Greetings. I have ~110 books from the 20th century. I’ve picked out ~15, scattered across the century, to quote from over the next couple of posts.
We’ll start with William Milligan (1821-1893), who we heard from in 1886. You might wonder why he would come to write two different books on the same topic: actually they are quite different. The earlier book is mostly about Revelation in a general sense, with very little exposition; the later book is mostly exposition. This quote is from his second work: THE BOOK OF REVELATION, originally published in 1886, and republished in 1902:
“The book is not intended to be a mystery in the sense in which we commonly understand that word. It deals indeed with the future, the details of which must always be dark to us; and it does this by means of figures and symbols and modes of speech far removed from the ordinary simplicity of language which marks the New Testament writers. But it is not on that account designed to be unintelligible. The figures and symbols employed in it are used with perfect regularity; its peculiar modes of speech are supposed to be at least not unfamiliar to the reader; and it is taken for granted that he understands them. The writer obviously expects that his meaning, so far from being obscured by his style, will be thereby illustrated, enforced, and brought home to the mind, with greater than ordinary power…”
While I agree that Revelation is not necessarily intended “to be a mystery,” I don’t agree that it’s “taken for granted that [the reader] understands [the “figures and symbols employed in it”]. It seems to me that if those of the Apostolic age fully understood Revelation at the time it was written, then that understanding would have passed down to us; they would not have kept the meaning to themselves. It’s clear from the writings of the Early Church Fathers that they understood less of it than we do. To me it is clear that we were not intended to understand it fully until the approach of the end.
Next we have a long series of quotes from E. W. (Ethelbert William) Bullinger (1837-1913), an interesting English priest of the Anglican Church. He is called an ‘ultradispensationalist,’ which seems to mean that he was a dispensationalist who held a lot of odd views. Wikipedia has Harry A. Ironside (who we will be hearing from in the next post) calling Bullinger’s views an “absolutely Satanic perversion of the truth.” While I wouldn’t go that far, though he did have some odd views, including believing in: a flat earth; ‘numerology’ (per Wikipedia; actually he believed in the Jewish number values for letters and words in the Bible, as well as the Jewish meanings of numbers themselves…such as 7 is the number of completion. This isn’t really ‘numerology,’ and is more accepted now); that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, not Friday (this is a much more accepted idea now…once people paid attention to the Jewish traditions concerning their feasts, it was realized that the Thursday of Passion Week was a special Sabbath for Passover, and that Jesus being crucified on a Wednesday gave him a full 72 hours in the tomb, which fulfilled the Jewish tradition that someone isn’t totally accepted as dead for 72 hours…which is, of course, why Jesus waited so long to raise Lazarus…); etc.
After having read Bullinger’s long introduction to his commentary, I’m of the opinion that he was a very smart person who thought things out to the nth degree. I caught Wikipedia out on several snarky, misdirected half truths about Bullinger and his ideas. When you read the sources you see why he thought a certain way (even if you don’t agree…), and how easy it is for a ‘woke’ person on Wikipedia to make it sound crazy. Also, while he was apparently looked on as weird and different in his time, we can now appreciate some of his views as more acceptable a hundred years later. Of course, the flat earth idea hasn’t really panned out, but then, Jules Verne’s ideas didn’t all pan out either.
So here’s the first bit from the Introduction of COMMENTARY ON REVELATION by Bullinger:
“Many readers of the Bible treat it as though it were like a ‘puzzle-picture,’ where we have to ‘find a face,’ or ‘a man,’ or some other object. No matter what part of the Bible may be read, the one object seems to be to ‘find the Church.’ For, the ‘Word of truth’ not being rightly divided, or indeed divided at all, the whole Bible is supposed to be about every one, in every part, and in every age; and the Church is supposed to be its on pervading subject.
“This arises from our own natural selfishness. ‘We’ belong to the Church, and therefore all ‘we’ read ‘we’ take to ourselves, not hesitating to rob others of what belongs to them. Here is a case in point. Open your Bibles at Isa. xxix. and xxx., and at the headings of the pages, at the same opening we read, ‘Judgment upon Jerusalem,’ and ‘God’s mercies to His Church’! This is a ‘dividing’ of the word (by man) indeed! but whether it is ‘rightly dividing’ is another matter. The book is declared to be ‘The vision of Isaiah…which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.’ And yet in spite of this, the blessings spoken of Judah and Jerusalem are taken away and given to the Church, while the curses and judgments are kindly left for ‘Judah and Jerusalem!’
“On this system of interpretation the Bible is useless for the purposes of Divine revelation. It is made a derision to its enemies, a ground for the attacks of infidels, while it becomes a stumbling-block to its friends. And yet it is on this same principle that the Apocalypse is usually treated. Everywhere the Church is thrust in: John (in ch. iv. 1) represents the Church; the living creatures, or Cherubim (ch. iv.) are the Church; the four and twenty elders (ch. iv., v.) are the Church; the 144,000 (ch. vii.) are the Church;the great multitude (ch. vii.) is the Church; the ‘woman clothed with the sun’ (ch. xii.) is the Church; the man-child (ch. xii.) is the Church; the bride (ch. xix.) is the Church; the ‘New Jerusalem’ (ch. xxi.) is the Church; the ‘seven churches’ are the Church; and so they go on, until the humble reader of the book is bewildered and disheartened. No wonder the book is neglected. The wonder would be if it were not.”
Bullinger makes infinite sense here. It disturbs me so much to see the Church appropriate all the goodness from the Old Testament. This doesn’t mean that we can’t see Jesus prophesied in every book of the Old Testament, or take verses to have personal meanings for ourselves, or see veiled references to the coming Church, or even that we can’t look at Old Testament prophecy and see our times in some of it…but the Church is not in the Old Testament, and the promises made to Israel are not meant for the Church unless they are carried into the New Testament.
Bullinger goes on:
“…Let us say at once that we believe, and must believe (1), that God means what He says; and (2), that He has a meaning for every word that He says. All His works and all His words are perfect, in their choice, order and place: so perfect, that, if one word or expression is used, there is a reason why no other would have done…”
I really agree with this, but to truly know what was said you have to go back to the original language. I wish I could read Hebrew and Greek, but just because I can’t doesn’t mean I can’t read books that tell me what the original words were and that I can’t look those words up, or that I can’t look at different translations to get a fuller sense of a word. It can be truly eye-opening to do this.
Back to Bullinger:
“Our great fundamental proposition – which we may as well state at once – is, that The Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
However startling this may sound and may seem to some of our readers, we implore you not to dismiss it, but to test the reasons we shall give by the Word of God itself, and to weigh them in ‘the balances of the sanctuary.’ Try to forget all that you have ‘received by tradition,’ and ask from whom you learned this or that. Be prepared and ready to unlearn anything that you may have received from men, and learn afresh from the Word of God itself.”
This point of view is not unusual today. There certainly are many who still think that the whole Bible is about the Church, but there is a large contingent who don’t think that, and many of these also realize that Revelation is not about the Church after Chapter 4.
We’ll follow a few of Bullinger’s proofs:
“The first chapter furnishes us with fifteen proofs of our fundamental proposition. Our first point, in proof of our great proposition, is THE FIVE-FOLD DIVISION OF THE BIBLE.
“The whole Bible is divided into five great divisions, each determined by its subject-matter.
1. The Old Testament has for its subject the King and his coming Kingdom, in promise and prophecy.
2. The Four Gospels the Kingdom offered and rejected. The King crucified by Israel in the Land.
3. The Acts and earlier Pauline Epistles; the King and Kingdom re-offered (iii. 19-21); and rejected, by the Dispersion in Rome (Acts xxviii. 25, 26).
4. The Later Pauline Epistles. The Kingdom in abeyance. The King made Head over all things to the Church.
5. The Apocalypse. The Kingdom set up with Divine judgment, in Power-Glory. The King enthroned.
“Then, during the fourth of these, we have the Epistles relating to the Mystery – the Church of God – during this present interval, while the King is in heaven and His Kingdom is in abeyance; and, while the preaching of ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ is suspended, and ‘the gospel of the grace of God’ is proclaimed. Of course, if there is no difference between these two pieces of ‘good-news,’ and the kingdom is the same thing as the Church or Body of Christ, then there is an end of the whole matter; not merely of our task, but of the Bible itself. For, if words do not mean what they say when used of a plain, literal, matter of fact like this, then words are useless for the purposes of revelation altogether. We have concealment and confusion in its place; and an Apocrypha instead of an Apocalypse.
“But, believing in the perfection of God’s words, and not merely of his Word, we submit that we have here a first great reason for our proposition, that the Church (the body of Christ) is not the subject of the Apocalypse.”
Wow! I’ve always been uncomfortable when Amillennialists talk about how the Kingdom is in place with Jesus reigning from Heaven. If we are in the Kingdom then it’s not nearly as nice as we were told it will be.But this belief that we are currently in the Kingdom tends to go with the idea that the whole Bible is about the Church. When you step back and look at the Church as only the Bride of Christ, you start to realize that being the Bride is enough, and that we are still here to win souls for the coming Kingdom, and that there will be no doubt when the Kingdom starts.
Oh, and I understand that Bullinger may have disagreed with the Church as the ‘bride of Christ,’ but I do have Biblical references for that:
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2; KJV)
[John the Baptist speaking:] Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:28-30; KJV)
“THE HEBREW CHARACTER OF THE BOOK.
“Though this may be considered by some as a minor point, it is so important that it must not be passed over.
“Most critical commentators have to deal with it: because from the earliest times the enemies of the Book have made use of this undeniable fact in order to argue that it has no right to a place in a Canon of the other Greek Books of the New Testament!
“The Hebrew character of the book is shown in its use of idioms, expressions, words and phrases, which cannot be called Greek; and indeed is called by many ‘bad Greek.’
“Professor Godet [1812-1900] in his Studies on the New Testament, says, p. 331: ‘The only serious objection that can be urged against the authenticity of the Apocalypse, lies in the difference which is observable between its style, and that of the fourth Gospel. The latter is free from Aramaic expressions, the former is saturated with them.’ And again (p. 351), ‘the Apocalypse bears, from one end of it to the other, the character of a Hebrew prophecy.’
“…There is however another side to the question: and that is, that, while the enemies use the fact against the Book itself, we use it against the popular interpretation of it. Though the language is Greek, the thoughts and idioms are Hebrew; and this links it on, not to the Pauline epistles, but to the Old Testament, and shows that its great subject is God’s final dealings with the Jew and the Gentile; and not the Church of God.
“Connected with this fact there is another, that emphasizes it in a remarkable manner. It is not only Hebrew in character as to its linguistic peculiarities, but especially in its use of the Old Testament. Only those who have most intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament can properly understand the Apocalypse. But all who know anything of old Testament history cannot fail to detect the almost constant reference to it.
“All the imagery – the Temple, the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the Altar, the Incense, the heads of the twenty-four courses of Priests (the pattern of which David’s was a copy, I Chron. xxviii. 19, see chap. xxv., and compare Heb. ix. 23, etc), all this belongs peculiarly to Israel.
“The same may be said of the judgments, which follow on the lines of the plagues of Egypt, and therefore are to be just as real: indeed they are to exceed in dread reality those which were executed in the Exodus from Egypt. For it is written (Ex. xxxiv. 10) – ‘And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among which thou art shall see the word of the lord; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.’ It is the fulfillment of this covenant with Israel which is the great subject of the Apocalypse.
“But it is when we come to look at the literary connection between the Old Testament and the Apocalypse that we find evidences of the most striking kind.
“If we count up the number of Old Testament passages quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, we find that the gospel of Matthew has a very large number, amounting in all to 92. The Epistle to the Hebrews comes higher still with 102. Now both these books are connected in a special manner with Israel. Matthew, it is universally admitted, stands out among the four Gospels as being specially Jewish in its character. And the Epistle to the Hebrews was specially written to Hebrews, and they are addressed as such.
“Now, when we turn to the Apocalypse, what do we find? The result which to our mind is overwhelming. No less than 285 references to the Old Testament. More than three times as many as Matthew, and nearly three times as many as the Epistle to the Hebrews.
“We ask whether this does not give the book of Revelation a very special connection with the Old Testament, and with Israel? It is undoubtedly written about the people of the Old Testament who are the subjects of its history. These will understand it as Gentile Christians can never hope to do.
“We are merely stating certain important facts which must be taken into account by any who are seeking to find out what the Book of Revelation is all about…”
More really good points leading to the conclusion that Revelation is really about the Jews and Gentiles rather than the Church.
On to the next proof:
“THE CHURCH NOT THE SUBJECT OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY.
“Closely connected with this foregoing point, that the book is Hebrew in character, and intended specially for Hebrews, is another undoubted fact, that the Church of God is not the subject of the Old Testament, either in history, type, or prophecy.
“Passages, &c., may be found there and used to illustrate what is subsequently revealed. But this can be done only by way of application, and not by way of teaching or of interpretation.”
This is a good point, and well put. There are definitely some prophecies in the Old Testament that have not been fulfilled yet, and that seem to point to our current age, but that does not mean that they refer to the Church, or even to anyone else but Israel. This would be an example of ‘application,’ and not a way of interpreting it to mean something ‘not said’ in a literal sense.
Back to the quote:
“Because, of the ‘Mystery’ or the secret concerning the Church of God, we are told that it ‘was kept secret since the world began’ (Rom. xvi. 25). That ‘in other ages it was not made known unto the sons of men’ (Eph. iii. 5). That is, ‘from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God’ (Eph. iii. 9). That it ‘hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the saints’ (Col. i. 26).
“These statements are ‘the true sayings of God,’ and not our own. We have no choice but to believe what He says. If any hold that, in spite of all this, the Church was not ‘hid in God,’ but was the subject of Old Testament prophecy, then we have nothing more to say to them; for, if they will not believe God, it is not likely they will believe us.
“But, believing God, we ask whether the Church is likely to be the subject of prophecy in the Apocalypse, especially when its future is clearly foretold in the Epistles which contain the revelation of the Mystery. There we learn what is to be the future and end of the Body of Christ. The members of that Body are merely waiting to be ‘received up in glory’ (1 Tim. iii. 16). They are waiting for their ‘calling on high’ (Phil. iii. 14). They are looking for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change their vile bodies that they may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body (Phil. iii. 20, 21).
“But all this, we submit, takes place before the Apocalypse opens. There we have, not the coming of the Lord to take away His Church, but, the revelation of the events which shall take place after the Church has been ‘received up in glory.’ These events will take place during ‘the day of the Lord,’ when He shall come not in grace, but in judgement; not in mercy, but in wrath.”
It doesn’t surprise me that Bullinger is a PreMillennialist as well as a Dispensationalist. Certainly, if Revelation is viewed as being about the Jews and the Gentiles (those who have remained unsaved), then it makes perfect sense that the Church will be gone.
Bullinger has many more proofs to hold up his point of view, and they are worth reading, but we must move on to the next author, who is Charles Larkin (1850-1924). He was a Baptist pastor, and an author well-known for his diagrams and posters (some quite complex!). He was another Premillennial Dispensationalist, and the quote we going to look at is from the Forward of his THE BOOK OF REVELATION published in 1919:
“This work is the result of 25 years’ study of the Book of Revelation. Twice within 6 years the writer gave a 4-months’ course of Sunday morning sermons to his people on the Book. These lectures have also been given in Bible Institute Courses, illustrated with large, colored, wall charts.
“…Chapters two and three cover the present Church Dispensation. From chapter four until the end of the Book all is future. The writer’s purpose is to show that the Book of Revelation is to be taken literally, and that it is written in chronological order. The text of the Old Version is used and is printed at the top of each subject. The chapter and verse divisions are ignored…
“There is nothing fantastical in the book. It contains no speculative matter, nor opinions of the writer. The book is not a commentary made up of quotations from other writers. The writer is neither a copyist or compiler. The only Author the writer has sought to follow is the Author of the Book the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the writer lays no claim to originality. All he has sought to do is to clearly present the ‘MIND OF CHRIST’ as revealed in the Book, having in mind the ‘CURSE’ to which every expositor of the Book subjects himself. ‘If any man shall ADD unto these things, God shall ADD UNTO HIM the “PLAGUES” that are written in this Book, and if any man shall TAKE AWAY from the words of the “Book of this Prophecy,” God shall TAKE AWAY HIS PART OUT OF THE “BOOK OF LIFE,” AND OUT OF THE HOLY CITY, AND FROM THE THINGS WHICH ARE WRITTEN IN THIS BOOK.’ Rev. 22:18-19.
“The writer’s aim has been to prepare a standard work on the Book of Revelation, from the Futurist Standpoint, that can be used as a text-book in Theological Seminaries and Bible Schools, and be of invaluable service to the busy pastor in his exposition of the Word of God. The book is sent out with the prayer that God will bless its testimony in these days when the prophetic utterances of the Book of Revelation are rapidly approaching their fulfillment.”
Just a note here: a Futurist is just what was described here, someone who views Revelation as being mostly about the future. This is in opposition to an Historicist, who see Revelation as being mostly about the past (i.e., has mostly already been fulfilled).
While this quote from Larkin isn’t all involved, like, say, Bullinger, it does describe his approach to the book, which is worth considering.
And that’s all for today. The next post will go a little further into the 20th century. Until then I’ll be praying that we all have open, but more importantly, discerning minds.