Apocalyptic Landmarks - Revelation 7 & 12


Richard Chester

[From the November, 1866 issue of "The Rainbow" magazine.]

The following article by Richard Chester is the second part of a two-part article that was published in 1866. The first part essentially laid out the fact that, although the church is not mentioned explicitly after Revelation 2 and 3, it is subsequently seen in different places in the Apocalypse. Each of these times is in relation to the throne of God, because the church [that is, the called out from amongst the redeemed; or "those who "stand before the Son of man", at that time, are in a heavenly position]. This becomes a prophetic "landmark" to help in interpreting the Apocalypse. Part One focused on Revelation 4 and 5; this part leads on to further considerations of chapters 7 and 12.


If we are correct in regarding the throne of God, seen by the Apostle in Revelation 4, as a throne not of grace but of judgment, and the position of the Church, symbolised by the elders and living creatures of the same chapter, as being not on earth but in heaven, we have, it will be admitted, two most important landmarks to guide us in the interpretation of the Apocalypse. If so, however, we must expect to find that judgment, not grace, is the prevailing characteristic of the subsequent chapters of the book. We will also see that the Church is never subsequently spoken of by name, or represented in symbol, as occupying a position upon earth.

Now that judgment, not grace, is the prevailing characteristic of the book of Revelation, from the commencement of the sixth to the end of the 19th chapters, is, I submit, an unquestionable fact - inasmuch as the opening of the seals, the sounding of the trumpets, the pouring out of the vials, whatever interpretation be put upon the details of each vision, must upon all sides be admitted to exhibit successive acts of judgment, deepening in intensity as they proceed.

Thus we find the sequel of the prophecy to be so far in exact accordance with the character that we have assigned to the throne to which we are introduced at its commencement. We find this landmark to be so far a correct and unerring guide.

We find moreover that, while the word "Church" [called out] or "Churches" [called out ones] occurs with far more frequency than in any other portion whatsoever of God's word in the second and third chapters of Revelation, among "the things that are" - the things pertaining to the present dispensation - it never once occurs again from the commencement of the fourth chapter to the end of the Apocalyptic visions.

We read not infrequently of "the inhabitants of the earth" - of "them that dwell upon the earth" - as the subjects of judgments poured out, but never of "the Church" or "the Churches" as its occupants. This omission is surely most significant. It strikingly confirms the pregnant words of Mr. Govett on Revelation 1:19 when, speaking of the character of the Apocalypse from the close of chapter 3, he says, "we have done with the Church, the world is before us!"

But although certainly not spoken of by name, it may fairly be questioned whether the Church be not presented to us in symbol, in that portion of the book which commences with the sixth chapter.

This question is well worth our serious consideration. The only passages in which with any degree of likelihood or consistency it can be regarded as thus symbolised, I take to be chapter 7:9-17 and chapter 12. Of course it will be understood that we are not now referring to any portion previous to chapter 6 or subsequent to chapter 19:11.

The Church In Revelation 7

As to the opinion entertained by some that the 144,000 sealed ones of chapter 7:4-8 represent the Church or any portion of it - to those who observe and understand the distinction which Scripture carefully draws and maintains throughout between "the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God," it surely carries with it its own refutation. The specification of the twelve tribes ought, one would suppose, to have hindered such a notion from ever having been entertained, save that nothing seems a hindrance in the way of allegorising.

Is the white-robed, palm-bearing multitude of chapter 7:9-17 - out of "all nations, and tribes, and people, and tongues" - to be regarded as representing the Church? If it be, then it is only another landmark additional to, and in the main confirmatory of, those of the fourth and fifth chapters; inasmuch as that multitude is seen in heaven, "before the throne," previous at all events to the sounding of the trumpets, and the pouring out of the vials.

I do not, however, believe that this multitude symbolises the Church. The Church,* we have seen, has been already represented (in chapters 4 and 5) as in heaven previous, not only to the sounding of the trumpets, or the pouring out of the vials, but previous to the opening of the seals therefore before the time of the great tribulation.

[* Certainly that part of it, that shall "pervail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21: 36)] 

The white-robed multitude are described as having "come out of" and therefore having passed through, that tribulation. They consequently cannot, it would seem, be regarded as belonging to or comprising those to whom is held out the promise of "escaping all those things that shall come to pass" (Luke 21:36) or of being "kept from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Revelation 3:10).

Again, this is a multitude so great that "no man could number it," a description which scarcely accords with that of the Church of this dispensation as a "little flock " -as the "few" who find the strait gate and the narrow way.

Further, their position is that of "standing before the throne," (7: 9), while that of the Church as symbolised by the elders and living creatures is enthroned (4: 4-6). [See the related article by Joseph Seiss in Volume 3 of "The Coming Day."] The distinctiveness of this multitude from the elders is moreover very clearly marked by its being one of the elders who puts the question concerning them, "Who are these which are arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?" And who answers his own question, saying, "These are they which came out of great tribulation" (Greek: the tribulation, the great one), thus speaking of them as a party from whom he and his fellow elders are distinct (7: 13-14).

I believe, therefore, that this great multitude is to be regarded as representing the "harvest" (see Rev. 14:15-16) of which the previously gathered Church is the "first fruits." I regard them as a people not "made ready" during the present day of grace, and therefore not constituting "the bride" not taken when the bridegroom comes for His Church - but a people subsequently made ready for an inferior, though very glorious and exalted, position. One of the agencies whereby they are prepared for this position is the great tribulation, through which they shall have to pass. Having passed through this tribulation, and having "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," they will be gathered into safety, previous to the heavier judgments of the trumpets and the vials - probably between the opening of the fifth and sixth seals, the latter of which manifestly denotes the special period of "the wrath of the Lamb."

The Man-Child Of Revelation 12

The woman of chapter 12:1 is another symbol that strikes the eye of the student of the Apocalypse as probably designed to represent the Church. If she is, her place also, be it observed, is "in heaven." There is so far no discrepancy but strict accordance between this vision and that of chapters 4 and 5. Here again, however, I must record my belief - and express my reasons for it - that this symbol does not by any means represent the Church of this dispensation.

If so, who is the man-child? If it be answered, Christ, then I venture to deny that the Church of this dispensation can be said to have brought forth Christ, or that Christ can be said, subsequent to His having been brought forth by the Church, to have been "caught up to God and to His throne." The Church of this dispensation collectively is spoken of as standing to our blessed Lord in the relationship of the bride to the bridegroom; her members individually are spoken of as related to Him as brethren to their elder, first-born brother. Nowhere is Christ spoken of as the "child" of the Church. Such would be a glaring anachronism, inasmuch as the Church did not begin herself to exist until after Jesus had ascended up on high.*

[* Was there not a "church in the wilderness?" (Acts 7: 38)]

Again that the man-child of Revelation 12 does not represent the Lord Jesus Christ, and that its being caught up to God and to His throne does not symbolise His ascension into heaven, must I think be evident from the following considerations.

1. The birth and catching-up of the man-child are spoken of in the Book of Revelation as both subjects of then unfulfilled prophecy. They were shown to John in a vision among the things that "should shortly come to pass" (1:1). But the birth and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ had taken place long before the book of Revelation was written; and were matters not of prophecy but of history when its visions were beheld.

2. Satan and his angels are set forth in the vision of Revelation 12 as cast down to the earth in connection with, and in consequence of, the catching-up of the man-child. But Satan was not thus cast down in connection with, or in consequence of, our Lord's ascension. Paul speaks of him as still occupying a position in "the heavenly places" subsequent to this event (Ephesians 22; 6:12. See Greek and margin).

3. If the wrath and persecution of the woman by the serpent, spoken of in chapter 12, commenced at, or shortly subsequent to, the ascension of our Lord, then it must have terminated hundreds of years ago inasmuch as the period of its duration, and of her consequent protection against it, is limited to "1,260 days" (verse 6) and to "time, times, and half a time" (the same period differently expressed) (verse 14). This period, however computed, whether according to literal day or year-day method, and commencing, as the passage requires in order to the integrity vision, at or not long subsequent to (being an immediate consequence of) the rapture of the man-child, must, if that rapture denote ascension of our Lord, have long since expired.

4.The Greek word translated "caught up" (verse 5) is one altogether inapplicable to our Lord's ascension and is never applied to it elsewhere. The ascension is described as gradual, the Apostles beholding and looking up after Him as He went up (Acts 1: 9-11). The word here employed, on the contrary, denotes a sudden snatching away. It is the word used in Acts 8:39: "The spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more." It is the term employed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 to describe his having been "caught up to the third heaven."

If then the man-child of Revelation 12 is not the Lord Jesus, whom or what can we suppose him to symbolise? I believe, for the following reasons, that he represents [overcomers of] the Church of this dispensation.

1.The man-child is "to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (verse 5). This, if predicted of Christ himself, is equally predicted of, and promised to His Church. "He that overcomes and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Revelation 2:26-27).

2.The Church [called out company] is, we know as a matter of certainty, to be "taken up to God and to His throne." This is expressly revealed in chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation. It was solemnly and graciously promised by the Lord himself. "In my father's house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto (Greek, take you unto) myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14.2-3).

It is distinctly and definitely affirmed and described by Paul. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Here it is especially worthy of note that the term that the Apostle employs is precisely the same as that used with regard to the taking up of the man-child. It is in each passage most correctly translated "caught up" and is, as we have already seen, altogether inapplicable to our Lord's ascension.

3.The taking up of the Church, as we know from Revelation 4, 5, 6, as also from several other passages of God's word, is to be the immediate precursor of desolating woes and judgments to be inflicted upon earth. It thus exactly accords with what the spirit here portrays as the consequence of the rapture of the man-child, viz., the casting down of Satan - the great wrath - the fierce persecution - the rise of the Antichrist (chapter 13), with all its fearful consequences to the sons of men.

It has been thought by some that the man-child represents a believing Jewish remnant rather than the Church. That such is not the case, however, seems evident from the prediction of Micah 5:3. Speaking of the people of Israel the prophet asserts, "He (that is, the Lord) will give them up until she that travails has brought forth." Not therefore until the actual birth predicted in Revelation 12, and the rapture immediately consequent upon it shall have taken place, will there be upon the part of Jehovah any movement towards any recognition of the Jewish people, or any portion of them as such. Not until then will there be any further dealing with them other than that present wondrous act of grace whereby a "remnant" of them "according to election" are now being gathered into that body in which, together with a similar "election of grace" from among the Gentiles, they constitute the Church.

Again, the man-child is described as immediately after birth "caught up to God and to His throne." He therefore escapes all the subsequent persecutions and sufferings consequent upon the casting down of Satan and the development of the Antichrist. But the faithful Jewish remnant of the last days are represented throughout Scripture as exposed to these trials, but preserved throughout them (See Zechariah 13: 8-9). The man-child of Revelation 12 cannot consequently symbolise a Jewish remnant distinct from the Church.

He does, I submit, symbolise that body, the Church, which, when it shall have been completed - its last member incorporated with it, quickened into spiritual life, and "born again," and "Christ formed within him" (note particularly Galatians 4:19) - the then perfected "man-child" will have been "born" and will straightway be "caught up to God and to His throne."

It may here be objected that the 12th chapter of Revelation, coming so long after the 4th and 5th chapters, and with so many visions intervening, cannot represent the rapture of the Church, inasmuch as that event, if our view of these former chapters is correct, must be regarded as having taken place in chronological order long before.

To this we reply that the student of the Apocalypse who studies it apart from any preconceived system of interpretation cannot fail to discover that it contains visions several of which are parallel and synchronous as to the events which they represent, although they were unavoidably presented to and recorded by the apostle in succession to each other.

He will find, moreover, that God has given a sure "landmark" whereby to ascertain this synchronism wherever it exists - namely, the ending of each vision in the parallel series with the one event of the actual advent. Where a vision terminates with this event, the succeeding vision - whether preceding, synchronising with, or being subsequent to it as regards the events depicted in the respective commencements of each - must be parallel to it, must synchronise with it, in the leading occurrences that it portrays.

Of course we are to except from this rule the manifestly millennial and post-millennial visions from the commencement of chapter 20 to the end of the book. It will admit, however, of no other exception. Thus the vision of the seven trumpets ends in the close of the 11th chapter with the actual advent (see verses 15-18), with which the chapter ought evidently to terminate, verse 19 being prefatory to the subsequent vision of chapter 12.

The vision of the 12th chapter then goes back - how far we can only determine by comparison of its details with those of preceding portions Of the book. If the subject of its commencement is, as we have assigned reason for believing, the rapture of the Church, we must carry it back as far as the commencement of the "things that must take place after this" (4:1). The visions of the subsequent chapters - 13 to 19 - instead of being at variance with our so doing are in remarkable accordance with this.

But, before concluding, we must observe that if the man-child of Revelation 12 symbolises the Church, the woman who brings him forth cannot, it is evident, be a symbol of the same. In order then to give somewhat of consistency and completeness to our interpretation we must endeavour to answer the question that at once suggests itself. Who or what does she symbolise?

The Symbolism Of The Woman

I apprehend that she represents the entire aggregate of God's people, saved through Christ, both in the present and in preceding dispensations - all, both Jews and Gentiles, who shall be partakers in different degrees of the glories of the kingdom - those, in a word, who shall constitute "the general assembly" spoken of in Hebrews 12:23.

That assembly, we may here observe, ought not to be regarded, as it usually is, as identical with "the Church of the first-born ones" of the same passage. The apostle is enumerating in the passage the privileges of the recipients of the Gospel - a distinct privilege in each clause. Of these "to come unto" the "general assembly," the great aggregate of the saved and glorified is one. "To come unto" the "church of the first-born ones" - the first-fruits of that of which the "general assembly" is the glorious harvest - the "first-born" of whom they are the "many brethren" - is another, and a higher privilege.

That such should be the import of the symbol of the woman seems to be in exact accordance with her being "clothed with the sun and having the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." This apparently denotes her connection with and sovereignty over God's visible creation, and accords with the promise, "He that overcomes shall inherit all things" (Revelation 21:7; see Ephesians 1:10). It further connects her with the patriarchs and people of Israel as symbolised in Joseph's dream (Genesis 37:9-10).

That the church of the present dispensation should, in the symbolism of Revelation 12, be represented as the child of such a mother agrees with the language of Paul concerning it, as consisting of grafts or scions grafted in amongst some of the branches on the original olive tree and "with them" made "partakers of its root and fatness " (Romans 11: 17).

It harmonises also with his assertion that "they which be of faith" (the members of that church) are blessed with faithful Abraham" (Galatians 19); that "they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (verse 7); that if we "be Christ's, then we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (verse 29). and that "Jerusalem which is above" (typified by Sarah) "is free, which is the mother of us all" (Galatians 4:26).

In immediate connection with this last passage, the apostle quotes - it is worthy of notice - the words of the prophet (Isaiah 54:1). "Rejoice you barren woman that bears not, break forth and cry you that travail not, for the desolate woman has many more children than she which has an husband" - a prediction of the time when in the completion and glorification of the Church, and the restoration and conversion of Israel, as also in the ingathering of the Gentile nations, the long-continuing fruitlessness of God's Abrahamic covenant with His ancient people will be removed and the promise to Abraham of a seed, countless as the dust of the earth and the stars of heaven, will be abundantly fulfilled.

The subsequent flight into and preservation in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6-14) of the woman in her then chief earthly representative, the great body of the nation of Israel, on the eve of being restored and converted, farther accords with this interpretation (See Ezekiel 20:34-44). So also does the persecution by Satan of "the remnant of her seed" (verse 17), the faithful Jewish remnant who shall be in the land and in Jerusalem at the time (See Zechariah 12-14). *

[* See also the excellent series of articles on these chapters of Zechariah by David Baron in volumes 1-7 of "The Coming Day."]

Thus far have we endeavoured to show that the Apocalypse may be intelligibly, consistently. (and we believe truly), interpreted in accordance with, and by the aid of, the landmarks to which we have sought to direct the attention of our readers.


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