In the Old Testament there are many prophetic books; in the New but one, the Book of the Revelation. This is most remarkable when we consider the place of the Church in the purpose of God, and the long centuries of her history. But not less remarkable are the form and contents of this book. As written for Christians, no longer under the law but having the Spirit, we might anticipate a plain outline of the future, a simple and direct mode of speech, clear indications of the dangers to be avoided and announcements of the judgments threatened. On the contrary, the Revelation is pre-eminently a book of symbols; and upon the right understanding of these symbols our knowledge of its meaning must depend. And these symbols are all of Old-Testament origin; applications of the types of the law,—its rites and times and numbers,—and of the recorded actings of God, to the history of the Church. As His purpose is one from the beginning, the knowledge of these symbols in their bearing on the future, must rest on the right understanding of their use in the past, and of their prophetical significance. The Book of the Revelation is not to be looked at apart and by itself, but is the consummation and crown of all earlier revelations; and presupposes that these are seen in their true relations to Him, who is the "First and the Last."
As to its contents, this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ, — a revelation of which He is both Author and End, the Revealer and the Revealed; and which will be completed when He comes from heaven to seat Himself on the throne of His glory. It is not a history of the Church as a kingdom of this world, and in its relation to earthly powers; for the Church is an election out of all peoples, and stands in no political relations to any, as did the Jewish people. It is an outline of the spiritual work of the Lord, as the Bishop and High Priest in heaven, to free His members from all worldly bonds, and make them like Himself that they may enter into His glory. The great events affecting the destiny of the Church are internal, not external; they have reference to her own spiritual condition, and not to God's actings in the world without. As Bishop, Christ speaks to the Church in the Seven Epistles, warning of errors, of dangers, and of judgments. In opening the seals, He is seen delivering the Church from her bondage under the power of the world, and bringing her again into the full spiritual liberty which is her right as His body. In the trumpets, He gives successive warnings of the judgments that will come on the disobedient; and in the vials, He pours out the wrath of God upon the obstinate and incorrigible. His work as High Priest in the Most Holy being finished, He comes forth to do His work as the Judge and the King. He makes all things new; and then, the purpose of the Kingdom having been accomplished, the everlasting age begins.
Such are in general the contents of this book. Into any explanation of its symbols we are not here called to enter; we are concerned only with the light given us in it respecting the Messianic Kingdom. But it is necessary that one principle of symbolic interpretation be kept clearly in mind, —that the names, whether of persons or of peoples, or terms descriptive of historical events, are not to be understood literally. Thus, Babylon is not the literal Babylon, nor Egypt the literal Egypt; nor, what is to be specially observed, are the Jews literal Jews, or the tribes the literal tribes, or the Holy City the literal Jerusalem. This book is for the Church, — the new election, — in which the Jews as such have no distinctive place; as the old election, they have their owu prophets, whose words reach down to the Messianic Kingdom. When mentioned here, it is only as symbols, that through God's dealings with them as recorded in the Old Testament, light may be given to the Church.
The preparation of the Church for the kingdom of Christ, or the Messianic Kingdom, is the theme of this book. That she would pass through sore trials, and yield to the power of temptation, both the Lord and the apostles foretold •, and we find them here set forth under symbolical forms. The seals which bind the Lord's inheritance must be broken; His children, having come into the captivity of Babylon, must be delivered. The effect of all God's dealings with His people is the separation of the faithful, and their union with Christ under the figure of "the marriage of the Lamb." Then can the Kingdom be set up.
As the Messianic Kingdom is here seen in its immediate relations to the Church, — not to the Jews, for of their relations to it their own prophets have abundantly spoken, — it will be presented to us in certain new aspects. These are, —
First, As preceded by the marriage of the Lamb, or that mystical union set forth by the marriage relation. It is quite another relation than that of Messiah to the Jews when they shall be reconstituted as a nation. To them He is a King; to the Church, "bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh," He is the Husband; they are His people; she is His wife. (Eph. v. 29, 32.) Now can she sit with Him in His throne, and eat at His table, and be His helper in the administration of His rule. This is the fulfillment of her calling, the consummation of her history; and, therefore, it is said, "Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. . . . Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb." (xiv. 7, 9.)
Second, The binding of Satan. It was only after the appearing of the Son of God in flesh, that the great enemy appeared conspicuous in opposition to God, His antagonist in the redemptive work. Although he was at first the tempter of Adam, and the victor; and re-appears at intervals in the biblical records; it is not till the Deliverer enters on His personal work that he is presented distinctly in the fullness of his malignity and power. He dares to tempt the Lord Himself; and ever after in the history of the Church uses all his arts of falsehood and craft to lead astray and destroy. The names given him by the Lord, — " the murderer," "the father of lies," "the prince of this world ;" and by the apostles, — " the god of this world," "the slanderer," "the accuser," — serve to show that the cessation of Satanic hostility and the binding of "the power of darkness " is a most important element in preparing the way for the establishing of the order and peace and holiness of the Messianic Kingdom. And it is his loosing out of his prison that brings about the final apostasy of the nations. It may be that the mention of "the unclean spirit " in the prophecy of Zechariah — "I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, . . . and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land " — is a prophecy of the binding of Satan, although expressed in terms fitted to the people of Israel.
Third, The duration of the Messianic Kingdom. This is defined as "a thousand years." Whether this number is to be taken literally or symbolically, may be questioned; most of the Apocalyptic numbers are of the latter kind. (ix. 16, xiii. 18.) It may be so taken here, ten being the symbol of the Kingdom, and one thousand its cube. As the most holy place in the tabernacle and the temple was a cube, and so the Holy City (xxi. 16), it is not improbably a symbolical expression of the fullness of holiness to be realized in the fullness of time. But mere duration is of itself unimportant: it is sufficient to know that the Kingdom will continue till its purpose is accomplished.
Fourth, The unbinding of Satan and the deceiving of the nations, (xx. 7.) Old-Testament prophecy did not, as we have seen, speak distinctly, if at all, of events to follow the Messianic Kingdom. But in this book we are told that, after Satan is unloosed, he will deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, — Gog and Magog, — and gather them to battle against the camp of the saints and the beloved city; and that God will devour them by fire from heaven. It is most probable that the terms Gog and Magog are to be taken here, as other like terms in this book, in their symbolical meaning. Of the significance of this final rebellion, we have elsewhere spoken.
Fifth, The last and universal resurrection and judgment. Although the Lord on earth had spoken of a resurrection that should embrace all, yet He gave no details. Here, its nature and circumstances are more fully given. Only the dead are mentioned, those who still remain in their graves. All these are not wicked, but in part those whose names are written in the Book of Life, and who were not partakers of the first resurrection. "Whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life, was cast into the lake of fire." (xx. 11-15.)
Common to Old-Testament prophecy and to this book is the first resurrection, only that in the latter it is brought into special relations to the members of Christ. Nothing is here said of the departed of the Jewish dispensation, as this book is concerned only with the Church. Certain classes of persons are mentioned, of whom it is said that "they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. . . . This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." We know, however, from our Lord's words, that such of all generations as He shall count worthy to be His kings, and to reign with Him during the Kingdom period, He will then call from their graves.
Whether the Antichrist, the beast of the Revelation, was presented by the Old-Testament prophets in his special relation to the Jews as the anti-Messias, is not wholly clear. The later Jews looked for such an enemy to appear, and interpreted of him several utterances of the prophets, as, for example, in Isaiah, "the wicked" whom the Messiah shall slay with the breath of His lips. (xi. 4.)