« Prev Chapter V. Consolatory Visions. Next »

111

CHAPTER V.

CONSOLATORY VISIONS.

Rev. vii.

Six of the seven Seals have been opened by the "Lamb," who is likewise the "Lion of the tribe of Judah." They have dealt, in brief but pregnant sentences, with the whole history of the Church and of the world throughout the Christian age. No details of history have indeed been spoken of, no particular wars, or famines, or pestilences, or slaughters, or preservations of the saints. Everything has been described in the most general terms. We have been invited to think only of the principles of the Divine government, but of these as the most sublime and, according to our own state of mind, the most alarming or the most consolatory principles that can engage the attention of men. God, has been the burden of the six Seals, is King over all the earth. Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Why do they exalt themselves against the sovereign Ruler of the universe, who said to the Son of His love, when He made Him Head over all things for His Church, "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee;" "Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies"?168168   Ps. ii. 7; cx. 7. Listening to the voice of these Seals, we know that the world, with112 all its might, shall prevail neither against the Head nor against the members of the Body. Even when apparently successful it shall fight a losing battle. Even when apparently defeated Christ and they who are one with Him shall march to victory.

We are not to imagine that the Seals of chap. vi. follow one another in chronological succession, or that each of them belongs to a definite date. The Seer does not look forward to age succeeding age or century century. To him the whole period between the first and the second coming of Christ is but "a little time," and whatever is to happen in it "must shortly come to pass." In truth he can hardly be said to deal with the lapse of time at all. He deals with the essential characteristics of the Divine government in time, whether it be long or short. Shall the revolving years be in our sense short, these characteristics will nevertheless come forth with a clearness that shall leave man without excuse. Shall they be in our sense long, the unfolding of God's eternal plan will only be again and again made manifest. He with whom we have to do is without beginning of days or end of years, the I am, unchangeable both in the attributes of His own nature, and in the execution of His purposes for the world's redemption. Let us cast our eyes along the centuries that have passed away since Jesus died and rose again. They are full of one great lesson. At every point at which we pause we see the Son of God going forth conquering and to conquer. We see the world struggling against His righteousness, refusing to submit to it, and dooming itself in consequence to every form of woe. We see the children of God following a crucified Redeemer, but preserved, sustained, animated, their cross, like His, their crown. Finally, as we realize more113 and more deeply what is going on around us, we feel that we are in the midst of a great earthquake, that the sun and the moon have become black, and that the stars of heaven are falling to the earth; yet by the eye of faith we pierce the darkness, and where are all our adversaries? Where are the kings and the potentates, the rich and the powerful of the earth, of an ungodly and persecuting world? They have hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; and we hear them say to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath is come; and who is able to stand?"

With the beginning of chap. vii. we might expect the seventh Seal to be opened; but it is the manner of the apocalyptic writer, before any final or particularly critical manifestation of the wrath of God, to present us with visions of consolation, so that we may enter into the thickest darkness, even into the valley of the shadow of death, without alarm. We have already met with this in chaps. iv. and v. We shall meet with it again. Meanwhile it is here illustrated:—

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or upon any tree. And I saw another angel ascend from the sun-rising, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a great voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we shall have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed, a hundred and forty and four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand;114 of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand (vii. 1-8).

Although various important questions, which we shall have to notice, arise in connexion with this vision, there never has been, as there scarcely can be, any doubt as to its general meaning. In its main features it is taken from the language of Ezekiel, when that prophet foretold the approaching destruction of Jerusalem: "He cried also with a loud voice in mine ears, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with fine linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side.... And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.... And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as Thou hast commanded me."169169   Ezek. ix. Preservation of the faithful in the midst of judgment on the wicked is the theme of the Old Testament vision, and in like manner it is the theme of this vision of St. John. The winds are the symbols of judgment; and, being in number four and held by four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, they indicate that the judgment when inflicted will be universal. There is no place to which the ungodly can escape,115 none where they shall not be overtaken by the wrath of God. "He that fleeth of them," says the Almighty by His prophet, "shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered. Though they dig into hell, thence shall Mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down: and though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from My sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them."170170   Amos ix. 1-3.

In the midst of all this the safety of the righteous is secured, and that in a way, as compared with the way of the Old Testament, proportionate to the superior greatness of their privileges. They are marked as God's, not by a man out of the city, but by an angel ascending from the sun-rising, the quarter whence proceeds that light of day which gilds the loftiest mountain-tops and penetrates into the darkest recesses of the valleys. This angel, with his great voice, is probably the Lord Himself appearing by His angel. The mark impressed upon the righteous is more than a mere mark: it is a seal—a seal similar to that with which Christ was "sealed;"171171   John vi. 27. the seal which in the Song of Songs the bride desires as the token of the Bridegroom's love to her alone: "Set me as a seal upon Thine heart, as a seal upon Thine arm;"172172   Cant. viii. 3. the seal which expresses the thought, "The Lord knoweth them that are His."173173   2 Tim. ii. 19. Finally, this seal is impressed on the forehead, on that part of the body on which the high-priest of Israel wore the golden plate, with its inscription, "Holiness to the Lord." Such a seal,116 manifest to the eyes of all, was a witness to all that they who bore it were acknowledged by the Redeemer before all, even before His Father and the holy angels.174174   Comp. Luke xii. 8.

When we turn to the numbers sealed, every reader who reflects for a moment will allow that they must be symbolically, and not literally, understood. Twelve thousand out of each of twelve tribes, in all a hundred and forty and four thousand, bears upon its face the stamp of symbolism. It is more difficult to answer the question, Who are they? Are they Jewish Christians, or are they the whole multitude of God's faithful people belonging to the Church universal, but indicated by a figure taken from Judaism?

The question now asked is of greater than ordinary importance, for upon the answer given to it largely depends the solution of the problem whether the author of the fourth Gospel and the author of the Apocalypse are the same. If the first vision of the chapter relating to those sealed out of the tribes of Israel speak only of Jewish Christians, and the second vision, beginning at ver. 9, of "the great multitude which no man could number," speak of Gentile Christians, it will follow that the writer exhibits a particularistic tendency altogether at variance with the universalism of the author of the fourth Gospel. Gentile Christians will be, as they have been called, an "appendix" to the Jewish-Christian Church; and the followers of Jesus will fail to constitute one flock all the members of which are equal in the sight of God, occupy the same position, and enjoy the same privileges. The first impression produced by the vision of the sealed is undoubtedly that it refers to Jewish Christians, and to them alone.117 Many considerations, however, lead to the wider conclusion that, under a Jewish figure, they include all the followers of Christ, or the universal Church. Some of these at least ought to be noticed.

1. We have not yet found, and we shall not find in any later part of the Apocalypse, a distinction drawn between Jewish and Gentile Christians. To the eye of the Seer, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is one. There is in it neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free. He recognises in it in its collective capacity the Body of Christ, all the members of which occupy the same relation to their Lord, and stand equally in grace. He knows indeed of a distinction between the Jewish Church, which waited for the coming of the Lord, and the Christian Church, which rejoiced in Him as come; but he knows also that when Jesus did come the privileges of the latter were bestowed upon those in the former who had looked onward to Christ's day, and that they were arrayed in the same "white robe." Under all the six Seals, accordingly, embracing the whole period of the Gospel dispensation, there is not a single word to suggest the thought that the Christian Church is divided into two parts. The struggle, the preservation, and the victory belong equally to all. A similar remark may be made on the epistles to the seven churches, which unquestionably contain a representation of that Church the fortunes of which are to be afterwards described. In these epistles Christ walks equally in the midst of every part of it; and promises are made, not in one form to one member and in another to another, but always in precisely the same terms to "him that overcometh." It would be out of keeping with this were we now, when a similar topic of preservation is on hand, to be118 introduced to a Jewish-Christian as distinguished from a Gentile-Christian Church.

2. It is the custom of the Seer to heighten and spiritualize all Jewish names. The Temple, the Tabernacle, the Altar, Mount Zion, and Jerusalem are to him the embodiments of ideas deeper than those literally conveyed by them. Analogy therefore might suggest that this also would be the case with the word "Israel." Nay, it would even be the more natural so to use that word, because it is so often used in the same spiritual sense in other parts of the New Testament: "But they are not all Israel which are of Israel;" "And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God."175175   Rom. ix. 6; Gal. vi. 16. Nor need we be startled by that employment of the word tribes, which may seem to give more precision to the idea that Jewish Christians are designated by the term, for St. John, in his peculiar way of looking at men, beheld "tribes" not only among the Jews, but among all nations: "And all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over Him."176176   Chap. i. 7. In chap. xxi. 12, too, the "twelve tribes" plainly include all believers.

3. The enumeration of the tribes of Israel given in these verses is different from any other enumeration of the kind contained in Scripture. Thus the tribe of Dan is omitted; and, contrary to the practice of at least the later books of the Old Testament, that of Levi is inserted; while Joseph also is substituted for Ephraim: and the order in which the twelve are given has elsewhere no parallel. Points such as these may appear trifling, but they are not without importance. No student of the Apocalypse will imagine that they are119 accidental or undesigned. He may not be able to satisfy either himself or others as to the grounds upon which St. John proceeded, but that there were grounds sufficient to the Apostle himself for what he did he will not for a moment doubt. One thing may, however, be said. If the changes can be explained at all, it must be by considerations springing out of the heart of the Christian community, and not out of any suggested by the relations of the tribes of Judaism to one another. Levi may thus be inserted, instead of standing apart as formerly, because in Christ Jesus there was no priestly tribe: all Christians were priests; Dan may be omitted because that tribe had chosen the serpent as its emblem, and St. John not only felt with peculiar power the direct antagonism to Christ of "the old serpent the devil,"177177   Comp. chap. xii. 9. but had been accustomed to see in the traitor Judas, who had been expelled from the apostolic band, and for whom another apostle had been substituted, the very impersonation or incarnation of Satan178178   John xiii. 2.; Ephraim also may have been replaced by Joseph because of its enmity to Judah, the tribe out of which Jesus sprang; while Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, may head the list because it was the tribe in which Christ was born.

4. Some of the expressions of the passage are inconsistent with the limitation of the sealed to any special class of Christians. Why, for example, should the holding back of the winds be universal? Would it not have been enough to restrain the winds that blew on Jewish Christians, and not the winds of the whole earth? And again, why do we meet with language of so general a character as that of ver. 3:120 "till we shall have sealed the servants of our God"? This designation "servants" seems to include the whole number, and not some only, of God's children.

5. If God's servants from among the Gentiles are not now sealed, the Apocalypse mentions no other occasion when they were so. It is true that, according to the ordinary interpretation of the next vision, they are admitted to the happiness of heaven; but we may well ask whether, if the sealing be the emblem of preservation amidst worldly troubles, they ought not also, at one time or another, to have been sealed on earth.

6. The sealed are marked upon their foreheads, and in chap. xxii. 4 all believers are marked in a similar way.

7. We shall meet again this number of a hundred and forty-four thousand in chap. xiv.; and, while it can hardly be doubted that the same persons are on both occasions included in it, it will be seen that there at least the whole number of the redeemed is meant.

8. It is worthy of notice that the contrasts of the Apocalypse lead directly to a similar conclusion. St. John always sees light and darkness standing over against each other, and exhibiting themselves in a correspondence which, extending even to minute details, aids the task of the interpreter. Now in many passages of this book we find Satan not only marking his followers, but, precisely as here, marking them upon the "forehead;"179179   Chaps. xiii. 16, 17; xiv. 9; xvi. 2; xix. 20; xx. 4. and it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the one marking is the antithesis of the other. But this mark is imprinted by Satan upon all his followers, and the inference is legitimate that the seal of the living God is in like manner imprinted upon all the followers of Jesus.

121

9. One more reason may be assigned for this conclusion. If ver. 4, with its "hundred and forty and four thousand out of every tribe of the children of Israel," is to be understood of Jewish Christians alone, the contrast between it and ver. 9, with its "great multitude, which no man can number, out of every nation, and of all tribes, and peoples, and tongues," makes it necessary to understand the latter of Gentile Christians alone. It will not do to say that the comprehensive enumeration of this verse may include Jewish as well as Gentile Christians. Placed over against the very definite statement of ver. 4, it can only, according to the style of the Apocalypse, be referred to persons who have come out of the heathen world in the fourfold conception of its parts. Now, whatever may be the precise interpretation of the second vision of the chapter, it is undeniable that it unfolds a higher stage of privilege and glory than the first. It will thus follow on the supposition now combated that at the very instant when the Apostle is said to be placing Gentile Christians in a position of inferiority to Jewish Christians, and when he is treating the one as simply an "appendix" to the other, he speaks of them as the inheritors of a far greater "weight of glory." St. John could not be thus inconsistent with himself.

The conclusion from all that has been said, is plain. The vision of the sealing does not apply to Jewish Christians only, but to the universal Church. When the judgments of God are abroad in the world, all the disciples of Christ are sealed for preservation against them.

Notwithstanding what has been said, the reader may still find it difficult to conceive that two pictures of the122 same multitude should be presented to us drawn on such entirely different lines. What is the meaning of it? he may exclaim. What is the Seer's motive in doing so? The explanation is not difficult. An attentive examination of the structural principles marking the writings of St. John will show that they are distinguished by a tendency to set forth the same object in two different lights, the latter of which is climactic to the former, as well as, for the most part at least, taken from a different sphere. The writer is not satisfied with a single utterance of what he desires to impress upon his readers. After he has uttered it for the first time, he brings it again before him, works upon it, enlarges it, deepens it, sets it forth with stronger and more vivid colouring. The fundamental idea is the same on both occasions; but on the second it is the centre of a circle of wider circumference, and it is uttered in a more impressive manner. Want of space will not permit the illustration of this by an appeal either to the nature of Hebrew thought in general, or to the other writings of the New Testament which owe their authorship to St. John. It must be enough to say that the fourth Gospel bears deep and important traces of this characteristic, and that difficult passages in it not otherwise explicable seem to be solved by its application.180180   The writer has treated this subject at considerable length in The Expositor (2nd series, vol. iv.). The main point to be kept in view is that the principle in question may be traced on many different occasions both in the fourth Gospel and in the Apocalypse. One of these has indeed already come under our notice in the case of the "golden candlesticks" and of the "stars" in Chapter I. of this book. The two figures relate to the same object, but the123 second is climactic to the first, and it is taken from a larger field. The same principle meets us here. The second vision of chap. vii. is climactic to the first, and the field from which it is drawn is larger. The analogy, however, not of the golden candlesticks and of the stars only, but of many other passages of a similar kind, warrants the inference that both the visions relate to the same thing, although the aspect in which it is looked at is in each case different. Any difficulty therefore at first presented by the double picture disappears; while the peculiarity of structure exhibited not only helps to lead us to a Johannine authorship, but tends powerfully to establish the correctness of the interpretation now adopted.

We are thus entitled to conclude that the hundred and forty-four thousand of this first consolatory vision represent not Jewish Christians only, but the whole Church of God, and that the number used is intended to represent completeness: not one member of the true Church is lost.181181   Comp. John xvii. 12. Twelve, a sacred number, the number of the patriarchs, of the tribes of Israel, and of the Apostles of Jesus, is first multiplied by itself, and then by a thousand, the sign of the heavenly in contrast with the earthly. A hundred and forty and four thousand is the result.

It need only further be observed—and the observation will help to confirm what has been said—that St. John did not himself count the number of the sealed. He heard the number of them (ver. 4). Already they were "a multitude which no man could number" (ver. 9). But He who telleth the innumerable stars that sparkle in the midnight sky, and who "bringeth out their host124 by number,"182182   Isa. xl. 26. could number them. He it was who communicated the number to the Seer.

The second vision of the chapter follows:—

After these things I saw, and, behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation, and of all tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God which sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, These which are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And I said unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat: for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes (vii. 9-17).

Upon the magnificence and beauty of this description it is not only unnecessary, it would be a mistake, to dwell. Words of man would only mar the sublimity and pathos of the spectacle. Neither is it desirable to look at each expression of the passage in itself. These expressions are better considered as a whole. One point indeed ought to be carefully kept in view: that the palms spoken of in ver. 9 as in the hands of the happy multitude are not the palms of victory in any earthly contest, but the palms of the Feast of Tabernacles, and125 that upon the thought of that feast the scene is moulded.

The Feast of Tabernacles, it will be remembered, was at once the last, the highest, and the most joyful of the festivals of the Jewish year. It fell in the month of October, when the harvest not only of grain, but of wine and oil, had been gathered in, and when, therefore, all the labours of the year were past. It was preceded, too, by the great Day of Atonement, the ceremonial of which gathered together all the sacrificial acts of the previous months, beheld the sins of the people, from their highest to their lowest, carried away into the wilderness, and brought with it the blessing of God from that innermost recess of the sanctuary which was lightened by the special glory of His presence, and into which the high-priest even was permitted to enter upon that day alone. The feelings awakened in Israel at the time were of the most triumphant kind. They returned in thought to the independent life which their fathers, delivered from the bondage of Egypt, led in the wilderness; and, the better to realize this, they left their ordinary dwellings and took up their abode for the days of the feast in booths, which they erected in the streets or on the flat roofs of their houses. These booths were made of branches of their most prized, most fruit-bearing, and most umbrageous trees; and beneath them they raised their psalms of thanksgiving to Him who had delivered them as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. Even this was not all, for we know that in the later period of their history the Jews connected the Feast of Tabernacles with the brightest anticipations of the future as well as with the most joyful memories of the past. They beheld in it the promise of the Spirit, the great gift of the approaching126 Messianic age; and, that they might give full expression to this, they sent on the eighth, or great, day of the feast, a priest to the pool of Siloam with a golden urn, that he might fill it from the pool, and, bringing it up to the Temple, might pour it on the altar. This is the part of the ceremonial alluded to in John vii. 37-39, and during it the joy of the people reached its highest point. They surrounded the priest in crowds as he brought up the water from the pool, waved their lulabs—small branches of palm trees, the "palms" of ver. 9—and made the courts of the Temple re-echo with their song, "With joy shall ye draw water out of wells of salvation."183183   Isa. xii. 3. At night the great illumination of the Temple followed, that to which our Lord most probably alludes when, immediately after the Feast of Tabernacles spoken of in chap. viii. of the fourth Gospel, He exclaims, "I am the Light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life."184184   John viii. 12.

Such was the scene the main particulars of which are here made use of by the apocalyptic Seer to set before us the triumphant and glorious condition of the Church when, after all her members have been sealed, they are admitted to the full enjoyment of the blessings of God's covenant, and when, washed in the blood of the Lamb and clothed with His righteousness, they keep their Feast of Tabernacles.

A most important and interesting question connected with this vision has still to be answered. It may be first asked in the words of Isaac Williams. "It is whether all this description is of the Church in heaven or on earth." The same writer has answered his127 question by saying, "The fact is that, like the expression 'the kingdom of heaven,' and many others of the same kind, it applies to both, and it is doubtless intended to do so—in fulness hereafter, but even here in part."185185   The Apocalypse, p. 126. The answer thus given is no doubt correct when the question is asked in the particular form to which it is a reply. Yet we have still to ask whether, granting it to be so, the primary reference of the vision is to the Church of Christ during her present pilgrimage or after that pilgrimage has been completed, and she has entered on her eternal rest. To the question so put, the reply usually given is that the Seer has the latter aspect of the Church in view. The redeemed are sealed on earth; they bear their "palms," and rejoice with the joy afterwards spoken of, in heaven. Much in the passage may seem to justify this conclusion. But a recent writer on the subject has adduced such powerful considerations in favour of the former view, that it will be proper to examine them.186186   Professor Gibson, in The Monthly Interpreter, vol. ii., p. 9.

Appeal is first made to Matt. xxiv. 13, a passage throwing no light upon the point. It is otherwise with many prophecies of the Old Testament next referred to, which describe the coming dispensation of the Gospel: "They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them;" "He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces;" "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to128 keep the Feast of Tabernacles."187187   Isa. xlix. 10; xxv. 8; Zech. xiv. 16. To passages such as these have to be added the promises of our Lord as to fountains of living waters even now opened to the believer, that he may drink and never thirst again: "Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a springing fountain of water, unto eternal life;" "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."188188   John iv. 13, 14; vii. 37, 38. St. John, too, it is urged, teaches us to look for a Tabernacle Feast on earth189189   John i. 14.; while at the same time throughout all his writings eternal life is set before us as a present possession. Nor is this the case only in the writings of St. John. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we meet the same line of thought: "Ye are come" (not Ye shall come) "unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven."190190   Heb. xii. 22, 23. Influenced by these considerations, the writer to whom we have referred is led, "though not without some hesitation," to conclude that the vision of the palm-bearing multitude is to be understood of the Church on earth, and not of the Church in heaven.

The conclusion may be accepted without the "hesitation." The colours on the canvas may indeed at first appear too bright for any condition of things on this129 side the grave. But they are not more bright than those employed in the description of the new Jerusalem in chap. xxi.; and, when we come to the exposition of that chapter, we shall find positive proof in the language of the Seer that he looks upon that city as one already come down from heaven and established among men. Not a few of its most glowing traits are even precisely the same as those that we meet in the corresponding vision of this chapter: "And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be His peoples, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God; and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away."191191   Chap. xxi. 3, 4. If words like these may be justly applied, as we have yet to see that they may and must be, to one aspect of the Church on earth, there is certainly nothing to hinder their application to the same Church now. The truth is that in both cases the description is ideal, and that not less so than the description of the terrors of the worldly at the opening of the sixth Seal. Nor indeed shall we understand any part of the Apocalypse unless we recognise the fact that everything with which it is concerned is raised to an ideal standard. Reward and punishment, righteousness and sin, the martyrdoms of the Church and the fate of her oppressors, are all set before us in an ideal light. The Seer moves in the midst of conceptions which are fundamental, ultimate, and eternal. The "broken lights" which partially illuminate our progress in this world are to him130 absorbed in "the true Light." The clouds and darkness which obscure our path gather themselves together to his eyes in "the darkness" with which the light has to contend. Descriptions, accordingly, applicable in their fulness to the Church only after the glory of her Lord is manifested, apply also to her now, when she is thought of as living the life that is hid with Christ in God, the life of her exalted and glorified Redeemer. For this conception the colours of the picture before us are not too bright.192192   Comp. on the general thought Brown, The Second Advent, chap. vi.

The relation in which the two visions of this chapter stand to one another may now be obvious. Although the persons referred to are in both the same, they do not in both occupy the same position. In the first they are only sealed, and through that sealing they are safe. Their Lord has taken them under His protection; and, whatever troubles or perils may beset them, no one shall pluck them out of His hand. In the second they are more than safe. They have peace, and joy, and triumph, their every want supplied, their every sorrow healed. Death itself is swallowed up in victory, and every tear is wiped from every eye.

Thus also may we determine the period to which both the sealing of believers and their subsequent enjoyment of heavenly blessing belong. In neither vision are we introduced to any special era of Christian history. St. John has in view neither the Christians of his own day alone, nor those of any later time. As we found that each of the first six Seals embraced the whole Gospel age, so also is it with these consolatory visions. We are to dwell upon the thought rather than the time of preservation and of bliss. The131 Church of Christ never ceases to follow in the footsteps of her Lord. Like Him, when faithful to her high commission, she never ceases to bear the cross. The unredeemed world must always be her enemy; and in it she must always have tribulation. But not less continuous is her joy. We judge wrongly when we think that the Man of sorrows was never joyful. He spoke of "My peace," "My joy."193193   John xiv. 27; xvii. 13. In one of His moments of deepest feeling we are told that He "rejoiced in spirit."194194   Luke x. 21. Outwardly the world troubled Him; and huge billows, raised by its tempestuous winds, swept across the surface of His soul. Beneath, the unfathomed depths were calm. In communion with His Father in heaven, in the thought of the great work which He was carrying to its completion, and in the prospect of the glory that awaited Him, He could rejoice in the midst of sorrow. So also with the members of His Body. They bear about with them a secret joy which, like their new name, no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. As the friend of the bridegroom who standeth and heareth him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice, so their joy is fulfilled.195195   John iii. 29. Nor does it ever cease to be theirs while their Lord is with them; and unless they grieve Him "lo, He is always with them, even unto the consummation of the age."196196   Matt. xxviii. 20. The two visions, therefore, of the sealing and of the palm-bearing multitude embrace the whole Christian dispensation within their scope, and express ideas which belong to the condition of the believer in all places and at all times.


« Prev Chapter V. Consolatory Visions. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection