The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen. What an inexpressible blessing is here anxiously desired for all mankind! A higher wish for the whole human race cannot be imagined.
I. THE CHIEF GOOD. It is "grace." Maurice takes the expression to mean "gracefulness of character - gracefulness of Jesus Christ." This means, I think, something more than favour. Even the favour of God conferred on one who lacks a graceful disposition is not likely to be rightly received or appreciated. However valuable in itself, the gift bestowed, if it is not bestowed freely and unrestrained, can never be appreciated. But a graciousness of nature or character is in itself a boon. Great favours are often bestowed in an ungracious manner; therefore, if received at all, it is with reluctance and pain. The grace of a Christly character is delicately and tenderly alive to all that is beautiful in form, and tender and courteous in our intercourse with men. Indeed, all nature is graceful. How graceful are the movements of every form of life, etc.! And all art struggles to shape itself into the gracious.
II. THE CHIEF GOOD FROM THE HIGHEST. From all beings that have ever entered this circle of humanity, Christ in goodness transcends them all. "He is our Lord" our Master, "King of kings, and Lord of lords," exalted above all principalities and powers, etc. He is Jesus, "Lord Jesus," Saviour of mankind, Christ anointed of the Father, consecrated to the highest functions under God, having in all things the preeminence.
III. THE CHIEF GOOD FROM THE HIGHEST TO ALL. "Be with you all." Not only all the Churches in Asia Minor, but all mankind everywhere. He is good to all, and "his tender mercies are over all the works of his hand." St. Paul told the savages of Lycaonia that God was sending the rain from heaven for a fruitful season. Real gracefulness is not artificial, but natural. Take trees of the same order - let it be the oak, the elm, or any other. From the one the vital sap has departed and life is extinct. It is cut into artistic forms, stained with beautiful hues; to the eye it has a charm of special beauty. The other tree, of precisely the same order, grows on the same soil from which its young roots sprang up at first. It has reached maturity; the vital sap streams through all its veins, its green and leafy branches bow down in circling forms to the mother soil. It shivers in the strong breeze, but gently moves in the zephyr. It is perpetually changing in shade, shape, and size. And then a delicious aroma pervades the whole, and scents the air with fragrance. Which of these trees, say you, is the more graceful? Not the former, however exquisitely artistic. From year to year it stands, bearing the same aspect. It wakens within you no fresh inspiration. But the latter is all gracefulness; it is graceful in all its lines, curves, and shades; graceful in all its motions, whether it bends violently to the hurricane or poses peacefully on the silent air. It is somewhat thus with men. This is the made gentleman, shaped according to all the niceties of conventional etiquette, like the aesthetic timber, without heart; and there is the true gentleman, born of all that is truly graceful in sentiment and sympathy. The snobs and flunkeys are at best but highly ornamental furniture, utterly destitute of that inner graciousness which touches all unsophisticated natures into a blessed kindredship of heart.
CONCLUSION. What can we desire more than this gracefulness of Christ? This gracefulness of Christly character pervades his whole history, character, life, and death. His spirit is the quintessence of the gospel. - D.T. In conclusion, I would heartily recommend readers carefully to peruse the Bishop of Ripon's Excursus on the whole of this book as given below.
EXCURSUS A. - The angels of the Churches. The most usual interpretation regards the angels of the Churches as the chief ministers or presiding elders of the congregation. This interpretation is so very widely adopted that it has been mentioned in the notes; but the reader will have perceived that it is not a view which can be considered altogether satisfactory. In the first place, whatever date we accept for the Apocalypse, it is at least strange to find the titles "elders" or "bishops," which were in common use, exchanged for the doubtful one of "angel." A common explanation is that the term is derived from the synagogue staff, where the messenger, or "angel of the synagogue," was a recognized officer; but the transference of such a title to any office in the Christian Church is at least doubtful, and as the officer so styled was only a subordinate in the synagogue, a "clerk" or "precentor" to conduct the devotions of the worshippers, it becomes very improbable that such a term or title would have been employed to describe the presiding cider of a Christian Church. Turning to the Old Testament, it is true that the word "angel" is used in a higher sense (Haggai 1:13; Malachi 2:7), being employed to describe the messengers of God; but the usage here is different. "It is conceivable, indeed, that a bishop or chief pastor should be called an angel, or messenger of God, or of Christ, but he would hardly be styled an angel of the Church over which he presides" (Lightfoot, 'Epistle to the Philippians,' p. 197). Thus the interpretation under consideration appears scarcely satisfactory. Others have thought the word "angel" is not to be applied to the individual presiding elder, but to the whole ministry of the Church treated as one. This view, though in some senses approaching nearer to the truth, can hardly be sustained without considerable modification. Others, again, fall back upon Jewish authorities, and see in the angels the guardian angels of the Churches. "In Daniel every nation has its ruling angel; and, according to the rabbins, an angel is placed over every people." The angel, then, would be a literal real angel, who has the guardianship of the Church in question. In popular thought, then, the angel would be one of the good angelic beings whose special duty it was to bear up the Church under its trials, by such providential ministries as were needed and ordered. There are some difficulties in accepting this interpretation. In particular, the language of rebuke which is addressed directly to the angel himself - the threatening to remove his candlestick, for example - sounds meaningless. But here it is that we may inquire whether the angel of a particular community, nation, or people is to be understood always of a good and powerful being sent forth by the Almighty to love and watch over it. It is believed that this view does not satisfy the case. It is certain that Daniel represents the guardian angels of nations as opposed to each other, and not cooperating always for the same great and good end. "The prince [guardian angel] of the kingdom of Persia withstood me," is the language addressed to Daniel by him whose face was like lightning (Daniel 10:13). Such passages seem to suggest that the "angels" are the powers in the spiritual sphere corresponding to the peoples or communities in the earthly. If the Church at Ephesus has left its first love, the angel is spoken of as sharing the same fault. The influences seen on the spiritual side correspond with those at work in the actual earthly community. The angel of the Church or of the individual thus becomes their manifestation in the heavenly sphere. For all our life is thus double; our actions have an earthly meaning, and also a heavenly; what they touch of worldly interests gives them their earthly meaning, what they touch of spiritual welfare is their heavenly meaning. Like the planets, we lie half in shadow and half in light. From the earthly side the world meaning of our actions lies in the light, and their spiritual value or force is only dimly seen as it lies in at least partial shadow; but, seen from the heavenly side, the position is reversed, the worldly significance of human action is cast into comparative shade, the actual spiritual influences of them are brought into clear light, and it is the spiritual significance of our actions which reveals what we arc; in this is concentrated the true force which we are exerting. Seen from the heavenly side, the angel of our life mingles in the great spiritual war, and takes its part as a combatant there; while on the earthly side we are seen carrying on our daily occupations. Measured on the earthly side, the balance is not struck; there is inconsistency in us; we are partly good and partly bad, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering the work of God on earth, as we judge; but the actual resultant of these inconsistent powers is seen in the heavenly sphere, either helping or thwarting the cause of good. Thus we are double combatants - in the world, for our livelihood, for our ease, for our advancement; in the heavenly, for good or for evil. And it is on the spiritual side that we lie open to spiritual influences; here, where our true self is seen more clearly than anywhere else, are the appeals to our better nature, as we say, most powerful; here he who holds the stars in his right hand makes his voice to be heard when he addresses, not merely the Church or the individual, but the angel of the Church; here he calls them to see that there is a war in heaven, in which all are combatants, but in which he is the Captain of our salvation. Here too, on the heavenly side, are the wounds of the spiritual and better nature more plainly seen; the offence or blow given to the little one of Christ is not noticed on the earthly side, but the inner nature is wounded, and the wound is seen in its real dimensions in the presence of God, for the angel nature beholds God's face. It is this thought which gives force and solemnity to our Lord's warning (Matthew 18:10). The angel of the Church, then, would be the spiritual personification of the Church; but it must not be concluded from this, as Lillig does, that these angels are in "the mind of the poet himself nothing more than imaginary existences," or reduce the angel "to be just the community or Church itself." It is no more the Church itself than the "star" is the same as the candlestick. "The star is the suprasensual counterpart, the heavenly representative; the lamp, the earthly realization, the outward embodiment." The angel is the Church seen in its heavenly representative, and seen, therefore, in the light of those splendid possibilities which are hers if she holds fast by him who holds fast the seven stars. Space forbids any treatment of the wider questions on the ministry of angels, or the nature of angelic beings. That such are recognized in Scripture there can be no doubt, and nothing written above is designed to militate against such a belief; but it seems well to remember that where we are dealing with a symbolical book it is more in harmony with its character to treat symbols as symbols. The forces of nature are God's messengers, and we may regard them as truly such, and feel that the expressions, "the angel of the waters," "the angel of fire," "the angel of the abyss," and so forth, are designed to remind us that all things serve him, and are the ministers of him, to do his pleasure; we may even believe that the various forces of nature, so little really understood by us, are under the guardianship of special personal messengers of God; but there is nothing in the imagery of the book which necessarily demands such a belief. It is, moreover, surely not inappropriate in our own day to reassert with some pertinacity the lofty thoughts of ancient belief, that winds and storms, ocean and fire, do in truth belong to him round whom are the clouds and darkness, whose is the sea, and whose hands prepared the dry land. On the literature of this subject, see Godet's 'Studies on the New Testament;' Schaff, 'History of the Apostolic Church;' Lightfoot's article on "The Christian Ministry," in the 'Epistle to the Philippians,' pp. 193-199; Hengstenberg's lengthy note on Revelation 1:20; Professor Milligan's article, "The Candlestick and the Star," in the Expositor of September, 1878; Gebhardt, 'Der Lehrbegriff der Apokalypse,' article "Die Engel," p. 37, or p. 36 in the English translation ('The Doctrine of the Apocalypse'), published by Messrs. Clark, in the Foreign Theological Library. Also "Excursus on Angelology" in the 'Speaker's Commentary' on Daniel, p. 348; article "Angel," in Smith's 'Bible Dictionary.'
EXCURSUS B. - The wild beast. It is to be noticed that the interpretation of the whole Apocalypse is coloured by the interpretation given to the wild beast. The book, as we have seen (see 'Introduction'), is one of hope, but it is also one of warning; not without a struggle would the foe be driven from the earth where he had usurped power for so long. The devil is cast down; in the higher, the heavenly sphere, he is regarded as a fallen and defeated enemy; but this conflict has its counterpart on the arena of the world. The Apocalypse gives us in symbol some features of this conflict. It shows four powers of evil - the dragon, the first and second wild beasts, and Babylon the harlot. It is with the beast that we are now concerned, but one or two remarks on this family of evil will not be out of place.
I. THE FAMILY OF EVIL.
1. The four antagonists of good are related to one another. The resemblance between the dragon and the wild beast (comp. Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3, 7, 10) is too obvious to be passed over; it seems designed to show us that the same principle and spirit of evil is at work in both. Again, the way in which the first wild beast gives place to the second wild beast, or false prophet (comp. Revelation 13:11, 12; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10), and yet retains its ascendency (comp. Revelation 13:14-17), makes plain the close connection between them; and lastly, the appearance of the harlot, riding on the scarlet-coloured beast (Revelation 17:3), completes the chain of association between them. The same principles and spirit of evil make themselves manifest in different spheres.
2. The four antagonists of good are arrayed to meet the four corresponding manifestations of good. Forevery power of good we have the three Persons of the blessed Trinity - the Throned One, the Lamb, and the Holy Spirit - besides the Church, the bride, the Lamb's wife, the heavenly Jerusalem; we have on the side of evil, the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, as a sort of trinity of evil, besides the harlot Babylon. The dragon being a kind of anti-God, the wild beast an anti-Christ, the false prophet an anti-Spirit, the Babylon an anti-Church. The minor features in the same way correspond; the true Christ died and rose again; the anti-Christ, the wild beast, was wounded unto death, but his deadly wound was healed. The crucified Christ was exalted to be Prince and Saviour, and the outpoured Spirit upon the Church glorified him by taking of the things of Christ and showing them to the disciples, and by convincing the world of sin because Christ went to the Father; the second beast, or false prophet, works wonders, causes an image of the first wild beast to be made and worshipped. The followers of the Lamb are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; the worshippers of the wild beast receive from the false prophet the mark of the beast (see Revelation 13. throughout). It is desirable to keep those lines of parody and correspondent antagonism in mind.
II. THE WILD BEAST, OR ANTI-CHRIST. It is with the wild beast that we are concerned in this Excursus; but we cannot altogether dissociate the first beast from the second, though their work is diverse.
1. The first wild beast is clearly to be connected with the vision of Daniel 7:2-7. The identification of the beast described by Daniel with four great empires is unquestionable; it is hardly our purpose to inquire whether the four empires are Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Macedonia, and Rome; or Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. The former, which is the more ancient opinion, appears the more probable; but it is enough to remember that these four beasts represent four great world powers. St. John saw rising out of the sea (comp. Daniel 7:2) not seven diverse beasts, but one seven-headed beast. Now, it is perfectly true that to the early Christians pagan and imperial Rome was the one great world power whose shadow darkened the earth, and that a seven-headed monster might well depict this pagan Rome, as a four-headed beast had represented to Daniel an earlier empire (Greece or Persia); and the wild beast of Revelation 13. from one aspect undoubtedly represents this great tyrant power; but it seems to the present writer that the genius of the Apocalypse is concentration - that which to earlier prophets was seen in detail is to the Christian seer grouped. Daniel saw four beasts rising one after another; St. John saw one wild beast uniting in himself all the early, present, and future manifestations of that world empire which has ever been hostile to the spiritual kingdom. Two reasons may be noticed - one from the Book of Daniel, and the other from Revelation. This concentration of different world powers into one representative body was not foreign to the thought of the earlier prophet. Daniel relates the vision in which the diverse monarchies of the world were represented as one huge human figure cast out of gold, silver, brass, and iron (Daniel 2:31-49); the diverse rowers were thus seen as one, and the little stone, which represented the true spiritual kingdom, in smiting upon one, caused the whole image to fall. The world kingdoms were thus seen in prophetic vision as one great age long world power, which must be smitten by Christ's kingdom. The Book of Revelation also gives us a hint that the sevenfold aspect of the wild beast must not be given too limited or too local an interpretation. The wild beast, with seven heads and ten crowns, is in these features reproducing the appearance of the red dragon, who is also represented as having seven heads and ten crowns (comp. Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1). Now, the dragon is surely the type of the great arch enemy, the devil, the anti-God; the seven heads and ten crowns denote that he is the prince of this world, who has more or less animated the successive great world powers by hostility to righteousness; the empires of the world have been his in so far as they have been founded on force or fraud, oppression or unholiness. When, then, the seven-headed wild beast rises from the sea, must we not see in the seven heads the counterpart of those which the dragon bore? The dragon carries those seven heads, as he is the great spiritual prince of this world, the one who is practically worshipped in all mere world made empires. The wild beast carries these seven heads because he is the great representative of all these world powers them selves; and what may give almost certainty to this interpretation is the fact that the wild beast unites in himself the appearances of leopard, bear, and lion, which were the emblems employed by Daniel to represent earlier monarchies. Actually at the moment St. John saw the vision, the wild beast was to him Rome, because through Rome the great world empire was then working. The seven heads might also look like types of successive emperors; but the more important, because age long, reading of the vision sets before us the concentration in one great monstrous wild beast of all these powers. Powers which were diverse and even politically hostile were yet ethically one power opposed to the fundamental principles of righteousness and peace, of purity and true godliness. The first wild beast, then, becomes the symbol of confederated and age long world powers.
2. The second wild beast as allied with the first. His origin is not of God; he is of the earth. He is more peaceable in his appearance than the first beast, but his speech bewrays him; the dragon voice is his, and he revives the worship of the first wild beast. In him, therefore, are combined the powers of the dragon and the first wild beast. Yet he yields homage to existing order; unlike the first wild boast, which rises out of our ocean of disorder and tumult, he springs out of the earth. He assumes in part, also, a Christian appearance; he is as a lamb. These features would lead us to expect a power not wholly irreligious - indeed, in some features Christian, yet practically pagan; observing order, yet arrogant; a second power resembling the first, yet possessing a more specious appearance to mankind. It is on this second wild beast that the seer bids us fasten our marked attention. It is this second wild beast who deceives by false wonders and false worship, and introduces a great and grinding tyranny. It is this second wild beast to whom is attributed the mysterious number 666. It is well now to turn back to earlier writings. In Daniel 7. we read of a "little horn," and in the description there we find much that is parallel with the description here (comp. Daniel 7:8 with Revelation 13:5; Daniel 7:21 with Revelation 13:7). This "little horn" of Daniel has been identified (comp. 'Excursus on Interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12') with the "man of sin" spoken of by St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Some think that the little horn of Daniel 7. is identical with the horn of Revelation 8. Into this question we not have space to enter; it will be enough here to keep in mind that St. Paul looked for the manifestation of an antichrist, a man of sin, whose type in all likelihood he found in the little horn of Daniel 7.; and that the picture of the antichrist painted by St. Paul is that of a power not professedly irreligious, but yet claiming from mankind the homage due to God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). This seems quite in harmony with the characteristics of the second wild beast, who, it is to be remembered, is described (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10) as the "false prophet." We may, then, take the second wild beast as the picture of a power, cultured, quasi-religious, borrowing much from Christianity, yet built upon anti-Christian principles, and animated by an anti-Christian spirit.
3. The identification of the wild beast, false prophet, or antichrist. "Ye have heard that antichrist shall come" (1 John 2:18). This is St. John's acknowledgment of the widespread belief that a great falling away shall precede the second coming of Christ. Here he is at one with St. Paul, but it is consistent with the spirit of St. John's thought that he should remind his hearers that the spirit of antichrist was abroad already, and that in a present antagonism to this spirit lay true Christian duty; accordingly he indicates in more than one place what were some features of the antichristian spirit (1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:1-3). It is also significant that he uses the phrase, "false prophet," reminding us of the Apocalypse, which identifies, as we have seen, the wild beast, or antichrist, with the false prophet. St. John thus appears to regard the spirits and false prophets abroad in his day as at least anticipations of the great future antichrist and false prophet. Actually there were antichrists then in the world; but the prophetic ideal of all these was as one great antichrist. In the Apocalyptic vision the scattered spirits grew into one great representative opponent - the wild beast, the false prophet. Is there, then, no personal antichrist? It has been ably argued (see 'Excursus on Prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 2.') that the man of sin must be an individual. There are certain expressions which seem to point to a single person, notably the remarkable use of the masculine gender when the wild beast is referred to (see Revelation 13:5); but it seems more consonant with the symbolism of the Apocalypse to regard the wild beast as the figurative embodiment of the false, seductive, anti-Christian principle and spirit, which belongs to more ages than one, which reveals itself in diverse aspects, and yet always manifests the same hostility to the Divine Spirit. It must not, however, be supposed that this view denies a personal antichrist. On the contrary, it is perfectly in harmony with this view to note that the wild beast spirit has often culminated in an individual; the typical forecasts of antichrist have often been individuals. Antiochus Epiphanes, Herod, Nero, might fairly be regarded as the incarnation of the ungodly spirit. Similarly, in later ages, it is not to be wondered at that holy, Christ taught men, groaning for the sorrows of the world and the corruptions of Christianity, saw in many who occupied the papal chair the very representatives of the false prophet, the antichrist. Not more need it surprise us to find the same thought passing through men's minds when pretensions which would be ridiculous if they were not blasphemous have been advanced on behalf of the Roman pontiff, till the Church becomes a parody rather than a witness of Divine truths. It follows that the view here maintained does not exclude the possibility of a future personal antichrist, in whom the typical features shall yet find clearer and fuller manifestation than in any previous age. But though all this may be, and though godly men tell us that all these things must be, it appears to the writer infinitely more important to notice the principles which may constitute the antichrist in every age - the denial of the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22); the denial of the Mediator and incarnate God (1 John 4:2, 3); the arrogant claim of Divine honours, the specious resemblance to him who is the Lamb of God, the disregard of sacred ties (2 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Timothy 4:3); the possession of wonderful power and culture (Revelation 13:11-14). The spirit which is depicted is one which might well develop one of the elements around us. It would not be impossible to imagine the rankest materialism allying itself with a gorgeous ritual, to see the high priests of science acquiescing in the most elaborate of ecclesiasticisms, and the agnostic in creed becoming so ceremonialist in worship, till the satire should be only too sadly true, "I found plenty of worshippers, but no God." We should then have every element in human nature allowed its nutriment - for the mind, science; for the emotions, worship; for the conduct, direction. The tripartite nature of man would be thus provided for; but the unity of his manhood would be at an end, for the worship would be unintelligent, the moral tone lifeless, because deprived of the vital sense of personal responsibility, and the intellect uninspired, because godless. Such an age would be the reign of that climax of antichristian spirit which is the perfection of man's powers without God, foreshadowed by the mysterious number 666, which is seeming exaltation of all human powers, but which is, in truth, their degradation and their discord.
III. THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST. It would serve but little purpose to recapitulate the various solutions of the number of the beast. An account of them will be found in Elliott (vol. 3.). The most ancient, and perhaps most general, solution sees in the number the equivalent of Latenios. Others see in it the numerical equivalent of one of the Roman emperors. Nero, advocated by Renan; Otho, advocated by an Italian writer, who accounts for the reading "616" instead of "666" by the alteration made by the copyist to suit the name of another emperor, Caligula; Γαίος Καισάρ, 616. None of these numerical solutions appears to the writer adequate to the whole depth of the seer's meaning, though they may be included in the significance of the symbol. - D.T.
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Parallel VersesKJV: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.