"After these things I heard as a great voice of a great crowd in the heaven, saying, Hallelujah, the salvation, and the glory, and the power of our God: for true and righteous [are] his judgments; because he judged the great harlot, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And a second time they said, Hallelujah; and her smoke goeth up unto the ages of the ages." The Spirit of God contrasts with the fall of Babylon the marriage of the bride, the Lamb's wife.* Babylon was the spurious church as long as the church was in question, and the final corrupter, when churches were no longer, and there came forth the closing testimony of God's judgments on the world. There was an unclean form of open heathenism, in connection with the Jews in times past. Then it was the literal Babylon, of course; here it is symbolical. A mysterious lawlessness inherits the well-known name of Babylon when Rome is brought forward; nor does it merely embrace Christian times but the end of the age after the saints are gone, when the course of divine judgment sets in. Bear this in mind: to leave the last part out is fatal to any accurate understanding of the Revelation.
* It may interest some to understand how the Romanist endeavour to divert the prophecy from its evident application to this system wholly fails. They assume that, if Babylon means the corrupt church, the symbol must be a married woman false to her husband, not a harlot. But no: their assumption confounds, as they habitually do, the church with Israel, which was indeed married to Jehovah. But the church is, or ought to be, a chaste virgin; and the marriage is future and in heaven, as Rev_19:7-9 proves. Hence the only correct figure for the corrupt and false church is the "harlot," as in Rev. 17, not adulteress.
"And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and did homage to God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen, Hallelujah." The heavenly saints are viewed still as the heads of the glorified priesthood, and also have the administration of God's government. But it is the last time. "And a voice out of the throne came forth, saying, Praise our God, all ye his bondmen, [and] ye that fear him, the small and the great. And I heard as a voice of a great crowd, and as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunders, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord God the Almighty reigneth.* Let us rejoice and exult, and give the glory to him: because the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife made herself ready" The elders as usual understand the mind of God. The judgment of great Babylon, the harlot, connects itself with the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, and the bride's getting ready to share His appearing in glory also, and the reign of the Lord God the Almighty about to begin over the earth. Now that we have the symbol of the bride before us, that of the elders and the living creatures disappears. The bride is in view, and the guests.
* It is the aorist in Greek, which in such a case as this it is difficult correctly to represent in English; for neither "reigned" nor "hath reigned" clearly conveys that God just entered on His kingdom; they rather imply that it was past. It anticipates that He reigned as a fact.
Are we then to understand that the elders and the living creatures are together taken absolutely as the bride now? that those who were meant under the figures of the elders and of the living creatures assume the name and figure of the bride? It hardly means this exactly. The elders answer to the heads of the heavenly priesthood (embracing in the glorified state the Old Testament saints and those of the New); they are by no means limited to the church, Christ's body. When the Lamb and His purchase by blood were celebrated in heaven, the four living creatures joined the elders, though hitherto quite distinct. The glorified saints are not royal priests only but administer power in the world to come far beyond angels now. The living creatures were from Revelation 5 coupled with the elders, as we find them in the beginning of Revelation 19.
But now, when those symbols disappear because of a new action of God (namely, the consummation of the church's joy), we have not the bride alone but another class of saints, who at once come forward. Only one thing, as far as scripture speaks and we know, was requisite. The saints must all be manifested before the tribunal of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] in [or through] the body. In full grace they had been changed and translated to heaven. But righteousness has its place also, before the marriage as well as in the manifestation with Christ, each in due place. Thus, it would seem, the bride made herself ready; and her dress confirms it. "And to her was given that she should be clothed in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints." This is sometimes misunderstood. It is not what Christ puts on them, but a recognition even at this time of whatever has been morally of God, the working undeniably of the Spirit of Christ. But this each saint has, though the blessed thought here is that the church has it not merely in the way of each possessing his own; the bride has it as a whole, the church in glory. The individual does not love his own fruit. This romaine true also in its own place, as we shall find; and when it is a question of reward, it is the grand point. But when the bride is seen above, such is the way in which it is presented here, as shown by verse 8. The Spirit of God implies that here it is not the righteousness Christ is made to us, whereby we are accounted righteous, but righteousnesses personal and actual. What Christ is remains as the foundation truth. Before God we need and have that which is found only by and in Christ, which has another and a higher character compared with the righteousnesses of the saints.
But this is not all. "He saith to me, Write, Blessed [are] they that are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb." Here ample ground appears for saying that the four-and-twenty elders and the four living creatures are not the church only, because when the bride comes forward, we have others too. The guests, or those that were called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb, refer clearly to the Old Testament saints. They are there in the quality not of the bride but of those invited to the marriage of the Lamb. They can hardly be the Apocalyptic saints, for the simple reason that, as shown in the next chapter, those sufferer unto death are not yet raised from the dead. These remain as yet in the condition of separate spirits. But not such is the way in which the guests are spoken of.
It seems therefore to be incontrovertible fact that the elders and the living creatures comprehend both the Old Testament saints and the church or the bride of Christ. Consequently, when the bride appears, those others, the Old Testament saints who had been included in the elders and the living creatures, are now seen as a separate company. This may seem to some a little difficult, but it is of no use to evade difficulties. We have to face what seems hard, bowing to the word and seeking to learn through all. We do not mend matters by foregone or hasty conclusions, which only complicate the truth, as we are bound to account for the presence of the other saints at the marriage-supper of the lamb, who appear as guests, not in the quality of the bride. In general this has been either passed over altogether, or some unsatisfactory inference has been drawn which cannot satisfy but embroils the prophecy.
"And he saith to me, These are the true sayings of God. And I fell before his feet to do him homage; and he saith to me, See [thou do it] not: I am fellow-bondman of thee and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus. Do homage to God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." 'The last is a reciprocal sentence, which admits of either member preceding or following, as they are equivalent. "The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus."
John's error gave rise to a weighty admonition. It is not only that the angel corrects the act by asserting that he is a fellow-servant of him and of his brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. On this account it was wholly wrong to pay homage to him instead of to the God who had sent him to serve. But he tells us further that the spirit of prophecy that characterises this boor; is the testimony of Jesus. Thus divine testimony is not confined to the gospel or to the church, but the prophetic spirit which is peculiar to the Revelation as a whole, after the church is translated, is equally the testimony of Jesus. This is most important, because it might be (as it has been) forgotten by those who make the gospel and the corresponding presence of the Spirit to be the same at all times; as others have thought (because after Revelation 4, 5 the sequel treats of Jew separate from Gentile, and the world an object of God's judgments) that this cannot be a testimony of Jesus. But "the spirit of prophecy" (such it is all through the Revelation after the seven churches are done with) "is the testimony of Jesus." To us the Holy Spirit is rather as a spirit of communion with Christ. This was the new and special privilege of Christianity. By-and-by, after our translation to heaven, He will work, and as vitally, in those who bow to God in the reception of the prophetic testimony, which is here owned to be none the less "the testimony of Jesus."
"And I saw the heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon [called] faithful and true, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war; and his eyes a flame of fire, and upon his head many diadems, having a name written which no one knoweth but himself, and clothed with a garment dipped in blood; and his name is called The Word of God."
Thus heaven is opened, and for a sight most solemn. It is not now the temple opened there, and the ark of the covenant seen when Israel's remembrance comes to view as the object of God's counsels; nor is it a door opened above, as we saw when the prophet was given his introduction to the prophecy of God's dealings with the world as a whole: though in both cases all manifestly clusters round the Lord Jesus. But now the heaven is itself opened for yet graver facts, and of incalculable moment for man and the universe and the enemy. Christ Himself is about to be displayed enforcing His rights as King of kings, and Lord of lords; and this in the face of the world. Victorious power put forth to subdue is the meaning of the white horse. It is no longer a question of sustaining His saints in grace, but of sovereign power for judging the earth. There was judicial discernment with the distinct possession of all titles to sovereignty. Only now is He seen with this royal or imperial emblem. We learn hence how mistaken it is to conceive of the Lord as King in the preliminary vision of Rev. 1, "the things which John saw." This is not His relation to the churches, or "the things which are." He is the long-robed Priest judging them, and finally setting them aside, before "the things which are about to take place after these." Nor is this emblem of His coming forth to judge and reign over the earth seen while the glorified are in heaven, as in Rev. 4, 5; nor in fact in any scene on high till the Lord comes forth to take His inheritance in person as here.
He appears in indisputable human glory; but the greatest care is taken to let us know that He had that which was above man and the creature in general; for "no one knoweth the Son but the Father." Have we not here what answers to those words? This name none knew but He Himself. He was a divine person, whatever new position He assumes towards the world. His vesture dipped in blood shows that He comes to execute vengeance, an unmistakable sign of death for rebels. He had been the Word of God in the revelation of grace; when known by-and-by, it will be as the executor of God's judgments. In both ways He equally expresses what God is. The Gospel and the Revelation of John perfectly disclose both, whether it be in grace or in judgment.
"And the armies that [were] in the heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white, pure. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp [two-edged] sword, that with it he might smite the nations; and he shall rule (or, tend) them with an iron rod; and he treadeth the winepress of the fury of God the Almighty. And he hath upon his garment and upon his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords."
Here we learn of what His train consists. They are glorified saints, though no doubt angels may be there also. This is confirmed by Rev_17:14, where it was told us that saints are with Him when He comes. When the Beast dares to fight with the Lamb, He shall overcome the Beast; and they that are with Him, "called and chosen and faithful" - terms, as a whole, entirely inapplicable to the angels. The angels are never "called," although they may be "chosen"; and though termed holy, they are never spoken of as "faithful." "Faithful" is what belongs to a man of God. It supposes the exercise and the object of faith. "Called" would be most evidently out of court, because calling supposes that the person is brought out of one condition and raised into another and a better one. This is never the case with an angel. Fallen angels are not called, and holy angels never need to be - they are kept. Calling is the fruit of active grace on God's part toward man, and only toward him when fallen. Even man himself when he was innocent in Eden was not "called." Directly he sinned, the word of God came, and he was called by grace through faith.
It is evident therefore, that the saints in a glorified state are here represented as following the Lord out of heaven. They are not seen now as the bride. This would have been altogether inappropriate for such a progress. When the King comes forth riding to victory in the judgment of the wicked in the world, it is not in the quality of bride but of armies or hosts that the saints follow Him. But they include no doubt the guests as well; all the glorified saints of O. and N.T. take their place in His train.
Nevertheless it may be remarked, that these saints are not said to be executers of judgment as Christ is.* It is to Him that God has given all judgment, not necessarily to us. We may have a special task in it; but this is not the work for us. We are to judge the world, even angels (1 Cor. 6); but this will be in our reigning with Christ. Hence there is no sword proceeding out of our mouth; nor are the saints or heavenly hosts said to be arrayed in such a fashion as the Lord. It is simply said that the glorified are to follow the Lord in victorious power, and nothing more "clothed in fine linen, bright, pure." Angels, we know from other scriptures, will be there; yet of this we hear nothing here. But "out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron." What makes it all the more notable is that the rod of iron is promised to us, not the sword. There is the reigning dignity, but not the execution of judgment in the awful emblems attributed to the Lord Himself. For He "treadeth the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty," another character of judgment never attributed to the saints. "And he hath upon his garment and upon his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords." Supremacy of rule and lordship belongs to Him no less than to the Father, or God as God (1Ti_6:15).
* It is the more strikingly characteristic, because of such language as Psa_149:6-9, which speaks of all the saints contemplated on earth for the day of Jehovah.
The proclamation of the angel follows, inviting all birds of prey to the supper of the great God, to eat the flesh of all the great and small of the earth. "And I saw an (one) angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a great voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid-heal on, Come, gather yourselves together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat flesh of kings, and flesh of chiliarchs, and flesh of strong ones, and flesh of horses, and of those that sit on them, and flesh of all, both free and bond, both small and great." A sad and humbling end for human pride at any time; saddest of all after the corruption of the church and apostasy from law and gospel, when modern civilisation will have proved itself faithless and hostile to God and His Son.
Lastly comes the gathering and the battle. "And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken" (caught alive), "and with him the false prophet that wrought signs before him, with which he deceived those that received the mark of the beast, and those that worshipped his image." The second Beast is no longer seen as an earthly power, but as a prophet, of course the False Prophet. All the energy to mislead men in the presence of the first Beast was long in his hands; now nothing more is spoken of. Thus he is morally judged. So from Daniel 7, and Daniel 9 we may see that the Roman emperor (who professes himself then the firm ally of the Jews) overrules covenants, however firm, and puts down any deference to sacrifice or offering, times or laws. His will is supreme, and dictates the protection of abominations or idols; and the False Prophet carries it out.
"Alive the two were cast into the lake of fire burning with brimstone." Thus eternal judgment was executed at once. They were caught in flagrant treason and rebellion against Jehovah and His Christ: what further need of any process of judgment! "And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat on the horse, which [sword] proceedeth out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh." Their doom was just, but by no means after the same sort as the two leaders; theirs was condign. But how sad for us to think that so it will be with the kingdoms of the west, and that their services with their kings and captains are thus to perish! Is not Great Britain to be one of them? Can Christian men suffer their eyes to be darkened by leaders who do not believe prophecy in general and sneer at this profound book in particular?