Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, D.D.
A voice from the golden altar commands the captive angels of the Euphrates to be released. As noted above the altar is Christ who makes trials and tribulations a means of sanctification for souls and an increase of fervour and holiness in the church. They also serve to spread the blessings of the Gospel for as Tertullian says “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Christians”. Christ Himself gives command to release the captive angels thus showing that the enemies of the Church have no power against her unless God Permits. The Church can say to her enemies as Christ said to Pilate “Thou shouldst not have any power against me unless it were given thee from above” The captive angels are demons who will arouse new enemies and increased enmities against the Church. In a figurative sense they represent the new enemies thus aroused against the Church, whether they be nations, individuals or secret societies hostile to her. Four, the number of universality indicates how widespread will be their influence. With the prophests of old the region of the Euphrates was ever the country whence came the enemies of God’s people. Its mention here indicates that these new enemies will arise among nations already hostile to the church. In a secondary sense the term may be taken literally to represent peoples from that region who are hostile to the Church. The Four angels of the Euphrates now ordered to be released may be the same as those whom Christ forbade to injure the earth until the Church should be firmly established after the persecutions. Even the time for the manifestation of these evil spirits and their minions has been accurately fixed in the designs of Providence. The very day and hour has been determined. Great numbers will be done to death in the religious wars and revolutions stirred up by these angels from the Euphrates. The prophecy may also mean that large numbers will be lead into new errors and schisms. Both interpretations are fully justified by the history of the pretended Reformation and the wars that followed it.
These scourges shall be more terrible than any yet predicted. The first plagues were brought to earth by the four horsemen. Then we saw four charioteers, the four winds, ready to scourge mankind. Here we find a vast array of cavalry. The chastisements sent upon the world increase with the growth of iniquity and the approach of Antichrist. The description of horses and riders in this vision gives some idea of their boldness, strength and cunning ferocity. They inflict upon men the plagues of fire smoke and sulphur. The fire is persecution and war. Smoke symbolizes the obscuring of doctrine and the weakening of faith, sulphur the moral depravity which follows. The fire smoke and sulphur issue from the mouth of the horses. From the mouth should process words of wisdom instead there comes forth heresies and incitements to revolt and revolution. It should be noted that Luther openly preached revolt and revolution to the peasants of Germany but when they put his words into practice, he turned to the princes and urged them to stamp out the revolt with fire and sword. The horses of this vision inflict injuries with their tails which resemble serpents. Amongst all peoples the serpent is a symbol of lying and hypocrisy. These vices have ever characterized the enemies of the Church. There is no question here of real artillery as some have imagined. St. John is giving only the broad outlines of the Church’s history. He is not concerned with the material means employed by men to wage war against her. The vision of locusts and the vision of cavalry horses are not two representations of one and the same event. They foreshadow two distinct events that follow one another in the order of time. The one is the great revolt against the Church brought about by the fallen star. The other consists of wars and disturbances which follow in the wake of that revolt. After these plagues have passed there still remain many who worship idols and many guilty of robbery, murder and immorality. This is verified today. Although nineteen hundred years have elapsed since the first preaching of the Gospel, whole nations are still steeped in idolatry and Christendom seems hopelessly divided by heresy and schism.
An angel coming in clouds of grace and glory brings to St. John a book of further prophecies. The rainbow about his head symbolizes mercy while the brightness of his countenance expresses the power of his teachings to enlighten souls. The feet as of fire indicate that he shall lead the Church in the ways of truth and justice as the pillar of fire guided the Israelites in the wilderness. The book is open to signify that the prophecies therein revealed to St. John are intelligible and shall be understood in due time according to the needs of the Church. The angel places one foot upon the sea, the other upon the land to express God’s supreme dominion over all things. The voice like the roar of a lion is the voice of the Gospel which shall penetrate the very ends of the earth teaching divine truth, condemning error and threatening persecutors with the vengeance of God. Here as elsewhere the thunders may symbolize the anathemas of the church against all wickedness and error; but it would be useless to comment on their exact meaning since St. John was ordered to seal up the words of his prophecies until the time appointed by God for their publication. The words of the seven thunders may also have been such as St. Paul heard – “ secret words which it is not granted to man to utter”. Lifting his hand to heaven the angel calls upon the God of all creation to witness the truth of his words that time shall be no more. This does not mean that the end of the world is at hand, but that the time for judgement against obstinate sinners and persecutors has arrived. This judgement shall be the greatest persecution of Antichrist and his attendant evils. Then shall be accomplished the “mystery of God” which has been announced (evangelized) by the prophets of old. To evangelize is to announce good tidings hence this mystery of God is probably the plenitude of the Redemption applied to all nations of the earth. After the destruction of Antichrist and his kingdom all peoples shall accept the Gospels and the church of Christ shall reign peacefully over all nations. Eating the book symbolizes an intimate union with the Holy Ghost by which the mind of the Apostle is illuminated with the spirit of prophecy. St John finds the book sweet to the taste because it announces mercy to the elect and the final triumph of the church. It is bitter in so far as it predicts dire persecutions for the church and terrible punishments for the wicked.
The followers of antichrist have been warned of defeat and eternal punishment – the faithful have been encouraged by the promise of victory here and the eternal happiness hereafter. The time of judgement is at hand; the final conflict now begins. The separation of the good from the bad will be still further accomplished. As on the last day Christ sends forth His angels to gather the wheat in the barns while the cockle is being bound into bundles for the fire, The gathering in of the good through martyrdom is represented as a harvest. The destruction of the wicked is depicted as the vintage of God’s wrath. The realization of this judgement will be found in the complete destruction of the kingdom of Antichrist in subsequent chapters. The reaper sitting upon a bright cloud is an angel who comes in the name of Christ to execute His orders. Hence he bears the resemblance of Christ and is surrounded by a cloud of glory. He also wears a crown of gold, the emblem of royalty because as representative of Christ he exercises dominion over all peoples. The cloud of glory and the crown of royalty might lead one to accept the reaper as Christ Himself. Yet the context makes it plain that the reaper cannot be identified with Christ since he is commanded by an angel to thrust in his sickle. Furthermore Christ has told us in the Gospel that angels shall be commissioned to separate the wheat from the cockle. The voice from beneath the altar commanding the vintage to be gathered is the voice of a martyr whose blood cries to heaven for vengeance. The martyr who has “power over fire” is probably Elias who will destroy Antichrist by sending down fire from heaven. The prohet Joel also describes the judgement of God against unholy nations as a vintage and a treading of the wine press. The wine press of divine wrath shall be trodden outside the city of Jerusalem. Final victory over Antichrist will be won through great slaughter and bloodshed in a battle near the Holy city, perhaps in the valley of Josaphat. The prophecy of Joel may refer to this event instead of the last Judgement; “Let the nations come up into the valley of Josaphat: for there I will sit to judge all nations round about…in the valley of destruction: for the day of the Lord is near”
Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, D.D.
The Apocalypse of St. John