the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments Sutcliffe's Commentary
by Joseph Sutcliffe
THE REVELATION OF JOHN THE DIVINE.
THE cherubim in the Hebrew sanctuary are depicted as spreading their wings around the mercyseat, and in a position somewhat inclined, as though they were desirous to pry into the mysteries contained in the ark. St. Peter confirms this idea. After stating that the prophets had strove to decypher the swelling exuberance of the Spirit, which spake in them of the salvation which is come to us, he adds, “which things the angels desire to look into.” 1 Peter 1:10-12. Ephesians 3:10. Daniel, in like manner, kept his eye with prayers and tears on the out-beaming radiances of the future sufferings and glory of the church. He was admitted to see the conflicts and succession of the four great monarchies which ruled the ancient world, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. He particularly noticed the very singular character of the fourth empire, in which the God of heaven would set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed, nor left to other people, the conquerors of the nations. Daniel 2:36-45.
These prophecies, perfectly realized by providence in future years, like the pillars of Jachin and Booz in front of the temple of God, display their splendid chapiters, crowned with the glory of revelation, and laugh at all the empoisoned arrows of atheism and revolt. Of the evangelical Zion it is said, Her foundation is the holy hill she shall never be moved.
St. John, having studied those disclosures of the divine pleasure, was allowed in hoary age, like the venerable Daniel, to see the extension of those revelations in the kingdoms of the earth, to the final consummation of the ages. He unlooses the seven seals, and sounds the seven trumpets; he also hears the seven thunders, but records not their voices, leaving the comments with providence. He foresaw the candlestick removed from Asia for apostasy, and the cloud of Mahomedan darkness, rising out of the bottomless pit, or hell, let loose in their bloody wars and conflicts. He describes the exile and sufferings of the saints, fighting against the great red dragon of pagan Rome. He depicts the antichristian tyranny, as a beast creeping out of the earth in the dark. He foresaw the splendid drapery of the harlot church, and the bloody sufferings of the witnesses, children of the chaste bride, in all their conflicts to establish the pure and spiritual worship of God amid the domination of lucrative idolatry. He heard the final songs of victory. “Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God, and of his Christ.”
John was banished to the isle of Patmos in the year of Christ ninety five, and allowed to return to Ephesus in ninety seven. In this solitary retreat the Lord consoled him with a succession of revelations, the most luminous that had ever been opened to the mind of man. The consolations of this book to a suffering church are beyond description. It opened all heaven as spectators of her conflicts, loading her with eulogies, and with full assurances of victory and eternal glory.
How well this revelation was received by the few who then knew how to appreciate its worth, we may judge from the martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. He was a disciple of John in his younger years, and had acquired the glory in the church to be bishop of Smyrna. In the year 167, when arrested and brought by a guard of soldiers before the Proconsul in Smyrna, and when unmoved by the entreaties of friends and the menaces of foes to renounce Christ, he cited in his last prayer, ere the flames surrounded him, some words of the elder, in Revelation 11:17.
Mr. T. H. Horne, B. D., justly remarks, that “this book was very generally, if not universally acknowledged, during the two first centuries, and yet in the third it began to be questioned.” The reasons are sufficiently apparent. The sects, whose faith was not pure, and afterwards the whole Arian age, could not brook to see the Adonai seated at the right hand of Jehovah, and all things put under him. Psalms 110:0. Dr. Lardner, on this subject, forms an exception. He himself believed in the divine assumption, and vindicated the authenticity of the book.
The first regular attack against St. John, as the author of the Revelation, was by Dennis of Alexandria, who says, as carefully abridged by Du Pin, that the inscription in the first verse was a forgery; that some have attributed it to Cerinthus; that others had attributed it to some other John, there being many of that name. Respecting the twelve caveats of Dennis, Du Pin adds, that they are very weak.
Eusebius put the Revelation in the canonical books of the new testament, but adds afterwards, that some do not receive it. Hist. Ecclesiastes lib. 3. cap. 25. William Whiston, professor of mathematics in the university of Cambridge, wrote an essay on the Revelation, 1706, quarto, pp. 395. Whiston says, p. 32, “These visions were seen by John in the isle of Patmos, where he was banished, as in Judges 1:9-10, ‘for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus,’ as all chronologers agree, whether papists or protestants. What most confirms this assertion, and reduces it to almost a certainty, is the testimony of Irenæus, who lived in the next age, and who had been the frequent auditor of those who had conversed with John, and of whom he had made particular enquiries concerning the book of Revelation. He adds, that he had accurately collated the different copies, and weighed the disputations concerning this admirable work. This authentic writer affirms, what was then very commonly known, that the Apocalypse was seen in vision by John, a little before his time, at the close of the reign of Domitian.”
The emperor Domitian did not die till the year ninety six. Many writers therefore place the visions of John in that year, which was twenty six years after the destruction of Jerusalem. The chronology of Irenæus is the more to be confided in, as it synchronizes with the records of certain heathen writers referred to by Eusebius. By consequence, none of the events predicted by John can refer to any occurrences anterior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
The title given to the author of this book is Θεολογου , the Divine. This high appellation is used by Origen, without any apology, a title consequent on the sublimity of his predictions. It is continued in Jerome, Theologi; in Beza, in Coccejus, and others. The Platonists had given it to Orpheus, or the divine poet, as is noted by Dr. Hammond.
Now, that I may the better give the general sense of the church on this mysterious book, and not my own weak conjectures, I have procured Mede, More, Marlorat, Whiston, Jurieu, and others who have written largely on the subject, besides a very ample assortment of sacred versions, and of ancient and modern criticism. May God help me to make the selection assortable with the plan of a Family bible, using as to the sense, my own judgment, and giving an abridged translation of others. But, gentle reader, do not expect too much of man, for providence alone can give the true comment on prophecies. The veil of futurity must not be lifted up too far, lest men should forget the state of their conscience, and their present duties, to indulge unseasonably in the hopes of the church. I am however decided in opinion, that this mysterious book is now more unlocked than at any former period.