Revelation - Introduction


OBJECT.--It begins with admonitory addresses to the seven churches from the divine Son of man, whom John saw in vision, after a brief introduction which sets forth the main subject of the book, namely, to "show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass" (the first through third chapters). From the fourth chapter to the end is mainly prophecy, with practical exhortations and consolations, however, interspersed, similar to those addressed to the seven churches (the representatives of the universal Church of every age), and so connecting the body of the book with its beginning, which therefore forms its appropriate introduction. Three schools of interpreters exist: (1) The Preterists, who hold that almost the whole has been fulfilled. (2) The Historical Interpreters, who hold that it comprises the history of the Church from John's time to the end of the world, the seals being chronologically succeeded, by the trumpets and the trumpets by the vials. (3) The Futurists, who consider almost the whole as yet future, and to be fulfilled immediately before Christ's second coming. The first theory was not held by any of the earliest Fathers, and is only held now by Rationalists, who limit John's vision to things within his own horizon, pagan Rome's persecutions of Christians, and its consequently anticipated destruction. The Futurist school is open to this great objection: it would leave the Church of Christ unprovided with prophetical guidance or support under her fiery trials for 1700 or 1800 years. Now God has said, "Surely He will do nothing, but He revealeth His secrets unto His servants the prophets" ( Amos 3:7 Jews had a succession of prophets who guided them with the light of prophecy: what their prophets were to them, that the apocalyptic Scriptures have been, and are, to us.

ALFORD, following ISAAC WILLIAMS, draws attention to the parallel connection between the Apocalypse and Christ's discourse on the Mount of Olives, recorded in Matthew 24:4-28 to the second coming of Christ, just as the trumpets also do (compare Revelation 6:12-17 ; 8:1 ( Revelation 16:17 "catchwords" (as WORDSWORTH calls them) connect the three series of symbols together. They do not succeed one to the other in historical and chronological sequence, but move side by side, the subsequent series filling up in detail the same picture which the preceding series had drawn in outline. So VICTORINUS (on Revelation 7:2 commentator on the Apocalypse, says, "The order of the things said is not to be regarded, since often the Holy Spirit, when He has run to the end of the last time, again returns to the same times, and supplies what He has less fully expressed." And PRIMASIUS [Commentary on the Apocalypse], "In the trumpets he gives a description by a pleasing repetition, as is his custom."

At the very beginning, John hastens, by anticipation (as was the tendency of all the prophets), to the grand consummation. Revelation 1:7 "Behold, He cometh with clouds," &c. Revelation 1:8 Revelation 1:17 and the ending . . . the first and the last." So the seven epistles exhibit the same anticipation of the end. Revelation 3:12 overcometh, I will write upon Him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven"; compare at the close, Revelation 21:2 will give him the morning star"; compare at the close, Revelation 22:16 "I am the bright and morning star."

Again, the earthquake that ensues on the opening of the sixth seal is one of the catchwords, that is, a link connecting chronologically this sixth seal with the sixth trumpet ( Revelation 9:13 ; 11:13 the seventh vial, Revelation 16:17 Revelation 16:18 sixth seal, it is plain, in no full and exhaustive sense apply to any event, save the terrors which shall overwhelm the ungodly just before the coming of the Judge.

Again, the beast out of the bottomless pit ( Revelation 11:7 the sixth and seventh trumpets, connects this series with the section, twelfth through fourteenth chapters, concerning the Church and her adversaries.

Again, the sealing of the 144,000 under the sixth seal connects this seal with the section, the twelfth through fourteenth chapters.

Again, the loosing of the four winds by the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, under the sixth seal, answers to the loosing of the four angels at the Euphrates, under the sixth trumpet.

Moreover, links occur in the Apocalypse connecting it with the Old Testament. For instance, the "mouth speaking great things" ( Daniel 7:8 Revelation 13:5 beast that blasphemes against God, and makes war against the saints, with the little horn ( Daniel 7:21 ; Revelation 13:6 Revelation 13:7 arising after the ten kings, shall speak against the Most High, and wear out the saints ( Daniel 7:25 also, compare the "forty-two months" ( Revelation 13:5 hundred and threescore days" ( Revelation 12:6 the dividing of time," of Daniel 7:25 months," Revelation 11:2 the period under the sixth trumpet to the section, Revelation 12:1-14:20

AUBERLEN observes, "The history of salvation is mysteriously governed by holy numbers. They are the scaffolding of the organic edifice. They are not merely outward indications of time, but indications of nature and essence. Not only nature, but history, is based in numbers. Scripture and antiquity put numbers as the fundamental forms of things, where we put ideas." As number is the regulator of the relations and proportions of the natural world, so does it enter most frequently into the revelations of the Apocalypse, which sets forth the harmonies of the supernatural, the immediately Divine. Thus the most supernatural revelation leads us the farthest into the natural, as was to be expected, seeing the God of nature and of revelation is one. Seven is the number for perfection (compare Revelation 1:4 ; 4:5 Revelation 5:6 the seven churches represent the Church catholic in its totality. The seven seals ( Revelation 5:1 and the seven vials ( Revelation 17:1 each in itself, fulfilling perfectly the divine course of judgments. Three and a half implies a number opposed to the divine (seven), but broken in itself, and which, in the moment of its highest triumph, is overwhelmed by judgment and utter ruin. Four is the number of the world's extension; seven is the number of God's revelation in the world. In the four beasts of Daniel ( Daniel 7:3 recognition of some power above them, at the same time that there is a mimicry of the four cherubs of Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 10:9 symbols of all creation in its due subjection to God ( Revelation 4:6-8 So the four corners of the earth, the four winds, the four angels loosed from the Euphrates, and Jerusalem lying "foursquare" ( Revelation 21:16 the Spirits on the part of God corresponds with the fourfold cherubim on the part of the created. John, seeing more deeply into the essentially God-opposed character of the world, presents to us, not the four beasts of Daniel, but the seven heads of the beast, whereby it arrogates to itself the sevenfold perfection of the Spirits of God; at the same time that, with characteristic self-contradiction, it has ten horns, the number peculiar to the world power. Its unjust usurpation of the sacred number seven is marked by the addition of an eighth to the seven heads, and also by the beast's own number, six hundred sixty-six, which in units, tens, and hundreds, verges upon, but falls short of, seven. The judgments on the world are complete in six: after the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet, there is a pause. When seven comes, there comes "the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ." Six is the number of the world given to judgment. Moreover, six is half of twelve, as three and a half is the half of seven. Twelve is the number of the Church: compare the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve stars on the woman's head ( Revelation 12:1 Six thus symbolizes the world broken, and without solid foundation. Twice twelve is the number of the heavenly elders; twelve times twelve thousand the number of the sealed elect ( Revelation 7:4 yields twelve manner of fruits. Doubtless, besides this symbolic force, there is a special chronological meaning in the numbers; but as yet, though a commanded subject of investigation, they have received no solution which we can be sure is the true one. They are intended to stimulate reverent inquiry, not to gratify idle speculative curiosity; and when the event shall have been fulfilled, they will show the divine wisdom of God, who ordered all things in minutely harmonious relations, and left neither the times nor the ways haphazard.

The arguments for the year-day theory are as follows: Daniel 9:24 "Seventy weeks are determined upon," where the Hebrew may be seventy sevens; but MEDE observes, the Hebrew word means always seven of days, and never seven of years ( Leviticus 12:5 ; Deuteronomy 16:9 Deuteronomy 16:10 Deuteronomy 16:16 Again, the number of years' wandering of the Israelites was made to correspond to the number of days in which the spies searched the land, namely, forty: compare "each day for a year," Numbers 14:33 Numbers 14:34 the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days . . . forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year." John, in Revelation itself, uses days in a sense which can hardly be literal. Revelation 2:10 shall have tribulation ten days": the persecution of ten years recorded by EUSEBIUS seems to correspond to it. In the year-day theory there is still quite enough of obscurity to exercise the patience and probation of faith, for we cannot say precisely when the 1260 years begin: so that this theory is quite compatible with Christ's words, "Of that day and hour knoweth no man" ( Matthew 24:36 However, it is a difficulty in this theory that "a thousand years," in Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:7 days, that is, three hundred sixty thousand years. The first resurrection there must be literal, even as Revelation 20:5 literally, "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" ( Revelation 20:5 would entail the need of interpreting the latter so, which would be most improbable; for it would imply that "the rest of the (spiritually) dead lived not (spiritually)" until the end of the thousand years, and then that they did come spiritually to life. 1 Corinthians 15:23 that are Christ's at His coming," confirms the literal view.

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