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25 May, 2014

STUDY OF THE APOCALYPSE PART 1 MEANING OF THE ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND

THE LAMB STANDING ON MOUNTZION WITH
THE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND

Revelation 14:1-5
In entering on these 'memories' of John's great Words and Visions, we stated that it would be alike unprofitable and uninteresting to attempt investigating many portions of the Apocalypse which have formed the battle-ground of rival interpreters and conflicting interpretations; and that we should confine ourselves to those which are alike more perspicuous in meaning and replete with practical instruction. It was for this reason we passed so cursorily in our last, the details of the first six trumpet-soundings. We simply alluded, indeed, to the first four of these, which had reference to God's judgments on the outer world, on the trees, the sea, the rivers, the lights of heaven. The fifth and sixth trumpets were not even mentioned. They referred to the outpouring of the Divine judgments, not on material nature, but on living men; and consisted of the plague of the locusts and the plague of the horsemen. Without attempting to dwell on circumstantials, but simply to preserve continuity, we may link together in a few sentences the intervening portions, occupying, as they do, four chapters between the sixth trumpet-sounding and the beautiful passage which opens upon us like a welcome gleam of heavenly sunshine in chapter 14.

At the close of the sixth trumpet there is inserted a twofold vision—that of the mighty Angel holding in his hand "the little Book," and of "the two Witnesses" prophesying in sackcloth. Then comes the sounding of the seventh Angel's trumpet, to which we have already particularly alluded. It evoked a song of triumph from the lips of Christ's ingathered Church. Heaven was opened, and a disclosure made of "the Ark of his Testament," the pledge and symbol of the inviolable security of the glorified. The special theme of their song, however—the first outburst of praise on this birthday of the Church-triumphant, being an ascription of thanksgiving for the completion of God's righteous judgments on the world—the symbols of bliss and joy were appropriately accompanied with "lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail."

With this imagery concludes another great act in the apocalyptic drama. Yet, before the curtain falls, and before the terminating scenes, in the outpouring of the seven vials, take place, there is inserted a lengthened interlude—a great prophetic vision, complete in itself—regarding the Church and her three enemies. The Church is represented as a Woman arrayed in dazzling effulgence. The light of the midday sun is her vesture; the moon (probably the crescent moon) is under her feet, forming her sandals; and around her head is a tiara or coronal of twelve stars, recalling the description in the Song of Songs, "Who is she that looks forth as the morning? Fair as the moon, bright as the sun, and terrible as a starry host with banners." She is further depicted as fleeing into the wilderness, pursued and persecuted by a portentous monster—a great red Dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and a cluster of seven crowns on his head. 

This we are specially told was Satan himself, the Prince of Darkness, the arch-enemy of the Church and of mankind, "That old serpent which deceives the whole world." Evicted by Michael and his angels from the highest heavens, the dragon and his angels are represented as turning their foiled and baffled rage against the Woman, and "making war with the remnant of her seed." But the exiled and persecuted Church is shielded from the rage of the destroyer. Eagle-wings are given her to fly farther still into the recesses of the wilderness, where, like the great Prophet of Cherith, "She is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent."

Again, as the Apostle-spectator stands on the sands of Patmos, the Aegean waves rolling at his feet, he sees emerging from the bosom of the deep, another hideous monster, somewhat akin and yet differing from the former. This new fiendish beast has "seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." These heads and horns are the well-known symbols of world-power; and though evidently referring, in the first instance, to the colossal dominion of the Roman Empire, which, in the time of John, had from its Capitol on the Tiber carried winged thunderbolts wide over the earth; yet they are by no means restricted to this; but may rather be regarded as representative of all the vast earthly empires which are hostile to Christ and His Church. To this sea-monster Satan surrenders his throne and kingdom, making him his substitute and viceroy; and terribly does the delegate fulfill the commission by his blaspheming tongue and his war with the saints.

Once more, John beholds another—a third Beast—rising now, not from the sea, but from the earth—one of hybrid form, half lamb, half dragon; yet an emissary of the abyss and darkness, and confederate with the sea-born Beast—wearing a pretended gentleness and lamblike meekness, combined with the dragon's subtlety, cruelty, and mischief—a giant deceiver, doing great wonders, performing false miracles, and arrogantly exacting homage from "those who dwell on the earth." This has been generally supposed (however interpretations may conflict in details) to represent that gigantic religious machinery, in all its varied phases and protean shapes, first Pagan then Christian, but which has attained its culmination in the persecuting power and tyrannical usurpation of the Church of Rome—that hybrid of simulated meekness and humility, the gentleness of the lamb in combination with haughty pretension and cruel intolerance—the washer of pilgrims' feet, yet the kindler of Inquisition-fires—the disposer of crowns and kingdoms—the arch-ruler of men—the Vicar of God!

While the previous sea-monster was the representative of brute force, secular despotism, the tyranny of sword and conquest, of dungeon, and rack, and faggot—this latter is that of ecclesiastical despotism, going forth among the nations with all deceivableness of unrighteousness—its weapons moral and spiritual—its enthralled and crouching victims—the depraved intellect, the enslaved conscience, the distorted reason, the fettered will. We are reminded of the description which the great Dreamer, in his "Pilgrim's Progress" puts into the lips of Christian when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, "While I was musing, I espied before me a cave, where two giants, Pope and Pagan, dwelt in old times, by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, ashes, and mangled bodies lay there, were cruelly put to death."

But in this mystic Book, vision is interlaced and supplemented with vision. And as we have just described that of the Woman and her three enemies as an appendage to the seven trumpet-soundings preceding the opening of the vials, so the figure which we are now more specially to consider, forms an epilogue or addition to this interjected imagery; while it constitutes also a befitting introduction to the scenes of final triumph and final vengeance which occupy the last chapters of the Apocalypse.

The preceding revelations, so full of woe and sadness, were calculated to depress and overwhelm the spirit of the Apostle. The present is, as if a telescope were put into his hands, enabling him to pierce the environing gloom, and obtain the assurance of ultimate safety; or, to use the simile suggested by the wilderness where the persecuted Church had fled, as if an oasis had suddenly been opened up to him in the midst of the desert, with its wells and palm trees, telling of the welcome refreshment and shade.

Perhaps the darkest part of the whole Apocalypse had now been reached. The very heaven above, which, at the opening of the Book, was radiant with visions of surpassing glory and resonant with song, brings before the mind recent memories of conflict and the clang of battle. "There was war in Heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels." The final expulsion of the Great Enemy from the heavenly world seems to have been, in some mysterious way, connected with the completion of Christ's Redemption-work on earth. "Now," says the true Michael—the 'Man-child' of the prophetic vision, caught up unto God, and to His Throne, "Now," says He, in anticipation of His ascension, "shall the Prince of this world be cast out." "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven." The same event had thus been celebrated in prophetic strains: "You have ascended on high; You have led captivity captive."

And when that war was hushed, and the battle turned from the celestial gates, it was only, as we have noted, for the cast out legions to make earth the scene of their renewed unholy strife. If these judgments on the Church had been the disciplinary chastisements of her Great Head, John would have bowed with unfaltering trust. But it was a fearful brotherhood and confederacy he beheld of the powers of human and satanic evil—a compound of brute force and demon force; man, the tool and instrument of hellish impulses, raging against the Lord and His Anointed. Satan was marshaling the hosts of evil men; and from these duped, malignant human agents the appeal was heard, "Who is like the Beast? who is able to make war with him?" Well might the trembling Apostle exclaim, in words uttered by David in a kindred hour of terror and despondency, "Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hands of man."

It was, then, amid such gloomy picturings that the Patmos-exile turned his eye from sea and earth and wilderness, to the already well-known emblems of the Lamb, the four Living ones, the Elders, the Throne, the Hundred and forty-four thousand. It deserves, moreover, specially to be noted, in connection with the vision, that it is not to be taken as a picture of the Heaven that is hereafter to be—the Heaven of the completed Church-triumphant (that is reserved for future revelations, which we shall come by and bye to consider); it is rather the Heaven of the present—the calm world that now exists, when the earthly battle is still raging, and the lower horizon is still black with tempests.