The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
THE INTRODUCTION AND CONCLUSION
JESUS CHRIST unveiled! Such is the result we may expect from our studies in this scroll. And who would not hail with joy every word that discovers Him? We may linger fondly over the pages that speak of His humiliation, veiled in mortal flesh, obscure, rejected, and cast out, but we long for the day when He receives His reward. The saints shall all receive awards for their feeble and faulty efforts to please Him. Surely He will receive His deserts as well.
Let us never lose sight of this as we pursue the study of this prophecy. Let us not lose ourselves amidst the lightning and the thunder, the trumpets, and the bowls. These are nothing in themselves. It is only as they serve to unveil Him to our gaze that we are really able to enjoy such tremendous exhibitions of wrath.
Paul was taught his evangel through the unveiling of Jesus Christ (Gal.1:12). That was a specimen apocalypse which well illustrates the great principles which must always prevail where He is unveiled. His purpose was one of richest grace. It was fraught with transcendent blessing. Yet what were the immediate effects? Much the same as the judgments which John saw. The men were stricken to the ground and Paul himself was blinded by the brightness of the light. Who would have imagined this tragedy was the prelude to the transcendent grace which Paul preached? So we must view the terrible tribulations which preface the eons of the eons. Short, sharp, and swift is God's strange work: long will the blessing it brings linger with Israel and the nations for the eons of the eons.
God gives this unveiling to Him to show to His slaves what must occur swiftly. As we proceed it will be in point to show why we prefer to use the Concordant Version in these studies rather than the so-called Authorized. This version, due to the principles on which it is compiled, is bound to give a more accurate and correct rendering than is possible where no fixed law is obeyed but each passage is presented as appears best to the translators.
We may be asked, why prefer slaves to servants? The common version uses servant for six distinct Greek words, which, in the Concordant Version, are assigned distinct expressions, corresponding to their meaning. They are servant, retainer, domestic, boy or page, deputy, and slave, the word here used. Later versions have been used or suggested bound-servant. But what is this but a slave? Who speaks of a "bond-servant" in current English? A few of the many occurrences of this word will convince us that it does not mean a hired servant but bought slave. Let us call the translators themselves into the witness stand. At least six times they found it in contrast with "free." Then they translated it "bond." In 1 Cor.12:13, the members of Christ are one body "whether we be bond or free." In Gal.3:28 we find that in Christ "there is neither bond nor free." In Eph.6:8 two kinds of servants are in view, "bond or free." In Col.3:11 we learn that the new humanity ignores such distinction as "bond or free." In this Unveiling, the false prophet causes all "rich and poor, free and bond" to receive the symbol of the wild beast (13:16), and the birds are invited to feast on "the flesh of all, free and bond" (19:18). Once they translate it "bondman" (6:15). Thus we need to go no further than the translators were forced to go when they found this word used in an antithesis, where its meaning was sharply and clearly revealed by contrast with its opposite. All that the Concordant Version does is apply this consistently.
This Unveiling, then, is intended for slaves. It is, true the Alexandrian Codex has saints. And it is also true that the scribe of Codex Sinaiticus wrote saints. But the corrector of this valuable text corrected it to slaves. So the best evidence is in favor of this term.
It is not uncommon for the writer of an epistle to call himself a slave. Paul does so often, notably in the opening of the letters to Rome, Philippians, and Titus. James, Peter, and Jude do the same. But it is most unusual to address a communication to such. It is almost always "to the saints." It will help us greatly in opening up this scroll to enter into the significance of this address.
Twice seven times is this term used in this scroll. This suggests the atmosphere in which the prophecy moves. It is concerned with service, and weighted with work. And this service is performed by slaves. Only once, in the closing scenes is the promise made "he shall be My son." Sonship is practically absent during the judgment period. Those loyal to God in the ecclesias are called "slaves" (2:20). The hundred and forty-four thousand are "slaves" (7:3). The martyrs are "slaves" (19:2). John himself is called a "slave" (1:1). Let us not intrude the thought of son-service into this scroll.
A simple point, yet one of principal importance, is suggested by the phrase "what must occur swiftly," in place of "which must shortly come to pass." An excellent method of discovering the meaning of a disputed expression is to take it off to another scene where its meaning is clearly apparent from the connection. The question at issue here is whether the interval preceding an action is intended or whether the action itself is in view. Was this prophecy to commence its fulfillment within a short time after John wrote or is it to move swiftly once it begins? On the answer to this, our whole position depends. Often the word "shortly" or "soon" seems to fit the word well. But a patient examination of these texts shows that these words always point to the end of the action, hence swiftness would involve the thought of "soon."
Perhaps the most picturesque illustration of its meaning is found in the race between Peter and John on the morning of the resurrection (John 20:4). John and Peter started together but John ran more swiftly than Peter. This simple incident is conclusive evidence that this Unveiling will be swift in its execution, rather than that it was, or is, a short time hence.
As it has been well nigh two millenniums since these words were penned we are forced to acknowledge either that this apocalypse is past, or that it was not intended to take place "soon." If it is past then the coming of Christ is also past, for He uses the very same words of His return.
On the other hand, if we allow that it means swiftly, then all is future, for no occurrences which drag through thousands of years can possibly be characterized as swift. This alone disposes of the attempt to fit the prophetic portion to the history of the church. That would be a slow, not a swift fulfillment.
More than this, the character of God Himself and the nature of His dealing during the present economy are involved in the meaning of this word. This is a period of grace--transcendent grace. That will be an era of severe judgment. The two cannot be mixed. Now God smiles. Then His face will be averted. The present period is prolonged. The coming era will be short. It is the glory of God that He lingers in dispensing grace but hastes in executing judgment. The sharper His strokes the swifter they cease.
An exhaustive study of the cumulative judgments of this Unveiling will reveal the fact that, while all is comparatively swift, there is a constant acceleration in its execution. The seals cover years, the trumpets months, but the bowls seem to be poured out in a few days. Has it not been always thus in God's administration? His judgments are swift and short: His blessings linger a long time.
This also has a vital bearing on His judgment of the race. It should prejudice us against torment long drawn out, except in extraordinary cases. Our God has never acted thus in His dealings. His established character is against such a course. Right glad are we to know that such will be the manner of His judgments. Will they be sharp? Then they will be short. The mild judgments of the millennium are prolonged. The severe session of the great white throne is short. Such a God is worthy of our worship!
Turning now to the conclusion (22:20,21) which corresponds with the opening words, we find the same word--swiftly--describing the coming of the Lord Jesus. How we wish that this were not with speed, merely, but soon as well! May it be so! All our prejudices--perhaps we may be permitted to call them our longings--plead for a perverted translation at this point. But what would it avail? If the common version had used the same words here that it did in the introduction and rendered it "Surely I come shortly," that would not bring Him any sooner! He waits for God's appointed time, but when that time does come, the lightning itself will be slow compared with His epiphany.
How hearty the response, "Yea! come, Lord Jesus!" As we proceed in our study we will learn that this refers not to our gathering together unto Him but to His coming to His people Israel. We shall meet Him much sooner than the advent here spoken of. We shall be with Him when the hearts of His slaves are crying for His coming. But until then our hearts echo the words which He has put into their mouths. We, too, cry "Erchou! Be coming!"
One word which is constantly recurring in the Concordant Version is the verb perceive. Why, we are asked, does the version prefer this word to the common term see! Why render it "he perceives" rather than "he saw?" The answer is found in the last chapter (22:8): "And I, John, heard these things and observed them." Perception includes hearing as well as sight. Indeed, we perceive by means of all the organs of sensation. The term "saw" is too narrow. Indeed, it stands for a different word which is used in 18:18, "When they saw the smoke." While our prejudices may plead for the old, well-known terms, let us bear in mind that the consistent renderings we use come closer to the thought of the great Revealer. Throughout the scroll there is an appeal to the ear as well as to the eye.
As a further reason for the rendering perceive, it may be noted that it is translated "know" in hundreds of instances, thus intruding into the territory of another Greek word. Perceive is an intermediate expression which usually suits better than either "know" or "see."
One of the most perplexing problems in connection with the Greek text is the repeated difference between the Sinaitic, which is by far the best text, and the other two manuscripts with regard to one form of this word. The Sinaitic almost always puts it "perceived" in the past. The other two usually unite to put it in an irregular form of the indefinite. While it is known that the editor of the Concordant Text had strong leanings toward the indefinite form, he has yielded to the evidence, which, though nearly evenly balanced, slightly favors the oldest and fuller form. It would be easier for the copyists to leave out the initial "E" in later years, than for the earlier scribe to insert it. It makes but a slight change in the Version and is not at all vital to the sense.
The notable concord which we have perceived between the Introduction and Conclusion is still more strikingly exhibited in the Benediction and the Curse. The prominent place which these are given at the very commencement and consummation of the scroll bids us lay a heavy emphasis upon their message.
Few, indeed, have found the happiness which ought to be the portion of the reader and of the hearers of this prophecy. In fact, few of the saints give it any serious study. As to any happiness coming out of this judgment scroll (no one even attempts to keep what he does not understand)--that seems out of the question. How can such awful visitations and mysterious calamities make anyone happy?
We want to be happy. We want the happiness which comes from the perusal of this prophecy. We do not wish to devote ourselves to this study as a dreary duty.
The reason given why there is happiness here is that the era is impending. Let us get the gist of this. Let us first divest ourselves of the idea we may have taken from the phrase "the time is at hand." The word "time" here is not the one which they have rendered thus in the phrase "there shall be time no longer," but a special word meaning season. As usual, they have given us a good rendering of both of these synonyms where they occur together as in Acts 1:7. There we read of "the times or the seasons." It is greatly to be regretted that they did not register their own distinction in all the other occurrences. Then, in Rev.6:11, instead of rendering "should rest yet for a little season" and 20:3 "must be loosed a little season," they would have said time, and in 11:18; 12:12,14 and 22:10, where they say time, they should translate season or its equivalent. The Concordant Version seeks to avoid this confusion, and yet conform to the niceties of English usage by associating season, era, and period, as may best suit, with one word, and time (in one case delay, for "no longer time" with the others.
But of what use is all this discrimination? Very much, indeed, if we do not want to miss the happiness which hangs upon it. An era or season is a segment of time having distinct characteristics which mark it off from adjacent segments. As the seasons of the year, each has features which define them, so the era here spoken of, which is the burden of the whole book, must not be merged into the common course of time, but must be marked as a unique and notable departure from ordinary eras, introducing a great change or crisis in human history. How much richer and fuller is this thought than that gathered from the phrase "the time is at hand!" The history of the eons is like the story of the year. Each succeeding season is adapted to furnish its share towards the ultimate harvest, but the function of each is distinct. This prophecy presents us with an era or season in which many of the prevailing principles of the present are found in autumnal ripeness. What has been in flower, or has formed into fruit will then be ready to pluck and we may taste its real nature and essence. Here lies the great value of this prophecy to us. Here is the secret of the happiness which it brings. We may enjoy an insight into the heart of things which would be difficult to discern without its aid. We are happy to avoid the subtle snares that beset our path. We are glad to escape the great delusion which is so alluring to all except those who have studied this scroll.
Before pursuing this theme further let us ask, what is meant by "the era is impending?" From the sublinear, we learn that it literally reads "the season is near." It is the usual word for near but does not necessarily convey the certainty of absolute nearness which we might infer from its ordinary English usage. Epaphroditus was near death, yet he recovered and may have lived long afterward (Phil.2:30). James says that the coming of the Lord is near (James 5:8) yet that was nearly two thousand years ago. The Kingdom of the heavens was near during the period in which our Lord proclaimed it, but it withdrew when He was rejected (Matt.3:2). The end of all things is near (1 Peter 4:7) yet this has been the case ever since Peter wrote. It is evident that the word has the secondary meaning of conditional nearness. If the era had been absolutely near when John wrote then it must have been fulfilled long since. There is ample evidence that it has not so much as started even yet. But the conditions in the world have continually been such as to call for this era of judgment, hence it has been impending ever since the words were first penned.
Men are in the dark, not only as to the future but as to the present as well. If they knew the future they would be able to interpret the present by it. Satan is the god of this eon. He prefers to work in the dark. It is not until the era of this scroll that he openly claims the worship of mankind.
Men count themselves fortunate if they have enough of this world's goods to live in ease for the rest of their lives. But how often are such expectations false! Riches have wings. The future is all unknown. How much would they give if they only knew what it had in store!
This scroll gives certainty and solidity to the future of the earth. Its greatest benison will rest on those of the favored nation who live in the latter days and are delivered from the dreadful delusions which will abound in the day of His indignation.
Satan's enmity has been particularly directed against this scroll, for no other part of the Scriptures gives the consummation of his career as plainly as this prophecy. Hence there have been many attempts to exclude it from the canon, and many more efforts to annul its teaching by means of "expositions" and explanations. This passage he would doubtless have expurged entirely if possible. How far he has succeeded may be seen when we find the very few manuscripts which contain this closing scroll of Divine revelation containing about seven variants in this verse! As the note in the Concordant Version says: "Who would not suppose that these lines would be most anxiously and scrupulously copied by the scribe? Surely no transcriber would dare to add or subtract a single letter! Yet there is not only one transposition, but four additions and three omissions in a passage fearfully denouncing such a practice."
Needless to say that this curse, by its very nature, can have no application now. We have no part in the tree of life or the holy city to lose, for ours is a heavenly allotment. Nor can the calamities written in this scroll fall on us, for there can be no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We are beyond the reach of wrath, This will not make us lax in regard to this scroll, but rather more rigid and careful, for we judge that, since He is so solicitous about every part, it is our privilege to guard every letter.
How much happier we should be than those to whom this prophecy is directly addressed! The joy of fellowship with Christ in His Unveiling is ours not as slaves, nor in fear of judgment for ourselves, but as one with Him, above and apart from the terrible tide of indignation which will engulf the earth. And we know that it prepares mankind for a flood of blessing such as has not yet been known, for whatever exalts Christ brings blessing to mankind.
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