THE SCOPE OF THE APOCALYPSE GATHERED FROM ITS STRUCTURE
Having seen the scope of the Apocalypse as suggested by the place of the book in the Canon of Scripture, we now propose to gather its scope from its structure. This can be done only by looking at the book as a whole.
Most expositions of the book have proceeded on some plan formed according to the expositor’s own idea. These are, for the most part, clever and ingenious; but, after all, they represent only the opinion of each individual writer; and are accepted or rejected according to the opinion of each individual reader. The fact that there are scarcely two alike out of the vast number of these analyses shows what a poor foundation these human opinions are to rest upon; and also that there is room for a serious attempt to search and see whether there be not some Divine plan in the structure of the book; or whether God has left us thus at sea, without chart, compass or helm.
Our answer is that God has not thus left us to interpret the book; but He has given us the book as His own interpretation of what “The Day of the Lord” is to be. There is a Divine plan in the structure of the book; and, if we follow this and proceed on its lines, believing what God says, all will be clear, simple and easy. But if, whenever God says on thing we immediately assume and assert that he means another thing, we shall, obviously, have as many different interpretations as we have interpreters! And who is to direct us in such a chaos of conflicting opinions.
Were it our aim to enumerate these opinions, and help to [make] a choice between them, our task would be greater than we could undertake or carry out. But, as our aim is to treat the book as God’s own description and explanation of the events which are to take place when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven, our task will be a happy one; for it will be to try to understand what God says and not what man thinks.
We shall find ourselves giving little more than a translation of God’s own words, first setting them forth according to His own plan.
That this plan is correct and true is not open even to question. It is so simple that a child will be able to understand it.
After the Introduction (chap. 1), which corresponds exactly with the Conclusion (chap. 22:6-21); and the Instruction for people on the earth during that Day (chap. 2, 3.), which corresponds with matters concerning people on the New Earth, in chap. 21:1 – 22:5, we find that the whole body of the book is divided for us into seven pairs of connected events.
Perhaps the simplest form in which to first exhibit this will be the following:
A | 1. Introduction.
A | 22:6-21. Conclusion
Now, the Holy Spirit has divided the central number, which we have marked “X,” and which occupies the larger part of the book, into seven parts. Each of these seven parts consists of two scenes: The former of which takes place “in Heaven,” and the latter “on Earth.”
If we examine these more closely, we shall find that they are correlative: i.e., the scene “in Heaven” is preliminary to, and explanatory of, the events which follow “on Earth.” Things are seen “in Heaven,” and words are there uttered which show the nature and object of what is about to take place “on Earth.”
When God has described a scene as taking place “in Heaven,” and caused Heavenly voices to give the key to what is to follow in another scene which immediately takes place “on earth”; and this is done seven consecutive times; is it not strange that writers on the Apocalypse should overlook this exceedingly simple arrangement; and proceed to elaborate some complicated analysis of their own; and thus wholly ignore and break up the division which God has Himself made and given and marked off so clearly by the repeated expressions “in Heaven” and “upon the Earth,” on purpose to guide us in understanding His book?
How can we trust any analysis, however clever it may be, if these divisions are broken into, and the Heavenly and earthly scenes are mixed together? All must be confusion. And any such division of the book, or any which proceeds on the lines of the chapter-divisions, as given in the authorised version, will be found useless for the purpose of gathering the real scope of the book.
Before we proceed further it may be well to set out these Divine divisions more fully.
The more intently we look on this, and the more carefully we study it, the more shall we be struck by its beauty and simplicity. How clear, compared with man’s complicated division made according to his own fancy! So clear that the humblest child of God cannot fail to grasp it. It requires no explanation; but it will itself explain all things to us if we have ears to hear.
It is remarkable that in each of these wondrous scenes “in Heaven” voices with utterances and songs are heard. Not one Heavenly scene is without some Heavenly voice or utterance. Indeed, there are, altogether seventeen of these distributed in these seven scenes “in Heaven”; and this distribution helps us to discover the order and arrangement of these seven pairs respectively.
No. 4 evidently is the great central pair; both from actual position as well as from its subject matter. As to position, it occupies, literally and actually, the central part of the book; while as to its subject matter, we shall see (when we come to consider it) that it is as important as its position declares it to be.
Then, Nos. 1 and 7 are marked off as corresponding, by the fact that out of the seventeen heavenly voices ten are in these two pairs; six being the first scene “in heaven,” and four in the last. The heavenliness of Nos. 1 and 7. is also more marked than in any of the others: for all heaven is engaged in either giving these utterances, or singing these songs;* and it is only in these two scenes that the four Zoa, or living ones, utter their voices.
* Singing is mentioned only three times in Revelation: chap. 5:9, 14:3, 15:3.
In Nos. 2 and 6 we also have another pair — the former characterised by the trumpets, and the latter by the vials — the two most solemn portions of all the judgments which the book contains. Moreover, it is remarkable that it is in these two that those who pass through, or come out of, the great tribulation are specially mentioned as giving these heavenly utterances.
It appears, therefore, from this that these seven pairs are arranged as an Epanodos: that is to say, the first corresponds with the last (the seventh); the second with the sixth; the third with the fifth; while the fourth stands out in the centre; emphasising, by its central position, its important teaching.
They may be set out formally and briefly thus:
1| Longer and more full of heavenly voices and utterances. (Six in all).
2 | The Trumpets.
3 | Shorter and less detail.
4 | Central in subject and position.
5 | Shorter and less detail.
6 | The Vials.
7 | Longer and more full of heavenly voices and utterances. (Four in all).
THE HEAVENLY VOICES
are also portioned out according to the above plan:
1 | All heaven (6). The four Zoa, or Living ones, and twenty-four Elders; only here and in No. 7.
2 | Those out of the great tribulation (2).
3 | Great voices (2).
4 | A loud voice (1).
5 | Great voices (1).
6 | Those out of the great tribulation (1).
7 | All heaven (4). The four Zoa, or Living Ones, and twenty-four Elders; only here and in No. 1:
From all this it is clear that we have to do with Divine handiwork when we come to the study of this book.
We have before us not one of the many Apocalyptic writings which have been put forth at various times by men, which are for the most part unintelligible dreamings;* but we have on which differs from, and stands out amid, them all; having the Divine impress stamped upon it; thus marking it as worthy of our deepest attention and most reverent study.
* Such as The Sibyllene Oracles (180 B.C. – 350 A.D.); The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (130 B.C – 10 A.D.); The Psalms of Solomon (70-40 B.C.); The Book of Jubilees (40-10 B.C.); The Ascension of Isaiah (1-100 A.D.); The Assumption of Moses (14-30 A.D.); The Apocalypse of Baruch (50-90 A.D.); The Book of Enoch (200-260 A.D.).
It may be well to append a complete list or table of these utterances as a guide to their further study by our readers: —
The Seventeen Heavenly Utterances
H 1. Chaps. 4 and 5:
- The four Zoa, or Living ones. 4:8. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” &c. (Three-fold).
- The twenty-four Elders. 4:11. “Thou are worthy … to receive,” &c. (Three-fold).
- The four Zoa, or Living ones, and the twenty-four Elders. 5:9,10. (A new song). “Thou are worthy to take the book,” &c.
- Many angels and the four Living ones, and the Elders and thousands of angels. 5:12. “Worthy is the Lamb,” &c. (Seven-fold).
- Every creature. 5:13. “Blessing and honour and glory,” &c. (Four-fold).
- The four Zoa, or Living ones. 5:14. “Amen.”
H 2. 7:9 – 8:6
- The great multitude out of the great tribulation. 7:10. “Salvation to our God,” &c.
- All the angels round about the throne. 7:12. “Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom,” &c. (Seven-fold).
H 3. 11:15-19
- Great voices. 11:-15. “The Kingdom of the world is become,” &c.
- The twenty-four Elders. 11:17. “We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty.”
H 4. 12:1-12
- A loud voice. 12:10-12. “Now is come salvation, and strength,” &c.
H 5. 14:1-5
- A voice from heaven. 14:3. A new song (no words).
H 6. 15:1-8
- They that had gotten the victory over the beast, &c. 15:-3. “Great and marvellous are they works, Lord God Almighty,” &c.
H 7. 19:1-16
- A great voice of much people in heaven. 19:-1-3. “Alleluia: salvation and glory,” &c. (Four-fold)
- The twenty-four Elders and the four Zoa, or Living ones. 19:-4-. “Amen, Alleluia.”
- A voice out of the throne. 19:5. “Praise our God, all ye his people,” &c.
- The voice of a great multitude, &c. 19:-6, 7. “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” &c.
We shall note, as we proceed, the relation of these Heavenly Voices to the transactions which follow on the earth. Meanwhile, our readers may make out for themselves a more complete list of these utterances, and study the distinguishing features of each.
Before closing this chapter, we may add the following from Canon Bernard’s Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament.*
* Bampton Lectures for 1864. Macmillan. 5th Edition. 1900.
He beautifully expands the thought and the truth involved in the seven pairs of alternate visions which we have pointed out as being “in heaven” and “on earth.” He says:—
“We have here…. a doctrine of the history of the consummation: I mean that, besides a prophetic record of the facts of the history, we have (what is of much higher value) an exposition of the nature of the history. The book is a revelation of the connection between things that are seen and things that are not seen, between things on earth* and things in heaven*; a revelation which fuses both into one mighty drama; so that the movements of human action, and the course of visible fact, are half shrouded, half disclosed, amid the glory and the terror of the spiritual agencies at work around us, and of the eternal interests which we see involved. We are borne to the courts above, and the temple of God is opened in heaven,* and we behold the events on earth* as originating in what passes there. There seals are broken, trumpets are sounded, and vials are poured out, which rule the changes [of the world]… While we are looking down through the rolling mists on things that pass below, we are all the time [in vision] before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and among the four-and-twenty elders, the four living beings, and the innumerable company of angels; and we hear voices proceeding out of the throne… and hallelujahs that roll through the universe. * Italics ours.
We see, further, that there is cause for this participation of the world above in the events of the world below; for it becomes more plain that the earth is the battlefield of the kingdoms of light and darkness. There is a far bolder revelation that we have had before of the presence and action of the powers of evil. The Old Serpent is on one side, as the Lamb is on the other; and the same light which shows the movements of the Head and Redeemer of our race, falls also upon those of the enemy and destroyer. In the sense of this connection between things seen and things not seen lies the secret of that awe, and elevation of mind, which we felt as children when we first turned these pages; and the assurance that it has an ever increasing value to him who has painfully sought to test the mingled form of good and ill, and to discern some plan and purpose in the confused scene around him” (pp. 193, 194).
“The books is a doctrine of the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him.'(Rev. 1:7) That is the first voice, and the key-note of the whole. The Epistles…[in chaps. 2 and 3] … all take their tone from this thought, and are the voice of a Lord who will ‘come quickly.’ The visions which follow draw to the same end, and the last voices of the book respond to the first, and attest its subject and its purpose. ‘He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus.’ (Rev. 22:20) … Toward that hope our eyes have been steadily directed in the former Apostolic writings; but it is here presented, not so much in relation to our personal life as to the kingdom of God and to the world itself upon the whole. It appears here as the (…) (the sunteleia or consummation of the age), towards which all things tend… Differences and uncertainties of interpretation as to the details… still leave us under the sense that it is a history of the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This assurance, enjoyed at all times, grows clearer in the days of trouble, rebuke and blasphemy: and the darkest times which the prophecy forebodes will be those in which its fullest uses will be found.”