As we turn now again to the book of Revelation it will help us to remember the general plan followed in its writing. It is like a series of dissolving views of the same scene, each of which lets us see the same thing from a different point of view.
This is a simple teaching rule for getting a clear grasp of what is being taught. We are familiar with it in the Bible. The story of creation is told in the first chapter of Genesis, and then told again in the second chapter with details not given in the first, the two together presenting the complete story. The historical books of Chronicles present one view of the kingdom of Israel, the official. The books of the Kings give another look at the same period; and the prophetic books a wholly different view as seen by these rarely spiritually minded men of God. Daniel is shown four visions of future events, all covering the same general stretch of events, but with a fuller description, here of one part and there of another. The four Gospels are a familiar illustration of the same principle in teaching and story-telling. This is the plan followed here.
I was impressed anew with the practical value of this method one day in St. Petersburg. We had gone to look at the panorama of the siege of Sebastopol, then on exhibition in a huge, round building. It will be remembered that the British and French allied themselves with Turkey and Sardinia in an attempt to restrain the encroachments of Russia on Turkish territory. The famous charge of Balaklava, immortalized by Tennyson, is remembered as the most stirring event of that war. Its chief event was the siege of Sebastopol on the Crimea peninsula, in the Black Sea.
At the panorama we stood as though on a high central point in the city of Sebastopol, with the view spreading out in all directions. To the north lay the harbour with the Russian ships securely bottled in by the attacking fleets. To the west a body of French soldiers were retreating, hotly pursued by Russian troops, while in the distance British troops are hurrying to the relief of the French.
Then we looked east, where the fighting was going on at close range, the wounded being carried away and the reserves hastening up to take their places. And again we turned to the south, where the battle raged fiercest. The face of the commanding officer stood out so vividly. And we almost shrank from the fierceness of the fire. And the smell of powder almost seemed stifling.
And as I stood brooding afresh on the horrors of inhuman war, I was tremendously impressed that only by such successive views could I get such a grasp of that memorable siege. I had a more intelligent and vivid understanding of it than ever before.
And so it is that we may get a simple, clear, and real grasp of the tremendous tribulation time that is coming, that it is presented to us in this fashion, first one distinct view, then another, and another, till some understanding of the whole begins to get hold of us.
We have seen the Lord Jesus, in the vision in chapters four and five, as He comes forward to take an advance step. We have seen the tremendous outburst of praise in heaven as He steps forward. This step and scene are in heaven. The earth is wholly unaware of it at that moment.
Now all that follows is connected directly with that advance step. This is the significant thing to get clearly fixed in mind. At the present time our Lord Jesus is still walking among the candlestick Churches watching and waiting. We are still in that waiting time. The Holy Spirit still dwells in the Church on earth.
At some time in the future, no one knows, nor can know, just when, the Lord Jesus will rise up in readiness for an advance move. He will withdraw the Holy Spirit from the Church up into His presence again "before the throne." Then in connection with this advance step there will occur on the earth the things spoken of in these pages following. This is the tremendous fact to keep clear, the immediate connection between these happenings on earth and His new move in heaven.
We come now to these happenings on earth. There are seven distinct views given here in this section, chapters six to the end of the book. There is a great detail in description which it would be both instructive and interesting to study out. But we want to get at the essential things. And so we will give our time and thought to these essentials.
Our Lord Jesus is represented as about to take possession of His realm. The first step is a dispossessing of the claimants in possession. This furnishes the key to what follows. The descriptions are of the process of cleaning out the evil forces. At the close of this we find Him taking possession (in chapter twenty) and reigning over the earth.
These descriptions make it clear at once that this is the tribulation so much spoken of in these preceding pages. What follows fits so into what has been spoken of that the identification seems complete. The thing our Lord Jesus is revealing here tallies with what He had told John before on Olivet.
There comes first a general description of the whole period (Revelation 6-7.). Then follows a description of how these happenings will come. It will be through the withdrawal of restraint and so the loosening out of evil (Revelation 8-9.). During this whole period there will be a special faithful witnessing on earth, in the midst of the riot of evil, to God and His truth (Revelation 11.).
A detailed outline of the run of events fol lows, giving much additional information, picturing the rise and characteristics of the leader of the tribulation time, and the manner of its close (Revelation 12-14.). There follows this a description of the judgments and the supreme contest with which the period closes (Revelation 15-16.). There is a description of the organized system of evil, and then of the fall of the capital of the system (Revelation 17-18.) And then follows the actual coming of our Lord Jesus, the setting up of the kingdom, and subsequent events (Revelation 19-22.).