Preface, Introduction and Survey
This book has been written reluctantly. Despite a life-long interest in Revelation, I resisted for many years all suggestions that I should put my thoughts into writing. For this reluctance there was a good reason. I have always been acutely conscious of the heavy responsibility that rests on one who presumes to expound the Scriptures. There is an ever-present danger that meanings will be attached to God's Word that God did not intend. The more difficult the portion of Scripture expounded, the greater the danger — and Revelation is, by common consent, an exceptionally difficult book. Frankly, the very thought that I could lead brethren in the wrong direction frightened me. Indeed it still does.
More recently, however, another thought has asserted itself. Clearly there is an urgent need for something to fill the void in our understanding of latter-day prophecy. If it is wrong to produce interpretations which could mislead, it may also be wrong to withhold interpretations which could help brethren to an understanding of the difficult days that lie ahead. This thought was put to me by a number of people, and ultimately prevailed. And so, after many years of prayerful study and much self-imposed restraint, this book appears.
I am reassured by the fact that there are two safeguards, one to be applied by me, the other by my readers. If I, for my part, stress the fact that many of the thoughts expressed in this book are suggestions and not dogmatic assertions, and if my readers prayerfully test these thoughts by the Scriptures (and I earnestly appeal to them to do this), then, by God's grace, this book could be useful. But be warned: I sometimes 'sound' more dogmatic than I feel.
Many people have helped me, and are still helping me, in this work. Indeed, so many have helped in so many ways — by suggestions, advice, encouragement, criticism, by their own expositions, by financial help and offers of help, by art work, by duplicating and circulating copies of an earlier draft, by transportation and storage, by taking care of orders and distribution of this edition — that it would be invidious to select names for special mention. Just one exception: the help that I have received from my wife has been immense, ranging from expositional contributions to a great deal of typing (including earlier drafts, but excluding this Preface!). All who have helped know that they have my gratitude, and I thank God for their contributions to the work.
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
"The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant."
This is a time for plain speaking. The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is near, but the Brotherhood is far from ready. The Lord has warned us that he will come as a thief. How tragic it would be if we were to demonstrate the truth of this prediction by our own lack of knowledge and preparation. One disturbing fact is that we are neglecting that portion of Scripture that has been given for the very purpose of preparing us for the Lord's return — The Revelation of Jesus Christ. To most brethren, the Message that the Lord has sent "to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" is a closed book. This study is mainly concerned with that closed book. The author does not presume that he is able to supply all the answers. Indeed he confesses that his book is presented to the Brotherhood with considerable diffidence because he is acutely aware of its inadequacies. There are more questions than answers. Yet for all its inadequacies this work represents many years' prayerful study. But what is a lifetime when one is trying to unravel the mysteries of the Apocalypse? The two main purposes of this book are: to stimulate interest in Revelation; and to present for prayerful consideration suggestions concerning prophecies yet to be fulfilled.
This is a thematic study. It is appreciated that some would have preferred a verse by verse exposition. In less critical days a consecutive commentary could have advantages, but some of the prophetic messages of Revelation have such an urgent relevance to our day and to us that it has been thought wiser to present these messages sooner, rather than later. A more academic approach could be off-putting to those who have not yet developed a taste for this important part of the Word of God; some readers might not proceed far enough to grasp the urgency of the situation.
There is another advantage in a thematic approach to Revelation. The Lord's Message consists of a number of interweaving themes, and it is our business as servants of God, to receive in-
struction by unravelling these themes. This involves moving to and fro in the book. In a detailed consecutive commentary some of the great themes of the Apocalypse could easily be overlooked.
Part One of this book goes straight to some of the more urgent and challenging themes.
Part Two follows this up by discussing other themes from the Apocalypse, and by making suggestions about the structure of this prophetic message.
It is hoped that this approach to Revelation will help readers to see that the book is interesting as well as being of critical importance; and that, if they have not already started, they will feel constrained to make a serious study of this section of Scripture. A useful way to study Revelation is to try to resolve the problem of structure first; and then, when the structural framework has been established, detailed interpretation can be fitted into this framework. This is, in fact, the method that has been adopted in most of the study that lies behind this presentation. Those who have acquired a taste for studying the Apocalypse find it irresistibly fascinating. The danger they have to guard against is that of treating the problems presented by the book as intellectual exercises; superb Bible puzzles with all the clues provided in Scripture. Never should it be forgotten that the purpose of the Lord's last Message to his servants is an urgent one. It is designed to improve the standard of our discipleship; to instruct, to enlighten, to warn, to encourage — and thus to prepare us for the great event that will come as a catastrophe to so many people.
May God bless the efforts of each of us to understand and apply His Word.
SURVEYING THE STUDY: A BRIEF SUMMARY
To some readers this type of study will involve making excursions into unfamiliar territory. This exercise can be made less bewildering by a few prior indications of direction and destination. Hence this broad survey of the study.
Please remember that this is only the briefest of summaries of the conclusions presented in this book. The detailed arguments and the supporting scriptures will be provided later.
The revelation of Jesus Christ
The true title of the book we call "The Revelation" spells out its main theme. It is about the revelation of Jesus Christ — that is to say, his second coming. This great message tells us how we may prepare for the Lord's coming, when he will come, what he will do when he comes, and how the earth will be transformed by his coming.
The seven letters
Although addressed to the seven churches of Asia, each of the seven letters provides essential exhortation to all who have ears to hear. The evident intention of the letters is to prepare people for the Lord's coming. Stern warnings are given against covetousness and self-trust, and the great positive demand is for complete discipleship. Those who make themselves ready — those who "overcome" — are promised rich blessings which are described at greater length in other parts of the Apocalypse.
The continuing vision of the temple
Much of the drama that John witnesses is in heaven. He sees angels rendering worship and obedience to the Creator. By gazing at this heavenly scene, John glimpses the ultimate blessings of the earth when God's kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The continuing vision, the backcloth of the other action, is this temple in heaven, whence celestial messengers go forth to prepare the earth for the coming kingdom of God.
Bridging the gulf
A prophetic bridge is thrown over the gulf between the Lord's ascension to heaven and his second coming. For the most part this is brief and general. Some detail, however, is provided concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; though the concentration of interest is on world events immediately before, and on the occasion of the second coming.
The seven-sealed book
The seven-sealed book is the book of life. Only the Lord Jesus is worthy to open this book. The seals represent processes that must be fulfilled before the book can be opened. It is these processes that bridge the gap between the ascension and the second coming. The great earthquake of the sixth seal is a symbolical prophecy of the removal of all human institutions. Details are supplied in the trumpet series.
The two climaxes
The occasion when the book of life is opened is described in Revelation 11 (where the book is not mentioned by name) and in Revelation 20 (where it is). These are the two climaxes in the book of Revelation. In different terms and at the end of different prophetic sequences, they describe the same great occasion. In terms of Revelation 11 it is the occasion of the sounding of the seventh trumpet; in Revelation 20 it is the "great white throne" judgment scene.
The great division
There is a break after Revelation 11, and a new section of the Apocalypse, the "signs" section, begins with the twelfth chapter. It is instructive to look for parallels in the two main sections of the book.
The- 144,000 represent Israelitish believers. The sealing of this multitude is completed before the judgments associated with the trumpets descend on the nation. Later there is a picture of the 144,000 united with the Lord Jesus. They are described as "first-fruits". The ingathering of the harvest of believers comes quickly afterwards.
The seven trumpets
The trumpets announce a series of judgments, primarily on the people of Israel. These judgments are held back until the sealing of the 144,000 is completed. God's wrath first descends on Jerusalem and the land of Israel. When the people of Israel are scattered over the world, the trumpet judgments follow them; and when they return to their land, an immense invading army is summoned by the sound of a trumpet.
God's servants wait patiently for the deliverance that is announced by the sounding of the seventh trumpet. They have been in the wilderness of the people, pursued and persecuted by the servants of sin. The seventh trumpet heralds the kingdom of God and the time of resurrection and ultimate judgment.
Not long before the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, some believers are required to witness powerfully to Israel and the world. Their witnessing makes a great impact and they suffer persecution.
The chief persecuting power of the last days is called the beast. It bursts on the scene with dramatic suddenness, and is supported by a ruthless publicity agent called the false prophet. The identity of this God-defying power that dominates the political scene for a short time immediately before the establishment of the kingdom of God is a matter of prime importance.
The seven vials
In detail, the vial series is remarkably similar to the trumpet series. It follows the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and is a succession of rapid, devastating judgments on the kingdom of the beast.
The judgment of the whore
Ten nations (whose identity is more than interesting) ally themselves to the beast and together destroy the great whore called Babylon. The whore is a symbol of the city where counterfeit Christianity is enthroned.
The marriage of the Lamb
After the destruction of the whore (the unfaithful wife) the true bride of Christ (the church) is united to him. Faithful believers are made immortal. They become a kingdom of priests who help their Lord in the government of the world.
The destruction of the beast
After the beast and the false prophet and their allies have destroyed the whore, they are themselves destroyed by Christ and the saints.
The thousand years' reign
When Christ and the saints reign on the earth the powers of evil are suppressed. In the symbolic language of Revelation 20 the dragon is bound and imprisoned for a thousand years. After this, sinful human nature is given a brief opportunity to assert itself. The opportunity is seized and a crisis is precipitated. Sin and death are finally destroyed and God is "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28).
The concluding picture of Revelation is not of the 'great beyond' when God is all in all. It is a kingdom scene. The blessings of the beneficent reign of Christ and the saints over the nations is portrayed in the language of Eden. The journey from Genesis to Revelation is completed.