Starting here and now, my focus in this series will be to present interpretations of Revelation from Church History – a subject I love. Please think of me as your little old librarian lady with specs on and pray I don’t stumble in the stacks. My hope is that you will be edified by something taken down from the shelves.
Presenting interpretations on Revelation is no longer a simple thing for me. I’m a little afraid of rejection for not believing in what many of my brothers and sisters believe in: a seven-year tribulation before, and a literal Millennium after, Jesus’ return. Though I’m willing to discuss whatever you find here, I’m not interested in debate. Also, please know that I don’t want to discourage you about how you’ve come to understand these things after studying long and prayerfully. I’ve learned that genuine Christians can and do hold different views about them, and that this is fine as long as we are not talking about heresy such as Full Preterism.
May the Lord Jesus be glorified in all that each one of us attempts to do for His Name and eternal Kingdom!
A Multitude from the Tribulation
9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying,
“Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16 They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
The 17th Century
John Gill was “an English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian who held to a firm Calvinistic soteriology. Born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, he attended Kettering Grammar School where he mastered the Latin classics and learned Greek by age 11. He continued self-study in everything from logic to Hebrew, his love for the latter remaining throughout his life.” ~ Wikipedia
Gill was a premillennialist and historicist.
“and he said to me, these are they which came out of great tribulation: seeing this company designs all the elect of God, that ever were, are, or shall be in the world; ‘the great tribulation’, out of which they came, is not to be restrained to any particular time of trouble, but includes all that has been, is, or shall be; as all the afflictions of the saints under the Old Testament; from righteous Abel to Zechariah; and all the troubles of the people of God in the times of the Maccabees, Hebrews 11:35; all the persecutions of the Christians by the Jews, at the first publication of the Gospel; and the persecutions under the Roman emperors, both Pagan and Arian; and the cruelties and barbarities of the Romish antichrist, during the whole time of the apostasy; and particularly the last struggle of the beast, which will be the hour of temptation, that will come upon all the world; and in general all the afflictions, reproaches, persecutions, and many tribulations of all the saints, and every member of Christ in this world. . .”
The brief article on Pastor Gill at Wikipedia is very interesting!
A 19th Century Explanation of a 2nd and 3rd Century Expositor
Edward B. Elliott “wrote here the most exhaustive historicist defense and exposition of the Book of Revelation, building upon all the commentators before him. The last volume includes a critique of all of the other main interpretations of Revelation. He was a historicist premillennial (as was Charles Spurgeon who has commended it). ‘Horae Apocalypticae’ in the title means ‘of the hours of the Apocalypse’.”
On Tertullian’s understanding of Revelation, Elliott wrote: “But by far the most interesting to my mind of his passing comments here are those on the 5th Seal’s vision of the souls under the altar, and that of the palm-bearing company, figured before the opening of the seventh Seal. The martyrs of the former vision, he explains as martyrs then in course of being slain under Pagan Rome for the testimony of Christ: thereby distinctly assigning to the then passing æra [era] that particular place in the Apocalyptic prefigurative drama. The palm-bearers of the latter vision, that had to come out of the great tribulation, he identifies as that same second set of martyrs that had been predicted to the souls under the altar; – those that were to make up the martyr-complement by suffering under Antichrist, and so suffering to become triumphant, and attain Paradise. And hence chiefly he formed to himself an Apocalyptic plan, and “ordo temporum” in the prophecy: – how that before the judgment and vindication promised to the souls under the altar, the imperial harlot-city Rome was to be destroyed by the ten kings, (mark, not the ten kings and Antichrist,) after the vial-plagues had first been poured out on its empire: then the Beast Antichrist to rise, make war conjunctively with his False Prophet on the Church, and add an innumerable multitude of sufferers, during the tribulation of his tyranny, to the martyrs previously slain under Pagan Rome, Christ’s two Witnesses, Enoch and Elijah, specially inclusive:. . .”
You can purchase Horae Apocalypticae at Amazon and elsewhere in volumes but it’s expensive.
A little Greek for some of you from the 19th and 20th Century
“I say (eirhka). Perfect active indicative of eipon, “I have said.” “To the Seer’s mind the whole scene was still fresh and vivid” (Swete) like kekragen in John 1:15 and eilhpen in Revelation 5:7, not the so-called “aoristic perfect” which even Moulton (Prol. p. 145) is disposed to admit. My lord (Kurie mou). “An address of reverence to a heavenly being” (Vincent), not an act of worship on John’s part. Thou knowest (su oida). “At once a confession of ignorance, and an appeal for information” (Swete), not of full confidence like su oida in John 21:15. They which come out of the great tribulation (oi ercomenoi ek th qlipsew th megalh). Present middle participle with the idea of continued repetition. “The martyrs are still arriving from the scene of the great tribulation” (Charles). Apparently some great crisis is contemplated ( Matthew 13:19 ; Matthew 24:21 ; Mark 13:10 ), though the whole series may be in mind and so may anticipate final judgment. And they washed (kai eplunan). First aorist active indicative of plunw, old verb, to wash, in N.T. only Luke 5:2; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 22:14. This change of construction after oi ercomenoi from oi plunhsante to kai eplunan is common in the Apocalypse, one of Charles’s Hebraisms, like kai epoihsen in Revelation 1:6 and kai planai in Revelation 2:20. Made them white (eleukanan). First aorist active indicative of leukainw, to whiten, old verb from leuko (verse Revelation 13 ), in N.T. only here and Mark 9:3. “Milligan remarks that robes are the expression of character and compares the word habit used of dress” (Vincent). The language here comes partly from Genesis 49:11 and partly from Exodus 19:10 Exodus 19:14. For the cleansing power of Christ’s blood see als (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9; Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 22:14. “The aorists look back to the life on earth when the cleansing was effected” (Swete). See Philippians 2:12 for both divine and human aspects of salvation. In the blood of the Lamb (en twi aimati tou arniou). There is power alone in the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin ( 1 John 1:7 ), not in the blood of the martyrs themselves. The result is “white,” not “red,” as one might imagine.”
The 20th Century
Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965, p. 714
Chapter 7:9-17. The Great Multitude in Heaven
“The ‘144,000,’ of verse 4, and the ‘Great Multitude,’ of verse 9, seem to be two separate groups. One is the Elect of Israel. The other is from All Nations. With one group the scene was on Earth. With the other the scene is in Heaven. One group was sealed against a Coming Tribulation. With the other group, the Tribulation is Past. Yet they may be One and the Same group, under different aspects.
“One relates to the Call, or ‘Sealing’ period, on Earth; the other to the period of Victorious Blessedness in Heaven: the 144,000 of the Elect of Israel, turning out, in full fruition, to be the Great Multitude from Every Nation.
“The blood-washed throng, safe at last in the Father’s Home, as against the Day of Wrath on Earth (6:16), is the Answer to the Martyrs’ Cry (6:10). Arrayed in white Robes, Palms in their hands, Songs on their lips. They hunger no more. All tears wiped away. In the Land where Fountains are Forever flowing with Living Waters.”
This makes sense when we realize that “the Israel or God” is made up of believers, both Jews and Gentiles:
12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
More than Conquerors, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House, 1962, pp. 113-114
“The explanation given by the elder, in a most sublime and beautiful manner, closes this section, chapters 4-7. Constantly bear in mind that this section has as its theme, the Church in tribulation. We have seen the red horse of slaughter, the black horse of poverty and injustice, the livid horse of Death. We have heard the cries of the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. It has become clear that all these trials are controlled by the One who is sitting upon the throne. Now, in addition, it is made clear to us that the Church does not remain in the tribulation. The countless multitude is composed of individuals who come ‘out of’ the great tribulation. We read ‘And he said to me: “These are the ones coming out of the tribulation, the great one, and they have washed their flowing robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and they worship him by day and by night in his sanctuary, and the One sitting on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more: neither shall the sun fall upon them nor any heat, for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd and shall lead them to life’s springs of waters and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.”‘
“The elder tells John that these people who are clothed around with the white flowing robes come out of ‘the tribulation, the great one’. This one tribulation is great because it is all-inclusive: all the persecutions and trials of God’s people, symbolized by the seals, are included in it. That gives unity to this entire section, chapters 4-7. The point is that the saints come out of their trials. The Dutch have a term for ‘dying’ which literally means ‘to get over (or beyond) suffering’. It expresses the truth whenever a believer dies.”
Hendriksen is a heart-felt commentator and I’m looking forward to reading more of his book.