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John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott
Illustrated New Testament (1878)


¶ T H E   R E V E L A T I O N   O F

S T.   J O H N   the Divine.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]
[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22]

      AS is the case with almost every point connected with the origin and history of the sacred writings, the authorship of the Apocalypse, and the time and place at which it was written, have been the subjects of repeated and protracted discussions. It has, however, been the generally-received opinion, from very early times, that this book was written by the evangelist John, upon the Island of Patmos, whither he had been sent in exile, in the latter part of his life, after he had attained to a great age. With this supposition, various allusions contained in the book itself, particularly 1:1, 4, 9, correspond.

      The book narrates a series of visions which have been almost universally supposed to prefigure events which were to take place in the then future history of the church, and of the world. There is, perhaps, no book in the New Testament which is more clear and intelligible, and on which commentators are better agreed, in respect to its direct and immediate meaning; but the attempts which have been made to determine the historical events, which are to be considered as represented by its various symbols, have resulted in a vast variety of conflicting opinions. The commentators of each successive age have compared the symbolical visions with that portion of the series of historical events which had taken place before their own day, and they have generally allowed the imagination to assist the judgment in tracing the resemblances. They have also, probably, erred in attempting to find too much prophetical meaning in the book; by giving sometimes a prophetic interpretation to details in the description of the various symbols, which were, in fact, only intended, like many of the circumstances in our Savior's parables as incidents to give completeness and expression to the narrative or description, and not to convey, by themselves, any special spiritual or prophetic meaning. The consequence is, that a great number of systems have been advanced for connecting these prophecies with the subsequent events of history. In these labors a vast amount of learned research and ingenuity has been expended, and, as it would seem much of it expended in vain; for they have produced, on the whole, no very satisfactory results; and, indeed, we may safely suppose that, [550] when divine predictions, given for the express purpose of authenticating revelation, shall be fulfilled, the correspondence of the event with the prediction will not be one which it will require minute and labored ingenuity to show.

      Under these circumstances, it would seem to be most judicious, in reading this portion of the sacred volume, to content ourselves with seeking to understand the immediate signification of the language, and the general nature of the events prefigured by the several symbolical images, without being too solicitous to identify the historical events to which they respectively refer; and, above all, not to attempt predictions of our own, based upon any calculation which we may make by the use of elements deduced from these symbols. We must be content to leave it with Jehovah to develop the events of futurity in his own way.

      In the mean time, while the prophetic meaning of this book remains involved in great obscurity, it has exerted, and will still continue to exert, a great spiritual influence upon mankind. There is a certain moral expression in its symbolical descriptions, difficult, perhaps, to analyze, but evident and very decided in its effects. The solemn grandeur of its imagery and diction; its obscure delineations of the future, mysterious but sublime; its repeated assurances of almighty protection for those who accept the redemption purchased by the Son of God, and its dread denunciations of judgment against those who reject it; its alluring promises on the one hand, and its calm but awful warnings and threatenings on the other,--all conspire to give this book an influence on the human soul second perhaps to that of no other portion of the word of God. It comes most appropriately at the close of the sacred volume, to seal, with its obscure and mysterious, but yet expressive, sanctions, the great truths which revelation announces to mankind.


      1. Revelation. The word in Greek is Apocalypse. Hence this book is often called the Apocalypse.--And he sent; that is, Christ sent.

      3. He that readeth, and they that hear. In ancient times, very few could read, and of those who could read, very few could have direct access to such a book as this. Comparatively few copies of such a work could be made, and of course the multitude must depend for their knowledge of its contents upon hearing it read in public assemblies--And keep; keep in mind. [551]

      4. John. The frequency with which this writer uses his name, (see v. 1, 4, 9,) contrasted with the circumlocutory manner in which the evangelist John speaks of himself in the Gospel which was unquestionably written by him, (see John 21:20-25,) has been considered as an argument that the two books were written by different authors. The difference, however, in the character of the two works, is amply sufficient to account for this diversity.--In Asia; Asia Minor.--The seven Spirits; spiritual influences. They are represented, in 4:5, as lamps of fire, that is, as radiations of divine and heavenly light. The plurality expressed by this imagery would seem to refer to the various modes and forms in which the enlightening influences of the divine Spirit diffuse themselves over the moral world.

      5. The first-begotten of the dead. Those persons who had been raised from the dead before the resurrection of the Savior, were only restored to mortal life; they were to die again, Jesus was the first who rose to immortality. Hence such expressions as this, and others similar to it, as in 1 Cor. 15:20, are applied to him.

      6. To him be glory and dominion. This ascription of glory and dominion is plainly applied to Christ, the words to him being a resumption of the words unto him, in v. 5.

      7. With clouds; that is, in majesty and power. The dark cloud bringing thunder, lightning, and tempest, in its train, is an appropriate symbol of terrible majesty.

      8. Alpha and Omega. These are the names of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and so are used metaphorically in the sense here indicated.

      9. Patmos. Exile to the small islands of the Egean Sea was a common mode of punishment in those times. Patmos was not very far from the coast of Asia Minor, nearly opposite to Miletus.

      10. On the Lord's day; the first day of the week, being the Christian Sabbath. It is called the Lord's day on account of its being the day on which our Lord rose from the dead. [552]

      13. Clothed, &c. This was a dress denoting, according to the usages of those times, very high rank and station.

      15. As the sound of many waters; that is, as the roaring or thundering of the waves of the sea.

      16. A sharp two-edged sword. The image here used, as a symbol, to denote the word or doctrine of Jesus Christ, is employed for the same purpose, metaphorically, in Heb. 4:12.


      1. Unto the angel of the church. This expression, which is used in reference to each of the seven churches, has been generally understood to refer to the several presiding officers, upon whom would devolve the duty of receiving and communicating such epistles. It is, however, perhaps, not certain that any actual office is intended. The term may be used, in accordance with the general style and manner of this book, symbolically, that is, as a personification of the spirit and influence by which the several churches were characterized; for it does not appear to be elsewhere used to signify presiding officers over the church; and besides, from other allusions to these churches, it would seem that there was no one officer who had them particularly in charge. (Acts 14:23. 20:17. James 5:14. Tit. 1:5.) However this may be, it is plain that the instructions and warnings contained in these epistles, thus addressed in form to the angels of the churches, are plainly intended for [553] the members in general. See 10, 11, and other similar modes of expression.

      4. Thy first love. The passage (Eph. 1:15, 16) addressed to the same church at an earlier day, by the apostle Paul, contains a striking allusion to the strength of their early love for the Savior and his cause. As is very often the case with Christians, it would seem that their zeal (v. 2, 3) had somewhat outlasted their love.

      5. And will remove thy candlestick; that is, take away from them the religious privileges which they would not rightly improve.

      6. The Nicolaitanes. There is another allusion to this class in v. 15. Various traditions and conjectures have come down to us in respect to this sect, whose deeds and whose doctrines, it seems, were alike hateful to God. All that is important, however, for our purpose, is clear, namely, that God is pleased when the church is decided and firm in withstanding every corruption, in sentiment and practice within her pale.

      7. The paradise of God; the garden of God,--heaven.

      9. But thou art rich; rich in faith and in good works.

      10. The devil, that is, wicked men under the influence of the devil.--Some of you. This and similar expressions show clearly that it was the members of these churches, and not the several presiding officers, who were really addressed in these epistles.--That ye may he tried; that your faith, and patience may be tried.--Ten days; for a short time.

      12. As sharp sword; spoken of particularly 1:16.

      13. Where Satan's seat is. This expression implies that idolatry or corruption, or the spirit of persecution, held unusual sway at Pergamos. The allusion at the close of the verse seems to refer to the latter of these sins.--Who was slain among you, &c. No information in respect to this case, excepting what is contained in this allusion to it, has been preserved. [554]

      14. The account of Balak's enticing the children of Israel to sin is contained in Num. 25: Allusions to Balaam's influence in the instigation of this design are found in other places. (2 Pet. 2:15. Jude 11.)--A stumbling-block; an enticement to sin.

      17. The hidden manna; the spiritual life and sustenance which God bestows.--A white stone. Precious stones, upon which figures and inscriptions were cut, were often used, by ancient princes, as gifts and badges of honor.

      20. Sufferest that woman Jezebel--to teach; that is, the spirit of Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4) to prevail.

      22. Into a bed; a bed of sickness and sufferings.

      23. Her children; her votaries.

      24. The rest in Thyatira; that is, those who had not fallen before the temptations spoken of above.--As they speak; that is, those referred to in the preceding verses.

      27. This language closely corresponds with the passage, Ps. 2:8, 9. Considered in its connection here, it [555] seems to imply that the tried and faithful servants of God were to become, in some sense, the instruments of executing judgment upon his enemies.

      28. The morning-star. The morning-star is the symbol of approaching light, life, and joy.


      1. Thy works; thy doings,--thy character.--Dead; that is, in respect to ardor and interest in the cause of Christ.

      3. As a thief; suddenly and unexpectedly.

      5. Clothed in white raiment; the symbol, in ancient times, of official honor.

      7. The key of David. A key is a symbol of trust and power. The key of David is the key of the house of David, as expressed, Isa. 22:22. It would represent, therefore, trust and power of the highest character over the people of God.

      8. An open door; opportunities for promoting the cause of Christ. The image is in continuation of the metaphor expressed in the latter part of the preceding verse.

      9. I will make them of the synagogue of Satan; deliver them up to the companionship and power of Satan.--Which say they are Jews, and are not; that is, whose professions of reverence for God are insincere. They say they are Jews, and not Christians, but by refusing to receive Jesus as the Messiah, they show that they are not honest believers in the Scriptures and have not really the spirit of Abraham. "He is not a Jew that is one [556] outwardly," &c. (Rom. 2:28, 29.)--Worship before thy feet; join themselves humbly and reverently to the church of Christ.

      10. The word of my patience, that is, my word enjoining patience.--To try them; to put their fidelity to test.

      11. Hold that fast, &c.; be firm and decided in your Christian course.

      14. The Amen, &c. The expressions by which Jesus designates himself are varied in the addresses to the several churches. Most of them are based on portions of the general description given of the appearance of the Son of man, as he manifested himself to John. (1:13-20.) The Amen is the one who confirms and establishes his word.

      15. Hot. The word must not be understood as referring to excitement, but rather to energy and decision. It is calm and steady fidelity, resulting from settled principle, and not a short-lived ardor, which exhibits the true character of Christian devotion.

      16. This mode of expression is only intended to express in a striking manner the displeasure of God against lukewarmness in his friends. We are by no means to understand from it that it is literally better to be open enemies. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus appear to have been timid and hesitating friends of Jesus; but their sin in not being more decided, was not as great as that of open enemies; and so Felix and Agrippa were not as guilty as Caiaphas and Herod And, in modern times, we find that those who regard the Institution, and truths of religion with the most friendly and respectful feelings, constitute the class from which, ordinarily, the greatest number of conversions to true Christianity take place. We are, therefore, clearly to understand this passage only as a pointed and antithetical manner of conveying the general idea that lukewarmness and indifference in the cause of Christ are very sinful, and highly displeasing to God.

      17. I am rich rich; in piety and good works. They whose religious [557] attainments are really the least, take generally the greatest pride in them.

      19. This and similar passages, often occurring in the Scriptures, justly afford great comfort to the afflicted and the sorrowful. The view which they present is abundantly confirmed by daily experience, since the almost magic effect of trial and suffering in softening the heart, and opening it to the access of spiritual enjoyments, is very obvious to all who have experienced them.

      22. Here end the epistles to the seven churches of Asia. These churches were situated on the main land, near to the Island of Patmos, where John was then residing; and they are named in geographical order, as they would naturally present themselves to the mind of the writer, as he passed in imagination from one to the other, over the region in which they were situated. The nature of the instructions which they contain,--the fact that a mystical number, seven, was the number of churches addressed,--the incorporation of the epistles into this mysterious book,--and, still more, the general address to Christians with which the several epistles are closed,--all conspire to indicate that these warnings and instructions were intended, even in a higher sense than the other Epistles of the New Testament, for the church at large in all ages. They have, accordingly, exerted an influence in respect to the standard of piety, and to the aims and obligations of the Christian life, fully equal to that of any other writings of the apostles. These letters constitute the first division of the book of Revelation. The reader will now enter upon a portion of the book entirely different from what has preceded it, both in structure and design.


      3. A rainbow--like unto an emerald; that is, a splendid appearance of irised colors, in which green, the color of the emerald, was predominant. These, and all the remaining images in this chapter, are intended, apparently to present an imposing picture of a magnificent regal palace, according to the ideas of the time. We are not, probably, to attempt, as some commentators have done in vain, to give to the several parts a distinct and special significance.

      4. Elders; officers.--Crowns of gold; indicating very exalted rank and station. [558]

      5. Lightnings and thunderings and voices; symbols of mighty power.

      6. A sea of glass; corresponding to the great brazen laver in the temple of Solomon. (1 Kings 7:23.)--Beasts; living beings.

      7. These forms seem to be taken as marked and prominent specimens representing the whole living creation of God. The homage of the four and twenty elders denotes that the throne of Jehovah is surrounded by servants of exalted powers and lofty station, who are always ready to do his will; and the adoration of these four representatives of animal life is intended, apparently, to express the dependence of the whole sentient creation upon him for existence and protection.


      1. A book; in the form of a roll.--Sealed with seven seals; in such a manner that, by breaking the seals in succession, the several portions of the manuscript were successively unfolded. It is of no consequence that we cannot easily form an idea of the manner in which seals could be arranged, so as to fulfil this condition, and yet all be visible before any of them were broken; for many of the images presented in these visions, are, like those of a dream, indistinct and incongruous, as will appear in the sequel.

      3. To look thereon; that is, upon the writing contained in it. [559]

      6. Seven horns, and seven eyes; the symbols of intelligence and power.

      7. And took the book. The image of a lamb taking a book and successively opening the seals, is an example of the incongruity alluded to above. For other cases, see 8:10. 9:1. 10:9. 19:12. 22:1.

      8. Vials, vessels of a peculiar form, used in the sacred ceremonies of the Jews, for incense and for libations.


      2. This symbol denotes plainly the onset of a victorious army.

      4. A symbol of war and slaughter.

      5, 6. Famine. The carrying of a pair of balances denotes the exactness [560] of measurement attendant on scarcity. A measure of wheat was a very small quantity, and the penny was of much greater value than the English word indicates, (see Matt. 20:2. Luke 10:35;) so that these are famine prices for the necessaries of life; while the luxuries are represented as protected from injury.

      8. The symbol of ruin and destruction. That these visions of the four horses accompanying the opening of the first four seals are intended, severally, to denote invasion, slaughter, famine, and destruction, as above explained, is clear; and it is probable that they are designed to prefigure the onset of these calamities in a general sense. Various attempts have been made by different commentators to give to each one an application to some particular event in history, but without much success; for, during several centuries after these predictions were recorded, perpetual storms of war, pestilence, and famine, ravaged the world; and there seems to be nothing to limit the application of the visions to any specific cases. Hence every independent commentator, who has attempted a limitation, has varied from the others in the selection of events to which he supposes the symbols to refer.

      9. Under the altar; no altar is mentioned before. Emblematical visions like these are not to be expected to be coherent and consistent in their details.--The souls; the disembodied spirits.

      10. And they cried, &c. This voice, and also the earthquake mentioned as taking place upon the opening of the sixth seal, (v. 12,) and the silence in heaven which marked the opening of the seventh, (8:1,) show that these visions were not representations delineated in the book, as its several portions were successively unfolded, but that they were visions exhibited to the mind of John, in action the opening of the seals being, as it were, only the signals for their appearance.--Dost thou not judge and avenge, &c. This is not to be understood as expressing their personal desire for the punishment of their enemies, but as the voice of their blood crying for vengeance, just as, in the case of Cain, the voice of his brother's blood was said to cry to God from the ground. The meaning of the whole plainly is, that, though the servants of Christ must suffer trial and persecution for a long period, they [561] should not be forgotten, but that their blood should be avenged in due time.

      17. The great day of his wrath. This and other expressions indicate strongly that the vision arising under this seal was meant to prefigure the great final retribution, when the enemies of God should be overwhelmed with a most awful destruction, from which his friends, as particularly indicated in the next chapter, should be protected and saved, in the most marked and solemn manner. Many commentators have, however, applied this description to judgments and retributions of a minor character.


      1. Holding the four winds; holding them back; restraining them, as the symbols of retribution, until the servants of God could be made safe, as is more distinctly expressed in v. 3.

      5. This formal enumeration seems to be intended only to make more distinct and emphatical the divine determination to shield his servants most carefully from danger, when the great day of his wrath shall come.--the Jew first, (4-8,) and also the Gentile, (9.) [562]

      9. While robes, and palms; the emblems of victory and honor.

      13. This dialogue is simply to be understood as a solemn and emphatic mode of introducing the great declaration made by the angel in his reply.


      1. Silence in heaven; usually considered as a pause indicative of the solemnity and importance of the events which were to follow; for commentators have generally supposed that the seventh seal extends over and includes all that follows. For what reason, however, this opinion has been so generally entertained, does not appear, as there is no allusion to the seals beyond this passage, but, on the other hand, an entirely new succession of images occurs. The fact that the account of the opening of the seventh seal is placed it the commencement of a new chapter, is by no moans sufficient to show that it has any connection with what follows, since it is well understood that the divisions of chapters and verses, having been made in comparatively modern times, afford no criterion of the natural divisions of the composition. We may, perhaps, therefore consider the silence in heaven as closing this series of prophetical annunciations. And though there is great uncertainty and much diversity of views in regard to the proper interpretation of them, we may, perhaps, regard them as intended to convey to our minds a general outline of God's intended dealings with the church and the world; the first four seals representing the onset of terrible temporal calamities upon the earth,--war, slaughter, famine, and destruction; the fifth, the faith and patience of the saints, enduring sufferings and sorrows from the ungodly, which would, however, be avenged in due time; the sixth, the great day of retribution bringing destruction upon the enemies of God [563] while his friends are protected and preserved; and the seventh, the period of quiescence and repose, following the final consummation of the divine designs.

      2. Trumpets. The trumpet, being used chiefly to excite and animate bodies of soldiery going into action, is the proper symbol of alarm; and the visions introduced by the sounds of these seven trumpets, plainly denote destructive wars, and great public calamities.

      3. Censer; a vessel used for burning incense. These images are drawn from the forms of worship at the temple in Jerusalem, where the priest burned incense while the people were offering their prayers. (Luke 1:10.)

      12. And the night likewise; that is, the nocturnal light, given by the moon and stars, as well as that of the day, was dimmed.

      13. Woe, woe, woe, &c.; implying that the trumpets of the three remaining angels portended still heavier calamities than those which had been announced. There is great difference of opinion in regard to the interpretation which is to be put upon the visions of the four first trumpets,--some commentators applying each specifically to some particular calamity recorded in history, while others regard them as intended to express only the general idea of disaster and suffering, by different images and varied forms of expression. [564]


      1. Fall; descend. The star represents an angel of God, as is evident from the language which follows.

      3. Locusts, representing ravaging armies.

      5. That they should not kill them; that they should not utterly destroy the nations which they conquered.--Five months; that is, for a moderate season, represented by five months, in allusion to the period during which the activity of the locust continues.

      11. Abaddon; the Destroyer. There is a greater degree of unanimity than usual among those commentators who consider particular events prefigured by these several symbols, in applying this vision, called up by the sounding of the fifth trumpet, to the conquests of the Saracens. The description of the locusts is considered as peculiarly adapted to represent the character, appearance, and habits, of the Arabian troops, by which those conquests were achieved. [565]


      1. These images are simply emblems of greatness and majesty.

      2. His right foot, &c.; indicating a gigantic form, the symbol of majesty and power.

      4. To write; that is, to record what they had uttered.

      7. The mystery of God; the designs of God,--thus designated because they are mysteries veiled from the view of men. [566]

      9. Eat it up. A similar image is presented in Ezek. 3:1-3.

      10. In my mouth sweet, &c.; denoting that the contents of the book, which at first view seemed pleasant or consoling, afterwards awakened feelings of pain and distress. None but conjectural applications of the symbols of this chapter have been made.


      2. Forty and two months; equal to three years and a half--a period not unfrequently occurring in the Scriptures, and supposed by some commentators to be used here for an indefinite period. The mention of the same period in days occurs in v. 3, and appears to indicate that a specific time is intended.

      3. Two. This number seems intended simply to represent plurality. The witnesses are the advocates and defenders of Christianity.--Prophesy; promulgate the gospel.--Clothed in sackcloth; exposed to sorrow and suffering.

      5. The meaning is, that those who injure them shall suffer a terrible retribution. The image of fire from their mouth--that is, fire coming at their call--may have been suggested by the case of Elijah, (2 Kings 1:10-14,) a supposition which is confirmed by the language of the next verse, which also corresponds with events in the history of Elijah. (1 Kings 17: 18:)

      6. These expressions seem intended to denote the power and prevailing efficacy of the Christian's prayer. [567]

      14. The second woe; that is, the second of the three woes referred to, 9:12, and represented by the sounding of the three last trumpets. The account of the first is contained 9:1-11, and of the second from 9:13 to 11:13. Some commentators refer the announcements made under the three woe trumpets, as they are called, viz., the last three of the seven, to events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem; while, on the other hand, most Protestant writers consider them as referring to the history of the Roman church. On this latter supposition, the witnesses represent the succession of the true servants of God, supposed to have continued in an unbroken line through the ages of superstition, preserving the image of true piety in the world; and that the slaying of the witnesses denotes some temporary triumph of the Roman power over the interests of true Christianity, which is yet to come. The time when it is to be expected, they infer from v. 2, 3, will be in twelve hundred and sixty years from the time when the Roman church fairly entered upon its career; which epoch they place variously between A. D. 600 and 750. This would bring the events denoted by the slaying of the witnesses, between A. D. 1860 and 2010.


      On an examination of the predictions contained in the two or three [568] succeeding chapters, which are those connected with the sounding of the seventh trumpet, it will be evident that they prefigure contests between the cause of Christ and the hostile influences to which it is exposed; the woman and the child representing the church, and the dragon her enemies. Some commentators consider these contests as the struggles of the early church against Jewish and pagan hostility; while others consider the dragon as the emblem of Popery, and of course they extend the period of this conflict down to much later times.

      7. And there was; that is, there had been previously for the passage 7-13, seems introduced as a narrative of the origin of the hostility manifested by the dragon against the woman and her son.

      14. The narrative of the persecutions of the woman, which had been left at v. 7, to explain the preceding circumstances in the history of the dragon, is now resumed.--A time, times, and a half; a year, two years, and a half; that is, three years and a half,--still another mode of varying the expression of the period already [569] repeatedly designated in different forms. (11:2, 3. 12:6.)


      2. This description seems intended simply to denote that in the form of the monster were combined all the marks and characteristics of savage ferocity.--The dragon; Satan.

      3. Wondered after the beast; worshipped and honored him.

      4. They worshipped the dragon; that is, in effect, they worshipped Satan, by serving and honoring the power which Satan had raised.

      5. Forty and two months; the same mystical period of three years and a half again recurring.

      7. And it was given unto him; he was permitted. The beast described in this and the preceding verses, has been considered by some commentators as a personification of enmity to the cause of Christ in general; and by others as representing particularly the power of pagan Rome. [570]

      14. And deceiveth them, &c. As the first beast (1-10) represents plainly open and violent hostility to the Christian name, the second as clearly indicates a secret and doubtful enmity, accomplishing its purposes by cunning and imposture.

      18. His number is Six hundred threescore and six. This mystical number, 666, intended, apparently, to designate, in some way or other, the name of the power described under the similitude of the two-horned beast, has come down through the whole succession of commentators on the sacred volume, a standing enigma on which their research and ingenuity have been exercised in vain. The clew which they have attempted to follow is this: The Greeks, having no separate characters to represent numbers, usually expressed them by the letters of their alphabet, each letter receiving, for this purpose, the assignment of a certain determinate value. Now, by adding together the values expressed by the several letters of a name, a number is obtained which is called the number of that name. Accordingly, it has been generally supposed that the name of the government, or church, or person, or influence, Whichever it may have been, that was intended to be prefigured by this beast, thus reduced to a number, would be 666. A great variety of names have consequently been proposed which answer this condition. Protestant commentators generally, who consider the beast as denoting the Papal power, refer this number to the word Lateinos, the supposed Greek form for the expression The Latin;--meaning the Latin church, by which expression the Roman church was originally designated.


      3. No man could learn that song; [571] could experience the joy which that song expressed.

      4. Not defiled with women; with idolatry, a sin often characterized in the Scriptures by the metaphor here employed.--Virgins; pure in their fidelity to the worship of Jehovah.

      13. Their works; the memory and reward of their works.

      16. And the earth was reaped. This reaping by the Lamb represents, perhaps, the gathering of the good, as the second reaping (17-19) plainly denotes the general summoning of the wicked to judgment and retribution. [572]

      20. Unto the horse-bridles; that is, in depth. The bridle of the horse dipping into the surface of water through which the rider is passing, indicates to him the depth of the flood.--A thousand and six hundred furlongs; over a vast extent of ground. These expressions are designed to indicate the greatness and the extent of the destruction with which the enemies of God will finally be overwhelmed.


      1. Filled up; fulfilled, consummated.

      2. A sea of glass; that is, a pavement, level and extended like a sea, and formed of materials of the greatest brilliancy and splendor.--The beast, the one described 13:11-18.

      3. The song of Moses; a song expressive of the same sentiments with those of the song which Moses sung after his deliverance from the Egyptians. (Ex. 15:1-19.)

      5. The tent under which the ark was sheltered during the journeyings of the children of Israel was called the tabernacle of the testimony, or the tabernacle of witness, as it contained, in the manifestation of the divine glory which appeared between the cherubim, a testimony or evidence of the divine presence and protection. The temple of this tabernacle is the inner or most sacred part of it.

      7. Vials; vessels of a peculiar form, used in the sacred services of the temple. [573]


      6. They are worthy; they deserve this retribution.

      11. And repented not of their deeds. Experiencing the bitter fruits and consequences of sin has little tendency to bring men to repentance and salvation in this life; and we have no reason to expect any different result in the life to come. Ruin brought by transgression induces, not sorrow and repentance, but a certain insane resentment and despair.

      15. The words of this verse seem to be intended as those of Christ; but their connection with the context is not obvious. [574]

      16. Armageddon. The meaning of this name is not understood, although various conjectural explanations of it have been attempted.

      19. Divided into three parts; that is, perhaps, broken up by the earthquake, and destroyed.

      21. That the outpouring of the seven vials is intended to represent a series of judgments and calamities brought upon the enemies of God, is very plain; but in applying the several symbols to specific events in history which have since occurred, commentators have been extremely divided in opinion.


      From the commencement of this chapter to the end of the book there extends a connected train of prophetical annunciation, the general import of which seems clear. Under the figure of a woman seated, upon a beast, though the symbol is afterwards changed to that of a city designated by the name Babylon, some great foe to the cause of Christ and of piety is represented, at first in a state of great activity and power, and afterwards overwhelmed with a very sudden and complete destruction. The terrible severity of this overthrow is enforced by a variety of images and representations in ch. 18, which are followed by an account of rejoicings among the people of God at the great deliverance.

      1. Many waters. The meaning of this expression is explained in v. 15.

      2. Fornication; representing the sin of idolatry.

      3. A scarlet-colored beast. The description of this beast is very similar to that of the one mentioned 13:1-7. The seven heads here named are afterwards explained as the seven mountains on which the woman sitteth, (v. 9 ;) and the woman is, in v. 8, said to represent a great city. Now, as it has been one of the most characteristic distinctions of Rome, in all ages, that [575] it was built upon seven hills, commentators have generally been agreed that Rome is intended by this symbol. Some, however, suppose that Pagan Rome, and others that Papal Rome, is meant. Protestant writers generally give it the latter interpretation.

      5. Names and designations of rank and office were often attached to the in ancient times.

      8. Was, and is not. Similar phraseology occurs at the close of v. 8. It expresses great fluctuation and change in the condition and power of the beast.

      9. The mind; the meaning.

      10. Seven kings; seven of the Roman emperors, according to the first of the two systems of interpretation referred to in the note upon v. 3, and the seven successive forms of the Roman government, according to the second.

      11. And is of the seven, that is, perhaps, of the same spirit and character with the seven. See John 8:44, for a similar form of expression--"Ye are of your father," &c.

      12. One hour; for a brief season. The ten kings are regarded as denoting the various kingdoms into which Rome was divided after the dissolution of the empire, on the hypothesis that Papal Rome is included in the aim and design of this chapter. It is said below that these powers, though conspiring for a time to sustain the beast, (v. 13,) afterwards accomplished the destruction of the woman who sat upon it. [576]

      16. The ten horns; kings, as is explained v. 12.


      1. And after these things, &c. The visions described in this and in the following chapter are evidently intended to represent, by vivid images, the certain and terrible destruction of the great anti-Christian power represented by Babylon.

      2. The habitation of devils; of demons, which are often spoken of as dwelling in desert and desolate places. This an the subsequent clauses express desolation and abandonment, not mere moral corruption.

      8. In one day; suddenly. This and similar expressions, in verses 10, 17, and 21, indicate, in the opinion of some commentators, that Jerusalem was the city intended; as the destruction of that city was sudden and overwhelming.

      9. Shall bewail her. The kings are represented in 17:16, as conspiring to effect the ruin of the woman, who seems to be the same as Babylon (17:5.) We may suppose that some of them had turned against her, while others lamented her downfall,--or [577] we may consider it as a change in the imagery, both representations denoting, in different ways, the certainty of her overthrow.

      12. Thyine; a fragrant wood.

      13. And souls of men; men having souls.

      16. Here the writer returns to the image of the woman, by which the city was represented in the preceding chapter.

      21. A mighty angel; that is, another angel, who comes forward to present, in still different language, a view of the greatness and the certainty of the impending destruction. [578]

      24. Was found the blood of prophets; that is, the guilt of shedding that blood.


      9. Called unto the marriage supper; called to share in the rejoicing.

      10. Is the spirit of prophecy; is the same in its origin and spiritual value.

      11. For similar images and expressions denoting Christ, see 3:14; 6:2.

      12. Knew; understood, in respect to its import and meaning. What the name itself was, is stated in the next verse. (See John 1:1.) This declaration should make us very distrustful of any ideas which we may attempt to form of the nature of the divine Word, and of his relation to the Father, beyond the simple declarations of the Scriptures. Even the attempt to combine these declarations, for the purpose of giving to the result a general and systematic expression, is a very uncertain undertaking. [579]

      13. A vesture dipped in blood; a common emblem of war. It is to denote, in this instance, the terrible destruction with which he should visit his enemies,--as is expressed distinctly below.

      16. On his thigh; at his thigh; that is, upon the hilt of his sword.

      21. The remnant; that is, of those that had worshipped the beast.


      1. A great chain; such as was used for the confinement of prisoners.

      2. The dragon; described as such 12:3-9.

      3. Set a seal upon him; that is, upon the door of the pit; according to a custom particularly alluded to in Dan. 6:17, and in Matt. 27:66.

      4. Beheaded for the witness of Jesus; for the witness which they bore. [580] And they lived; were restored to life. This language has been commonly understood to mean that the martyrs thus raised were to appear upon the earth again; but the place which was to be the scene of their new existence, does not seem to be indicated.

      6. Priests of God. The word priest is used in such a connection as this, simply to denote, in accordance with Jewish ideas, very honorable rank and station. It does not appear to be intended to convey to us any idea in respect to nature of the duties of that station.

      7. And when the thousand years are expired. The period of the thousand years designated in the preceding passage, is the origin of the idea of the millennium,--an idea which, under various modifications has prevailed very extensively in the Christian church. The word millennium means simply a period of one thousand years, as the word century expresses a period of one hundred. Some have supposed that the language here used teaches the resurrection from the dead of individual martyrs of former times, and their reign upon the earth with Christ, who will then return in person to this world again; and that the time when this period shall commence, is to be pretty accurately determined by means of calculations based on the various predictions of this book. Others, on the other hand, going to the opposite extreme, suppose that only some indefinite period of ordinary prosperity is intended,--such, for example, as that which occurred in the time of Constantine, when persecutions ceased, and the civil power of the Roman empire was, for a time, the friend and protector of Christianity; and between these two extremes, there is scarcely any conceivable hypothesis which has not been framed and defended. On sober reflection, however, two points would seem to be clear, in reference to this prediction; first, that it is intended to convey to us the idea that a period of great and long-continued prosperity awaits the cause of Christ, before the great final consummation,--a period during which this world shall be the abode of piety, peace, and happiness; and, secondly, that the language in which the prediction is clothed is such as purposely to withhold from us a knowledge of the time in which God designs that it shall be fulfilled, and of the circumstances which will attend and characterize the fulfilment.

      8. Gog and Magog; words taken from the prophecies of the Old Testament, (Ezek. ch. 38: and 39:) where they are used to denote heathen and idolatrous enemies The words seem to be here employed figuratively to express ferocious hostility to the cause of God.

      9. And compassed the camp of the saints about; were preparing to assault and destroy the people of God.--And fire came down, &c.; that is, God interposed in a remarkable manner to save his people and to destroy their foes. [581]

      10. Where the beast and the false prophet are; as stated 19:20.

      11. From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; a sublime image of power and majesty.

      12. The books were opened; the books containing the record of their sins.

      13. And hell; the grave.


      1. A new heaven and a new earth; that is, an entirely new state and constitution of things.

      2. All the ideas of earthly greatness and magnificence entertained by the Jews were centred in the city of Jerusalem. A new Jerusalem was therefore an appropriate symbol under which to convey a high conception of the splendors of the heavenly state.

      5. And he that sat upon the throne; Jehovah. This seems to be in allusion to the vision described 4:2, 3.

      8. The fearful; those who are afraid to encounter the dangers involved in the service of God. [582]

      10. And showed me that great city, &c. He represents himself as having previously seen the city descend; but now the scene is suddenly changed, and the same image appears to his view under another aspect. These cases of incoherence in the train of images, which are very common in this book, add to the rhetorical beauty of the work, considered as a composition,--such incoherence being essentially characteristic of visions and dreams.

      16. Are equal; that is, of equally magnificent dimensions the height in proportion. The absolute height of the walls is mentioned in the next verse.

      18. Gold, like unto clear glass; the richness and value of gold combined with the brilliancy and splendor of glass.

      21. The foregoing description seems to be simply intended to combine those elements which are regarded among men as expressive of magnificence and splendor. We are probably not to look for any mystical meaning in the several details of the description. [583]

      25. By day; meaning the whole day, of twenty-four hours.


      1. Proceeding out of the throne, &c.; so described in order to represent the happiness of heaven, here prefigured under the symbol of a river, as derived from the presence and influences of God and the Lamb.

      2. Of it; of the city described in the preceding chapter.--The tree of life; that tree of which man had been deprived when he first entered upon his career of transgression. (Gen. 3:22.)

      3. No more curse; the curse shall be no more; that is, the terrible curses originally denounced against human sin in the days of Adam's transgression (Gen. 3:14-19) shall now be removed forever. Thus the volume of the word of God, having opened with a history of that terrible malediction pronounced upon the human race, which has made this world such a scene of sorrow, now sublimely closes with a prophetic announcement of its perpetual removal. This link, connecting the beginning with the end, binds together the whole word of God, and gives a lofty unity to the long succession of vastly varied materials which the sacred volume comprises.--And his servants shall serve him; shall be employed, actively, in the pursuit and accomplishment of his plans.

      4. Shall see his face; shall be admitted to intimate communion with him.--His name, &c. This was a mark of ownership. The meaning is, that they shall be entirely his. [584]

      10. And he saith unto me; that is, Jesus saith, as is evident from what follows, especially v. 16.

      11. The meaning is, Let men continue in these various characters, if they will. I come quickly with the rewards that they will respectively deserve. A similar mode of expression is adopted in Eccl. 11:9.

      15. Dogs; reprobates. (See Matt. 7:6.)

      17. The bride; the church.

      21. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The manner in which the Redeemer is spoken of throughout this book, and especially in this farewell benediction, joined as he is constantly with God as the united object of celestial adoration, and represented repeatedly as clothing himself with the names and attributes of supreme divinity,--and yet, on the other hand, steadily separated from God by a marked and clearly-expressed distinction,--leaves us where indeed we ought to expect to be left, entirely in the dark in respect to the nature and modes of existence which pertain to the mysterious principle of divinity. The human mind is uneasy in this darkness and difficulty, and vainly attempts their removal. Some endeavor to cut the knot, by making Jesus a mere human prophet, and changing to metaphors all those declarations of the word of God which assign to him a [585] position apparently divine. This is a very simple view of the subject, and easily understood. But the question, in this, as in all other researches after knowledge, is not what is simple, but what is true. Others, on the other hand, connecting and combining the various declarations of Scripture, and deducing inferences from them, make out what may be called a theory or the Godhead, distinct, defined, systematic, and drawn out into its details. But, on mature reflection, it will appear that he occupies the most truly philosophical ground, who allows, with the most undisturbed and quiet mind, the mystery of the Godhead to rest in the profound concealment in which it has pleased the Holy Spirit to leave it involved,--who draws no inferences, frames no theory or system, but simply reads what is written, and leaves it as it stands, without attempting to throw human light upon what divine revelation has left obscure. He waits for knowledge to come. And in the mean time he adores the Redeemer so unequivocally described as divine. He sees in him a Lamb slain as an atoning sacrifice for sin. In that atonement he finds relief from remorse, and comfort an peace come from it to displace gloomy recollections of sin, and dark forebodings of retribution; and he closes the sacred volume invoking the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, as his only hope of salvation. [586]


[AINT 550-586]

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John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott
Illustrated New Testament (1878)