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Lord himself is seen to strip them of their title, and to reserve it for a higher use (viii. 23, 39; xiii. 33; XV. 18, 24). The same feature is carried still further in the Epistles. They do not contain one single verse which implies the former privileges, or even the present existence and future hopes, of the Jewish nation.
It is plain, at once, how entirely this character accords with the view which sees in the Apocalypse the record of the Gentile dispensation. This is the precise balance and counterpoise which we might expect to find, in the word of prophecy, as in the Gospel covenant, to that rich profusion of sacred truths and merciful predictions which had already been clustered around the chosen people. Because the Church has long been guilty of neglecting these last, or explaining them away, some appear now in danger of rushing blindly into the opposite extreme; and would interpret the Scriptures as though a natural descent from the loins of Abraham were the main object contemplated in the divine counsels, and almost the same with the boundary wall of the heavenly Jerusalem. But the above view of the Apocalypse harmonizes the scheme of prophecy, in its bearing on the Gentiles and Jews, the two sacred divisions of mankind; while it is in entire agreement with that Catholic and universal character which marks all the writings of the beloved apostle. On the opposite theory, which assigns to the visions a local and strictly Jewish reference, there is contrast instead of resemblance; and in the place of a beautiful harmony of character and of spiritual features, there is introduced a most abrupt and complete discordance.
VII. THE DATE OF THE PROPHECY yields a further and very distinct sign of its true meaning. It was revealed to the apostle, as proved by decisive evidence, towards the end of Domitian's reign, and near the close of
the first century. St. John was then the only survivor of all the apostles. The temple at Jerusalem was in ruins. The nation of the Jews were dispersed and in exile. The Gentile Churches were diffused through every part of the empire, and exposed to the first strokes of heathen persecution. The Hebrew Christians were still existing as a separate community, but sinking into decay. The voice of prophecy, which had been distinct and clear down to the fall of Jerusalem, gave only a dim answer concerning the events beyond. The time was thus exactly suited for a last revelation, which might unfold the mystery of Providence till its final consummation. The apostle St. John stood in the very same relation to the Gentile Church in which Daniel stood to the Church of the Old Testament, at the commencement of the first captivity and dispersion. Every circumstance would indicate a reference to the new economy of the Gospel, and not to those special Jewish relations which had at least been put under a long suspension, and in the view of the early Christians had finally passed away. The prophecy was not given to St. Peter or St. James, who were eminently the apostles of the circumcision, but to St. John; nor to St. John while still residing at Jerusalem, but in lonely exile at Patmos, long after he had forsaken Judea, and fixed his residence as the presiding apostle at Ephesus, and among the Asiatic Churches. The place of his abode was that particular Church, to which St. Paul had most fully proclaimed the mystery of Gentile adoption, and the cessation of the distinctive privileges of the Jews. And thus both the time of the prophecy, and the place where it was given, disprove all exclusive reference to a Jewish Church in the last times, and confirm the larger application to the whole course of the Gospel.
In fact, nothing can be more uniform than the connexion which is observed through the series of prophets,
between the time when each wrote and the events from which his predictions take their departure. Isaiah, who prophesied from the close of Uzziah's reign to that of Hezekiah, predicts the defeat of Rezin and captivity of Syria and Ephraim, the invasion of Sennacherib and its defeat, all of them events which occurred during his own lifetime; and passes on to the captivity of Babylon, the next main event of Jewish history. Jeremiah, who began to prophecy about twenty years before the captivity, first predicts its arrival and severity, and then assigns the limit of its continuance, and announces the return. The prophet Daniel, one generation later, continues the chain in regular succession from his own days, through two intervening empires, to the coming of Messiah. Our Lord, at the close of His own ministry, prolongs the series unbroken to the fall of Jerusalem. And now that St. John, within thirty years after that event, conveys to the Church a new prophecy, how can we avoid the inference that it prolongs still further the sacred calendar of Providence, in the same continuous order as those which had been previously given ?
VIII. A further mark to determine the general scope
of the Revelation may be drawn from the parties to whom it was first sent. It was addressed to the seven Churches of Asia. Now, in every instance where the inspired books have a direct superscription, they refer directly and peculiarly to the parties whose name they bear, or to whom they were first sent. This truth may be seen in more than one passage of Isaiah and Jeremiah. It appears very conspicuous in the first vision of Daniel, and, indeed, in all those which follow. The same is true of the various Epistles of the New Testament. Now, if the Apocalypse records the history of the Gentile Church, the address to the seven Churches of Asia is most suitable, and in full harmony
with the precedents of Scripture. But it is equally incongruous, if the main reference of the work be to Jewish Christians alone, during a few years at the end of this dispensation. The relation is then destroyed between the peculiar object of the prophecy and the parties to whom it was addressed. The Hebrew Christian Church, under the episcopate of Symeon, had now returned to Jerusalem, and dwelt among its ruins. “ They enjoyed a profound peace, and kept their solemn assemblies." And therefore, had the scope of this prophecy been such as has been lately maintained, that Church was the natural place to which, according to all precedent, the heavenly gift would have been conveyed. Not only the selection of the inspired messenger, but of the parties who were to receive the message, is a plain and clear token that its great object is to reveal the history of the Gentile Church.
IX. The direct statements with regard to the time, which begin and close the prophecy, are a further evidence of its true meaning. It was sent “ to show unto God's servants things which must shortly come to pass." The blessing to those who read it is enforced from this same motive. And it is repeated in that verse at the closeSeal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.”
On the Futurist hypothesis, these words are to be explained by comparing them with other texts, where the second advent is itself declared to be near. In the sight of God a thousand years are as one day; and hence even eighteen centuries must be only a little time. The prophecy, on this view, may belong entirely to events still future, without any violence to the true sense of these expressions.
This solution might perhaps be adequate, if these phrases stood alone. But the last of them points us
directly to some texts, entirely opposite in their tone, which occur in the book of Daniel. Thus it is said, at the close of chapter viii. : “ The vision of the evening and the morning, which was told, is true; wherefore shut thou up the vision, for it shall be for many days.” And again in chapters X.-xii.: “ The thing was true, but the time appointed was great.” “ For yet the vision is for many days." “Shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end.”
The contrast in the two prophets is pointed and complete. One vision is to be shut up because it is for many days; the other is closed with the injunction“ seal not the sayings of this book, for the time is at hand.” Now it is clear that, in Daniel's vision, the events were not distant, as measured by a divine scale of time, but only when referred to that which is ordinary among men.
And hence we may infer that the nearness of the events in the book of Revelation is to be understood also in the stricter sense.
There are two conclusions which may be drawn at once from this evident contrast between these passages. If we adopt the most extreme view of the recent school, and ascribe both Daniel and the Apocalypse, in every part, to the time of the end, no such contrast could obtain between them. The theory, with the largest admissions, is therefore untenable.
But the argument is really much stronger. The first portion of Daniel's visions has been proved to relate to events which followed at that very time. If the Futurist view of Revelation were just, the texts before us would need to be reversed. The visions of Daniel, in great part, at least, would have been “at hand ;” and those of the Apocalypse would all have been “for many days," since the nearest would be distant by nearly two thousand years. The hypothesis is totally inconsistent with these contrasted marks of time.