Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Behold a Lamb, by which is divers times represented our Saviour Christ. (Witham)
Ver. 3. They sung as it were a new canticle. In these visions, after persecutions, are sometimes introduced rejoicings to encourage the servants of God in their sufferings from the wicked world. — No man could say (or sing) the canticle, but those hundred and forty-four thousand: by which are signified the elect, who were not defiled with women. Some expound this literally of those who always lived virgins; others understand all those who lived or died with a pure and clean heart, exempt from the corruption of vices, and of whom it is said, (ver. 5) that in their mouth was found no lie, and that they were without spot for the throne of God. (Witham)
Ver. 4. These are they, &c. In the style of the prophets, by fornication is meant idolatry, and virginity signifies cleanness from all sacrilegious worship. These, therefore, are virgins in this sense, who have not fallen into the impurities of creature worship. But others, as St. Augustine, understand it of persons who have lived in continency. The first, however, is the more literal sense. (Calmet)
Ver. 6-7. Another Angel,…saying: Fear the Lord. By this Angel are represented the preachers of the gospel, exhorting all men to the true faith and a good life. (Witham)
Ver. 8. Another Angel,…saying:…She is fallen, she is fallen, that great Babylon. By Babylon, as observed before, may very probably be signified all the wicked world in general, whom God will punish and destroy after the short time of this mortal life: or may be signified every great city, and perhaps Rome returned to idolatry in the time of antichrist, a little before the end of the world, or may be signified the idolatry of heathen Rome, in the fourth age[century], when the Christian religion, under Constantine and his successors, began to triumph over paganism, i.e. according to those interpreters followed by Alcazar, Bossuet, P. Alleman, &c. which exposition Dr. Hammond thus expresseth: “the whole impure city of heathen Rome, under the title of Babylon, that old idolatrous city that had lain so heavy upon the people of God….should speedily be destroyed, for advancing the heathen worship.” (Witham) — It is probable that here by the great Babylon is meant the city of the devil; that is, the universal society of the wicked: as Jerusalem is taken for the city and the Church of God. (Challoner)
Ver. 9-10. The third Angel followed….if any man shall adore the beast,…he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine, &c. That is, he shall drink of the bitter cup of God’s indignation, not mixed with water, or any thing to diminish its force, but with wine and wine; i.e. with punishments upon punishments for ever and ever. (Witham)
Ver. 12. Here is the patience of the saints. Here patience is necessary, so as not to be carried away with such pleasures and vanities as are offered in the wicked Babylon, and to remain firm under persecutions with the pious inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Witham)
Ver. 13. Blessed are the dead (all the dead) who die in the Lord, and not the martyrs only, for their works follow every one. (Witham) — It is understood of the martyrs, who die for the Lord. (Challoner) — For their works follow them. It is just that they rest at length from their labours, and enjoy for eternity the recompense of their fidelity. They land on the shores of their native country, enriched with the treasures of the good works they have done in this lower world. This is said in express contradiction to those who denied the necessity of good works, and maintained the indifference of actions. This seems to have been the doctrine of the Nicolaites and other heretics of those times. (Calmet) — The Holy Ghost confirms the sentence of their happiness, not only because at the moment of their departure their hard labours and penitential works cease, but their souls are admitted to a glorious immortality, the recompense of their good works. (Pastorini)
Ver. 14-20. Like to the Son of man. That is, to our Saviour Christ, sitting on a white cloud, with a crown of gold, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another Angel, desiring of him to do justice, by putting in his sickle, because the harvest of the earth was ripe, dry, and withered; i.e. the wicked, ripe for punishment. The like is again represented by the sickle, which is said to be put to the clusters of the vineyard: and they were cast into the great wine-press, or lake of the wrath of God, into hell, where the blood is said to come out even up to the horses’ bridles, for a thousand and six hundred furlongs: a metaphorical way of expressing the exceeding great torments of the wicked in hell. But to pretend form hence to give the just dimensions of hell, is a groundless conjecture; of which see Cornelius a Lapide. (Witham)
 Ver. 6-7. I cannot but admire how Dr. W., after his learned modern divines, Mr. Mede and Mr. Whiston, could hook in the popish antichrist in so many places on this chapter, as ver. 7, where it is said fear God, the Christians, says he, are forewarned not to fall into any corruptions the visible Church afterwards fell into, particularly popery. According to a great many of our Protestant adversaries, the popes have been the great antichrist ever since the destruction of the heathen Roman emperors in the fourth age[century], and yet no man ever dreamt of it or suspected it. The Protestants tell the people, they need but open their Bibles and Testaments to see and find the monstrous popish antichrist, the frightful beast with seven heads and ten horns; and what is more strange than all the rest, not any one of the Latin or Greek Church for so many ages[centuries] could ever see the least appearance of what to them is visible at the first sight. The Greek Church, by an unfortunate schism, was divided from the Latin in the ninth age[century]: they wanted not learned men among them, well read in the Scriptures, who omitted nothing that could be alleged to justify their schism and separation from the pope of Rome. Is it possible that neither Photius nor any one among them should see this truth, so palpable that every Protestant presently discovers it at the opening of his New Testament? This at once would have justified their separation. This invention, which doubtless was suggested by the most subtle adversary of popery, first came, says the bishop of Meaux[Bossuet] on the Apocalypse, from the late Manicheans, a sect among the Albigenses, as infamous for their errors as for their morals, (see Nat. Alex. tom. 6. Sæc. 11. and 12. p. 490. and tom. 7. Sæc. 13. p. 66) who, among other detestable blasphemies against God, against Jesus Christ and his blessed Mother, taught the people that pope Silvester in Constantine’s time was antichrist, and the Church from that time was become a den of thieves, and the harlot in the Apocalypse. I scarce think the reasons they brought will be approved by the writers of the late reformation, inasmuch, said they, as the Church and ministers of the Church were then permitted to receive ecclesiastical benefices and revenues. These heretics were followed in some points by Wycliffe and his disciples; but perhaps upon a strict examination, they only meant that the pope and bishops taught antichristian doctrine, and so were to be esteemed adversaries of Christ and precursors of antichrist. We may look upon Luther (though he denied the Apocalypse of St. John to be canonical Scripture) and the Lutherans and Calvinists, to be the true inventors of this empty and incoherent fable of the popish antichrist, twelve hundred years after the popes had successively one after another been the one, great, and famous antichrist. These lovers of novelty, liberty, and Church lands found the obscure revelations in the Apocalypse very convenient for their arbitrary fancies, where they could make the wicked Babylon not signify the heathen Roman empire, with St. Irenæus and the primitive fathers, but to be the Christian popish Rome; and the scarlet whore must be the popes and cardinals who wear scarlet and purple. An argument not inferior to that Mr. Andrew Willet, who found out the pope to be the angel that opened with a key the bottomless pit, because, said he, who gives the cross keys for this arms but the pope? The last reformers of the faith found their ingenious expositions on the Apocalypse a fit means to stir up kings and princes, as well as the ignorant populace and unthinking mob against the tyranny of this Babylon: it is not my remark, nor that of the bishop of Meaux only, but of their learned Dr. Hammond, who, after he hath given us the extravagant and trifling ravings of Mr. Brightman, says, “that what such writers aim at, is to put the people in mind that they are to pull down antichrist. Nothing (says Dr. Hammond) can be more effectual towards the raising and fomenting of commotions.” It is evident the country parson can never be at a loss, or want matter, to excite his parishioners (as occasion offers itself) to a detestation of popery and all papists, if he has but Mr. Brightman’s revelations on the seven epistles in the second and third chapters of St. John’s Apocalypse, written to the Protestant churches by name. See what we have cited on those chapters. If he keep by him Mr. Willet’s expositions of the number of the name of antichrist, whereby he may prove that the three letters are each of them crosses, and that the sign of the cross, still retained by papists, is in very deed the cognizance of antichrist. He may confirm the same by Mr. Willet’s evident demonstration, as he himself calls it. Take it in his own words, in his Synop. Papismi. Controv. 4. q. 16. “Antichrist, says he, is the great whore of Babylon, i.e. of Rome: and here, saith Willet devoutly, we are to note the singular providence of God, who suffereth not a jot of his word to fall to the ground: for even so verily, in the year 853[A.D. 853], next after Leo. IV. there was a right whore elected pope, called John, or if you will, Joan VIII. who fell in labour in the midst of a solemn procession: thus then by evident demonstration it appeareth that the pope is the whore of Babylon, and consequently antichrist.” Is not this witty? No matter if by the same logic every whore that ever lived in Rome may be proved antichrist. But as for the story of pope Joan, David Blondel, a French hugonot, has shewn it to be a fable; for it neither was pope John, nor Joan, that succeeded Leo IV. in the year 853. Leo IV. died in July 853, to whom succeeded, in August or September of the same year, Benedict III. so that no place is found for pope John or Joan, to reign after Leo two years and five months, as the authors of that story pretend. The parson, if need be, may add the expositions on the seven vials of the learned and pious divine, Mr. Mede, as Dr. W. calls him: (though the bishop of Meaux looks upon him as a mere enthusiast) the effusion of the first vial, says Mede, was when the Waldenses and Albigenses, and the followers of Wycliffe, and Hus began to renounce popery. The second vial was completed by what is more eminently styled the reformation, begun by Luther, and carried on afterwards by many others. The third vial was completed partly by the laws made here in England in the reign of queen Elizabeth against popish priests, partly by the great overthrow given to the Spanish armada, in the year 1588, and also to the Spanish forces in the Netherlands. See the rest in Dr. W. p. 127. But Dr. W. with Mr. Whiston, looks upon the vials to be all still future. I cannot think that the learned men among the Protestants believe the popes to be antichrist, especially since time, that discovers what is true as to matters of fact, that are pretended to be foretold, has confuted the conjectures of de Moulin, Jurieu, Mede, Whiston, &c. I must here do justice to divers learned men of the Protestant communion. Grotius, in a letter (epist. 557.) to the Protestant John Gerard Vossius, tells him, “that they who did not believe the popes to be antichrist, nevertheless judged it necessary to give such interpretations, for the public good of the Protestant religion.” See Mons. de Meaux in his advertisement, num. 1. The same Vossius answers, (ep. 571.) “that he himself having told a certain minister of Dort, whom he calls thickscull, (lourde tete) that he should not impose on the people, even against popery, that minister presently asked him if he was for taking the papists’ part, whom, said he, we cannot run down too much, that the people may the more detest their Church. This, adds Vossius, is much the same as some others said to me at Amsterdam: why should not we say the pope is antichrist? must we leave off saying so? and make the people leave our communion more and more, as if too many did not leave it already?” This was a secret that was not to be divulged. Of our English Protestants, I have read Dr. Hammond’s paraphrase and notes, on the second chapter of Thessalonians; and on the Revelation or Apocalypse, he never pretends that the popes are antichrist. The predictions in St. John, of the beasts, of the fall of Babylon, of the great harlot, he expounds, as fulfilled already, by the destruction of pagan Rome, and of its idolatry, superstitions, auguries, under the heathen emperors, much after the same manner as Alcazar, and as the bishop of Meaux and other Catholic writers. Mr. Richard Montague, in his Gag. p. 74, writes thus: “Whether the pope be that antichrist, or not, the Church (of England) resolveth not, tendereth it not to be believed any way. Some, I grant, are very peremptory indeed that he is. He, for instance, who wrote and printed it, I am as sure the pope is antichrist, that antichrist spoken of in the Scripture, as that Jesus Christ is God: but they that are so resolute, peremptory, and certain, let them answer for themselves. The Church is not tied, nor any one that I know of, to make good their private imaginations. For myself, I profess ingenuously I am not of opinion that the bishops of Rome personally are that antichrist….nor yet that the bishops of Rome successively are that antichrist,” &c. He only holds the pope and papists to be antichrists improperly in the sense that St. John says, there are many antichrists. He cites for the same opinion Melancthon and others. Mr. Thorndike, in his just weights and measures, (chap. ii.) speaking to these two points, that the pope is antichrist, and papists idolaters. “The truth, says he, is they of the Church of Rome have overcharged us, in calling us heretics….but they that would have the pope antichrist, and the papists idolaters, have revived it upon them, and taken their revenge beyond the bounds of blameless defence….Let them not lead the people by the nose, to believe that they can prove the supposition, which they cannot,” &c. The same Mr. Thorndike, in chap. 19, p. 125, &c. shews more at large that their reverencing images in churches is no idolatry. And again, (p. 149) “having shewed, says he, why the Church of Rome cannot be charged with idolatry, I may from hence infer that the pope cannot be antichrist.” Yet Dr. W. on the Apocalypse, has another argument to prove that the pope is antichrist, that is, by a new invention, the mystical antichrist, foretold by St. John, and his reign to be twelve hundred and sixty years, only because he supposeth that the pope and papists give divine honour, the honour that is due to God alone, to images, saints, and Angels. This he continually repeats, and takes it for a thing granted. It seems very strange, that so learned a doctor, after such mistakes have been canvassed and cleared, as appears by what hath been written by Mr. Thorndike on this subject, should still run on in this groundless supposition, contrary to all the protestations which the Catholics have constantly made. Every little papist boy or girl can assure the doctor, that they have been always taught to give divine honour and worship to God alone: they will recite to him the words of their catechism, that they pray indeed before images, to put them in mind of things thereby represented, but they do not pray to them, because they know they can neither see, nor hear, nor help them: they will tell him that the Angels and saints, even the blessed Virgin Mother of Christ, and the true mother of God made man, is no more than a creature below God, at an infinite distance; and so that the inferior honour that we pay to them, is nothing like to that supreme and divine honour, which we pay to God alone. In a word we know, and have always professed that images, Angels, and saints are but creatures; and as we are not such fools as to think them Gods, so neither are we so senseless as to pay them divine honour.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Of the Lamb, and of the virgins that follow him: Of the judgments that shall fall upon the wicked.
1 And I saw: and behold a Lamb stood on Mount Sion, and with him n hundred forty-four thousand having his name, and the name of his Father, written in their foreheads.
2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder: and the voice which I heard, was as of harpers, harping on their harps.
3 And they sung as it were a new canticle, before the throne, and before the four animals, and the ancients, and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth.
4 These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God, and to the Lamb:
5 And in their mouth there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.
6 And I saw another Angel flying through the midst of heaven, having the eternal gospel, to preach to them that sit upon the earth, and over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people:
7 Saying with a loud voice: Fear the Lord, and give him honour, because the hour of his judgment is come: and adore ye him, *who made heaven, and earth, the sea, and the fountains of waters.
8 And another Angel followed, saying: *She is fallen, she is fallen, that great Babylon, which made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
9 And the third Angel followed them, saying with a loud voice: If any man shall adore the beast, and his image, and receive his mark on his forehead, or in his hand:
10 He also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine, in the cup of his wrath, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy Angels, and in the sight of the Lamb:
11 And the smoke of their torments shall ascend up for ever and ever: neither have they rest day or night, who have adored the beast, and his image, and whosoever received the mark of his name.
12 Here is the patience of the saints, who keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying to me: write: Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours: for their works follow them.
14 And I saw, and behold a white cloud: and upon the cloud one sitting like to the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15 And another Angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat upon the cloud: *Put in thy sickle, and reap, because the hour is come to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16 And he that sat on the cloud, put his sickle into the earth, and the earth was reaped.
17 And another Angel came out of the temple, which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another Angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire: and he cried with a loud voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying: Put in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vineyard of the earth: because the grapes thereof are ripe.
19 And the Angel put his sharp sickle into the earth, and gathered the vineyard of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God:
20 And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even up to the horses’ bridles, for a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
7: Psalm cxiv.; Acts xiv. 14.
8: Isaias xxi. 9.; Jeremias li. 8.
15: Joel iii. 13.; Matthew xiii. 39.