Chapter 3. The Prophetical Future Of The Church And Kingdom Of Christ
UNDER this general head may be comprised all that requires to be said, in an elementary treatise like the present, on what the prophecies unfold respecting other topics connected with the Christian dispensation. These topics all stand related in some manner to the condition and destinies of Christ’s church and kingdom. They are presented, however, under different aspects and relations; and it is impossible to arrive at any satisfactory knowledge of the general purport of what is written, without either going through the prophecies in order and giving a regular exposition of their contents, or endeavouring to exhibit, in connection with a few leading points, the light they collectively throw on the tendencies and results of gospel times. Either way it were scarcely possible to avoid a certain degree of complexity and repetition, as both the prophecies themselves, and the subjects of which they treat, frequently run into each other. But by being viewed in a definite order and connection, there will be found less of repetition than might otherwise be possible, and there will also be secured a more distinct continuity and progression of thought. We, therefore, adopt this latter method, and, in following it, shall take the latitude that is indispensable to a proper investigation of the subject—not confining our survey to what may still with some confidence be reckoned the prophetical future of the gospel dispensation, but embracing also what might be regarded as future from the era of its commencement.
Section I. The Church and the Kingdom of Christ in Their Relation to the Kingdoms of this World
THE prophecies which relate to this subject are, in one sense, of great variety and compass, but, in another, of comparatively limited extent. They are the one or the other, according as we have respect to prophecies of a general, or to prophecies of a specific and determinate nature. Those of the former class begin with the times of David, when the great promise of blessing, originally given to Abraham, first assumed a distinctly personal shape, and became linked with the expectation of one in David’s line, on whom the hopes and destinies of the world were to depend. In the series of predictions originating in this covenant with David, and unfolding its prolific import, whatever other topics are introduced, the kingly character of the expected Messiah always holds a prominent place; and not only that, but also the sure and final ascendency of His kingdom over all the rival powers and kingdoms of the world. His right to rule in the affairs of men was to be alike absolute and universal; and however resisted for a time, and left apparently to struggle for existence, the destination of this king was to be that of one “conquering and to conquer,” till everything was subdued, and all became subject to His hand. There is not one of the more properly Messianic Psalms in which this progress and result are not exhibited, though some dwell more particularly on one phase or aspect of the history, some on another. And such also is the character of those predictions scattered through the prophetical books, which, on the ground of the promise made to David, point to the future establishment of Christ’s church and kingdom. In general, they begin by exhibiting an inherent contrariety in spirit between the things pertaining to this Divine kingdom and those of the world—the one being of God, therefore holy, just, merciful, and blessed; the others of the earth, and partaking, in consequence, of its selfishness, carnality, and corruption. Then, as the natural result of this inherent contrariety, the mutual antipathy and death-like struggle for the mastery is depicted, and that with infinite fulness and diversity—the kings of the earth, with their carnal weapons and material resources, appear combining together, taking counsel, and, with consummate malice and energy, striving to crush the person and arrest the progress of the heaven-appointed King. But all in vain. It is not He but they who suffer in the conflict; He goes on like a resistless hero, lifting up the head, while they fall under the arrows which He sends forth in the cause of truth and righteousness; so that but one of two alternatives is before them, either to yield themselves to His sway, or to perish under the stroke of His indignation. And, finally, in the last lines and issues of the prospective delineation, the cause and kingdom of Messiah become everywhere triumphant. The kings of the earth, in so far as they have not fallen under His wrath, are seen walking in His light, and doing homage to Him; their kingdoms have become, in a manner, His kingdoms; all the ends of the world turn to the Lord, and the families of the nations worship before Him—throughout the earth “one Lord, and His name One.”
Now, in respect to the substance of these prophecies, only a comparatively small portion of them can be said to belong to what is still the future of the Christian church—that, namely, which relates to the absolute completeness and universality of the kingdom of Christ. The other and larger, as well as more circumstantial parts of them, which describe the mutual antipathy and struggle, the rise of the personal Messiah and His cause from small beginnings, and in the face of the most violent and long-continued opposition, till the greater part of the old civilized world owned His supremacy, and many kings, nominally at least, did homage to His name:—All these belong to the past; their fulfilment is legibly inscribed in the records of the world’s history. And in regard to what still remains to be accomplished, though we cannot but see in the present state of the world, and even of the professing church, many great and discouraging obstacles in the way of success, yet when viewed in the light of what has already been achieved, they cannot with certainty be pronounced insurmountable to Christian effort and resources. The small mustard-seed has sprung up into a lofty tree; and whatever hindrances there may be tending to impede farther progress, and prevent ultimate success, they are of the same kind with those over which the truth has in a considerable degree prevailed, and which no one has a right to say it cannot wholly overcome. Besides, who can tell what special providences may be in store to favour the advancement of truth and righteousness? How many changes and revolutions, even of a civil and literary kind, may arise fitted to strike at the root of prevailing errors and superstitions, and prepare the way for the triumph of the cross? Above all, as living Christianity spreads, and the feeling grows among enlightened and earnest minds, that the highest well-being of the world is bound up with the diffusion of the gospel, what seasons of refreshing, in aid of their exertions, may not be sent from the presence of the Lord? In such considerations there is enough to make the contemplated issue probable, even without any great departure from the regular course of events; and that it shall somehow take place is the united testimony of all the predictions referred to. Christ shall reign till His enemies have become His footstool, and shall cause the knowledge of the Lord to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The word of prophecy can never reach its full accomplishment till this result is attained.
But while the result is very distinctly and frequently announced in this class of predictions, nothing very particular is intimated in them as to the relation of Messiah’s kingdom to the kingdoms of the world individually. These kingdoms are viewed in the general, as all alike opposed to the character and claims of Messiah, and alike also destined to submit or be destroyed. It is not doubtfully indicated of some of them, that, in process of time they would renounce their hostile for a friendly position, and help forward the cause they at first sought to withstand; as when David speaks of “princes coming out of Egypt, and Ethiopia stretching out her hands to God “(Psa_68:31), and when Isaiah makes promise to the church, of kings being her nursing-fathers, and queens her nursing-mothers, of the forces of the Gentiles coming to her, and kings ministering to her (Isa_49:23, Isa_9:10-11)—with many more of a like kind. Such passages plainly imply, that while the struggle was still pending between the cause of Christ and the powers of the world, while the people of God were still in need of help for the conflict in which they had to engage, different nations with their rulers, would successively give in their adherence, and contribute their aid to the final result. But in what way, or to what extent this might be expected to take place, we can learn nothing from such general predictions.
We turn, therefore, to the other and more specific class of prophecies, which, as we said, are comparatively limited in number. Indeed, they are peculiar to Daniel and the Apocalypse; and in these, again, are so related to each other, that those of Daniel form the foundation of what is written in the Apocalypse; the latter simply resuming the subject, as it had been left by Daniel, and prosecuting it farther into detail. We shall, therefore, glance first at the prophetic outline which is exhibited in Daniel, and then consider the subsequent and related visions of the Apocalypse. The view, presented in both respects, must necessarily be brief and confined to the more leading features.
§ 1. Prophecies in Daniel concerning Messiah’s Kingdom in its relation to the Kingdoms of the World.
The prophecies in question are found in Daniel 2 and Daniel 7—the one containing Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the great composite image, with the interpretation of it by Daniel, and the other, the vision and dream, given to Daniel himself respecting the five monarchies. That the two visions relate to the same subject, and differ only in presenting it under diverse aspects, can admit of no doubt. The diversity also (as previously noticed, p. 114), has its foundation in nature, and is in perfect accordance with the relative position of the parties, through whom the visions were given. It is the external aspect of the matter that is presented in the vision of Nebuchadnezzar, while the internal is brought out in that of Daniel. The heathen king sees such a symbol of the kingdoms of this world and of the kingdom of Christ, as was adapted to the carnal eye, which has a capacity for apprehending the appearances rather than the realities of things. The man of God, however, has an eye that looks beyond the surface; he must see things as they really are; and so, the vision presented to him, while it may be said to follow in the same track, and cover the same field with the other, lays open the actual nature of the different kingdoms—the minuter shades of difference in the worldly kingdoms themselves, and their collective and fundamental difference from the kingdom of Christ.
(1.) This contrariety, however, and those differences are not entirely overlooked in the vision of Nebuchadnezzar; they are indicated there also—but only on the external side, and from the point of view, in which it was natural for the Chaldean monarch to contemplate them. It is in this light that the various materials of a natural kind in his vision are to be considered. They are symbols—but not of the relative worth and greatness of the several kingdoms respectively; for then the fourth kingdom, imaged by the iron, must have been inferior to those which preceded it, and the fifth, the Divine kingdom, having only a stone for its emblem, still again inferior to it. Nor, for the same reason, could the progressive descent in the value of the materials be intended to mark a progression in the world’s degeneracy and rooted opposition to the work and kingdom of God. (This idea is taken up by Auberlen (p. 200-6), who, at some length, seeks to make out, that the materials of the image symbolize a twofold progression—that of a growing civilization and culture (indicated mainly by the brass and iron), and along therewith a growing contrariety to the truth and holiness of God. In this he forgets the last material mentioned, which, though not a part of the image, still belongs to the vision, and belongs to a lower territory in nature than the iron. If the qualities of the other things are to be made account of, in the manner he suggests, the stone also must be included. But it is only from Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view that the whole is to be considered and each element interpreted.) These are not the points of comparison which come here into notice, or which would have been proper for such an occasion. The person, to whose mind the image was presented, was the representative of a grand, though, for him, intensely carnal and selfish idea—that, namely, of having the whole world reduced under a single head, and fused together into one mighty empire. He was not content, like those who had preceded him in the field of ambitious rivalry or conquest, with strengthening the foundations of his dominion at home, or increasing his power and resources by subjugating foreign countries to his sway. His ambition towered higher; he sought to be himself the one lord of the earth, and to have his kingdom like the gigantic tree that afterwards imaged it, “reaching unto heaven, and the sight thereof unto the end of the earth.” It was, indeed, the idea of a Divine kingdom among men—but, as attempted to be realized by the Chaldean monarch, a vain and presumptuous parody of the idea, not a proper realization. This, however, it must be remembered, is the point of view from which the whole vision is to be contemplated; and by a reference to this, must the properties of the different materials be taken into account. In themselves, therefore, and as component parts of the image, they are symbols of the apparent relative fitness of those successive monarchies to fulfil the destiny at which they severally aspired, of becoming, in the proper sense, universal kingdoms.
Let us see how admirably they do it. In the first place, as standing at the top of the list, and representing the idea in all its freshness and majesty, Nebuchadnezzar and his dynasty are fitly represented by the head of gold. Then comes the Medo-Persian, physically, indeed, stronger at the time of its appearance, than the monarchy it supplanted, yet inferior (as it is expressly called, Dan_2:39), in respect to the main point under consideration; because in its very foundation it was of a divided nature; formed by the junction of two races who differed considerably in their religion and other characteristics; and never properly cohering together in its several parts, nor presided over by heads fitted to consolidate its interests: therefore not less fitly represented by the secondary metal of silver, and by the breast and arms of the image—in which not compact unity, but rather doubleness and divisions are prominently exhibited. Brass is remarkable for its pliancy, for the fine polish of which it is susceptible, and the brilliant glitter it emits. As such, therefore, nothing could more appropriately symbolize the third great kingdom, which began with the splendid achievements of Alexander, and carried in its train the high intellectual culture of Greece. But withal, it betokened little durability or consolidating strength; and the part of the image that was formed of this material, the belly and the thighs, gave indication of a loose, disjointed, heterogeneous state of things, that could not hold well or long together. How exactly emblematic throughout of an empire which aimed at universal sovereignty, and seemed as if, by a few brilliant efforts, it should succeed in the enterprise, but which fell asunder at the death of its founder, and became henceforth the prey of intestine divisions! Where it failed, however, the gigantic Roman empire, which comes next upon the stage, particularly excelled, and far outstript all its predecessors. The slow and steady growth of ages, Rome struck her roots deep, wherever she obtained a footing, and left the impress of her sovereign will, and of her imperial laws and institutions on every region of the ancient civilized world. “The arms of the republic,” says Gibbon, as if writing the interpretation of this part of the vision, “sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid strides to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the ocean; and the images of gold and silver or brass, that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the iron monarchy of Rome.” Yet, while it could break and beat down every thing opposed to it in the existing powers and dominions of the earth, growing even and prospering till it had become co-extensive with the known world, it could not secure for itself the eternity which it so ambitiously aimed at. There was in it, indeed, the strength of the iron; but the legs of the image, which were composed of that material, themselves indicated division—a division strikingly exemplified by the partition of the empire into the two sections of the East and West; and still farther, when, as symbolized by the toes and the feet, part of iron and part of clay, the irruptions of barbaric hosts entirely broke up its unity, and with the introduction of fresh races upon the theatre of the world, brought in also new elements into its social arrangements and civil institutions.
Thus as regards the component parts of the great image in this vision, and their several application, every thing finds its striking verification in the annals of history. Indeed, the verification is so striking, and the parallel so exact in all its parts, that we cannot but discern the impress of the same Divine hand in both; the very conception and distribution of such a symbolical image was as manifestly from God as the successive rise and the varied characteristics and fortunes of the gigantic empires, which fulfilled its prophetic import. Nor does the correspondence fail, it becomes, if possible, still more wonderful, when we look at the aspect presented of the last, the only truly universal, and everlasting kingdom in the world. It is from this point of view that the subject is still to be contemplated; as thus only can we see the fitness of the material chosen to represent the divine kingdom. A stone is, indeed, a poor emblem of such a kingdom, if viewed with respect to the proper nature of the kingdom, and the high objects it is designed to accomplish—the one gross, earthly, rigid, dead; the other spiritual and heavenly, all instinct with life and blessing, and with pliant energy adapting itself to every relation and circumstance of being. But in the particular respect now under consideration, in the fitness and destination of this kingdom to supplant the other kingdoms, and attain to the universality and permanence of dominion which they vainly strove to possess, what better emblem could be found than that of a stone! Massy, firm, compact in structure, crushing in the dust the looser and softer materials with which it comes in contact, and itself, not only retaining its original unity, but growing into a huge mountain, and filling the whole earth with its vastness! Here at last was the sublime idea of the Chaldean monarch realized; but realized in a very different way from that in which his fond ambition was prompting him to attempt it Existing altogether apart from the image, which symbolized the kingdoms of the world, this stone evidently pointed to a kingdom entirely different in its origin and nature from theirs: a stone, not graven like the other by art or man’s device, but cut out from the unhewn rock, and cut without hands—how expressive of a kingdom formed by the immediate operation of the Great Architect of nature! and, as such, partaking of the irresistible might and the endless duration of its Divine Author! Every thing, therefore, gives way before it; it destroys in its progress whatever is contrary to it, and itself at length possesses and fills all.
It remains to be asked, how much of this prophetical outline belongs to the past, and how much to the future? The question has been variously answered, according to the different views entertained by writers on prophecy, respecting the character and prospects of Messiah’s kingdom. But, looking simply to the language of the symbolical prediction, there are, it will be perceived, two points in which the description appears indefinite—the one is as to the precise time when this divine kingdom, represented by the stone, should make its appearance; and the other, the precise manner in which its establishment should actively press on the other kingdoms, and cause their annihilation. In regard to the first of these points, it is merely said, that “in the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” (Dan_2:44). By the “days of these kings” have sometimes been understood the latter stages of the fourth monarchy, when it became subdivided into many separate states. But, while this rent and broken condition is plainly referred to in the vision, it is not described as being distinguished by separate kings or kingdoms; and, therefore, the only reference to which the days of the kings can legitimately apply, is the collective period of the kings or kingdoms symbolized by the image. The language is purposely indefinite. It does not indicate at what particular time, or even under which worldly dominion, the kingdom represented by the stone should begin to develop itself on the theatre of the world—though, from being mentioned the last in order, and from the fourth worldly kingdom being the one with which alone it appears coming into collision, the natural inference obviously is, that the commencement of the heavenly kingdom is to be assigned to the fourth or last form of the earthly one. The whole of these successive monarchies of the world are taken together as but different phases of the same worldly principle; in a somewhat different form the old always lived again in the new; so that the image which represents the entire series, appears still standing in its completeness—the several successive kingdoms which it symbolized were to the last ideally present; but, from the nature of the case, they could only be so as seen in that which was more immediately represented by the legs and feet of the image. Even here, however, there is an indefiniteness; for, while the stone is spoken of as pressing with irresistible force upon the image first when the history had reached to what is symbolized by the feet, it is not said that the stone then for the first time appeared. On the contrary, before the stone smote the image, we must think of it as taking form in the world; it must be viewed as coming into substantive existence, as being cut out, before it began to act aggressively; the rather so, as it is not the simple appearance of this divine kingdom, and its universal establishment, that is the subject of the vision, but its growth from small beginnings onward to complete and ultimate success. The moment of the bruising, therefore, is not necessarily, nor even probably the moment of the actual formation of the stone; and a period seems to lie there of indefinite length—the period of the rise and early progress of Christianity, when, by an agency altogether its own, and holding directly of God, it gradually advanced to a distinct organization, and a form, in which it could act extraneously upon the affairs and destinies of the world.
The other point mentioned had respect to the manner in which the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom was to tell on the worldly kingdoms. This is described in the action of the stone, as that of bruising the image, so as to render its component elements, the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors, which the wind carries away. A sublime image truly of their evanescent nature, as compared with that which destroyed them, and of their utter disappearance from the face of the world! But if we ask, in what respect, or by what kind of operation was this work of demolition to be wrought, nothing definite is indicated; nor, indeed, could it be from the nature of the representation; for it is only (as we have repeatedly stated) the external aspect of the matter that is here presented to the view—the appearances and effects of things alone are described. So far as these are concerned, we are distinctly informed that the whole of the magnificent image, which engrossed the vision of Nebuchadnezzar—or, in plain terms, that a world-embracing monarchy, such as he contemplated, presided over by one human will, and directed for the glory of its earthly head, in every shape and form, which it might assume, was doomed to perpetual destruction. And that, not as a thing of itself dying out, but as a thing put out, and for ever abolished by the establishment and the progress of that divine kingdom, to which alone the real universality and the absolute right of governing upon earth was to belong. This, it is well to be noted, though it is too commonly overlooked, is the only kind of abolition spoken of in the vision. It is not the subversion of constitutional government, and the dissolution of earthly states and kingdoms (a subject not brought into consideration here), but simply the extinction of those ambitious monarchies which grasped at the dominion of the world, and the causing them to disappear for ever by the establishment of a higher kingdom, in which the idea they sought to embody was to be, and alone could be realized. Has, then, the introduction of Christ’s kingdom wrought such an effect? We answer, unhesitatingly, that it has. And if we are asked how? we reply, in the only way, in which such gigantic and self-deifying schemes could be effectually abolished—by rendering men familiar with divine realities, with elevating principles, with heavenly aims and prospects. It has spread through humanity a regenerating leaven—the sense of God’s redeeming love to man; and by the wondrous acts of mercy and gifts of grace, therewith connected, has diffused far and wide the feeling of the brotherhood of man, yea, and breathed the spirit of a new life into the history and aspirations of the world. It has thus, even with the manifold imperfections that have attended its working and progress on earth, for ever antiquated the idea of a universal monarchy, in its old and grosser sense; and shewn this to be alone possible in the hands of Him, who, as at once God and man, Lord of heaven and earth, combines in his person the qualities, and holds at command the gifts, necessary to the establishment of such an empire. Since the diffusion of Christianity, the only thing in a wrong direction that has properly aimed at, or has ever seemed in any measure to possess, the character of a world-embracing dominion, is the parodying by corrupt doctrine and a false usurpation of this divine kingdom itself. But that is an essentially different matter from the old world-monarchies, and falling as it does within the domain of spiritual things, is brought out, as we shall see, in another connection.
(2.) So much, then, for the first great prophecy of Daniel on the point before us—the relation of Christ’s church and kingdom to the kingdoms of the world. Like those previously noticed, it speaks chiefly of the past, so far as anything definite and particular is concerned; but points also to the future; inasmuch as it declares the absolute universality of Messiah’s authority and rule among men, His unlimited and everlasting sway. This is yet far from having been established: while the stone has broken in pieces the image, which sought to pre-occupy the entire ground, it has not yet itself grown so as to fill the whole earth. Let us turn, then, to the other prophecy in Daniel—the vision and dream recorded in the seventh chapter—and see if any further insight is furnished on the subject. Here, as already noticed, it is the internal aspect of the kingdoms to which prominence is given—their respective characteristics and differences, first in regard to each other, and then in regard to the kingdom of Christ. (We take it for granted, that the succession of kingdoms in this case is the same as in the other, and that the attempts of some modern Germans, followed by Moses Stuart, cither to divide between the Median and Persian kingdoms, or to take Alexander’s kingdom for the third, and that of his successors for the fourth, with its ten subdivided kings or kingdoms, have palpably failed. They have been thoroughly refuted by Hofmann, Hengstenberg, and latterly by Auberlen.) Viewed as a whole, the worldly kingdoms have their representation in so many wild beasts, because in them the beastly principle was predominant—that is, the earthly, sensual, grovelling tendency, with all its selfishness of working and its debasing results. In Nebuchadnezzar’s personal history, the man’s heart was taken away, and a beast’s heart for a season given him (Dan_4:16)—as a judicial sign and token from the hand of God, that by living, as he had been doing, for the gratification of his own selfish desires, and for having all made subservient to his own grovelling ambition, he was acting the beastly, rather than the human part. And, accordingly, when the man’s heart returns to him, with the wisdom to use it aright, his eye at once turns heavenwards, he rises above self and the world, and acknowledges his dependence on the power and goodness of the Most High, who does, as he expressed it, according to His will among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. We can have no doubt, therefore, as to what is meant by beastly natures being chosen to represent the successive worldly monarchies: it intimates, that they were to be so many personifications of earthliness—all pervaded and governed by the same prone, ungodly, carnal, and self-deifying spirit. In fitting accordance with such a common character, they are also represented as having a common origin: they appear rising together out of the sea, at the moment of its being driven and agitated by the winds of heaven; in other words, they spring from beneath, from the lap and-bosom of earth; nor from this in its better moods, as it exists in seasons of peaceful repose, but when moved by violent commotions, heaving and agitated by the fierce passions and tumultuous elements of sin. What real good could come, or what lasting creations proceed, from such a mode of generation?
In respect to the characteristic differences among the several worldly kingdoms, it is unnecessary to say much. Under the emblem of a lion with eagle’s wings, which were afterwards plucked, itself also placed in a standing and erect posture upon the earth, no longer slavishly directed to this, but having a man’s heart given it to look upward, we have a representation of the Babylonian empire, as exemplified in its head: first, its lion-like majesty and strength, combined with the winged speed of its march to conquest and dominion, and its soaring sublimity of spirit; then, the checks and arrests laid upon it, rendering farther enlargement impossible; and, finally, the humbling providences, which forced on it a sense of the power and sovereignty of God, and with the loss of dominion brought reason again to the ascendant. Then, by means of a beast like a bear, raising itself on one side, with three ribs in its teeth, and a command given it to devour much flesh, we have an image of the Medo-Persian kingdom—in its general thirst for blood and conquest (comp. Hos_13:7-8, with Isa_13:15-18; Jer_51:20-24), its notorious disregard and lavish expenditure of human life, its originally composite character, as if one side were dissimilar to the other, and by the strength of one Chiefly (the Median) it was to arise for the work of conquest, with the three-fold .direction in which it was to have its appetite in this respect satiated. (Compare chap. 8:4, where the ram representing the Medo-Persian empire, is described as pushing westward, northward, and southward— Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt, being perhaps more immediately intended.) The panther or leopard comes next, with four wings of a fowl, as for flying, and also four heads; one living creature, yet with a fourfold partition in the very seat of life and motion, and having dominion given to it: a strange compound, but strikingly expressive of the Grecian monarchy, which, in its movements, like the leopard, was remarkable for the quickness and rapidity of its spring, as also for cunning and dexterity in seizing its prey (Hab_1:8; Jer_5:6), and which, after having astonished the world by its elastic energy and wonderful feats of prowess, in the person of its founder, split into four dominions, which survived till a much greater than they overspread the field. This greater empire, the greatest of all in its aspirations after worldly dominion, and the most extensive and lasting in its ascendency, the Roman, is most aptly represented by a nameless monster, “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, devouring and breaking in pieces, and stamping the residue with its feet, and diverse from all the beasts that were before it.” This was, unquestionably, the characteristic of the Roman power in the days of its vigour and conquest. For, though it was a part of Rome's policy, to treat the nations she conquered with many marks of respect and kindness, to leave especially their religion and social manners untouched, and to fill them with sentiments of veneration and attachment to the “eternal city;” yet the whole aim of her administration was directed to the purpose of moulding every province and state of the world into one vast empire, and consequently to destroy and obliterate every sign of national independence—to merge the individual in the universal. The other kingdoms that preceded her, were comparatively rapid and hasty in their formation; they neither possessed nor displayed anything like the skill and pains put forth by Rome, through a succession of ages, with the view of smoothing down national peculiarities, and compacting them into one huge system of universal government. All the more remarkable, too, on her part, that the whole was done, not, as in the case of the rest, for the aggrandisement of a particular dynasty, but from a systematic and hereditary love of rule in a city and people; so that the very name of Rome carried with it a kind of magic influence, and the gigantic sway connected with it formed the nearest approach that could be made, in a mere earthly government, to a kingdom of spiritual influences, and living dependence on an invisible Head. It was still, however, far from this, and in spirit and tendency as diverse from it, as in other respects from the worldly kingdoms that preceded it.
Strong as this empire was, compact in its organization, and spirit-like in its power and influence, it contained, like everything earthly, the elements of dissolution and decay. This was indicated in the former vision by the legs of the image, the feet of iron and clay, and the toes of the feet. And here it is brought out by means .of ten horns, which were seen on the beast, and which are afterwards explained as the kings (meaning thereby kingdoms), which were to arise out of the fourth empire. By arising out of it must be meant, that they were to be historically connected with it, and to be in a sense its continuation; as there can be no doubt that the various kingdoms, which sprung up after the irruptions of the barbarians into the Roman empire, had much in common with Rome, while in policy and character they were diverse from it; they still had her laws, her language and literature, her institutions and customs, for the basis of theirs. (For some remarks on the number ten, see tbe concluding portion of Section 3 of this Chapter.) There was, however, too much of the new to admit of a proper amalgamation with the old—a was intimated in the vision of the image, by the mixing of clay with the iron, and the attempts at union by intermarriages and compacts, “mingling themselves with the seed of men,” yet not cleaving one to another. But this, and everything, indeed, of an individual kind, respecting the ten kingdoms, is here passed over, as in haste, in order to concentrate attention on that peculiar kingdom, diverse from all the others, which was symbolized by the little horn, which came up among the others, and which is represented as not only plucking up three of these others, but also as taking such a part against the kingdom and people of God, and exercising withal such an influence over the rest, that it drew on the judgment of the whole. Nothing whatever is said of this extraordinary power in the former vision; for it manifestly comes within the domain of the church, and is much more a spiritual than a civil and earthly dominion; so that it did not properly fall within the range of Nebuchadnezzar’s view, which, with strict propriety in adhering to the natural as the basis of the supernatural, was confined to the outward and temporal aspect of things. On this account, also, we refrain from here adverting more particularly to what is said of this horn or kingdom, as, we think, there can be no reasonable doubt, that it is to be identified with the antichrist, and will, therefore, fall to be considered under our next division.
But it is in connection with the wickedness practised through the instrumentality of this power, and the judgment to be inflicted upon it, and all its abettors, that the fifth, the Divine, and alone universal and everlasting kingdom, is here introduced. On this occasion it appears, not in its rise and progress, but in its strength and glory, and for the execution, more immediately, of the work of judgment. First, the Ancient of days, as He is called, Dan_7:9, the Eternal God, is represented as appearing, on account of the heaven-daring spirit manifested by the power in question, and the evils it was occasioning among men, and, with thrones of judgment set, and streams of fire issuing from before Him, as well as myriads of attending spirits, proceeding to reckon with, and condemn to deserved punishment, the offending parties. These—that is to say, the wicked power itself, and the other powers or horns which were led to take part with it in the evil—are spoken of as being consigned to a common funeral-pile; while the rest of the beasts had only their dominion taken away, and their lives prolonged for a season and time. The same apparent anomaly occurs here as in the vision of the second chapter. All the symbolical characters appear to the last as existing together on the stage; while, from the description given of them, they are not contemporaneous but successive powers, each rising on the ruins of its predecessor, so that, historically, all the preceding ones must have been gone ere the last rose to the ascendant. The reason, however, of admitting such an anomaly, and of conceiving of the other powers as still existing, was merely to bring out more distinctly the moral truth involved in this part of the delineation. Those earlier forms of the worldly power, while all rooted in sin and essentially ungodly, were yet far inferior in guilt and wickedness to the last, especially as represented by the little horn, with its outrageous blasphemies, and disastrous influence in the church, and violent persecutions against the saints of God. Therefore, when the time for judgment comes, this last must appear first—the stroke of vengeance must alight directly, and with its heaviest retributions, upon the power which has done most to provoke its inflictions; and bad as the fate was of the others, having lost in the taking away of their dominion all that they contended for, it seemed mild as compared with the doom now appointed to the consummate offender. There, pre-eminently, the carcase appeared; and there the eagles must primarily be found gathered together.
It is evident, then, that this part of the vision is framed with a view to one great object—to render prominent the moral element in the history of God’s dispensations. The delineation of the worldly side of the picture is carried on continuously (as very commonly in prophecy) till it reach its culminating point; the iniquity of the worldly power, in its last and most aggravated phase, grows till it becomes full; and then the righteous kingdom, with its Divine head, comes forth to condemn and cast out the evil. It were quite a mistake, however, on this account, to suppose that the kingdom of God had no existence in the world till this terminating part of the process; and would evince as great a misunderstanding of the proper import in one respect as it had been in another, to suppose the continued existence of the three first kingdoms as actual powers in the world, down to the time that the judgment is represented as taking effect upon the last of them. It is, throughout, an ideal representation, formed so as to exhibit, in the most effective manner, the real tendencies and final issues of things; and, as a natural consequence, matters are compressed into a single act which might be the product of ages, and events appear in close juxtaposition, which, in actual history, might stand ever so far apart. So was it, for example, in Isaiah’s vision of the doom of Babylon (Isaiah 13), and Ezekiel’s vision of the destruction of Tyre (Eze_26:7, sq., Ezekiel 28); the work which it was to take centuries to accomplish, is presented as a thing devised and executed at once. We are not, therefore, to suppose here that because the doom of the worldly power is represented in a similar manner, that it is to fall by a single stroke; or that the kingdom, through which the consummating act is to be inflicted, then for the first time enters upon the stage of history. Indeed, the reverse is manifest, from the dream-part of the vision given in explanation of that which was seen. In the vision itself the prophet saw thrones set (so it should be rendered at Dan_7:9; not cast down, but set or placed down) for kingly persons vested with power and authority to pronounce judgment, implying that the judgment was not to be the act simply of the Eternal, nor the inflicted doom to proceed straight from the bolt of Omnipotence. But who were those assessors in judgment? By whom was it that the powers of evil were to be judged and cast out? By looking to the explanations in Dan_7:19-27, we learn that they are not the angels, as has too commonly been supposed (these are never represented as judging, always only as ministering spirits), but the saints of the Most High, the same saints who, along with the Son of Man, are to possess the kingdom. It is to them that the work of judgment on the worldly power is committed (Dan_7:21); it is they who sit in judgment, and take away his dominion, and consume and destroy it to the end, and, in turn, receive the kingdom for an everlasting possession, of which the other has been dispossessed (Dan_7:26-27). But whence should these saints have come? How have they attained to such numbers, and such authority and power? Not, we may be sure, of a sudden, or by any miraculous intervention of Providence. They can be none other than the members of the kingdom which has been in existence since the Lord came from heaven to found it by His incarnation and blood. And their appearing here in such numbers, and with such judicial authority and power, merely indicates that the kingdom to which they belong has at length acquired the mastery; the cause of righteousness and truth, with which it is associated, has become triumphant; and the interest opposed to these vanishes from the field, as smitten with irrecoverable perdition. So long as that interest appeared to prevail and prosper, it seemed as if God’s rectitude slumbered; and men were disposed to sigh with the Psalmist, Oh! that He would awake to the judgment, that He would establish the just! But when the reverse takes place, and they see the cause of wickedness going down, they are equally ready with devout gratitude to exclaim, Thou satest in the throne, judging right; Thou hast destroyed the wicked (Psalms 7, Psalms 9).
§ 2. Prophecies in the Apocalypse concerning the Kingdom of Christ in its relation to the Kingdoms of the World
The views now exhibited from Daniel again re-appear in the Apocalypse. Indeed, the grand drama unfolded in that mysterious book is little else than a simple expansion of this part of Daniel’s vision, by following it out into detail. There, in the opening vision, we have presented to our view the Ancient of Days on the throne, with the Son of Man (as the Lamb) in the midst of it, and round about the central throne four-and-twenty other thrones (so it should be, not seats), for the four-and-twenty crowned elders, the representatives of Christ’s royal priesthood, or entire membership of a redeemed church. The scene is, in truth, an ideal representation (precisely as in Daniel) of the Lord, and His assessors in judgment, the saints, whom He exalts to sit with Him on His throne, and destines to possess with Him the kingdom. These appear together in the attitude of dealing judicially with the ungodly world, and preparing the way for the final occupation of the inheritance. Hence thunders, and lightnings, and voices proceed from the midst of them (Rev_4:5), the awful signs of coming wrath; and the seven-sealed book is opened, which contains in successive stages the world’s doom and the church’s victory; and scene after scene follows, with sounding of trumpets and pouring out of vials, during which the same action is constantly proceeding to its proper issue. The whole ends, as here, with the utter destruction of the beast, and with the saints living and reigning with Christ upon the earth; in other words, possessing the kingdom. So that, were it otherwise doubtful, the scheme and arrangement of the Apocalypse would put it beyond a doubt that the brief and vivid representation of Daniel in reality covers an extensive field of operations; that it embraces the general progress, as well as the final result of Christ’s cause upon earth, and includes the main substance of the Book of Revelation. Only, while Daniel, for the reasons already stated, points more directly to the close of the action, St John unfolds the numerous stages by which it was to be reached, the many windings and evolutions in the work of judgment upon the world, till judgment is brought forth into victory. (Compare what is said in Part I., chap. v., sec. 4, near the beginning.)
In this general outline of the scenery and action of the Apocalypse a fair idea is conveyed both of the common agreement and the characteristic differences, which pervade the representations of the two Apocalyptists. They are precisely such as might have been expected from the one theme they had to handle, and the different positions they occupied in relation to it. Where the one merely gives a result, as seeing everything from afar, the other, speaking from a nearer point of view, gives us a process, with many attending characteristics alike of its nature and of its issue. While the look of Daniel into the future, also, is inward, as compared with that of Nebuchadnezzar, it is, as might have been expected, far inferior in depth and inwardness, especially as regards the affairs of the Divine kingdom, to that of the Evangelist. On the other hand, the worldly kingdoms, amid which Daniel was standing, and which were then only beginning to run their ungodly career, occupy a place in his visions, which they no longer possess in John’s; here it is the last only, and the last chiefly in the hitter stages of its history, that is particularly dwelt upon, as it was with this alone now that the people of God had to do. We shall, therefore, present in a few leading points what is peculiar in the representations of the Apocalypse on the subject before us, and shall notice, as we proceed, the relation (whether of correspondence or diversity), in which they stand to those of Daniel. Occasion also will be taken to draw attention to some features in the latter, which have, as yet, not been more than cursorily referred to.
(1.) We notice first the representation that is given in the Apocalypse of the worldly power. In Daniel this appeared under a succession of beasts, each symbolizing a new and somewhat different form of the great monarchies of the world. But now it appears simply as a beast (Revelation 13), a beast, however, that had the same origin with those of Daniel, like them rising out of the sea, and a composite creature, uniting together the several forms of the three first in Daniel (the lion, the bear, and the leopard), and possessing also the ten horns which were seen in the fourth. These points of coincidence with the vision of Daniel, plainly indicate a fundamental agreement, and, at the same time, such a difference as is obtained by the compression of a diversity into a unity. The beast of the Apocalypse, accordingly, is the worldly power, not in its several parts or successive forms of manifestation, but in its totality. Having already passed through its earlier phases, and reached its last regular form, it is naturally represented as one, or rather, as a composite whole, possessing still all that it ever had of a beastly, grovelling, God-opposing character, and combining them together in its present visible realization. There is no essential difference in this from the view given in Daniel; for there also, as we have had occasion to notice, both the four beasts, and the several parts of the image, were represented as at once successive, and in a sense also co-existing. The seven heads in the beast of the Apocalypse, present more of an apparent dissimilarity, and may seem at variance with the notion of an essential oneness between it and the monarchical symbols in Daniel. For these were only four, corresponding to the number of kingdoms, in which the general idea exhibited in them was attempted to be realized. How, then, if referring substantially to the same thing, should John have seen seven heads upon the beast—heads with crowns, consequently denoting so many kingdoms? The main reason, no doubt, must be sought in the reality, which the symbol represents, and which must somehow have been contemplated in a sevenfold aspect by the Evangelist. He afterwards tells us in Rev_17:9 (for, we hold it as a settled point, that the beast there discoursed of, is identical with the one here), that “the seven heads are seven mountains”—which may certainly have some reference to the seven-hilled city of Rome, where the beast then bad the seat of his dominion; but it cannot possibly rest there, or have that for its chief reference; since in a description otherwise entirely symbolical, the term “mountains” cannot be taken in a merely literal sense, nor without respect to its usual emblematical import of states or kingdoms. We have no doubt, however, that it does carry, in the first instance, an allusion to the seven hills of Rome. But to prevent our resting in this literal sense—to lead us rather to regard those Roman hills as themselves the symbols of something higher, a kind of natural indication of the concentrated worldliness of Rome, as in a manner combining in her dominion all the phases of the worldly power, it is immediately added, “and they are (not “and there are”) seven kings”—meaning thereby, so many kingdoms, according to the uniform import of the word in this connection. There is, therefore, a double reference; and hence it is introduced with the saying, “Here is the mind which hath wisdom,” to intimate that there is something peculiar and enigmatical in what follows—and that it contained, if rightly understood, an important key for the understanding and application of this part of the vision. (There is a precisely similar use of the literal as symbolical of the figurative in the description of the whore, which, with reference to the historical Babylon, appeared sitting on many waters (ver. 1)—so Babylon of old did, having near and around her, the streams and canals of the Euphrates, one of the great sources of her fertility and wealth—but, like Rome’s seven hills, in respect to the seven kingdoms, so the waters of ancient Babylon are explained of “the peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues,” (ver. 15).)
Still, with this explanation of the language, the question recurs, why should the worldly power have appeared to the Evangelist in a sevenfold aspect? To suppose that it has respect to seven forms of government which successively appeared in the Roman commonwealth, from its commencement, is entirely arbitrary and fanciful. Any changes of a merely political kind, Rome might have undergone, and before it came into contact with the church, are of no moment as regards the subject of this prophecy; they mark for it no epochs, and lie altogether outside the territory on which it moves. It treats of the worldly power only in its relation to the kingdom of God, and of that in a collective aspect, as it has existed and manifested itself throughout history. The sevenfoldness ascribed to it, therefore, must be, not seven forms of government in one state, but seven different states or forms of dominion, in which the worldly spirit, in its self-idolatrous and God-dishonouring form, successively embodied itself. And these the Evangelist finds by simply taking a wider range of view than Daniel, as he was naturally called to do, and contemplating the matter in its whole historical compass. Thus surveyed, the number seven readily occurred by adding to the four of Daniel, first, the Egyptian and Assyrian kingdoms, which preceded, and which, as regards their own character and their relation to the Divine kingdom, were essentially one with the others; then the new and divided state at the close into which the dissolved Roman empire fell. As it was of these chiefly that the Evangelist was called to treat, and as they were to hold, in some respects, a very different relation to the kingdom of God, from that of heathen Rome, they quite naturally came to be represented as an additional head of the beast. Indeed, Daniel himself gave a sort of occasion for their being so regarded, by representing them under the emblem of clay, which did not properly assort with the iron of ancient Rome; in one respect they belonged to it, but not in another. In what respects their relation was to differ, will appear in the sequel; but, meanwhile, as it was one leading object of the prophecy of this book to exhibit the difference, and to reveal the peculiar part those kingdoms were to play in the history of God’s church, the state of things they were to introduce might well be entitled to rank as a new and final phase of the worldly power. (It was Hofmann, we believe, who, in more recent times, suggested this mode of interpreting the seven heads of the Apocalyptic beast, though by leaving out Egypt, and dividing between the Greek empire generally, and Antiochus, he arranged the matter somewhat differently. But it is in reality the ancient interpretation, the same substantially, which is given in the oldest connected commentary on the Revelation—that of Andreas of Caesarea, who lived about the end of the fifth century. He also began with Assyria, and made the Median as well as the Persian monarchy a separate kingdom. These, however, are differences only as to detail; the fundamental idea is the same; and we refer to the antiquity of the interpretation, as a proof, that it is really one not very far to seek. It is the tendency of Protestant interpreters, in later times, to find Rome, heathen and papal, everywhere in the Apocalypse, which has given currency to the idea of seven Romish forms of government being indicated by the number—an idea wholly arbitrary and incapable of yielding satisfaction.)
In the realities of the subject, we thus find a solid ground for this part of the symbolical representation. But an additional ground may also be noticed, in the connection exhibited between the beast, or worldly power, and the devil. This also is one of the points of difference between the Apocalypse and Daniel, one of the indications it gives of a deeper insight into the spiritual world, since it lays open, in respect to the movements of evil upon the earth, the mighty though invisible influence of Satan. The outward manifestations of the worldly power are here but the signs of Satan’s working; and, as in the history of the fall, when he identified himself with the serpent, so here the beast is at once the image and the instrument of Satan. As the one, therefore, appeared under the form of a great dragon, with seven heads and ten horns (Rev_12:3), so must the other that is to reflect his nature and exercise his power. And seven is peculiarly the sacred number; as such it is constantly recurring in the book of Revelation, and is used as an emblem of the Spirit of God, in His active operations in the church (“the seven spirits of God,” chap. Rev_1:4, Rev_4:5, Rev_5:6). Hence, it is the number which Satan may be supposed to affect, especially in those operations in which he tries to deceive and corrupt the church of God. In these he ever seeks to parody and imitate the work of God’s Spirit. We, therefore, think (with Auberlen, p. 270), that some respect may be had to this consideration in the use here made of the number seven. But we are not disposed to lay much stress on it, and regard the other reason stated as undoubtedly the chief one.
(2.) We turn now from the apocalyptic representation of the adverse or worldly power, to that of the church and kingdom of God. Here, also, while we have a fundamental agreement with the visions of Daniel, we have important and characteristic shades of difference. Indeed, we may say, it is the kingdom only, and not what we more properly understand by the church, that has any representation in the two visions of Daniel. He speaks simply of the kingdom that was to supplant the worldly monarchies, and obtain the everlasting and universal dominion they aspired after. And we must attend for a little to the form, under which he presents it, as this not only contrasts in a striking manner with the representation given of the other kingdom, but also lays the foundation of the more special language used in the Apocalypse, and in other parts of the New Testament. The other kingdoms have their emblematic representation in so many wild beasts, because they were to be in their pervading spirit and operations more beastly than human. But when the divine kingdom appears on the field, the form that represents it is one “like a son of man,” and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” Though the form is simply human, there is evidently connected with it a superhuman elevation. For it comes, not like the base representatives of mere earthly rule, from beneath, but from above, and riding in the peculiar chariot of Deity, the clouds of heaven; and it might seem but the fair conclusion that here also the form was indicative of a higher nature than outwardly appeared—that the human likeness, to be properly human, required to be associated with the divine. It is, therefore, to give but a poor and partial exposition of the subject, to say, that it meant the Messiah “would be a human, not an angelical, or any other kind of being; for, in the oriental idiom, Son of man and man are equivalent.” (Dr Campbell in his “Dissertations on the Gospels.”) Let it be so, the question remains, why should the head and representative of this kingdom alone have been exhibited in the form of a man, while all the others, who really were men, should have been symbolized by so many beasts? And why, having the likeness of a man, should he have been represented as coming, not like the others, from below, as cast up by the waves of a raging and tumultuous sea, but descending from the lofty elevation and serener atmosphere of a higher world? Why such marked differences if the human alone was all that the expression, with its attendant circumstances, was designed to exhibit? It is true, that the form here, as in the other cases, was not simply personal, but emblematic; indeed, it might not (for aught that could have been certainly gathered from the vision itself) have been personal at all; it might merely have been intended to represent symbolically the nature of this kingdom, which God was going to erect, as contradistinguished from the rest. In that respect, it denoted, that while in them the merely animal powers and sensibilities should come into play, terror and physical force should prevail, all downward and grovelling tendencies should rise to the ascendant, in this divine kingdom the nature of man should attain to its true dignity, and, re-united to the life of God, the moral elements of its being should be brought into proper exercise, and a softening, humanizing influence be diffused through the entire domain. But then, who could be the instrument of setting up such a kingdom? Like all the others, this kingdom must have a head, from whose spirit and character the whole was to take its impress, and one, in whom personally, and through whom instrumentally, the true ideal of humanity was at length to be realised. Was this work, so different from what man had hitherto achieved, an undertaking for man alone to effect? Unquestionably not; and hence, in the vision, the human form representing at once the head and nature of the kingdom, appears as the denizen of a higher sphere, and the personal associate of Godhead. It indicated that the ideal should remain an ideal still, so far from being realized, continually outraged and trodden under foot by the ascendency of the baser elements in nature, till the human should be interpenetrated by the divine, and God should in very deed dwell with men upon the earth. Every thing, therefore, is in its proper place and character:—As the devil had from the first assumed the beastly form in the serpent, whose nature it is to crawl upon the dust, so now in the Son of Man God was to appear in the form of man, to raise all above the beastly, and conform it to the spiritual and divine.
Such seems the fair and natural explanation of the epithet, “Son of Man,” as originally and prospectively used in the vision of Daniel. And it is fully confirmed by one of the first recorded appropriations of it by our Lord. This occurred in the course of his conversation with Nicodemus, when he said, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven” (Joh_3:13). It sounds like a contradiction, and might, at least, have seemed an unintelligible enigma, but for the vision in Daniel, to which it manifestly refers, and which fully justifies and explains its meaning. No man, it is thus found to declare, who simply is a man, fallen and degenerate, as mankind now are, ever has ascended to heaven; his progress is all in the contrary direction—not upwards to heaven, but downwards to earth and hell. The Son of man, however, in whom the idea of humanity was to be realized, in whom it is found according to its original type and destination, as the living image of God,—He belongs to the heavenly; that is His proper region; and when he appears (as he now does) on earth, it is because in what properly constitutes his being and character, He has come from above. This thought, too, it should be observed, respecting the head of the kingdom of God, was most fitly introduced in connection with a discourse on the necessity of regeneration from above, in order to admission into the kingdom. The head of the kingdom, the realized ideal of humanity, is Himself from above; He is emphatically “the new man,” “the Lord from heaven;” and so, all who hold of Him, and are to participate in the rights and blessings of His kingdom, must be made new; their humanity must be regenerated after the pattern of His, and by virtue of the divine power with which He is replenished. Thus only can there be a proper correspondence between the head and the members; and thus only can the earth be filled and possessed, according to the promise, by a kingdom of saints, in room of the corrupt and brutalizing powers which have so long held possession of the field.
In the same way is to be explained another application of the term, which, from overlooking the reference made in it to the original prophecy, has very commonly had a mistaken or inadequate sense put on it. The passage is in Joh_5:27, where our Lord speaks of Himself as having received authority from the Father to execute judgment upon men, “because He is the Son of Man.” Taken by itself the passage con