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"Mosheim, in his Ecclesiastical History, tells us that a general belief prevailed in Europe toward the close of the tenth century that the year 1000 would witness the coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and the end of the world. As the time drew near a general panic seized the minds of men. Many abandoned their homes and their families and repaired to the Holy Land; others made over their lands to the Church, or permitted them to lie uncultivated, and the whole course of ordinary life was violently disturbed and deranged."
The second class of persecutions came from paganism, especially as represented in the Roman empire. Her policy was to tolerate all religions, and Christianity was no exception so long as it did not interfere with the public welfare. But, as we have seen (Chapter XVIII, Part I), Nero, to avert the execration of the people of Rome for setting the city on fire, charged the crime on the Christians and began one of the most fearful and bloody of persecutions. Then followed nine others from Roman malevolence, having for their dire object the extirpation of the religion of Christ from the civilized world.In the book of Revelation we have these persecutions depicted. In chapter xii the great red dragon is represented as being cast out of heaven and coming down with great wrath upon the earth; this great wrath arising from the fact that he knows that "he hath but a short time." The dragon stands on the sand of the sea and beholds, rising out of the sea, a terrible wild beast (therion) having seven heads and ten horns. This beast represents the empire of Rome as impersonated in Nero. As has already been stated, the dragon gives this beast power to make war with the saints and overcome them (chap. xiii, 7).
Another beast arises out of the earth, or land, which speaks "as a dragon." He exercises all the power of the first beast, and does great wonders. This beast symbolizes the proconsular and priestly power of Rome as impersonated in Gessius Florus; and the persecuting power is also rampant in him, for he causes that "as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed" (chap. xiii, 15).
The ten kings which receive power with the beast, and give their power and strength unto the beast, make "war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (chap. xvii, 12, 13, 14).
Then in the nineteenth chapter the revelator says: "And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs in his sight, wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image: they twain were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone: and the rest were killed with the sword . . . which came forth out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh" (vers. 19-21). Here we have the prefigurement of the repression and cessation of the persecuting power of the Roman nation, through its imperial, senatorial, military, and judicial functionaries. We are to translate all these concrete figures back into the abstract, and see in this description the one great fact that pagan persecution, from national sources, ceased to be practiced.
There should be no chapter division between this vivid and graphic description of the revelator and the next paragraph, for now follows merely another scene in the same drama: the punishment of the arch enemy of Christianity and the great instigator of all this malice against its adherents. The dragon himself is seized by the angel and cast into the abyss, and shut up and sealed, "that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished."
This was a great crisis in the world's history. There was a marked and decisive check given to the persecuting power of pagan nations, and the power of the devil, which deceived them into thus persecuting the Church of Christ, was for a time, at least, entirely broken. It was, as Schlegel describes it, "the decisive crisis between ancient and modern times;" and he asserts that the introduction and expansion of Christianity "has changed and regenerated not only government and science, but the whole system of human life" (Philosophy of History, page 276).
This era of the Church's rest from persecution was fully inaugurated at the accession of Constantine, A. D. 312, and the issuance of his edict of toleration in 313. McClintock and Strong say: "In January, 313, he published the memorable edict of toleration in favor of the Christians, by which all the property which had been taken from the Christians during the persecutions was restored to them. They were also made eligible to public offices. This edict has been regarded as marking the triumph of the cross and the downfall of paganism" (art. "Constantine"). "Heathenism seemed to be annihilated at one blow" (Uhlhorn). From that time this edict "was received as a general and fundamental law of the Roman world" (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. xx).
What is very remarkable in this connection is that the Christians of that time, with Constantine himself, believed that his edict and its results were the fulfillment of this very prophecy in the book of Revelation. The well-known labarum was made, which consisted of a Roman standard with the first two letters of the name of Christ (^) upon it, and a monument was erected representing the emperor with a cross over his head, and under his feet Satan as a serpent falling headlong into the abyss. Uhlhorn, as quoted by Warren, thus describes it: "At the entrance of the imperial palace there attracted the gaze of all who went out and in an immense picture representing Constantine himself with the labarum, the banner of the cross, in his hand, and under his feet pierced with arrows a dragon, the dragon of heathenism." And Eusebius says: "For the sacred oracles in the books of God's prophets have described him as a dragon and a crooked serpent; and for this reason the emperor thus publicly displayed a painted resemblance (cera igne resoluta) of the dragon beneath his own and his children's feet, stricken through with a dart and cast headlong into the depths of the sea. In this manner he intended to represent that concealed adversary of the human race, and to indicate that he was consigned to the gulf of perdition by virtue of the trophy of salvation placed above his head." So Schaff: "This rising significance of the cross was a faithful symbol of the extraordinary change in the empire. . . . The despised religion exerted a molding influence upon civil legislation, ruled the life of the people, and began to control the general course of civilization." Davidson says: "This leads to the ancient view, namely, that the period [of the millennium] is past, not future. It will be observed that the beast and the false prophet are both destroyed (chap. xx).
Now, the beast cannot mean the papacy, as has been often assumed. It refers to the heathen power which was opposed to Christ and his religion. Hence the millennium began after the abolition of paganism in the Roman empire" (Interior, vol. iii, page 630). Professor C A. Briggs: "The millennium begins not with any definite event or year of time, but in general with the supremacy of the Church or kingdom of Christ over the Roman empire or world power. . . . John Fox is said to be the first who dated it from Constantine. He was followed by Lord Napier, Patrick Forbes, Hugh Broughton, and most interpreters since" (Independent, August, 1883). (These last three quotations from Warren's Parousia of Christ.)
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshiped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (vers. 4, 5, 6).
These "souls" which John sees seated on thrones are, as we have previously shown (Chapter X, Part I), the same "souls" that were seen under the altar. They appear again in chap. vii, 13-17. They are alluded to in chap. x, 7: "Then is finished the mystery of A Resurrection 367
God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets." Again we meet them in chap. xi, 18: "And the time to give their reward to thy servants the prophets;" then again in chap. xiv, 1-5, they stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion; in chap. xv, 2, we see them standing on the glassy sea, and still later (xix, 14) they are the armies on white horses in fine linen, white and pure. All this is in exact accordance with the iterative character of the book; it gives the same events over and over.
This sitting on thrones of those who were previously under the altar is called a "resurrection" not because it is a rising from the graves of bodies which had been dead. There is nothing said of the resurrection of bodies. "This resurrection is to be explained as a resurrection from Hades to heaven. Those who have suffered in this world and have been slain ascend to their thrones in heaven" (Professor Briggs). "The resurrection is ascribed to these persons only in a figurative sense; that, namely, of a transition into a new and glorious existence; as is indicated by the expression This is the first resurrection' " (Heng- stenberg). Hence in the original this resurrection is denoted by a phraseology differing from that which is applied to the resurrection of mankind in general. It is lost sight of in our English version, but it is a peculiarity of too much importance to be rightfully disregarded. The latter is usually styled simply the resurrection of the dead; that of Christ and his martyrs, the resurrection from or from out of the dead. So, in the Vulgate, the resurrectio a or ex mortuis is distinguished from the resurrectio mortuorum. (See Rom. viii, 11; x, 7; Eph. i, 20; Heb. xiii, 20; I Pet. i, 3, 21.) It implies that out of the whole number of the departed there shall be those who attain a peculiar honor, one which they do not share in common with the rest.
"Being the most exalted state of future reward, it became the object of intensest desire on the part of persecuted saints. Even Paul declared that he made it the object of his most strenuous effort (Phil. iii, 10- 14): 'If by any means I might attain unto [Gr.] the resurrection which is from among the dead.' It was the same inspiring hope that actuated the Christians of the succeeding centuries and led them to seek the bloody crown of martyrdom, the pledge of the crown of victory above. So the sneering Gibbon, chap. xvi" (Parousia of Christ, pages 200, 201)." (Christ Came Again, pp. 366-370)
"So when we read in Heb. ii, 14, 15, "that through death he might bring to nought [destroy, in Authorized Version] him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage," we are not to consider this to be an annihilation of the devil, but merely a reference to the cessation of his power over those in whom he had produced this fear of death." (pp 146.147)
"We grant that a resurrection was to occur at the parousia, but deny that it was to be visible to the eyes of mortals, and therefore insist that it must have taken place just as the Scriptures assert it did; and that, being thus an invisible transaction, it may be still proceeding, as a legitimate part of the events which mark the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who sits on the throne of authority and power to judge and give life—eternal life—with spiritual bodies to all who are believing in him as the years roll on."
(On II Tim. 2:16-18)
"Even if they had maintained that a resurrection of the body had taken
place, it is to be remembered that this was before the parousia of Christ,
and therefore such teaching might then have been erroneous, while now it may
be, and, as we believe, is, the only correct teaching, and such as should
not subject one to the spear of the heretic hunter.
"Our death is the immediate exchange of the visible physical for the invisible physical like unto the ascension. Death is our assumption into the invisible physics; the assumption is the service which death gives us; it is instant on death, the spring of another existence without a wintry ghostly interval. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we repossess our body in death; death is our ingression into the spiritual body without a leap or break. 'To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.' We know that when our earthly house of this temporal residence is dissolved we have—not shall have —a building of God, a residence of eternal elements in the heavens." (p. 284)
"So our hope in Christ is resplendent with the glories in store for us as we look for our own immediate manifestation with him in the heavenly places so soon as we cease to bear the image of the earthy and begin at once to bear the image of the heavenly. " (p. 284)
(On the judgment)
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
Charles Volney Anthony
John Alfred Faulkner (1901)
But I can not think that these divines have made good their interpretation. If the apostle had said that this age, aion, was to pass away in fire, we might think that he was speaking figuratively of the passing of the Old Dispensation. But he compares the future destruction by fire to the past destruction by water. One was historical and literal; so will the other be. Then notice his words: "The heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire." There is no indication of any figurative reference, or of any limitation of the words " heavens and earth " to the Jewish Church. Certainly if he intended to describe the destruction of Jerusalem, he used language in a very misleading way. " The earth and the works therein "—not Jerusalem simply —"shall be burned up." I must therefore hold with Huther, Frommuller, Weiss ("Bibl. Theol. of New Testament," ii., 245-247), Briggs (Presi. Bee., viii., 750-758), De Wette, Wiesinger, Alford, Beet ("Last Things," 11-102), Lumby, Stevens ("Theol. of the New Testament," 323), and other scholars who can not be accused of dogmatic bias, that the natural sense of the words of 2 Peter is the true sense, and that they do teach that all earthly things shall come to an end in fire. The only way to get rid of the teaching of the book is to deny its inspiration or its right to a place in the canon.
There is to be a new heavens and a new earth. This world is to be fitted up as the abode of God's saints, not permanently or as their only home, but for a time at least, and as one of the many mansions of our Father's house. This earth, the scene of our Lord's redemption, is not to pass away entirely, but is to be renovated for yet more glorious uses." (The Homiletic review, Volume 42, p. 445)
William Revell Moody (1900)
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