero. (1.) It is held that the work must have been written while the temple was still standing ( Re 11:1 ) and that Revelation 11:2 Revelation 20:9 prove that the City of Jerusalem was still standing but in a state of siege. It seems strange to me that a Bible student could use this argument. Every New Testament student knows that both the temple and Jerusalem are used elsewhere as symbols of the church, and how much more likely that the terms would be used as symbols in a book which is largely composed of symbols from beginning to end! It seems strange that in a vision composed of symbols any one should insist that John on Patmos, a thousand miles distant, literally saw the temple or Jerusalem. Besides, when John in chap. 11:8 speaks of the city as "spiritually called Sodom and Egypt," he shows that he cannot mean the literal Jerusalem. A holy city is the symbol of the church; a wicked city of an apostate church; a city trodden down by the Gentiles of a church overcome by worldly influence. The language of chap. 20:9 utterly excludes the Jewish capital in the reign of Nero.1 (2.) It is held that chap. 17:11 refers to Nero, and hence a forced and, as will be shown in the text, an erroneous interpretation is made the basis for determining the date. The theory itself is skeptical in that it convicts John of holding and sanctioning a popular error. (3.) It is also urged that there are certain solecisms in the Greek original which are wanting in John's gospel, and from this it is argued that the Revelation must have been written much earlier than the gospel, before John had fully mastered the language. Upon this point I quote from Prof. Wm. Milligan, of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, than whom, probably, no man living is a more thorough scholar in New Testament Greek: "The solecisms are not such as proceed from an ignorance of the Greek language, and they would not have been removed by greater familiarity with it. However we attempt to account for them, they are obviously designed, and rather imply a more accurate knowledge of the grammatical forms from which they are intentional departures. At the same time there are passages in the book (as for example chap. 18) which, in their unsurpassed and unsurpassable eloquence, exhibit a command of the Greek tongue, on the part of the writer, that long familiarity with it can best explain, were explanation necessary."2 (4.) It is said that the Jewish imagery belongs to John's earlier rather than his later years. To this it may be replied that no New Testament writer shows a stronger Jewish feeling than is found in John's gospel. It is John, who states, "Salvation is from the Jews" ( John 4:22 ) that Jesus is "the King of Israel" ( John 1:49 ), and Old Testament thoughts and figures constantly appear in the fourth gospel.
It is thus seen that the argument in favor of the early date is easily answered. On the other hand, the historical argument in favor of a later date is convincing to the mind which can be swayed by historical evidence. Commencing with the positive and definite statement of Irenæus there is unbroken agreement for nearly four centuries that the date of the work belongs to the persecution of the reign of Domitian. To properly weigh the statement of Irenæus, elected Bishop of Lyons in A. D. 178, and born in the first quarter of the second century, it is needful to keep in mind that he was a disciple of Polycarp, who suffered martyrdom in A. D. 155. In one of his letters Irenæus speaks to a fellow disciple of how intimate they had been with Polycarp and how often they had heard him tell of John the apostle, and how much they had been told of John by the aged saint who had once been under the instruction of the apostle. Hence it is apparent that Irenæus must have known from Polycarp the leading facts of John's history, and especially the circumstances connected with his exile to Patmos. This witness, whose opportunity for knowing the facts is unquestioned, declares, "Revelation was seen no long time since, but almost in our generation, towards the end of the reign of Domitian" (A. D. 96). With this plain statement agree all the church fathers who speak of the subject, not only of the second century, but for three centuries. "There is no variation in the historical accounts. All statements support the conclusion that St. John was banished to Patmos by Domitian (A. D. 81-96)--some writers placing the exile in the fourteenth of his reign--and all agree that the Visions of which Revelation is the record were received in Patmos."3
One writer in the fourth century makes the blunder of assigning the banishment to the reign of Claudius Cæsar, a blunder which finds no endorsers, a blunder which is supposed to have been a verbal mistake, but it is not until the sixth century that we find the opinion expressed that the banishment belonged to the persecution of the reign of Nero, and up to the twelfth century there are only two writers who endorse this date. They cannot be called witnesses, since the earliest of them was separated from the death of John by a period greater than that which separates us from the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Hence, it is no misstatement of the facts to say that the historical proof, in favor of the later date, is uniform, clear and convincing.
The historical conclusion is corroborated by convincing internal testimony. I condense from Godet's Bible Studies, second series, certain points which bear upon the question of Date: (1.) "The condition of the churches indicated" in the second and third chapters renders the early date improbable. These churches were not founded before A. D. 55-58. Paul wrote to two of these churches, Ephesus and Colosse, in A. D. 62 or 63; Peter wrote to all the churches of that region several years later still; Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, at Ephesus, probably as late as A. D. 67; in these letters there is no hint of John being in that section of the world, or of the spiritual decay revealed in the letters to the angels of the churches of Ephesus, Sardis and Laodicea; yet this theory requires us to believe that not later than A. D. 68 or 69, John found these churches spiritually dead. There is no reasonable doubt but that the second and third chapters of Revelation describe a condition which could only have arisen a generation later than the date of Paul's last intercourse with these churches. (2.) Godet notes the fact that an ecclesiastical organization reveals itself in the seven churches which did not reveal itself until about the close of the first century. In each church there is one man, "the angel of the church," through whom the whole church is addressed. There is no hint of any individual enjoying a distinction like this until about the beginning of the second. (3.) The expression, "The Lord's-day," does not occur in the earlier apostolical writings. They always speak of the "First Day of the week" instead. The term used in A. D. 68 was "the First Day of the week," but the writers of the second century from the beginning use "the Lord's-day." This term, then, points to a period near the beginning of the second century as the date of Revelation. (4.) The expressions in Revelation 2:9 Revelation 3:9 point to a complete separation between the church and the synagogue. This complete separation did not take place until the epoch of the destruction of Jerusalem. Such language as we find in these two places can only be accounted for by a fact so momentous as the overthrow of the Jewish state, and hence belongs to a later date.
This discussion might be continued, and it is of importance to any correct interpretation that the date should be clearly settled, but I believe that enough has been said to show that all the facts point to "near the end of the reign of Domitian, or about the year A. D. 96." It might be of service to add that the persecution of Nero, as far as known, was local and confined to Rome; that death, instead of banishment, was the favorite method of punishment with him; that it is not probable that he would have put to death Paul and Peter and banished John; and that there is no evidence that John, as early as A. D. 68, had ever visited the region of the seven churches. On the other hand, the persecution of Domitian was not local; we know also that he sent other Christians into exile; we know also that the later years of John's life were passed at Ephesus, and in the region of which it was the center.
That the visions of Revelation were seen upon the island of Patmos is a fact that rests upon the testimony of the writer himself. It is the universal testimony of the early church, that John survived the destruction of Jerusalem, that when the storm of war was gathering around that devoted city he, in obedience to the Lord's warning ( Matt. 24:16 ), fled from the coming desolation, and finally took up his abode in Ephesus, in the midst of the churches of Asia, founded by the apostle Paul. During his long sojourn in this region, which extended until the close of his life, he was banished in the persecution of the latter part of the reign of Domitian. Patmos, the place of exile, is simply a rocky prison house in the sea. It consists of three rocky masses connected by isthmuses, is about thirty miles in circuit, lies in the south part of the Aegean Sea, and one of a group called the Sporades. It is seldom visited as it is reached by no regular lines of ships and has comparatively little intercourse with the mainland. The writer passed between it and the shore of Asia in 1889, and was enabled by comparison with the adjacent islands to form a realistic conception of the prison house of John. Its mountain peaks are bare, there is some grass in the valleys on which a few sheep and cattle are pastured, and there are some fruit trees, but the general appearance is lonely and desolate. Yet it is set in one of the brightest of seas with an almost cloudless sky above, and from its higher points John could sweep his vision over a range of forty miles, embracing the surrounding islands and the mountains of Asia in the distance.
Though the visions were granted while John was an exile on Patmos many have held, it seems to me with too little reason, that the work was actually written in Ephesus. There is nothing in proof of this view but conjecture. It is also opposed to the fact that the first of the seven letters is addressed to "the angel of the church of Ephesus" ( 2:1 ). Had John, at the time of writing, been a resident of Ephesus, this fact cannot be reasonably explained. It is better to accept the plain inference of the narrative, that the visions were not only seen in, but that they were recorded in Patmos.
There is probably no other portion of the Scriptures concerning the meaning of which the interpreters so widely differ. This has caused some readers to conclude that the work is a tissue of confused and perhaps incoherent utterances, thrown out in prophetic ecstasy, the interpretation of which is a hopeless attempt; and they have supposed that the attempted explanations only illustrated the vagaries and the failures of the commentators. The differences are due to the different systems of interpretation employed. Of these there are three principal ones, all containing some truth, but all also in danger of being pushed to extreme erroneous conclusions, and it is probable that every interpreter, who is not rationalistic, accepts some of the results of all three of these systems. These are: (1.) The Preterist. According to this system the successive visions apply to events chiefly in the history of the Jewish nation and of Pagan Rome. These events have occurred long since in the past. Many rationalistic writers insist that all events described must have taken place before the visions were written, and that there is no such thing as prediction. Hence these critics are called Preterists, but this view is not confined to them. It is held by most Roman Catholic commentators and by some Protestants. (2.) The Futurists. These insist that the predictions apply mainly to events yet in the future, and will be fulfilled in the future history of the literal Israel. They assert that Israel will again occupy Palestine, that the temple will be literally rebuilt; that the holy city shall be literally trodden down for 1,260 days by the Gentiles, etc. The Preterist system is right in asserting that much of Revelation applies to what is now past, and the Futurist is right this far, namely, that a portion applies to what is still future. (3.) The Historical. In my opinion this system is more nearly correct, and yet it needs to be modified by the others, and carefully guarded. It holds that a succession of historical events, future when John wrote but now in part in the past, are portrayed by a series of visions. The error must be avoided of supposing that the book is continuously historical from the beginning to the end. If it is borne in mind that there is more than one series of visions; that when one series ends another follows which is synchronous, at least in part; that a part of the events portrayed by symbols is not in the past, while another portion is in the future, I think the result of the Historical system will be found to be clear, harmonious, and surprisingly in correspondence with the visions of the prophet. It perhaps cannot be expected that even those who adopt this system will agree in every detail, but we do find that the great expositors of the historical school, embracing the majority of English commentators, are in substantial agreement.
It must always be kept in mind, however, that this book is a book of prophecy, intended to "shew the things which must shortly come to pass." John was a Seer. He recorded what he saw. The future was portrayed to him in a series of visions. The pictures which passed before his eyes represented future events. Hence, each is a symbolical representation of what was then future, and may now be past history. Thus, when the first seal is opened in Revelation 6:1 Revelation 6:2 , and a warrior is seen with a bow in his hand riding on a white horse in conquest, this must be interpreted as a sense-image which appropriately represents an event or epoch of history which was future when John was an exile on Patmos. Symbolical pictures follow each other in rapid succession as the seals are opened and the trumpets blown, a correct interpretation of which is to be sought not in literal fulfillment, but in events of which the sense-visions might be appropriate symbols. It will be a help in understanding the text to have an explanation of the meaning of the various symbols employed as they are ordinarily used in prophetic writings; hence I give a
In this table I aim to give only the leading Symbols used by John, with their apparent meaning. The definitions have been obtained from Mede, Elliott, Lange, Campbell, Archdeacon Lea, and other sources.
Adultery.--Idolatry or apostasy; especially the latter. As Christ is represented as a bridegroom and the church as a bride, apostasy, or unfaithfulness to him, would be spiritual adultery, and a false church properly represented as a harlot.
Angel.--Any agent or messenger of the divine will. The term may be a symbol of any movement of nations, or in history which carries out the divine purposes.
Ascension to Heaven.--Exaltation in power and glory. Prosperity.
Babylon.--The city which carried Israel into captivity. Hence, a symbol of any power that renders them captive, whether it be Pagan or Papal Rome.
Balances.--A symbol of justice, but when used to denote the weighing out of food, a symbol of scarcity.
Black.--The color of mourning; hence a symbol of calamity and sorrow.
Black Horse.--The horse was not used as a beast of burden by the ancients, but for purposes of war. Hence it is a symbol of war, and a black horse is a symbol of calamitous war.
Blood.--A symbol of the carnage of war.
Beast.--The term rendered beast in the Revision means a savage wild beast. Hence it is a symbol of a cruel, tyrannical persecuting power. The term used in chap. 4 , rendered beasts in the Common Version, is not the same. Instead of "Four Beasts" that should be rendered "Four Living Creatures."
Binding.--This symbol means to restrain, to hold; also to deprive of power and render helpless.
Book.--The record of the divine will. To seal a book is to conceal its meaning, since ancient books were rolls and could not be read when sealed. To open seals is to disclose the meaning. To devour a book is to become master of its contents. The book with seven seals is the book of human destiny, an outline of the great events which connect themselves with the church until its final triumph. The opening of its seals is the revelation of future history.
Bow.--The bow, a warlike weapon, when held in the hand is a symbol of war.
Bride.--The spouse of Christ, the Church, the New Jerusalem.
Candlestick.--A symbol of a church, which should be a light in the world. The seven golden candlesticks are the seven churches. A symbol of any light-giving agency.
Chain.--A symbol of bondage or affliction. To chain is to render powerless. To bind Satan with a chain is to destroy his power.
Cloud.--An emblem of power and majesty. To ride upon the clouds is to appear in glory and exaltation.
Crown.--The symbol of royal majesty. To enjoy exaltation and honor. To receive the crown of life is to receive the honors of eternal life.
Darkness.--The well known symbol of calamity and affliction.
Day.--"I have given you a day for a year." One revolution of the earth on its axis is a symbol of its annual revolution in its orbit. "Twelve hundred and sixty days" means as many years.
Death.--A symbol of destruction.
Dragon.--The old pagan Roman Empire. The dragon was originally a symbol of a monarch. In Revelation it means the persecuting monarchy of Rome.
Earth.--The ancient civilized world, which corresponded in John's time with the Roman Empire. Political powers.
Earthquake.--Political and moral revolutions and convulsions of society. The shaking of the established order of things. The subversion of states and fortunes.
Eclipse.--Or the darkening of heavenly bodies, means the obscuration of the glory of kings and potentates of which sun, moon and stars are symbols.
Egypt.--The place of spiritual bondage. A condition of sinfulness. Opposition to Christ.
Euphrates.--The symbol of the Turkish power. To be "bound by the Euphrates" is to be restrained at that river.
Elders.--Probably princes of righteousness.
False Prophets.--A false spiritual power which falsely claims divine authority for its teaching.
Fire.--Fierce destruction. Never the symbol of a blessing, but of a curse.
Fire from Heaven.--Divine destruction; but fire brought down from heaven by the two-horned dragon means excommunication and anathemas of a false spiritual power.
Flood.--Symbol of overpowering. Distress from persecution or any cause.
Forehead.--A mark in the forehead means a public profession.
Fornication.--Idolatry. See Adultery.
Grave.--To put in the grave, signifies to consign to oblivion. "Not to suffer dead bodies to be put into the grave," means that they shall be remembered.
Hail.--Ravages and destruction.
Hand.--A mark in the hand means the manner of life, or practice.
Harlot.--An idolatrous community. The great Harlot is the apostate church. See Adultery.
Heavens and the Earth.--The world. The political and religious universe. A new heavens and new earth imply a passing away of the old order of things and the establishment of a new order.
Horse.--Used only for warlike purposes by the ancients and hence a symbol of war. The color of the horse indicates the condition of his rider and the state of the war.
Horns.--"The great horn of the first king;" Daniel . A symbol of kings, kingdoms, or power. Seven horns indicate enormous power.
Incense.--The prayers of the saints.
Islands.--European states. In the prophets the "isles of the sea" meant the countries in and beyond the Mediterranean; hence, Europe.
Jerusalem.--The capital of Judea and the seat of the temple becomes a symbol of the church of Christ. The "holy city" is contrasted with the "great city," Jerusalem with Babylon, or the true with the false church.
Jezebel.--An unholy woman is a symbol of an unholy influence in the church.
Key.--A symbol of power to deliver or imprison, to open heaven or hell, or to shut them; of power to save or destroy.
King.--Supreme power of any kind. A government; a kingdom.
Lamb.--The symbol of a sinless, sacrificial offering. The Lamb of God is Christ slain as a lamb from the foundation of the world.
Lion.--A symbol of kingly power.
Locusts.--The locusts, a devouring pest bred in the deserts of Arabia, are a symbol of devouring Arabian armies. The Arabians under Mohammed.
Manna.--The bread of life. The truth of Christ.
Measuring Rod.--The standard by which the church is measured. The Word.
Mountain.--Some person or power conspicuous among men. Highly elevated. A great prince or government. A burning mountain is a baleful, destructive power.
Moon.--A symbol of powers, rulers and great men which are not supreme. A light which shines by reflecting another light.
Merchants.--A symbol of those who make a gain of godliness and traffic in religious privileges.
Palm.--A symbol of joy or victory.
Pale Horse.--An image of desolating war, and a reign of death.
Red Horse.--An image of cruel, bloody war, distinguished by awful carnage.
River of Life.--Christ is the fountain of life. The abundant, ever flowing life that Christ bestows, is fitly symbolized by a river. The river, and tree, of life mean essentially the same.
Rod.--The symbol of rule. The rod of iron is a symbol of resistless sway.
Scarlet.--This color, the color of blood, symbolizes bloody cruelty. A scarlet woman is a persecuting church.
Seven.--The perfect number. Completeness.
Stars.--Shining lights in the world. Conspicuous men, whether in the church or the state.
Sun.--As the great light giver, in one sense a symbol of Christ. Also a supreme ruler. The moon and stars indicate great lights of society, but inferior to the sun.
Sword.--A symbol of slaughter. Also of conquest. A sword in the hand indicates by carnal weapons. A sword proceeding from the mouth indicates conquests by the word of God.
Temple of God.--The church of which the tabernacle and temple were types. The temple of God in heaven, open, is the abode of God, heaven itself, the church above.
Throne.--A symbol of authority.
Trumpet.--The blast of a trumpet signifies the forward march of armies, carnal or spiritual. Also the proclamation of war or peace.
Time.--Time, times and half a time is an annual revolution of the earth, a year, two years, a half year, or three and a half years. "Seven times" passed over Nebuchadnezzar, or seven years.
Wine Press.--A symbol of an effusion of blood and of distress.
White.--To be clothed in white is to be innocent, pure, and to be triumphant.
White Horse.--Triumphant and glorious war.
Whore.--Apostate church. See Adultery.
Winds.--Symbol of commotion; of mighty movements. The "Four Winds" are four invasions of the Roman Empire.
Witness.--The two witnesses are the two Testaments, for such is the meaning of the latter word.
Woman.--The "woman clothed with the sun" is the pure and faithful church. The Great Harlot is the false, faithless, apostate church. The church is often symbolized by a bride, or a woman bearing children. A pure woman represents a faithful church; an adulterous woman, "a harlot," a false, apostate church.
John states that the book is a record of things "which should shortly come to pass." He saw outlined in his vision events which were at that time in the future, but high were "shortly" to become history. No one would suppose that it was the divine purpose to reveal all the changing history of nations, races and kingdoms for the last eighteen hundred years, and hence, a question necessary to interpretation is: To what countries and series of events do the predictions apply? If we turn to the Old Testament prophets we will be guided to a correct answer. The central thought in all their predictions is the future history of the people of God. All that they utter is related, either directly or indirectly, to the fortunes of Israel, temporal and spiritual, the typical nation, and the spiritual nation, or in other words, to the fortunes of the Jews and of the Church. With this great object before them they predict the fate of the great Gentile nations with whom the Jews came in contact, who influenced their fortunes, or became their oppressors. Hence we have Assyria, Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, etc., made burdens of prophecy.
Exactly the same is true of New Testament prophecy. The prophets speak of the future of Israel and of the Church, and necessarily reveal much concerning the opposing and persecuting nations. It was not in the mind of Christ to give in Revelation the outline of all history, but to outline the fortunes, tribulations and triumphs of the Church. The Church was, in the earlier centuries, almost wholly within the bounds of the vast, persecuting empire of Pagan Rome. Hence this opposing power would come before the prophetic vision, and we will find that the symbolism often refers to the Roman power. Let it be ever present to the mind of the reader that John was the victim of Roman persecution, and an exile on Patmos when he wrote; that he had never been beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and that there is no historical authority for supposing that any apostle ever stepped upon soil that a Roman citizen would call foreign. Since this mighty empire affects so closely the interests of the Church, it is in harmony with all we know of prophecy to expect it to be the subject of prophetic vision. That Pagan Rome is, to a greater or less extent, the subject of the predictions is agreed by almost all interpreters, but the agreement is by no means so marked that Papal Rome, the great spiritual despot upon which the mantle of the pagan empire fell, is also an important element in the explanation of the visions. I believe that a close and unbiased study of the text compels the conclusion that a great apostasy, a false church, a persecuting spiritual power, is revealed which mightily influences the fortunes of the Church, and that its characteristics are found strikingly exhibited in certain periods of the history of the Papacy. There arises a great apostasy, a false church that produces for the time a mighty influence upon the saints of Jesus Christ. This is also a subject of prophecy. I am then prepared to affirm that the general scope of the Book of Revelation is similar to that of the Old Testament prophets; that its primary object is to outline the history of the church; that, in subordination to this primary object, it portrays the fortunes of the two great persecuting powers, Pagan and Papal Rome. The changing fortunes of the Church are portrayed, running like a golden thread through the dark panorama of history, until at last, in God's good time, the battle is fought to the end, the victory won, and the triumphant Church enjoys the fruition of all its sufferings and labors and the glories of the New Jerusalem.
In order to an understanding the reader must keep in mind that there is more than one series of visions, and that these overlap each other, revealing different features of the same period. The whole book might be divided as follows:
PART I. Chapters I-IV.--This part embraces the Introduction, the Vision of the Son of Man, the Letters to the Seven Churches, and Vision of the Opened Heaven and the Throne of God.
PART II. Chapters V-XI.--This part opens with a Vision of a Book sealed with Seven Seals in the Hands of Him who sits upon the Throne--the Book of Destiny; the Contents hidden by the seals. The Lamb of God prevails to open the seals; that is, to Reveal the Future. As each is opened a vision appears which presents a Symbol representing a Period of Human history. Six seals are opened in succession, followed by a pause before the opening of the seventh seal. When the seventh seal is opened it is found to embrace Seven Thunders and Seven Trumpets. The trumpets are blown in succession, each followed by Great Events, and when the last is blown the End comes when Christ triumphs over all. The Seven Seals, with the Seven Trumpets, contained under the last seal, reach to the end of time.
PART III. Chapters XII-XVIII.--This part opens with a Vision of a Woman, a symbol of the Church; an Enemy of the Woman which appears with as a Seven-headed and Ten-horned Beast, understood to be a symbol of Pagan Rome; a Two-horned Beast, which I understand to be Papal Rome; there also appears sitting on the Seven-headed Beast a False Woman, a symbol of a False Church. The figures change and these opposing powers under the name of Babylon are overthrown.
PART IV. Chapters XIX-XX.--These chapters describe the Great Victory over the opposing powers, the Millennial Period, and the Final Uprising and Defeat of Satan.
PART V. Chapters XXI-XXII.--These chapters describe the Glorious Home of the Redeemed Saints, and embrace Closing Exhortations.
1 The exegetical assumption of modern critics that this passage ( Rev. 11:1 ) proves the temple at Jerusalem to have been still standing at the time when the Apocalypse was written affords another sign of the deep fall of these critics into a false literalism (Lange on Revelation, page 26).
2 Winer (Grammar of the Greek Testament), discussing the solecisms of the Apocalypse says, "In some instances they are the result of design; in others they are to be referred to carelessness on the part of the writer. . . . In this light they should always be considered, and not ascribed to the ignorance of the writer, or regarded Hebraisms. . . . But, with all the simplicity and the oriental tone of his language, the author knows well and observes well the rules of the Greek syntax."--Page 672. It should always, too, be kept in mind that Revelation is written, not as a clam, sedate, elaborate composition, like John's Gospel, but with the fire and ecstasy of a prophet. This accounts for differences of style.
3 The Bible (Speaker's) Commentary. New Testament, Vol. IV, page 432.