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would be described not only by appropriate images, but also, most probably, in distinct visions; and these visions being set down in a book, and not painted on a table, will necessarily be recorded in succession; and the historic facts, not the visions which predict the facts, will be the order of the prophecy.
The Apocalypse, then, foretells events of a specific character, their place and time, their succession, coincidence, and relation to one another, and to the whole.
VIII. It is impossible to determine, with certainty, the time when the Apocalypse was given. Sir Isaac Newton, Bishops Warburton and Newton, with some commentators of less note, maintain it was seen in the reign of Nero, and Grotius, in that of Claudius; while other writers of a deservedly high reputation, refer it to the reign of Domitian. We do not propose to investigate the question; because, though one of considerable interest, the determination, were it possible, does not seem necessary to understand the parts of the prophecy which have been already fulfilled. And herein most interpreters are agreed; for they usually consider the first seal to represent the propagation of the Gospel, whether the later or the earlier date is followed.
An objection has, however, been made to this application of the first seal, and it ought to be noticed. The Christian religion, it is said, having been extensively published, before the Apocalypse was revealed (whether in the reign of Nero or of Domitian), the seal cannot have its accomplishment in the propagation of Christianity; for this would be to make it a prophecy after the event.
If this reasoning were conclusive against the Evangelical application of the seal, it would prove too much for those who use it. Every interpreter, whose work I have examined, understands the fifth seal to have its accomplishment in the persecution of the Christians. Yet the Jews, the pagan multitude, and the Roman government had fiercely persecuted them, before the Apocalypse was given; whether its assumed date be the reign of Nero or Domitian. The objection would be weighty in the (liscussion of isolated and independent predictions, which are fulfilled by a single event, or events that happen in a short space of time, but it can have no force in the present instance, by reason of the peculiar structure and unity of the Revelation, the
complexity and vastness of its contents. For the predictions foretelling the most important revolutions which have happened (or probably shall happen), within and a little beyond the limits of the old Roman empire, form a great prophetic system; the component parts of which have a mutual relation and dependence on one another, earlier predictions preparing the later and subsequent visions reflecting light on the foregoing. Nor is this all: inasmuch as they not only abound in the imagery and symbolic language of the Old Testament, but are often framed so to harmonise with, to elucidate, and be elucidated by, earlier prophecies, that expositors are constrained to study both, before either can be understood and satisfactorily explained. The Apocalypse, then, being so complex and so artfully constructed, and the complement, as it were, of many previous revelations, even if it could be proved (which I greatly doubt), against Bishops Newton and Warburton, Grotius and Sir Isaac Newton, to have been seen in Domitian's reign, the interpretation, which refers the commencing series of a great chain of events, to an earlier date, would not be thereby invalidated.
This, which appears evident, is amply sustained by the analogy of another great historical prophecy. Daniel' saw four wild beasts rising out of the sea; the symbols respectively of the four great empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Babylon is represented by a lion with wings, which the prophet sees until they were plucked. Now the greater part of the
prophecy regarding the first empire was accomplished at the time of the vision; for Babylon, which had long passed the summit of its power, was then hastening rapidly and manifestly to its fall. “The eagle's wings,” says Bishop Newton, “denote its swift
2 ness and rapidity; and the conquests of Babylon were very rapid, that empire being advanced to the height within a few years by a single person—by the conduct and arms of Nebuchadnezzar.” And the plucking of the wings, or the wings being plucked, according to the same interpreter, and others, represent the weakening and the subversion of the monarchy.
The bishop says, the “wings were beginning to be plucked on the delivery of this prophecy; for at this time the Medes
and Persians were encroaching upon it.
Seventeen years afterwards the kingdom was transferred to the Medes.”
Indeed the wings were not only beginning to be plucked when Daniel saw the vision, but their plucking was nearly finished. The prophecy was given, according to Archbishop Ussher,1 555 years before the Christian era ; in the succeeding year (556) Cyrus and Cyaxares had defeated the Babylonians and their allies in a great battle, wherein the king of Babylon was slain. The Hyrcanians revolted immediately from the Babylonians, joined the victors, and turned their arms against their old confederates, thereby enabling Cyrus to follow up his victory without delay, to overtake and defeat the Babylonians in a second great battle.
To recapitulate: The enigmatic symbols are to be understood in the sense Scripture or usage has assigned to them. The scope of the Apocalyptic visions is to be determined by the prophecies from which the symbols and imagery are takenthe events represented are to be found in the history of the countries at the time, and in the order indicated by the prophecy, and all must have a direct reference to the Lord and His kingdom.
These are great checks on an arbitrary and capricious interpretation. They appear to be so many and important as to preclude the possibility of the interpreter, who observes them, deviating widely from the true interpretation; and they offer to the intelligent reader, a test by which its consistency and solidity may, at all times, be tried with satisfaction and profit to himself.
1 Ussher, Ann. p. 139. 2 Let no one, however, imagine there was no divine inspiration because Babylon was then on the verge of ruin, and it was apparent that the Medes and Persians would attain to the dominion of the East; for there are other particulars in the prophecy far beyond the reach of human sagacity. It foretells the subversion of the Persian empire by the Greeks, who were to be overthrown and succeeded by a fourth empire, which would be diverse from the preceding kingdoms, and divided into ten kingdoms, in the midst of which a little horn would rise, have great power, speak great words against the Most High, and wear out the saints of the Most High. Besides Daniel had foretold the fall of Babylon sixty years before, when it was at the summit of its power, and the same succession of empires. Jeremiah had likewise foretold its fall, and the people who would destroy it—li. 27, 28. Isaiah also, xiii., xiv., foretold its greatness and ruin, when Babylon was not yet formidable; and its subversion by the Medes, who were then scarcely known in the East: and he even names the individual who was to effect it; xliv. 28, xlv. 1.
THE FIRST SEA L.
The White Horse and Rider—the Bow-the Crown—the Conquests.
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard as it were the voice of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, come and see. And I saw and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him; and he went forth conquering and to conquer."
This seal must be compared with the prophecies in which the same symbols are found, before its subject can be satisfactorily determined; for, considered by itself, and without reference to these predictions, it contains no note by which the conqueror can be known, the time, place, or character of his victories.
The symbols are the “ white horse and rider,” the “bow," and " the crown.” The “white horse” and a victorious leader sitting upon him is seen a second time in the vision—chapter xix.
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns,
and he had a name written that no man knew but he himself: and he was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood; and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he had on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun: and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves to the supper of the great God, that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast into the lake of fire, burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat on the horse, which sword proceedeth out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” As in the second vision the rider of the white horse is the Lord Jesus, the horseman in the first seal likewise represents Him: because there is no reason to suppose that the symbol which is given to the Lord in one part of the prophecy, would, in another part of of it, be transferred to an inferior person or power.
, The Lord is introduced twice in the Apocalypse as a Conqueror, for He has a double kingdom; in both visions there is the common symbol of the “white horse," that the Conqueror in each may be known to be the Same; but as the victories which He obtains in His kingdom of grace and power are totally different, the other symbols are wholly unlike. Now, the subject of chapter xix., 11, &c., being manifestly the destruction of those obstinate enemies who fight against Him, the seal represents His victories of grace and salvation: the prophecy, therefore, foretells the successful propagation of the Gospel. And it began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended on the apostles, and will have its final completion, when “ the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ."? This interpretation is confirmed by the prophecies of the Old Testament, in which the same symbols are found.
The nine first verses of the forty-fifth psalm, describing the victories of a king, who is also a horseman and an archer, are
i Revelation, xi., 15.