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Christian Sabbath, or first day of the week; and that the name is given to it here, and has ever since been retained in the Church, to celebrate the glorious fact of the Lord's resurrection.
All the visions of the Apocalypse were thus revealed to the apostle in the course of one “Lord's day," or Christian Sabbath. And surely this alone is deeply instructive as to their true nature. In our Lord's own prophecy to his disciples, the direction occurs__"Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the Sabbathday.” It is plain that here the Jewish or seventh-day Sabbath was intended. The passage shows us that, to the Jewish believers, the sacredness of the Jewish Sabbath was to continue till the fall of the temple. That ordinance was, in a manner, the keystone of the whole Jewish economy. The substitution, in its room, of the first day for the Christian assemblies, was a most distinct mark that the kingdom of God was being taken from Israel and given to another people. But until the fall of the temple, the change was not complete, and the words of Christ still recognize the sacredness of the seventh day. Now, however, in this last prophecy, when the temple had fallen, the Sabbath, strictly so called, disappears; and the first day is solemnly exalted in its place, and is dignified, for the first time, with a new and peculiar name of divine honour. The whole of the visions were given on “ the Lord's day.” And by the choice of this day it is clearly implied to us, that the Jewish economy has been now suspended, and that the main reference of the whole is to the mystery of God, in the calling, guidance, and final salvation of the Church from among the Gentile nations.
XII. THE EMBLEMS OF THE OPENING VISION are a further key to the nature of the prophecy. It is surely natural, in a book so highly symbolical, to consider narrowly those symbols which are actually explained,
and to take them for a guide to the meaning of the others. This is still more reasonable when the explanation stands at the entrance of the prophecy, and is given to the prophet by the Lord himself.
The first emblem which is thus expounded is the seven candlesticks, denoting the seven churches of Asia. There is here an evident allusion to the sevenfold candlestick under the law (Exod. xxv. 31-40). This last was a type of the Church of God in its complete unity, at the time when it was limited to one single nation. In the present emblem the seven candlesticks are distinct from each other. The same general truth is conveyed, but is modified by the wider character and greater liberty of the Gentile Church. Each of the seven appears complete in itself, to show that the Church was now confined to no local centre, nor placed under one visible head; but that each of the seven, under its presiding angel, contained all that was essential to the integrity of its visible form. With this single change, the type borrowed from the tabernacle becomes a divine symbol to represent the spiritual constitution of the Church of God.
Now, if such be the meaning of the candlesticks, why should we interpret by a different law the other emblems which are taken from the very same source ? Why should the candlesticks be a symbol, and the ark of the covenant, the inner and the outer court, the altar of burnt-offering, and the temple itself, be restrained to an outward and material sense? This appears an entire contradiction of the principle which is taught us, by the lips of Christ himself, in this opening vision.
This argument is still more confirmed by a very obvious remark, The passage in Exodus, to which the present emblem refers us, closes with that most significant
“See that thou make all things after the pattern
showed to thee in the mount." St. Paul teaches us, from these words, that all the ordinances of the taberriacle were an example and shadow of heavenly things, or of spiritual realities, connected with the true Church of Christ. Now since, in the entrance of these visions, we are directly referred to this passage, the Holy Spirit thereby points out to the attentive reader the true key to the Jewish emblems in the remaining chapters, and shows that they are adopted as the natural symbols to describe those spiritual realities which belong to the whole Church of God. It is clear that this yields a decisive confirmation to the common view of the prophecy, and sets aside the only plausible ground for restricting it to the last days.
The other emblem, of the seven stars, leads to a similar conclusion. There are several places in the rest of the prophecy where stars are again mentioned. In ch. xii. they form the crown of the mystic woman, and have plainly a figurative sense. Now since, in the two passages on which there is no dispute, they are used to denote living and intelligent persons, what warrant can there be for preferring a physical sense in the other places where they occur? Why, for instance, should the star of the third trumpet denote merely a meteoric stone falling to the earth, when our Lord himself has de .clared of the very same emblem-" The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches ?” The divine key, by such an interpretation, is superseded, and a total incongruity is introduced between the body of the prophecy and the opening vision.
XIII. THE NATURE OF THE ALLUSIONS TO THE Jews, in the first chapters, is another clear mark to dis
prove the limited and future sense. There are two of these in the epistles to Smyrna and to Philadelphia. : They both agree in one remarkable character. The
unbelieving Jews are expressly denied all right to the very name—“Which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie.” The phrase is striking in itself, and still more so from its repetition. There is a clear analogy with the words of St. Paul He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that which is outward in the flesh, circumcision; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly.”. The title, in each case, is reclaimed from its popular use to a higher and more spiritual meaning : and in this sense it is denied to unbelievers, though of the race of Israel. But in the Apocalypse this denial has a peculiar force. It is a plain mark and fingerpost, standing at the head of the whole prophecy; which proclaims its reference to the time of Israel's rejection, while Jerusalem is trodden down of the Gentiles, and while the Lord himself repeats his warning by the prophet“ Ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.”
Now these words are exactly the key which might have been expected, if the visions contained the history of the Gentile Church. Such a history would naturally be conveyed by figures drawn from the Jewish economy, the treasure-house for all types of spiritual realities : and hence there would be a danger of confounding the sign with the truth which it signified, and thus losing sight of the true object of the prophecy. But these sentences in the prefatory vision form a divine caution, that the language of the Jewish economy is here applied to the true Israel, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus. There is also a clear precedent that in this book, where Jewish allusions occur, the construction which claims to be most strictly literal, may only, on that account, be deceptive and untrue. For the parties here condemned were clearly Jews in natural descent; yet their assumption of the name is twice declared to be a pernicious falsehood.
XIV. THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE EPISTLES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES affords us many intimations of the same kind. These, whatever typical meaning they possess, are, in the first place, a direct address to the Christians who were then living in Asia, and a moral preparative for the succeeding visions. Now almost every part of them supplies some link, by which to prove the wide range of the whole prophecy.
1. In the epistle to Smyrna a particular season of -trial is announced Ye shall have tribulation ten days." It would be premature to enter here on any figurative or enlarged sense of these words. Let us view them simply as a direct and literal prediction. Now if the spirit of prophecy saw fit to announce one local and particular trial of the Church of Smyrna, with a precise mention of its time, and this after Jerusalem was destroyed, and the last relics of that economy swept away, what internal cause can be assigned why the longer and wider periods of trial to the Church, which have happened since, should not also be foretold ? If we are sure that this prediction, of a ten days' persecution, is past, though perhaps no one has assigned any literal fulfilment, and many would dispute its reference to Diocletian's persecution, what presumption can hold against the past application of other prophetic dates in this book, however their exact place may be still disputed? The very first instance shows that a chronological prophecy may relate to the times of the Gentiles and be already fulfilled, and yet that its exact date and position may be either disputed or unknown.
2. In the epistle to Pergamos mention is made of parties who held firmly the doctrine of Balaam. This allusion to the temptations in the wilderness is repeated in the promise To him that overeometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna.” Now it is clear that the