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Introduction and Key

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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator
 



 

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 1-1000

070: Clement: First Epistle of Clement

075: Baruch: Apocalypse Of Baruch

075: Barnabus: Epistle of Barnabus

090: Esdras 2 / 4 Ezra

100: Odes of Solomon

150: Justin: Dialogue with Trypho

150: Melito: Homily of the Pascha

175: Irenaeus: Against Heresies

175: Clement of Alexandria: Stromata

198: Tertullian: Answer to the Jews

230: Origen: The Principles | Commentary on Matthew | Commentary on John | Against Celsus

248: Cyprian: Against the Jews

260: Victorinus: Commentary on the Apocalypse "Alcasar, a Spanish Jesuit, taking a hint from Victorinus, seems to have been the first (AD 1614) to have suggested that the Apocalyptic prophecies did not extend further than to the overthrow of Paganism by Constantine."

310: Peter of Alexandria

310: Eusebius: Divine Manifestation of our Lord

312: Eusebius: Proof of the Gospel

319: Athanasius: On the Incarnation

320: Eusebius: History of the Martyrs

325: Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History

345: Aphrahat: Demonstrations

367: Athanasius: The Festal Letters

370: Hegesippus: The Ruin of Jerusalem

386: Chrysostom: Matthew and Mark

387: Chrysostom: Against the Jews

408: Jerome: Commentary on Daniel

417: Augustine: On Pelagius

426: Augustine: The City of God

428: Augustine: Harmony

420: Cassian: Conferences

600: Veronica Legend

800: Aquinas: Eternity of the World

 


1000-2006

FUTURIST
HISTORICAL
MODERN

1265: Aquinas: Catena Aurea

1543: Luther: On the Jews

1555: Calvin: Harmony on Evangelists

1556: Jewel: Scripture

1586: Douay-Rheims Bible

1598: Jerusalem's Misery ; The dolefull destruction of faire Ierusalem by Tytus, the Sonne of Vaspasian

1603: Nero : A New Tragedy

1613: Carey: The Fair Queen of Jewry

1614: Alcasar: Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalypsi

1654: Ussher: The Annals of the World

1658: Lightfoot: Commentary from Hebraica

1677: Crowne - The Destruction of Jerusalem

1764: Lardner: Fulfilment of our Saviour's Predictions

1776: Edwards: History of Redemption

1785: Churton: Prophecies Respecting the Destruction of Jerusalem

1801: Porteus: Our Lord's Prophecies

1802: Nisbett: The Coming of the Messiah

1805: Jortin: Remarks on Ecclesiastical History

1810: Clarke: Commentary On the Whole Bible

1816: Wilkins: Destruction of Jerusalem Related to Prophecies

1824: Galt: The Bachelor's Wife

1840: Smith: The Destruction of Jerusalem

1841: Currier: The Second Coming of Christ

1842: Bastow : A (Preterist) Bible Dictionary

1842: Stuart: Interpretation of Prophecy

1843: Lee: Dissertations on Eusebius

1845: Stuart: Commentary on Apocalypse

1849: Lee: Inquiry into Prophecy

1851: Lee: Visions of Daniel and St. John

1853: Newcombe: Observations on our Lord's Conduct as Divine Instructor

1854: Chamberlain: Restoration of Israel

1854: Fairbairn: The Typology of Scripture

1859: "Lee of Boston": Eschatology

1861: Maurice: Lectures on the Apocalypse

1863: Thomas Lewin : The Siege of Jerusalem

1865: Desprez: Daniel (Renounced Full Preterism)

1870: Fall of Jerusalem and the Roman Conquest

1871: Dale: Jewish Temple and Christian Church (PDF)

1879: Warren: The Parousia

1882: Farrar: The Early Days of Christianity

1883: Milton S. Terry: Biblical Hermeneutics

1888: Henty: For The Temple

1891: Farrar: Scenes in the days of Nero

1896: Lee : A Scholar of a Past Generation

1902: Church: Story of the Last Days of Jerusalem

1917: Morris: Christ's Second Coming Fulfilled

1985: Lee: Jerusalem; Rome; Revelation (PDF)

1987: Chilton: The Days of Vengeance

2001: Fowler: Jesus - The Better Everything

2006: M. Gwyn Morgan - AD69 - The Year of Four Emperors

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Philip Schaff, Editor

The International Revision Commentary on the New Testament

Based upon the Revised Version of 1881


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MATTHEW | MARK


V.Interpretation Of The Apocalypse.

The remarks made in the two preceding sections of this Introduction on the general design and nature of the Apocalypse, as well as upon its structure and plan, have so far prepared the way for the principles upon which it is to be interpreted. It is necessary, however, to enter somewhat more fully into this point, for no book of Scripture has suffered so much from the variety of those systems of interpretation to which it has been exposed. To such an extent has this been the case, that many have been led to doubt whether anything like a definite interpretation is possible. Such a suggestion cannot be yielded to for a moment. If one thing be clearer than another, it is that the book was intended to be understood. Let us look at its title. It is 'The Rnelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show unto His servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass' (chap. i. 1). Let us listen to some of the earliest words spoken to the Seer by the glorious Person who appears to him. They are, 'What thou seest write in a book, and send it to the seven churches' (chap. i. n). Or let us hear almost the last instructions of the angel when the visions of the book have ended, 'Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand' (chap. xxii. 10); while, with still more pointed reference to the use to be made of it, the exalted Redeemer Himself declares,' I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify to you these things for the churches' (chap. xxii. 16). The message of the Revelation, then, was not to be sealed up. It was to be spoken, to be testified, to man; and, if so, can any one for an instant doubt that it was to be listened to, to be apprehended, to be taken home, by man? The words, so solemnly repeated in each of the Epistles to the seven churches of Asia, may certainly be applied, if indeed it was not intended that they should be applied, to the whole of the book with which they are so intimately bound up, 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.'

While it was thus the object of the Apocalypse to be understood, it ought not, upon the other hand, to be supposed that symbolical language is less the expression of thought, or that it is used with a less definite meaning, than any other language which a writer employs. Its details may indeed often elude our powers of interpretation; but this may arise from the fact that even to the Seer himself these details had no separate and individual force. Or, if they had, and we cannot understand them, we may yet be able to reach a sufficiently clear apprehension of the symbols as a whole.

The difficulty of interpreting the Apocalypse, therefore, lies neither in the intention of God nor in the character of the language. Much more than from either of these causes it has arisen from the fact that, owing to its peculiar nature, the book has lent itself in a greater than common degree to the theological polemic, and to the strifes of contending parties in the Church. Dealing with the fortunes of the people of God in this world, it has enabled all who considered themselves peculiarly His people, that is, almost every sect in turn, to launch its anathemas at the heads of others, and to see these others typified in the dark descriptions of which its pages are full. Thus its sublimity has been marred and its .beauty soiled; while its noble lessons, intended to inculcate the widest views of God's superintending care of His whole Church, have been converted into catch-words which have not only alienated the world, but have even narrowed the hearts of Christian men. It is most consolatory to think that a new era has of late been opening for the Apocalypse. Recent interpreters, or writers on particular parts of it, have been distinctly approaching to a unanimity never before observed in regard to its interpretation. We may hope that the time is not distant when, under a well-regulated exegesis, the Apocalypse will lighten the dark places of the Church's pilgrimage with a light as clear as that with which its visions, when originally seen, lightened the lonely rock of Patmos to the exiled Seer.

1. Of the systems of interpretation which have been applied to the Apocalypse, but which it is necessary to lay aside if we would profit from it, the first to be noticed is the Continuously Historical. We speak first of this, because it has probably its largest number of defenders in the British Islands and in America. The principle of the system is that the book is a predictive prophecy, dealing with specific events of history from the beginning to the close of the Christian era. All the greatest incidents, and, it must be added, some of the most trivial details, of the past or present (such as the red colour of the stockings of Romish cardinals) are to be seen in its prophetic page; and the pious mind derives its encouragement and comfort from the thought that these things were long ago foretold. Nor is there any reason why it should not do so were it possible to fix the interpretation. But the whole school of historical interpreters has been irretrievably discredited, if not by the extravagance or paltriness of its explanations, at least by their hopeless divergence from, and contradiction of, one another. Besides this, it has to be observed that to make the Apocalypse deal almost exclusively with these historical incidents belonging to the later history of the Church, is to make it a book that must have been useless to those for whom it was first written. How could the early Christians discover in it the establishment of Christianity under Constantine, the rise of Mahomedanism, the Lutheran Reformation, or the French Revolution? Of what possible use would it have been to foretell to them events in which they could have no interest? Would they have been either wiser or better if they had known them? Would they not have substituted a vain prying into the future for the study of those divine principles which, belonging to every age, bring the weight of universal history to enforce the lessons of our own time? Would it not have made particular events, instead of the principles of the Divine government of the world, the chief matter with which we have to concern ourselves? Nothing has tended more to destroy the feeling that there is value in the Apocalypse than this continuously historical interpretation of the book. The day, however, for such interpretations has passed, probably never to return.

2. A second system of apocalyptic interpretation which, not less than the former, must be set aside, is that known as the Praterist. By this system the whole book is confined to events surrounding the Seer, or immediately to follow his day, these events being mainly the overthrow, first of the Jews, and next of pagan Rome, to be succeeded by peace and prosperity to the Church for a thousand years. This system, the introduction of which in its completeness is generally ascribed to a distinguished Jesuit of the seventeenth century, seems to have rested partly on the opposition of the Church of Rome to that Protestant interpretation which regarded her as the apocalyptic Babylon, and partly on the statements of the book itself in chap. i. 1,3, where it describes its contents as ' the things which must shortly come to pass,' and expressly states that 'the time is at hand.' Nor is it to be denied that there is a much larger element of truth in this system than in that continuously historical one of which we have just spoken. It may without hesitation be conceded that the Seer did draw from his own experience, and from what he beheld around him either fully developed or in germ, those lessons as to God's dealings with the Church and with the world

which he applies to all time. It may also without impropriety be allowed that he could have no idea that the Second Coming of Christ would be so long delayed as it has been, and that he may have thought of it as likely to take place so soon as events, already seen by him in their beginnings, should be accomplished. But it is impossible to admit that, whether or not he anticipated the length of time that was to elapse before the Lord's return, he deliberately confined himself to the Church's fortunes in his own day, and left unnoticed whatever of pilgrimage and warfare was still in store for her. The whole tone of the book leads to the opposite conclusion. It certainly treats of what was to happen down to the very end of time, until the hour of the full accomplishment of the Church's struggle, of the full winning of her victory, and of the full attainment of her rest. We do not object to the Praeterist view on the ground that, were it correct, it would make the Apostle speak only of events long since passed away and of little present interest to us. The same reasoning would deprive of permanent value much of the teaching of the New Testament Epistles. We object to it rather upon exegetical grounds. The Apocalypse bears distinctly upon its face that it is concerned with the history of the Church until she enters upon her heavenly inheritance.

3. A third system of apocalyptic interpretation known as the Futurist has still to be noticed, but noticed only to be, like the two preceding ones, set aside. The main principle of this system is that almost the whole, if not the whole, book belongs to the future, that the time for its fulfilment has not yet come, and that it will not come until the very eve of our Lord's return. With an element of truth in it to which we shall immediately advert, it is obvious that this system, as a whole, is indefensible. It destroys one of the main purposes of the Apocalypse, which was to strengthen and encourage the Church at the moment when it was written. It robs it of no small part of its value for the Church in after ages, for how shall we know when the n't of our Lord's return arrives? Nothing but the return itself, which is to take place like a thief in the night, can show when the eve was. The Church, therefore, upon this system, could never apply the events of the book directly to herself. She could never tell whether she was living in the last days of her history till the days were over. No doubt it may be said that a picture even of the future like that here presented may encourage. But a just exegesis of the book again comes in to prevent our supposing that we have only a picture of the future. The Church is addressed in her present circumstances, and is told what is to be done to her and for her at the instant when she reads the book, as well as at some distant day.

Yet there is an element of truth in the Futurist as well as in the Praeterist scheme of interpretation. The book does belong to the time of the end, because that time is always, has always been, at hand. According to our modes of reckoning it may be delayed, but with God 'one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day,' and it is from the Divine point of view that the apocalyptic visions are presented to St. John. The Christian Church has been denied knowledge of the time when the Bridegroom will come, for this reason above all, that she may live in continual expectation of His coming, and so be at all times ready to meet Him. If she is always in the midst of her struggle, she may at the same time always believe that she is near its close. When, therefore, with the lessons of the Apocalypse she associates the idea that the cry is already going forth, 'Behold, the Bridegroom cometh,' she is only acting in the spirit of a book the distinguishing note of which is 11 come quickly.'

The truth is, that both the Praeterist and the Futurist system err in adopting too much of the principle which, on the continuously historical scheme, has been carried to such unwarrantable excess. The former is right, in so far as it recognises the fact that the Seer dealt, first of all, with the events of his own day, and gathered even his most general lessons from them. The latter is right, in so far as it lays emphasis on the fact that throughout the whole book the Lord is at hand. But both are wrong in so far as they imagine that the Apocalypse deals with specific events rather than great principles, and in so far as they fail to observe that the principles with which it deals are applicable not only at the beginning or end, but throughout the whole period of the Church's history in this world. It is a mistake to imagine that the Church of Christ, in order to find comfort, must know the particular form which her trials will assume in any special age. To let her know this beforehand would, in many cases, be an impossibility; for in the nature of things an early age cannot, even if instructed, enter into the experiences of a later one, and so cannot conceive aright what may be the difficulties of the children of God in times long subsequent to itself. The Church knows enough if she is told that throughout all her earthly history her sufferings shall be those of her Lord, that at every point of it she will have to struggle with the world around her as He had to struggle with the world around Him; but that, however various her forms of suffering, her cup shall be no other than that of which He drank, and her baptism no other than that with which He was baptized. More than this is not only unnecessary; it might mislead. It might withdraw the Church's thoughts from the great truth that she is to be the companion of Jesus in His sorrows, in order to make her engage her thoughts with those more particular events which it is not of the slightest consequence for her to know. The Pneterist and Futurist systems forget this, and so lose sight of the universal applicability of the book to the Church's fortunes.

Our readers will now easily understand that in the following Commentary the Apocalypse is not interpreted upon any of these three great systems. The book is regarded throughout as taking no note of time whatsoever, except in so far as there is a necessary beginning, and at the same time an end, of the action with which it is occupied. All the symbols are treated as symbolical of principles rather than of events; and that, though it is at once admitted that some particular event, whether always discoverable or not, lies at the bottom of each. All the numbers of the book are regarded also as symbolical, even the two horns of the lamb-like beast in chap, xiii. 11, expressing not the fact that the animal referred to has two horns (which it has not), but an entirely different meaning. The book thus becomes to us not a history of either early, or mediaeval, or last events written of before they happened, but a solemn warning to Christians that in every age they have to consider the signs of their own time; and that, if they are true to their profession, they will find themselves in one way or another in their Master's position, and needing to be animated and comforted by the thought that, as He passed through suffering to glory, so shall they. In this sense the Apocalypse was most strictly applicable to St. John's own day, but it has been not less applicable in every age since then, and it will continue to apply with equal force to all ages that may be yet to come before the end.

It is in this point of view that the present writer feels that the Apocalypse is of such inestimable value to the Church; and that he cannot but lament the prevalence of those false modes of interpretation which, as it seems to him, have reduced it from the high moral and religious level at which it ought to stand to that of a puzzle for the curious, or a storehouse of harsh epithets for the controversial. It is strange to think that a book which points out to Christians how great must be their likeness to their Lord in all that ought to make them most humble-minded, most meek, and most forgiving, has been so often used as a means of fomenting spiritual pride and every form of uncharitableness. There is no book of Scripture which ought so much to soften the heart, to remind us that we are strangers here, and to lead us, through the thought of that contest with the world which we are so unwilling to face, into feelings of sympathy with all who are in any degree striving to exercise similar selfdenial. But it will do this only when we see that the one thought upon which it rests, and which all its symbols are designed to impress upon us, is, that, as the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in an evil world, our lot is to 'suffer with Him,' that with Him we may be also 'glorified.'

Of the principles upon which this Commentary has been written, as well as of those upon which the text has been determined, it is not necessary tj speak now. They have been already explained in the Introduction to the Gospel of St John (p. xxxv.); and it need only be added that the text of Drs. Westcott and Hort, as being in the opinion of the writer the best critical edition of the Greek New Testament that we possess, has been almost uniformly adopted. The influence of the Revised Version will also be traced throughout the Commentary; but this, in the circumstances, will be allowed to have been natural, if not indeed unavoidable. At the same time the text of that Version has been by no means slavishly followed.

The Author regrets that the limits to which he was confined have prevented so full a discussion of many points as he could have wished. He has been even not unfrequently compelled to give results without stating the grounds upon which they rest. This could not be helped. One effect of the limitation of his space may not be unacceptable to the reader. It has made it necessary to avoid quoting at any length the opinions of other commentators. On all disputed passages, and how numerous these are every student of the Apocalypse knows, the Author has endeavoured to come to an independent and definite conclusion.

This Introduction ought not to be closed without the Author's expressing his sense of obligation to his friend and old pupil, the Rev. James Cooper, Aberdeen, to whom he is indebted for many valuable suggestions, as well as to another friend, also an old pupil, the Rev. Alexander Fiddes of the same city, who has given him great assistance in the correction of the press.

The University, Aberdeen, 1883.

 

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