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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Revelation 22

 

 

Verses 1-5

7

CHAPTER XVII.

THE NEW JERUSALEM. REV.

Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-5.

THE first part of the final triumph of the Lamb has been accomplished, but the second has still to be unfolded. We are introduced to it by one of those preparatory or transition passages which have already frequently met us in the Apocalypse, and which connect themselves both with what precedes and with what follows: -

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell 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. And He that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And He said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Revelation 21:1-8)."

These words, like many others that have already met us, throw light upon the principles on which the Apocalypse is composed. They show in the clearest possible manner that down to the very end of the book chronological considerations must be put out of view. Chronology cannot be thought of when we find, on the one hand, allusions to the new Jerusalem which are only amplified and extended in the next vision of the chapter, or when we find, on the other hand, a description of the exclusion from the new Jerusalem of certain classes that have already been consigned to "the second death." By the first-mentioned allusions the passage connects itself with what is yet to come, by the second with what has gone before. For the same reason it is unnecessary to dwell upon the passage at any length. It contains either nothing new, or nothing that will not again meet us in greater fullness of detail One or two brief remarks alone seem called for.

The Seer beholds a new heaven and a new earth. Two words in the New Testament are translated "new," but there is a difference between them. The one contemplates the object spoken of under the aspect of something that has been recently brought into existence, the other under a fresh aspect given to what had previously existed, but been outworn.* The latter word is employed here, as it is also employed in the phrases a "new garment," that is, a garment not threadbare, like an old one; "new wine-skins," that is, skins not shriveled and dried; a "new tomb," that is, not one recently hewn out of the rock, but one which had never been used as the last resting-place of the dead. The fact, therefore, that the heavens and the earth here spoken of are "new," does not imply that they are now first brought into being. They may be the old heavens and the old earth; but they have a new aspect, a new character, adapted to a new end. Of the sense in which the word "sea" is to be understood we have already spoken. Another expression in the passage deserves notice. In saying that the time is come when the tabernacle of the Lord is with men, and He shall dwell with them, it is added, and they shall be His peoples. We are familiar with the Scripture use of the word "people" to denote the true Israel of God, and not less with the use of the word "peoples" to denote the nations of the earth alienated from Him. But here the word "peoples" is used instead of "people" for God’s children; and the usage can only spring from this: that the Seer has entirely abandoned the idea that Israel according to the flesh can have the word "people" applied to it, and that all believers, to whatever race they belong, occupy the same ground in Christ, and are possessed of the same privileges. The "peoples" are the counterpart of the "many diadems" of Revelation 19:12. (* Trench, Synonyms, second series, p. 39)

"And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal, having a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel On the east went three gates, and on the north three gates, and on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that spake with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. And the building of the wall thereof was jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the several gates was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, is the temple thereof, and the Lamb. And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory into it. And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein; and His servants shall do Him service: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 21:9-27; Revelation 22:1-5)."

The vision contained in these verses is shown the Seer by the angel forming the third of the second group associated with Him who had been described at Revelation 19:11 as the Rider upon the white horse, and who at that time rode forth to His final triumph. The first of this group of three had appeared at Revelation 19:17, and the second at Revelation 20:1. We have now the third; and it is not unimportant to observe this, for it helps to throw light upon the artificial structure of these chapters, while, at the same time, it connects the vision with Christ’s victory upon earth rather than with any scene of splendor and glory in a region beyond the place of man’s present abode. Thus it contributes something at least to the belief that there where the believer wars he also wears the crown of triumph.

The substance of the vision is a description of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the true Church of God wholly separated from the false Church, as she comes down from God, out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Her marriage with the Lamb has taken place, - a marriage in which there shall be no unfaithfulness on the one side and no reproaches on the other, but in which, as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, the Lord shall forever rejoice in His people, and His people in Him. Then follows, to enhance the picture, a detailed account of the true Church under the figure of the city which had been already spoken of in the first vision of the chapter. The treasures of the Seer’s imagination and language are exhausted in order that the thought of her beauty and her splendor may be suitably impressed upon our minds. Her light - that is, the light which she spreads abroad, for the word used in the original indicates that she is herself the luminary - is like that of the sun, only that it is of crystalline clearness and purity, as it were a jasper stone, the light of Him who sat upon the throne.1 She is "the light of the world."2 The city is also surrounded by a wall great and high. She is "a strong city." "Salvation has God appointed her for walls and bulwarks."3 Her walls have twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, those to whom God gives charge over His people, to keep them in all their ways4; while, as was the case with the new Jerusalem beheld by the prophet Ezekiel, names were written on the gates, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.5 These gates are also harmoniously distributed, three on each side of the square which the city forms. The foundations of the city, a term under which we are not to think of foundations buried in the earth, but rather of courses of stones going round the city and rising one above another, are also twelve; and on them are twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1, Revelation 4:3; 2, Matthew 5:14; 3, Psalms 31:21; Isaiah 26:1; 4, Psalms 91:11; 5Comp. Ezekiel 48:31)

The Seer, however, is not satisfied with this general picture of the greatness of the new Jerusalem. Like that in Ezekiel, the city must be measured.* When this is done, her proportions are found, in spite of the absence of all verisimilitude, to be those of a perfect cube. As in the Holy of holies of the Tabernacle, the thought of which lies at the bottom of the description, the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. Twelve thousand furlongs, or fifteen hundred miles, the city stretches along and across the plain, and rises into the sky, twelve, - the number of the people of God, multiplied by thousands, the heavenly number. The wall is also measured - it is difficult to say whether in height or in thickness, but most probably the latter - a hundred and forty and four cubits, or twelve multiplied by twelve. (*Comp. Ezekiel 40:2-3)

The measuring is completed, and next follows an account of the material of which the city was composed. This was gold, the most precious metal, in its purest state, like unto pure glass. Precious stones formed, rather than ornamented, its twelve foundations. Its gates were of pearl: each one of the several gates was of one pearl; and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. In all these respects it is evident that the city is thought of as ideally perfect, and not according to the realities or possibilities of things.

Nor is this all. The glory of the city is still further illustrated by figures bearing more immediately upon its spiritual rather than its material aspect. The out ward helps needed by men in leading the life of God in their present state of imperfection are dispensed with. There is no temple therein: for the Lord, God, the Almighty, is the temple thereof, and the Lamb. The city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God lightens it by day, and the lamp thereof by night is the Lamb. There is in it no sin, and every positive element of happiness is provided in abundance for the blest inhabitants. A river of water of life, bright as crystal, flows there; and on this side of the river and on that side is the tree of life, not bearing fruit only once a year, but every month, not yielding one only, but twelve manner of fruits, so that all tastes may be gratified, having nothing about it useless or liable to decay. The very leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations, and it is evidently implied that they are always green. Finally, there shall be no curse any more. The throne of God and of the Lamb is therein. His servants do Hint service. They see His face. His name is in their foreheads. They are priests unto God in the service of the heavenly sanctuary. They reign forever and ever.

One important question still remains: What aspect of the Church does the holy city Jerusalem, thus come down out of heaven from God, represent? Is it the Church as she shall be after the Judgment, when her three great enemies, together with all who have listened to them, have been forever cast out? Or have we before us an ideal representation of the true Church of Christ as she exists now, and before a final separation has been made between the righteous and the wicked? Unquestionably the first aspect of the passage leads to the former view; and, if there be anything like a chronological statement of events in the Apocalypse, no other may be possible. But we have already seen that the thought of chronology must be banished from this book. The Apocalypse contains simply a series of visions intended to exhibit, with all the force of that inspiration under which the Seer wrote, certain great truths connected with the revelation in humanity of the Eternal Son. It is intended, too, to exhibit these in their ideal, and not merely in their historical, form. They are indeed to appear in history; but, inasmuch as they do not appear there in their ultimate and completed form, we are taken beyond the limited field of historical manifestation. We see them in their real and essential nature, and as they are, in themselves, whether we think of evil on the one hand, or of good on the other. In this treatment of them, however, chronology disappears. Such being the case, we are prepared to ask whether the vision of the new Jerusalem belongs to the end, or whether it expresses what, under the Christian dispensation, is always ideally true.

1. It must be borne in mind that the new Jerusalem, though described as a city, is really a figure, not of a place, but of a people. It is not the final home of the redeemed. It is the redeemed themselves. It is "the bride, the wife of the Lamb."* Whatever is said of it is said of the true followers of Jesus; and the great question, therefore, that has to be considered is, whether St. John’s description is applicable to them in their present Christian condition, or whether it is suitable to them only when they have entered upon their state of glorification beyond the grave. (*, Revelation 21:9)

2. The vision is really an echo of Old Testament prophecy. We have already seen this in many particulars, and the correspondence might easily have been traced in many more. "It is all," says Isaac Williams, as he begins his comment upon the particular points of the description - "It is all from Ezekiel: ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me, and brought me in the visions of God, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city;’1 ‘And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the gate toward the east;’2 The Lord entered by the eastern gate; therefore shall it be shut, and opened for none but for the Prince.3 Such was the coming of Christ’s glory from the east into His Church, as so often alluded to before."4 Other prophets, no doubt, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto us, who testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow, are to be added to Ezekiel, but, whoever they were, it is undeniable that their highest and most glowing representations of that future for which they longed, and the advent of which they were commissioned to proclaim, are reproduced in St. John s description of the new Jerusalem. Of what was it, then, that they spoke? Surely it was of the times of the Messiah upon earth, of that kingdom of God which He was to establish with the beginning, and not with the end, of the Christian dispensation. That they may have looked forward to the world beyond the grave is possible; but any distinction between the first and second coming of our Lord had not yet risen upon their minds. In the simple coming of the Hope of Israel into the world they beheld the accomplishment of every aspiration and longing of the heart of man. And they were right. The distinction which experience taught the New Testament writers to draw was not so much between a first and a second coming of the King as between a kingdom then hidden, but afterwards to be manifested in all its glory. (1, Ezekiel 40:1-2; 2, Ezekiel 43:2 3, Ezekiel 44:1-3; 4The Apocalypse, p. 438)

3. This ideal view of the Messianic age is also constantly brought before us in the New Testament. The character, the privileges, and the blessings of those who are partakers of the spirit of that time are always presented to us as irradiated with a heavenly and perfect glory. St. Paul addresses the various churches to which he wrote as, notwithstanding all their imperfections, "beloved of God," "sanctified in Christ Jesus," "saints and faithful brethren in Christ."1 Christ is "in them," and they are "in Christ."2 "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for it; that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish,"3 - the description evidently applying to the present world, where also the Church is seated, not in earthly, but in "the heavenly, places" with her Lord.4 Our "citizenship" is declared to be "in heaven;"5 and we are even now "come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable hosts of angels, and to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven."6 Our Lord Himself and St. John, following in His steps, are even more specific as to the present kingdom and the present glory. "In that day," says Jesus to His disciples, "ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you,"7 and again, "And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as We are one;"8 while it is unnecessary to quote the passages meeting us everywhere in the writings of the beloved disciple in which he speaks of eternal life, and that, too, in the full greatness both of its privileges and of its results, as a possession enjoyed by the believer in this present world. The whole witness of the New Testament, in short, is to an ideal, to a perfect, kingdom of God even now established among men, in which sin is conquered, temptation overcome, strength substituted for weakness, death so deprived of its sting that it is no more death, and the Christian, though for a little put to grief in manifold temptations, made "to rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and glorified."9 From all this the representation of the new Jerusalem in the Apocalypse differs in no essential respect It enters more into particulars. It illustrates the general thought by a greater variety of detail. But it contains nothing which is not found in principle in the other sacred writers, and which is not connected by them with the heavenly aspect of the Christian’s pilgrimage to his eternal home. (1, Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 2, Colossians 1:27; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9; 3, Ephesians 5:25-27; 4, Ephesians 1:3; 5, Philippians 3:20; 6, Hebrews 12:22-23; 7, John 14:20; 8, John 17:22; 9, 1 Peter 1:8)

4. There are distinct indications in the apocalyptic vision which leave no interpretation possible except one, - that the new Jerusalem has come, that it has been in the midst of us for more than eighteen hundred years, that it is now in the midst of us, and that it shall continue to be so wherever its King has those who love and serve Him, walk in His light, and share His peace and joy.

(1) Let us look at Revelation 20:9, where we read of "the camp of the saints and the beloved city." That city is none other than the new Jerusalem, about to be described in the following chapter. It is Jerusalem after the elements of the harlot character have been wholly expelled, and the call of Revelation 18:4 has been heard and obeyed, "Come forth, My people, out of her." She is inhabited now by none but "saints," who, though they have still to war with the world, are themselves the "called, and chosen, and faithful." But this "beloved city" is spoken of as in the world, and as the object of attack by Satan and his hosts before the Judgment.* (*Comp. Foxley, Hulsean Lectures, Lect. 1)

(2) Let us look at Revelation 21:24 and Revelation 22:2 : "And the nations shall walk by the light thereof; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory into it;" "And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Who are these "nations" and these "kings of the earth"? The constant use of the same expressions in other parts of this book, where there can be no doubt as to their meaning, compels us to understand them of nations and kings beyond the pale of the covenant. But if so, the difficulty of realizing the situation at a point of time beyond the Judgment appears to be insuperable, and may be well illustrated by the effort of Hengstenberg to overcome it "Nations," says that commentator, "in the usage of the Revelation, are not nations generally, but always heathen nations in their natural or Christianized state; compare at Revelation 20:3. That we are to think here only of converted heathen is as clear as day. No room for conversion can be found on the further side of Revelation 20:15, for everyone who had not been found written in the book of life has already been cast into the lake of fire."* But the words "or Christianized" in this comment have no countenance from any other passage in the Apocalypse, and in Hengstenberg’s note at Revelation 20:3 we are referred to nothing but the texts before us. On every other occasion, too, where the word "nations" meets us, it means unconverted, not converted, nations; and here it can mean nothing else. Were the nations spoken of converted, they would be a part of that new Jerusalem which is not the residence of God’s people, but His people themselves. They would be the light, and not such as walk "by the light" of others. They would be the healed, and not those who stand in need of "healing." These "nations" must be the unconverted, these "kings of the earth" such as have not yet acknowledged Jesus to be their King; and nothing of this can be found beyond Revelation 20:15. (*Commentary in Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, in loc.)

(3) Let us look at Revelation 21:27, where we read, "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that doeth an abomination and a lie." These words distinctly intimate that the time for final separation had not yet come. Persons of the wicked character described must be supposed to be alive upon the earth after the new Jerusalem has appeared.

5. Another consideration on the point under discussion may be noticed, which will have weight with those who admit the existence of that principle of structure in St. John’s writings upon which it rests. Alike in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse the Apostle is marked by a tendency to return at the close of a section to what he had said at the beginning, and to shut up, as it were, between the two statements all he had to say. So here. In Revelation 1:3 he introduces his Apocalypse with the words, "For the time is at hand." In Revelation 22:10, immediately after closing it, he returns to the thought, "Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand; "that is, the whole intervening revelation is enclosed between these two statements. All of it precedes the "time" spoken of. The new Jerusalem comes before the end.

In the new Jerusalem, therefore, we have essentially a picture, not of the future, but of the present; of the ideal condition of Christ s true people, of His "little flock" on earth, in every age. The picture may not yet be realized in fullness; but every blessing lined in upon its canvas is in principle the believer’s now, and will be more and more his in actual experience as he opens his eyes to see and his heart to receive. We have been wrong in transferring the picture of the new Jerusalem to the future alone. It belongs also to the past and to the present. It is the heritage of the children of God at the very time when they are struggling with the world; and the thought of it ought to stimulate them to exertion and to console them under suffering.


Verses 6-21

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE EPILOGUE.

Revelation 22:6-21.

THE visions of the Seer have closed, and closed with a picture of the final and complete triumph of the Church over all her enemies. No more glorious representation of what her Lord has done for her could be set before us than that contained in the description of the new Jerusalem. Nothing further can be said when we know that in the garden of Paradise Restored into which she is introduced, in the Holy of holies of the Divine Tabernacle planted in the world, she shall eat of the fruit of the tree of life, drink of the water of life, and reign forever and ever. Surely as these visions passed before the eye of St John in the lonely isle of Patmos he would be gladdened with the light of heaven, and would need no more to strengthen him in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. Was it not too much? The Epilogue of the book assures us that it was not; and that, although the natural eye of man had not seen, nor his ear heard, nor his heart conceived the things that had been spoken of, they had been revealed by the Spirit of God Himself, not one word of whose promises would fail.

"And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass. And, behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.

And I John am he that heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee, and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God (Revelation 22:6-9)."

Attention has been already called in this commentary both to that characteristic of St. John’s style as a writer which leads him, at a longer or a shorter interval, to the point from which he started, and to the fact that light is thus frequently thrown on the interpretation of what he says. Every illustration of such a point is therefore not only interesting, but, important; and in the words before us it is illustrated with more than ordinary clearness.

The person introduced with the words He said unto me is not indeed named, but there can be little doubt that he is the angel spoken of in the Prologue as sent to " signify " the revelation that was to follow.* (*, Revelation 1:1)

Again, when the Seer is overwhelmed with what he has seen, and may be said to have almost feared that it was too wonderful for belief, the angel assures him that it was all faithful and true. A similar declaration had been made at Revelation 19:9 by the voice which there "came forth from the throne,"1 and likewise at Revelation 21:5 by Him "that sitteth on the throne." The angel therefore who now speaks, like the angel of the Prologue, has the authority of this Divine Being for what he says. It is true that in the following words, which seem to come from the same speaker, the angel must thus be understood to refer to himself in the third person, and not, as we might have expected, in the first, - The Lord sent His angel, not The Lord sent me. But, to say nothing of the fact that "such a method of address is met with in the prophetic style of the Old Testament, it appears to be characteristic of St. John in other passages of his writings. More particularly we mark it in the narrative in the fourth Gospel of the death of Jesus on the Cross: "And he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye may believe."2 (1, Revelation 19:5; 2 John 19:35. Wider questions than can be here discussed would be opened up by an inquiry how far the same method of explanation may be applied to John 17:3)

Again, we read here that the Lord sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass; and the statement is the same as that of Revelation 1:1.

The next words, And, behold, I come quickly, are probably words of our Lord Himself; but the blessing upon him that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book again leads the Seer back to the Prologue, where a similar blessing is pronounced.* (*, Revelation 1:3)

Again, the remembrance of the Prologue is in the Apostle’s mind when, naming himself, he proceeds, I John am he that heard and saw these things. In precisely the same manner, after the introductory verses of the Prologue, he had named himself as the writer of the book: "John to the seven Churches;" "I John, your brother."* Then he was about to write; now that he has written, he is the same John whom the Church knew and honoured, and whose consciousness of everything that had passed was undimmed and perfect. This going back upon the Prologue is also sufficient to prove, if proof be thought necessary, that the words "these things" are designed to include, not merely the vision of the new Jerusalem, but all the visions of the book. (*, Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:9)

That the Seer should have fallen down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed him these things has often caused surprise. He had already done so on a previous occasion,* and had been reproved in words almost exactly similar to those in which he is now addressed: See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee, and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God. How could he so soon forget the warning? We need not wonder. The thought of the one vision preceding his former mistake might easily be swallowed up by the thought of the whole revelation of which it was a part; and, as the splendor of all that he had witnessed passed once more before his view, he might imagine that the angel by whom it was communicated must be worthy of his worship. His mistake was corrected as before. (*, Revelation 19:10)

The prophecy is now in the Seer’s hands, ideally, though not actually, written. He may easily speak of it, therefore, as written, and may relate the instructions which he received regarding it. He does this, and again it will be seen how closely he follows the lines of his Prologue: -

And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still. Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to render to each man according as his work is. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie (Revelation 22:10-15)."

To the prophet Daniel it had been said, "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end."* The hour had not yet come for the full manifestation of that momentous future upon which he had been commissioned to dwell. The situation of St. John was wholly different, and the hour for winding up the history of this dispensation was about to strike. It was not a time then for sealing up, but for breaking seals, a time for prophecy, for the loudest, clearest, and most urgent proclamation of the truth. "Behold, I come quickly," had been a moment before the voice of the great Judge. Let the bride for whom He is to come be ready; and, that she may the more promptly be so, let her hear with earnest and immediate attention the words of the prophecy of this book. (*, Daniel 12:4; Comp. Daniel 8:26)

It is by no means easy to say whether the following words, He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still, are to be considered as coming from the Apostle or from the angel who has been speaking to him. This difficulty is the same as that experienced in the fourth Gospel at such passages as John 3:16; John 3:31, where it is nearly impossible to tell the point at which in the one case the words of Jesus, at which in the other the words of the Baptist, end. It would appear as if St. John so sank himself in the person with whom he was occupied at the time that he often gave utterance to thoughts without being able to distinguish between the other’s and his own. In the present instance it matters little to whom we directly refer the words, whether to St. John, or to the angel, or to Him who speaks by the angel. In any case they contain a striking and solemn view of the relation between the righteous Judge and His creatures, when that relation is looked at in its ultimate, in its final, form. One thing is clear: that the first two clauses cannot be regarded as a summons to the wicked telling them before the Judgment to go on in their wickedness even while the period of their probation lasts. Nor can the second two clauses be regarded as an assurance to the good that there is a point in the actual experience of life at which their perseverance in goodness is secured. The words can only be understood in the light of that idealism which is so characteristic alike of the Apocalypse and of the fourth Gospel. In both books the world of mankind is presented to us in exactly the same light. Men are divided into two great classes: those who are prepared to receive the truth and those who are obstinately opposed to it; and these classes are spoken of as if they had been formed, riot merely after, but before, the work of Christ had tried and proved them. Not indeed that the salvation to be found in Jesus was not designed to be universal, that there was even one member of the human family doomed by eternal and irresistible decree to everlasting death, nor, again, that men are considered as so essentially identified with the two classes to which they respectively belong that they incur no moral responsibility in accepting or rejecting the Redeemer of the world. In that respect St. John occupied the same ground as his fellow-Apostles. Not less than they would he have declared that God willed all men to be saved; and not less than they would he have told them that, if they were not saved, it was because they "loved the darkness rather than the light."1 Yet, notwithstanding this practical mode in which he would have dealt with men, such is his idealism, such his mode of looking at things in their ultimate, eternal, unchanging aspect, that he constantly presents the two classes as if they were divided from each other by a permanent wall of separation, and as if the work of Christ consisted not so much in bringing the one class over to the other as in making manifest the existing tendencies of each. The light of the one brightens, the darkness of the other deepens, as we proceed; but the light does not become darkness, and the darkness does not become light.2 (1Comp. John 3:19; 2See a fuller treatment of this important point by the author in his Lectures on the Revelation of St. John, p. 286, etc.)

Hence, accordingly, the conversion of Israel or of the heathen finds no place in the Apocalypse. The texts supposed to offer such a prospect will not bear the interpretation put upon them. It does not indeed follow that, according to the teaching of this book, neither Israel nor the heathen will be converted. St. John only sees the end in the beginning, and deals, not with the everyday practical, but with the ideal and everlasting, issues of God's kingdom. Hence, in interpreting the words before us, we must be careful to put into them the exact shade of meaning which the whole spirit and tone of the Apostle’s writings prove to have been in his mind when they were written. The clauses "He that is unrighteous" and "He that is filthy" are to be understood as "He that has loved and chosen unrighteousness and filthiness:" the clauses "Let him do unrighteousness still" and "Let him be made filthy still" as "Let him sink deeper into the unrighteousness and filthiness which he has loved and chosen." A principle freely selected by himself is supposed to be in the breast of each, and that principle does not remain fixed and stationary. No principle does. It unfolds or develops itself according to its own nature, rising to greater heights of good if it be good, sinking to greater depths of evil if it be evil. Hence also we are not to imagine that the words under consideration are applicable only to the end, or are the record only of a final judgment They are applicable to the Church and to the world throughout the whole course of their respective histories, and it is at this moment as true as it will ever be that, in so far as the heart and will of a man are really turned to evil or to good, the allegiance he has chosen has the tendency of continued progress towards the triumph of the one or of the other.

In connection with thoughts like these, we see the peculiar propriety of that declaration as to Himself and His purposes next made by the Redeemer: Behold, I come quickly. He comes to wind up the history of the present dispensation. And My reward is with Me, to render to each man according as his work is. He comes to bestow "reward"1 upon His own; and there is no mention of judgment, because for those who are to be rewarded judgment is past and gone. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the words again taking us back to the language of the Prologue,2 upon which follows a blessing for such as wash their robes, for those otherwise described in the Prologue as "loosed from their sins in His blood,"3 and in Revelation 7:14 as having "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." These have the right to come to the tree of life, and they enter in by the gates into the city. A different order might have been expected, for the tree of life grows within the city, and it is the happy inhabitants of the city who eat its fruits. But this is the blessed paradox of faith. It is difficult to say which privilege enjoyed by the believer comes first, and which comes second. Rather may all that he enjoys be looked on as given at once, for the great gift to him is Christ Himself, and in Him everything is included. He is the gate of the city, and as such the way to the tree of life; He is the tree of life, and they who partake of Him have a right to enter into the city and dwell there. Why ask, Which comes first? At one moment we may think that it is one blessing, at another that it is another. The true description of our state is that we are "in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."4 (1Comp. Revelation 11:18; 2, Revelation 1:8; 3, Revelation 1:5; 4, 1 Corinthians 1:30)

To enhance our estimate of the happiness of those who are within the city, there comes next a description of those who are without They are first denoted by the general term the dogs, that animal, as we learn from many passages of Scripture, being to the Jew the emblem of all that was wild, unregulated, unclean, and offensive.1 Then the general, term is subdivided into various classes; and all of them are without, not put out. They were put out when judgment fell upon them. Now they are without; and the door once open to them "is shut."2 (1Comp. Psalms 22:16; Psalms 22:20; Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2; 2 Comp. Matthew 25:10). The last words follow: -

"I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things for the Churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star."

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come. He that will, let him take the water of life freely. I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

"The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen (Revelation 22:16-21)."

Once more in these words it will be seen that we return to the Prologue, in the opening words of which we read, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him, to show unto His servants; . . . and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John."1 The glorified Lord now takes up the same words Himself; and, connecting by the name "Jesus" all that He was on earth with all that belongs to His condition in heaven, He declares of the whole revelation contained in the visions of this book that the angel through whom it was communicated had been sent by Him. He Himself had given it - He, even Jesus, - Jesus the Saviour of His people from their sins, the Captain of their salvation, the Joshua who leads them out of the "wilderness" of this world, across the valley of the shadow of death, into that Promised Land which Canaan, with its milk and honey, its vines and olive trees, its rest after long wanderings, and its peace after hard warfare, only faintly pictured to their view. Well is He able to do this, for in Him earth meets heaven, and "the angels of God ascend and descend upon the Son of man."2 (1, Revelation 1:1; 2 John 1:51)

First, He is the root and the offspring of David, not the root out of which David springs, as if He would say that He is David’s Lord as well as David’s Son,1 but the "shoot that comes out of the stock of Jesse and the branch out of his roots that bears fruit"2 He is the "Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,"3 the substance of ancient prophecy, the long-promised and looked-for King. Secondly, He is the bright, the morning star, the star which shines in its greatest brilliancy when the darkness is about to disappear, and that day is about to break of which "the Sun of righteousness, with healing in His wings," shall be the everlasting light,4 Himself "our Star, our Sun." Thus He is connected on the one side with earth, on the other with heaven, "Immanuel, God with us,"5 touched with a feeling of our infirmities, mighty to save. "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who shall say anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justified. Who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, (1, Matthew 22:45; 2, Isaiah 11:1; 3, Romans 1:3; 4, Malachi 4:2; 5, Matthew 1:23)

For Thy sake we are killed all the day long;

We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."* (* Romans 8:31-39)

The Saviour had declared, "Behold, I come quickly," had spoken of the "reward" which He would bring with Him, and had used various images to set forth the happiness and joy which should be the everlasting portion of those for whom He came. These declarations could not fail to awaken in the breast of the Church a longing for His coming, and this longing now finds expression.

The Spirit and the bride say, Come. We are not to think of two separate voices: the voice of the Spirit and the voice of the bride. It is a characteristic of St. John’s style that where there is combined action, action, having both an inward and invisible and an outward and visible side, he often separates the two agencies by which it is produced. Many illustrations of this may be found in his mention of the actions of the Father and the Son, but it will be enough to refer to one more strictly parallel to that met with here. In chap.15 of the fourth Gospel we find Jesus saying to His disciples, "But when the Advocate is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall bear witness of Me; and ye also bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning." [John 15:26-27]. In these words we have not two works of witnessing, the first that of the Advocate, the second that of the disciples. We have only one, - outwardly that of the disciples, inwardly that of the Advocate. In like manner now. The Spirit and the bride do not utter separate calls. The Spirit calls in the bride; the bride calls in the Spirit. The cry "Come" is therefore that of the spiritually enlightened Church as she answers the voice of her Lord and King. Her voice is the echo of His. He says, "I come;" she answers, "Come." St. John then adds the next clause himself: And let him that heareth say, Come; that is, let him that heareth with the hearing of faith; let him who has made his own the glorious prospects opened up in the visions of this book as to the Lord’s Second Coming add his individual cry to the cry of the universal Church. To this the Saviour replies, And he that is athirst, let him come. He that will, let him take the water of life freely. The words appear to be addressed, not to the world, but to the Church. He that is "athirst" has already drunk of the living water, but he thirsts for deeper draughts from that river the streams whereof make glad the city of God. To partake more and more largely of these is the believer’s longing; and fullness of blessing is within his reach. Let him never say, "It is enough." Let him drink and drink again; let him drink "freely," until the water that Christ shall give him becomes in him "a fountain of springing water unto eternal life." [John 4:14] The statements and replies contained in these words are those of the glorified Lord, of the Church speaking in the Spirit, and of the individual believer, as they hold converse with one another in that moment of highest rapture when evil has been extinguished, when the struggle is over, when the victory has been gained, and when the Lord of the Church is at the door. He in them and they in Him, what can they do but speak to and answer one another in strains expressive of mutual longing and affection and joy?

Once more the Seer - for it seems to be he that speaks turns to the book which he has written.

In the Prologue he had said, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein." [Revelation 1:3]. In the same spirit he now denounces a woe upon him who adds to it: God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in the book; nor less upon him who takes from it: for God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book. The book has come from Him who is the faithful and true Witness of God, and it has been written in obedience to His command and under the guidance of His Spirit St. John himself is nothing; Christ is all: and St John knows that the words of his great Master are fulfilled, "He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me."1 Therefore may he speak with all authority, for it is not he that speaks, but the Holy Spirit.2 (1, Matthew 10:40; 2Comp. Mark 13:11)

Yet once again, before the parting salutation, Christ and the Church interchange their thoughts. The former speaks first: He which testifieth these things saith, Yea, I come quickly. It is the sum and substance of His message to His suffering people, for they can desire or need no more. The "I" is the Lord Himself as He is in glory, not in the feebleness of the flesh, not amidst the sins and sorrows of the world, not with the cup of trembling and astonishment in His hand, but in the unlimited fullness of His Divine power, clothed with the light of His heavenly abode, and anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. Especially is the Church told that this revelation is all she needs, because throughout the book she is supposed to be in the midst of trials. To the troubled heart the Apocalypse is given; and by such a heart is it best understood.

Jesus has spoken; and the Church replies, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen to all that the Lord has promised; Amen to the thought of sin and sorrow banished, of wounded hearts healed, of tears of affliction wiped away, of the sting taken from death and victory from the grave, of darkness dissipated forever, of the light of the eternal day. Surely it cannot come too soon. "Why is His chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of His chariots?" [ 5:28]. "Yea, I quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

The salutation of the writer to his readers alone remains. It ought to be read differently from its form in the authorized English version, not "The grace o our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all," but The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. For the saints the book had been written; to them it had been spoken; they alone can keep it. Let no man who is not in Christ imagine that the Revelation of St. John is addressed to him. Let no man imagine that, if he has not found Christ already, he will find Him here. The book will rather perplex and puzzle, more probably offend, him. Only in that union with Christ which brings with it the hatred of sin and the love of holiness, which teaches us that we are "orphans" {John 14:18, R.V. (margin)} in a present world, which makes us wait for the manifestation of the kingdom of God as they that wait for the morning, can we enter into the spirit of the Apocalypse, listen to its threatenings without thinking them too severe, or so embrace its promises that they shall heighten rather than lower the tone of our spiritual life. Here, if anywhere, faith and love are the key to knowledge, not knowledge the key to faith and love. It is in the very spirit of the book, therefore, not in a spirit hard, or narrow, or unsympathetic, that it closes with the words, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints."

*************************

We have reached the end of this singular, but at the same time most instructive, book of the New Testament. That the principles upon which it has been interpreted should be generally accepted were too much to hope for. Their acceptance, where they are received, must depend mainly upon the consideration that while, as scientific principles, they are thoroughly capable of defense, they give unity to the book and a meaning worthy of that Divine Spirit by whose influence upon the soul of the Apostle it was produced. On no other principles of interpretation does it seem possible to effect this; and the writer of these pages at least is compelled to think that, if they are rejected, there is only one conclusion possible, - that the Apocalypse, however interesting as a literary memorial of the early Christian age, must be regarded as a merely human production, and not entitled to a place in the canon of Scripture. Such a place, however, must in the present state of the argument be vindicated for it; and as an inspired book it has accordingly been treated here, What the reader, therefore, has to consider is whether, though some difficulties may not be completely over come, he can accept in the main the principles upon which, in endeavoring to explain the book, the writer has proceeded. These principles the reader, whoever he be, undoubtedly applies to innumerable passages of Scripture. In so applying them to the prophets of the Old Testament, he follows the example of our Lord and His Apostles; and much of the New Testament itself equally demands their application. There is nothing new in them. All commentators in part apply them. They have only been followed out now with more consistency and uniformity than usual Archdeacon Farrar has said that one of the two questions in New Testament criticism which have acquired new aspects during the last few years is, What is the key to the interpretation of the Apocalypse?* The question is certainly one urgently demanding the Church’s answer, and one which will without doubt be answered in due time, either in the present or some other form. May the Spirit of God guide the Church and her students, and that speedily, into all the truth. (*Expositor, July, 1888, p. 58)

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 22:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/revelation-22.html.

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