The events of the last decade of years have shown generally to expositors of prophetic Scriptures that statements made therein should be taken literally, where it can be done without producing absurdity - either physical or metaphysical.  Things which were, in time past, physically impossible, are now, by the rapid progress of scientific knowledge, made literally true.


For example, let us remark on a statement by Sir Isaac Newton, the great astronomer, who was also a lover of the Word of Prophecy.  He stated that the incident named in Rev. 11: 10 - when the armies of all the nations are to be gathered against Jerusalem to destroy it - the Beast, ascending out of the bottomless pit, overcoming and killing the two witness prophets, was physically impossible.  In order to show that Resurrection was not possible, their dead bodies are left unburied, for the people and kindreds and tongues and nations to see the bodies of these prophets who had tormented the dwellers on the earth, (verse 10).  Gifts are sent from the chief cities of the different nationalities to Jerusalem from distances of several thousand miles.  There would be only three and a-half days, to send the gifts to Jerusalem to congratulate the armies on their victory, before the two prophets are made alive.  Sir Isaac Newton calculated that from Western Europe men would have to travel at the rate of 100 miles an hour to reach Jerusalem within the appointed time of three and a-half days, when the two prophets would come to life and ascend to heaven in the presence of all their enemies.  He, therefore, concluded that this incident could not be taken literally, as it would have been impossible at that time, and, therefore, an absurdity.  But to-day men have learnt to travel in aeroplanes at a much greater rate, and to take letters and gifts with them.


Under present circumstances, the incident related above can no longer be regarded as physically absurd.  So the literal interpretation of the whole of the incidents referred to must be accepted in its plain meaning.


It can no longer be held that the effects of the Seals and the Trumpets are figurative of great convulsions of governments and significant of false doctrine.  Most expositors adopted the figurative view; the only exceptions known to the writer are Seiss and Govett.  The time is rapidly approaching when these prophetic words will be literally fulfilled.  The earthquakes and famines and pestilences of the present epoch confirm the literalness of events recorded under the Seals and Trumpets.




But there are signs (or figures) used in the Apocalypse which cannot be taken literally.  In such cases, the explanation of the sign is given, e.g., the woman clothed with the sun, etc., is a figure of Jerusalem, spoken of in the preceding chapter.  The second sign mentioned, of a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his head, is explained to be the Old Serpent, called the Devil and Satan.  Where an explanation of a sign or figure is given, it is clear that the figure must not be taken as literal, while it is evident that the explanation of the figure must be literally taken.


Let us apply these principles to the statements made concerning the Holy City, New Jerusalem, in Rev. 21.  Here we have God's literal testimony about the eternal abode of the saved out of all the dispensations in the eternal City of God.  If we compare the two texts which speak of the Holy City, we find a remarkable coincidence in the description. In Rev. 2. (R.V.) "And I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband."  In Rev. 21: 9, 10 (R.V.): "Come hither, will shew thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb.  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain, great and high and showed me the Holy City Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God."


It is remarkable that the statement about the Holy City "coming down out of heaven from God" applies to both the notices and joins them both together.  In the first notice, the Holy City is likened to "a Bride adorned for her husband."  The points of resemblance are mentioned in the description of the City (verse 11); "her light (or luminary) was like unto stone most precious - clear as crystal" - the Bride's jewels.  The Holy City is the literal statement, and it is compared with, and likened to, a "Bride adorned for her husband."


In the second notice of the Holy City, the interpreting angel said: "I will show thee the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." In this statement the order is reversed: the Bride is mentioned first.  At once comes John's explanation of the figurative words of the angel.  He showed me the meaning of the figure by showing me "the Holy City Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God."  The angel's words are figurative, and John's words are the literal explanation, which he then describes in the context, showing all the parts of a real city - its walls and gates, and foundations and streets.


Twice the notice of the literalness of the Holy City is given by God.  Most commentators have misunderstood the meaning, and have taken it as if John said the angel showed him the emblematic city which answers to the Bride of Christ, the Church.  This is to deny the true principles of interpretation, as before mentioned.  When a sign, or emblem, and the thing signified are severally mentioned - the emblem is first named, and afterwards the explanation of the thing signified by the emblem is to be taken literally - e.g., Rev. 1: 20; 12: 3, the sign; the thing signified, verse 9.




The Bride of the Lamb is the symbol of the Holy City.  The City is the literal explanation of that which is symbolized by the figure, the Bride of the Lamb.  This is the City which God has prepared for His servants (Heb. 11: 16). It is the City that Abraham looked for - "the City which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11: 10, R.V.).


The figure of the Bride of the Lamb is not, then, identical with the figure of the Bride of Christ.  It differs entirely from the figure of the Bride of Christ, which represents Christ's elect Church [i.e., the "church the firstborn," the Body of which He is the Head.  The Lamb is the mystic name of the Son of God in relation to all the saved in all the dispensations. It is a name of universal significance, displaying universal sovereignty.  John the Baptist witnessed: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."  In the Apocalypse, after the standing of the Church has been set aside, and the action of the Throne of Judgment has commenced in Rev. 4., this mystic name is applied twenty-eight times to the Son of God; and at the close, in the new earth, the Throne of God and of the Lamb exercises, throughout the countless ages of eternity, universal sovereignty (Rev. 22: 3).*






[* That the Bride of the Lamb is not the Church, is shown by the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel written on the twelve gates of the City.  And the wall of the City had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.  The City, the eternal abode of the saints, is the result of God's two dispensations, viz that of the Law and of the Gospel:- the saints of the patriarchal age and those of the Law, as well as those of the Church, have their abode in the City of God.  Detailed information on the above statements may be seen in the new edition of Govett’s work recently published. ** -


[** The Apocalypse Expounded by Scripture.]


It is remarkable that the promise to the overcomer in the Church in Philadelphia - in which the risen Lord finds no fault - includes the writing upon him "the name of the City of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God." This is the third time the descent from heaven of the Holy City is mentioned in the Apcalypse.  This triple designation must surely convince us of the literalness of the City. - Panton.]