The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
The Concordant Version
THE EONIAN EVANGEL
THE religious redemption of Israel is the subject of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth chapters of the Unveiling. The star-crowned woman and her male son are safe. The hundred forty-four thousand are protected. What about "the rest of her seed, who are keeping the precepts of God and who have the testimony of Jesus" (12:17)? These are scattered in the land and among the nations. It is to these especially that the eonian evangel is directed (14:7). These are warned of the fall of Babylon (14:8). These are threatened with torment if they worship the wild beast (14:9). These are the martyrs of that day (14:13). These are in view in the Harvest (14:15,16) and the Vintage (14:17-20).
It is of prime importance to perceive that all of this occurs at the conclusion of the present eon. It cannot be "applied" to any other period in the history of mankind. The eonian evangel goes forth only for a very brief period, Babylon's final fall will be sudden, the worship of the wild beast will not exceed half a heptad of years. The figures of the Harvest and the Vintage are suggestive of a brief era at the close of the year.
But there seem to be other limitations besides those of time. It seems to be primarily addressed to the saints in Israel who have not been included in the groups already described. This becomes more apparent when we compare what is said of Babylon with the next section. There we find that some of God's people are in the doomed city. A voice out of heaven calls to them, saying, "Come out of her, My people, lest you should be participating in her sins, and lest you should be getting her calamities..." (Rev. 18:4). Hence, in this section, a messenger warns of Babylon's fall. As there is no object except to save the saints in the city, who are Israelites this announcement must be for them, and has no bearing on the gentiles. Hence this whole section is to be applied to the seed of Jacob.
In the previous part of this apocalypse, after the hundred forty-four thousand had been sealed, we are introduced to a vast throng, or "great multitude," out of all nations and tribes and peoples and languages, who come out of the great affliction (7:9-17). If the hundred forty-four thousand come before us again in this section, why not the vast throng? The conviction grows with consideration that the angelic ministry of the fourteenth chapter of this scroll is not intended for mankind as a whole, but for the saints of Israel outside the holy city in the land and among the nations.
At first sight, this thought does not seem to be borne out by the text, for the eonian evangel is to be sent to those situated on the earth and to every nation and tribe and language and people (14:6). The terms are redundant, for "the earth" includes all the territory indicated by the following phrases. When we remember that "earth" frequently is limited to the land of Israel, and that they are specially before us here, we are strongly inclined to make it "those situated on the land." Moreover, the literal rendering, "ON every nation," etc., is difficult to render into English idiomatically, and probably means simply that this evangel is proclaimed over, rather than to every nation and tribe and language and people, for the holy seed are dispersed among them all.
To the mass of mankind, the worship of the wild beast will be a matter of course. They do not fear him. They will be eager to have his emblem or his name or his number. But it will be a most fearful trial for the pious Jew. He probably makes his living by buying and selling. Now he cannot carry on any trading without disavowing Yahweh. To him comes the eonian evangel: "Fear ye God, and be giving glory to Him, seeing that the hour of His judgment came, and worship the Maker of heaven and the land and the sea and springs of water."
It is an evangel of fear. It is the most primitive and basic of all evangels, peculiarly appropriate to the dispensation of divine indignation, and in keeping with the time of judgment. It involves faith, for those who do not recognize God at all cannot fear Him. But the faith is of the most elemental nature. There is no realization of God's love or grace, but only of His power. He is not the Father, but the Maker of the physical world and the Judge of mankind. Such a God is to be feared and worshiped. Those who will not fear nor worship Him are doomed: those who do will be delivered, though it is through death.
The terms of this evangel throw a flood of light, not only on the religion of the end time, but also on the present trend of religious thought, especially in connection with creation. The apostle Peter gives us the latter-days apostate Jew's attitude toward God and His universe: "All is continuing thus from the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:4). And this is just what so-called scientists and modern religionists are trying to impress upon us today. The form of the eonian evangel indicates that they will succeed in their efforts to eliminate the Maker of the universe from the minds of men and banish the Judge from the thoughts of His creatures.
Modern theoretical science is principally occupied in postulating (what it cannot prove) that all nature is continuing and will continue as it has always continued in the past, without any disturbance from without. It seeks to explain all phenomena by means of forces now operating. There is even a pathetic attempt at reducing creation to a fortuitous concourse of atoms. All must be reduced to law. But there must be no Law Giver! Its creed can be condensed into one word, uniformity. The theory has been called uniformitarianism.
As Peter declares (2 Peter 3:5), they want to be oblivious of the testimony of divine revelation as to the great cataclysms which have rent this earth in former eons; lest such occurrences should indicate divine interposition, not only in the past, but in the future also. More than this, they actually shut their eyes to the plainest evidences of cataclysmic forces in nature, and seek to explain them by the slow processes of the present. This is why they want so many millions of years for their cosmology.
When an astronomer views the heavens he is awed by the order which pervades the starry spheres. But in the midst of this regularity, there are signs of discord. Instead of a planet between Mars and Jupiter, he finds its fragments, commonly, called the asteroids, but better named the planetoids. Some tremendous cataclysm has occurred, which broke the planet into innumerable parts. No one dreams that this was the result of a slow evolution, requiring millions of years. It undoubtedly was a sudden catastrophe, a "disruption" so tremendous that it shattered the planet into thousands of parts.
Similar symptoms appear everywhere. Moons out of the plane of their planet's rotation, some actually revolving in an opposite direction, planets tilted at various angles to their orbits, tremendous comets, or wandering stars, rushing into the solar system out of the voids of space and threatening all with destruction--these are only some of the evidences of cataclysmic action in the past which reasonably require a similar repetition in the future.
Geology, or the science of the earth's surface, is the least scientific of all the "ologies." It is founded on the absurd theory that the earth is like a ball which has received many coats of paint of various colors, one upon the other, over its whole surface, and it bases its various ages on the fossils found in these different strata. It would have us believe that first the earth was entirely covered with the Archean rocks. Then it was entirely enveloped with another coat. Then it was tarred with a still later layer, and so on, until the present.
Theoretically, all of these different layers should be present everywhere. As a matter of fact, they are not all present anywhere. Theoretically, they should always be arranged in the standard order. As a matter of fact, they seldom are found in the "proper" order. As a result, geology is largely occupied in futile explanations why nature is such a poor geologist. There are "intrusions" here, and "overthrusts" there, and anomalies everywhere. Geology is still in the backward stage where men try to fasten their theories on nature instead of forming them from the phenomena of nature.
No one, not inoculated with the virus of theoretical geology, who views the tremendous faults and fissures, the stupendous mountains and chasms, which abound upon the earth's surface, can escape the conclusion that the earth's crust has been through at least one upheaval such as has not occurred since mankind has been on it. The strata or layers no longer lie horizontally, as they evidently once did, but are piled up at every conceivable angle and in the utmost confusion.
A real reader of the rocks cannot but believe that the earth has been through some shuddering experience which has shattered its surface far more than is evident at the present time, for the action of wind and water has covered and concealed much of its broken nakedness. Some ascribe all of this to the deluge of Noah's day. But most of it is probably due to that great disruption which is recorded at the forefront of revelation. It was not created as it is. The earth became waste and barren (Gen.1:2). The theory that some external force caused this by tilting the earth's axis seems the most reasonable yet proposed.
But, some would say, what has this to do with the Bible? What is the bearing of all this on the eonian evangel? Very much, indeed. Science should lead to the adoration of "the Maker of heaven and the land and the sea and springs of water." It should confirm the eonian evangel. It should insist on His invisible hand, not only in the ordinary and orderly processes of nature, but in the awful cataclysms which have disturbed its history. But today we see it chiefly concerned in obliterating His footprints by futile theories and seeking to bring God's revelation into disrepute because it does not conform to their false philosophy.
As a result of this onslaught the religion of the end time will deny that there is any Maker or that He will take a personal interest in the affairs of mankind so as to execute judgment. To fear God and give glory to Him in these two characters would not be sufficient to save anyone now. But then this will be all that is required. In every administration, God is known according to the special attitude He takes. Now it is grace. Then it will be judgment. Maker and Judge are the divine assumptions of that dread day. Hence the evangel can rise no higher.
But why should this be called an eonian evangel? It receives this name because it is true throughout the eons. In the very beginning, we have it enacted by Adam and Eve in the garden. They knew Him as Maker and Judge. Therefore, they feared and hid themselves. Under the circumstances the fear was right. It was based on a knowledge of God, however limited. At all times in the presence of sin, there should be reverential fear.
The presence of judgment calls for the eonian evangel. Noah feared God and escaped in the ark by going through the deluge. Under the law, the fear of Yahweh was the beginning of wisdom. Even our own evangel of the unadulterated grace of God is built on a wholesome fear of God's righteous judgment, as detailed in the beginning of the Roman epistle. And its very highest phase consists in carrying out our salvation with fear and trembling. Even those who love Him and revel in His grace fear to do that which would displease Him.
We cannot call Paul's evangel eonian because it is too high for all but a part of one eon. We can call the judgment evangel eonian because it is low enough for all times. It is the elemental message, the substratum on which higher conceptions of God must rest, and loftier evangels must repose.
But, lest anyone should suppose that we would have it preached today, let us point out that it is an evangel without Christ, without blood, without redemption. There is not a single promise included in it. It is the most primitive appeal possible, based almost entirely on the evidence of nature. The manner of its proclamation will be miraculous, for a messenger will fly over the nations to make it known. No man is commissioned with its message. This leaves hardly any place for faith. It is at the foot of the spiritual scale, while our evangel is at the top.
THE FALL OF BABYLON
The brevity of this notice of Babylon's fall (Rev.14:8) is in notable contrast to the extended description in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters. The reason seems clear. This section deals with the faithful in Israel. Yahweh is carrying out His covenant with them. Babylon, however, is composed mostly of apostates, whose judgment comes before us in the next section, in which the unfaithful Israelites are judged by the law. All Jews of that day will be intensely interested in the fate of Babylon, for its influence will extend to all nations, who are all drunk with the wine she offers them. Her conduct is the cause of much of the persecution of the faithful in Israel. Her fall will be a great relief.
The third messenger's message is one of the most awful threats of doom to be found even in this dread book. It is terrible enough as it stands, yet it has been infinitely exaggerated by over-zealous but crude interpretations. After being diverted from its context and its time periods discordantly translated, it presents insurmountable difficulties, not merely to the unbeliever and critic, but to the faith of the devout student. Even faith is not magic enough to get us to believe two contradictory statements. That is credulity. Faith is not a credulous half-wit. It is a keen, intelligent, discriminating, believing.
The first problem that impresses us is the implication (apart from the context) that all who worship the wild beast will be tormented for the eons of the eons (Rev.14:8-11). Elsewhere (in another context), we are told that the image causes all who will not worship the wild beast to be killed (Rev.13:15). If all who do not worship are killed by the image and all who do are tormented for the eons of the eons, who, then will be left for the millennial kingdom? Whence are the nations who will stand before the Son of Mankind, as foretold by our Lord (Matt.25:31-46)? They are not judged according to this standard, but by their treatment of the Israelites among them in the time of their distress.
It is evident that we must not take these passages apart from their context and the section of the book in which they stand. The efforts of the wild beast and the image are directed against all mankind, but this paragraph closes with the significant sentence, "Here is the endurance of the saints, who are keeping the precepts of God and the faith of Jesus." That the disciples of the Circumcision can and did apostatize in the past is clearly evident from the warnings against it, especially in the epistle to the Hebrews, and here they will be more sorely tried than ever.
In writing to the Hebrews, the writer reminds them of the pitiless provision of the law, should any repudiate it. Nothing less than the death penalty was meted out to such. "Of how much worse punishment, are you supposing, will he be counted worthy who tramples on the Son of God, and deems the blood of the covenant by which he is hallowed contaminating, and outrages the spirit of grace? For we are acquainted with Him Who is saying, '"Mine is vengeance! I will repay!" the Lord is saying,' and again, 'The Lord will be judging His people.' Fearful is it to be falling into the hands of the living God!" (Heb.10:29-31). He who has law is judged far more severely than he who has none. He who has light shall receive ever so much greater punishment than he who sins in darkness.
Babylon is charged with the blood of the prophets and of the saints and of all who have been slain on the earth (Rev.18:24). Many have inferred that she actually committed these crimes. Hence she was in existence from the time of Cain and is identified with every bloodthirsty persecutor of the saints, especially the Roman Catholic hierarchy. But it is not said that she actually did these deeds. Our Lord told the men of His generation that all the righteous blood shed upon the earth should come upon them (Matt. 23:35), from the blood of Abel down. Of course, they had no hand in all these murders, but their murder of Messiah made it clear that they merely lacked the opportunity. They would have done all these dastardly deeds if they could. They will be charged with them.
So in the time of the end. Not all mankind will be threatened with the awful doom of eonian torment. That is for the enlightened Israelite who breaks the first and greatest of the commandments. As we have seen, the eonian evangel is for them, scattered among the nations, rather than for the nations themselves. So also the wine of God's fury, the cup of His indignation, is for them if they fall aside. They crucify the Son of God again and hold Him up to infamy (Heb.6:6). This not only solves the difficulty but puts the judgment on an intelligent and reasonable basis. To judge all mankind alike, even at such a time, would be inexcusable. This, the most awful sentence ever pronounced, is limited to the commission of the greatest sin by the most enlightened at the time of earth's direst doom.
Torment is generally supposed to be the eternal and exclusive lot of all unbelievers. Yet the twelve apostles were tormented (Mark 6:48) in rowing on the stormy lake. Lot tormented his just soul by dwelling in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8). The star-crowned woman, who certainly does not represent the ungodly, was tormented in her travail (Rev.12:2). Very few of the saints escape torment entirely. Their torment, however, is not directly from God, in judgment, such as that which is now before us.
Even among unbelievers the scope of torment varies. Some may escape it entirely. Some suffer torment from physical disease (Matt.4:24; 8:6). Others were tormented by legal procedure (Matt.18:34). These were not divine visitations, but providential or human. It is really remarkable how seldom God is given this role in the Scriptures, compared with the frequency with which He is associated with it in the preaching of the gospel. In the Scriptures, torment is never united to any gospel but the eonian evangel, in this passage.
The length of torment varies greatly, even when inflicted by God. It is always limited in its scope. Those of mankind living at the time of the end who do not have God's seal on their foreheads will be tormented five months when the fifth messenger trumpets (Rev.9:5). The locust horde inflicts pain like the sting of a scorpion, so that men will seek death rather than bear it, but they will not be allowed to die. This woe, as it is well named, passes away, as all of God's inflictions must do when their object is accomplished.
When, however, we come to deal with the wild beast and the false prophet, torment is extended to its very limit. It lasts for the eons of the eons beyond which it cannot go. This is not only Scriptural but reasonable. To mete out eternal torment to everyone, and especially to those who had little light, is so repugnant to our innate sense of justice that it casts discredit on the Book which is erroneously supposed to teach it. It is impossible to limit the amount of eternal torment. It cannot be adjusted to fit degrees of guilt. It is unscriptural, irrational, and atrocious.
The torment of these Israelites does not last so long, but its smoke, or fumes, ascend for the eons of the eons. Of course, this must be a figure of speech, for torment has no smoke. We must not confuse this as though it read, the smoke of the fire of their torment, for that would be literal. It is very evident that the torment is not only by means of fire, but is like a fire in another respect, but not like its flames but its fumes or its smoke. The only way to understand the figure is to examine the literal carefully, and stress only the point of contact suggested by the word smoke.
A fierce fire does not smoke. If combustion is perfect the smoke itself is consumed, for it consists of small, heated, unburned particles. A poor fire does little else but smoke. Almost any fire, however, unless continually kindled, though it may burn brightly for a time, will die down and smoulder for a long period. I have known fires in sheltered corners to burn furiously for a while and then smoke for days. There are coal beds which have smoldered for centuries. This is the picture which is suggested by "the smoke of their torment." If we replace "torment" by its literal equivalent, we see a fire which, though hot at first, dies down and smolders for the eons of the eons. Such will be the torment of the Israelitish worshipers of the wild beast.
The means of torment varies much. The most common is the accompaniment of disease (Matt.4:24; 8:6), as some acute physical distress. The disciples suffered from the torment of overexertion and anxiety (Mark 6:48). Lot's torment was purely spiritual, for his body and soul were at ease in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8). The torment of inquisitors was mostly by mechanical means. The body was racked in various ways which were insupportable (Matt.18:34). We are not told how the two witnesses will torment their enemies (Rev.11:10). The birth of the male son will mean torment for the faithful in the Israel of that day (Rev.12:2). The locusts torment mankind five months with the scorpion's sting (Rev.9:5). Babylon is tormented in her destruction (Rev.18:7, 10,15). The Israelitish worshipers of the image will be tormented in fire and sulphur (Rev.14:10). The wild beasts and the slanderer will suffer a similar but even severer fate (Rev. 20:10). The means is literal.
How utterly astray is the popular teaching on torment! It associates it with the unbelieving mass of mankind, which God never does. By torturing the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the torment, there ascribed to hades, which is before the judgment, is transferred to the lake of fire, and all, no matter how poor they are, are given the rich man's deserts! Torment is suffered by various saints. Who preaches this? It is never threatened as the penalty of sin, except in the case of those who hear the eonian evangel. It is reserved for the most heinous crime on the part of the most enlightened. It is only for those who have apostatized from the worship of Yahweh.
Those who worship the beast doubtless do so under the pressure of the times, in order to get present relief from insupportable afflictions and save their souls from torture and death. In this, they will be disappointed. They are having no rest, day or night, while worshiping the wild beast. The tense indicates that this is not a part of their future torment, but their present experience. This lack of tranquillity may be partly caused by an accusing conscience. Yet such will be the turmoil of the times, and such the severity of the judgments, that rest will be rare for anyone, even if they are not ground between the upper millstone of God's indignation and the lower one of man's mad mandates.
In contrast with those who apostatize, and find no rest, are those who are faithful, who find it in death (14:13). The eonian evangel held out no promise. It spoke of no happiness. A voice out of heaven, however, supplements it with the evangel of death. "Happy are the dead who are dying in the Lord henceforth!" How weighty are these words! How fully they fit the needs of those who hear them! Apply them elsewhere and they lose their point and pathos. There will be no escaping death for those who are "in the Lord." All true to Him must pay for it with their lives. Right thankful may they be that they are not like those under the fifth trumpet (Rev.9:6), who sought death but could not find it. Death will seek them and they will welcome it, for it is the only door of deliverance.
If we consider the experience of the apostate and contrast it with that of the martyr, we can easily see the force of this benediction. The apostate worships the wild beast, but gets no rest day or night. Later, when the Lord comes, he is tormented for his apostasy. The faithful worshiper of Yahweh, however, is beheaded (20:4). He suffers no more. Consciously, the moment of his death is the instant of his resurrection. It ushers him into the joys of the kingdom. There his bliss will be greatly enhanced because of his martyrdom. He will be resting from his toil and his acts will accompany him. He will live and reign with Christ the thousand years. So far as experience goes, death will be far preferable to life. Happy are the dead who die in the Lord in that day!
I well remember how, in the early years of my study of the Scriptures, the alluring phrase "the everlasting gospel" struck my fancy. But the contents of this evangel were an enigma to me. I could see that all other evangels were limited in time. But was fear to be the brightest gem in the eternal diadem? Was the worship of God as their Maker to be the highest reach of His creatures? What place was there in this for Christ and His redemption, for the Son of God and His reconciliation? Then I discovered that it was not "everlasting." It is eonian. Sin is in the eons, and fear is present only in them. Beyond, all enemies are gone and peace prevails. It is not an "everlasting" but an eonian evangel.
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