Henry Cowles
(1803 – 1881)


The Revelation of John

Acts of the Apostles, with Notes, critical, explanatory, and practical. Henry Cowles | Genesis and Revelation |  RevelationRevelation 13

  • The “Premillennial Advent of Christ” “This phrase, taken to mean that the second personal advent of Christ is premillennial, represents a system of opinions respecting yet unfulfilled prophecy, and also respecting the nature and design of the present Christian dispensation, which is widely at variance with the views presented in this and the preceding volumes on the Old Testament prophets. The somewhat extensive prevalence of these opinions and the enterprise with which they are advocated seem to demand for them a special discussion.”

New Englander and Yale review. / Volume 30, Issue 115

On Revelation 13-19 “At this stage of the discussion I need only say that, guided by these limitations of time, by these points of character, and by these special explanations, it is simply impossible to make any thing else of the first beast save the Roman Empire–the civil power of the Roman Emperors; while the second beast (v. II), judging from the description given of him here, from his influence as sketched here, and also from the further description of him which appears in chap. 16: 13, 14, and in 19: 20–” the false prophet that wrought miracles before him” [the first beast] “with which he deceived them that had the mark of the beast, etc., we must interpret to be the Pagan Priesthood–every-where ministering to the idolatrous homage paid to the Roman Emperors; every-where inspiring the animus of Paganism, and by virtue of their character, naturally active in the persecution of Christians. Beyond all question this second beast is co-ordinate and co-operative with the first and therefore contemporaneous, doing its work at the same time; receiving its final doom in the same fearful hour of judgment”


(On Matthew 24:14)
“All the world” is literally all the inhabited–i.e, to the extent of what is peopled. But in usage, “all the world” to the Romans was the Roman Empire: to the Greeks it meant the countries at the utmost where their tongue was spoken: to the Jew it was primarily Palestine; but ultimately became coextensive with the range of their dispersions. That is to say, the usage of the word made its scope rather national than universal.

The New Testament usage may be seen in Luke 2:1–“All the world enrolled for taxation”–which could not extend beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. Also Acts 11:28–“Great dearth [famine] throughout all the world“–foretold by Agabus. This was probably less in extent than the whole Roman Empire.–This restricted usage appears also in profane classic writers.

“Thus we do no violence either to the sense of these words or to the historic facts, if we hold that this prophecy had its fair fulfillment before the fall of the doomed city.” (Matthew and Mark: With Notes Critical, Explanatory, and Practical (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1881), 210, 211.)

(On Matthew 24:30 ; ‘Transition Text’ Theory)
“This passage is too closely connected with what immediately precedes and immediately follows, to be wrenched out of these connections and applied definitely to the final judgment” (p. 27)

(On James 5:8)
8. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Unquestionably the near coming of the Lord is here for a motive to patience, especially to patience under the wrongs and oppressions which Christians were enduring in part perhaps from the overbearing of the rich; in part from persecutions fatal to life. These are the points which appear in the previous context. Consequently the “coming of the Lord” is here assumed to be a time of retribution upon the wickedóat once the day of redress and deliverance for the righteous and of just punishment upon the ungodly oppressor. Here, therefore, we meet the grave question:

What “coming” was this? What views had James of a ” coming of the Lord,” then near, which should bring with it these results? It scarcely admits of doubt that this expectation of a near coming of the Lordócommon to James; to Paul (Rom. 13: 14 and Phil. 4: 5); to the writer to the Hebrews (10: 25, 37); to Peter (1 Eps. 4:7); and to John (1 Eps. 2: 18)ówas begotten in their minds by Christ’s own words, of which we may take Matthew 24 as essentially embodying the prophecies upon which they rested.

In that prophecy they saw the future destruction of Jerusalem, and understood it to be within that generation. The cardinal idea underlying the ruin of that city was divine retribution for the great sin of the Jewish nation. It was clothed in strong, terrible imagery of such sort as must have made the impression of a fearful, overwhelming catastrophe, coupled perhaps in some undefined relation with the final judgment. Even to us as we read it to-day, it carries our thought strongly to a scene of retribution which shall involve, not Jerusalem and the Jewish nation alone, but the whole world. I think we must admit that Jesus intended to connect the earlier judgment with the lateróthe judgment on Jerusalem with the final judgment on the worldóin such a way that the former should be at once a pledge and an illustration of the latter. This he might properly do without involving any doctrine as to the time when the latter would take place. The question of time as to the final judgment, it was of no importance whatever to reveal. It seems not to have been revealed at all to the apostles. They may have had their own ideas; but not from the revealing Spirit. Jesus said to them very definitely: “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons” (Acts 1: 7). It involves no impeachment of their real inspiration for all purposes of important Christian truth and instruction to suppose that they were not enlightened as to the time of Christ’s coming for the final judgment. They may have expected more at the point of Jerusalem’s fall than the facts amounted to. I see no reason to recoil from this supposition as if it militated against their full inspiration in respect to all the truth God designed through them to teach mankind. The exact point of time for the final judgment was certainly never embraced in the system of truth revealed and to be taught by them. If they had impressions or expectations on this point, they formed and held them on their own personal responsibility, not upon the responsibility of the inditing Spirit. I make this if emphatic; for I by no means believe that they really expected (or purposely taught) the end of the world within their generation. There are other senses in which ” the end of all things is at hand.” Paul certainly looked for the conversion of the masses of both Jews and Gentiles before the end should come (Rom. 11: 2526). He corrected the misapprehension of the Thessalonian brethren, assuring them he never meant to say that Christ’s final coming was then very near (2 Thess. 2: 1-3). But this theme is too large to be treated exhaustively here.

9. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. ”

Grudge not,” following the sense of the original, must mean murmur not; find not fault, one with another, brethren. Not merely moderate but suppress your spirit of fault-finding, lest ye be condemned by him who said: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7: 1). A Judge greater than yourselves stands at the door, to overhear every harsh word and to punish every censorious, sharp judgment ye pass against one another. Take heed that ye do not assume to wrest from him and wield yourselves his Supreme prerogative as the one only Judge of men. Take heed that your spirit be evermore unselfish, kind, forbearing, forgiving,óeven as becomes men themselves in the flesh, encompassed with manifold infirmitiesóoften themselves offending, and thus greatly needing continual forbearance and mercy from the Great Judge”

(On Revelation 1:1)
“Things which must shortly come to pass,” must be said in general of the contents of this entire book, and not, as some have supposed, of the first three chapters only. “Shortly” can have no other and no less meaning than very soon. This sense of the original Greek words is absolute and decisive. It is only serious trifling with God’s words to say that “shortly” may mean a thousand years distant, or two and three thousand, according as the exigencies of some preconceived scheme of interpretation may require. Why should not God be permitted to be his own interpreter and give his own views in regard to the time of the events here foretold? The rule of fair common sense must be, that whatever God may say in explanation of his own propheciesóe. g., as to the time of their fulfillment, must be taken to its plain and most obvious sense.” (Revelation, in loc.)

(On Revelation 11:1)
“When Jeremiah and the old prophets contemplated and predicted the capture of Jerusalem, the fate of the temple could not be overlooked; indeed it was the first and central thought. No one prediction from Jeremiah made so much impression upon the people as that which declared (Jer. 7: 1-15, and 26: 6)ó”I will make this house like Shiloh.” So in the present case the temple must needs come to mind before the doom of the city is consummated.óThe “reed like a rod” and the measuring of the temple are in imitation of Ezek. 40.óRemarkably the best manuscripts omit the clause, “and the angel stood,” the passage reading literallyó”There was given me a reed like a rod, saying,” etc., i. e., one, some one not defined, saying.óAs to the significance of this transaction, no other view seems to me admissible save thisóthat it puts in other symbol what we had in chap. 7: 1-8, viz., the sifting out for salvation of all the precious elements from among the ancient covenant people before the last crushing blow should fall. The Simeons and the Annas, the devout and honest worshipers of the true God, must be carefully measured off and removed away, and possibly the symbol may include the idea that all which is worth preserving in the temple itself and its altaróall its embodied truths, all its symbolic power, all its hallowed associationsómust be husbanded with a wise economy and treasured away safely before the storm of ruin shall engulf both city and temple. But the “court without the temple”óalways far less holyóleave out; it is given to the Gentiles; the holy city they will tread proudly and insultingly under their feet three years and an half.óThe great event predicted here is doubtless the siege and ultimate sack, pillage, and utter destruction of both city and temple by the Romans. The language in part (“trodden under foot”) follows that of Jesus himself (Luke 21: 24): “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.” But the time and in general the symbols take their shape from the very analogous case of the famous desecration of the temple by Antiochus as foretold by Daniel (8: 10-14, and 11: 31). This accounts for the duration named hereó”forty two months”óthis being precisely the period given by Daniel, and proximately the duration of the siege and sack of Jerusalem by the Romans.óThat Jerusalem is certainly meant by “the holy city,” I do not see how any one can reasonably doubt. So of “the temple” and “the altar,” we are all afloat if we abandon the literal, normal sense of these words, and consult our fancy for some ideal sense which neither John or his first readers could possibly have thought of. Let us not forget that the writer is a Jew; that he was perfectly at home in whatever pertains to the temple, the altar, its worshipers, the court without and the holy city; that many of his readers also were familiar more or less with the Jewish sense of these words; so that it is simply impossible that they could have given any other sense to these words than what I have here assumed. Consequently here is one of the landmarks of our prophetic interpretation. We know that the temple, altar and holy city were standing at the time of this vision; we know they were on the very eve of their desolation; we know therefore that this desolationóso “shortly” after these visions were seen and recordedócan not possibly be any other than that effected by the Roman armies A. D. 70. It should be some comfort to us to know where we are in place and in time in this series of prophetic events. It gives a pleasing sense of certainty in the results of our investigations.” (Revelation, in loc.)

(On Revelation 17:11)
“There are seven kings; five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh he must continue a short space.” Now if we take this as an explanation of the seven symbolic heads of the beast (as we must), we are shut up to the literal and most obvious senseóa succession of five kings already fallen; a sixth then reigning; a seventh soon to rise, but for only a short reign.óNow having the date of the vision, we know that the king then reigning was Nero. Nero then is a specimen of the seven, and we must go back to the rise of his dynasty and begin our count thereóie., with Julius Caesar. Beginning with him, Nero is precisely the sixth; the seventhóa short reign according to the prophecyówas Galba, who reigned seven months. Here then we have this series of prophetic events located in placeóold Rome; and in timeóupon Nero’s reign. This is another great landmark. No interpretation of this book can possibly be the true one which disregards these landmarks and fails to adjust itself to their demands. The points that are fixed in chap. 11 and in chap. 17 avail to prove beyond all rational doubt that in this book of Revelation we have two great persecuting powers, depicted, threatened, judged and destroyed, each represented by its great cityóJerusalem, Rome: Jerusalem, involving the Jewish people and Judaism as a persecuting power; Rome, involving that pagan, idolatrous, persecuting power.” (Revelation, in loc.)


This question involves some real difficulty, especially on its historic aide. Yet it has very considerable importance in its bearings upon the interpretation of the book, and therefore calls for a careful and candid examination.óOn this question of date, critical opinions fall into two classes, one assigning it to the reign of Nero (about A. D. 64-68), and the other to the reign of Domitian (A. D. 95-96). It is well known that violent persecution raged at both these periods, and it is possible that John was banished to Patmos twiceóie., by both Nero and Domitian, and that this fact occasioned the confused and discordant notices that appear in the early fathers in regard to the time of his banishment and the date of this book.

In respect to date, I will speak,

  1. Of theinternal evidenceóthat which appears in the book itself; and
  2. Of theexternalas found in fragmentary notices by the Christian fathers.
  3. Internal.Under this head I adduce

(1.) The fact that the culpable practices which appear in the seven churches (chaps. 2, 3) are those of the early and mid-apostolic agesóprecisely those against which the churches of Asia were specially warned by the circular “epistle” of the first Christian council (Ac. 15), and which appear in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Thus in Pergamos the practices indicated as “the doctrine of Balaam” were these two: eating things offered to idols and fornication (Rev. 2: 14). The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, appearing in both Pergamos and Ephesus, was very similar (2: 15); Precisely the, same practices appear in Thyatira, inculcated by one called “Jezebel” (2: 20). By a remarkable coincidence, the evils against which the first council at Jerusalem specially warned the churches were prominently these two (Acts 15: 2029). In Corinth the eating of things offered to idols was one of the live questions then pressing sharply upon the churches (1 Cor. 8). I need not say that fornication was a second special subject for rebuke and warning in that church.óThus it appears that the great moral questions and immoral practices which pressed sorely upon the churches at the date of the Jerusalem council (A D. 50 or 52) and at the date of Paul’s letters to Corinth (A. D. 57-58) were the very things condemned in the seven churches of Asia.óBut it will be asked, Were not these evils rife in the age of Domitian? Possibly they were; but the latest N. T. books, viz., the gospel and the epistles of John, give no hint of it. Other historical records of that age are scanty; but so far as I know are silent on these points. It is intrinsically improbable that the questions in regard to eating meats offered to idols would have continued practically unsettled forty years (from A. D. 50 to A D. 90).óThis argument amounts in my view only to a strong probabilityónot to a demonstration.

(2.) The churches of Asia were suffering severely from pernicious teachers claiming to be Jews. In Ephesus were some who said they were apostles but were not (2: 2); in Smyrna the troublers said they were Jews, but were more “the synagogue of Satan” (2: 9); in Philadelphia were the same class precisely (3: 9); while the personage called Jezebel (2: 20), claiming to be a prophetess, was probably a Jewess also.óThus the troublers of the seven churches at the date of this book were remarkably well definedóeither actually being Jews, or at least claiming to be.óNow let it be also considered that the first council was called (A D. 50 or 51) to counteract the mischiefs of Judaizing teachers. The letters of Paul to the Galatians (A. D. 56) and to the Colossians (A. D. 62) disclose the presence and mischiefs of the same set of men. These were churches of Asia, adjacent to the seven to whom John wrote. Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1: 3, 4, 7), written A. D. 65, alludes to men causing trouble in Ephesus and puts upon them two Jewish marksó”given to endless genealogies;” and “desiring to be teachers of the law.” Indeed the early apostolic age was constantly annoyed by this class of men.óThus we see the most entire coincidence between the case of: the seven churches as it appears in these letters, and the case of other churches of Asia in the years A. D. 50-66.

Here too (as before) the question must be met: Did not this annoyance from Jewish and Judaizing teachers continue down to the age of Domitian?óI answer, All existing historical evidence is strongly against it. The later books of the New Testament give not the least allusion to such teachers. While the earliest heresies that annoyed the Christian churches came from Judaism; the next in orderóthe second generation of themósprang from contact with Pagan philosophies and science, “falsely so called”óto which it is generally conceded some of the latest writers of the New Testament allude.óWhat history thus testifies, the nature of the case strongly sustains. The fall of Jerusalem and the utter destruction of the temple naturally struck Judaism down. More than one million of Jews perished in that fearful fall; the rest were scattered far abroad. The hope of bringing the Gentile converts into Jewish ritualism was forever blasted; the power and prestige of this Judaizing element fell, never to rise. Hence the inference seems irresistible that the seducers in the seven churches when John wrote must have been of the age of Nero and not of the age of Domitian. Of course the book was written in the former age and not in the latter.óIt may not be amiss to suggest that we have here another special element in the retributions upon the Jews of which chapters 4-11 speak, since, they are before us not only as the first and most malign persecutors of the infant Christian church, but also as its first, most persistent, most annoying and dangerous seducers.

(3.) The seventh chapter of the Apocalypse presents a scene in which four mighty angels are holding in suspense the fearful elements of retributive vengeance until another angel might place the seal of God upon the foreheads of his faithful servants. The central idea and also in the main its costume seem to be taken from Ezek. 8 and 9: “Go through the midst of the city and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all its abominations:” this done, let the others go through the city and smite, only come not near any man who bears the mark! Here in the scenes of this apocalyptic vision, John first hears the number of the sealedó”one hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel;” and indeed definitely twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes. That these represent the Christian converts gathered from the lineal Jews is made doubly certain by the counterpart of this first sealing, viz., the view of “a great multitude which no man could number of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues;” that is, Gentile converts of every land and tribe, seen before the throne already clothed in white, ascribing their salvation to God and the Lamb. So much the gospel had then achieved already. The scathing judgments that were about to smite the Jewish world and in due time the Gentile, would find so many garnered in safety, housed in their eternal home before the storm should burst.óNow the definite point of my argument is that this sealing of Jewish converts, considered as a prophecy, appears to be precisely coincident with that of Jesus Christ in his prediction of the fall of Jerusalem and of the previous gathering of his elect, as given in Mat 24: 31 and Mark 13: 27. The personal preaching of Jesus and the earliest mission labors of his disciples turned first to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 10: 5613). Forty years God waited and wrought patiently to gather in those lost ones. Jesus prophetically represents this gathering as to be done within the life-time of that generation (Mat. 24: 34 and Mark 13: 30), i. e., to be finished before Jerusalem should fall. The sealing and rescuing of the elect Jews in Rev. 7 bears every trace of being the same great fact. Hence its location in time shortly preceded the fall of that city, and if the fulfillment precedes that fall, so and much more must the prophecy itself.

(4.) In the same general line of thought and of argument we have a remarkable coincidence between our Lord’s prediction (Luke 21: 24), “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles;” and of the temple (Mat 24: 2), “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down;” and the prediction through the Revelator John (Rev. 11: 2), “The court that is outside the temple leave out, for it is given unto the Gentiles, and the holy city shall they tread underfoot forty-two months.” Both these predictions concur: (a) that Jerusalem was a doomed city; (b) that it should be trodden down by unhallowed Gentile feet [the Roman armies]; and (c) that even the presence of the holy temple within it should not shield it from this desolation. My argument as to the date of the Apocalypse turns on the strong presumption that this passage (Rev. 11: 2) synchronizes with Christ’s prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, and therefore proves that at the date of its writing, the city had not yet fallen.óVery strong to the same point is the statement in the same context (v. 13): “And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell”ówhich certainly assumes that the whole city had not previously fallen, but was standing. The date of its actual fall is well known, viz., A. D. 70. This prophecy was written, therefore, shortly before this fall.

(5.) The account given of the murder of the “two witnesses,” naming the very place where their dead bodies lay exposed and insulted (Rev. 11: 8)ó”in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our [their] Lord was crucified,” puts the finger of prophecy precisely upon Jerusalem, and obviously conceives of it as standing at the time of this vision, and indeed at the time when the murder of the two witnesses took place. This, taken in connection with the points made from chap. 7 and from chap. 11: 2, would certainly seem to fix the date of these events and of course the date of the book which predicts them, before the destruction of Jerusalem.

(6.) Rev. 17 is professedly an explanation of the more prominent symbols in the seven chapters (13-19), inasmuch as the angel said (v. 7), “I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, who hath the seven heads and ten horns.” In this explanation the woman is shown to be “that great city” (Rome) “which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (v. 18), and which “sat on seven hills” [mountains]. Specially to our purpose it is said, “There are seven kings (v. 10) of whom five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come.” Here the one that is, placed in a series with certain preceding ones fallen, and another following, “not yet come,” must beyond all reasonable question be the king then on the throne of Rome when this book was written. It is safe to affirm that John could not have given the date of his writing more precisely and conclusively than he has done here unless he had given the very name of Nero. But there were obvious reasons why it was not prudent to give his actual name. He meant however to describe him so that his readers need be in no doubt.óNow since the question of date is narrowed down to a choice between the reigns of Nero and of Domitian, it only remains to say that this dynasty of Roman kings [emperors] began unquestionably with Julius Caesar, after whom we count Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, making the five who had fallen, and reach Nero, the sixth, of whom the, angel then said, “One is.” Galba followed “to continue but a short space” (v. 10)óaccording to history, but seven months. The symbol and the angel’s count had no occasion to carry the list of kings further. If carried on however and all counted in, Domitian would have been the twelfth. Of course the present tense of the bookóthe date of the visionówas not under Domitian, but was under Nero. But beyond all question in proof that Nero was the one head of the beast then in power when John wrote is the fact that he is absolutely identified by “the number of his name” (13: 18). See my notes on the passage.

(7.) There are at least two books in the New Testament (the Epistle to the Hebrews and 2 Peter) which are thought to contain allusions to the Apocalypse. If this shall appear, it will follow that the Apocalypse was in existence when these books were written. Let us then examine a single passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12: 22, 23).óOn the point of motives to a holy life, the writer is contrasting the case of the Hebrews. before Mt. Sinai with the case of the Hebrew Christians of his own day before the corresponding Mt. Zion. He says (v. 18), “Ye are not come unto that merely material, tangible mount [Sinai]…… but ye are come unto [a spiritual] Mt Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem”ó[in Rev. 21: 2, “The holy city, New, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven”]:ó”And to an innumerable company of angels,” [the reader may see them in Rev. 5: 1112, and 7: 1112]; “to the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven” [see the writing of their names in the book of life, Rev. 21: 27, and 13: 8, and 20: 12] “and to God the Judge of all” [Rev. 20: 1112] “and to the spirits of just men made perfect” [who stand before us remarkably throughout: this book of Revelation, e. g., 5: 8-10, and 6: 9-11, and 7: 13-17, and 15: 2-4, and 21 and 22]. It seems to me highly probable, not to say, almost certain, that the writer to the Hebrews had in his eye these salient points of the book of Revelation. These points are in his book for precisely the purpose which the writer to the Hebrews had before him, viz.: as constituting that magnificent and most impressive array of motives which under the gospel were brought to bear upon the Christian life, as compared with the corresponding motives arrayed before the ancient Hebrew people even in those most impressive scenes at Mt. Sinai.óIn his 2d Epistle (3: 10, 13) Peter makes two points which the reader will notice: (1) that “the heavens shall pass away” and “the earth be burnt up;” (2) that “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” John has it (Rev. 20: 11) “The earth and the heavens fled away;” and (21: 1) “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and the first heaven and the first earth were passed, away.” The righteous only dwelt there (21: 27; and 22 14). Here then we have both the fact of the passing away of this present earth and heavens, and the promise of the new. With a high degree of probability Peter; had the Revelation of John before him and adopted its descriptive terms. But Peter fell a martyr under Nero’s persecution, and therefore wrote this epistle before Nero’s death. The date of the Epistle to the Hebrews is not known precisely, but no critics within my knowledge have placed it so late as the reign of Domitian.

  1. It remains to speak of theexternalevidenceóthat of the early Christian fathers. This is far from being uniform, clear and direct. Unfortunately the earliest fathers (Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Papias, Polycarp and Justin Martyr)óthe very men whose testimony would have been most valuableófail us altogether. They either omitted all allusion to this point as being well enough understood without their testimony, or what they wrote has perished. The earliest of the fathers whose testimony has been relied on is Ireneus, who wrote his book “Against Heresies,” A. D. 175-180. His youth was spent in Asia Minor, but all his manhood and Christian work lay in Ancient Gaul [France]. From the dim light that reaches us it would seem that his statements as they were understood shaped the opinions of Eusebius and Jerome on this question, and that they naturally controlled the views of subsequent authors. Hence it becomes important to examine carefully what Ireneus saidóthe more so because it is at least supposable (I think even probable) that his testimony as to the date of the Apocalypse has been misunderstood.óThe only passage appealed to as giving his testimony occurs in some remarks upon “the number of the, beast” (Rev. 13: 18), which stand in our received text 666. The original Greek is this.*

* “HmeiV oun ouk apokinouneuomen peri ton onomaioV tou Anticrios apofainomenoi bebaiwtiwV, ei gar edei anafanon tw nun kaiow khouitesqai to onama, di ekeinou an erreqh tou kai thn Apokalujn ewpakotoV. Oude gar pro pollou cronou ewpaqh, alla scedon epi ths hmeteraV geneas, proV tw telei ths Dometianou apchV.”

It may be translated thus:ó”Therefore we do not imperil [the churches] by announcing the name of the Antichrist plainly, for if it were safe and wise at the present time to proclaim his name, it would have been done by him who saw the visions of the Apocalypse, for it is not a very long time since he was still to be seen, but almost in our own age, near the close of the reign of Domitian.” This passage has been generally understood to say that the vision of the Apocalypse was seen in the age of Domitian, and it seems to have been the standard authority for that opinion with the Christian authors of the third and fourth centrries and onward. His testimony turns on the single point whether in the last clause it is he (John) who was still seen among the churches in the age of Domitian, or it (the vision) which was then first seen. The logic of the passage, the course of thought, should be mainly relied on to decide this question.óI understand the logic of Ireneus thus:óObviously it was not prudent to give Nero’s name during his life. But John lived down to the time of Domitian when Nero was thirty years dead. So far forth therefore the circumstances had materially changed. Now, says Ireneus, if the necessity for divulging the real name of Nero is so great and the danger from doing it so small that we ought to have the name brought out now, then the same was true in the time of Domitian, and John would have disclosed the name himself. He did not do it, for though Nero was dead, yet Rome still lived, a persecuting power. The danger from Nero’s personal vengeance was long since passed away, but other Neros might arise on the same Roman throne; therefore John remained silent: so let us. Hence the logic of the passage requires that the thing seen in the last clause of this passage should be John yet living in his extreme old age, and not the vision itself. The supposition that it was the vision nullifies the argument of the passage.óOr thus: The argument assumes that it would have been dangerous and therefore unwise to give Nero’s name openly during his life; also, that John lived a long time after Nero’s death, so that if it were proper to give Nero’s name when Ireneus wrote, it was equally so in the last years of John, and he would have given the name to the churches then himself.óOrigen seems to take the same view of the case, and perhaps the same view of this passage from Ireneus when he says, “The king of the Romans as tradition teaches condemned John to the Isle of Patmos for his testimony to the word of truth; and John taught many things about his testimony, yet did not say who condemned him in all that he has written in his Apocalypse.”*

* See Stuart’s Apocalypse, vol. l, p. 271.

óSeveral fathers of the third century and the fourth speak of John’s writing this book in connection with his banishment to Patmos, which they locate in Domitian’s reign. Yet some of them are not explicit as between Nero and Domitian. Clement of Alexandria says John was banished by “the tyrant”óa name appropriate enough to either, yet in usage applied less to Domitian and more to Nero.

A very ancient Latin fragment [quoted in Stuart’s Apocalypse, 1: 266] comes down to us, probably of the second century, saying, “Paul, following the order of his own predecessor John, wrote in the same way to only seven churches by name.” This assumes that John wrote the Apocalypse before Paul wrote the last of his seven letters to as many churches by name. The latest date of Paul’s seven was about A. D. 64. He died under Nero’s persecution.óEusebius [bishop of Cesarea, A. D. 314-340] in his history (book 3; chap. 18, and bk. 5: 8) speaks of John as being banished to Patmos and of seeing his visions there in the reign of DOMITIAN, but quotes Ireneus (the very passage above cited) as his specific authority. Did he not misunderstand Ireneus?óHe also refers to a current tradition to the same effect, which however may have grown out of mistaking the sense of Ireneus.óJerome [born A. D. 331; died A. D. 420] held the same opinion, apparently on the authority of Ireneus as above and of Eusebius.óVictorinus of Petavio [died A. D. 303] in a Latin commentary on the Apocalypse, says that “John saw this vision while in Patmos, condemned to the mines by Domitian Caesar.”óMany others of a later age might be cited to the same purport, witnessing however only to a current tradition which so far as appears may have come from the language of Ireneus, under a misunderstanding of his meaning.

On the other hand the Syriac translation of the Apocalypse has this superscription: “The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the Island of Patmos to which he was banished by Nero the Emperor.” Most of the Syriac New Testament (known as the “Peshito”), i. e., all the unquestioned books, are supposed to have been translated late in the first century or very early in the second; but the Syriac version of the Apocalypse is not so old. Yet Ephraim the Syrian of Nisibis [died A. D. 378] wrote commentaries on nearly the whole Bible; often appeals to the Apocalypse; but wrote only in Syriac and probably was unacquainted with Greek and therefore must have had this book in the Syrian tongue. This superscription seems to testify, to a current tradition in Syria at least as far back as his day, assuming the date of the book to the age of Nero.óOf later witnesses, Andreas of Cappadocia [flourished about A. D. 500], in a commentary on this book, favors the Neronian date. Arethas also, his successor [about A. D. 540], yet more decisively. He assumes the book to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, for he explains chapters 6 and 7 as predictions of that event.óPlainly then the traditions of the early ages and the testimony of the fathers were not all in favor of the Domitian date.óSome incidental circumstances strongly favor the earlier date; e. g., the account given in much detail by Eusebius [Ec. His. 3: 23], who quotes Clement to the effect that John after his return from this banishment in Patmos, mounted his horse and pushed away into the fastnesses of the mountains to reach a robber chief who had apostatized from the Christian faith. But Jerome represents John in the last years of his life (i. e., at the time of Domitian’s persecution) as being so weak and infirm that he was carried by other hands with difficulty to his church-meetings to say in tremulous tones: “My little children, love one another.”óThese traditions of the aged apostle, compared with each other and with the probabilities of the case, seem to forbid us to assign the date of the Apocalypse to the reign of Domitian.

The conclusion to which I am brought after much investigation is that the historic testimony for the Domitian date is largely founded on a misconception of the passage from Ireneus, and as a whole is by no means so harmonious, so ancient, and so decisive, as to overrule and set aside the strong internal evidence for the earlier date. I am compelled to accept the age of Nero as the true date of this writing.


By Henry Cowles.

From his Commentaries on the Bible.

[Book of Hebrews]

[This doctrine is discussed here, partly to bring out more fully the bearing of our epistle (Hebrews 8:6-13 and 12:26-28) upon it, and partly because the doctrine is rife, aggressive and therefore challenges discussion; also, because it is believed to be unscriptural, false and pernicious.]

The millennium is the thousand year-period (of Rev. 20:1-6) in which Christ is supposed to conquer the world and hold it under his sway–the era of his supreme reign upon the earth and of fulfilled prophecy as to the world’s conversion.

“Premillennial Advent” means simply that Christ comes in visible person for a visible reign with his risen saints at the beginning of this thousand years; not at or after its close; and moreover, not to find the world converted, but to convert it–at least, that portion which he does not destroy in the glorious brightness of his coming.

Hence “Premillennial Advent” carries with itself these collateral points of belief: viz., the gospel dispensation inaugurated by the gift of the Holy Ghost and under Christ’s command to evangelize the nations, will not convert the world, and Christ never expected it would. It has failed hitherto; must fail to the end: was never any thing but a waiting (not a working) dispensation, its one supreme Christian duty being to pray and wait for Christ’s visible coming to evangelize the nations. Also, that this coming will develop new agencies and powers, specially in the line of desolating judgments upon the wicked; of appalling majesty and splendor; and of the co-operative work of the risen, immortal saints, ruling and reigning with Christ. These are the cardinal points of the system; to these I propose to restrict the present discussion.

There are many minor points, held variously and vaguely, too vaguely to justify the waste of time inevitable to their discussion; e. g., as to the wicked on the earth at Christ’s coming–how many and who are to be destroyed, and who are to survive to be subsequently converted: as to the raised saints, whether all the sainted dead, or only a part, and what part. As to the new converts–whether to be made at once immortal like the raised saints, or left (as now) in their mortality; as to the incompatibility of adjusting this one planet to the natures and wants of both mortals and immortals–how this incompatibility is to be obviated; how the laws of the heavenly world are to be mixed up with the laws of this earthly world.–All these questions it were vain to ask, for a scheme born of fiction and baseless of fact should not be expected to concern itself with either defining or proving such points. Sober-thinking men have indeed a right to demand definite answers to these questions, for if the premillennial scheme be true, all these questions must be met. It must be very reasonable to withhold confidence from a scheme which encounters not only such shadowy indefiniteness, but such obstinate incompatibilities.

Passing, however, all these minor points, we come to the main points as above presented–viz.:

Christ’s next coming is to be before the millennium; for the purpose of converting the world; bringing with him some (or all) of the righteous dead, raised to life immortal and to wield evangelistic forces with success never known before.

Against this scheme, I maintain:

  1. It is extra-scriptural, and therefore necessarily built on misinterpretation and perversion of scripture, and upon human fancy. By “extra-scriptural” I mean that it lacks scriptural authority at every point where, if true, it ought to have it.

To make this statement definite and to verify it, I specify three general heads:

  1. It lacks authority in the only passage which speaks of the millennium and gives us the scenes at its opening.
  2. It lacks authority in Old Testament prophecy.
  3. It lacks authority in the teachings of Christ.
  4. It lacks authority in the only passage which speaks of the millennium and gives the events at its opening, viz.,Rev. 20:1-6.–Let it be well considered that if the system is taught in the scriptures it should be here, this being the only passage which even names the millennium or gives its opening events. Here ought to be (if true) the glorious coming of the Son of God, breaking through the heavens; here, the risen bodies of saints, seen bursting open their graves; here, the evangelistic work which they are to do with such surpassing power.

This is the passage:

“And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall he priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”–Rev. 20:1-6.

Now since these six verses have to bear the weight of this whole premillennial system, they ought to be strong; ought to be explicit, outspoken, unambiguous, unmistakable. What are the facts?

(1) Christ’s visible, personal coming is not here–not a word of it. The revelator saw no such coming at the opening of the millennial period. He tells us what he did see, viz., a mighty angel coming down from heaven with a great chain in his hand; also the old serpent; but not a hint that he saw the glorious Son of God bursting through the heavens.

Here my argument is that if such a visible coming at this precise point were to become a fact, it was entirely too great and vital to be omitted in this foreshowing of the fact. Is it credible that John should see the mighty angel and the old serpent, and yet not see the Son of God himself–beyond all comparison the most august spectacle of the entire scene–the most august indeed in its nature which the world was ever to see?–After the thousand years had passed–after observe; not before–John did “see a great white throne and Him that sat on it, whose presence he dare not attempt to describe save by its effects–so majestic that “from his face the earth and the heavens fled away, and there was found no place for them.”

Plainly it is a capital lack in the scripture testimony that the only passage which speaks of the things to be seen at the opening of the millennium says not a word of Christ’s visible coming then.

(2) Next, what does this standard passage say of the raised bodies of the sainted dead?–It must be a very easy thing to show in vision the risen bodies of the martyrs. Of course, as compared with souls, bodies are very visible objects–very prominent, and one would suppose quite unmistakable. Did John see any risen bodies? Not at all. He says he “saw the souls” of the martyrs–a fact which virtually excludes the idea of seeing risen bodies. How could he have seen their souls if those souls had been imprisoned in material bodies? Moreover, when the real resurrection was reached–after the millennium, John did see rising bodies: “The sea gave up the dead which were in it” (v. 13).–On this point, therefore, the testimony is more than merely wanting. It is squarely hostile–not to say fatal.

(3) But perhaps the third point of the system–doing evangelistic work in the millennial world–will be better sustained.–Did the revelator see them going all abroad every-where, preaching the gospel; pushing evangelistic work to the ends of the earth? He says no such thing. He says only that “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” This is very far from saying definitely that they were fulfilling the great commission: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” In fact, the statement looks more like rest than like labor; more like repose after victory than the struggle and conflict of battle.

Thus we see that on each and every fundamental point of this system, this standard passage–the only one which speaks of the millennium by name–altogether breaks down. Where we ought to find statements, clear, definite, decisive–we find absolutely nothing of the sort. It would have been exceedingly easy for John to have said: “I saw the glorious Son of God coming in the clouds of heaven”–if it had been so; “I saw the risen bodies of the martyred dead “if this had been the fact; “I saw those risen saints sallying forth, going all abroad with the gospel to evangelize the nations:” but he does not say this at all.

Now it is perhaps barely possible that the outlines of the great gospel dispensation–the grand scheme of God which is to be the consummation of the world’s redemption–might be compressed within six verses; but I think we may demand that, if so, those verses should give the salient points of the system; should at least say the things claimed to be the chief and distinctive elements of the scheme, and state them intelligibly and somewhat explicitly, so that the passage, fairly interpreted, shall not break down on absolutely every distinctive and important point.

  1. It lacks authority in Old Testament Prophecy.–Let it be remembered carefully that the premillennial scheme makes these points vital and distinctive; viz., Two gospel dispensations instead of one; these two entirely, not to say totally, diverse in character and distinct in time, separated indeed by an event too stupendous and momentous to be omitted in prophecy; viz., the visible coming of the Lord down from the upper heavens.–Now my argument here is: This particular scheme is extra-scriptural in that it lacks authority in Old Testament prophecy. This large body of prophecy gives not a hint of two gospel dispensations. It very minutely describes one, worked by the power of truth and the presence of the Holy Spirit–the gospel preached by Jesus and by his people. Before his Jewish persecutors Paul vindicated himself for preaching the gospel to Gentiles by appealing to their own prophets as foretelling the very thing he was doing. [SeeActs 26:17-23and Rom. 15:8-12]. But Hebrew prophecy, having set forth this one gospel dispensation, is silent as to any other. Especially it gives not a hint of this premillennial coming of the Son of God from the heavens to open a new gospel age; not a hint of risen saints, made immortal, to become its instrumental forces. On all these vital points of the system, its pages are silent as the grave.

That the old prophets should describe the gospel scheme so fully and minutely, devoting to it scores of chapters, and yet should pass unnoticed its most striking, salient, distinctive features, is incredible. That they tell us so emphatically that the first gospel age, worked by God’s truth and Spirit, is to be absolutely, gloriously successful (when according to the premillennial scheme it is not) is a fact to be specially noticed.

  1. The scheme lacks authority in the teachings of Christ.

Let it be well kept in mind that, if this premillennial gospel scheme be true, it should appear very distinctly in Christ’s teachings. We reasonably depend on him to give us the great elements of the gospel scheme.

But notice–as to the time of opening his gospel reign, Christ never taught that (instead of being then “near at hand,” “the time fulfilled” Mark 1:15) it was at least eighteen hundred years in the remote future. This the premillennarian scheme affirms; Christ did not. He said no word that can possibly admit such a delay in the setting up of his gospel kingdom.

As to its character; Christ never taught that it would come “with observation” (Luke 17:20,21)–with such astounding splendor that men on every side would shout “here,” or “Lo! there.” Christ never taught that his kingdom should be in these respects “of this world” (John 18:36) like other human kingdoms, resting upon its visible display and imposing external magnificence.

As to its agencies and working forces, Christ never spake disparagingly of gospel truth; never hinted that witnessing to the truth was not likely to prove availing and was not among his special objects (John 18:37).–And particularly, he never taught that the Holy Ghost would be inadequate to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment (John 16:8-11), nor that it would be “expedient” for himself to return to the world bodily (John 16:7) for a visible reign, to supersede the invisible Spirit, the latter having been proved quite insufficient to convert the world.

Christ never told his disciples that the dispensation of the Spirit was to be merely provisional, preliminary to another mightier and better, and therefore transient (John 14:16).–Christ never hinted that his promised presence by his Spirit with his missionary disciples to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20) would be unsatisfactory, insufficient for their spiritual support and for their glorious success in preaching the gospel to every creature. He never intimated that their going forth into all the world at his command to preach his gospel to every creature was only a tentative experiment, never on his part designed or expected to be successful, but to be superseded by a totally different plan of operation and by entirely new working forces.–He never taught that they would need for their complete success to have this gospel treasure, not in earthly but in heavenly vessels (2 Cor. 4:7);–never hinted that it was a mistake to suppose (as Paul did) that the Lord was pleased with weak human vessels because the excellency of his own power shone through them the more brightly.–Yet again: Christ never taught that sinners, refusing to hear Moses and the prophets, would be readily persuaded when men should rise from the dead to preach to them the gospel (Luke 16:31).–Comprehensively put: Christ never said or suggested that the gospel dispensation, inaugurated then, was to be not for working but for waiting; not for evangelizing the world by any means, but rather to reveal its own impotence and so prepare the way for his own visible reign in all subduing majesty.

Now obviously, Christ might have said all these things (which he did not say), and so might have taught all the vital points of the premillennial scheme if he had really believed in them–that is–if this had been his scheme. It is unfortunate for this scheme that it should lack precisely the support which, if it had been Christ’s, he should and would have given it. It ought to be with all sensible men a grave question, how this scheme can support itself, missing as it does the decisive testimony which Jesus Christ only is supremely competent to give.

  1. The premillennial scheme is not only extra-scriptural, (as above shown); it is also anti-scriptural, and therefore can not possibly be true.–To justify this statement I make the following points:
  2. It squarely confronts and overrides the teachings of Jesus Christ.
  3. It misinterprets Old Testament prophecy.
  4. It is in direct collision with the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
  5. As to the teachings of Jesus. It confronts and overrides them in these several respects:

(1) The nature of his kingdom. Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world.” The premillennial doctrine assumes that it is–is even to the extent of absorbing all civil power.

Jesus said: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:” the premillennial doctrine makes utmost account of its coming with observation–as truly external as earthly kingdom can be; gloriously visible; filling the mortal eye and impressing men with its outward splendor and majesty.

Jesus taught that the chief working forces of his kingdom are truth and the divine Spirit. The premillennial brethren insist that these forces are inadequate to convert the world; have proved themselves to be so for 1800 years; that the coming dispensation will bring in new and far greater forces–in the glorious majesty and appalling splendors of Christ’s visible person and royal state–coupled with overwhelming judgments.

(2) It contravenes and even squarely reverses what Jesus said as to the relative efficiency of his own visible presence on the one hand, and of the Spirit’s invisible presence on the other. Jesus said: “It is expedient for you that I go away and the Comforter come.” The premillennial doctrine proclaims: It is expedient that Christ should return to the earth and manifest himself again in his visible person.–Jesus said: “Greater works than these which I have done shall ye do, because I go to the Father” (John 14 12) and send down the Spirit; but the premillennial brethren say: “The greater works” are to be done, not by the Spirit in the personal absence of Christ, but by Christ in his personal presence.–In this point the premillennial doctrine makes a square issue with Jesus Christ, denying what he affirms, and affirming what he denies–and this, be it observed, on a point which bears vitally upon the honor due to the Spirit of God by virtue of his efficiency and power.

Such dishonor done to the Spirit of God is unutterably revolting, and ought of itself to seal the condemnation of this system of doctrine forever.–I do not say that all the advocates of this system mean this or even see it; I hope they do not. But the system means it–implies it; we might even say–must mean this, and make it fundamental. The very animus of the system is: The present gospel dispensation, a failure; a better one demanded; the higher, the all-conquering forces of this better one lie in the visible Christ instead of the invisible Spirit.–Allow me here to introduce a noteworthy sentence from Rev. J. C. Ryle (“Expository Thoughts” on Matt. 24): “Let us learn to moderate our expectations from any existing machinery in the church of Christ, and we shall be spared much disappointment.” If the words “existing machinery” represent truthfully the ground of expectation for spiritual fruits in the case of the evangelical church, they mean the truth and the Spirit of God. If this be not their meaning, they slander every true gospel laborer. Mr. Ryle will thank us for rejecting the interpretation which makes them a slander. But what shall we say of the doctrine that the great moral forces of the New Testament are not to be relied on to convert the world?

(3) Yet again: Jesus taught his disciples that the Spirit would be the revealer of Christ to their souls: “He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you” (John 16:14). Jesus even went so far as to call this revealing of himself by the Spirit, a coming of himself and of the Father, to abide in the Christian soul (John 14:21,23).

Now the tendency of the premillennial doctrine–not to say its inevitable result–is to ignore this invisible coming of Jesus into human souls by his Spirit, and to exalt into its place of spiritual power his visible manifestation through a personal appearing.

(4) Jesus taught that this dispensation of the Spirit is to be–not temporary–not simply a preparatory, John-Baptist arrangement, to be superseded soon by the far more effective and glorious visible appearing; but that the Spirit should abide with them forever (John 14:16). “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” Beyond all question it was only in and by the Spirit, revealing Jesus to the soul, that he said: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” He said this just as he was personally going away for at least eighteen hundred years. He therefore did not mean–could not mean–I am with you bodily, visibly to your eyes of flesh–to the end of the world.–All these facts, taught by Jesus, are ignored and ruled out of the gospel system in this premillennial doctrine.

(5) Jesus “preached the gospel of the kingdom saying, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14,15). And his apostles, immediately after his ascension, said he was already “by the right hand of God exalted;” “raised up to sit on his throne;” “made both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:30,33,36); “exalted to be a Prince and a Savior” (Acts 5:31);” “raised from the dead and set at God’s right hand in heaven, far above all principalities,” etc. (Eph. 1:20-22); “gone into heaven and is on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (1 Pet. 3:22).

Squarely in opposition to this, the premillennial doctrine holds that Jesus has not opened his gospel reign yet, and will not, till he shall come again in the clouds of heaven. In the apostolic teaching, the throne of his gospel kingdom is now long since established, being located in the heavens. In the premillennial teaching it is to be located on this earth (at Jerusalem they say), but is not set up yet! Which doctrine shall we believe? Which rests on the best authority?

(6) Yet once more: When Jesus was among men, the Jewish doctors held the modern premillennial notions as to the Messiah’s kingdom. They would have it visible; “of this world;” including and wielding all civil power. They would fain “take Jesus by force and make him such a king.” They interpreted Old Testament prophecy to mean a kingdom like that of David, save that its bounds were to be the ends of the earth.–These notions were perpetually cropping out among the disciples; but observe, Jesus never taught or even tolerated them. And now, shall we be asked to go back to Pharisaic Judaism, to take up and enthrone in power the very scheme which worldly Jews admired and maintained; which Christ’s disciples found so ensnaring and damaging; and which Jesus opposed persistently, strenuously, and to the uttermost?

If the scheme is good now, why did Jesus condemn it as unqualifiedly bad then?

  1. This scheme misinterprets and therefore misrepresents Old Testament prophecy.

The subject is uncomfortably large and hard to compress. In addition to what has been said to show the scheme to be extra-scriptural, I make but two points:

(1) The scheme repeats the grand mistake of the Pharisaic Jews in the Savior’s day, viz., taking the mere costume and drapery of the old prophets for the reality, and ignoring the reality itself. The costume and drapery were drawn from the theocratic kingdom as seen under David and Solomon. This stood before the ancient Jews as the symbol, the model, type–the drapery and costume we might call it–which sets forth the kingdom of their Messiah. The Jews of Christ’s time held on to the drapery, but dropped out the sense; they carefully saved the husk, but threw the grain away; they kept the external, but lost the inwardness–the real meaning of the old prophets. The premillennial advent interpreters do the very same thing. By this means they think to find in those prophets the visible reign of Christ on the earth the central element in their scheme. They find it only by totally misinterpreting prophecy.

(2) My second point relates to the permanent, all-conquering moral forces of the gospel. The premillennial scheme holds that these forces are embosomed in Christ’s personal presence and visible reign, and consist fundamentally in consuming judgments and overawing majesty and glory, coupled with the co-operation of the risen, immortal saints.

Over against this, the potent, all-conquering forces, as given in prophecy, are:

(a) Truth taught–God’s “word that goeth forth and shall not return void” (Isa. 55:11); “Many nations ” (say Micah in 4:1-4 and Isaiah in 2:2-4) “shall say, Come and let as go up to the mountain of the Lord; He shall teach us of his ways,” etc.–“He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgment” (the right knowledge of God) “in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law” (Isa 42:4). “Shall be a light to the Gentiles” is one of the standard phrases.

(b) Coupled with light, truth, the correlated and all-conquering force is the Spirit of God. We find this made prominent in most of the great prophecies of the gospel age: e. g., Isa. 11:2: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,” etc.; Isa. 42:1 : “Behold my servant, I have put my Spirit upon him,” etc.; and the never-to-be-forgotten Isa. 60, which runs: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come;” “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land;” “Thou shalt call thy walls salvation;” “Thy people shall be all righteous.” This wonderful, towering prophecy is embosomed on each side, before and after–flanked we might say–with promises of the Spirit. Immediately before it we read–“This is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever.”

Then opens chapter 60, with an implied and most emphatic therefore: Therefore, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come; and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee,” etc.–At the other end of this majestic prophecy we read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good things to the meek,” etc.–of which you will remember that Jesus said at Nazareth (Luke 4:17-22): “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

The Spirit of God upon Jesus and upon his people, their crowning glory, the high tower of their strength–such is the strain of Old Testament prophecy.

I need not pause to say how thoroughly this harmonizes with Christ’s own teaching and with the whole genius of the gospel age; nor how utterly it refuses to harmonize with the distinctive points of the premillennial scheme.

  1. The premillennial scheme is peremptorily negatived and exploded by two passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews, viz., 8:7-13 and 12:18-29.

(1) In the first passage (8:7-13) God’s whole redemptive work for man is put into two great dispensations–two only, observe–called “covenants,” then spoken of as the “first” and the “second.” In the first God wrote his law on tables of stone; in the second, on tables of human hearts: “I will put my laws into their mind and write them in their hearts . . . and all shall know me from the least to the greatest.” Observe that this repeats a prophecy given through Jeremiah (31:31-34); that it puts in contrast the Mosaic and the gospel dispensations; that it manifestly excludes every other sort of dispensation–premillennial or whatsoever; for this gospel one is a perfect consummation–does a perfect work and leaves nothing more to be done; beyond it is no more want; beyond it there can be nothing better nor can there be occasion for any other. “This is life eternal–to know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” There is no premillennial advent here and no demand for it thereafter. Truth and the Spirit–the Spirit being indicated here by the finger of God writing his law in the heart–do all the enlightening, sanctifying work, and beyond all question, do it well.

Let me notice in passing that Paul in a letter to Corinth (viz., 2 Cor. 4:13-18) puts a similar antithesis between the Mosaic and the Christian dispensations, the specially contrasted points being that under the former things were seen dimly as if with a vail over the face, but in the latter: “We all, with unvailed face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [Jesus] are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

We notice that this passage, compared with Heb. 8, is at once parallel and explanatory; equally with that, it makes the efficiency of the gospel dispensation perfect, leaving nothing beyond it to be even desired; the spiritual renovation achieved is wrought by visions of Jesus–but not at all by visions of his body (not the premillennial scheme), but by visions revealed through the Spirit, thus giving due and supreme honor to his mission as the great revealer of Jesus. It explains to us how God writes his law in human hearts, his finger tracing this holy law in letters of light and fire being only and precisely his Holy Spirit.

(2) The second passage which unfolds the doctrine of this Epistle to the Hebrews is 12:18-29. Like the former, this puts in contrast the Mosaic system and the Christian. The former placed men before Mt. Sinai; the latter before Mt. Sion. The motive forces of the former were great; those of the latter, far greater. The awful voice on Sinai then shook the earth; but now hath he promised (i. e., in Haggai 2:6-9): “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” Here mark the comment of the writer to the Hebrews on this prophecy of Haggai “And this word ‘yet once more’ signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken as of things that are made” [made in the sense of being gotten up for temporary use like an oriental tent or a temple built by human hands] “that those things which can not be shaken may remain. Wherefore we, having received a kingdom which can not be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

Here the things shaken are the Sinai dispensation; the things which remain and can never be shaken are the Mt. Zion dispensation–the real kingdom of Messiah which, let it be carefully noted, the Hebrew Christians had already received. The first system had even then waxed old and was vanishing away; the second already begun–“received” is his word–could not pass away, was “a kingdom that can not be moved.”

According to the premillennial doctrine the kingdom which the Hebrew Christians had then received–common to them and to us to-day–has not the least stability. It may come down with a crash any moment. It was never made to stand; was not constituted with the forces requisite for the conversion of the world to Christ. His people therefore on this theory can find nothing better to do than to pray that he would come in the clouds of heaven; brush away this imperfect preparatory structure and set up a kingdom that really can not be shaken. Very manifestly the writer to the Hebrews was not a premillennarian in doctrine, for he held that the kingdom never to be shaken was already received by believing souls. This all premillennial men must and do deny, and therefore teach us to wait and pray for it as soon to come.

My conclusion therefore is that this premillennial scheme is not only out of harmony with the scriptures of truth, but in all its vital points stands to the Bible in relations of irreconcilable antagonism.

To some minds this premillennial scheme has attractions and even fascinations, especially to men weary of hard work and impatient of slow progress. To such it is sweet to anticipate easier work and quicker fruitage. The men who seem gifted to see all the bad and only the bad in our world, and so persuade themselves that all is growing worse and the devil at this rate is sure to conquer, may almost be excused for their impatient longing for a better system. But chiefly the fascination of this scheme lies in bringing down to earth the better things of heaven and mixing them together with gospel labor on this earth–e. g., the visible presence of the glorified Jesus; exemption from frail mortal flesh; the immortal vigor of the resurrection state.

It may seem hard and heartless to break such bubbles of pleasing fancy–may seem cruel to call them unscriptural vagaries and baseless dreams; but truth is better than fiction, yielding always better results in the end.

For truth’s sake, these notions are to be reprobated because they misconceive the agencies provided by Christ for converting the world; because, hence, they disparage the power of gospel truth preached by mortal lips; because they rule out the best and most wholesome of all human agencies–the social, the sympathetic, the witnessing power of entreaties, compassions, tears–as of him who was with men “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3) “warning men night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31), yet whose words and tears were mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). Most of all, let this scheme be discarded because it dishonors the Holy Ghost, building itself upon the assumption of his virtual inefficiency and inability to “reprove the world of sin, righteousness and judgment” unto the conversion and salvation of the nations.

It is with utmost reason we say that if Christians are to help in the gospel as instruments of God, they must work within and under his system, not outside of and against it; must honor his appointed agencies and powers (truth and the divine Spirit), and not disparage and disown them; must work with confidence in the powers God provides and presents to their faith and their prayers; and must consent to forego the open visions of heaven and exemption from mortal frailties till their earthly work has been honestly done. And let them beware of putting forth their hand to smite down the faith and hope of the great missionary host, moving forward under the marching orders of their risen Lord! Let them not attempt to foist into God’s scheme for evangelizing the nations, new elements and forces of which Jesus never spake and for which the scriptures, legitimately interpreted, give no warrant, but stand in total, irreconcilable antagonism.

COWLES, Henry, clergyman, born in Norfolk, Connecticut, 24 April, 1803; died 6 September, 1881. He was graduated at Yale in 1826, and held Congregational pastorates from 1828 till 1835. He was a professor of theology at Oberlin from 1835 till 1848. He published “Notes” on the Bible (16 vols., New York, 1867-’81); “Hebrew History” (New York, 1873); and other works.

What do YOU think ?

Submit Your Comments For Posting Here
Comment Box Disabled For Security

Date: 20 May 2009
Time: 13:32:03

Your Comments:

Am I correct in seeing throughout scriptures the following:
First comes the rapture, when Israel begins to come back into her own power. That is a sign the time for the rapture is near. Putting things very briefly to save space…. Next, 3 1/2 years of peace, next, tribulation intensifies, till the time of the Second Advent when Jesus comes with all believers of the Church age. Next, Tribulation believers will enter into the Millennium and join Church age believers. During the Millennium, tribulation believers will still have the ability to sin, will produce children and so forth….. is Matthew 24:31 talking about when believers {of tribulation} and unbelievers {tribulation} will be seperated. Unbelievers sent to Hell {holding place} for 1000 years along with Satan and his host, and tribulation believers remain to enter the 1000 year Millennium Reign of Christ? I’m a little confused on this. I realize that Matthew 24: verse 9 onward are speaking of the Tribulation events. After the Tribulation is what I’m a little confused about. Thank you so much for your input for my study. God bless you.
Phil and Tommie Ruth Sweet – Pastors of Rural Community Church

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *