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THE last book of the New Testament is called “Revelation” (Gk. Apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ, but after we have pored over the books—far more than a thousand—which have been written in the past years to explain it, it must appear so obscure that the seven seals which are mentioned in the book (chapters v. f.; viii. 1) as closing over the fate of humanity and being loosened one after another, must seem to clasp the book itself firmly together and to refuse to be broken.

It has been supposed to prophesy the whole history of the Church and even of the world, in each case of course down to the lifetime of the expositor, and nearly always in a different way. In the beast described in xiii. 1-10; xvii. 7-18, people have recognised emperor after emperor, pope after pope, one leader after another of the Vandals, Muhammedans, and Turks, as well as Luther, Napoleon I., Napoleon III., and the French General Boulanger (1891); and, besides these, even impersonal things, such as apostasy, godlessness, the Catholic Church, and, to mention only one other thing, Smallpox. In a revelation of Jesus Christ men would fain expect to read nothing less than every thing which had determined the fate of humanity since its 219appearance. In proportion as people could show for certain that what had already happened was prophesied in it, they might also rest assured that all that it said about a time still to come would be correctly unravelled.

All this mass of ingenuity and error might of course have been seen from the beginning to be useless, if people had only taken note, amongst other things, of the first verse and the last verse but one in the book. We are told in i. 1 (and xxii. 6) that the revelation of Jesus Christ is “to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.” And this does not mean “which must soon begin, and then go on for thousands of years,” for in xxii. 20 (as well as in iii. 11; xxii. 7, 12) Jesus says, “I come quickly,” that is to say, to introduce the end of the world. The author of the book, accordingly, expected the end of the world in his own lifetime; and if we wish to understand the curious figures in which he described it, we must try to interpret them in the light of the ideas which prevailed at the time.

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