"The Day of the Lord"
We must here, at the outset, remove the greatest source of all the misunderstandings which have arisen with regard to these seven "churches." The fact of their being called "churches" has naturally led commentators and students of this book to infer that it is the Church of God, or at any rate the historic Christian Church, which is meant.
The difficulty is thus arbitrarily created. The Bible student is at once confronted with an overwhelming difficulty. He has read the Epistles which are addressed to the churches by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul; and, on turning to the Epistles in Rev. 2 and 3, he is at once conscious of a striking change. He finds himself suddenly removed from the ground of grace to the ground of works. He meets with church-officers of whom he has never before heard; and with expressions with which he is wholly unfamiliar: and he is bewildered.
Two courses are open to him: either to try and force the words into a meaning to suit both, thus lowering the standard of the Church of God, and the Christian's own standing in Christ; or, to invent some purely imaginary interpretation and baseless hypothesis by applying them to Christendom, and holding that instead of seven assemblies we have seven stages of Church history: some going so far as to give the very years which mark off these periods.
Those who feel this to be a very difficult task, and lack the knowledge of history which is absolutely essential to this system of interpretation, wonder why God gave to Jesus Christ to show unto His servants what must come to pass hereafter, and yet expected them to become deep students of history in order to understand what He has revealed!
No wonder that most Bible readers, after struggling for a time with this fantastic idea, give it all up in despair; abandoning the reading of the book, and losing the "blessing" which is pronounced upon its readers. As a first step toward removing this great evil, let us note at once that the word (...) (ecclesia), rendered "church," is by no means limited to the restricted sense which is thus forced upon it.
Ecclesia means simply an Assembly: any assembly of people who are called out (for that is the etymological meaning of the word) from other people. Hence, it is used of the whole nation of Israel as distinct from other nations. The Greek word Ecclesia occurs seventy-five times in the Septuagint Translation of the Old Testament, and is used as the rendering of five different Hebrew words. As it is used to represent one of these, seventy times, we need not concern ourselves with the other four words.
This Hebrew word is (...) (Cahal), from which we have our English word call. It means to call together, to assemble, or gather together, and is used of any assembly gathered together for any purpose. This Hebrew word Cahal occurs 123 times, and is rendered: "congregation," 86 times; "assembly," 17; "company," 17; and "multitude," 3 times: but is never rendered "church." Its first occurrence is in Gen. 28:3 - "that thou mayest be a multitude (margin, assembly) of people," i.e., a called-out people. That is what Israel was, a people called out and assembled from all other peoples.
Here the word cahal is used, not of all Israel as called out from the nations, but of the assembly of those called out of form the Tribal Assembly (or Council) of the tribes of Simeon and levi.
Then, it is used of the worshippers, or those called out from Israel, and assembled before the Tabernacle and Temple, and in this sense is usually rendered "congregation." This is the meaning of the word in Ps. 22:22: "In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee;" and verse 25: "My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation."
This is the usage of the word in the Gospels, and even in the Acts of the Apostles before the new use, which the Holy Spirit was going to make of the word, was revealed.
When Christ said, "Upon this rock will I build my Ecclesia," He did not use the word in the exclusive sense in which it was afterwards to be used, but in the older and larger sense in which the word had been before used, which would embrace the whole assembly of His People, while not excluding the future application of the word to the Church or Body of Christ when that secret should have been in due season revealed.
When the Spirit, by Stephen, speaks of the Ecclesia in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), he means the congregation of pious worshippers of God at the Tabernacle. When the Lord added to the Ecclesia daily (Acts 2:47), He added to the number of those 120, who first assembled themselves together in the upper room in Jerusalem.
When Saul says he persecuted the Ecclesia of God, he does not use the word in the limited sense, which it subsequently acquired after he had received the special revelation concerning it: but in the sense in which it had been used up to, and in which it was used at, that time. It means merely that he persecuted the People of God - the congregation of God. He is speaking of a past act in his life which took place long before the revelation of the secret, and his words must be interpreted accordingly. We must not read into any of these passages that which was the subject of a subsequent revelation! which passages are perfectly clear without it. The word Ecclesia in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and (for the most part) in the Acts, must be taken in the sense of its earlier usage as meaning simply the congregation or assembly of the Lord's people, and not in the sense which it acquired, after the later and special signification had been given to it by the Holy Spirit Himself.
As we have already abundantly shewn, in the consideration of our foregoing thirteen points, the Apocalypse is linked on to the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Acts (and not to the later Pauline Epistles), and we ought to use the word Ecclesia in the sense in which it is there used; and not, surely, in the newer and special sense which it acquired, and in which it is used, in the Epistles.
In the Pauline Epistles we read nothing about an "angel" as having to do with the churches of God which Paul planted. But we do meet with the word Angel in connection with the Synagogue; (though not in the Old Testament). There, there was an officer, who was called Sheliach Tzibbur (...): Tzibbur meaning Assembly; and Sheliach, the Angel or Legate of the Assembly, and the Leader of Divine worship, from (...) (shalach) to send.
The chief officer was the Archisynagogos, or "Ruler of the Synagogue;" and after him came the Sheliach Tzibbur; or "Angel of the Assembly," who was the mouthpiece of the congregation. His duty it was to offer up public prayer to God for the whole congregation. Hence his title; because, as the messenger of the assembly, he spoke to God for them.*
When we have these facts to our hands, why arbitrarily invent the notion that "angel" is equivalent to Bishop, when there is not a particle of historical evidence for it?
Episcopoi, or Bishops, are clearly spoken of in other parts of the New Testament (though not in the modern sense of the term. See Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). But the office of "Angel" in the Church of God is never used either inside or outside the Word of God. One might just as well argue for the popular interpretation of the word "angel," from the fact that the word has been so used and applied by the "Catholic Apostolic" Church within recent times.
Add to this the use of the word synagogue, which we have in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9. Here again translators mislead us. For, while the Greek word occurs 57 times in the New Testament, and is translated synagogue 55 times, it is rendered "assembly" in Jas. 2:2, and "congregation" in Acts 13:43.
It should, of course, be rendered synagogue in these two places, as well as in all the others, as it is in the R.V. (though in Jas. 2:2 it has assembly in the margin). Had the A.V. so rendered it in Jas. 2 it would have marked and emphasised the fact that James wrote "to the Twelve Tribes which are scattered abroad," and would have shown how his epistle has a present point of appeal to the scattered people,* as well as a direct future application to them, like that of the seven epistles in Rev. 2 and 3. In any case, the use of the word "synagogue" in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9 stamps these Epistles as Jewish, Satan's synagogue being put in opposition to the other assemblies.
When the word Ecclesia, in the Apocalypse is rendered "Church," and the word "Synagogue" in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9, is interpreted of the church, it is playing fast and loose with the "words which the Holy Ghost speaketh," and which He has employed, not only for His revelation, but for our instructions.
We hold that the Apocalypse contains a record (by vision and prophecy) of the events which shall happen "hereafter" in the Day of the Lord; that the whole book is concerned with the Jew, the Gentile, and the Earth, but not with the Church of God, or with Christendom; or with the latter only so far as the present corruption of Christianity shall merge in the great apostasy, and form part of it, after the Church, the Body of Christ, shall have been removed.
But there will be a people for God on the earth during those eventful years. There will be the remnant of believing Israelites; the 144,000 sealed ones; the great multitude; and other bodies of faithful ones who are referred to all through the Book (see chaps. 7., 11., and 12:17). In which latter passage we read of "the remnant of her (the woman's) seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Will not these need special instruction? Have these been forgotten by Him who sees the end from the beginning? The Pauline Epistles will of course be of use as an historical record of what will then be past, just as we have the record of Israel's history in the Old Testament now.
Our answer to these questions is that God has provided for their instruction, and warning, and encouragement, in the second and third chapters of this book. Right at the beginning they are the first subjects of Divine remembrance, provision, and care. Their needs must be first provided for, before anything else is recorded of the things which John saw; and there they will find what is specially written for their learning.
Even now, the nucleus of this Remnant is being prepared. Hundreds of Jews are believing in Christ as the Messiah, who know nothing of Him as the Saviour. And even among the unbelievers in Israel a political movement is on foot which may speedily lead up to and issue in the events of which Revelation treats.
Of course this means that we are to consider the interpretation of Rev. 2. and 3 as future, and belonging to the "hereafter." As to application, we, of course, quite understand, and readily admit that these epistles have been read by the saints of God all through the ages; and all who have thus read them have received a blessing according to the promise. We may so read them now, ourselves, and apply them, so far as we can do so consistently with the teaching for this dispensation of grace, contained in the Pauline Epistles. Applying these thus we leave the full and final interpretation for those to whom it will specially belong hereafter.
Few are aware that the evidence as to the existence of these assemblies as churches is very scanty. Indeed, concerning some, not only is evidence wanting; but concerning others it is quite opposed to their ever having existed at all.
Tertullian* (about 145-200) says that leaders of certain sects, such as Cerdon and Marcion, rejected the Apocalypse on the ground that it could not have been written by John, inasmuch as (among other reasons) there was no Christian Church in existence at Thyatira in the time of John.
Epiphanius (who wrote about A.D. 367) deals with the Alogi, a sect which disputed the genuineness of the Apocalypse, and on the same grounds. He quotes their words: "moreover, some of the [the Alogi] again seize on this passage in this same Apocalypse [Rev. 2:18]. And they allege, by way of opposition, that it is again said: 'write to the angel of the Church which is in Thyatira,' although there was no Christian Church in Thyatira. How then could he write to a church which was not in existence?" *
The answer of Epiphanius acknowledged the historical fact: but his answer was that St. John wrote to the church at Thyatira, not because it was then in existence, but because it would be at some future time. We do not see how he could have given a better answer.
In A.D. 363 was held the Council of Laodicea. It was attended by thirty-two bishops of Asia, among whom was the bishop of Ephesus. This Council framed a list or canon of the sacred books, but the Apocalypse was not included in the catalogue.
How can we account for this as a historical fact if these seven churches were all then existent; and if these epistles were sent to them at the time, Laodicea being one of them? The facts being what they are, the enemies of the Bible draw from them an entirely false conclusion. They use them against the authenticity and genuineness of the Apocalypse, and against its claim to a place in the Canon of Scripture.
We, on the contrary, strongly hold the canonicity and inspiration of the Apocalypse, but we use the undoubted historical facts against a false system of interpretation which is a very different thing. An opponent of the Bible, in a large and important work, uses the common system of a apocalyptic interpretation as an argument against all Scripture. Speaking of Revelation, he says, "As all parties admit that it contains the destiny of the church, each sect has applied it to itself, frequently to the exclusion of all others."
All parties, we are thankful to say, do not admit to the popular system of interpretation; and our present object is to show that there is a "more excellent way," not of interpreting it, but of believing it; a way which, while it honours it as the word of God, satisfactorily meets the erroneous conclusions drawn from facts.
If these "churches" are future assemblies of Jewish believers on the earth, after the Church has been "caught up to meet the Lord," then all is clear, consistent, and easy to be understood. The real difficulty is created by attempting to read the Church into the book where it has no place.
As to the "seven lamp-stands," ought not this expression at once to send our thoughts back to the one golden lamp-stand of the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:31-39). ONE lamp-stand with seven lamps, indicative of Israel's unity in the Land and in the City? Here, the scattered condition of the nation is just as distinctly indicated by the fact that the seven lamps are no longer united in one lamp-stand. The nation is no longer in the Land, for Jerusalem is not now the center; but the people are "scattered" in separate communities in various cities in Gentile lands. So that just as the one lamp-stand represents Israel in its unity, the seven lamp-stands represent Israel in its dispersion; and tells us that Jehovah is about to make Jerusalem again the center of His dealings with the earth.
We must further note that John was not told to send seven separate letters to seven separate assemblies, as is generally assumed and believed. Indeed the contrary is the fact. The great Voice said, "What thou seest, write in A BOOK and send IT unto the seven assemblies."
Over three-quarters of a million copies of this Book of the Revelation have in the last few years been placed in the hands of the Jews throughout the world. We allude to the Salkinson-Ginsburg translation of the New Testament in Hebrew, published by the Trinitarian Bible Society, and distributed by the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, and by other similar agencies throughout the world.
So that "the book" has been and is being sent to those for whom it was written, and at no distant day many assemblies of Jews will hear and read the words of this prophecy, and a people be prepared who will keep "the words of this prophecy," and receive in a special manner the blessing pronounced in 1:3.
They will be able to understand what is now so inexplicable to Gentile Christian readers. We find nothing in our Pauline Church Epistles that fits into what is said to these assemblies. But those readers will be at once reminded of the various stages of their own past history, and they will find in almost every sentence some allusion to the circumstances in which they will find themselves as described in this book.
We will show this; first, from the references made to their past history; and when we come to deal with these Epistles separately, we will, in some circumstance in the Apocalypse itself, give a reference to nearly every sentence in these seven Epistles.
It is a remarkable fact that
Seven past phases of Israel's history
are referred to in these Epistles: and the literary order in Revelation corresponds with, and answers to, the historical order in the Old Testament.
In the Epistle to the Assembly at Ephesus, the reference is to Exodus: to God's love in choosing them out of Egypt, and them making them a nation. See Hos. 11:1: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." In Jer. 2:2 we see this "first love," which Jehovah calls "the love of thine espousals." And in Ezek. 16 we have a full description of the workings and outcome of this "first love." The whole of Ezek. 16 must be read with Ex. 19:4-6. It is this "first love" which Israel is here charged with having "left." This is the beginning of all the subsequent evil.
In Smyrna, we have a reference to a definite time of trial.. In the wilderness it was forty years. Here it is ten days. If any wish to make this stand for ten years it must be on their own responsibility. We only press the point that a corresponding time of trial is referred to; and that it is a definite and limited time.
We are aware of the "interpretation" proposed as to there having been ten persecutions of "Christians" between A.D. 57 and 284. But unfortunately for this theory, there is nothing said here as to any number of separate persecutions: but only as to the duration of one! It is evident that no system of interpretation which is based on such imaginations will be of any service to us in our understanding of this book.
The year-day system, as a principle of prophetic interpretation, is a human invention; and as unnecessary as it is mischievous.
So here, in Rev. 2:9, the expression "ten days" means ten days: and many Jews in many cities already know what it is to suffer an anti-Semite tribulation for days together. Why not here and under these circumstances? Haman had one day given to him to "destroy the Jews"! Why not another "Jews' enemy" be allowed ten days? And what is this or any such period to do with the Church of God, which has nothing whatever to do with "times and seasons" (1 Thess. 5:1)? It is quite probable that the time referred to here may that of Matt. 24:9, 10, and Isa. 66:5.
In Pergamos we have the reference to Balaam, which will have its counterpart in a yet future day. Through "the counsel of Balaam" (Num. 31:16, etc.) Israel was entrapped and led into the worst form of Midianitish idolatry, when "Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor" (Num. 25:3).
In the coming future day Pergamos will be in a special manner the seat (or throne) of Satan (2:13; and compare 13:2), and a form of idolatry more awful than that of Baal-peor will be on the earth. Peter, writing to the Dispersion, tells of this future time in 2 Peter 2., and in verse 15 he speaks specially of their "following in the way of Balaam the son of Bosor."
Jude also connects his description of a similar phase of idolatry with "the error of Balaam" (verses 10-13). It is clear, therefore, that that special feature of idolatry connected with Balaam's "counsel" is referred to in Rev. 2:14, and will be revived in the period described in the Apocalypse.
And, as, upon this great evil the special judgment of the "sword" was sent and executed (Num. 31:1-15), so here. He who speaks to the same People of the same evil, speaks also of the same judgment, "I will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Rev. 2:16), which threat will be carried out in chap. 19:21. This is why we have that special mention of the "sharp sword," describing the speaker in 2:12, referring to the same feature of the Vision as seen in 1:16.
In the Epistle to Thyatira we have the reference to another and more intensified form of idolatry as developed and established in the days of Ahab, king of Israel; another who, like Balaam, "made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 16:30).
Ahab was the first king who officially introduced and organised he most abominable form of heathen idolatry that the human mind ever conceived (1 Kings 16:33). See Revised Version, where the special significance of this abomination is conveyed and contained in the word "Asherah." To particularise on this form of idolatry would be only to defile the mind. The Lord Himself in this Epistle (Rev. 2:20-24) gives a clue to it. We may, perhaps, add that what was introduced into Israel by Balaam (see Rev. 2:14) became elevated into a national religious system under Ahab and Jezebel, as it had long been recognised among the heathen nations around.
What that religious system of licentious idolatry was is well known; but something may be gathered from a recently-discovered Papyrus,* containing about a sixth of the Ascension of Isaiah, which had before been known only in an Ethiopic Translation (except a mutilated Lectionary in Paris). The origin of this Papyrus is very ancient, and its historical facts may be taken as correct, separated from its vaticinations. It says, speaking of the condition of things in the days of Israel's Kings - "And Manasseh turned aside his heart to serve Beliar [i.e., Belial]; for the angel of lawlessness who ruleth this world is Beliar, whose name is Malambuchus. And he delighted in Jerusalem because of Manasseh, and made him strong in Jerusalem. And sorcery and magic increased, and divination and auguration and fornication and the persecution of the righteous at the hands of Manasseh... And when Isaiah the son of Amoz, saw the lawlessness which was being committed in Jerusalem, and the worship of Satan, and his triumph, he withdrew from Jerusalem, and settled in Bethlehem of Judea."
The Papyrus goes on to speak of Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, as being "the teacher of the four hundred prophets of Baal;" and tells how Isaiah "called Jerusalem Sodom, and the rulers of Judah and Israel he named people of Gomorrah." This was of course in reference to the special sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. See Isa. i., &c.
Many proofs abound to show that some similar system will yet be revived. None can be imagined which would more quickly and universally take hold upon the world, and unite all communities - and even the worst of characters, by making all, thus, to become religious, and yet able to degrade and gratify the instincts of human nature under the guise of religion.
Nor can we conceive any form of corruption which would mark off the people of God more effectually, and cause them to be separated from the abounding wickedness around them.
This is the best explanation which can be given of those solemn verses, Rev. 9:20, 21: or rather, it is this passage which is itself the explanation of the awful character of Antichrist's great universal system of Religion, which even God's plagues, up to the point of time there referred to, will have failed to remove, and which will call down the yet greater judgments of "the seven vials."
These verses (Rev. 9:20, 21) are so weighty that we must them in full.
Our point, however, must not be forgotten, which is, to draw attention to the fact, that the mention of this evil in these Epistles corresponds with the historical order in Israel's history in the Old Testament.
We have had four references to Israel's history in the Old Testament, and as four is the number connected with the earth, so these four have been connected with Israel in the earth and the Land; and with the culminating sin of departure from the love of God manifested to the Nation. Israel had "left her first love," forsaken God, and joined herself to idols in the most abominable form.
This is the climax of Israel's sin. All else in this history is judgment, until Israel is removed from the Land and taken away out of God's sight. His name is practically blotted out, never again to be a separate ten-tribed kingdom. So blotted out, in fact, that men speak today of the lost* ten tribes.
Indeed, the prophecy of Deut. 29:20 is fulfilled, not only as to the individual and to the Tribe; but there is an application to the whole nation. In Deut. 29:18, 20 (17, 19) there is the threat to blot out the name of the "man" or "tribe" who shall introduce idolatry. As a matter of fact, the Tribes of Dan and Ephraim were the first to introduce it; and their names are blotted out from the tribes of those who are to be sealed in Rev. 7.
It is in this Epistle, next in order (to the assembly at Sardis) that we have the reference to this silence, in the promise to the few names of such as have not defiled their garments: "He that overcometh... I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father and before his Angels" (Rev. 3:5).
We have had two references to Israel's history, and now we are to have two references to Judah's, and these refer, not any more to failure, sin and judgment; but to the hope of restoration and blessing. As Ahab, king of Israel, was the first to introduce and establish the Asherah worship, so the reference here, in the Epistle to the assembly of Philadelphia, is to Hezekiah, king of Judah, who did much to destroy it and cast it out.
In 2 Chron. 31:1, Hezekiah "brake in pieces the pillars (marg. obelisks), and hewed down the Asherim" (R.V.). His two predecessors, like himself, are described with special reference to their connection with the Temple and with the Temple worship. Indeed, these three kings of Judah are linked together as being three of the four reigns in which Isaiah prophesied, namely, "Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah" (Isa. 1:2).
In Isa. 22:22 there is a further reference to this point. Shebna, the Treasurer, had misused his trust for his own glorification (see Isa. 22:15-19). On this account he was ordered to be deposed, by Divine command, and "the key of the house of David" was laid upon the shoulder of Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah (vers. 20-25): "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so the shall open, and none shall shut, and he shall shut, and none shall open" (ver. 22).
Eliakim means God will raise up: and there can be no doubt whatever that we have here a prophetic reference to Christ, whom God would raise up. Indeed, the whole passage (vers. 20-25) reads more like prophecy than history; and points very distinctly forward to the Temple which He Himself will build, and will fill with His glory.
It is remarkable to notice how, in writing to this Assembly in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7), the Lord takes these very words and applies them to Himself, saying: "These things saith he... that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." The reference here to Isa. 22:22 is unmistakable, and it is clear that we have a reference to another and subsequent, but closely connected, event in the Old Testament history.
With this reference we can understand the announcement to the Assembly of Philadelphia in Rev. 3:8: "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." And we can understand also the reference to the Temple in the promise, "I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out" (Rev. 3:12).
We are taken right on, beyond Jerusalem and its Temple, to the days of final blessing, even to the new Jerusalem and "the Temple of my God," when Isa . 62:2 shall be fulfilled: "And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name."
When this is exactly what is promised in Rev. 3:12, "I will write upon him my new name," it is difficult to understand how such a promise could ever have been diverted from Israel to the Church: taken away from what it is directly associated with; and applied to that with which it has no connection whatsoever.
We reach, in this last Epistle, the lowest point of Judah's degradation, in that long line of departure from God, from the day Israel left her "first love," even the day of her espousals, when brought forth out of Egypt, down, down through one vast scene of idolatry and judgment, until we find that nation described in the Epistle to the Assembly in Laodicea in a condition of spiritual destitution such as characterised the People in the period of the Minor Prophets.
Indeed, so complete is the correspondence, that to see it we must wait till we take the Epistle sentence by sentence, and look at the passages from the Prophets, which we shall there place side by side. We give one or two as examples:
The whole of Hosea 2-5., 12:8, etc., must be read to see the pointed reference to this stage of Israel's condition. Compare also Hag. 1:6; Jer. 13:25, 26; 5:27; Zech. 11:5, 13-18.
In verse 16, the Lord speaks of spueing out the angel. This is the very expression used prophetically in Lev. 18:25-28 of Israel; where Jehovah warns that, if they adopted the abominations of heathen idolatry, the Land might spue them out (compare Jer. 9:19; Ezek. 36:13, 17).
All this shows that the references in this last Epistle do not in any way fit the Church of God, but agree in every particular with Israel's history, and are referred to so as to enlighten them from their own past history, and thus warn them as to future evils which will then surround them.
When the Church has been removed, and Israel is again dealt with, the religious condition of the nation will exactly correspond with its condition at the Lord's first coming. There will be, as there was then, plenty of religion. Isa. 1: 10-15 minutely describes the state of things, as they were then and will be again in the future.
The truth of "this prophecy will be amply evidenced - "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." The Pharisee's prayer (Luke 18:11, 12) exemplifies it. The parables of the great supper, the wedding garment, etc., describe it. The people were blind. The answer to the question, "Are we also blind?" (John 9:40, 41) proves it.
The call to the wedding feast will be, as then, individual. Matthew was called, Zacchaeus was called, and many others; and those who heard that call were unable to resist its commanding and enabling power. It is the great wedding feast of Rev. 19:9 to which the parables pointed.
These "servants," to whom this epistle is addressed, will understand the solemn warning, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." "To the twelve tribes scattered abroad" it was announced "the judge standeth before the door" (Jas. 5:9). The then nearness of the Judge is the thought conveyed in this announcement. He will be then near at hand, and ready to be revealed.
We are aware that the warning in chap. 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock," has been universally interpreted of the nearness of the Saviour in grace to those living in this present Church Dispensation, and this has been fostered by painters who have done so much to present perversions of Scripture to the eye. It is a perversion which just suits the old nature, for it puts man in the place of Almighty God, and turns the Lord Jesus into a helpless suppliant. All this is foreign to the doctrines of grace, and makes them all of none effect.
Moreover, this popular interpretation is out of keeping with the context. For, all through these seven Epistles the Lord is in the character of a Judge, rewarding His "servants" according to their "works." To those looking for Him and ready to receive Him, He appears according to His promise in Luke 12:35-40: "let your loins be girded about and your lights burning: and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord, when he cometh, shall find watching: Verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the good-man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not." Here, we have the "Son of Man;" the "servants;" the illustration of the "thief;" the "watching;" the "knocking;" the "opening," and the "sitting down to meat." Surely we have in Rev. 3:20, the fulfilment of this prophecy.
How simple it all is when we look at this Epistle as relating to backsliding Israel, and read it in the light of the Prophets and the Gospels. How much more satisfactory to find these illustrations in the Old Testament Scriptures, instead of being occupied with the conflicting and fanciful references to certain phases of ecclesiastical history, which have no Scriptural foundation whatever, and rest entirely on human imagination. All is confusion as to interpretation, and error as to doctrine, the moment we introduce the Church or the present dispensation into these Epistles.
We have seen enough in the consideration of this fourteenth point to furnish us with further evidence that the Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse. The same is seen when we look at our last point, viz., the order of the promises contained in these Epistles.