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The Puritan Exegesis Project: William Cowper on Revelation 11:15, 16

We’ve stumbled upon a real test for our trusting pre-modern exegetes. Revelation. In New Horizons in Hermeneutics Anthony Thiselton summarized the differences between pre- and post- modern attitudes for interpreting as ‘trusting’ and ‘suspicious’ of traditional readings. Our series so far has looked at how 17th c. expositors have treated difficult passages with good results in a detached, bloggy sort of way. Now, with a view of the twenty four elders sitting around the throne, we’re getting somewhere.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever†(Rev. 11:15).

There is very little consensus, says G.K. Beale, on the literary outline of John’s Revelation. This affects the time line. In our passage here, the verb tenses are all past and completed meaning the time points back to the previous woe (vs. 14) or looks forward to the ‘established kingdom’ resulting in praise from the heavenly host. Either way, the passage reflects the glory and fulfillment of Christ’s priestly reign, evident from the song of the heavenly multitude.

Two interesting notes on Cowper’s exposition on verse 15. First, he ascribes the song in 15b to the angelic host, whereas Beale leans more toward the redeemed saints. Beale cites 7:9; 19:1 and 6 for support and he’s not wrong. Cowper doesn’t back his reason, but it’s easy to see where he's coming from: In Rev. chapters 4-5 Cowper sees a ‘concentric circle’ of praise starting with the elders, then the creatures, then angels, then the heavenly multitude before reaching earth and back again. Second, Beale sees the only OT reference here to Daniel 7 wherein all evil kingdoms are defeated and given to the Son of Man. Cowper is in the ballpark, comparing the doxological confessions of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:31) and Belshazzar (Dan. 5:30, 31) with the joyful host in Rev. 11:15.

In Verse 16, Cowper i.d.’s the elders as the saints, which Beale affirms and clarifies as “comprehending the Old and New Testament saints.†Whereas Beale’s comprehension of the literature, the presentation masterly, clear and organized, Cowper’s exposition contains that one exhortative gem that is usually missing in modern commentaries. The saint’s gestures, writes Cowper, are sitting and kneeling for worship describe two things: I. Their rest: 2. Their quiet and peaceable estate. Now the Saints are pilgrims, wearyed many wayes, but there they rest; now they are in continual warfare, there they sit in peace and quietness. … So long as thou art here, walke with the Lord as [Enoch] did; set the Lord always in thy sight, as David did: there for thy reward, thou shalt sit hereafter for ever in his sight. O what a gaine bringeth godlinesse with it! Lord give us hearts to thinke upon it. (Cowper, 1629: 1,010) 

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