This book is to be regarded as a continuation from Heaven of the teaching which the Lord began when on earth. (Acts i, 1.) A considerable number of years had passed since His ascension, and He had seen in His Church the working of " the mystery of lawlessness" of which St. Paul wrote, and its gradual develment in "the scoffers " of St. Peter, and the " many antichrists " of St. John. Now it seemed good to Him to give, through the last surviving Apostle, fresh instructions, and admonitions, and warnings, adapted to that condition of trial and peril upon which His children had entered. In Epistles addressed to seven then existing churches, He outlined the whole spiritual history of the Church, from the loss of the first love of Ephesus to the lukewarmness and self-exaltation of Laodicea. Following upon these Epistles He proceeds to give, under various figures and symbols, such teachings and openings of the future as were necessary to guard His children amidst the temptations and dangers of their way. As everywhere in Divine revelation respecting things to come, the object here is practical, to make known the future so far as needful for instruction and guidance. As His words when on earth were only understood by those "who had ears to hear" (Matt. xi, 15), so is it with His words from Heaven. Neither the unfaithful nor the curious can understand them; only those illumined by the Spirit, the obedient and faithful. Only the spiritual ear can understand " what the Spirit saith unto the churches." He alone through His prophets can interpret these symbols, and bring forth the meanings hidden under them; and this He does only so far as the needs of the time demand.
It is to be noted that the Lord in this book speaks to His Church only. He is not addressing any others, Jews or Gentiles; if they are mentioned, or events in their history, it is only as symbols of parties or events in the Church.
To interpret the apocalyptic symbols in general, or to enter upon details of fulfillment, as it is beyond our power, is beyond our present purpose. We confine our attention to the one point: What are we taught in this book as to the apostasy, and as to the Antichrist? As to the apostasy, we find two symbols of the Church that claim our attention, that of the woman, and that of Babylon; and as to the Antichrist, the symbol of the Beast. Rightly understanding these three symbols— the Woman, Babylon, and the Beast—we have all we now seek.
First. (a) The woman as the Bride. Under the figure of the marriage relation is often set forth in the Old Testament the relation of God to His covenant people. The same figure, which is the highest expression of love, is used by the Apostle to explain the relation of Christ to His Church. (Eph. v, 23—.) This relation is to be perfected at the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. xix, 7), when the Church enters into the immortality and glory of her Lord. Till then she is an "espoused virgin," waiting for the Bridegroom. (2 Cor. xi, 2; Matt. xxv, 1—.) But as, in the human relation, the espoused virgin may be unfaithful, so in the Divine. Thus we have the Church, as symbolized by the woman, presented under two aspects. In the one (Rev. xii, 1), we see her in that spiritual and heavenly condition in which she was placed at the beginning, and in which she should have continued, ready to be presented unto the Bridegroom at His coming, without spot or blemish. (Eph. ii, 6; v, 27.)
(6) The woman as a harlot. The Church did not abide in the heavenly condition. Becoming earthly-minded, a resident on the earth, seeking its honours, and in alliance with its rulers, "glorifying herself, and living deliciously," she is presented under the figure of a harlot, arrayed in purple and scarlet, and sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast. (Rev. xvii, 3.) Under this symbol the Church is presented to us in the final stage of her apostasy, retaining some of the outward signs of her high calling, but borne by the Beast, upheld and supported by him.
The sin of the Church which at last brings upon her the fierce anger of her Lord, is fornication with the kings and rulers of the world. (Rev. xvii, 2; xviii, 3.) This points to the crime of permitting them to usurp authority over her, and to exercise for their own ends the rights and prerogatives which belong to her Lord alone. To Him it belongs to appoint her ministers, to inspire her teachings, to direct all her action. She cannot serve two masters. Allied with the rulers of the world, controlled in her action by their interests, dependent upon their bounty for her support, and seeking the honour which cometh from men, she can no longer be a faithful witness to her absent Lord, or do His present work, or wait with longing desire for His return. Spiritual fornication is, therefore, the grievous charge brought by the Lord against her, and its last and highest stage is reached when she becomes the handmaid of the Beast. (Rev. xvii, 3.) Then her harlotry is open and unconcealed. The absent Lord is wholly forgotten. She is no longer " the espoused virgin" waiting for the Bridegroom, diligent to make herself ready. There is no sense of any bereavement in His absence, or desire for His return. She is no more " the widow who cried day and night" for deliverance from the bondage which oppressed her (Luke xviii, 3—), but she proudly says: "I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow." (Rev. xviii, 7.)
But it will be noted that the symbolism of the marriage relation is imperfect in setting forth the full relations of the Church to Christ, in that an espoused virgin cannot be at once both faithful and unfaithful. This symbol does not admit of partition; another symbol, therefore, is needed, through which the fact can appear that the Church may have at the same time both faithful and unfaithful members; and that there is never an entire falling away. Always, even in the darkest hour, there are those that remain true to their Lord —" the remnant," the seven thousand who do not bow the knee to Baal. The symbol which permits this distinction of the faithful and unfaithful as co-existing in the Church, is found in a city.
Secondly, Babylon, a city, symbolizes the Church not in its immediate vital relation to its Head — His body—or as His espoused wife; but as an organized institution, a polity with laws, ordinances, and offices; and thus able to be brought into relations with civil governments,— the visible as distinguished from the invisible Church, and known to the world as the sphere of Christ's rule. As in every well-ordered city, justice, equity, and peace prevail; so above all in the Church, the Heavenly city. Here all God's statutes and ordinances are kept; all His servants are in their places, and fulfil their duties, and His children dwell together in righteousness and love. Of such holy order and peace the heavenly Jerusalem is the symbol. (Gal. iv, 26; Rev. xxi, 2.)
Sacred history presents Babylon under two aspects, first, as a city of confusion — Babel—where no one understood another's speech. (Gen. xi, 7.) Secondly, as the city where the covenant people were held in captivity. (Ezra v, 12.) In the first, we see symbolized the Church as divided into many sects and parties, holding little or no communion with one another, without unity of belief, or of purpose, or of action. This confusion of religious speech is seen in the chaotic period of the second and third centuries, and most clearly since the Reformation; but has marked in large degree the whole history of the Church ; and will, we may believe, reach its culmination just at its close, when the term "Babel" will have its fullest application.
The second aspect in which the historical Babylon is presented, is as that city to which God removed His people as a punishment for their disobedience. He had chosen for them a place where He would dwell — His holy city — and there ordered the building of His temple, where only His appointed worship could be offered; but they had profaned His Sanctuary, and He gave city and temple up to destruction. In Babylon must His people dwell till they had been brought to repentance, and been made to pray earnestly for deliverance. (Ps. cxxxvii, 1—.) Till this hour should come, they must pray for the peace of BabyIon,and be submissive to the powers over them. (Jer. xxix, 7.) Thus this city could be the symbol of a condition in which the Church, having lost her highest ministers, and unable to offer worship in its appointed fulness, came into a relation of dependence upon secular powers. Very early she entered into an alliance with the Roman State for her protection and help, and this alliance has continued in various forms under all rulers succeeding the Emperors. Thus has arisen that great structure, both ecclesiastical and civil, sacred and secular, which we call Christendom. Although Christendom embraces the nations which as such profess the Christian faith, and is ruled by those who bear Christ's name; yet the relation between them and the Church is one contrary to the appointment of God, who has set His Son to be her Head and sole Ruler. Christ, indeed, is the King of Kings as well as Head of the Church, yet He would not have these two spheres of His rule to be confounded. His rulers in the State may not interfere with His rulers in the Church. Each has its defined border, over which it may not pass. The State may not appoint priests, or dictate their teaching or action, or the Church control the State in its legitimate functions.
It is not necessary to follow in detail the union of Church and State since the time of Constantine. In general, it may be said that for the protection and help of the State the Church has assented to a measure of secular control over her, both as to her polity and administration, and, in a degree, also, as to her doctrine; a control wholly incompatible with the prerogatives of her Head. Her whole history shews a continued struggle between the ecclesiastical and civil rulers, the Church attempting to rule the State and the State to rule the Church, priests striving to be princes, and princes exercising the functions of priests. The right of interference in spiritual matters once obtained, secular rulers have attempted to exercise it more and more; attempts which have often been strenuously, sometimes successfully, resisted. Each party has sought to make use of the other for the accomplishment of its own special ends. With the sword of the magistrate would the Church put down all religious dissent, and with the sanction of the Church would the State justify its acts of cruelty and oppression.*
The application of this symbol is not to be limited to the Church of Rome, as is often done. It embraces the whole Christian Church in so far as it symbolizes a condition of things in which the Lord is deprived of the full exercise of His prerogatives as her Head by her unhallowed alliance with secular rulers, whether the alliance be on her part voluntary or coerced. The sin is the same whether the State be monarchical or democratic in its government, whether the Church be established by law, or, if nominally free, is controlled by the popular will expressed through majorities. Babylon is found wherever there is interference on the part of princes or people with His absolute rule; and His children are thus brought under bondage. But, if this has been a common sin, and it has been most manifest in the Roman Church, whose organization and claims to supremacy have brought it into closer relations, sometimes of peace, sometimes of hostility, to both kings and peoples.
* A recent historian, Parkman ("The Jesuits in North America ") writing with no reference to prophecy, but as a student of the practical workings of a system, says: "Holy mother Church, linked in sordid wedlock to governments and thrones, numbered among her servants a host of the worldly and the proud, whose service of God was but the [service of themselves. . . This mighty Church of Rome, in her imposing march along the high road of history, heralded as infallible divine, astounds the gazing world with prodigies of contradictions ; now the protector of the oppressed, now the right arm of tyrants, . . now beaming with celestial truth, now masked in hypocrisy and lies; now a virgin, now a harlot, an imperial queen, and a tinselled actress."
But this intermingling of the religious and political elements, making the Church to be a component part of the State, was more than a denial by the Church to her Head of His prerogatives of rule; it was the sin of fornication, already spoken of, a sin by which He was most deeply wounded and dishonoured. The Church was His espoused virgin, whom, under His own ministries and ordinances, He would make and preserve holy and without blemish to the day of the marriage. Therefore, how great her fall to play the harlot with the kings of the earth, and be their handmaid to promote their selfish interests, and minister to their pleasures. This was to infuse the spirit of harlotry into her own children by effacing the distinction between the Church and the world, between the sacred and the secular; and to intoxicate the nations with vain expectations of the prosperity and glory to be given them under her administration, and before the coming of their Judge and King. (Matt. xxiv, 48—.)
We may now understand why upon the forehead of the woman sitting upon the Beast the name was written: "Mystery, Babylon the great." (Rev. xvii, 4, 5.) Under the combination of the two symbols — the harlot and Babylon—we have presented the last stage of the alliance between the Church and the State. Through its corrupting influence upon her own spiritual condition, and her growing spirit of pride and ambition, she is ready to make an alliance even with the Beast, thus utterly rejecting the headship of her Lord. This fall into harlotry is a mystery, like "the mystery of lawlessness," something known to all and yet not known; now dimly discerned by the spiritual eye, but not clearly to be seen till the last trump shall sound, and "the mystery of God shall be finished." (Rev. x, 7.) It is at this time that the longsuffering of the Lord comes to an end. He will now separate the faithful from the unfaithful. The command goes forth: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." (Rev. xviii, 4.) This separation made, " Babylon becomes the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." The apostate Church, the faithful having been all gathered out, becomes the church of the Antichrist.
As we have seen, Christendom being the product of Christianity, an amalgam of the religious and political, is presented in both its elements under the symbol Babylon, the great city. As a political system, it must stand or fall with the Church with which it is in such close alliance; and its destruction is sudden and complete. An angel casts a great millstone into the sea, saying: "Thus with violence shall that great city, Babylon, be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." The Christian Church and the Christian State fall together, for the enmity of the Antichrist embraces both, and both must be overthrown before his kingdom can be set up.
This same distinction of the faithful and the apostate, and their separation at the time of the end, is elsewhere taught us in this book under the symbols of "the harvest" and " the vintage" (Rev. xiv, 14-20); the harvest embracing those who have lived in Babylon and been infected with its errors and vices, but are at last gathered out of it, and ripened — dried — by the fire of judgment; the same as "the great multitude" that comes purified out of the great tribulation. (Rev. vii, 14.) The vintage embraces those gathered to the Antichrist — " the vine of the earth," the counterfeit of the true Vine. This is "cast into the great wine press of the wrath of God." (Rev. xiv, 19—.)
Thirdly, The Beast. (Rev. xiii, 1—.) Of a beast as a symbol of a cruel and oppressing nation or State, we have already spoken in treating of the visions of Daniel. This prophet saw four beasts coming up from the sea — four successive kingdoms — each with its special characteristics, but all standing in hostile relations to the Jewish people. The Beast seen by St. John to arise out of the sea, has the same symbolic character. It represents some persecuting power; but the object of its persecution is not the Jewish people, for the teachings of The Revelation directly concern only the Christian Church. When mentioned in this book, the Jews appear in their symbolical, not historical, character. (vii, 4.) There has been much discussion whether this Beast is to be identified with the last beast of Daniel (vii, 7), the symbol of the Roman Empire; and also what its relation to the eleventh horn of this beast, but into this discussion it is not necessary to enter. But it is important to notice that, while the beasts of Daniel are representative of kingdoms with a succession of rulers, yet this is probably not the case here. As the Messianic kingdom has but one King, both King and kingdom may be spoken of as identical, as in the petition "Thy kingdom come;" and as the kingdom of the Antichrist has but one king, both king and kingdom may be represented by the Beast. This kingdom, as the last of the series of hostile kingdoms, may unite in itself all the characteristics of those that preceded it, as symbolized by the bear, the leopard, and the lion; and -this kingdom may be said to be universal, since the dragon, "the prince of this world," gives the Beast from the sea "his throne, and great authority." It deserves, also, to be considered that this Beast is described under the same form as the dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, implying co-extensive authority.*
v We find, then, no difficulty in believing that the Beast of St. John symbolizes the Antichrist as king; and, also, the nature of his kingdom as both political and ecclesiastical. That there is much obscurity still in regard to the interpretation of chapter xvii, 9-11, we know, and it probably will not be removed until the Antichrist appears, and begins to run his course.
'Doubtless, there is a distinction to be taken between the heads and the horns of the Beast. The horns are, by general consent, symbols of power, and here of kingly power. '' The ten horns are ten kings." (xvii, 12.) The head cannot be a symbol of the same thing; nor can the seven beads symbolize a succession of kings, or successive forms of government. This cannot be the case with the seven heads of the dragon, for he is described as he is at the time when he waits for the birth of the man-child. (xii, 3.) The heads of the Beast seem rather to symbolize that ecclesiastical power or headship which civil rulers have usurped for centuries over the Church. The Lord as its Head is its only ruler, yet civil rulers have called themselves its heads, and exercised authority over it. As we see symbolized in the ten horns the fulness of political power, so in the seven heads we see the fulness of that ecclesiastical authority which the several kings, calling themselves heads of the Church, have exercised in its history, and which the Beast as supreme civil ruler now daims for himself. Therefore, upon the heads, not upon the horns, are the names of blasphemy; and with the mouth he speaks great things and blasphemies.
The transfer of the crowns from the heads of the dragon to the horns of the Beast, may point to some outward establishment of the authority of Satan, which has to this time been exercised secretly, the world seeing it not; but now in the Antichrist, his representative, it is seen in full manifestation.
This beast arises out of "the sea," not out of the sea of the heathen nations as did the beasts of Daniel, but out of the sea of Christendom — the peoples of Christendom democratized—the sea being the symbol of that state of society in which man measures man, as in the sea all drops of water are equal; and also of instability, that form of rule where the unstable popular will is supreme. At that period, kingly governments — the mountains — have been swallowed up in the depths of the sea (Ps. xlvi); or if the name of kings is retained, their kingdoms are in fact democracies. Out of the stormy sea, "casting up mire and dirt," comes the Antichrist. (Luke xxi, 25.)
Let us now consider what we are taught of this ruler from the sea. (Rev. xiii.)
First, as to his relations to God and to His faithful children. "Upon his heads were names of blasphemy." "And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. . . And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in Heaven." By blasphemy we are to understand all kinds of speech injurious to the Divine majesty; bold and contemptuous denial of God, and of His claims to obedience and worship. The Beast himself claims Divine homage, and it is given him. "All that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the Book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
Such being his hostile relations to God, it follows that the same hostility will be shown to His Son, and to all who honor and fear Him. "And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them."
Secondly, his relations to Satan. "The dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority." Here the dragon, or Satan, is presented as having power or authority in the earth, according to his words to the Lord: "All this power (authority) will I give thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto mc; and to whomsoever I will, I give it." (Luke iv, 6.) St. Paul speaks only of the endowment of the man of sin by Satan "with all power (SiW/aet) and signs, and lying wonders,"— that evil spiritual endowment by which he is prepared to be Satan's effectual instrument. Thus spiritually prepared, the prince of this world gives to him his throne, and sets him as his vicegerent; and as such, authority is given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. His character and success amaze the nations, who ask, " Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?"
Thirdly, his relation to the kings of the earth. We are told (xvii, 12) that the ten horns of the Beast symbolize ten kings which are "to receive authority as kings with the Beast for one hour;" and that these, though nominally heads of States, will in fact be subject to him. "These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the Beast. . . For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast." We are thus pointed forward to a political status in which there will be a confederacy of the nations of Christendom under one head, and this head the Antichrist; yet each will preserve in some degree its own independent government. But of this confederacy we shall have occasion later to speak.
Fourthly, his attainment of power, and time of its duration. In the progress of the Beast to supreme power, there seem to be two stages presented under different forms. He is wounded as unto death (xiii, 3), but his wound is healed. He is also spoken of as " ascending out of the abyss,"— bottomless pit,— (xi, 7), into which he must first have descended, and from this time on overcomes all enemies. From these expressions it may be inferred that for a time after his appearance he meets with some special resistance, probably the testimony of the two witnesses (xi, 3—), and at this time receives a deadly wound, or in other words, descends into the abyss. His wound being healed, or rising from the abyss, he makes war upon the witnesses and kills them. From this time on no one is able to resist him, and "power is given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations." Interpreting "the abyss" as the place of the dead, some early fathers believed that Antichrist would be a man raised from the dead. But the language, "as it were wounded to death," does not affirm his death; and we may understand the abyss into which he descends, to be presented here as the abode of demons. (See ix, 1, 11; xx, 1, 3.) Thus taken, we are taught that by the Spirit of God in the mouths of the two witnesses Antichrist is unmasked, and successfully resisted for a time in his efforts to deceive the faithful; but, strengthened anew with demoniac power, he enters upon his victorious career. The period of this career may be the same as that of the sounding of the "three woe trumpets," which begins with the opening of the abyss, and the coming forth of the locusts — symbols of the false teachers, scoffers, and mockers who will then destroy the faith of men in all Christian truth, (viii, 13; ix, 1—.) At this time, also, it may be that the ten kings give their kingdom to the Beast; and the harlot Church is made desolate, and burned with fire. (xvii, 16—.)
The duration of Antichrist's rule seems to be for forty and two months, or three and a half years, (xiii, 5.) If, as has been said by some, this period is to be distinguished from that xii, 6, and later, the whole time of the Antichrist will be seven years: three and a half in attaining power, and three and a half in its exercise. But upon our interpretation of these chronological data we cannot rely; we may, however, believe that events will move very swiftly. (See xii, 12.)
Fifthly, his destruction. This is described under the symbol of a battle, in which appear on one side the Lord and His army, and on the other the Beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies. (xix, 19.) "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet. . . These both were cast alive Into a lake of fire burning with brimstone, and the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse." Upon their destruction follows the binding of Satan, and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. The tares are now gathered up and burned with fire, and "the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
We have yet to ask, who is symbolized by the second beast that comes up out of the earth? and what his relation to the first Beast? (xiii, 11—.) These points will be considered in speaking of the church of the Antichrist.
We may here sum up those chief teachings of the Scripture which are directly contradicted by the teachings of the latest forms of Anti-Christianity.
1. There is a personal God, Creator of heaven and earth.
Contra. There is no personal God, but an Eternal Energy or Force; and there has never been an act of creation.
2. Besides man there are created Intelligences — Angels; and there is a kingdom of darkness under the rule of a fallen Angel, Satan, the enemy of God and man, and " prince of this world."
Contra. There are no Angels, good or evil, and there is no kingdom of darkness.
3. Man fell from his original goodness, and so came under the law of sin and death; and needs a Redeemer.
Contra. Man has never fallen; his nature is not sinful, and needs no redemption, but is capable of highest development in wisdom and goodness.
4. The only-begotten Son of God became man to redeem man from sin and death through the Cross; and is now our High Priest making intercession for us.
Contra. Jesus was but one of the Sons of God, for God is incarnate alike in all men. He is not now our High Priest; His work as Saviour was completed in giving us a moral Ideal.
5. There is to be a Kingdom of God set up at the return of the risen Lord, in which His Church, made like Him in resurrection life, shall reign with Him, and all nations dwell in peace. •
Contra. There will be no return of Christ to earth, and no resurrection of the dead. Death itself is the ascent to a larger and better life. On earth will be seen a perfected Humanity, and a new Social Order; under which all evils of the past and present will be done away, and the Kingdom of Man will come.
6. The contest of good and evil will come to its final decision in the persons of the man Christ Jesus from heaven and of " the man of the earth," inspired and aided of Satan, but who will be cast into the bottomless pit.
Contra. There is no bottomless pit, and there can be no such contest, for all evil is imperfect good, and will disappear as humanity is developed.