INTRODUCTION TO BIBLICAL APOCALYPTICS
1. IDEA AND SCOPE OF APOCALYPTICS.
The Greek word Apocalypse (__________) means an uncovering, or laying open to view; a disclosure. This idea has been, through Latin ecclesiastical literature, transferred into our language by the word Revelation. Both these words have become common in theological literature, but in English usage the term revelation has acquired a wider meaning, and is employed to denote the entire body of religious truth as set forth in the Holy Scriptures, while the word Apocalypse is confined more particularly to the last book of the New Testament canon, and to a number of pseudepigraphical works of a similar literary character. In the language of the New Testament, however, the word apocalypse denotes a divine revelation of something that was before unknown to men. The salvation introduced by the coming of Jesus Christ is spoken of as a light destined to serve as an apocalypse to the nations of the earth (Luke 2:32). The Gospel itself is said (in Rom. 16:25, 26) to be an apocalypse of the mystery of redemption through Christ, which was kept in silence from eternity until preached by Jesus and his apostles. Paul declared that he received his gospel, not from man, but through an apocalypse of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12); and many years later, acting in conformity with an apocalypse, he went up to Jerusalem and laid before the brethren a statement of the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles (Gal. 2:2). He claimed also to have been favored with visions and a superabundance of apocalypses (2nd Cor. 12:1, 7). But in a manner to be more particularly observed is the heavenly manifestation of Jesus Christ himself, in his execution of judgment on the wicked and awarding glory to the righteous, called “the apocalypse of the Lord Jesus” (1st Cor. 1:7; 2nd Thess. 1:7; 1st Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13). It is called in Rom. 2:5, an “apocalypse of the righteous judgment of God.” In special harmony with this idea the one prophetic book of the New Testament is entitled the “Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.”
An apocalypse is in its nature associated with prophecy; for no genuine prophet of God goes forth with an authoritative word except he first receive some manner of heavenly apocalypse. But we must distinguish between apocalypse and prophecy. Paul recognizes this distinction in 1st Cor. 14:6. Apocalypse is to be understood especially of the heavenly disclosure, in the reception of which the man is comparatively passive; prophecy denotes rather the inspired human activity, the uttering forth of the truth revealed within. He who receives an apocalypse sees, hears, feels, realizes in some way that the “hand of God” is upon him, making known within his soul what was not thus known before; but he who prophesies proclaims the word of revelation, and may accompany it with exhortation, warning, and rebuke. The apocalypse is generally concerned with impending or future events; the prophesying may deal alike with things past, present, or future. Where the subject-matter of a prophetical book consists mainly of instruction, expostulation, threatening, or rebuke, we call it prophecy, and think especially of the personal human activity that gives utterance to the word; when, however, it consists mainly of visions of the unseen world, symbolical descriptions, and a forecasting of future judgments and mercies, we call it apocalypse, and think of extra human and supernatural disclosures.
The biblical apocalypses, therefore, are those sacred books and portions of books which contain revelations or disclosures of God’s view of things. They unfold a concept of the world and of man which may be thought of as the superior gift of one who has been exalted above the world, and has looked upon the movements of “many peoples and nations and languages and kings” as they appear before the throne of God. Such revelations magnify the idea of God’s interposition in all the affairs of men and nations. They emphasize with mighty assurance the doctrine that the wickedness of the wicked must sooner or later meet righteous retribution, and that the obedient children of God shall be crowned with glory. They accordingly admonish us that the world had a beginning, has its cycles and ages and dispensations, and moves steadily onward to a divinely foreseen goal. Many of the questions of biblical eschatology fall properly within the domain of apocalyptics, and should be studied in the light of the fully developed organism of the biblical revelations.
Biblical apocalyptics has for its province that entire body of canonical literature which represents the idea of special divine revelation as above defined. Its scope is therefore very extensive. It aims by means of pictorial communications to disclose what is important for man to know about the creation and government of the world by the ever-living God. The most ancient traditions of Israel embody truths which appear, in some cases, to be cast in apocalyptic form, but the more notable apocalypses are devoted to the disclosure of God’s purposes of judgment and salvation. Especially do they reveal the kingdom of God in its age-enduring conflict with the powers of evil. Many of these revelations were given in times of trouble and discouragement, when the people of God were suffering bitter wrongs. The inspired seer was enabled to look beyond the evils of his own times and behold the great day of the Lord approaching. Beyond the great and terrible day of divine judgment on the evildoers he saw a blessed golden age in which all wrongs were to be recompensed, and eternal dominion and power and glory were to become the portion of the true servants of God.
2. IDEA AND METHODS OF REVELATION.
The first clear perception of any truth as it dawns upon the human understanding may be properly called a revelation. It may come in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, or it may come gradually, and after long and laborious search. It is as truly a revelation in the one case as in the other. It may come as an intuition of the soul; it may be suggested by the word or action of another; it may be given in a dream, and so vividly as to impress one with an ideal never to be forgotten. It may be communicated by the direct and formal impartation of a thought from one intelligent person to another. But whenever a new idea gets possession of a man, no matter when, where, or in what manner he acquires it, it is of the nature of an apocalypse. How many have said, upon perceiving some new truth, “That was a revelation to me!”
God revealed himself to the Hebrew prophets in many separate communications and in many different modes (Heb. 1:1). As modes of revelation visions and dreams are mentioned in Num. 12:6. When Abraham was about to receive a momentous disclosure of the woes and triumphs of his posterity it is said that a deep sleep and a horror of great darkness fell upon him (Gen. 15:12). Probably all men have at some period of their lives been deeply impressed by images conveyed to them in dreams. When the eyes are closed in sleep, and the conscious operations of sense are suspended, there often come upon the soul vivid reminiscences of recent cares, or pictures of impending trouble, and sometimes startling premonitions of events to come. These may or may not be revelations, but it is easy to see that they may be the method by which a revelation can be conveyed to the mind. Jacob’s dream at Bethel was a real apocalypse of the great future of his posterity in the history of redemption. The dreams of Joseph and of Pharaoh were symbolic revelations of things that were to come. In Judg. 7:13, 14, we read of the presageful dream of a Midianite, which inspired one party with dismay and another with triumphant hope. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s night vision (Dan. 2 and 7) are conspicuous elements of the most formally apocalyptic book of the Old Testament. Such premonitory dreams are wont to leave a spell of trouble on the soul (comp. Dan. 2:1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 15, 28; Gen. 41:8), and the impression may remain for years.
The vision of an apocalyptist is spoken of as if it were of the nature of a dream (comp. Dan. 2:19; 7:1; Acts 16:9; 18:9). Nathan’s revelation touching David’s house and kingdom was given in a vision of the night (2nd Sam. 7:4, 17). The psychological condition adapted to the reception of an apocalypse may be regarded as a part of God’s own preparation of the prophet for his word. Peter’s symbolic vision on the housetop was seen at the hour of midday. It is called an ecstasy (Acts 10:10), and by its uplifting power his inner sense became possessed of a new and to him startling revelation. The ecstasy, however, may have been part of a dream which came to him during a moment of sleep. At such an hour and place it would have been very natural for him to have fallen into a sleep. Balaam is represented in Num. 24:3, 4, as the man whose eye was closed, while yet by means of an unveiled inner sense he beheld the vision of the Almighty. In all such experiences the soul becomes a mirror which reflects the images cast, upon it by the supernatural Revealer.
The passage in Num. 12:6-8, which speaks of visions and dreams as modes of prophetic revelation, informs us further that Jehovah was pleased to communicate with Moses in a more intimate way: “With my servant Moses will I speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly, and not in riddles; and the form of Jehovah shall he behold.” Whatever be the precise meaning of this, the tradition prevailed in Israel that no prophet had been honored like Moses, “whom. Jehovah knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). It may not now be said, however, that no prophet has since arisen who knew God as intimately as Moses, but it would be profitless for us to speculate upon the possibilities of the higher forms of communion between God and man. We can only make appeal to such facts as have manifest relation to this general subject. Paul speaks of having visions and revelations of God while in such a state of ecstasy that he knew not whether he were in the body or apart from the body (2nd Cor. 12:1-4). He was “caught up even to the third heaven,” “caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter;” but his own statements show that the revelations and the manner of receiving them were not of a nature to be capable of outward demonstration. They were matters of inward consciousness, not of objective reality. The vision, however, had for him a reality as certain as his vision of Christ when on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7), or that of the man of Macedonia at Troas (Acts 16:9).
It is an error, too prevalent in modern times, to say that “visions and revelations of God” are things of the past. The apocalypses of the Scriptures have, indeed, such originality and comprehensiveness that we may safely affirm that nothing of the kind has since been given to any man which contains additional revelation of an important character. But, according to Jesus, John the Baptist was not surpassed by any before his day, and yet “the one who is an inferior in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). We disparage the abiding presence and operation of the Holy Spirit when we imply that God no longer reveals himself to man. It is as true to-day as when it was first written that “there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all, and to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for that which is profitable” (1st Cor. 12:6, 7). This “manifestation of the Spirit” must first be revealed within before it can be made known without. If it be true that there have come no new or additional revelations of God since the apostolic age, such fact magnifies the completeness of “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” but does not signify that the same eternal truths have not been revealed by the same Spirit to thousands of thousands since that day. The revelations have come in dreams and visions, in the reading of the Scriptures, in the songs of the Church, in the testimonies of devout hearts, in the facts of Christian history, and in secret meditation and prayer. It is no less a divine revelation because it comes to us in other forms than visions and dreams. Perhaps the superior character of Moses’ intimacy with God was due to the fact of his long life of study, meditation, and service no less than to occasional visions of a burning bush or a smoking mountain. Elijah learned by his apocalypse in Mount Horeb that “a voice of gentle stillness” is of greater spiritual significance than miraculous wind and earthquake and fire (1st Kings 19:12). The revelation that comes to the Christian believer now, after long struggles, doubts, and fears, may be even more trustworthy than the one he receives in a dream or a vision of the night. We do not take away from the greatness and excellency of the ancient revelations by magnifying the modern gifts and works of the Spirit. The ancient apocalypses were given, time and again, that we, “upon whom the ends of the ages are come” (1st Cor. 10:11), might be bless with the superior light and admonitions of accumulated revelations.
3. FORMS OF APOCALYPTIC COMPOSITION.
When one has received within his soul a revelation, or a series of revelations, and proceeds to embody them in the form of a writing, his composition, like all other books produced by human brains and hands, may be supposed to bear the characteristics of his human personality. We have no ground for the assumption that the sacred writers were mechanical or passive instruments in the band of God. They were men of like passions with us, and the literary productions they have left us bear all the marks of variety of genius and individuality. The differences between Genesis and Job and Jeremiah and John’s Apocalypse are notably conspicuous. We should not, therefore, assume that the tropes and parables and allegories and symbols of the biblical writers were supernaturally supplied by the Spirit of God. Nor should the apocalyptic narratives be supposed to be matters of actual history. We do not make such a claim for the narrative of Nathan’s parable in 2nd Sam. 12:1-4; why should we make it for the symbolic apocalypse of Micaiah in 1st Kings 22:19-23? When Zechariah records his visions of angelic horsemen among the myrtle trees (Zech. 1:8), or Joshua standing before the angel of Jehovah confronted with Satan as his accuser (3:1), or the flying roll and the ephah (5:1, 6), we are not to suppose that his records are in every case a prosaic statement of real objective facts actually witnessed by himself. They are rather symbolic pictures, designed to convey an impressive object lesson to all who read the book of his prophecy. In like manner we hold that the symbols employed in the visions of Daniel the prophet are evidences of the genius and art of the author of that book, as well as profound revelations of the mystery of God in the history of the world. We need not ignore or deny the human elements in order to magnify the value of the revelation. So, too, Isaiah's vision of the throne of God (Isa. 6:1-4), and Ezekiel’s portraiture of the cherubim and the wonderful wheels (Ezek. 1:1-18), and John’s description of the New Jerusalem, are the creative elaboration’s of human genius as truly as they are heavenly revelations. The visional symbols of the prophets, like the parables and allegories of our Lord, were employed as choice vehicles for instruction in the things of God, and, like the metaphors and similes of all literature, are to be regarded as creations of human thought. A metaphor or a symbol is no more supernatural because found in Isaiah than if found in the books of Zoroaster or the Vedic songs.
It seems best, on the whole, to regard also a number of the most ancient biblical traditions as embodied in the form of symbolism. We shrink from the hazardous presumption of making their value, as a part of the biblical revelation, dependent on the belief that they are actual history. The pictures of the creation, the expulsion from the garden of Eden, and the earliest migrations and inventions of men are explained in the following pages as having more the nature of apocalyptic symbolism than of literal history. Such prophetic songs as those of Jacob (Gen. 49) and of Moses (Deut. 32 and 33) may also be the product of a much later time than the assumed occasion which they represent. We narrow the scope and possibilities of divine inspiration when we dogmatically assume that, among all the divers portions and modes of God’s speaking in and through the prophets, we are not to believe that he ever moved a Hebrew writer to compose a poem adapted in its ideal to enhance the thoughts of the divine purpose in the past history of the tribes of Israel.
We recognize in the biblical apocalypses a series of divine revelations touching the kingdom, the power, and the glory of God. A revelation of world-wide importance may be designedly given in ideal form. It ought not to shake our confidence in God’s word to discover that he has given it so largely in imaginary pictures, in magnificent framework of embellished traditions, ravishing poetry, delightful allegory, suggestive parables, memorable dreams, and symbols of imperishable significance. The fullness and completeness, as well as the transcendent excellence, of the revelations contained in this long series of divine communications are a convincing witness that the holy men of old wrote as they were moved by the Spirit of God.
4. APOCALYPTIC SYMBOLISM.
Inasmuch as one of the more conspicuous features of apocalyptics is the use of symbols we should give some special attention to the facts and principles which affect the interpretation of these peculiar signs. A revelation given in dreams and visions may most naturally appropriate a visional image for its embodiment. The figure employed is, in every such case, a sign of something apart from itself. The rainbow, for example, is not a symbol of itself, or of another rainbow, but of a gracious covenant between God and the earth. The significance of the sign must be inferred from some well-known fact associated with its use, or some quality which it naturally suggests.
Apocalyptic symbols are many and various, and may be classified as figures, acts, names, numbers, and colors. A symbolical act is one which conveys to the beholder a lesson of peculiar significance. A symbolical name is significant because of some well-known historic facts with which it is associated. When Isaiah calls the chiefs of Jerusalem “rulers of Sodom” (Isa. 1:10) he employs the word Sodom in a metaphorical sense, as containing a symbol in a name. Sometimes names, acts, and colors are mentioned merely as attributes of symbols otherwise significant, and in many cases the apocalyptic symbol is a composite picture in which a number of formal elements are combined. In every kind and class of symbols, however, it will be seen that the sign is only an emblem or formal representation of the thing signified.
(1) Symbolical Figures.
The great beasts which appear in Daniel’s visions are explained as symbols of great kingdoms. The heads, horns, wings, teeth, and feet are described as all together making up the figure of a monstrous animal, and all these parts were doubtless intended to have some measure of significance. The great sea, lashed by the winds of heaven (Dan. 7:2), was itself suggestive, and, like the waters on which John saw the accursed harlot, was an appropriate symbol of multitudinous peoples (Rev. 17:15), out of whose commotions and revolutions great empires have arisen. The horn of an animal is taken to represent a king and is an obvious symbol of organized military power. The invasion of a mighty army is portrayed as the overflowing of a tremendous stream, which breaks over its banks and inundates an entire land (Isa. 8:7, 8). Horses of different colors appear in the visions of Zechariah and of John, and denote dispensations and modes of executing divine judgment. The Levitical tabernacle, or tent of meeting, is conceived and constructed after a divinely revealed pattern, and serves the purpose of a composite symbol in pointing out the holy and blessed ideal of Jehovah dwelling with his people. It is virtually an anticipation of John’s picture of the heavenly Jerusalem conceived as the tabernacle of God with men.
(2) Symbolical Acts.
Many of the figures mentioned above are represented as at times in motion, and the movements are not without significance. The going forth of the horses and chariots in Zech. 6:1, is no less suggestive than the standing still of the horses and their riders in the vision of Zech. 1:8. The measuring of Jerusalem and the temple (Zech. 2:2; Rev. 11:1), the flying of an eagle or an angel in mid-heaven (Rev. 8:13; 14:6), the waving of a sharp sword, or its issuing from one’s mouth and going forth to smite nations (Gen. 3:24; Rev. 1:16; 19:15)—these and all similar images are of symbolic import. The lifting up of the brazen serpent by Moses was a symbolico‑typical act (John 3:14), as were also Isaiah’s walking naked and barefoot for three years (Isa. 20:2-4), Jeremiah’s hiding his girdle by the Euphrates (Jer. 13:1-11), his breaking the potter’s bottle in the valley of Hinnom (19:1), his putting a yoke on his neck, and hiding stones in the brick kiln (27:1-14; 43:8-13), Ezekiel’s portraiture of the siege of Jerusalem upon a brick, and his lying on his side for many days (Ezek. 4), his cutting off his hair and destroying it in different parcels (5). To the same class belong also Hosea’s marrying an adulterous woman, and Zechariah’s making crowns for the head of Joshua (Zech. 6:9-15). Ezekiel’s vision of the resurrection of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1-14) is a composite picture, and is represented as passing before the prophet’s eye in a series of successive scenes. Such a picture must be studied as a whole rather than in its separate details, and so, in general, we may say of all symbolical acts.
(3) Symbolical Names.
A great many proper names are employed in the Scriptures as typical or representative of characters conspicuously associated with them in history. Thus the names Balaam, Jezebel, Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon are used in the Apocalypse of John. The name David is a synonym for a king of Davidic character in such texts as Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23; 37:24; Hosea 3:5. Elijah the prophet is a symbolical name in Mal. 4:5. Similarly, in Isaiah 19:23, Egypt and Assyria are named as synonymous with any and all great nations that shall in the Messianic age unite with God’s people in the worship of Jehovah. On the other hand, Edom, Moab, and Ammon are symbols of ancient and hereditary enemies (Isaiah 11:14; Dan. 11:41). In other instances names of suggestive significance are invented for a symbolic purpose, as Lo-ruhamah, and Lo‑ammi, in Hosea 1:6, 9; Aholah and Aholibah, in Ezek. 23:4; Nicolaitans, Antipas, Abaddon, and Apollyon, in the New Testament Apocalypse.
(4) Symbolical Numbers.
That certain numbers are symbolically used in the prophetical books is conceded by all interpreters. Three, four, seven, ten, twelve, forty, and seventy appear to have special significance, but that significance can be ascertained only by a careful study of the usage of the sacred writers. The number three is employed in such relations as to suggest that, so far as it may ever convey any mystical meaning, it is the number of God, expressive of divine fullness in unity. The thrice repeated benediction of Num. 6:24-26; the trisagion of Isa. 6:3, and Rev. 4:8; and the threefold name in Matt. 28:19; 2nd Cor. 13:14, seem to favor this idea. The number four, on the other hand, is noticeably associated with the agencies of divine judgment upon the world and upon man. Thus we observe the four successive plagues of locusts in Joel 1:4; the four riders on as many different colored horses, and the four horns, the four smiths, and the four chariots in Zech. 1:8, 18, 20; 6:1-8; the four horses in Rev. 6:1-8; and the wars, “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes” in Matt. 24:7, and Luke 21:10, 11. It appears to be a constant habit of apocalyptics to represent punitive judgments in a fourfold manner. In like manner “the four winds of heaven” and “the four corners of the earth” comprehend, in Hebrew thought, the compass of the living world of man.
The number seven is of more frequent occurrence, and, being the sum of three and four, suggests the idea of some mystical relation between God and man, the number of a sacred covenant. In some places it seems to have a kind of proverbial significance (Matt. 18:22; Luke 17:4). Ten is commonly regarded as suggestive of completeness, so that ten horns may not specifically denote ten kings so much as a full dynasty or succession of kings. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel and of the disciples of Jesus, and its double in Rev. 4:4, appears to have some allusion to this fact. Multiplied by itself a thousand times it stands for the number of the elect Israel of God (Rev. 7:4; 14:1). The numbers forty and seventy are associated with periods of judgment, calamity, and exile (Gen. 7:4; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 29:11, 19; Jer. 25:11, 12).
There are other numbers of symbolical import, as the “time, times, and half a time,” the forty-two months, and the thousand years of the books of Daniel and the Revelation of John. These can be treated properly only in connection with the whole prophecy in which they occur. No formal or mechanical laws are available in the interpretation of such symbolic numbers, or in determining the import of prophetic designations of time. The passages in Num. 14:33, 34, and Ezek. 4:5, 6, are specific, and can be legitimately applied only to the cases there referred to. They are no sufficient warrant for the absurd conclusion that in other passages the word day stands also for a year. So, too, the “seventy weeks” of Dan. 9:24, are elements of an exceptional prophecy, and furnish no general law or rule for the interpretation of other prophecies.
(5) Symbolical Colors.
After the rainbow had become the symbol of a blessed covenant of God with man its more prominent colors would naturally become associated with ideas of heavenly grace and beauty. The blending of blue, purple, and scarlet in the construction of the tabernacle (Exod. 25:4) served both for beautiful ornamentation and for suggestions of divine excellence and glory. White garments became symbolic of the righteous acts and holy character of the saints of God. But red and black are suggestive of bloodshed and pestilence (Rev. 6:4-6). Colors are mentioned in the biblical apocalypses as symbolic attributes of the figures on which they appear, not as independent symbols.
5. APOCALYPTIC REPETITION.
The habit of repeating the same matter under different symbols, and so of presenting it from different points of view, is a very noticeable formality of biblical apocalypties, and yet it has been strangely ignored by many expositors. A most conspicuous illustration is given in the prophetic dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh. The first dream of Joseph was of sheaves in the harvest field, his second of the sun and moon and eleven stars (Gen. 37:5-11); but they were both symbolic of the same thing, not of two different events. They both alike indicated his subsequent elevation and honor. The two dreams of Pharaoh, one with the picture of the kine and the other of ears of corn, were explained as one, and it is written that the dream was repeated unto Pharaoh twice “because the thing is established of God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Gen. 41:25, 32). The dream of Nebuchadnezzar was interpreted as an apocalypse of four great kingdoms which were destined to be destroyed and superseded by a kingdom not of this world. The same great truth was afterward revealed to Daniel in a dream and visions of the night (Dan. 2:19, 31-44), under an entirely different set of symbols. The king of Babylon might naturally think and dream of worldly empire under the figure of a colossal image, of which he himself was the head of gold; but the Jewish prophet’s vision discerned the grasping, ravenous, cruel, and beastly character of the oriental despotisms, and depicted them accordingly. To the mind of the heathen despot the kingdom of heaven was a rude stone, strangely cleft from the mountain; but to the prophet’s mind it was truly a heavenly dominion, possessed by holy myriads both human and divine. The third and fourth beasts appeared to the prophet very dreadful and powerful, especially the fourth; and so in a further vision (chap. 8) he beholds another picture of the same two world-powers under the figures of a ram and a he-goat. The fourth beast, which is described in 7:7, as a nameless monster, appears again in the revelation of chap. 11, where the ten kings appear as the kings of the south and of the north, by whose continual wars the land of Israel was trodden down, and the contemptible and blasphemous king described in 11:21-45, is a fuller revelation of the “little horn” of previous visions. So, too, in Zechariah, the four chariots drawn by different colored horses (chap. 6) are an obvious counterpart of the horses and riders seen among the myrtles in chap. 1:8. The seven bowls of plagues in Rev. 16 are an impressive repetition of the woes symbolized by the seven trumpets in chaps. 8-11. All such apocalyptic repetitions serve the twofold purpose of intensifying the divine revelation and showing that “the thing is established by God, and that he will shortly bring it to pass.”
6. OTHER PECULIARITIES OF APOCALYPTICS.
Among the noticeable features of apocalyptic writing is the double picture of judgment and salvation. One persistent and fundamental doctrine of all the biblical revelations is that penal retribution shall surely overtake the wicked, but the righteous shall inherit riches of grace and glory. These ideas are set in signal form in the two symbols which were placed at the east of the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). The sword of flame suggests the thought of divine justice which demands the punishment of sin; while the cherubim, symbols of endless Edenic life, convey to fallen man the blessed hope of a restored paradise, to be secured through the redeeming righteousness of God. All the other apocalypses repeat in some corresponding outline this double lesson of the Edenic symbols. Abraham has “a horror of great darkness,” and the judgment of nations impressed upon him in connection with the promise of a glorious future for his posterity. Balaam sees that Israel’s final triumphs will not be attained without conflict with foes and the overthrow of Jehovah’s enemies. In the great apocalyptic books we find full delineations of the fury to be poured out upon the hostile nations, and the glory that will come to the faithful people of God. The first part of Ezekiel’s prophecies (chaps. 1-32) consists mainly of announcements of judgment upon rebellious Israel and the nations; while the second part (chaps. 33-48) is correspondingly full of consolation for the obedient people of God. The first part of John’s Apocalypse (chaps. 1-11) portrays the terrible vengeance of the Lamb upon his enemies, offset in every judgment stroke by some bright vision of heavenly glory for such as are redeemed by his blood; and the second part (chaps. 12-22) shows how the struggling Church, the wife of the Lamb, must needs pass through most bitter persecutions before the seed of the woman shall bruise the old serpent’s head. But the old serpent, the devil, and all his hosts, are ultimately cast into the lake of fire, while the people of God appear in heavenly glory “as a bride adorned for her husband.”
In view of such continuous presentation of both judgment and mercy it is not strange that the apocalyptic scriptures also abound with incidental rebukes, warnings, and counsels for those to whom the writing was first addressed. Thus Joel’s vivid portraiture of the day of Jehovah is accompanied with impassioned commands and exhortations. Zechariah’s vision of the restoration of Jerusalem (chap. 2:1-5) is immediately followed by a call to the people of Zion, who yet dwell in Babylon, to escape from the land of exile.
It should be noticed also that the later apocalyptists appropriate very freely both the symbols and language of their predecessors, and modify them to suit their own particular purpose. Ezekiel makes use of the vision of Isaiah. Zechariah and Daniel have much in common; and there is scarcely a symbol or figure of note in the Apocalypse of John which has not been appropriated, from the writers of the Old Testament.
As one who remembers an impressive dream and hastens to write it down, so the writers of divine revelations sought to commit their God-given thoughts to writing (Dan. 7:1), and John says he was commanded to write in a book the things which he saw (Rev. 1:11). Compositions thus prompted may be expected to have peculiarities, nor need we be surprised to find that they often take on the spirit and forms of poetry. Besides the visions and symbols employed for conveying the divine revelation, these writings naturally make use of bold metaphors, sudden exclamations of emotion, and various similes and other figures of speech which are characteristic of impassioned writing. So important is it for us to study these facts that we devote a separate chapter to the apocalyptic elements conspicuous in the best Hebrew poetry.