"The Day of the Lord"
The scope of the Apocalypse is the most important of all the preliminary subjects connected with its interpretation. Apart from its true scope, no correct interpretation is possible. This scope is best gathered from its structure; but, before considering this, we propose to look at it as shown by its place in the Canon of Scripture, and by the relation in which it stands to the other books of the New Testament. This is the first thing that must be discovered in order to get an insight as to its place, subject, object and scope.
The order of the books of the New Testament as a whole varies, both in the manuscripts, versions and catalogues* which have been preserved and have come down to us.
But while the order of the separate books may vary, they are always arranged in four groups which never vary:
The four groups always follow each other in this order. We say four "groups"; but it will be observed that only the first and third groups; the second and fourth consist of only one single book each.
The order of the separate books in these two groups varies. For example, the order of the Gospels varies. The order of the Epistles varies, for in some lists Paul's Epistles come before the general and other Epistles, and vice versa. But, like Paul's Epistles addressed to churches, which never vary in their order, so thee four groups never vary in their order.
Their inter-relation may be set forth, in brief, in the following structure:
The New Testament Books
From this structure it will be seen that the Apocalypse stands out in special relation to, and connection with the four Gospels, and not with the Epistles.
Between the first advent, which is the subject of the Gospels, and the second advent, which is the subject of the Apocalypse, we have the present interval, which is the subject of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. This interval is thus divided into two distinct periods,
The Acts has for its subject the re-presentation of the King and the kingdom. Israel is again taken up, and Peter, using the keys of the kingdom committed to him for this special purpose, opens the kingdom to Jews and Gentiles. Through the abounding grace of God the kingdom is again offered to Israel, but this being rejected the cup of Israel's iniquity is filled up. The people not only rejected Christ Risen, but they resisted the Holy Ghost. They resisted Jehovah in the Old Testament, The Messiah in the Gospels, and the Holy Ghost in the Acts. Though the ministry of Peter partly overlaps that of Paul, yet it is clear that Israel is specially dealt with as such, until the final sentence is pronounced in Acts 28:17-28, which was speedily followed by the taking of the People out of their city and their Land.
Then we have the period covered by the later Pauline Epistles, which have for their subject the Mystery, or the Church of God.
The church has a different calling, a different standing, and a different destiny from either Jew or Gentile, and yet, composed of both, is now waiting for their calling on high (Phil. 3:14).
It may be that these two parts of the present interval slightly overlap, as Paul's ministry in the synagogues and among the Gentiles also overlapped. Not until shortly after the Apostle's death did God actually (as He had already begun to do judicially) cause to deal with Israel as Israel, scattering the People abroad on the earth destroying the Temple, and effectually, for a time, breaking off the natural branches from the Olive Tree (Rom. 11.).
After this, we have set before us, in the Epistles, the calling and hope of the church, which is now being taken out, and is waiting to be taken up, to meet the Lord in the air; waiting for "our gathering together unto Him" (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:15 - 5:4; 2 Thess. 2:1-3 R.V.), before "the Day of the Lord" shall come.
This is fundamental to our whole position, and is necessary, we believe, to a clearer understanding of the Apocalypse. It is well therefore that we should further establish the great scope of the Book as taught us by its position in the New Testament; and its special relation to the Gospels.
In 1 Thess. 5:4, we are distinctly told "ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day ('the day of the Lord,' verse 2) should overtake you as a thief." As the Revelation is the description of that day (1:10, 3:3; 16:15) and of His "coming as a thief" (compare Matt. 24:43, 44), it is clear that the promise of 1 Thess. 5:4, must be fulfilled before the Lord Jesus is thus revealed. Those concerned will be already at "rest," with Him "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels; in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction, [driven away] from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when HE SHALL HAVE COME to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believe ... in that day" (2 Thess 1:7-10).
The tense here (in verse 10) is not the simple future tense of the indicative mood, but it is the second aorist tense of the subjunctive mood, (...) (elthe), and can mean only shall have come. In verse 7, "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed" is not a verb at all, but a noun, (...) (en te apokalupsei), and means at the revelation (lit., at the Apocalypse).
So that "at the Apocalypse" of Jesus Christ, the Raptured ones of 1 Thess. 4 will already be at rest. They have their "tribulation" now (vers. 4, 5). This is the teaching of 5:7.
But when the time comes to "recompense tribulation" to the world, then Christ will already have come to be glorified in His saints. For "in that day" He "shall have come" to take them up to be with Himself, "for ever with the Lord." This is the teaching of verse 10.
That this is the only sense in which this tense can be taken is clear from
the following examples of its use :
The prophecy as to Christ's enemies' being put under His feet (Psa. 110:1) is quoted or referred to six times in the New Testament. Christ is now at God's right hand "until His enemies shall have been placed (as) a footstool for His feet." (See Matt. 22:44; Mark 12:36: Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34; Heb. 1:13; 10:12, 13). Then He will arise and use this footstool, treading His enemies under His feet (Psa. 18:37-50). This is the subject of the Apocalypse; and result and fulfilment of it is recorded in 1 Cor. 15:25, which speaks of Christ's after-reign, "For He must reign till He hath put (lit., shall have put) all enemies under His feet." So that the two acts are carefully distinguished. First, the placing of the footstool; and then the using of it. The one is at the beginning of the "day of the Lord," the other is at the end of His reign.
All this is conclusive, and tells us that the church of God will be at "rest" at the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. And that, when He comes to take vengeance on His enemies, He "shall have come" already for His saints.
This enables us to see the true place of the Apocalypse in the New Testament. Chronologically it follows on the Epistles, which end with the taking up of (1 Thess. 4); but logically, i.e., in the purpose of the ages (Eph. 3:10 RV. marg.), it follows the Gospels; and takes up the subject of the King and the Kingdom, where it is there left.
There we see it rejected: here we see it established with judgment, and set up in Divine power and glory.
True, in order of time it follows on the period covered by the Epistles: and what we have to look for, now, is, not the conversion of the world, but the judgment of the world. The professing church is deceiving the world. It tells the world that its mission is to improve the world and, by improving its sanitation, housing its poor, and generally preaching the gospel of earthly citizenship, to bring on a millennium, in which no Christ is thought of or wanted!
While the majority of the Church's teachers are loudly proclaiming that "the day of the Lord" will not come till the world's conversion comes, the Spirit and truth of God are declaring that that day shall not come until the apostasy comes (2 Thess. 2:3).
While the majority of the Church's teachers are maintaining that the world is not yet good enough for Christ, the Spirit is declaring in the Word that the world is not yet bad enough.
There is some difference between these two testimonies; and our labour will not be in vain, if we learn from this book of the Revelation to believe God; and, while we "wait for His son from heaven" as our blessed Hope, to warn the world of increasing apostasy (which may go on side by side with increasing morality) and of coming judgment.
Yes, coming judgment. That is the scope of the whole book. We have, here, events which cannot be limited by mere ecclesiastical history; but a wondrous unveiling of the awful scenes which shall end up God's controversy with Satan. It has as its field the whole creation, and not merely a corrupt church in Europe. All the forces of Heaven and Hell are seen in conflict, and bringing to a head the mighty issues involved.
On the one side we see,
On the other side, we see
We have here something far beyond the ordinary interpretations put upon this Book: and, we believe that few, if any, can possibly realize all the mighty issues involved in it: and the extent of its results as affecting creation, Israel, and the nations of the world.
To limit it to Popery, or to Christendom (so called) is, we believe, wholly to miss the scope of the Book: and, to lose the weighty lessons if its wondrous Revelation, by committing the mistake condemned by true logic viz., of putting a part (and a small part too) for the whole.
The awful conflict is of far wider extent than this. It exceeds all the general petty views of its scope; as affairs of State transcend those of a Parish Vestry. "Michael and his angels" and "the Dragon and his angels" include the whole fighting forces of the heavens. Rev. 12 reveals the HEAVENLY ARMAGEDDON, which will bring to an end the hostilities of ages by a final overthrow of the wicked (so far as the super-etherial heavens are concerned).
What the Book tells us of the conflict on earth is of the same character. The scope of it takes in the whole earth, and leads up also to an EARTHLY ARMAGEDDON (Rev. 16:16).
The Covenant of marvels (Ex. 34:10) refers to judgments which are cosmical in the widest sense of the term. The scope of the book winds up all the affairs of time, and contains the end of prophecy, the end of knowledge, and the end of the Secret of God (10:7), and the dawn of the eternal ages of ages. In short, the scope of the book, as shown by its place in, and relation to, the whole canon of Scripture, is the winding up of the affairs of the whole creation, and the fixing of the eternal states of all things in heaven and on earth.
We are thankful to feel that we are not alone in taking this serious view of the real scope of the Apocalypse. While many fritter away its solemn scenes in the common-place history of Europe, there are others who see beyond all this, and behold the Divine interposition in the affairs of the whole creation.
We have information about the church in the Epistles: as we see, even in them, the indications of the coming corruption which has since become history. But in the Apocalypse we have something far beyond, and quite different from all this.
The Epistles prepare us for what we know as Ecclesiastical history; and they prepare us also for the end and revealed in the Apocalypse.
Eloquent testimony is borne to this, and therefore to our view of the scope of Revelation, by Canon Bernard;* who approaches the subject from a somewhat different standpoint.
His weighty words are:
If these things be so, as we assuredly believe they are, then the church is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
The Apocalypse follows the Epistles in sequence of time, and is naturally and historically consequent upon them; but in the Divine order and plan it is logically and dispensationally consequent on the Gospels and Acts.
Every previous dispensation has ended in judgment, from Satan's first rebellion (Gen. 1:1, 2) to his final rebellion (Rev. 20:8-10) and the final judgment (verses 11-15).
That this present dispensation shall end in judgment is not only to be inferred from the uniform history of the past; for it is clearly foretold in the Epistles. It is this judgment which is described in the Apocalypse; and it is this book we are now seeking to understand more clearly. This clearness, we believe, will be greater in proportion as we see the position occupied by this Book in the New Testament; and in proportion as we believe that the Church of God has no part in the great Tribulation, and no participation in those judgments.
That it is not the subject of this book we have endeavoured to establish in our fifteen preliminary points: and this view will be further confirmed as we proceed with our consideration and study of the Apocalypse.