A Brief Summary of the Book of Revelation

James Durham,
Commentary on Revelation,
pp. 742-746.

A Brief View of the Series of the Whole Book of the Revelation

This whole book is formed by way of an epistle.

Chapter 1. Beside some general circumstances, the matter of the book generally is divided in these two: 1. The things that then were, or the present state of these churches especially. 2. The things that were to come on the church in general, to the end of the world.

Chapters 2 and 3 contain the first part, the present condition of these seven churches, set out in seven several epistles, shewing their case, and reproving or commending accordingly, as was requisite: and withal, adding directions, warnings, threatenings, and consolations suitable to their respective conditions, which though expressly directed to these, yet are alike useful to all in such cases to the end.

Chapters 4 and 5 contain the preface introductory to the main and prophetical part of this book: where God the Creator, is set on His Throne, and His glory, as absolute supreme Lord of all, is set down, having all events determined in His Counsel, as in a book that is Sealed, in the which no creature can pry to reveal them, except Jesus Christ, who, by the executing of His Office of Mediatorship, is found worthy to be admitted on God’s eternal secrets concerning the church. Who therefore in that fifth chapter receiveth these as in a book, Sealed with seven Seals, which he openeth distinctly (keeping the same comparison) in the chapters following, which contain three principal and other three explicatory prophecies. The three principal prophecies of Seals, Trumpets, and Vials, deducing the events from that time to the end by several steps, and the explicatory prophecies, clearing what was more shortly or obscurely set down in the other, and [synchronizing] with them, or some part of them.

Chapter 6. We have the first principal Prophecy of the Seals, which setteth forth the state of the church under its first period, to wit, of heathenish persecution. In it the church is, first, discovered as flourishing in respect of the Gospels thriving (seal 1). Then as bloody in respect of persecution (seal 2). After that as decaying and losing much of its beauty, not only by the persecution of enemies, but by the contests and failings that were in and amongst her friends (seal 3). After which, persecution came to a vehement height, as if death had been loosed against the church in the last part of the ten persecutions (seal 4). Whereupon the souls cry to God, as being at an uttermost strait (seal 5). Upon which followeth God’s judgment upon these persecutors (seal 6)—at which the first period of the church’s condition, and the first principal Prophecy of Seals do end.

Chapter 7. The church having now gotten outward prosperity and peace, and not having made good use of it, there are other sorts of winds ready to blow, and fearful heresies to set on her, especially that defection of Antichrist: all which she is to be advertised of by the Trumpets. But because that exercise would be more sifting, and carry more of the visible church away than open persecution did—therefore before the Trumpets sound, the Lord giveth a little view of the future state of the church in reference to the two following principal prophecies. The first part is to verse 9 shewing God’s care in guarding His Elect against that storm before it came: this belongeth to the Trumpets. The second sheweth the good outgate that the church should have after that storm, from verse 9 to the end: and this giveth a hint of the Vials.

Chapter 8. The Lord Christ having thus provided against these evils by this consolation (ch. 7), and having first interposed by His intercession in the beginning of this eighth chapter, then He giveth order to the Angels to sound their Trumpets. These do contain the second principal prophecy, and belong to the second period of the church, to wit, from the church’s begun peace, after heathenish persecution, till Antichrist come up by his steps to his height. This is contained in the 8-11 chapters. The first Angel foretelleth the rising of a violent heresy, to wit, Arianism, whereby the beauty of the church was exceedingly defaced. The second foretelleth the great pride and contention that was to follow among church-men, which should be no little stirring to many, and make way for the working of the mystery of iniquity. The third forwarneth of the corrupting of the principal doctrines and fountain-truths of Grace and the Gospel. The fourth holdeth forth the more general decay of piety, purity, and simplicity in the church, in the age before Antichrist’s revealing, though not yet at its height. And when warning is given of three greater woes than any of these, the eighth chapter is closed.

In Chapter 9, two of the last great woes are set down: the first, or fifth, Trumpet, describeth Antichrist’s Kingdom, and by the description thereof, and names given to him, the evil that cometh thereby to the church, is expressed. The second great wo, or sixth Trumpet, setteth out God’s severe judging of a great part of the Christian world for that defection, by letting loose the Turks upon it, which with great armies destroyed many, and overcame a great part of the Empire. Yet these that were spared did not repent, nor forsake their idolatry and superstitions for all that, but Popery grew in its corruption, even as the Turks grew in their dominion.

In Chapters 10 and 11, because these were sad evils whereby the church was brought low, and were to be of longer continuance than any of the former, lesser woes, therefore, before the seventh Angel sound, the Lord setteth down a twofold consolation (10:1-11:15), where the seventh soundeth, meeting with two objections: First, men might think: ‘Shall enemies then get their will, and the church be thus still obscured, when the seventh Trumpet cometh, what will come of her?’ The Lord by an oath (ch. 10) assureth His people that it shall not be so. But that the church shall be revived, and that that seventh Trumpet shall bring judgement on her enemies and quite turn the chase. And because it might be yet further doubted if there were a church during that time till the seventh did sound, it is shewn (ch. 11) that there should be a church, and some ministers still adhering to the former principles of the Gospel—whom all enemies, no not the Beast Antichrist, should be able to overcome, till they should be at the close of their testimony, and God have others to take it off their hand. Then the seventh Angel soundeth when their testimony is finished. And a very great and most glorious change is wrought, which is generally hinted at here, but more fully expressed by the Vials. [The Vials] which are the third principal or typical prophecy of this book and contain the last period of the Militant Church’s condition, to wit, Antichrist’s decay, and her enlargement after she hath been at her lowest, and he at his height. A little view of it is given here before the seven Vials be explained, because he is to interpose the explication of what was past in the three chapters following.

Chapters 12-14. But before he set down the Vials upon the blowing of the seventh Trumpet (as he had set down the Trumpets on the back of the seven Seals), the first explicatory prophecy is interjected, and that in a different style. This serveth to clear the two principal prophecies past, and maketh way exceedingly for understanding what was coming. And in this, the same troubles and state of the church, formerly prophesied of, are here again touched in their several steps of her difficulties with their respective outgates [ways of escape].

1. The church’s wrestling with heathen persecution, that was described by the Seals, is set out by the similitude of a travailing woman, pursued by a red Dragon. Her outgate is under the expression of delivery, when her birth is exalted, which war is more fully prosecuted with its outgate (12:5-13). By this the devil is dethroned from the public authority he had in the world while emperors were heathen, and authority is now on the church’s side. 

2. The second step is the church’s troubles that followed on the back of that outgate. It is hinted (12:6) that she fled or began to flee (to shew the connection of this decay with the former liberty), but is prosecuted (from v. 13), where the devil’s device to drown her, by spewing out of his mouth a flood of filthy errours after her, is marked, when as by violence or authority he could not master her. The outgate from this is (v. 16) the Lord provideth a way to drain these errors that they should not drown her. The earth, that is, the then declining visible church, that continued still visible (called “earth,” because of her declining from that heavenly simplicity she appeared in verse 4 under heathen persecution, becoming now earthly-like in pomp, and so distinguished from these that kept their former purity) did still keep the doctrine of the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Spirit, pure. So that the pure church now fleeing (as it were) hath these cruel blasts kept off her, and so diverted from her, as the earth’s drinking-in of rain suffereth not the floods to increase. This is contemporary with the first four Trumpets or lesser woes (ch. 8). 

3. When this doth not the devil’s business (v. 17), he goeth to his last refuge of stirring up Antichrist and bringing of him to his height, which is the first great woe (ch. 9). And because this is the great design, to hold him forth, and thereby to make way for clearing what was spoken (ch. 11) and what followeth to the end.

Chapter 13. Therefore, he more fully insisteth in describing this enemy, first, in his nature by a double type of two several beasts: The first, shewing what really he should be, and what the church should suffer by him. The second shewing how he should attain to that height, and by what means he should prosecute his designs upon the world, and against the saints. And then when he hath described his nature, rise, reign, practices, continuance, and manner of proceeding, etc. he cometh to shew the outgate (ch. 14), which [synchronizes] with the last part of chapter 11 and is again insisted on by the Vials.

Chapter 15. Having put by this explication, and given a key of all in this prophecy, he returneth to prosecute where he left (ch. 11), and more fully to shew the events of the seventh Trumpet in the seven Vials, which is the third principal and typical prophecy, prosecuting the story (to say so) from Antichrist’s height and begun ruin to the end, which is the third period of the church. Therefore (ch. 15) the preparation to it is set down (as the preparations to each of the former principal prophecies, where, as chs. 4-5 to the Seals, and ch. 7 to the Trumpets) and is, upon the matter, the same with what is ch. 11:16, etc. to shew that it is the continuation of the same matter. This (I say) is the third period of the church.

Chapter 16. Then followeth the prophecy itself. The four first Vials are lesser, and more insensibly (as it were) carry on Antichrist’s ruin (as the four first Trumpets did more insensibly increase his rise). The fifth Vial overturneth Rome his seat, as the fifth Trumpet seated him there, and revealed him. The sixth overturneth Turks, Popes, and the rest of that Kingdom, bringeth in the Jews, and setteth the Gospel at its full brightness. The seventh Vial (sometime after that) bringeth the end upon all enemies, Gog and Magog, and fully overturneth the devil’s Kingdom in the world. As the three last Trumpets are greatest, so are the three last Vials of longest continuance. And because these events are notable, he proceedeth to clear especially the last three Vials in two explicatory prophecies or visions, wherein he abstaineth the expression of types and sevens which he had used in the principal prophecies, and in an explicatory way, goeth on, as in ch. 12, etc. The first is chs. 17-19, the other thence to the end.

Chapters 17-18. He had described Antichrist himself in chapter 13. Here (ch. 17) he describeth his seat, his Kingdom and himself together, that he might shew what is the object of the Vials, especially of the fifth: which is, in a word, Rome, then the chief city of the earth. The more express explication whereof is in ch. 18, shewing what the seat is, that is destroyed by the fifth Vial, and what lamentation shall be over it when Rome (called Babylon) shall be brought to such desolation.

Chapter 19. And having described this, he proceedeth to clear the events of the sixth Vial, and battle of Armageddon, which is notable from two singular events: The one in the conversion of the Jews in the first part, the other in the destruction of the Beast and his helpers (probably the Turk) in the last part thereof, whereby the Beast having fled from Rome, is now wholly overturned, so that the name of Pope ceaseth by this, as Rome his seat did by the former.

Chapter 20. Antichrist being destroyed, he cometh to shew the events of the seventh Vial, in the last vision (chs. 20-22), and to make it the more clear and comprehensive of the church’s victory over the devil, he sheweth (ch. 20): 1. How the devil was again restrained after he had been loose, (chs. 12-13) (and so ascendeth as high as the first Vial) during which time the church formerly persecuted, had a most flourishing condition (in respect of what formerly it was) and that for a long time, set out by a thousand years. 2. He sheweth that after that, even when the Beast is away by the sixth Vial, yet a new enemy ariseth, called Gog and Magog, which shall mar the church’s peace. And because this event belongeth to the seventh Vial, it was necessary to premit Satan’s binding by the preceding Vials to it, that it might be the better discerned what was intended by this his new loose. 3. The church’s victory over this enemy is expressed, which we conceive is the proper event of the seventh Vial: whereupon followeth the universal resurrection, consummation of all things, dissolution of heaven and earth, the last Judgement and final sentence upon reprobates and elect. That which concerneth reprobates is set down, last verse, what was their portion after this Judgement, and sentence eternally, they were cast into the Lake.

Chapters 21-22. Then he proceedeth more fully to describe the happy estate of the elect in the beauty they should be glorified with, the place wherein, the privileges which they should enjoy, and the persons admitted to it only, which is to verse 6 of chapter 22.

And having put by the prophetical part, he closeth (as he began) with two generals, commending this prophecy, and advertising of Christ’s second coming, on the back of all this, warning that His Word be not diminished from, nor anything added thereunto; withal inviting all to come, and promising Himself to come, as His last farewell: whereupon the church welcometh it with a new ‘So be it,’ knowing there is no more to be expected but His coming, which she heartily longeth for. After all, John closeth the epistle with a salutation, as he had begun it with an inscription.

Response to certain erroneous interpretations.

There are two men much accounted of for learning (Grotius & Hammond), whose expositions and applications I have never touched: not because I thought them not absurd, but because: 1. Their whole strain is to divert readers (to say no more) from the true scope of this book, and that not in one vision or prophecy, but in an universal strain more oppositely to orthodox writers than any Papist that ever wrote of it; the following whereof could not but prove nauseating to any reader. And, 2. Because who will read them, and soberly compare the writings of others with the text, may yet need more direct writing to evidence the dissonancy of these commentations, I do profess myself unable to satisfy them, I shall therefore but say these few words:

1. That their application is dissonant from the scope of this book, which is cleared to be: (1.) To shew things to come (1:19). (2.) Things belonging to the church and Christ’s servants peculiarly, as the inscription, repetition of blessedness to the readers and observers, with the several circumstances, will clear. (3.) To shew especially the trials of the church from inward enemies, as the hiding of the elect from the hurt thereof, the description of the enemies and spiritual hurt and defection that is foretold to come on the church, especially that great defection of the great Antichrist, whereof the Scripture speaketh so much, confirmeth it. 

(4.) The scope is to shew the church’s condition under these, to the end of the world: For, 1. it is still useful to his servants as a prophecy, and useful to the end, and they are blessed that shall make use of it as such, at the end, as well as now. 2. It closeth with the last Judgement and the reprobates casting in Hell (ch. 20), and the elect’s glorification (21:22), with many promises of His last coming. And the prophecy preceding the Day of Judgement is in a series knit with it, which will not admit of many hundred years rent. And that that speaketh of the Day of Judgement, the description of it, and the sentence upon all the reprobate, who are not written in the Lamb’s Book, will clear it.

Now, these men in their writings wholly enervate all these: (1.) They say it speaketh of things but for a short time (from that word, 1:1, “shortly to come to pass,” etc.) which is the ground of all their opinion, yet it inferreth it no more than when He saith, “I come quickly.(2.) They make it of things, for the most part, past, and that of civil things in the Roman Empire, or what concerneth the Jews, without great respect to the church. (3.) Little or no mention is made of spiritual enemies and heretics, save that they apply to Simon Magus what is spoken of the three years and an half. There is not one word of Antichrist in it all, nor of the Pope or church of Rome, as if that were not of concernment to the Christian church, whether we should condemn him or approve him. This is the more strange, that although they draw the thousand years from Constantine’s time, they reckon the church all the while to have peace, and moveth only an objection from Julian, as if no other enemy had ever been to interrupt that peace.

2. We say it is inconsistent in respect of the matter they apply it to. For to what purpose is it to apply that of the two witnesses (ch. 11) to the two bishops of Jews and Gentiles at Jerusalem, when there is no story for such a thing at Jerusalem? Or though it were, yet, what is that to such a concerning event so oft spoken of there? And what is that of Simon Magus in comparison of the world’s wondering, that is chapters 11-13, etc? How will the heathenish idolatrous high priests be said to have horns like the Lamb, which must be Christ in that place (13:11)? How impertinent is it that is said of the seven kings, whereof one was to come in John’s time? Beside, that all these were past before John wrote the prophecy, as hitherto hath been received from history?

3. We say it is inconsistent with all that ever have written, ancient and modern. Even Papists, who though, no question, they would gladly receive such an interpretation to liberate their Pope, yet durst they never hazard on it till these his new patrons stepped out.

4. It is also repugnant to themselves: (1.) For although much be builded on this, that the effects are suddenly to be brought to pass, because of that word, “shortly to come to pass” (1:1); yet do they both expound Gog and Magog (ch. 20) of the Turks, which to them riseth after the 1,300 years, and say that their destruction, as yet to come, is prophesied of there. Yea, chapters 21 and 22 are applied to a state of the church on earth after the Turk’s ruin. (2.) They (especially the last) seem to offend at particular application to men, yea, to nations and times, alleging that these events are of more universal concernment. Yet, what is their application but a most strait, particular, and narrow one to such armies and commanders of the Romans, to Simon Magus (who was of little note in the world in respect of some after-heresiarchs that troubled the church) to a particular bishop or two bishops of Jerusalem, as if only they were the Witnesses? These being obvious, and many such, we conceive it not needful to draw everything into particular examination.


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