THE SECOND ADVENT ERA.
INTRODUCING THE ETERNAL KINGDOM.
WE have seen that, as the "times of the Gentiles" were introduced by the captivity era, and the long reign of the apostasies by the bisection era of their rise after the break up of the old Roman empire, so this present "time of the end" passes into a SECOND ADVENT ERA, which introduces the eternal kingdom of God. We have seen that the events of this second advent era include the millennium, that comparatively brief opening section of the manifested kingdom of God on earth, with its introductory and closing judgments. Its events are narrated in an orderly sequence of prophetic visions in the five closing chapters of Scripture (Rev 18 - Rev 22). This series consists of twelve distinct and successive visions, extending from the close of the sixth vial-the vial of the decay of Turkish power, under which we now live- up to the full establishment of the eternal kingdom of God.
The following are the twelve visions
I. The fall of Babylon. #Rev 18
II. The first resurrection-the resurrection of the saints, symbolised as "the marriage of the Lamb." #Rev 19:6-9.
III. The glorious epiphany of Christ and His saints. #Rev 19:11.
IV. The final Armageddon conflict and victory. #Rev 19:17-21.
V. The binding of Satan. #Rev 20:1-3.
VI. THE MILLENNIAL REIGN OF CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS. #Rev 20:4-6.
VII. The loosing of Satan for a little season #Rev 20:7, 8.
VIII. The post-millennial apostasy, and the judgment on it. #Rev 20:9.
IX. The final destruction of Satan. #Rev 20:10
X. The judgment of the dead, small and great. #Rev 20:12, 13.
XI. The destruction of the last enemy. #Rev 20:14.
XII. THE ETERNAL KINGDOM OF GOD. #Rev 21 #Rev 22:5.
To consider each of these visions in full, comparing Scripture with Scripture, so as to condense all the light thrown on each point by the word of God, would be to write a volume on eschatology, which is beyond our present scope; but after having dwelt so long on the episodes of past history, we must not pass by this second advent era without some notice of the events which introduce the eternal kingdom that is to succeed all earths changing, fleeting empires, and bless mankind for ever. We must therefore briefly consider these predicted episodes in their order.
I. THE FALL OF BABYLON.-We have in earlier chapters dwelt fully on the various stages of the fall of the anti-typical Babylon, or rather, to speak more accurately, of the consuming and spoiling process which precedes that fall. The fall itself may be regarded as the introductory event of the second advent era. It is fully described in Revelation xviii., together with its causes aud results, as also its antecedent events, and those which immediately follow it. As the true Church is doubly prefigured in Revelation as a woman and as a city-the white-robed bride of Christ, and the glorious heavenly Jerusalem,-so the false apostate Church is also doubly symbolised as a woman and as a city -the foul, scarlet-clothed, blood- drunken woman who sits on the beast, and the city which in Johns day ruled over the kings of the earth, that is, ROME. This contrast settles the meaning of the symbol of "Babylon the Great"; it is not the Papacy as a temporal power and ruling dynasty at Rome, but the Church of Rome as an ecclesiastical system, long submitted to by the Roman world, and in these days, according to the prophecy, hated and despised by its ten kingdoms. Ever since the French Revolution, these "ten horns" have, as was predicted, been making her desolate and naked, eating her flesh and burning her with fire. All through "the time of the end" this process has been going on, and it will continue at an accelerated ratio until the final fall comes.
Then God remembers Romes iniquities, and the sorceries by which she deceived all nations; then He avenges His slaughtered saints, and destroys her who has corrupted the earth. The voice of much people in heaven is heard to proclaim, "True and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand." Babylon falls completely, and for ever at last; but some memorial of her guilt and of her doom remains, for "her smoke" rises up for ever and ever.
The judgment had been fully merited. The greatest enemy to the spread of the true knowledge of God in the world has always been a. false profession of His name. If His supposed witnesses belie His character, who shall make it known in the world? Israels inconsistency caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles of old, and the corruptions of the Church, and especially of the Church of Rome, have had a similar effect in this age. Its repression of the truth in unrighteousness, its perversions of sound doctrine, its persecutions of the saints of God, its guilty alliance with the world, its utter lack of the spirit of Christ, its mercenary character and conduct, have hindered instead of helped mankind, and made it a curse rather than a blessing in the earth, according to the principle, "If the light in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
The very first step consequently towards the establishment of the kingdom of God is the removal of this fatal hindrance, by the destruction of the apostate and idolatrous Church. Babylon the Great is said to be "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth"; that is, the mother of other worldly Churches, and of other idolatrous systems. How far they are to be involved in her fall is not distinctly specified; but where the moral and spiritual resemblance is close, the doom is not likely widely to differ. All who having the gospel fail to obey it seem to be involved in the judgment, that is, false professors of Christianity (#2Thess 1.).
Some of Gods children are found in Babylon, even towards the close of her dark and dreadful history; for her fall is preceded by a loud call to them to come out of her, lest they be partakers of her sins and of her plagues. This call has been sounding through the earth more or less ever since the days of Martin Luther, and if the true Church were faithful, it would sound now louder than ever. As in the sudden destruction of Sodom by fire from heaven, a call to come out of her, lest he should be involved in the ruin of the guilty city, was sent to Lot; and as when the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Ahiram were about to be destroyed, Moses urged the people to depart from the neighbourhood of those wicked men, lest they should perish along with them, so in this case (#Rev 18:4, 5).
Time would fail us to dwell on the point in detail; we can only call attention to one or two features of the description given of the fall of Babylon, The final catastrophe is to be sudden, not gradual, like the previous stages of the "consumption" which we have considered. As some old building, long tottering and undermined, falls at last with a sudden crash, so shall the vast and ancient ecclesiastical system of Rome fall. It is not slowly to be taken down piecemeal from some external scaffolding, so as to avoid a shock, as is the case with the Ottoman empire, but with a sudden, startling collapse, like that of a millstone thrown into the sea, the soul-destroying system is to sink out of sight for ever.
Alford renders verse 21, "Thus with a rush shall be thrown down Babylon, the great city, and shall never be found any more." Thrice over it is reiterated that this judgment is to come "in one hour" (#Rev 18:10, 17, 19). For 1,260 years this system has trodden under foot the sanctuary of God, persecuted His witnesses, made war against the saints, and driven the true Church into the desert; for 300 years. and more her gradual consumption has been going on, and at last, "in one hour," her destruction shall come. And her fall is not only sudden, but final. The sounds of musicians shall never be heard in it again; artisans shall never more work there; lights shall never shine there again, nor the voice of human rejoicing be heard in it.
The agency employed is symbolised by fire producing the smoke which rises up for ever. Now fire is a common symbol in Scripture for any consuming judgment, but it has also not unfrequently been the actual agent employed, as in the case of Sodom. As the earlier judgments on the Papacy are prefigured in this prophecy, not by fire, but by outpoured vials producing various effects, and as in other Scriptures fire is distinctly mentioned as employed in the destruction of the apostasy (#2Thess 1:8), some have thought that a volcanic destruction of the Roman city and state - an event which, from the geological formation of southern Italy, is in itself far from unlikely-will probably form a feature, at any rate, of the final judgment. This seems to have been the view of the early Fathers.
[Gibbon, in giving a summary of their views, says: "Intestine discord, the invasion of the fiercest barbarians, from the unknown regions of the North, pestilence and famine, comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inundations, were only so many preparatory and alarming signs of the great catastrophe of Rome, when the country of the Scipios and the Caesars should be consumed by a flame from heaven, and the city of the seven hills, with her palaces, her temples, and her triumphal arches, should be hurled in a vast lake of fire and brimstone." He also speaks of this country as one physically prepared for such a catastrophe, as, by the testimony of travellers and geologists, it assuredly is. (See footnotes, Elliott, vol. iv., pp., 43- 43.)]
The holy apostles and prophets, and the dwellers in heaven are called upon to rejoice over the fall of Babylon, and immediately there is presented another and a sweeter occasion of joy, in the companion yet contrasted scene of -
II. THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB -This second crisis of the second advent era, as presented in Revelation, is the one of all others most attractive to the heart of the true Christian.
"I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God."
This is of course the event of the entire series in which the spirit of the saint exults. It is the clown of all our hopes, the rich fulfilment of all our desires, leaving nothing further as regards our own portion to be longed for or looked for.
Of it we say with David, "As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness."
This event is distinctively the hope of the Church; it is "the coming of the Lord," as distinguished from "the day of the Lord." This latter expression covers the whole era of judgment, including the millennium itself, as is abundantly illustrated by its use in the Old Testament. [#Isa 2:12-17, #Isa 34:1-8, #Jer 6:6-10, #Ezek 30:2, 3. #Joel 1:15; #Joel 2:1, 2, 30, 31; #Joel 3:2-16, #Amos 5:18-20, #Obad 15, #Zeph 1:14-16. #Zech 14:1-5, #Mal 4:1-5.]
It suggests that aspect of the second coming of Christ which is terrible to His foes, the same aspect that is presented by the illustration of the thief in the night, unexpectedness and surprise, perils and loss-the most total contrast conceivable to the aspect of "the coming of the Lord" to the Church of this dispensation. To her that coming is a sublime and simple hope, as He intended it to be, not a subject of fear and dread. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself"; "we serve the living and true God, and wait for His Son from heaven"; "looking for that blessed hope"; "our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ."
This marriage of the Lamb, or rapture of the Church, is not symbolised by any special vision in the book of Revelation. It is announced as taking place at this point in the series of visions, but it is not represented. It has sometimes been asked why this is the case, why there is no open vision of the glorious translation of the Church. The answer is probably that it is an event too brief and too rapid to be dramatised like the historic episodes foretold in this book, since it takes place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." It could not be represented as taking place in the Roman earth -the stage on which most of the symbolic drama of the Apocalypse is enacted-for the first resurrection will take place all the world over; nor could it be represented as taking place in the symbolic heavens, in which part of the action of the drama transpires, for it has nothing to do with the governmental sphere; nor could it have been shown in the upper and true heavens above these latter, for "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven" when He comes to receive His people, and they are caught up to meet Hun in the air. It is not in fact a material event at all; for the bodies in which we are to rise are spiritual bodies, and the union which is to take place is a spiritual union. Hence it is represented by an emblem which avoids all that would be inaccurate, and comprises all that is essential. The emblem of a nuptial union recalls our Lords own teachings about the marriage supper of the kings son, as well as many of the Old Testament types of the union between Christ and the Gentile Church: such as the marriage of Joseph to a Gentile bride in Egypt, prior to his reconciliation to his brethren; and that of Moses to another Gentile bride, prior to his appearance as the deliverer of Israel; and that of Solomon to the daughter of Pharaoh, with its typical memorial in the Song Of Solomon.
This figure clearly includes the first resurrection, for it is said "His wife hath made herself ready." This expression could not apply to a time when the vast majority of the saints were slumbering in their graves. The spiritual body is surely a part of this bridal attire, though the white robes are said to symbolise spotless righteousness; the marriage is the full union of Christ and that Church which in resurrection He presents to Himself "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish," "faultless before the throne of His glory, with exceeding joy." What symbol could be equally expressive? what other reality could answer to this symbol? The destruction of the false Church is thus appropriately followed by the contrasted espousal of the true. The one is first stripped and insulted by her guilty paramours, and then destroyed by the direct judgment of God. The other goes in with the Lamb to the marriage supper, amid the glad hallelujahs of heaven. We lose sight of the harlot amid the gloom and darkness of the smoke that rises up for ever and ever; we lose sight of the bride amid the effulgence of heavenly glory and nuptial joy. The angel says to John, "Write, Blessed are they who are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb"; there is evidently an intentional connexion between this statement and the one in the following chapter, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection." It connects the first resurrection with the marriage. The bride in this marriage is, as
Alford remarks, "The sum of the guests who are called to the marriage." Clearly this blessed hope of the Church contains in it no thought of judgment, but only the rapturous prospect of perfect and eternal union with Christ. It is the coming of the Lord for His saints, which precedes His coming with them, answering exactly to #1Thess 4.
III. THE EPIPHANY.-The third crisis in the second advent era is the epiphany, or glorious manifestation of Christ and His saints.
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God, And the armies which were in Heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."
He who had previously come for His people now comes with them; not that there are two future comings of Christ, but only one. That coming, however, has not only two aspects, but two stages. The first brings the rapture of the Church described in #1Thess 4, when His saints, raised and changed, are caught up to meet Him in the air; but this incident transpires before He comes to the earth. It is, as it were, a halt on the journey, a pause in the royal progress of Christ from heaven to earth. What the length of the interval between the first stage of His coming and the second will be, is not mentioned in Scripture; and it is useless to speculate on the subject. The very common assertion that it is to be three and a half years has no foundation whatever in the Bible; it is based on the "futurist" assumption that the division of the Roman earth into ten kingdoms, and the contemporaneous reign of antichrist for "time, times, and a half" are still future, and that his reign will occupy this period after the rapture of the Church. But the true scale of the chronology of prophecy has been demonstrated, not by theory, but by facts, in the foregoing investigation of the subject. That scale is a day for a year, and the three and a half times of the reign of the Roman antichrist terminated in 1870. It affords no clue whatever consequently to the length of the interval (if interval there is to be) between the rapture of the Church to meet her Lord in the air and the epiphany in glory here described. It is impossible either to affirm or to deny an interval at all, and still more so to determine its length.
The order of the two stages cannot, however, be reversed; for the rapture must precede the epiphany. When Christ appears in glory it is, as numerous Scriptures plainly declare, accompanied by all His saints. "The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Him." [See also #1Thess 3:13, #1Thess 4:14; #Col 3:4]
They come with Him to take part in the judgment which follows. Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world? In this vision the saints, who in the previous one were represented as the bride, appear consequently under a different and characteristic emblem, as the "armies which were in heaven"; yet their identity is indicated by the fine linen in which they are clothed, "fine linen, white, and clean,"-the raiment of the bride.
The coming of Christ with ten thousand of His saints to execute judgment on the ungodly had been predicted even in the days of Enoch, though its exact relation to the rapture of the Church is clearly revealed only in this last prophecy. It is maintained by some that the coming here predicted and described is merely a spiritual or providential one; if so, there is no vision in the whole Apocalypse of the real personal advent, for there is no other which can by any possibility be supposed to be an advent vision. There is a judgment vision, a vision of the great white throne, but it has no accompanying advent of Christ with myriads of His saints; and besides, the judgment scene immediately succeeding this vision requires a previous advent.
"In short, a personal advent of Christ is the theme, the main theme, of the whole Bible. The past advent did not accomplish the full results predicted. Since it became history, a second advent has been She dominant note in every prophetic strain, and in the Apocalypse it becomes more prominent than ever. From the "behold, He cometh with clouds" of the first chapter, to the "behold, I come quickly" of the last, this theme pervades the book. The Apocalypse is a grand drama, the epiphany is its climax. "Hold fast till I come," is Christs own word to Smyrna; "Behold, I come quickly," His encouragement to Philadelphia; the redeemed in heaven rejoice in the prospect, "We shall reign on the earth"; on the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the elders fall down in worship before God, because the moment is at last come when He is to take His great power and reign on earth. Under the sixth vial the Lord repeats the warning note, Behold, I come as a thief and the Apocalypse, yea, the Bible itself, ends with the same promise, Surely, I come quickly."
Now the present vision is the passage, and the only passage, where such a glorious advent of our Lord is distinctly described. Till then He is seen in spirit, as the Lamb in the heavenly places, as the Priest at the heavenly altar, as the mighty Angel, the mysterious Messenger of the covenant, while the hour of mystery still continues, and still repeats the warning, "Behold, I come." Here, in the vision, the heaven is opened, and He is seen to come in manifest glory as the Word of God. After this He is spoken of as already come. In the very scene where the powers of evil have just been overthrown, and from which Satan has just been banished, His people "reign with Christ a thousand years." When the white throne is seen, He is already present to occupy it; and not a word is given to indicate a fresh arrival of Him who sits to execute the judgment. All converges on the advent before this vision, all centres on a personal advent of the Word in the vision itself, all implies a previous advent in the visions which follow. And hence the internal evidence that the real advent is here described is complete." [Birks: "Outlines of Unfulfilled Prophecy," p. 83.]
Suppose, for a moment, that time place occupied by it were left a blank, that the prophecy passed at once from the marriage of the Lamb to the destruction of the anti-Christian host. Other Scriptures would force us to place the second coming of Christ between those two scenes. The destruction of the beast and the false prophet demand a previous epiphany, according to 2 Thessalonians ii.; and the rapturous marriage of the Lamb in heaven, the meeting in the air of Christ and His saints, requires a subsequent manifestation, according to #2Thess 1:10.
IV. THE WAR OF ARMAGEDDON.-The fourth great crisis of the second advent era, as presented in the Apocalypse, is the final conflict with and overthrow of the confederate hosts of evil, represented under the symbols of "the beast and the false prophet, and the kings of the earth, and their armies." The gathering of these God-opposing hosts immediately precedes the advent, and the instruments of it are symbolised as "three unclean spirits, like frogs," issuing out of the mouth of the beast, the dragon, and the false prophet. These are, we are told, the spirits of devils, which go forth to gather the kings of the earth "to the battle of the great day of God Almighty." What is intended by this symbol of frogs? It is not the first time we meet them in Scripture. These small, multitudinous, noisy, croaking creatures constituted one of the plagues of the typical Egypt in its day of judgment. They swarmed alike into the houses of the king and of his servants; they entered into the bedchambers, and polluted the very beds; they were found in the ovens, and even in the kneading troughs. To understand the force of the emblem one must have heard the frightful noise made by frogs in southern Europe and other hot countries.
They are a singularly suitable type of vain, loquacious talkers and agitators, deluding and seducing the minds of men; and such agitation can be carried on by the press as well as from the platform. The symbol would seem to denote time rapid and universal diffusion of God opposing doctrines and theories inspired by the dragon, Satan himself, or by his great agent "the beast," or by his false priesthood. Does not the symbol point to the modern wide circulation by platform and by press of infidel, ultramontane, and tractarian doctrines; and especially to the multitudinous foul and blaspheming publications of this and other countries of Europe; to the ni Dieu ni maître style of periodical so abundant in France; to the loathsome illustrated and other prints sold by thousands in the streets and parks of London on Sundays and holidays, exhibited in shops on the public thoroughfares, dropped into the letter boxes, or slipped under the doors of private residences, penetrating everywhere, and poisoning alike the minds of old and young, rich and poor; invading the meal times of the masses, and defiling the very bed-chambers of the people; found alike in the workshop and in the club, in the reading-room and in the home, and doing day by day their devilish work of undermining the foundations of the faith and fear of God, and encouraging men to deny His existence and defy His power? Does not the symbol include all the myriad publications of a rationalistic, or superstitious and soul-defiling character, that flow in a continuous stream of almost incredible proportions from the anti-Christian and socialistic press of these days-publications which are colouring and forming opinion all the time, which have already overthrown reverence for things Divine in the hearts and minds of multitudes, and influenced to a large extent even the councils of nations.
Whatever be the exact agency intended, there is no mistaking the result of its operation; it issues in a federated opposition, not of Judaism, nor of heathenism, but of Christendom and its kings and armies against Christ. Whether this opposition is to take the form of literal war, or, as is far more probable, of intellectual, social, and moral rebellion against the gospel and the faith of the saints, whatever may be its form, the fourth crisis of the advent era sees it fully and for ever crashed. A needful preliminary to the establishment of any kingdom is the conquest of adversaries and the subjection of rebels; and as the destruction of Babylon preceded the marriage of the bride, so the destruction of antichrist and his hosts precedes the enthronement of Christ as King. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure. Yet have I set My King upon Zion, the hill of My holiness."
This Armageddon conflict is mentioned in many passages of the Old Testament, as, for instance, in #Isa 66:15-18:
"For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many. . . . . I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see My glory."
This is the judgment of the quick or living, as distinguished from that of "the dead, small and great," which occurs at a later stage of the millennial day of judgment. It is the "sudden destruction" which is coming on the ungodly professors of Christianity-a judgment of whose imminence they should be earnestly and incessantly warned while yet there is time. It comes all suddenly, when men are saying peace and safety, and dwelling carelessly, as in the days of Noah and of Lot.
V. THE BINDING OF SATAN-The destruction of the anti-Christian hosts at the second advent is followed by the binding of Satan. An angel descends from heaven, lays hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and binds him for a thousand years, casts him into the bottomless pit, shuts him up and sets a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years should be fulfilled. This binding and imprisonment of Satan are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. In Isaiah xxiv. we read: "It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited." This predicted action of Christ at the commencement of His kingdom is in striking harmony with His character and office as Redeemer of the human race. The first promise and prophecy respecting Him was that the womans Seed should bruise the serpents head; and St. John states that "for this purpose was the Son of God manifested, for He should destroy the works of the devil." In Hebrews ii. we read that by His death He destroyed "him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;" and delivered "them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." In Revelation xii. Satan is seen as expelled from the symbolic heavens; here he is seen expelled from the earth also for a thousand years.
Next to the personal presence of Christ and His risen saints, this absence of Satan, the great enemy of God and man, is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the millennium. Men have never since the fall enjoyed such a respite before, for Satan has not been present merely, but regnant in their midst; not only has he been the tempter of every individual, but to him must be attributed the conception and the execution of all the great organized schemes of evil which the world has ever known. Paganism was his first great masterpiece, and through it he secured for himself the worship and service of the entire ancient heathen world; for, as the apostle distinctly states, "the things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God." In the early martyr age he roamed the earth as a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour; and he devoured millions of saints, who were willing to fight with beasts in Roman amphitheatres, to be burned as torches to light the gardens of Nero, to suffer a hundred cruel forms of death by Roman executioners. But the blood of the martyrs proved the seed of the Church; they overcame Satan "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death."
Satan was wrath when he beheld Christianity triumph over devil-worship, beheld himself cast out of his high place; and thenceforth he adopted new tactics, "gave his power and his seat and his great authority" to "the beast," or Roman Papacy, and clothing himself as an angel of light, he claimed the worship of the world thenceforth not in his own name, but in the name of Christ. Twice over it is said of the Roman antichrist that "the dragon gave him his power," and verily without satanic assistance it is hard to conceive how the politico-religious system and despotism of the Papacy could ever have obtained the marvellous ascendency over mankind which it actually enjoyed for ages. Macaulay says: "It is impossible to deny that the polity of the Church of Rome is the very masterpiece of human wisdom. In truth, nothing but such a polity could, against such assaults, have borne up such doctrines. The experience of twelve hundred eventful years, the ingenuity and patient care of forty generations of statesmen, have improved that polity to such perfection, that among the contrivances which hare been devised for deceiving and oppressing mankind, it occupies the highest place. The stronger our conviction that reason and Scripture were decidedly on the side of Protestantism, the greater is the reluctant admiration with which we regard that system of tactics against which reason and Scripture were employed in vain." This wonderful policy of time Papacy should, according to Scripture, be considered as ass expression of satanic genius, rather than as a fruit of human genius. Regarded as "the working of Satan," it is in perfect harmony with all the other workings of him who has been a liar and a murderer from the beginning. It has been by means of counterfeit Christianity that Satan has, through the Papacy, resisted the spread of true Christianity. The Papacy has its counterfeit high priest, the pope; its counterfeit sacrifice, the mass; its counterfeit Bible, tradition; its counterfeit mediators, the virgin, the saints, and angels. The forms have been copied, the realities set aside. After the fall of heathenism, Satan inaugurated and developed a system-not antagonistic to Christianity, but a counterfeit of it; and as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses (i.e., by imitation), so he withstood Christ and His Spirit. [Approaching End of the Age, pages 197,198.]
When the beast and the false prophet are slain, and their armies destroyed, then the author of this long-enduring mystery and masterpiece of iniquity, and of all other evil, is not cast down merely as before, but seized, bound, imprisoned for a thousand years, and sealed up in the abyss. Personal restraint is laid upon him, and he is rendered powerless for mischief as long as the bright millennial day shall last.
Just as the personal work and influence of John the Baptist in Judea ceased when Herod laid hold of him and shut him up in prison, even before he was beheaded, so with Satan when he is bound and consigned to the abyss. His violence and his deceit will be alike at an end for a time, and the kingdom of Christ will be inaugurated, not only by the destruction of the rebel hosts, but by the imprisonment of the great usurper.
Now we have never known, and consequently cannot conceive, a world free from, satanic deceptions; but who does not feel at once that it would be a marvellously different world?
What the ocean would be to the mariner if no fogs ever arose to conceal its hidden dangers, and no storms ever lashed its waves into destructive fury; what the forest would be to the defenceless animals if no lions and tigers, no bears and wolves, wandered in them, seeking whom they might devour,-that the earth would be to man in the absence of Satan. True, he would still have his own evil heart of unbelief to contend against, still be heir of a fallen nature; but like gunpowder without a spark to ignite it, the evil within might lie dormant to such an extent, that it might almost seem to be eradicated. Who that has seen the ocean only under its stormiest wintry aspects could even picture to himself the silvery ripple of a summer sea, or the clear azure of a calm tropic sky?
When Satan is exiled from the earth for a time, it is evident that man will have a probation of a character different from any that he has as yet experienced; it will be a probation of man free from the tempter, and though Scripture does not lead us to expect that sin will be altogether absent from among the Gentile nations of the earth during the course of this probation, it does undoubtedly intimate that its existence will be reduced to a minimum. The Lord Jesus Christ began to overthrow the power of the devil when He resisted His temptations in the wilderness; He obtained a further and magnificent victory when He broke open the prison house of death, and, leading captivity captive, ascended up on high. This binding of Satan is a further stage of His triumph over the great foe, and the final one comes at the close of the millennium, when the devil is cast into the lake of fire. Then is fulfilled the promise of #Rom 16:20, "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." The new earth is for ever free from the great enemy and adversary, who, like the wicked Haman, is destroyed by his very efforts to destroy. During the millennium, though he still exists in prison, he deceives the nations no more.
What a retrospective glance over the history of six thousand years is given in that one word "deceive"! It seems to be the entire policy of Satan as to the human race! As Christ is the faithful and true Witness, so Satan has been a liar from the beginning. The woman, "being deceived" by him, fell into transgression; and from Eden onwards the two falsehoods which ruined our race in the first instance have been repeated evermore in the ear of individuals and of nations. First, you may sin freely, for no harm will arise in consequence - "ye shall not surely die"; and, secondly, you had better sin, for great good will come of it -"ye shall be as gods."
Always and everywhere these fatal falsehoods have found only too ready credence, and a flood of iniquity has deluged the world in consequence. But he shall "deceive the nations no more"; the just judgments of God when openly manifested will have exposed the untruth of both his false positions, and will so have influenced the minds of men, that these satanic delusions will be for ever dispelled.
VI. THE MILLENNIAL REIGN.-The scene thus cleared of enemies, there takes place next the enthronisation of Christ and His saints, and the inauguration of the glorious Millennial Reign. The outward physical features of this reign we must learn from the Old Testament; here we ask only what are the distinctive moral features of the coming kingdom? They are mainly three: righteousness, peace, and the universal diffusion of the knowledge of the Lord-three features which distinguish it broadly from the present time, and from all past times.
1. Righteousness is presented as the characteristic of the rule exercised by Christ and His saints, and also as practically prevalent among the inhabitants of the earth. "Behold, a King shall reign in righteousness." "A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom." "In righteousness doth He judge and make war." "The Lord cometh to judge the earth! with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity." "With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His month, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked."
"Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins." "Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field, And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." "The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." He is Himself "the Sun of righteousness" (#Mal 4:1). This, and a hundred similar passages descriptive of the coming kingdom, are felt at once to be wholly inapplicable to the present time. Christ is not now ruling the world in righteousness, but enduring its opposition in longsuffering grace. He is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins. The first advent of Christ was to save the world; the second is to reign over it in righteousness.
Does not the world need righteous government? Is it not indeed one of its most crying needs? It has had governments enough, as a glance at the chart of history shows, but never yet a good one. A good government is indeed impossible in the present state of things, because the wide world cannot produce a good governor.
The governments we style good are so only by comparison with those that are worse; but bad is the best, and bad in all ages has been the best, and bad to the end of the story will be the best. Despotism develops tyranny: aristocracies engender oppression; and democracy does not prevent these evils, as daily experience demonstrates. Government, whether that of the crown, or of the nobles, or of the Church, or of the army, or of the plutocracy, or of the mob, is ever selfish instead of benevolent, because it is exercised by selfish men.
What is the ideal of a good governor? Is it not one who has the will and the wisdom and the power to secure the well-being of his subjects; one who is resolved to enforce the right, who knows what ought to be done, and who will consequently make and carry into execution righteous laws; one to whom all are alike precious, and who rules in the interests of all? It is evident that no mere man, nor any association of men, can ever do this; for selfishness is stronger than benevolence in the human heart. The insoluble problems of existence in society baffle the highest human wisdom; and even if goodness and wisdom were perfect in the ruler, power to enforce the right and repress the wrong is utterly imperfect, even in the mightiest earthly monarch.
Innumerable have been the experiments in government tried, but never yet has human happiness on any wide scale or for any considerable period been secured by any form of rule introduced among men. None have averted bloodshed and war; none have delivered the poor and needy from oppression; none have prevented the existence and the spread of the most hideous vices. The best of them, not only permit, but encourage evil; as witness the drink traffic, (not only sanctioned by Protestant England and America at home, but imposed on the very heathen); and the deadly opium traffic enforced on pagan China. The best government on earth lacks either the will or the power to rule righteously, or both. Moreover, there is not the slightest prospect of improvement as long as the human heart remains what it is. Some of the existing evils may be overcome, as many previous ones have been in the past; our laws and even our wars are more humane than once they were: but as one set of evils disappears, others rise to replace them, and perhaps government was never beset with problems more puzzling, or tasks more stupendous, than those which surround it in these very days.
The elevation of the moral standard, which we owe to Christianity, only makes this more apparent. Our aims are higher than were those of the old world; we no longer regard the earth as a theatre, whereon kings may play at the game of war, but as the home wherein the human race is intended to live happily. The mere subjection of mankind to themselves, is no longer the object of rulers, but it is recognised that the physical, mental, and moral well-being of the people is the very reason for the existence of governments. Yet it may be questioned whether, even with these higher aims, and with all the resources placed at our disposal by modern civilization, by discovery and science, by advanced culture and accumulated wealth, the condition of the vast majority of mankind is much better than it was in ancient times. Heathenism has sunk into deeper depths of degradation than even in Babylonian days, and a thousand millions of mankind still groan under its blighting curse! Mohammedan nations are full of slavery, cruelty, injustice, and oppression; while in Christendom itself millions of men, armed with the deadliest weapons and trained to use them with the utmost precision, are perpetually maintained in idleness, that they may be ready at any moment to slaughter their fellow men.
Degraded themselves by military slavery into mere machines, they are a source of terrible moral degradation to every town in which they dwell; while the rest of the population groans under the burden of taxes imposed for their maintenance, and the very existence of such armed hosts is a perpetual provocation to war! A cruel poverty depresses the masses in all civilized countries. Vast accumulations of capital exist, on the one hand, while destitution and pauperism increase, on the other; the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer year by year, till social revolution and servile war threaten once more to overthrow civilized society. The science of political economy has neither developed nor even indicated any cure for the miseries of mankind. The culmination of civilization brings contrasts more appalling than ever between what is and what ought to be, and probably the worlds need of a righteous, wise, and all-powerful government was never so evident as now, in the end of the nineteenth century. Every conceivable experiment has been tried, and failed. It is not merely that no government can change the evil nature of men, but that no existing government so legislates and so rules as to restrain evil as it might be restrained, or to reward good as it ought to be rewarded.
In other words, all fail in the essential characteristic of a government. "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. He beareth not the sword in vain: he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." A king or a cabinet might desire to do this fully and in all respects; but as the people do not want to have it done, lack of power on their part produces compromises, and evils have to be suffered to exist, even when their results are recognised and deplored. The one great lesson of all history is, that man, having by sin revolted against the kind and wise government of God, is unable to govern himself, and still more to govern his fellow men. He tries, but fails; and hence the bulk of the miseries of humanity. "Sin is lawlessness," lawlessness is anarchy, and anarchy is misery. Heaven, in which the angels, which excel in strength, do Gods commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word, is full of joy and full of glory, because it is full of holy subjection. In the coming kingdom earth shall be as happy as heaven, for Gods will shall then be done in it, as it is now done in heaven.
We can understand how in the moral government of God it may have been needful that the human race should pass through this painful experience of the impossibility of self-government on the part of sinful men. There are lessons that can be learned only by experience. The self-willed child may be best taught his folly by being allowed to taste its bitter fruits; but what parent would allow him to do so further than till he was willing once more to submit to lawful authority? The existing state of things cannot continue after the great lesson it is designed to teach shall have been sufficiently illustrated. The character of our Father in heaven forbids the thought! All Scripture assures us that it is destined to be only temporary, and succeeded by a gloriously different condition of things. We have known Christ as Prophet and as Priest; we have yet to see Him reign as King. The wild-beast empires are not to inflict destruction and misery on men much longer. The last form of the last of them is already in its last days, and destined to disappear ere long. Then shall the world for the first time experience what it is to be blessed with a good government, to be ruled by a King who is at once just and kind, wise and mighty.
2. This righteous rule will result in universal peace. Strife in all its forms, including its worst form, war, is the result of sin and unrighteousness. Where this is repressed by Divine government, peace will naturally prevail. Hence He is called the "Prince of peace," and it is written of His reign, "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end." "In His day shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth." Jerusalem is to enjoy "peace like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream." And not Jerusalem only, but we read, "He maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; He breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire." Of Israel in the coming kingdom it is written, "I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; and I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them. I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land; they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods."
The geological records of the rocks tell of pre-adamite ages, during which our earth was the home of successive races of animal forms of terrible and monstrous character, creatures with whom man could not by any possibility have co-existed; of huge reptiles and amphibians which trampled the earth; of dragon-like bats which swarmed in the air; of plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, dinosaurs, pterodactyls, megatheriums, mammoths, and other gigantic brutes, which held in succession the dominion of our earth. Now what Adam was compared with these fierce monsters of the geologic ages, that Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace, will be compared with the fierce, selfish, ambitious, and cruel conquerors and kingly warriors, who have filled the world with carnage and blood, misery and death, ever since the days of Nimrod.
3. The coming kingdom will be contrasted with the present state of things in that the knowledge of God will be the rule among men, instead of the exception. In it will be fulfilled the blessed promises so often wrongly applied to this present age, "they shall teach no more, every man his neighbour, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know Him, from the least to the greatest." "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." The state of things predicted in Scripture has been sweetly described by a poet whose spirit yearned for it intensely in the well-known and beautiful lines,-
"Oh, scenes surpassing fable, and yet true, Scenes of accomplished bliss! which who can see, Though but in distant prospect, and not feel His soul refreshed with foretaste of the joy ?
Rivers of gladness water all the earth, And clothe all climes with beauty; the reproach Of barrenness is past. The fruitful field Laughs with abundance; and the land once lean, Or fertile only in its own disgrace,
Exults to see its thistle curse repealed. The various seasons woven into one, And that one season an eternal spring, The garden fears no blight, and needs no fence,
For there is none to covet, all are full. The lion and the libbard and the bear Graze with the fearless flocks; all bask at noon Together, or all gambol in the shade
Of the same grove, and drink one common stream. Antipathies are none. No foe to man Lurks in the serpent now; the mother sees, And smiles to see, her infants playful hand
Stretched forth to dally with the crested worm, To stroke his azure neck, or to receive The lambent homage of his arrowy tongue. All creatures worship man, and all mankind One Lord, one Father.
Error has no place; That creeping pestilence is driven away, The breath of heaven has chased it. In the heart No passion touches a discordant string,
But all is harmony and love. Disease Is not: the pure and uncontaminate blood Holds its due course, nor fears the frost of age. One song employs all nations, and all cry,
Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain for us ! The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks Shout to each other, and the mountain tops From distant mountains catch the flying joy;
Till, nation after nation taught the strain, Earth rolls the rapturous hosanna round. Behold the measure of the promise filled; See Salem built, the labour of a God!
Bright as the sun the sacred city shines; All kingdoms and all princes of the earth Flock to that light; the glory of all lands Flows into her; unbounded is her joy,
And endless her increase. Thy rams are there, Nebaioth, and the flocks of Kedar there; The looms of Ormus, and the mines of Ind, And Sabas spicy groves, pay tribute there.
Praise is in all her gates; upon her walls, And in her streets, and in her spacious courts, Is heard salvation. Eastern Java there Kneels with the native of the farthest West;
And Ethiopia spreads abroad the hand, And worships. Her report has travelled forth Into all lands. From every clime they come To see thy beauty, and to share thy joy,
O Sion! an assembly such as earth Saw never, such as heaven stoops down to see."
(Cowper; "The Task" book vi.)
VII. THE POST-MILLENNIAL ERA.-On the incidents of the brief post- millennial era, which introduces the eternal form of the kingdom of God, we need not dwell at any length. Belonging to a remote future, they are slightly mentioned in the prophecy, just as the kingdom of Christ and the saints was very briefly mentioned in Daniel. When this Christian age, with all its complex and profoundly interesting changes and experiences, had first to run its course, details were given about it, rather than about that which was to succeed it. And so in this last prophecy the light is thrown more fully on events prior to the second advent and millennial reign, rather than on those which are not to occur till after its close.
On the loosing of Satan, and the final apostasy, the judgment before the great white throne, and the destruction of death and hades which follow, we offer no remarks here, as we have considered the principal point-the final judgment-elsewhere. [See "Approaching End of the Age", pages 68-78.]
We pass at once to the closing prophecy of Scripture, describing the second or everlasting section of the coming kingdom. The interval occupied by the intermediate occurrences is stated to be a "little season," implying perhaps that it will bear to the preceding millennial reign a still smaller proportion than the initial and closing eras we have considered have borne to the periods to which they respectively belong. This post-millennial era is however a deeply momentous one in connexion with the entire scheme of the providential government of God, inasmuch as it witnesses the final judgment and destruction, not only of the wicked, but of Satan, of hades, and of death-the conquest of the last enemy, the completion of the work of subjugation prior to the renovation of the world. The close of this period is called emphatically the end. "Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power; for He must reign until He hath put all things under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
Human history, especially the portion of it which we have considered, has been like a succession of rapids and cataracts in a river leading on to a great final fall at the end of its descending course, after which it flows on peacefully and calmly without any further interruption, till it merges its waters in those of the ocean. The long and troubled history of earthly empires has been but a preparation for the kingdom of God. The history of twenty-five centuries is summed up by the angel in one brief sentence: "These great beasts, which are four, are four kingdoms which shall arise out of the earth; but the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever." The times of the Gentiles, and even the millennium which succeeds them, have been but as a brief and transitory introduction to THE ETERNAL KINGDOM or God described in #Rev 21., to a closing consideration of which we must now pass.