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The Apocalypse


"The Day of the Lord"

Introduction to the Book of Revelation

XV. The Promises to the Seven Assemblies.

As we have seen that the references to the Old Testament in the seven Epistles correspond with the historical order of the events, so it is with respect to the promises contained in these Epistles. The literary order follows the historical order.

They are written to a People supposed to be well-versed in the history of the Old Testament, and well-acquainted with all that had happened to their fathers and had been written for their admonition. Instructed in the past history of their nation, they will readily understand the relation between the testings and judgments in the past with which they are familiar, and those similar circumstances in which they will find themselves in a yet future day.

While the historical events connected with the rebukes are carried down from Exodus to the period of the Minor Prophets, the promises cover a different period; commencing with the period of Eden, and ending with the period of Solomon.

The subjects of the rebukes follow the order of the departure of the People from Jehovah. Their decline and apostasy is traced out in the historical references contained in these Epistles. All blessing depended on the national adherence of the chosen nation to the conditions of the Covenant made with them from the days of the Exodus to the days of the Minor Prophets.

We see them, in the history, coming down, down, down; till we find them stripped of all blessing (nationally), poor, miserable and blind. All that seems to be hoped for, or looked for, among the People is a few individuals who will speak to one another and think upon the Coming One (Mal. 3:16). Later, we see these in the persons of Zacharias and Elisabeth (Luke 1:5,6), Simeon (Luke 2:25), and Anna (Luke 2:36-38), and others, "who were waiting for the consolation of Israel," and looking "for redemption in Jerusalem." (Compare Mark 15:43 and Luke 24:21).

We have seen that this same historical order is followed in these seven Epistles to the Assemblies. But when we turn to the PROMISES, then all is different. They proceed in the opposite direction. The order, instead of descending - from Israel's highest ground of privilege (Exodus) to the lowest stage of spiritual destitution (Minor Prophets) - ascends, in the counsels of Jehovah, from tending a garden to sharing His throne.

This will be readily seen as we trace it out in the promises made in Rev. 2: and 3. But first we must note that they are all intensely individual. There is no corporate existence recognised as such. Each one of the seven promises commences with the same words, "to him that overcometh." This answers to the language of the Four Gospels, and the Epistle to the Hebrews: e.g., "He that endureth to the end," and resists all the flood of evil by which he will be surrounded, he shall be saved.

Such phraseology is foreign to the language of the later Pauline Church Epistles. The whole period covered by "the day of the Lord" is called the final meeting of the ages, or the (...) (sunteleia); but, the crisis in which it culminates is called the (...) (telos), the end of the age. Both are rendered "end" in the New Testament, but the use of these two words must be carefully distinguished.

Sunteleia denotes a finishing or ending together, or in conjunction with other things. Consummation is perhaps the best English rendering.*  It implies that several things meet together, and reach their end during the same period; whereas telos is the point of time at the end of that period.**  For example, in Matt. 24:3 the disciples ask, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the sunteleia of the age."

* The word occurs only in Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 34:3; 28:20, which shows that this verse refers to a yet future day. And in Heb. 9:26, which refers to the sunteleia of the former dispensation. It is the Septuagint rendering of (...) (keytz) in Dan. 12:4, 13.

** Telos is significant in this connection, in Matt. 10:22 and Rev. 2:26.

In His answer to this question the Lord speaks of the whole period, and covers the whole of the sunteleia. But three times He mentions the telos

  1. to say that "the telos is not yet" (verse 6);
  2. to give a promise to him "that shall endure unto the telos" (verse 13);
  3. to mark the crisis in verse 14, which comes immediately after the close of the preaching of "the gospel of the kingdom." "Then shall the telos come."

The sign of the telos is the setting up of "the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet." Thus the telos, and he who endures to this, the same shall be saved, and will be among the overcomers specially referred to in these seven Epistles; to whom these promises are made, and to whom they peculiarly refer.

They are seven in number, as we know: but we have to note that the seven here, as elsewhere, is divided into three and four. Each Epistle ends with two things:

  1. an injunction to "hear;"
  2. a promise to him that "overcometh."

In the first three Epistles the Promise comes after the Injunction. In the last four it comes before it.

This is because the first three are connected, by reference, to what is written of the Divine provisions in the books of Genesis and Exodus (the Garden and the Wilderness); while the latter four are connected with the Land and the thrones of David and Solomon: the number three marking Heavenly or Divine perfection; and the number four having to do with the earth.

Let us look at these Promises in order.

1. The first (EPHESUS) "The Tree of Life" (Gen. 2)

refers to Genesis 2., the promise being, "I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7). God begins from Himself. The Apocalypse related not only to Israel, but to the earth; and the first promise goes back to Eden and to the "tree of life."

The way to that tree was lost: but was "kept" (or preserved) by the cherubim (Gen. 3:24). These cherubim next appear in connection with the way to the Living One, in the Tabernacle, and are thus linked on to Israel. Only in Israel's restoration can the way to the "Tree of Life" be restored.

Sovereignty and government on the earth is the great subject of the Apocalypse; therefore the promise goes back to the point where sovereignty was ignored and government was overthrown. This becomes the starting-point. That is why the cherubim reappear in the Apocalypse, intimately associated with this work of restoration of Divine Government on the earth. their song is of "creation" (Rev. 4:11). Their likeness is to creation. Their song is of the redemption of Israel (not their own. See the notes on them in chap. 4 and 5.).

2. The second (SMYRNA) "The Second Death" (Gen. 3)

refers to Genesis 3., the promise being "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (2:10, 11). The reference is to Genesis 3., where death first enters. But the promise goes beyond this; for it relates not merely to the death which came in with sin, but to the "second death," which is revealed in Rev. 20:14; 21:8.

3. The third (PERGAMOS) "The Hidden Manna" (Ex. 16)

refers to Exodus. The promise is, "I will give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it" (2:17).

It is in this third Epistle, which refers to the wilderness period and Balaam's counsel, that we have a special reference to the manna, the wilderness sustenance, of which Exodus contains the record. "Bread from Heaven" and "Angels' food" (Ps. 78:24,25) are set over against the lusts of the flesh and spiritual idolatry. The manna was to be "hidden" in the Ark of the Covenant, "that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt... so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony to be kept" (Ex. 16:32-34). This "hidden" food is for remembrance; to remind them that God can supply the remnant of His People in the coming day, when none shall be allowed to buy or sell (Rev. 13:16,17), and therefore to buy food to eat, unless they consent to bear the "mark of the Beast."

God supported His People in the wilderness, where they could obtain no food: Why not here? The false prophets will eat to the full at the table of another Jezebel: Why should not God "furnish a table" (Psa. 78:19) for His own in that coming day, in that wilderness whither they will flee (Rev. 12:14)? The one was literal: why not the other? Why go out of our way to seek for a strange interpretation alien to the subject, when we have one ready to hand in the Old Testament Scriptures which are being referred to? That manna was to be "hidden," and "kept," to remind them that God can still, and will again "furnish a table in the wilderness," that they may again be "nourished for a time, and times, and half a time" (Rev. 12:14).

There is a further promise as to the "white stone" and the "new name." Again we ask, Why go to our own imaginations, or to Pagan customs, for interpretations, when we have in this same book of Exodus* the account of the stones on which the names of the Tribes were engraven: Two on the High Priest's shoulder, with six names on each (collective); and twelve on the breastplate, with one name on each (individual). The individual names being placed "upon his heart" (the place of love), and the collective names "upon his shoulders" (the place of strength) (Exod. 28:8-30).

* In the Hebrew Canon Exodus is called the Book of "the Names." See Names and Order of the Books of the Old Testament, by Dr. Bullinger.

Besides these stones there were the stones of the "Urim and Thummin," of which little or nothing is known. These may have "white" for aught we know; but we do know that they were associated with a hearing and answering God dwelling in the midst of His People.

Here, amid their scenes of trial and tribulation, when God's people will find themselves in another wilderness, they are reminded, by this Exodus-promise, of Jehovah's presence with them; and of the blessed fact that He has their names in remembrance; that His love is everlasting; that His strength is almighty, and able to nourish them when their enemies might prevail and human resources fail.

4. The fourth (THYATIRA) "The Morning Star" (Num. 24)

refers to the books of Numbers and Samuel. The promise is, "to him will give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star" (Rev. 2:26-28).

Here again the literary order in the Apocalypse goes forward with the historical order: for it is in the book of Numbers that we have the basis of this promise given to the same People, who were the subjects of it there. For "there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall mite the corners (marg. princes) of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city" (Numbers 24:17-19).

This promise and prophecy had a first foreshadowing fulfilment in David; showing what was in store for David's Son and David's Lord: even for Him who was the "root and the offspring of David." Luke 1:31-33 tells of His conquest, and of His reign on David's throne.

David, we have said, foreshadowed it: for he could say in the words of his song, "thou hast girded me with strength to battle; them that rose up against me hast thou subdued under me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me.... Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the mire of the street" (2 Sam. 22:40,41,43).

This was the theme of David's song "in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies." And this heralds the yet more glorious song in honour of David's Lord when the kingdoms of the world shall have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever (Rev. 11:15).

The promise is given in this fourth Epistle, because the prophecy of Numbers 24:17-19 has never yet been really fulfilled. "The day-spring (the morning star) did visit His people" (Luke 1:78); but He was rejected; and therefore the fulfilment remains in abeyance, as well as that of Luke 1:31-33.

In Rev. 2:26-28 the time is at hand for the fulfilment of it. Hence the promise is repeated; and in chap. 20:4 we see it accomplished; for the "morning star" shall then have risen (Rev. 22:16), and the prophecy of Psalm 2 shall be fulfilled.

5. The fifth (SARDIS) "Names Confessed" (2 Sam. 23)

refers again to the times of David — not the beginning of his reign, but to the end of it. It is a double promise, negative and positive, and both have to do with the names of individuals.

"I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (3:5).

The reference is to "the last words of David" in 2 Sam. 23. They follow "the words of this song" in the previous chapter. These "last words of David" were uttered as he was about to give up the throne and the kingdom to Solomon; when the conflict was to end, and issue in dominion, and in a glorious reign of peace: foreshadowing the time when this promise of Rev. 3:5 is about to be fulfilled, and the Apocalyptic judgments are about to issue in millennial glories.

"I will not blot out his name."

"I will confess his name."

So runs the double promise, and it is exactly what we see in the history which is thus referred to. David is confessing the names of his overcomers, and the confessing of them begins, "These be the names of the mighty men whom David had" (2 Sam.23:8).

They had "gathered themselves to him" in the day of his rejection. For, though he had been anointed as king, he was not as yet sitting on his own throne, but was in the cave Adullam, or the place of testimony.*

* Adullam means their testimony.

They had gone to him in their distress and debt and bitterness of soul (1 Sam. 22:1,2), and David "became a captain over them." They had followed him through all his conflicts: and now, on the eve of the era of glory and peace, their names are confessed before all. Their deeds are announced, and their exploits are recorded. But there are some who are "blotted out."

Joab is not there, though "Abishai, the brother of Joab," is there (2 Sam. 23:18); "Asahel, the brother of Joab," is there (verse 24); "Nahari...armour-bearer to Joab," is there (verse 37); but not Joab himself. He was a "mighty man." He had been the commander-in-chief of David's forces, a valiant soldier, a great statesman and wise counsellor; but, while he was all this and more, he was not an overcomer, for his heart was not right with David. He remained loyal when Absalom rebelled; but he took part in the treason of Adonijah.

Ahithophel is not there; though we read of "Eliam the son of Ahithophel" (verse 34). He was David's greatest counsellor; so wise, that when he spoke "it was as if a man had enquired at the oracle (or word) of God" (2 Sam. 16:23). But he was not an overcomer, and he is not "confessed" even before men. He took sides with Absalom in his rebellion; and he is blotted out from this list of names.

Abiathar, too, is blotted out, for not even is his name here. He was David's beloved friend (see 1 Sam. 22:20-23), but he was not an overcomer. He remained loyal in the treason of Absalom, but joined in that of Adonijah. The other names are duly confessed.

The scene is unspeakably solemn; and has, by application, a warning voice for all. But, by interpretation, it comes with special force in this promise to the Assembly at Sardis, and refers to the fulfilment of Matt. 10:32, 33 and Luke 12:8, 9.

"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."

Thus this promise refers not only to that solemn past scene in Israel's history, but is shown to be closely connected with the Four Gospels, and points on to the scenes of final judgment and glory in connection with David's Lord, and "a greater than Solomon."

6. The sixth (PHILADELPHIA) "The Temple" (Sam & Kings)

refers to Solomon, as does the seventh (Laodicea). In the former the reference is to the "Temple" and to the "City;" while, in the latter, it is to the "Throne."

The promise runs (3:12), "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and my new name." The reference here to Solomon is unmistakable. He it was who built the temple, and put in its porch those mysterious pillars "Jachin and Boaz" (1 Kings 7:13-22; 2 Chron. 3:17).

"And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the fight pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin (i.e., He shall establish): and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz (i.e., In it is strength)."

Strength and permanence were thus announced to all who entered that wondrous Temple. The Temple of God is brought in this Epistle into contrast with the Synagogue of Satan, and those were of the latter who "say they are Jews and are not." That synagogue has neither strength nor permanence. But the overcomers are endued with Divine strength, and shall have eternal inheritance, for they "shall go no more out."

Moreover, the promise refers to the name of the overcomer being written in "the city of my God." There can be only one interpretation to this promise. Anyone acquainted with Old Testament phraseology will at once go back in memory to such Psalms as 48., 122., and 87. In this latter we read:

"Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised:
In the City of our God -- His holy mount.
Beautiful for situation, The joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion,
The sides of the north, the city of the great king.

As we have heard, so have we seen;
In the city of the Lord of hosts,
In the city of our God: God will establish it for ever" (Psa. 48:1, 2, 8)

"His foundation is in the holy mountains.
Jehovah loveth the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of thee,
O city of God. Selah.
I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me:
Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia,
This one was born there.

And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her.
And He, the Most High, shall establish her.
Jehovah shall count, when he writeth up the peoples
'This man was born there.' Selah.
As well the singers, as the players on instruments [shall say]
'All my springs are in thee'" (Psa. 87.).

True, the chapter-headings of the A.V. may call this "the nature and glory of the Church." But we shall prefer to believe God in so plain and literal a description of "the city of God:" and those who are the subjects of the promise will have a blessed knowledge of what it will mean to be written "in the city of my God."

Ezekiel (chap. 13.) also addresses Israel; but as he speaks not of promises and blessings, it is not interpreted of the Church, but it is left for the persons mentioned; though they are not more clearly defined here than in the above Psalm. In verse 9 we read of those who "shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am Adonai Jehovah" (Ezek. 13:9).

The promise in Rev. 3:12 refers to the New Jerusalem (chap. 21 and 22.). If the city of David and Solomon was such that "glorious things" were spoken of it as "the city of God," what will be the glories of that city which "cometh down out of heaven from my God"? And what will be the blessing of Zion and Jerusalem when, as written in Isa. 62:1, "the righteousness thereof shall go forth as brightness and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth"? Then it is that the promise is given, "Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name." (Compare Isa. 60:14). In Isa. 62:4 and 12 we have further instruction as to this "new name" referred to in Rev. 3:12.

7. The seventh (LAODICEA) "The Throne" (Kings & Chron.)

refers to the throne, of which Solomon's was in every respect the ideal type. This, the highest promise, is given to the overcomers in the lowest condition of Israel's degradation, which is described as in danger of being "spued out."

What that was we have already seen (page 89), and now we have the chiefest of all the promises. The overcomers in that last terrible condition of things are the ones who most need the greatest of Divine help and encouragement. Hence the highest promise is given.

"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3:21).

To Solomon is the great promise of the throne vouchsafed through David.

"When thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee... and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever" ( 2 Sam. 7:12, 13).

The defection of those who should follow Solomon on that throne was foreknown and provided for. The whole of Psalm 89:should be read in this connection, as explaining how and why the throne should come to be in abeyance. After referring to this in verse 14, the promise goes on: Yet

"My mercy shall not depart away from him...
"And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee:
"Thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. 7:15, 16).

How and when this promise will be fulfilled, after the period of chastening referred to in verse 14 (of 2 Sam. 7.) shall have ended, is described in Dan. 7. There we have fully set forth how "the Son of Man" shall receive the kingdom and the throne, and how "the saints of the Most High" shall share that throne with Him, as promised in this Epistle.

The title used in Dan. 7., "The Most High" is very significant, and shows that the whole scene relates to the earth. Whenever this title is used this is its meaning and teaching. Its first occurrence, in Gen. 14:18-24 marks it as belonging to the "possessor of heaven and earth." It was as "the Most High" that He divided to the nations "their inheritance" in the earth (Deut. 32:8), which, as its "possessor," He alone had the right or the power to do. In Psa. 83:18 He is called "the Most High over all the earth." And so it is in all the thirty-six occurrences of the title in the Old Testament.

The expression, "the saints of the Most High," tells us that the people referred to are an earthly people, even those whose promise is an earthly throne and an earthly kingdom. Not the church of God, therefore, whose calling, standing, hope and destiny are heavenly.

Four times is the expression used in Dan. 7. In verse 18 "the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever." In verses 21, 22 the fourth Beast "made war with the saints and prevailed against them (as related in Rev. 13:7); until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom."

In verse 25 the Beast "shall speak great words against the Most High," &c. (as related also in 2 Thess. 2:4, and Rev. 13:5, 6). In verse 27 we read that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him."

These are the "elect," who shall be "gathered together from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other," when the "Son of Man" shall come down on the earth (Matt. 24:30, 31). Then shall His "call" go forth, "Gather my saints together unto me." This is when He will call "to the earth, that He may judge His People" (Psa. 50:4, 5; read the whole Psalm).

And when, later, in Matt. 25:31, we read, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory": then there will be a different gathering, not of His "elect" (see Matt. 24:31), but "before him shall be gathered all nations," * according to Joel 3:1, 2 and 11, 12.

* See the structure of the whole of this great prophecy of Matt. 24 and 25. in Things to Come, vol. vi., p. 103.

This throne of the special judgment of the "nations" leads up to and ends in the permanent throne of Divine government, according to Jer. 3: 17. Then will this promise be fulfilled to the overcomer:

"I will grant to sit with Me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne (Rev. 3:21).

This promise, therefore, like all the others is not given to the Church of God. The members of that glorious body will have already been 'caught up to meet the Lord in the air," and will have had their part in the "gathering together unto him" there, before the cry of Psa. 50:5 goes forth to "the earth, that he may judge his people," and "gather his (earthly) saints together."

Thus we have traced the upward path -- the ascending scale of the seven promises of these seven Epistles, and seen how are they to be interpreted of Israel, whose downward path is here also so wonderfully set forth in these same Epistles.

This concludes our fifteen preliminary points; and we submit that their cumulative evidence establishes our fundamental position that, the "Church of God" does not form the subject of the Apocalypse. Our interpretation confines that subject to the "Jew" and the "Gentile" (I Cor. 10:32). Whether "the word of truth" is thus "rightly" divided is for our readers to determine for themselves, according to the evidence which we shall put before them.


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