Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. THE MEASURING. We have a similar command in Ezekiel 40., when in like inspired vision that prophet beholds the glorious restored temple of God. And so in Revelation 21. of this book we read of the angel who had the golden reed to measure the holy city. But as in those other representations we cannot think that material earthly buildings are meant, or any literal measurements whether of city or temple, so here we regard the temple as telling of that glorious spiritual fabric of which we so often read under like imagery in the Epistles of St. Paul; and the measuring is a metaphor to signify that careful investigation and scrutiny whereby true knowledge is gained as to the nearness or otherwise of that which is measured to its proper standard and ideal. For it is to be noted:
1. God has an ideal for everything, a standard to which he would have it conform. He had in the creation of the world, and we are told how he saw all that which he had made, and declared that it answered to his ideal, and that it was "very good." And he looks down from heaven - so we are told - to see what is done upon the earth; he taketh account of all that men do. All other creatures fulfil their ideal, there is no need to take account of them; but man, endowed with the terrible power of contradicting and refusing his Maker's will, as well as of assenting to it - and he could not have the one without the other - it is needful that the Lord should "behold" and "try" his actions by an unerring standard in order that he may be the more readily led to try them in like manner himself, and so conform them thereto the more nearly.
2. Christ is the ideal Man, and therefore called "the Son of man." He did in all things so answer to his Father's intent that he was the "beloved Son in whom" God was "well pleased." That is the standard to which we are to look, and by which we are to regulate our lives. Happy they who follow him closely "whithersoever he goeth."
3. And this "measuring is continually going on. There is an inward monitor as well as an outward one. Conscience affirms, consents to, and confirms what the Word of God declares, and is perpetually holding up both the standard and ourselves, and making us inwardly if not outwardly blush when we see the contrast between the two.
4. How grateful we should be for this! Lord with what care thou hast begirt us round!" so sings holy George Herbert; and one evidence of this care is in the constant bringing before our consciences the rigid rule of right. But note next -
II. THE MEASURED THAT ARE SPOKEN OF HERE. The temple, the altar, and the people.
1. The temple of God. No doubt St. John, as a devout Jew, and one who had often frequented with joy the courts of the Lord's house at Jerusalem, had that temple - for it was still standing, though soon to fall - before his mind. And it was to him a symbol and type of all Israel, if not of the whole Church of God (cf. St. Paul, "In whom the whole building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple unto the Lord"). He is telling of the Church of God throughout the whole world and in all ages of time. Therefore we may take "the temple of God" as representing the Church in its outward form. Now, God has his ideal for this. What is it? The Catholic declares the true Church to be the great body of the baptized, organized into one organic whole. The individualist asserts that there is no such body that man can know of, but that the Church consists of "living stones," that is, of individual souls who have been quickened into the life of God by personal faith in Christ. And there are multitudes of subdivisions under each of these two ruling beliefs. But all such outward forms will be measured, tested, tried. And what will the standard be to which conformity will be demanded? Christ's herald said, "Now also the axe is laid at the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). By this supreme test will all our Church organizations be tried. What fruit have they borne in that which is the end of all religion - the making of bad men good, and good men better? Have souls in such Churches been quickened, converted, cheered, built up, and helped heavenward? If so, well. If not, then not well. No antiquity, orthodoxy, catholicity, popularity, beauty, wealth, or any other such plea will stand if God's standard be not answered to, and his demand for "good fruit" be not met. The axe will fall, and the tree will go down.
2. The altar. This also was to be measured. We may take "the altar" as the symbol of the worship of the Church. Around it Israel gathered; on it the fire was perpetually burning; from it was taken the fire which enkindled the incense that went up in the immediate presence of God. It was the centre of Israel's worship: there was but one altar for them all. It therefore does set forth the worship of the Church according to the Divine ideal, and the altar was to be measured, that that worship might be compared with that ideal. Is our worship fervent? On that altar was an ever burning fire. Upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost descended fire, telling that Christ's people were to be known by their ardour. And the altar fire tells that worship is to be fervent. Is it spiritual? Does it ascend up to God as the smoke of the sacrifice mounted up and up into the heavens, - symbol, beautiful, striking, appropriate, of that uplifting of the heart, that real outgoing of the soul after God, which belongs to all true worship? And, above all, is it sacrificial? The altar was for sacrifice. Worship that has not this element in it will be rejected when that measurement of the altar told of here takes place. And let no one think that having correct views as to the atonement of Christ, and making mental reference thereto, or verbal, by adding on, as we should, to all our prayers, "through Jesus Christ our Lord " - let no one think that that fulfils the ideal of altar worship. No; our worship may ring with the mention of that ever blessed Name, and our views may be of the most unexceptional sort, and there be not one atom of "sacrifice" in our worship. And often and often, as in the Lord's prayer, that Name may not be heard at all, and ideas about the atonement may be very crude, and yet the worship be full of sacrifice, and will bear well the measuring which is to be applied to all our worship. Sacrifice means giving up something which we should like to keep. Was not Christ's sacrifice such? Is not all sacrifice such? If, then, worship do not carry with it the giving up of anything, save the little time that it occupies to get through with it; if sin be not given up, nor self, nor that which we have and could spare, and our brother needs; - if there be naught of this, where is the sacrifice? how will our worship bear God's test?
3. The people. "Them that worship therein " - so we read. Now, the Divine ideal for these may be learnt by noting what was not to be measured. And we are told in ver. 2 that "the court which is without the temple... measure it not." It was to be cast out, left out of the reckoning altogether. Now, the outer court of the temple was the addition of Herod; he was given to erecting magnificent buildings, and the addition of this outer court did undoubtedly add much to the splendour of the whole fabric. But such court had no place in the tabernacle nor in the temple of Solomon or that of Zerubbabel. But Herod had made this outer court in the temple at Jerusalem. It was thronged by all manner of people. There it was the money changers had their tables, and they who bought and sold doves. The Gentiles might come there, though they might not pass into what was especially the temple, and which was sacred to Israelites only. And so it represented all those outer court worshippers, those mixed multitudes which are found associated with God's true people everywhere of them, but not truly belonging to them. The courts of the temple were separated literally. No Gentile durst pass the boundaries which parted the outer court from the rest of the temple on pain of death. But there is no such visible, material, separation in the throng of worshippers in the professing Church of God. We cannot draw the line nor apply the measure. But all the same there is such a line drawn, and it is clearly visible to the eye of God. He can discriminate, though we cannot, between those who profess and those who possess true religion, and one day he will make this difference plain. Tares get in amongst the wheat, bad fish amid the good, the foolish virgins were associated with the wise; and the worshippers in the true temple of God today are mingled with those whose place is in the outer court. But as in the parables referred to separation did come at last, so will it be for the Church of today, when the Son of man sends forth his angels, and they "gather out of his kingdom all that do offend, and they that work iniquity." The question, therefore, for us all is - Where do we belong! In that outer court were many who were well disposed towards Israel's God, and professed more or less of attachment to his worship; but they were not true Israelites. And the like is true still. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him" take his place in the Church of God.
III. THE MEANING OF ALL THIS. It was because a time of sore trial was imminent, close at hand. For "forty and two months" the court and the city were to be trodden underfoot by the nations. The invasion and overthrow of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the escape of the Christian Church to Pella, supply illustrative historical incidents of the treading underfoot told of here, and of the measuring, like the sealing of Revelation 7., for the purpose of separating and preserving God's faithful ones. God ever has, even in the worst of times, a remnant of such; like the "seven thousand" who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And he takes notice of them, and will keep them securely, whilst those who are not as they are subjected to his sore judgments. The measuring means preservation for the faithful, judgment for all else. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people." The measuring is ever going on. Let us each ask - On which side of that unerring line am I? - S.C.
illustrate truth. The subject which it serves in some extent to set forth is the cause of right on earth. It illustrates the fact -
I. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THIS EARTH HAS ITS MEASURING RULE. "And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying [one said], Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein." Two things are suggested.
1. That in the human world there is right and wrong. There is the temple of God, the altar, and "them that worship therein." At the same time, there is the court that is outside - the "court which is without the temple " - a sphere discarded by the right and trampling on the holy. This, however, is only for a time.
2. That right here has its measuring line. Take the "temple" here as the emblem of right on the earth, and the "reed" as that of the moral Law of God - the Law that measures moral character. Such a Law we have here, here in the conscience, here in the Decalogue, here in the life of Christ. This measuring line concerns qualities rather than quantities; it analyzes all the elements of character and decides their qualities. It is a plummet that sounds the deepest depths of being; it is a moral analyst to test the quality of every thought, affection, and deed; a moral gauge to measure the height, breadth, depth, of all. Supreme sympathy with the supremely good is the Law. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing." This is the "reed" to measure the moral temple of the soul and all its worshippers. Right here requires testing; so much passes for right that is wrong that a measuring line is necessary for testing.
II. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THIS EARTH HAS ITS MIGHTY DEFENDERS. "I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy." Who are the two witnesses? Moses and Elijah? Caleb and Joshua? John the Baptist and Christ? Enoch and Elijah? Peter and John? No one knows, although hundreds pretend to say. Did I believe that the chapter had a literal or historic meaning, I would accept the theory that they were the collective representatives of the Jewish and Gentile converts in preference to any other. I take them here to illustrate the mighty defenders of the cause of right in this world. The cause of right has ever required defenders, for in every age it has countless hosts of antagonists. It has had its Elijahs, and its Johns, and its Pauls, its Luthers, its Cromwells, its Garibaldis, etc., men who have stood up, spoken in thunder, and shed their blood for the right. The vision here suggests three things concerning these defenders of the right.
1. They do their work in sadness. "Clothed in sackcloth." To fight for the right has never been an easy work, and perhaps never will be. They fight not in radiant robes, but in sackcloth. It is not a light work to stand up against a corrupt world and struggle against an age grinning with selfishness, sensuality, and cupidity.
2. They contribute Divine light. "These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks." Language borrowed from the Book of Ezekiel. The olive trees fed the lamp, and the candlesticks diffused the light. Were it not for the Divine defenders of the right, grand heroes in moral history, all the lamps of truth would go out, and the whole race would be mantled in midnight. They are the lights of the world.
3. They exert tremendous power. "If any man will [desire to] hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt [shall desire to hurt] them, he must in this manner be killed," etc. (see vers. 5, 6). The true defenders of the right are invested with a terrible power. Their words flash devouring flames, so shake the corrupt moral firmament under which their contemporaries are living, that the very heavens seem shut up and the rolling streams of life seem turned into blood. It is said that Moses turned the Nile into blood, that Elijah prevented rain descending on the earth for the space of three years. The true defenders of the cause of right are the organs of Omnipotence; their words are mighty through God. To them is committed the work of causing the moral heavens to melt with fervent heat, and spreading out "a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."
III. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH HAS ITS TERRIBLE ANTAGONISTS. "When they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them," etc. (vers. 7-10).
1. The antagonists of the right are malignant. They not only murder, but they exult in their cruelty. They are "wild beasts" that fight and kill; they arise from the abyss of depravity. The spirit of persecution is an infernal virus that gallops through the veins of the intolerant persecutor, and physical violence is the weapon. Not only did their malignity destroy, but revelled in the cruelty and destruction: "shall rejoice over them, and make merry." Their feet are "swift to shed blood;" like savage beasts of prey, they revel in the tortures of their victims. Who can study martyrology without being astounded at the ruthless cruelty that runs in the blood of those that hate the right? They rent the heavens with the cry, "Away with him! away with him!"
2. These antagonists of the right are ever frustrated. It is said, "After three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet," etc. (ver. 11). Observe:
(1) Their victims were divinely reanimated. If the bodies of the two which lay crushed upon the "street" were not reanimated, their spirit, which was Divine, appeared in others. The bodies of good men fall to the dust, but the spirit that animated them lives in others. The spirit of Elijah enters John the Baptist in the wilderness. The spirit of truth and goodness is a resurrection spirit; it enters those who are in the graves of sin, and they start to life and stand forth a mighty army to defend the right. Such a resurrection may well alarm the persecutors. "A great fear fell upon them which saw them."
(2) Their victims ascended to heaven. "And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud" (ver. 12). Heaven is ever open to welcome and receive the faithful defenders of the right. With their ascension terrible calamities befall the earth. "And the same [that] hour was there a great earthquake" (ver. 13). The eternal hour of retribution towards their persecutors moves on; the earth quakes, and thousands are engulfed in ruin. "Be sure your sin will find you out."
IV. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH IS DESTINED TO TRIUMPH. After the passing of the first two woes there is yet another to come, and after the close of the sixth trumpet the blast of the seventh is heard. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were [followed] great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms [kingdom] of this [the] world are [is] become the kingdoms [kingdom] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever" (ver. 15). Two things seem now to occur.
1. The rapture and adoration of the good. Sainted men and angels are represented rising from their seats, falling on their faces and worshipping, and the reason of their worship is that the kingdoms of this world have passed into the actual possession of Christ. "The kingdoms of this world." What have they been? What are they now? Hellish mimicries of eternal right and power. Like muddy bubbles on the great stream of life, they have broken into the clear and fathomless river of rectitude, and will appear no more, and this will continue "forever and ever" - "unto the ages of the ages." Well, then, might the righteous worship and thank God. "We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come," etc. (ver. 17).
2. The increased accessibility of heaven. "And the temple of God was opened in heaven" (ver. 19). When right shall become universally triumphant, heaven will come near to man. The holy Jerusalem will come down from heaven; heaven and earth will become one.
CONCLUSION. Suspect not the failure of right; have faith in its winning power. It has life in it, indestructible life, life that will germinate in every land, which will multiply and cover all parts of this globe. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord." "There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall stroke like Lebanon and they of the city shall flourish like gross of the earth." - D. T.
Revelation 10.; and in regard to the measuring of temple, altar, and worshippers, told of in the first ten verses of this chapter; and we purpose dealing with this record of the two witnesses in a similar way; for we know of no other in which our consideration of them can be of any service to us. This entire episode, stretching from Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13, has to do with these witnesses; Revelation 10. showing their preparation by means of the book; Revelation 11:1, 2 showing the people before whom they would witness; and now the vers. 3-13 tell more especially of the witnesses themselves and their witness for God, and then that of God for them. It might seem as if in ver. 4 we had an authoritative explanation of these two witnesses, as it points us back to the prophecy of Zechariah 4:1-3, and tells us that what he saw was now fulfilled. But Zechariah's symbol merely tells of the characteristics of these witnesses; that they were to be as the olive trees were - supporters and sustainers of the life to which they ministered. The olive trees so ministered to the lamps, and these witnesses so ministered to the people of God. They were also to be as lamps, letting their light shine in such wise as should glorify God. St. John's word, "These are," etc., therefore means no more than that these are represented by, and correspond to, the two olive trees, etc. But we may, we believe, find the antitypes of those ancient symbols and types of St. John's allegory in our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. They are the two witnesses, and are one to the other as the trees and the lamp; but before the world, both witness. Look at the life of our Lord and the history of his Church; all that is told of here may be read therein. Christ himself is called in this book, "The faithful and true Witness;" and he himself said of his Church in her ministry, "This gospel shall be preached for a witness in all nations;" and it is written of old, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord." Hence in Christ and his Church we may find these witnesses, and in what is here recorded of them we may see the mutual fellowship that exists between them. See this -
I. IN MINISTRY. For both that of Christ and his Church was a ministry:
1. Of prophecy. Not in the sense of predicting the future, but in uttering forth the will of God - preaching and proclaiming God's message to mankind. In both there were works of Divine power, signs and wonders; but these were of but subordinate importance as compared to their ministry of the Word. Our Lord was the great Teacher, and he bade his disciples "preach the gospel."
2. Of brief duration. Who knows what precisely is meant by these mysterious twelve hundred and sixty days? It is the same period of three years and a half whether told of as days here or as months in ver.
2. It is the half of seven, the number denoting completeness and perfection. There may be allusion to the time of our Lord's ministry on earth, or to that of the investment of Jerusalem by the Romans, or, taking the year day theory, to some twelve hundred and sixty years during which this ministry is to be carried on. We prefer to take the numbers as telling of a time limited and brief. Such was our Lord's ministry; such the duration of the Church in Jerusalem ere it fled away to Pella; such, in comparison with the eternal ages in which the blessed results of their ministry shall be realized, is the ministry of the Church of today and all past and future days.
3. Characterized by much of sternness and sorrow. "Clothed in sackcloth" - so is it described. Was it not so with our Lord? He was "the Man of sorrows." And has it not been so with his Church oftentimes, just in proportion as they have been faithful to their Lord? See the life of Paul, of Peter, of the martyr Church in many generations, under both pagan and papal Rome. How can it be otherwise when we think of the ends that are to be secured - so momentous - and of the tremendous hindrances in the way of securing these? Such ministry is no holiday pastime, no decorous profession merely, but one that for our Lord and his apostles, for his martyrs and for all his faithful, seems oftentimes to be "clothed in sackcloth."
4. But it is of resistless force. Like as was the ministry of Elijah and Moses. Elijah literally called down fire from heaven, and Moses did that which is here said of these witnesses. And in a real, though not literal sense, vers. 5 and 6 are true. Was not our Lord's word as a fire to his enemies? How it scathed and tormented them! And were not his words fulfilled when Jerusalem was overthrown? And so of the other witness, the Church. What has become of her persecutors - Rome, Spain, and many more? Has it been well with those who have hurt the Church of God? "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye" - so hath God said, and historic fact vindicates that word. And so of the withholding of the rain. Elijah did this literally; but was not the righteous and universal judgment on the hardened ones whereby, as our Lord said, "seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand" - was not this a yet more real and terrible withholding of the rain and shutting of heaven against them? Christ was "set for the fall" as well as "the rise" of many in Israel; they would have it so. And the words of the other witness have had like effects. "Whose sins ye retain, they are retained," said the Lord to his Church. "What thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," he also said. And was not this word fulfilled when such as Paul turned from the Jews who had rejected him and went unto the heathen? What would become of a nation, a community, if the good all went away? What became of Sodom when Lot left it; of Jerusalem, when the Church of Christ left it? Parodies of this power of the Church were seen in the interdicts which proud popes and prelates would at times lay on the lands that believed in them. The threat of such interdict seemed like shutting heaven against them, and they dreaded it with a great dread. And the plagues Moses inflicted on Egypt have their counterpart in the sorrows that have come on men in all ages who have sought to hurt the Lord's anointed ones, and to do his witnesses harm. Yes; this ministry of the witnesses has had resistless force accompanying it, before which its foes have fallen again and again. Let none of us be found fighting against God.
II. IN SUFFERING. We seem in vers. 7-13 to have a piece of the gospel history, of the life of our Lord, given to us. For he was met with the hostile rage of hell. The "beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit" did make war against him. And for a time hell seemed to have vanquished the Christ. For he was betrayed, condemned, and crucified. And with contempt like to that of refusing burial was our Lord treated. "He was despised and rejected of men." It was their "hour, and the power of darkness." And the Church, his co-witness, has had fellowship in his sufferings, and been once and again "made conformable unto his death." The same foe, the same rage, the same suffering, the same seeming vanquishment, the same scorn, these have been her lot as well as her Lord's. And over both have been the like short-lived exultation. Herod and Pontius Pilate became friends over the condemned Christ. His enemies breathed more freely when they knew he was dead. How they mocked him as he hung on the cross! Their joy, as well as their hatred and scorn, are clearly audible in those hideous insults which they heaped upon him. And again and again have the persecutors of the Church exulted in imagined success. Pagan and papal, still worse than pagan Rome, have alike flattered themselves, once and again, that heresy - as they deemed it - was completely put down. They have been "drunk with the blood of saints," and in their wild orgies have rejoiced and made merry as the manner of such is to do. Let us, whose lot has fallen in these quiet days, learn lessons of thankfulness that no such suffering as the Church has had to endure falls to our share, and that, when such suffering had to be borne, grace sufficient for the day was given. What an implied promise of ever present help there is in that! And let us be ashamed to shrink from any suffering allotted to us, seeing how incomparably less it is, which, in witnessing for God, we may be called upon to bear. And let us remember, and be comforted by the remembrance, whence and when such sufferings come. Whence? From hell, and such as were the men of Sodom and Egypt, and the murderers of the Lord. If friendship with such would save us from suffering, would we be their friends? God forbid! And when? It was when the evil they could do could do no harm (see ver. 7). The witnesses had finished their testimony. What a shutting of the door after the horse has been stolen! God's witnesses had done their work; it did not matter now what their foes might do against or with them. God's servants are immortal, yea more, are left unhindered, until their work is done.
III. IN TRIUMPH. (Ver. 11.) Our Lord's resurrection, the fear which fell on his foes, his ascension, Pentecost and its marvels, are all referred to here as patterns of the triumph of the witnesses. In these great events are found the archetype and model, and not merely the mere illustration, of what St. John tells of. It is easy to see what answers in the history of our Lord to what is here said. He was glorified, declared to be the Son of God with power, by means of them. And in his triumph his people share, so that, in a very real sense, what is said of him can be, and is, said of them. Church revivals, of which there have been many, are instances of fellowship in Christ's triumph. Often have hell and Satan, and all that are theirs, thought that Christianity and the Church were crushed. Voltaire vowed that it should be his ecraser l'infame, and he thought that by his writings it should surely be done, and in the awful days of the revolutionary terror it seemed as if his vaunt were not vain, but valid. But revival came. In the blessed Reformation times, what a resurrection unto life for the faith and the Church there was! In the Diocletian persecutions it seemed as if all were lost, but in brief while, Constantine avowed himself a Christian, and the faith which was once persecuted was now praised and preferred everywhere. And today in many quarters, it is feared that faith is dead. Perhaps some fear it for themselves. But behold this parable of the witnesses. Over the grave of all such "Resurgam" may, should be, written. "Failure" is a word unknown in the vocabulary of God, but ultimate and complete triumph is absolutely sure.
CONCLUSION. Witnesses for Christ, does not this bid us be of good cheer? Enemies of Christ, does not the word of his witnesses "torment" you? Does it not rankle within you, driving away your peace, refusing to let you alone in your sins, however much you might wish it would? It scorches and burns inwardly, as if the fire unquenchable were already kindled. Blessed be God that the witness of the Word doth torment, pricking you to the heart, and causing perpetual pain. Yield to it, as did Saul the persecutor, who, by yielding, became Paul the apostle. "The Word is quick and powerful;" it goes straight to the conscience, making many a Felix "tremble" and many an Agrippa resolve "almost to be a Christian." But remember, it may do all this and not save your soul. Oh for that one little step which yet remains to be taken! that actual "arising and going to your Father"! that real coming to Christ that you may have life! If the Word torments, it is only that it may arouse you to listen; it is only that you may take it to you as your guide, your light, and your comforter. Trifle not with that Word which must one day judge you. May Christ give it entrance while it is still light and not fire - "a light to cheer and to enlighten, not a fire to burn and to consume"! (Vaughan). - S.C.
I. THE UNFAILING TESTIMONY. Throughout the entire period during which the usurping worldly power shall oppress and tread down the adherents to the truth, the voice of testimony is heard. It cannot be silenced. Forty and two months is the holy city trodden underfoot; a thousand two hundred and three score days do the witnesses prophesy. Not any particular two; but the confirmatory two. The number may be minished; but the voice is clear. One herald is sufficient to make a proclamation.
II. THE PAINFULNESS OF WITNESSING AGAINST EVIL AND THREATENING JUDGMENT IS BUT TOO OBVIOUS. The witnesses prophesy, "clothed in sackcloth." So must all who stand in opposition to evil find the painful bitterness of their sad duty.
III. THE DIVINE DEFENCE OF THE WITNESSES. "If any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth." The Lord defends his witnesses; his anointed must not be touched. The word of their mouth is itself a penetrating sword of flame; nor can the adversaries of the truth escape those external judgments which fire always represents, and which the God of truth uses for the punishment of evil doers. This is further seen in -
IV. THEIR PUNITIVE POWER. But it is of a nature correspondent to the entire character of the gospel. "They shut up heaven." Sad indeed is it for them who stay the holy work of the heavenly witnesses. For if their work be hindered, it is as the shutting up of the heavens - no spiritual rain, no teaching. The world is the sufferer. The loss is unspeakable. By the removal of the earth preserving salt - the Word - a plague is brought upon the earth. Alas! though the testimony is continuous through all the time of the worldly oppression, yet the witnesses are finally slain! Here the vision may be for the comfort of the witnessss to the truth themselves. And we reflect -
V. UPON THEIR TEMPORARY DESTRUCTION AND FINAL TRIUMPH. They are slain, and so far the world triumphs. So it did with the one faithful and true Witness. Or we may see here a temporary triumph of the evil worldly spirit, and the final supremacy of the truth. Probably the former. But in either case the faithful witnesses to the truth are assured in this, as in many other ways, of the final reward to their fidelity and the final triumph over them who make them their foes. - R.G.
"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun I. THE SUPREMACY OF THE DIVINE RULE SHALL BE UNIVERSALLY ESTABLISHED AND ACKNOWLEDGED. "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ." II. THE DIFFUSION OF DIVINE TRUTH SHALL BE UNIVERSAL. "The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." III. THE PRINCIPLES OF THAT GOVERNMENT SHALL PERMEATE NATIONAL LIFE, LITERATURE, AND INSTITUTIONS. "The little leaven shall leaven the whole lump." IV. UNDER THIS GRACIOUS RULE NATIONAL ANIMOSITIES SHALL BE AMELIORATED. "The swords shall be beaten," etc. V. CONFLICTING AND ANTAGONISTIC FORCES SHALL BE HARMONIZED. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid," etc. VI. HUMAN LIFE SHALL BE BEAUTIFIED, ADORNED, AND BRIGHTENED. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert blossom as the rose." VII. TO THE MILD AND BENEFICENT SWAY OF THE REDEEMER SHALL BE HANDED OVER THE OUTLYING AND OUTCAST NATIONS OF THE EARTH. "He shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession." VIII. THIS REIGN SHALL BE CHARACTERIZED BY THE MOST BLESSED CONDITIONS. "In his day shall righteousness prevail, and abundance of peace, so long." etc. - R.G.
I. THE SUPREMACY OF THE DIVINE RULE SHALL BE UNIVERSALLY ESTABLISHED AND ACKNOWLEDGED. "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ."
II. THE DIFFUSION OF DIVINE TRUTH SHALL BE UNIVERSAL. "The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."
III. THE PRINCIPLES OF THAT GOVERNMENT SHALL PERMEATE NATIONAL LIFE, LITERATURE, AND INSTITUTIONS. "The little leaven shall leaven the whole lump."
IV. UNDER THIS GRACIOUS RULE NATIONAL ANIMOSITIES SHALL BE AMELIORATED. "The swords shall be beaten," etc.
V. CONFLICTING AND ANTAGONISTIC FORCES SHALL BE HARMONIZED. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid," etc.
VI. HUMAN LIFE SHALL BE BEAUTIFIED, ADORNED, AND BRIGHTENED. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert blossom as the rose."
VII. TO THE MILD AND BENEFICENT SWAY OF THE REDEEMER SHALL BE HANDED OVER THE OUTLYING AND OUTCAST NATIONS OF THE EARTH. "He shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession."
VIII. THIS REIGN SHALL BE CHARACTERIZED BY THE MOST BLESSED CONDITIONS. "In his day shall righteousness prevail, and abundance of peace, so long." etc. - R.G.
Matthew 27:50, 51, etc., we are told of the veil that was rent from the top to the bottom, and of the earthquake, and of the opened graves. And so in this chapter, which tells of the winding up of the Jewish dispensation, we see the innermost recesses of the temple thrown open, and all that it contained laid bare to men's sight and approach, as it had never been before. So was it when on the cross Christ said, "It is finished!" so is it now in this vision in which the end of all that old order of things is portrayed. But what meant that rent veil there, and this opened temple and ark of the covenant disclosed to all eyes? They have a meaning. "To the few eyes that witnessed that rending of the temple veil it must have been a most mysterious spectacle. Our Lord died at the third hour after midday, the very hour when eager crowds of worshippers would be thronging into the courts of the temple, and all would be perparing for the evening sacrifice. Within the holy place, kindling, perhaps, the many lights of the golden candlestick, some priests would be busy before the inner veil which hung between them and the holy of holies - the dark secluded chamber within which once lay the ark of the covenant, with the cherubim above it shadowing the mercy seat, which no mortal footstep was permitted to invade, save that of the high priest once only every year. How strange, how awful, to the ministering priests, standing before that veil, to feel the earth tremble beneath their feet, and to see the strong veil grasped, as if by two unseen hands of superhuman strength, and torn down in its centre from top to bottom; the glaring light of day, that never for long centuries gone by had entered there, flung into that sacred tenement, and all its mysteries laid open to ruler gaze!" Now, that which this disclosure of the most holy place meant when our Lord was crucified, is meant also by what St. John tells us here in his vision. But more than this is meant. For when the veil of the temple was rent no ark of the covenant was seen. That had long ago disappeared, having been either burnt or carried off when Jerusalem and the temple were overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar. Hence neither in the second temple, nor in that of Herod, in the days of our Lord, was there any ark of the covenant. It seems never to have been replaced (cf. Esdras, Josephus, Tacitus). But here, in St. John's vision, the ark of the covenant is seen again. Fuller meaning, therefore, is to be found in the vision than in the rent veil. Much is common to both; something, however, belongs peculiarly to each. Let us, therefore, note -
I. WHAT IS SPECIAL TO EACH. And:
1. As to the veil rent in twain. "It is not fanciful," says one, "to regard it as a solemn act of mourning on the part of the house of the Lord. In the East men express their sorrow by rending their garments, and the temple, when it beheld its Master die, seemed struck with horror, and rent its veil Shocked at the sin of man, indignant at the murder of its Lord, in its sympathy with him who is the true Temple of God, the outward symbol tore its holy vestment from the top to the bottom" (Spurgeon). But, with far more certainty, we may see in it the symbol of our Lord's sacred humanity. The Epistle to the Hebrews expressly tells us this in Hebrews 10:19, 20, where we read, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." "The weak, human, mortal flesh was the state through which he had to pass before he could enter into the holiest in the heavens for us, and when he put off that flesh the actual veil in the temple was rent in twain." That perfect human life, this life in our suffering humanity, opened to our sight and to our feet the way to God. Recall the ancient type. Ere ever the high priest could enter into the holiest of all, he must push aside or lift up the separating veil which hung before it. Now, that veil symbolized Christ's flesh, that is, his life in the flesh - his earthly, human life. And, ere he could enter into the holiest for us, he must live that life, must pass through it as through the veil And this is what he did. And now, relying on that blood of Jesus which atones for us with God, because it evermore makes our flesh, that is, makes our life, pure, trustful, consecrated, as was his life - so, by this "new and living way" we must draw near, keep drawing near, to our Father and our God. His way into the holiest is our way, only the way for him was far more severe than ours. For he had to be perfectly holy, "as a lamb without blemish and without spot," and to suffer as none other ever did or could. But our marred and imperfect holiness is accepted for the sake of his, which was all perfect, and so, even through the coarse and tattered veil of our flesh, we shall enter, by his grace, into the presence of God.
2. The vision of the ark of the covenant. We may take this as telling
(1) of the unchangeableness of God. When St. John wrote, the very foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken and in course of being moved. That Judaism of which the temple was the centre was dying, dying hard. Jerusalem and her people were in the last throes of their national existence, and the old order was changing every hour and, amid sore travail, giving place to new. To many eyes it seemed as if all was lost, and the end of all things was at hand. Now, what a reassuring vision this would be! The ark of the covenant that enshrined God's holy Law; the ark that was covered with the mercy seat, that told of the eternal grace of God; that ark of the covenant, now seen in beatific vision, said to the beholder, "The Lord liveth, the Lord holy and full of compassion, just, yet delighting in mercy, he liveth." Moreover it told
(2) of the certainty of victory over all foes. It was the ark of God's strength, God's resting place, where he dwelt between the cherubim. Under its shadow Israel had dwelt, as under the shadow of the Almighty. At its presence the rushing river rolled back its flowing flood, and piled up its awestruck waters, and held them bound until all the people of God had passed by. At its presence the walls of Jericho had fallen fiat, and under its leadership Israel had gone on from victory unto victory. It had made them invincible a thousand times. And now the persecuted people of God beheld this ark of the covenant once again. "When the enemy came in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifted up the standard against him." It was an omen of victory, a prophecy of good, a lifter up of all hearts that were cast down. It meant all that.
II. WHAT IS COMMON TO BOTH - to the veil of the temple rent and this vision of the ark of the covenant. One chief meaning belongs to both - that meaning which our Lord declared when on the cross at the moment of his death he cried, "It is finished! The veil and the shrine wherein the ark was seen represent the whole of the Mosaic ceremonial, the system of types, the Levitical Law, the whole body of Jewish ordinances. And the rent veil, and the vision of the ark alike show that all that is done with and forever. Freedom of access is given to all, and we are bidden therefore to come boldly to the throne of grace. The veil is not rolled up, but rent, so that it cannot be put up again;" and in this vision there is no sign of it at all. Now, this means that all that separates the soul of the believer from God is clean gone forever.
1. All legal ordinances. And yet how slow men are to believe this - to believe that the worshippers whom God seeks are those who worship him in spirit and in truth! It is not papists alone, but so-called Protestants also, all too many of them, who have not yet realized what the rent veil, and the ark of the covenant visible to all, mean. Hence the often hurried sending for ministers of religion to pray by the sick and dying. Hence, too, those many evidences which we meet with that men's minds are not yet emancipated from reliance on certain persons, ordinances, and the like; and that they yet know not that none can make them more acceptable to God, or as acceptable, as when they themselves come through the blood of Christ.
2. All guilt. This separates indeed, and would forever do so, had not the veil been rent and the way opened.
3. All depravity. The evil bias of our nature - that in us which makes us do the things we would not, and forbids our doing those we would. And:
4. The flesh itself; for this veil, too, will one day be rent, and then our soul, escaped as a bird out of the hand of the fowler, shall go into the presence of God forever. Conclusion. Then if all that separates, every veil, be done away, let me draw near, as I am bidden to do - in prayer, in praise, in communion; asking or giving thanks for blessings on my soul, in pardon, peace, purity, consolation, strength; blessings on others, those whom I love, those who love me, and for all for whom I am bound to pray. We may, we should, we must. - S.C.