Chapter 1:5, 6
The ways in which the gospel may be preached and reach the heart are so many, that one has to look to the Lord to direct one, that it may be brought so as to comfort the saint and awaken the sinner. The moment the word is revealed to the soul in grace, the point is gained. There may be a thousand thoughts on men’s minds, but there is enough in this blessed word to meet these thoughts, and to bring every one of them into captivity to the obedience of Christ. He is the Lord of all; and in His Person all truth centres. He is the substance of all truth—the ground and centre of truth to the soul. As we know Him, we get comfort, peace, and joy; as we walk with Him we have power to overcome. In verse 5 we have Christ presented in a threefold character. He is the one most drawn out by the Spirit of God. Alas! it is not always so drawn out in our heart. The answering character to that in the spirit of grace is, “To him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” In verse 7 is an application to the world—it will be a day of mourning to them. The Jews behold Him whom they have pierced, and the nations wail because of Him.
Let us especially consider the way in which Christ is presented to the soul. First, we have grace and peace in a peculiar form from God, that is, Jehovah; and the seven spirits, His spiritual perfectness, not the Father speaking to His children, but the Eternal, and the seven spirits, the Holy Ghost exercising the varied power of the throne. Christ is brought near as connected with the earth; the faithful Witness when He was here below. This is what our souls need to remember—faithful testimony to what God is; for without this we have no certainty, whether as saints or sinners. A holy man cannot know God without the witness, nor whether the witness would suffice to meet a holy God. When I know God, I get sure ground to go upon, I shall know where I am—a terrible thing if I am walking in sin; but there is only uncertainty out of Christ, for He is the light.
There are sufficient traces of power in creation to serve as a witness of the eternal power and Godhead—enough of misery around us to see ruin—enough in conscience to learn that we have sinned; but we cannot learn God in providence, for we know not why He does this, or refrains from doing that. Providence is a depth out of our reach; we are not able to find out and judge the ways of God, nor indeed of the thoughts of a man’s mind very often. There is another, the law, which appears to be a clear witness for God against sin. It is true that this is a witness of God’s claim on man. We ought to love God with all our hearts, mind, and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves, but it reveals nothing of God’s thoughts to us, and if this were the only witness, we should be ruined for ever. The object of the law is not love, but righteousness— God’s everlasting claim of righteousness. But the law cannot meet what we want, for it says, “Thou shalt not covet,” and there was never a man since the days of Adam that did not covet. If you do not satisfy God’s claims, there is a curse upon you. Thus the law is man’s letter of death. We turn to Christ, the faithful Witness, “the same yesterday, to-day and for ever”— the Witness down here amid the same circumstances in which we are placed, and dealing with men in all the feelings of life.
Jesus Christ was not as a king shut up in His palace, but in the midst of all man’s wants, passions, propensities, and desires. The first grand comfort is when I see Christ, the faithful Witness, in the same circumstances as I am in: our hearts can say what God is to us. When I look at Christ down here, I see the faithful Witness, and I am brought into certain ground as to what I should meet in God. Jesus did not come claiming from man what he ought to be, but shewing out Himself in all the circumstances of man—shewing us what God is.
Whatever character I meet, Christ is the faithful Witness— the life and the light of man. This faithful Witness owns no goodness but in God. When the young man came to Him, Jesus does not tell him that He Himself is God, for that was not the time to do this. The young man was very lovely, and he thought by adding something to what he had already done he should go to heaven. He came to seek teaching of Jesus, and he gets Him as the end of the law. The faithful Witness touched him. All was laid bare, and the young man’s heart was found given to mammon. With the Pharisees the faithful Witness shewed that their righteousness was only adding the sin of hypocrisy, as all outward show is. He knocked down men’s righteousness with a terrible hand. What was the company that Christ came to? He was the friend of publicans and sinners. This upset the whole standard of man’s righteousness. How came this? Because all pretences to righteousness were found to be false. This is a terrible thing for those who are building their hopes of heaven on their character. The world is constantly presenting their character at the expense of their conscience.
On the other hand, we see that Jesus did not want a character from man, but from God. John the Baptist came in the way of righteousness, and he went into the desert, and was company for no man. He came in the way of righteousness, not in grace. It is commonly said, a man is known by the company he keeps; and this is true, in a certain sense, of Jesus. How? He who in His own nature was holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners, was the companion of publicans and sinners, the faithful Witness to them of grace, that God is love. Jesus would make no allowance for man’s claim to righteousness. He had compassion for sinners—He was always grace.
Whatever your state, come to Jesus, and you will find that He is always gracious, that He has always grace. The disciples would send some away when they brought young children to Jesus. They thought Him a great doctor, and that He must not be approached. Jesus took them up in His arms, and blessed them. The disciples had no sympathy with the thoughts and feelings of Jesus; yet He spoke to them as if they had sustained Him. “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptation.” “They all forsook him, and fled” (Matt. 28:5, 6), Peter even denying that he knew Him.
If I find difficulty in the way of the sheep, Jesus goes before them. In everything He had gone before us. Do I fear death? Jesus set His face stedfastiy to go to Jerusalem, knowing that He should there be crucified. In this faithful Witness we find the activity of love. He came to seek and to save those that were lost, to bring them to Himself. The moment I find Christ I find a true God and Saviour. I may have been walking in all sin, but when I find Christ, I find One who was such to such as I am—to sinners. If I take God’s witness of Himself, and give up reasoning, I know what God actually is— He is seeking sinners—and have no uncertainty at all. I may think I may get better, and may put off coming to God; the God who has come down first in Christ, or I should never repent at all. God, who so rich in mercy to come down into all my loneliness, He has come down as the faithful Witness to take up such as me—He could be the Friend of publicans and sinners: He was despised for it— faithful in love going through all the scene of man, because He was the faithful Witness, that grace may come to me where I am ashamed to be seen of men: there Christ comes to seek me out, determined to be the faithful Witness of God, who is rich in mercy. It is not that God has given a good character of Himself up in heaven; but it is goodness come down to earth, to identify Himself with all the misery of man. The One above all, our Saviour, is God, and God is love, and Christ came to be a faithful Witness of this. You cannot be in any condition that Christ did not come into. He plunged into the very sea of men’s misery to help you out. It is a comfort to get man’s sympathy, but he often cannot help us. What is it to get God’s sympathy, which has power in it? This was the accepted time, from the time of Jesus, coming into the world, to His coming again—the day of grace.
What a comfort to the saint to meet the faithful Witness, who never reproached the disciples’ negligence, but said in the tenderest manner, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” He waits upon all our circumstances—upon all our anxieties. As our High Priest He bears us always on His breast—the accomplishment of God’s love to saints, as well as to sinners.
The conscience makes even a saint afraid of God; he finds an evil will in himself, and the devil often gets an advantage over a sincere saint, and keeps him away from God; but the comfort is, Christ met the enemy in all his power, and He is presented to me as the First-begotten from the dead, the One who has put Himself under all the consequences of my sin, and now in His new character I find Him “the faithful Witness” —One who has borne all my sins—not now under them. The Father in righteousness was obliged to raise Him from the dead, and I can say, as a believer in Him, that I have no guilt—He sees all washed away. This is beholding Christ as the First-begotten from the dead. I see One who has blotted out my sins before Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and I get true and settled peace—not a cold, hardhearted way of spying I have peace; but I look to Jesus as my Saviour, and this re-kindles love, and impels me to keep His commandments.
We are by nature under Satan’s power the end of which is death; but the Lord Jesus overcame through death him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and through this I have not only victory over Satan in Christ, but I may say all things are mine, whether life or death, etc. Satan could not deal with the heirs of salvation, unless he had foiled the Captain, and Jesus submitted Himself to the power of Satan, but in the resurrection that power was broken for ever. Liberty and joy are ours j not freedom from conflict, but deliverance from Satan. Now the way that Satan gets power over us is by his wiles, persuading us to receive him as a friend, instead of treating him as a fiend— “Resist the devil, and he shall flee from you.” It is not said, Overcome him, for this Jesus did before.
Jesus was the expression of grace and truth, the blessed Son of God before; but now in resurrection, He presents us with a new character to God, such as man never had before—a Man who had put Himself under the power of death, risen to absolute dominion: a new thing—man once without God, now in the very presence of God, and the very pattern of God’s mind and delight! Sin is done with in Christ, and our standing in Him is quite a new thing— “Bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh.” There is no past history of this, no experience, not any old thing; all is done away, there is an entirely new Headship in the second Adam, the Lord from heaven. Is this my place? Yes; but we find difficulty in apprehending this, because of the weakness of the flesh; for the moment I look at myself, I have another man full of failure; but my standing before God is in Christ the new Man, not in myself that I have to struggle against, but the new Man, the Lord Jesus Himself I am one with, who bore my sins and put them away for ever. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God,” etc. (1 John 3:2), but it is not by being in glory that I shall be justified, that is by faith now. Justification is from two causes; first, that Christ bore my sins; secondly, that He is before God without sin.
“Prince of the kings of the earth.” I would say a few words on this point, together with the response from the heart of the saints. We see not here the dominion of Christ over the kings of the earth, but we shall shortly. As to the response of the church: when God enables me to believe the testimony of the Son, He gives me the Holy Ghost, He puts the Spirit into man’s heart as a seal, and earnest of glory. What is the effect in this verse 5? It gives power to say us— “To him that loveth us” no uncertainty: the Holy Ghost always says to us, not them (1 Pet. 2:21), not that we shall be loved, but He does love us— no room for doubt, but the fruits of the Spirit, consequent on the Holy Ghost’s dwelling in me. Things were not so ministered to the Old Testament saints, though they may be as holy. Christ has come, was dead, has accomplished righteousness, has sat down, so now the answer to all His titles is, “To him that loveth us and washed us,” etc. All the promises of God are in Him, Yea and Amen, to the glory of God by us; 2 Cor. 1:20. God hath anointed us, hath sealed us. Do I doubt? What do I doubt? That the Father sent the Son for poor sinners? If you believe this, you cannot doubt that you are saved. Your salvation is based upon the unchangeable revelation of God; and what a tide of affection flows from knowing this! God, through Christ, has saved not me alone, but the whole body of saints. What a difference does it make to me, in thinking of the joy and blessedness, whether I am going alone, or in looking at many of you, and being able to say, “He has made us kings and priests!” Just exactly what He is Himself—the highest in authority, and the nearest to God. Can you all, dear friends, say this according to the Spirit, “To him that loveth us?” —so settled in the consciousness of it, that the heart can only go out in fulness of praise! If it is not so with you, dear friends, it is because you have not received the testimony of the faithful Witness, who was grace, and the Messenger of God’s grace to us. The Lord give us to give place to the Holy Ghost in His thankful testimony to His love, and grant us to walk nearer to Him, in the conscious power of it.
There are certain expressions in the word of God which unfold, in the most familiar manner, what the Christian is; and which, if there was but the most ordinary attention on the part of the reader, would lead him to say, “Well, if that is what a Christian is, I know nothing of the matter.”
These expressions are not the violent stretching forth after some hope, but they are characterised by the quiet certainty with which they appropriate the blessing. As John here says of all the Christians to whom he was writing, “unto him that loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his own blood,” etc. Now, if I were to ask you—you, perhaps, who would be affronted if I should say you were not a Christian—if I were to ask you, are you sure that Christ loves you? that He has washed you from your sins in His own blood? No, you would say, if honest, I know nothing of it. Yet these are the expressions of the common recognised state of Christians. Or can you say—Yes, blessed be God, though a poor thing in myself, I do know that God loves me? To be able to say this is the common portion of the believer. And so it is written, “we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” All Christians are recognised as knowing salvation. And in 2 Peter we read of one who had forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. But he could not forget what he had never known. Forgetting “that he was purged,” was backsliding; the christian state was knowing that he was purged.
You will find every kind of exhortation addressed to the believer; but they are all based on the ground of his having been brought to God. I ask any one, would there not be a quieter, happier state of soul if you were certain that God loved you? There cannot be happy affections if the soul is not in confidence with God. That is the kind of knowledge of God which is life eternal. God is love, and if you do not know that, you know nothing. And where are you if you know not God? If you believed fully that God is love, love toward you, what kind of thoughts would you have of Him? Would you think that you must obey, or else He will punish you with His vengeance? Would you think of Him as a Judge? No. Such thoughts are not the thoughts of one acquainted with His saving love. Of course there is a judgment, but there is no mercy then. When Christ comes to judge, can you stand if He marks iniquity? can you answer Him for your transgressions? No. But if you really believed in His righteous judgment now, you would say, “enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” But Christ is not now a Judge; He is a Saviour. It is all mercy now. He is not imputing to any their trespasses. Every eye must see Him. We Christians see Him now as a Saviour. You who do not believe put it off till the judgment, hoping to be able to meet Him then; but then “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” He is a Judge when He is not a Saviour. It is judgment then, not trial as to whether you will pass. Now there is a trial going on, not indeed as to whether you are a sinner or not; but as to whether you will receive Christ or not. Now your heart is put to the test: alas! your wilful heart would still reject Him, if grace does not bow you in the sense of sin. God will justify Himself in that day, and no one else. In that day He will demonstrate the sin which is the ground of the judgment. Every secret thing will then be made manifest. It is not then that the question is raised, but that the judgment is manifested. Now the question is raised. All this is brought into the soul now. In spite of all the fair appearances of the world we justify God now, we accept the judgment God gives of man now, we justify Him in condemning us. The eye of God brings the judgment into my conscience now, and I bow to it. I feel and say that God should not let such a wretch live before Him. That is what will be when every eye sees Him; but it is also what is now in the soul, when the Lord reveals to us our state by faith. I now justify God. I say I have been all darkness and sin, and I abhor myself in His presence. Conscience is dumb in the light of God. If you have been brought to this, you know yourself. If you seek to hide it you are not the better, but the worse.
Suppose that I am brought to this, I shall not now be trusting to a vague feeling that God is merciful. It was not so with Peter when he found himself a sinner in the presence of the Lord. He said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He felt that sin and Christ, as the holy Lord, should not be together. So is it ever when the soul is brought to be jealous about God. The idea of compromise is a horror to one whose conscience is active about sin. Well, when brought to this, what can the soul have confidence in? Oh! in this— that when we were in such a condition we have full assurance of the love of God toward us.
Now if I turn to nature, I see signs of goodness, but widespread misery and wretchedness too, so that I know not how to say God is love; and these very signs of goodness shew me that I have lost it all, for this God I have offended. If I turn to providence, I find it all confusion—how often have the wicked the upper hand! If I look to the law, it condemns me, and leaves me without hope. In all these I see things about God; but nothing that reveals Him. In Christ I get what reveals God. I, for myself, just where I am, find that He is the “faithful witness” of God. For it is in this world, where all the sin was, that Christ was the faithful witness.
There will be no need of a witness in heaven. Now I can go to Jesus and see God in Him. Do you ever find a single act or word of this faithful Witness that was not love? Never. Of course He would unmask the hypocrite. But the moment a person is true—were he the greatest sinner in the world— the moment he is contented to be what he is in Christ’s presence—you will never find that He was anything but love. Of course God must convince of sin. He will write on the sepulchres and tell what is within. God will unmask what we are; our self-deception He will discover to us; but then He is perfect love, and nothing else. What brought Christ here? To know that there was sin? Oh no! He knew it well; but He came here because there was sin. The very sin I am confounded at, is the very thing that brought Him here in love.
In the case of the woman who was a sinner, in Luke 7, Christ puts down Simon, and He does not care for the guests. Why? Because a poor woman was to be comforted in love. Christ came into the very place where sin was. If it is a question of truth, He knows my sins. When I speak of Christ loving me, it is that He loves me knowing all that I am; it is not loving, surely, the sinful condition I am in, but loving me when in it. He will write on the ground to let my conscience act; He will bring my sin into my conscience. He will not let me get satisfied with myself, but He will have me to rest in His thoughts of me. What the heart struggles to do is to be satisfied with itself; but God will break that down; and the moment you are brought to that, He will make you to be satisfied with Him, just as you are. He will not leave you there, of course; but He will have you to rest in the knowledge of His perfect love: “Unto him that loves us”; then I find rest.
But that is not all: it is added, “And washed us from our sins in his own blood.” It is not said, will wash us, but has washed us. We want it now, for peace, and for holy affections. “In his own blood.” Who has done this? Christ. He has done it. He has made us “clean every whit.” And if He has washed us He has done it in righteousness, knowing all our sin, and maintaining all this perfect righteousness which made us tremble because of our sins; but in accordance with it all He has washed us from our sins in His own blood. He knew what our sins were in the sight of God, and so He gave Himself up—Himself entirely He gave for me. An angel could not, nor should not, do it—he is called to keep his first estate—but Christ only. In this act of Christ in washing my sins I find Him giving His blood, His life, Himself, for me. Not one single spring do I find that was not love to me. Such is the knowledge I get of Christ.
He has washed me from my sins in His own blood. Do I believe this? Oh yes! I do. I believe that every one of them is washed away, and that He has done it, as it is said in Hebrews, “By himself purged our sins.” Ah! you say, if I only felt this! But let me ask you, will your feelings add to the value of Christ’s blood? Oh no! Then why not rest on it, as that which has perfectly satisfied God on account of the sins? The question of sin Christ settled between God and Himself; “When he had by himself purged our sins”: He did it according to the holiness of God, and according to my need. And what cleanness do I get? The cleanness which God’s eye requires; all that which shut us out from God being perfectly put away, so that we are brought into the light as God is in the light; and in doing it His perfect love has been revealed.
“And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.” If I take a person and bring him into the enjoyment of everything that I have myself, I give the fullest proof of the perfect outgoing of my heart towards him. Kindness may give something for a person; but that is perfect love. I cannot do more. Well, that is what Christ has done. He is the King and Priest; and He makes us kings and priests too: and it is worth so much the more because it is the very thing He has Himself.
Another thing we get—the perfect love of the Father. Not the love of Jesus alone, but the love of the Father, the knowledge of which Jesus gives us. He makes us priests unto His Father. Was ever love like this? Never. Was Christ ever anything else? Never. He is nothing but this perfectness of love for us. And the sum of it all is, “he loves us.” Has He anything else to say to us? No. What love had to do, it has done. Oh, in the simplicity of thankful hearts, to say, “he has made peace by the blood of his cross!” “Unto him that loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen.”
It is good to be occupied with spiritual affections, or rather with the subjects which vivify them, with those things which are not seen, which God has revealed to us, and which are of the world to come. The Holy Spirit presents to us many of those things which we shall enjoy later, and with much more detail than we can expect.
That which the Spirit says to the churches is for the peace and the joy of the children of God in the glory which is coming. The Spirit says, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” This, therefore, concerns us individually. According to His faithfulness, the Lord Jesus takes cognizance of the present state of the church. That which is in question here is not accomplished salvation, but the particular state in which the church is found, or even the state of such and such an individual, as we may judge from verse 2. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience,” etc. Then also, “He that hath an ear, let him hear,” etc. At the same time, Jesus is there revealed to us as judging the state of those to whom this is addressed. There are also particular promises fit to sustain the remnant of faithful ones, in the midst of the special circumstances by which their faith is tried. The promises which are presented here, differ from those which are made to the church in an absolute and general manner. They apply also to the church, and the church enjoys them. However, they have particularly as their object to sustain faith in the circumstances in which we may be found, whether as a remnant in the midst of the unfaithfulness of the mass of the professors, or as faithful in the midst of the trials which we are called to pass through. Now, for the conflict, we need discernment, in order to understand where the conflict is found; what is its main point or speciality. Faithfulness is found in contrast with the evil which the Lord reveals, because we are on God’s side in this world.
We need to understand that the interests of Christ are our own—that His battles are our battles; and the more we lay hold of this idea, the stronger and happier we are (Exodus 17:16). Happily, in Jesus these things do not fail us. Although Jesus identifies Himself with the church, He nevertheless judges the state of the church, and here He presents Himself as judge, but in love.
The book is divided into three distinct parts: first, the things which John saw; secondly, the things which are; thirdly, those which are to come. The things which John saw are mentioned in chapter 1; those which are, in chapters 2 and 3, including that which concerns the seven churches; those which are to come begin at chapter 4, and fill the remainder of the Apocalypse. Christ manifests Himself here as judge, not as in the latter day for the wicked, but as a priest who discerns all in order to remedy the evil.
You will find in Leviticus that, after the consecration of the priests, all the things as to which it was a question of being clean and unclean are presented together. It was they who were to know how to discern between the clean and the unclean. The priesthood had to discern everything. And it is also what belongs to the Christian, not as to one who fears the imputation of sin (although he has a responsibility), but because he has been anointed by God to distinguish between good and evil, according to the holiness of the service of God.
That is why Jesus takes to Himself this character of authority; that is the general idea which He gives of Himself. “These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks,” v. 1.
We find in all the addresses to the churches these words, “I know thy works.” He takes cognizance of all that is done. It is very comforting that God has put us in such a position; and we are responsible according to the grace of the position. This responsibility increases according to the measure of grace in which we are placed. A servant and a slave do that which the master demands; but the child enters more intimately into the interests of the family, and he is responsible according to the position in which he is placed. It is good that we too should consider ourselves under this point of view. An Israelite might have done things which a priest would not have dared to do; many things were required of the priest for the service of God, to which no other man among the people was bound; then he was to discern good from evil, according to his nearness to God, as the anointed of God. We ourselves, also, are priests. We have the knowledge of good and evil— a privilege acquired through sin at the beginning; so that this has been our ruin, but, at the same time, a thing which proceeded from Him who willed it thus—a thing good in itself, and which we possess now according to the intelligence of the Holy Spirit, in virtue of the obedience of the second Adam. When Satan led away Adam to infringe the prohibition which God had made him, Satan added, “God doth know, that, in the day ye eat thereof”—of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil— “then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” The word adds, “The Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.”
Two things are always found, as in the garden of Eden, responsibility and life—the two trees. Adam acted in his responsibility, and failed as to it, before having life. This is why God must needs drive him out of Eden, because God did not permit that he should have life together with sin. There are the two great principles, responsibility of good and evil, and life: Christ alone has reconciled them. When the law was introduced, it presented responsibility, and not life. The law places man in responsibility as to his salvation; but instead of life, it pronounces condemnation and death. Christ, on the contrary, takes the responsibility on Himself, and becomes at the same time the source of life. Christ took upon Himself our responsibility before the judgment of God, and has placed us under a much higher responsibility—responsibility according to that life which He has given us. Consequently, He judges Christians, not to condemn them, in their everyday conduct. But treating them according to the holiness of this life, He judges their walk, that grace may always be given them, according to their need, and to maintain them in communion with the Father and with Himself. He intercedes at the same time for His own before God, not to obtain their justification, which He has perfectly accomplished, but to take them out of their difficulties and maintain them in the path of faith.
Jesus, therefore, takes notice of the state of the church and says, “I know thy works.” It is not to condemn, but it is as being priest, and thus having to manifest the new man according to all the grace which is given him, and we shall see how far this responsibility goes.
Verses 2, 3. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” Here are many excellent things, and one might have thought that there was nothing but approbation; but it is not so. “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee.” Christ cannot come down from the height of His love. He would have fruits according to the love which He has for us. A worldly person would say, Is it absolutely necessary that I should do that? Have I need of these things? Am I bound to do that, as a Christian? But the love of Christ cannot be content without seeing fruits. It is like a father who loves that his child should succeed, that he should bear fruits capable of rejoicing him, and in keeping with the love which he shews him. The child may be slothful or lazy, but the father devotes himself to him; if there is not a response to the care taken by that love, neither is there contentment on the part of the father. If there is not with the conscience of that love, the same ready response as at the beginning, there is not the sound which goes to the heart of Jesus. It is better not to play at all than to play false tones. One has abandoned one’s first love, and there is not that love which responds to love. Jesus is not a hard Master; He only requires these things from us in love. He says, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” It is something which does not suit the ear of Christ, something which is not in tune: it is the first thing of which Christ takes notice— “thou hast left thy first love.” They had patience; they could not bear them which were evil; they had laboured for the name of Jesus, but— “they had left their first love.” If love is wanting, something essential is wanting. The heart has begun to be occupied with itself. A wife may do for her husband all that she did before, work as much, be wanting in nothing as to her duties; but if the husband does not find in her that which satisfies the heart, all is wanting: the wife has ceased to be occupied with him in the same manner.
We love something, and if it is the affections of faith, Christ is the object of them. As soon as He ceases to be the object of our thoughts, the thing is seen; He at least perceives it. After being delivered, we are full of love, and we only see the light. We think that sin is dead within. In the measure that the heart is rilled with other things, the springs of this love are weakened; and if we ask ourselves, Do you still think as much of your Saviour as when you received Him for the first time into your heart? We notice that we have left our first love. I can be occupied with good things; I may seek souls; but if I no longer think as much about Jesus—about what He is for me— all is marred. If I am before God, I am always little; I feel myself responsible to God, and I am nothing. I judge myself, there is love; but if I get far from Him, I think of myself, and weakness increases. There is no longer the same discernment. There is no longer the same love. One is no longer at a height to view things as Christ views them; one is not at a height to shew grace. This is the leaving of one’s first love, and of the patience of our hope.
The apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:3), reminds them continually of “their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the Ephesian church are found works, labour, and patience; but they are no longer the work of faith, the labour of love, the patience of hope. The Lord says to them, “Thou hast abandoned thy first love.” Each one of us can address the same question to himself, “Am I as much occupied with Christ? Have I not left my first love?” And, if we are in this state, cannot the Lord apply these words to us? “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
Verse 7. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.” It is not with us as with Adam, who had only a responsibility of obedience: our responsibility refers to a conflict with Satan; and the proof that we are the strongest is that we can conquer the power of Satan. We may fail, it is true. If we were in nowise in the conflict against Satan, it would be because we had not life; but, besides this conflict in principle against him, one must also conquer in the details.
The tree of life, which is here referred to, is no longer in man’s paradise, but in God’s. In Eden, the paradise of man, there were two trees. Satan succeeded in entering there, and all was marred; but God’s paradise was arranged by Him and for Him, after all was lost, and that by a work of love and glory, which causes the other to be forgotten. The paradise of God is a work of grace, which is the consequence of what it is God’s good pleasure to do when man has failed. The paradise of man was a test of what man is; that of God is the consequence of the fact that Christ has resisted and overcome all evil. As the other was the place where the responsibility of the first Adam was—responsibility as to which he failed—we are placed with the life of Christ in us, and put to the test in the midst of evil with that life, not as men, but as Christians. The world thinks to be put to the test as men, but they are mistaken; the Christian alone is put to the test, in order to manifest in the world a life which is not of this world. Now let us see how Christ introduces us into the midst of all that.
The question is not, if I conduct myself well, I shall be accepted. No, it is not a question of that. The world thinks that it is a question of a conflict, destined to satisfy certain demands of God; it is an error. For the Christian, the conflict is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in him who has already eternal life, who obtains the victory over the world, of which Satan is the prince and the head. In order for us to enter into the conflict, it is necessary for Christ to take away all our sins; for if any remained, it would be with God that we should have to do. The difficulty was found on that side, and it is the practical state of souls not set free; but we must be without sin before God; and being His in this world, and He being for us, we can enter into this conflict—where evil does not enter at all, where flesh cannot subsist—and there have the victory over Satan.
Verses 8-10. The Lord addresses Himself here to the church of Smyrna, as being “the first and the last, which was dead and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich), and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” It is very evident that the promises, and the character of Christ, apply to the circumstances of that church. Here is something striking. It is not a question of knowing how far the heart responds to Christ; but of knowing if it is worth while leaving everything, even one’s own life, in order to enjoy the privileges which are in Christ.
That which comes in here is the result of leaving the first love, as a church: for it is not necessarily true as to individuals. Persecutions follow as the consequence of that which is not in the mind of God. The widows complain of being neglected in the daily ministration; Acts 6:1. It is no longer Christ who alone occupies the thoughts: they have left their first love. When that happens, the world holds somewhat the place of Christ.
The church must learn that everything is above. “Fear none of those things which thou shalt have to suffer.” Christ might have said, Thou shalt not suffer; but He wishes us to understand that we must be little, poor, and despised, and that one cannot be rich. I do not speak of temporal riches, but of that poverty which has nothing but its faith to present; and that is what God wishes. If the church suffer, if it is tormented in different ways, there is also another suffering. The church had nothing to present but its faith, which could sustain it. Now the Jews who were there boasted of being the true people of God; they said they were rich, and blasphemed. The Christians, for them, were only miserable heretics, and sectarians: and the church felt its position contemptible in the eyes of those who, according to appearance, were the people of God. That is more painful than when the world speaks evil of us. The church was afflicted, persecuted, and poor; but Jesus says to it, “Fear none of those things.” The Jews said insulting things; but the Lord said, “Thou art rich.” In this we have a lesson. Christ does not prevent our suffering: we must make up our minds to suffer; but if Christ says to us, “Thou art rich,” that is enough for us. And He will only have for disciples those who are content with what He says, “Thou art rich.” If any one is not satisfied with that, well, let him go to the world.
There is, however, something remarkable here. Jesus says to them, “The devil shall put some of you into prison.” He attributes it to Satan, as if He were not able to prevent it. He says you shall be tried (v. 10). I leave thee to suffer; it is the time of the power of darkness, but it will end. Whatever, then, may be the power of Jesus, He changes nothing in the position of actual suffering. It is necessary that the moral ways of God should have their course, and that the work should be accomplished according to the good or the evil which is found in those in whom it takes place. It is necessary that He should leave to the enemy his own part, according to that which is due to him, so to speak—according to the state of those who are the objects of the government of God. He leaves power to Satan in order to manifest the glory of Christ by the church; and if we are not near Christ, Satan gets the victory as to things present, and Christ is not glorified.
All power belongs to Christ: we have nothing to fear. But Satan is there, and the church is responsible for the manifestation of the glory of Christ; and as soon as we leave Christ, we can no longer do it. It is a question of realising all this power of Christ, according to the position where we are individually; and we must be near enough to Christ to get the victory over Satan, and to do perfectly well all that we are called to do according to our position. It is not a question of leading or of being a general. If each soldier does his duty in his own place, the victory is won; and that may go so far as to lay down one’s life. It is not a question of getting life: we have it; and we shall reign. It is a question of the church placed there to manifest the power of Christ by the Holy Spirit, to manifest His glory where evil exists, before spiritual wickednesses, and to enjoy the same results of the victory as Christ Himself: the crown of life in the paradise of God, as Jesus has Himself, and with Him.
It is not only not being lost; but it is to be with God, and to get the victory over Satan, who has the power of death. What we have to understand is that each one in his place, from the head down to the skirts of the garment, and however little he may be, has his place and his responsibility to manifest the power of Christ; and if he is not in the power of Christ, he is overcome. May God give us this strength, and render us capable of accomplishing in all things His will!
Last time we were speaking of the character of judgment running through this book of Revelation. We see the Lord in these epistles judging the churches, and then the world; we see Him taking notice of everything: “I will judge every one of you according to his works.”
It is well to see the difference between the church as seen in Christ, and as on earth representing Christ. She partakes of His glory, as united to Him; and as a vessel contains His glory, and represents it on earth—the “epistle of Christ, known and read of all men.” Responsibility down here does not touch salvation in any wise. He had promised, in His faithfulness, to carry them on towards the fulness of His glory, and He judges them for failure in the use of the responsibility He laid upon them. God’s own people are profited by it, but the “simple pass on, and are punished,” and at length, as a body, they are “spued out of his mouth.”
All chastening is intended to turn to profit for the church. In the address to each church there is a particular revelation of Christ corresponding to the peculiar judgment, and there are special promises to each. It is not here the supply of grace from the Head for the body, as in Ephesians, but the responsibility of individuals in their walk. Another thing we have to remember is, that the object of these addresses is not to shew the power of the Holy Ghost actively at work. If it is judgment, it clearly is not this. Christ cannot be said to judge the work of the Holy Ghost. It is power in grace if the Holy Ghost works, but Christ’s judgment is His estimate of the practical use made of the privileges given. The Lord looks at the church as responsible for all the love of which it is the object. The candlestick is to be taken away when there is no profit. It is not individuals judged here, but churches—what “the Spirit saith to the churches,” and there is no return found; therefore it is to be taken out of its place.
Then the address is to “him that hath an ear, let him hear.” There is individual energy to overcome, and it is overcoming in the condition in which they were—it is overcoming things within, not overcoming the world. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith”—there was that as well, of course; but here it is overcoming evil in the church. We must remember that the church has fallen from its first love, when Smyrna is addressed; and the church ceases to be a place of security to the saint, the moment the Spirit so addresses the church as failing; therefore individuals are singled out. I get myself as an individual singled out, but the church addressed. I have to make good my certainty by the word. The church may be right in this or that; but I have to discern by the word what I can follow, and what I cannot. This is a principle of great importance. It is not that there were no blessings for these churches—they were highly commended in many things. But the churches were being judged by Christ’s word.
Development is a common word in use now, but it has in it the principle of infidelity. There is nothing in God to be developed. The word is a revelation of God in Christ. In 1 John 1 we find it said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which our hands have handled of the word of life: for the life was manifested,” etc. It is clear there can be no development of that which has been manifested. Unless we can get something beyond “God is light,” there can be no development. There is much to be learnt about Him; but it is a Person here presented, not a doctrine. If it were a doctrine, we might get something added; but it is not a question of doctrine, but a living Person that has been revealed, and in the address to this first church we find that they have left their first love—they have left something; there is no development in that. God cannot set up anything but what is perfect, nothing contrary to His mind, or inferior to His mind. Look at man. We see him brought out perfect, but he could not keep his first estate. Then there was a perfect priesthood established, but there was failure in Nadab and Abihu. He “planted wholly a right seed.” What comes from God must be perfect, and cannot by any other operation. There may be decline, and there is decline. This is a very simple truth, but it cuts up by the roots a whole system of thoughts and feelings and judgments.
Then we find another grand principle brought out here. He exercises the heart by bringing in the hostile power of the world to hinder decay, and to separate from the evil around— and this is tribulation. Take Christ Himself, see His perfect-ness as the Servant of God: “He learned obedience by the things that he suffered.” Much brought out through trial, opposition, slighting; His path led, darker and darker, down to the cross. He met Satan’s power, and even the wrath of God. He overcame all, and is set down with the Father on His throne, and in it all, it only brought out the growing manifestation of the perfection in Him.
There is another thing with regard to us. Persecution and trial are used to hinder our departure from God. There is the constant tendency in the heart to take rest in prosperous circumstances, the flesh turns to what is agreeable in the world; but it will not do. God says, “Arise, and depart hence, for this is not your rest.” Persecution is the natural portion of the children of God. When the church was taking rest at the beginning, persecution soon came in. In Matthew the principles and character of the kingdom were brought out in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed”— “Blessed”— “Blessed,” etc. Blessing is the character, and then the grace of Christ was just beginning to be manifested; the miracles had begun to be performed, etc., and God was now shewing them what was “blessed “in His sight. Towards the end of the Gospel, instead of blessing, it is, “Woe”—“Woe”— “Woe”; “your house is left unto you desolate”; because the opposition was fully brought out by the perfect manifestation of what was in Him.
God sends us tribulation, opposition from without, to bring out grace, and to hinder decay. With Christ it was always and only the former. But take the case of Job: God uses Satan as an instrument of blessing to him, as He does with the church. About Job God begins the conversation, “Hast thou considered my servant Job?” etc.; and God uses the trial to bring out to him what Job had never known before. Then, again, take the case of Paul. He had to be taken up into the third heaven, to get such a sight of the glory as to fit him for the peculiar service to the church to which he was called. Then what use would the flesh make of this? It would puff up. Then a messenger of Satan is sent to buffet him, and he prays that it may be removed. But he is not to be rid of the thorn in the flesh, but gets the assurance, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This it was that strengthened him for after service, not the being in the third heaven and the sight of the glory, in one sense, for it was to be God’s strength, not Paul’s. Take another case in Peter. He needed to be sifted, because of the self-confidence in him: therefore the Lord allows Satan to sift him, but He prayed for him. When confidence in self was pulled down, then he could be used to help others.
It seems astonishing that God should use Satan as the instrument to try the saints here; but it is so, and He says, “the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried.” In this church we find the state is decaying (they have lost their first love), and God has to put her into the furnace. She gets into the place where Satan persecuted before; she gets where Satan’s seat is. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich).” God knew that they were rich, they were multiplied in the world, and then there was a tendency to rest in the circumstances put into, instead of in the Lord Himself. The Lord would not suffer this. He must put them into trouble, because He would make them lean on Him. He would cast the church on her own proper position altogether. He will give them to find the hostility of the world, in order that they may be brought back to know their own privileges in their own real position. How strange that the church should need persecution, not only that Christ should suffer them to be cast into prison, but also that they were to be faithful even to death! And the promise to them is “the crown of life.” They may be martyrs, but there is positive blessing and honour for them. Christians are seeking what the world does. If the Lord turns the current, He puts them through the fire. If the church has the world, in any sense down here, it must give up a heavenly, a crucified, Christ.
You cannot associate the world and religion, but it was the object of Judaism to connect them. It set about to mingle the tastes and feelings of nature with God, and whenever the world is connected with religion, there must be priesthood let in, because the moment you get man as he is, he cannot stand before God. But now Christians are priests—no need of an order of priests between God and you; you are a heavenly, not an earthly people. “He suffered without the gate, let us also go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” The moment the blood is carried into the heavenly places, we are associated with Him, and we are taken outside the world altogether, and connected with the heavenly places. Judaism connected the two. Our place is outside the camp, and inside the veil, with Him. Carnal ordinances connected man with God under Judaism; but when Christ is rejected on earth, the place is in heaven, and there cannot longer be the mixture of the two. We are raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Him. We have no middle thing if Christ is our portion. The moment we lose the sense of this, God must let loose the power of Satan to keep us in a straight path.
The character in which He addresses this church is as the First and the Last, One dead and alive. Looked at as man, He is dead to this world, cast out and rejected. We now must, like Mary Magdalene, get an empty tomb, or a living Christ. If your heart is upon Christ, all that you can find in this world is an empty tomb with nothing in it. Then you have nothing to do with the world, for all heavenly blessing is yours. The constant tendency is to slip away from this, because, if we do not cleave to the world, it cleaves to us. This was the case of the churches here. They needed to be put through the fire to separate them from the world. Judaism had crept in; then development (Gnostics, etc.), “intruding into those things which they have not seen, vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds.” Then persecution comes, and blows upon all this. The history of these times shews that the living power in the church was not in its doctrines, but in its martyrs.
Verse 13. “I know where thou dwellest, where Satan’s throne is.” Here is another and more subtle character of evil. The Lord gives them all the credit He can. It has passed through tribulation, sent on account of worldly corruption from without, but here there is doctrinal corruption within. It is in the world where Satan’s seat is, and it has been living there ever since. (It is not a question here of individual conduct, but of the corporate position of the church.)
It was at the cross of Christ that the world emphatically became the seat of Satan—not that, as some say, his power was then defeated. The world had been first put under man, tried on the ground of responsibility; then it had been under trial in the exercise of power in Nebuchadnezzar. Satan risked everything upon getting rid of Christ, but then it was his own power was really broken—he just destroyed himself; but he has ever since led the world (as the universal instrument of Satan) to reject Christ; from that moment he is the prince of this world—until that rejection he could not be said to be so. It was when Christ was on the cross he led the mind of the world. The church has been taken out of the world, to be associated with the true Prince; but alas! it has taken an earthly character. But if it is taken up, and rejected with Christ, then what has it to do with the world? “Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” etc. There is no possibility of escaping it in any other way but as being dead with Christ. Ordinances are not Christ. They have been nailed to the cross of Christ. If we are dead with Christ, we are dead to ordinances. Man in the flesh must have something between him and the Head. If united to the Head, there is nothing wanted to bring near.
“But I have a few things against thee. Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.” He had taught them the evil of this corrupting association through a persecuting world; but Christ could never say,” There is Balaam’s teaching for you.” He could never talk of the moral acquiescence in evil as the proper trial of the saints—not like the tribulation before. You have got Balaam then, not Jezebel yet. Balaam would associate them with the world, but Christ says I have passed through death for you, and now you must for Me. He would riot step in to hinder the consequences of the position into which they had brought themselves, but He could own their faithfulness.
Balaam could not succeed in enchantment against Israel. The question was whether Israel might pass into Canaan, and Balaam (a frightful character) was employed to hinder them if he could. The effort was to get Jehovah to curse His people, but he could not, and he was forced only to bless. There is no possibility of using Satan’s power against the people of God. God held the lips of Balaam, and obliged him to bless in spite of himself. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He has no power as an adversary. It is as a tempter he has power. When the enemy could not succeed in bringing a curse upon the people, he sought to seduce them into wickedness, and then how could God bring them in? (Num. 25). In this church we find he has come in as a seducing Satan, instead of being without as a persecuting Satan. Then they were exhorted to fear none of those things which should come upon them. Weakness is in fear. When we look into the persecution we tremble. Out of it we look out to Christ, where there is faith. Thus the faithful one is separated from the world by that persecution, and made to feel what his own proper portion is. But when the church is on Satan’s territory, he says, You shall have as much as you like—as much as ever I can give you—for I will seduce you into it. In enriching them with earthly things, he seduces them from God. Balaam was a prophet, but a false prophet, just as the evil servant who hid his lord’s money was a servant, though an evil one; and we find him coming in within the church (ver. 14), and if he can make it all ease in the world, comfortable in the world, his end is gained. Then they might go and eat in the idols’ temples: doctrine of the Nicolaitanes follows—internal corruption. In Nicolaitanism we see the flesh acting in the church; through Balaam the world had come in. It is very sad to see how the church declined after the tribulation had brightened it up for God, and our hearts ought to bear the burden. By being thus associated with the world, by being content to dwell where Satan’s seat is, they had got the door open for evil doctrines—Antinomianism, a fleshly religion of demons. Satan did not want to persecute when he could corrupt. Here it is only teaching false doctrine, in the next church we see there are children born. The promise to the faithful here is a very sweet and peculiar one.
The word is that by which Christ draws the church to Himself. He comes out with a “sharp sword with two edges,” v. 12. The word of God is the resource of the faithful, and the promise is more individual. In the sorrow and pain of seeing those belonging to God not departing from iniquity, there is bound up in the heart this link of secret fidelity to God which associates them with a suffering Christ. They shall have to eat of the hidden manna. It was hidden faithfulness which was to be rewarded with this hidden manna; the fruits, indeed, would be manifest to all around, but it was a secret between God and the heart, an inward link with that which never changes in its character. What is this hidden manna? We find manna spoken of as the bread which cometh down from heaven: “My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.” The manna for the Israelites was spread about the camp, not hidden. Christ is the provision for daily walk. But besides this they were to take a pot, and lay it up before Jehovah: when they had got into the land, they were to have the memorial of what they had enjoyed in the wilderness. So we in heaven shall have God’s eternal delight in what Christ has been down here as the suffering Christ. The memory of what Christ has been in the wilderness is God’s eternal delight. With us, he that has been faithful with Christ in rejection from this world will have the everlasting joy of fellowship with God in the delight in Christ as the suffering Man, which He had and has and will have for ever. It will be the same kind of delight, though of course always in different measure. If we are walking faithfully with a rejected Christ, instead of letting Balaam into our hearts, we shall enjoy Christ down here now; but we cannot enjoy Him while we are going on with the world. If we so pretend, it becomes Nicolaitanism or Antinomianism. Even in the Gospels what enjoyment can we have if walking in the spirit of the world? The imagination may be fed, but the soul is not satisfied. God has not given His Son to be played with, but to be fed upon.
There are public joys in heaven, thousands of voices echoing the song, but there are secret ones also. Joys with Christ we all share in common, but He must have our individual affections as well as our common affections— “a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” That name has no meaning for any one else but him to whom it is given. Christ reveals Himself to the soul, “and a stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy.” Christ has joys for us as individuals, and my joy you cannot have, and yours I cannot have. This joy of communion will never be interrupted, and individual communion will not hinder the universal joy. This promise specially relates to the future, but it is the source of joy and strength now. The Spirit of God makes it anticipative of that day. We may have now this “white stone” from Christ, this secret expression of His grace and love to my heart. Others cannot have it for me. How it makes this white stone more precious than anything else, though all the world may think I am wrong! Of course, I must judge of all by the word. The world may talk about things, but Christ has talked to me, and He will own in that day all He has said to me.
What a sorrowful thing that Balaam should be teaching the saints! But, never mind: there is no trouble whatever in the church that does not bring the soul into deeper communion with Christ than anything else could. Then is the opportunity afforded for overcoming the evil within.
Chapters 3 And 4
The contrast between the addresses to the church at Sardis and Philadelphia is similar to what is found in 1 Thessalonians, where to the world the coming of Christ is spoken of as a thief in the night, but not so to the saints in the world. “Of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need, that I write unto you.” The professing church at Sardis will have the character of Christ’s coming in judgment.
Verse 2. “I have not found thy works perfect.” No decay of spiritual life ever lowers God’s standard of holiness in the church. The church at Ephesus is reproved for losing first love—here it is “works,” v. 1. All resources of spiritual government and power are perfect in Christ. “These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” Christ has the perfectness of seven spirits and seven stars.
Whatever we have to do in this world—common occupation, business, anything—the great object is to represent Christ. If my soul is knit to Him (“my soul followeth hard after thee”), we shall measure all our path as to how far we can do justice to Christ. “If thine eye be single,” etc. There may be a hundred wrong ways, but I must take care to get into the right one. Whether I have made much or little progress as a Christian, I must have Christ my object, as the end; Christ will be reflected all down the path, then every step onward will be brighter and brighter. It is not going fast on the road, that is the great point, but going always in it (the faster the better too), “forgetting those things that are. behind, and reaching forth to those things that are before, I press towards the goal for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.” We must have our hearts set upon Christ, though, in one sense, not nearer Christ at the end than at the beginning; in another, we are a great deal nearer. The fact of our resurrection is not nearer, but we are nearer in the moral effect of the expectation. Of the church it is said, “that he might cleanse it by the washing of water.” In one sense it is perfectly clean, but in another it is getting cleaner through the application, by the Spirit, of the word to the individual members of Christ’s body, and so producing in the whole moral likeness to the image of Christ. So the outward fact of resurrection is, and may still be future, but it is the power of the truth of resurrection wrought in his heart that Paul desired.
There are some in Sardis of whom it is said, “they shall walk with me in white,” but the Philadelphian state is one of far more blessing. There is energy in the midst of Sardis encouraged, but there is approbation given to Philadelphia— “hast kept my word.” The great exercise of faith will be keeping the “word of Christ’s patience,” for the days are come in which it is said, “Where is the promise of his coming?” The heart set on Christ Himself gets such a sense of His blessedness, that it is kept fresh in the hope of seeing Him. “For we shall see him as he is,” it is said, not “shall be.” We shall see Him as He is now, the glorified Man, and we should so realise Him now, and so realising Him, I have so tasted what He is, that I want Him to come. In one sense He cannot come, but is waiting in patience till His word be fulfilled. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” He waits, He has not got it yet; and I must wait. My heart has got such a connection with what Christ is, is so knit up with Him, that it can find no satisfaction in anything else. “My patience”; “He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” The Father’s will is that He shall lose nothing.
The character of the promise to him that overcometh corresponds with that which they were exercised in. What is the promise? He shall be a pillar in the temple of my God; it is not said, the temple of God merely. Mark the number of times “my” comes in in this verse. You have been associated with My patience, and now you shall have the same association with God that I have. “Thou hast a little strength.” See what little strength comes to: a crown then! Great strength now, is mixed with carnal things, and will be weakness then. “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation.” Mark that word “from.” Does the Lord delight in trying His people? No, He would rather keep them from it, but He must try us for our good. Still, we may well use that petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” for it is a sad thing if God is obliged, as in Job’s case, to try us by throwing us into Satan’s hands for the destruction of the flesh. There will be trial come upon all the world; as long as there is a grain of wheat in it, He will sift, sift, sift it, till every grain is separated; but He will not have us to be so separated. “I will keep thee from the hour,” etc. If the saint goes on in the consciousness of little strength, keeping the word of Christ’s patience, in fellowship with God’s long-suffering, he will be kept from it.
In passing through the wilderness God gives us two things as means of blessing down here—the word of God and the priesthood of Christ. There is the promise of entering into His rest, and to everything that comes in between our apprehension of that rest and us, the word of God comes as a two-edged sword. The word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword,” etc. What tends to unbelief? Every thought and intent, every little root that strikes into this world, everything not from God, everything that separates from our desire to see Jesus and be with Him. We are in the wilderness, but every heart rests either in Egypt or Canaan: it is Canaan in hope, or Egypt in heart. Whatever does not bear the thought of God separates from Him, as the word shews us. Sorrow, affliction is not wrong, but if the will does not submit, it is rebellion, and that is wrong. All open sin is cut up by the word, the two-edged sword. All our weakness and infirmity are borne by Him who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. We must be going on with Christ, and in the consciousness of going on. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
“I will write upon him my new name”: He will stamp it on those who overcome as associated with Him in the temple of His God. He will give us His own portion as risen and heavenly.
The inscription to the epistle to the church of the Laodiceans (or in Laodicea, as in the margin) differs from those to the other churches, inasmuch as here it is the character of Christ in Himself, apart from the body, instead of His relationship with the church. Christ remains the same, although the church is gone to ruin. God could put His Amen on Him if the church fail ever so, and He is available for every opened ear. The tides belonging to the Lord are applied to each, answering to the condition of the church; and here there is the positive declaration that He will spue them out. There is nothing owned—all good shut up in Christ—but there is rebuke and chastening. He is outside, standing at the door and knocking, “if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.” There is the entire definite and final rejection of the professing church pictured, no hope held out but judgment, positive and definite, prophesied of—nauseous to Christ, as lukewarm water.
There is, however, love at work still, as with Israel in Jeremiah 2. Repentance is called for, but, of course, God knew the body would not repent. “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” These words of invitation to those who hear are of a different character from those in Canticles: “The voice of my beloved that knocketh; open to me,” etc.; where it is awakening the heart afresh of the Jewish people, who had been asleep a long time, stirring up the stupid, sleepy thing, by appealing to the affections. Here it is at the close of the testimony Christ is seeking to gather up any lingering desire after Him; but the promise to those who overcome, though most blessed, is of a lower and more general character than that given to the other churches. To sit with Him on the throne—this is what all will have who reign with Him a thousand years. All who are raised reign with Him. To the other churches there is something more special promised—this is only trenching on the kingdom. But Christ Himself will come in to him, “and sup with him, and he with me.” He says Christ will come, and give you to enjoy with Him at His table, not come down with you to your things.
Verse 17. “The wretched one” is more literal. If a person says, I have got Christ, and so is careless about his walk, thinking he has got all he wants, it might come up to this state of things. But the whole description seems to apply more to those who have not Christ at all. They had got all that could make a fair show in the flesh—numbers, learning, prosperity—like Babylon, which says, ‘I sit as a queen, and have need of nothing.’
Verse 18. “Gold.” Divine righteousness is what the soul wants in order to be with God. “White raiment “shews the purity of the righteousness of Christ. The wisdom spoken of in Proverbs is a spirit of value for these things.
It is a dreadful thing to be associated with a form of things, when the spirit and life are wanting. The fig-tree was, as regards Israel, an exhibition of this state. The thing to be overcome in such a state of things is lukewarmness; and to be able to overcome lukewarmness you must be hot yourself. “Moab had not been emptied from vessel to vessel.” Affection to Christ in hidden ones, as individuals, may be found, but faith is not so much brought out in the assembly—a strong manifestation of the declension in the corporate state of these Christians and of the fact that man spoils everything God sets up amongst men.
Verse 19. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten”— convicting the conscience. Nothing is healed until that is done; it is not only an expression of His displeasure, but bringing it home to the soul—it is to “as many as I love.” Whatever amount of exercise of conscience there may be, it is a proof of God’s love; this is comfort to many a troubled soul. Men often speak of judgments as if they were from man, not God, but man’s heart rebels more against God than against man. Job complained of God more than of the Sabeans. It is because God touches the conscience. It is a sorrowful thing when God’s voice is not heard in the chastening. There are more pains taken with this Christian than with any. It is a different thing from Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, where he says, “Though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved”; as if he said, I shall not cease to love you, though the way I take to shew it to you makes you love me less. Here the meaning is, although they did not love Him, but were sunk amongst the rest, He would not give them up.
“He that hath an ear,” etc. Christ is a Son over His own house. “To him that overcometh … even as I also overcame,” etc. Christ had to go through all this, and to overcome. Blessed grace! He has made us heirs and joint-heirs. Let us take a lesson from Saul as to overcoming. He overcame the Ammonites; but the Philistines, whom he was specially raised up to conquer, he never overcame. If people do not do the thing they are sent to do, it does not matter how much they do.
Notice that this address to the Laodiceans is a threat—it is not said, Except ye repent—not the fact of its accomplishment: their moral condition. They will be totally done with morally, but the Philadelphian state of the true Christian may run into it—only we must remember, the “spueing out” will be after the remnant are gathered out of it, after the church is taken away. The outward state may go on to Antichrist, and then be given up.
There are two points I desire to notice in this chapter in connection with the perfect peace of the soul which belongs to the redeemed, and the consequent spirit and character of their worship. The subject matter of this book consists of judgment, for, with the exception of the church in bliss, the character of all is judgment. God is sitting on a throne, and His throne is not in the character of grace, but in that of Sinai. Not that the throne will be on the earth, but that the judgments, the lightnings and thunderings, which are coming on the earth, will issue from this throne. In this introductory chapter (which it is as to the earth) we have God in the character of Lord God Almighty, and not in the character of Father; but the names given in the Old Testament—Jehovah, Lord God Almighty— are in connection with His power which will be put forth in the coming judgments.
Now what shews out the perfect peace to which we as believers are brought, is seeing the twenty-four elders sitting on thrones round about the throne, whence those judgments are issuing, in perfect peace. They are close to the throne, round about* the throne from whence all flow, and yet they are not at all alarmed—no disturbance, no trembling—because associated with the very throne from which all the judgments come.. Then mark another thing. They are sitting, not even here seen standing, but sitting in perfect peace, like David, who went in and sat before the Lord. They worship, it is true, and fall down, which is a much higher thing than sitting. But how thoroughly this scene shews into what a place of perfect peace we are brought, that, when the judgments break forth, there is nothing in them to alarm us. They were seen sitting in perfect peace, and this is our place; so that however we may be tried down here in the world, when we come before God we can and ought to sit in peace, and rest there.
Then there is another thing. When the character of God is opened out in the threefold ascriptions of “Holy, holy, holy,” does this disturb them? No. So with us, when the full character of God’s holiness is seen in His justice, making good His holiness. If in the presence of this holiness I thought there was a spot on me, I could not be at peace before Him. What a blessing to have our home and place of rest where the thrice holy God is!
When they hear, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” their affections move them, and they fall down immediately in worship. While the judgments move them not the least, their affections take them off their thrones in their falling down to worship. It is the effect of being in perfect undisturbed peace that their affections find utterance in praise. They lay their crowns at His feet, attributing all to Him. They fall on their faces; this is a deeper thing than even sitting in peace before Him. “Thou art worthy … for thou hast created all things,” etc. This is intelligent worship; they know why He is worthy —they know it for themselves (as in chapter 5), for He bought them to God by His blood.
There was no terror awakened in them when the thunderings and lightnings were going on; no, nor when the character of a thrice holy God is opened out: but when the glory is spoken of they worship. If there is fear, there can be no worship. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness.” But grace has set us in the place of worship by the power of the Holy Ghost: being made kings and priests unto God and His Father, we can worship Him. We are not in the glory yet, but may we grow in the sense of what He is, and worship Him who is worthy to be glorified.
This is God’s claim as Creator; chapter 5 is the Lamb’s title in redemption, leading to worship. The kings and priests in chapter 5 include more than the church. They have a royal, a priestly character, being more than the bride. The bride restrictively, does not come in until chapter 19. The subject of the whole book of Revelation is the throne preparing the world for the kingdom; but the kingdom is not ready without the bride, and therefore she is mentioned before the close of the book.
In verse 4 it is “four-and-twenty thrones,” not “seats.” Our translators were afraid to go so far as to say “thrones,” but the word is the same as in the first clause of the verse. Here we see the happy place the church is brought into. They are sitting in dignity and peace, while all the circumstances of judgment are proceeding from the throne. They are unmoved by the light nings and thunderings, etc. But mark the difference when the living creatures say, Holy, holy, holy, and give thanks. Instead of trembling at the holiness of God—which as sinners they would have done—they fall down to worship; and it is intelligent worship, for they say, “for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they were, and have been created.”
The fourth and fifth chapters of this book help us to understand the present heavenly character and position of the saints, being descriptive of their actual position during the time of the judgments being poured out. The church is not actually seen as such, until she appears as the bride at the close of the book.
The proper subject of this book is not grace, but judgment; though, no doubt, the patience of God in executing judgment is grace. But the book is one of judgment, even as regards the churches; for the Son of man is seen walking among them, taking notice of their conduct. Having gone through the professing body, judging its ways and its works (while those who overcome have their portion in blessing) He spues its last state out of His mouth; and then He enters on the judgments which befall the world. Before entering on the detail of these judgments, He gives a preliminary view of the position of the saints, as we have it in this and the next chapters.
There are three subjects distinctly marked in the first chapter as comprised in this book. First, the glory and the manifestation of Christ Himself, the things seen; second, the churches, “The things which are”; third, the things hereafter, or “after these,” that is, the things which do not belong to the position of the church in its testimony down here as a corporate body, but after it is as such spued out of Christ’s mouth.
First, then, what is seen is the glory of Christ; secondly, “The things which are.” The only question that can arise is as to the force and bearing of the expression “things which are.” They are looked at as the condition of the church as a whole (not merely local churches). Thyatira was told to “hold fast till I come”; and to Philadelphia He says, “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world”; clearly shewing it was not any mere local body that was addressed. We get in these instances the clearest intimation of its being the general aspect of the whole church looked at in the character of judgment, from the time of its leaving its first love, until it is entirely given up. The thing Christ is dealing with is the church, until an entirely new dispensation commences.
Another characteristic there is, as connected with “the things which are,” the church is a witness for God. In the first church we see this ceased to be the case; and at the close of all, when it has entirely lost its character as such, Christ Himself, in the fullest and completest sense, presents Himself to take the inheritance, and takes up the character which it should have maintained, namely, the “Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Then, as having taken up this character, He assumes the government of this world again; and that is quite a different thing from His walking amongst the churches in His judicial character upon earth, passing judgment upon those things that should have been a faithful witness of Him. Then the prophet sees Him in heaven, having done with the church upon the earth. He is not seen there as the Head of the body, but as the “Lamb that has been slain”: the One rejected upon earth is upon the throne in heaven, from whence the judgments are to proceed. This is a most solemn moment. We see how the world is all going on under God’s eye, and with what patience He has been bearing with it.
In regard to God’s dealings with man, as man, after his fall, there have been, to speak generally, three great epochs: first, the period before Christ came; secondly, the present interval; thirdly, after He comes again. In one sense there were many epochs during the time He was trying man with constant and unwearied patience, to see if good could be got from him, before Christ was rejected. He knew full well what would be the result, but He was putting man to the test. He planted a vineyard: it brought forth wild grapes, the hedge was broken down, and a wild boar out of the forest devoured it; and at last He said, “I have yet one Son, they will reverence Him; but they said, This is the heir, come let us kill him.” Then the world was in a certain sense judged—not the judgment executed, but probation was ended. Satan, the prince of this world, is cast out. This took place when the true and rightful Prince, the Son of Him who owned the vineyard, was rejected. The world was then judged as to its character and ways. It is under condemnation, and therefore we are exhorted not to be conformed to this world. The plainest testimony is thus given against it morally. “The fashion of this world passeth away.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The friendship of this world is enmity with God.” Having rejected His Son, the sentence of rejection is passed on it by God. The Son leaves it, and it would see Him no more. Satan is proved to be the prince of it. The Holy Ghost comes to convict it of sin, because of unbelief; of righteousness, because Christ had left it to go to the Father; of judgment, because the testimony of judgment on the prince of this world is passed. The world is convicted of righteousness by these two things—the Son of God being rejected and ascended to the right hand of the Father, and the world seeing Him no more. And the Holy Ghost is given to the church, the vessel to contain the witness of the glorified Man till His coming again. The saints are gathered by the Holy Ghost, out of the world, to go forth to meet the Bridegroom.
What peace there is to our souls in seeing Christ’s power over all creation, in connection with Satan’s power being all broken! In the new age this will be fully manifested; and the working of miracles by the disciples was a sign of that energy and power of the Son of man which will be known in the world yet to come. “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The earth then was set aside when the rejected Man took His place in heaven. The Jews were the immediate instruments of His rejection; but man, the first Adam, was utterly set aside through this act; and the Jew was to be brought to see that in the flesh dwelleth no good thing, and that heavenly grace was entirely in connection with the new Man. He is gone into heaven, that “He might fill all things.” He came down in grace as the last Adam, that He might bring in glory; and thus when the church is being formed, we get this double character: the heavenly Man taking His proper place in heaven, the earthly man judged. It is henceforth all new. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” We know not Christ any more “after the flesh.” It is as Head of the new creation that we are united to Him. “The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man, the Lord from heaven.” The second Man has ascended; “but in that he ascended, he descended first into the lower parts of the earth.” He has ascended as the second Man to take His glory with the Father. As the result of all this, the church is looked upon as dead and risen with Christ— “sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” The new character for those who thus belong to Him is to manifest this heavenly Man by the power of the Holy Ghost down here; and thus the church becomes the living witness of Christ’s rejection on earth and acceptance in heaven.
The church being set in this place, the Lord goes on with it, so long as He could in any way regard it as His witness on the earth.
Having disposed of “things that are,” we now see that in order to be associated with God’s thoughts and God’s ways, the prophet has to be taken up to heaven. “A door was opened in heaven,” and he sees the Lamb upon the throne, and those who had been faithful upon earth are with Him there. See the character of the throne itself: it is a throne that is going to vindicate the rejected Lamb, and the judgment to be executed. “A voice said unto me, Come up hither… and immediately I was in the Spirit”; but being in the Spirit, it was not to look round on things on earth, but go up into heaven.
In connection with the throne we see a display of power and majesty. It was so at Sinai, where there was judgment attending the giving of the law. The mount was to be guarded. “Whosoever toucheth the mountain shall be surely put to death.” Then in Jerusalem His throne was established again; and there was the manifestation of His glory, as sitting between the cherubim over the mercy-seat. Through the mediation of Moses (after the golden calf was set up), we see God forgiving sins, though not clearing the guilty. He said, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee.” It was always the terms of God’s government with an earthly people. There is another throne now—the throne of grace. This is not our highest place, which is to be sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; but it is a great mercy to have boldness to come to this throne, “that we may obtain mercy,” etc., while walking down here in weakness, trial, infirmity, and perplexity; it is from this throne of grace that we find the power of God available for all we need to guide and help.
Here the throne in heaven is neither of these, but a new thing, a throne set in heaven and executing judgment. It has nothing to do with a throne of grace, and is not the object of supplication. In one sense they are all alike, because God’s throne; but that is all. So thoroughly is this different from the throne of grace, that the effect of prayer was judgment. See chapter 8, where, when the prayers of the saints were offered, and the incense ascended, fire and judgment came down upon the earth. “There were voices, and thunderings, and light nings, and earthquakes.” With us we get by prayer “grace to help in every time of need.” Here the censer being thrown on the earth brings down judgment.
But it is not the Lamb executing judgment; nor is it the word of God either. But we see the throne before He comes out. It is the interval between His having done with the churches on earth (for there is nothing left in the church to judge), and His coming to the earth again as the Faithful and True Witness.
The throne is set up for the introduction of the “Only-begotten into the world” in judgment. We have in this chapter God’s relationship with creation set forth. God comes out in the character of Creator. If He is coming in judgment, everything must be set right before Him. It is not God enabling man to go against the stream which is wrong, but the stream itself must be set right. He must have creation itself brought into order. Every kind of glory belongs to Christ. As to Israel, He is King of Israel. When He is born into the world, it is as Jehovah-Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins “; Hoshea meaning Saviour, Jah Jehovah—Jesus meaning Jah-Hoshea, Jehovah the Saviour. He is Lord over all creation. “All things were created by him,” etc., and He is Lord over the Gentiles too.
As Son of David, then, He has Israel; as Son of man, He has the world—everything j as Son of God, He has His own title to all glory as Creator and Head over all to the body, which two things we get in Colossians. The sign God gave of His covenant with creation was the rainbow, the token of God’s faithfulness; and when these judgments are coming on the earth, there is the sign at once of His covenant faithfulness in relation to creation.
Verse 4. “Seated on thrones.” The symbols here represent the saints in their heavenly condition, but not as the church, Christ’s body. They are “kings and priests.” In this chapter we see them as kings; in the next as priests. The one is their kingly office, the other is their priestly character as worshippers. The moment God is going to deal with creation, the saints are seen sitting on the throne with Him. What a wonderful place is given to us! We are a “royal priesthood,” etc. We do not belong to this creation, but are a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. The glory and profit is all His, though the blessing is ours. We have a special place of glory, “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ”; but that is not all, we must be His bride. In Colossians we have both First-born of every creature as the heir of God’s estate, and beside that, He is first-begotten from the dead. He is Head of the new creation. He has come up from among the dead in the power of that life which could not be holden of death. In Ephesians there is another thing: “He gave him to be head over all things to the church.” All things are His, and He is Head over them to the body. Not Head over the body (though He does judge it), and therefore it is added that the church is the “fulness of him that filleth all in all.” The head without the body would be incomplete, and the church makes up His completeness. We are completely associated with Him. We are not of the old creation, but of the new. It is true we are still in the body, and have to carry it about with us in the bondage of corruption. We are part of the new creation as being one with Him who filleth all in all; while, looked at individually, we have the character of “kings and priests.” Here we see all the saints who will be raised, sitting round the throne of God; round the very place from whence proceed the thunderings, etc.
“The Spirits of God.” The imagery is taken from the temple. What a place for us to be in! “Know ye not that ye shall judge angels? “Do not think that these things are too high for you: they are not the highest. You must bring the heavenly character of them down to every-day practice. When Jesus was on earth, the lowly Man here below as “sent into the world,” He brought down the principles of the heavenly spirit in all His ways and words— “the Son of man which is in heaven.” And He says to His disciples, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” This sweeps away every principle of conduct which cannot connect us with Him whom the world has rejected. The world hates what is heavenly in it. It cannot bear the testimony of what it has done. We are called to be nothing in the world. We must be contented to be despised; and find Christ in such a way our heavenly portion, as to have no ambition to be anything where He was nothing. “How can ye believe who receive honour one of another?” Our calling is to manifest the spirit and temper of the heavenly Christ.
“Seven lamps of fire.” All this is judgment—sevenfold perfection, but sevenfold judgment. It is not here, as in Zechariah, the “eyes of the Lord, running to and fro in the earth,” but consuming everything that does not suit the presence of this heavenly throne. It is a solemn thing, this judgment from heaven. “The leaves of the tree shall be for the healing of the nations.” Our whole relationship with God is founded on grace. We dwell in Him and He in us. The revelations of the Spirit of God to us are about Him as our God, and heaven as our home. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, looking up to heaven saw the throne, and Jesus on the right hand of God; but the character is very different here, not all that makes delight and blessing, but the Spirit itself is as “lamps of fire.” What will the earth do when heaven has this character of judgment, when there is neither throne of grace, nor patience, but all is judgment? Verse 6, etc. Now we come to another part of the scene altogether: “Four living creatures full of eyes before and behind.” They are symbolical as heads of the judicial power of God. He may use angels, or He may use the saints as His instruments. We often find cherubim mentioned in scripture. The first time is when they were placed in the garden of Eden to keep the way of the tree of life. In Ezekiel they are connected with judgment. In chapter 9, when the glory of the Lord is gone up from the cherubim, there is the execution of judgment upon all those who had not the mark. Then again, within the veil, was to be seen the symbol of God’s judicial power, for the cherubim looked down upon the ark, the throne of God’s power. He was governing Israel. God was using this power in the midst of creation around. When the temple of Solomon was built, the cherubim were not looking down into the ark, but their wings reached from wall to wall, and they looked outward. This is a figure of the Solomon reign of Christ, when all His judicial power will look out to bless. In Psalm 72 we see His reign extending over all the earth, yet over Israel especially. “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.” In the four living creatures we see the four classes of creation which we have in Genesis: the first creature like a Hon, the type of wild beasts; the second like a calf, the beasts of the field; the third, the face of a man, human beings; the fourth, the flying eagle, the fowls of the air. So that here we have the symbols of God’s power and judgment in connection with the creation on the earth, whatever the instrument may be— Nebuchadnezzar, the angels, or the saints.
“They were full of eyes before and behind.” The figure is very intelligent; it means secret intuitive intelligence—seeing all before and behind. Nothing escapes the eye of God and the power of God. Where man cannot see, He sees. All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. “They had each of them six wings,” as in Ezekiel, and this signifies rapidity of execution of God’s counsels and purposes; alacrity in the service on which they were sent. They cry, “Holy, holy, holy.” This is something distinct from worship. The four creatures are found worshipping in chapter 19; but it is not so here. God is celebrated here in power and glory. The elders, whose hearts’ affections are drawn out in the appreciation of the Lord, fall down and worship; but there is the celebration of power besides—the public celebration of it. All creation will be the perpetual celebration of the holiness, and wisdom, and power of the Lord God Almighty.
Everything the rainbow encompasses in heaven and in earth owns the creative power of God. The sun and stars will tell of His power and glory. “Every creature on the earth and under the earth,” etc. All the mute creation will have a voice in perpetually celebrating His eternal power and glory. “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” When God brings in His reign of power in the Lord Jesus, creation being delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God, we shall see that His government, as well as His grace, proves that He is the holy God. Sin will not be known there. Defilement will not be known there. On the day of atonement, both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry had to be sprinkled with blood. In this chapter we have what is anticipative of that which will be, and which we get in redemption in the succeeding chapter. The one being a picture of the power of God in creation, the other in redemption, both are shewn out before the revelation of the judgments which will bring in the glory.
We find nothing of the Father here. It is the Old Testament titles of God, as Almighty, and Lord as revealed to Israel: Jehovah, “which is, and was, and is to come,” the Almighty as revealed to Abraham. The character of Father with the children is not brought out at all, nor Jesus as Head with the members, but God as publicly celebrated. When we speak of the Father, it is mansions we have got, not thrones; we are at home with the Father, we delight in the Father. “I go to prepare a place for you, and … I will come again and receive you unto myself.” But here it is the majesty of God; the voice of creation and providence celebrating through eternity Him “which is, and was, and is to come.” We get two facts connected with the heavenly saints. When the throne is set, they are sitting in the very midst of judgment, in calm, quiet repose. The thunderings and lightnings neither shake the crowns upon their heads, nor their hearts within. It is all perfect peace with them. Blessed testimony this, of our place! The Lord grant us to enter into it, to get our hearts up to the height of God’s thoughts about us. We should be amazed at the wonderful grace of His ways towards us, when we think of the perfect peace which grace has given us to enjoy above, even in the presence of the tokens of divine judgment, and the redemptive power which has given us a capacity to be there.
The second point is, that when God Himself in His majesty is brought out, it does not excite fear. There they are in His holiness, set in the light, not in spirit merely, but in fact. They are made “partakers of his holiness”; and when they hear the living creatures, which rest not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” worship is excited, not fear. “Glory, and honour, and thanks unto him that sat upon the throne,” does not leave them seated on their thrones; and they “fall down and worship him that liveth for ever and ever.” Such a sense they had of the glory of Him who sits upon the throne, that it took them out of their own personal glory, and they used it only to celebrate that glory which they have to acknowledge.
The saint in glory is glad there should be something above himself there. He can strip himself of glory that the Lord should have it all. What a contrast to the spirit of infidelity in the heart which does not like this! The pride of the heart cannot bear that something should be above it; but the saint in light is glad that Christ should have all the glory. The saint can delight in the character and honour of God. The heart delights in His being glorious, and in His intrinsic glory. “Thou art worthy, O Lord.” What a sense is here of His worthiness to be exalted! This is the first instinct of their life, however weak and feeble it be. See the thief on the cross; he had got the secret of God about His character: “This man hath done nothing amiss.” And what was the consequence of this capacity to see His glory? He wanted to share it, and Jesus said, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Here were the first workings of life in his soul; but immediately we find that instead of the desire to pull Him down whom God would exalt, there was joy to find something above himself. Shall we not be glad to see Christ’s glory? Glad of the excellence of heaven? Shall not I be glad to see Paul in a higher place than I? It is the character of the spirit and temper of heaven. Man is entirely changed here, for he would pull down God Himself if He did not suit him, according to the natural impulse and bent of his mind. All this celebration of God’s power brings out worship: “They cast their crowns before the thrones,” etc.
Another thing to remark here is, that in connection with this spirit of worship there is an intelligent understanding about it. “Thou art worthy; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created.” Look at the expression in Hebrews: “It became him,” etc. What an astonishing thing to be able to say it became God to treat His Son in this way. The first two chapters are full of the glory of Christ. How at home the apostle is in the things that became God; and then again, “Such an High Priest became us,” etc. We belong to a heavenly people in connection with Him who is made higher than the heavens, and we want a priest there. When a soul is emptied of itself, it begins to know and love the glory of God; it is not as a dull, senseless thing, but there is understanding and knowledge, and this is life. You will find this intelligence in the next chapter, likewise, “Thou art worthy; for thou hast redeemed,” etc.
Mark two things: the entire prostration of heart before God, and the blessed intelligence of the titles of God. How it does take the poorest of this world out of the miserable tinsel of its corruption, when God reveals Himself thus to the heart and understanding! The selfishness of man would shut him up into narrowness of spirit, instead of being taken up with God. Are we not glad to have crowns to lay at His feet? “For thy pleasure they are, and were created.” It is God’s delight, and God’s good pleasure that is the spring of everything. If I am right with God, I say, Let Him have His way. If I am away, I shall not like Him to have His good pleasure; but to let Hun have it is the only spring of blessing. The Lord give us to know Him in this way; and we can say that in Jesus and by Jesus, we do now know His love; and, through the good pleasure of His will, we have been made His children, adopted unto Himself. When the Lord Jesus was born, He became the link between God and poor sinners, for He was the gift of God’s love in “good will to men”; in Him, dead and risen, we are through the Spirit brought to God. The Lord give us rightly to estimate Jesus! With Him in our hearts, all will be simple, all will be peace, all will be love.
We saw, in the fourth chapter, the throne of God set in heaven, the great purpose of which was to bring into the world the Heir of all things—as is expressed in Hebrews 1, “when he bringeth in again the First-begotten into the world.” This purpose, for which the throne was set, is not as yet accomplished; for the First-begotten is not actually brought in till chapter 19. At the end of the third chapter we have the Lord’s own testimony as to the failure of the church on earth, in that it is spued out of His mouth. Then Christ takes the place the church was unable to maintain, that of the “Amen, the faithful and true witness.” And thus, the Lord’s judicial power having ceased among the candlesticks on earth, we find in the fourth chapter a throne, not of grace, but of judgment, set in heaven, round which the glorified saints are sitting on their thrones, perfectly undisturbed at the thunderings and lightnings that are issuing forth from the throne; but when the majesty of God is celebrated, they cast their crowns before Him and fall down and worship Him as Creator. In this fifth chapter we get the things between the spueing out of the church from the mouth of Christ, and the judgments preliminary to His taking His rightful throne on the earth.
It is not the manifestation of the general glory of God, in this chapter, but the unfolding of a book, or rather the preparation for it, as it is not actually unfolded till chapter 6. Neither do we get a throne which gives promises of blessings to the earth, as in chapter 4, where the rainbow was round about it, as typical of God’s covenant faithfulness with the earth. Nor do we get the Old Testament titles of God, as “Lord God Almighty”; nor do we see God, as “Creator,” as it is said, “for thy pleasure they are and were created”; but it is as the “Redeemer” that He is celebrated here. In chapter 5 we get the purposes of God, the church being gone. God then begins to act in various ways, ever patient even in judgment, until the accomplishment of His one great purpose bringing in the “First-begotten “into the world. We get nothing of God’s purposes in chapter 4, because creation alone cannot meet them; therefore, the moment God’s purposes are mentioned, redemption must come in to accomplish them. Mark also, that God’s purposes here are in connection with the earth, and not, in any way, as having anything to do with His purposes of grace to individual souls. Redemption must come in, that God may be glorified in salvation, as well as in creation.
“I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book,” etc. Here we see the purposes of God in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne: they are in the right hand of power, that they may be accomplished, for He who sits on the throne is able to bring them in. There is great comfort in this thought too, that how dreadful the judgments may be, and truly they are terrible, the book is in the hand of God: so that when we read of the seals, the trumpets, and the vials of wrath, we see them in God’s hand, as the settled expression of the accomplishment of His purposes; so, too, when we see that the Lamb that has loved us, and given Himself for us, is the One to take the book in the same quietness with which God holds it in His hand.
The natural mind, and we are still in the body, would tremble at these things, as it is said in Luke’s Gospel, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, for looking after those things that are coming on the earth.” But faith gets its settled place in the purpose of God, and is not afraid; it sees all to be in the hand of God, and for His glory. God, in the stability of His own power, holds the book upon the throne, for God alone knows His own counsels, and faith recognises this. Thus He who has loved us and washed us from our sins, in His own blood, is Christ, who is the wisdom of God, and the power of God, and the unfolder of these purposes of God. These things do not apply to the church, but the Christian is to have an understanding concerning them, for he has “the mind of Christ.” When anything comes out in the way of prophecy, the Lord unfolds it to us, that we may intercede with Him about others. It was so with Abraham, for after God had called him out of his own country, and set him in the road of faith, revealing Himself to him, and giving him the promises, then God shews him other things which did not concern himself. He tells him His purposes as to Sodom, besides giving him the second promise, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” The Christian is entirely out of the scene of judgment here. No doubt the Christian gets the present judgment of evil, while walking down here, in the shape of chastening for his profit; but when judgment is spoken of prophetically, it always refers to others. Take Enoch who prophesied, saying, “The Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment.” He was walking with God, and had the secret of God’s counsels as to the judgments that would be executed, and yet not at all as applying to himself, for he was to be taken away out of it all; and this is true of the church of God. These terrible judgments from the throne do not touch her, though she is to be the vessel of testimony as to what is coming and in the place of intercession, as Abraham was. “God said, Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?” Then when Abraham gets the knowledge of what God is going to do, he gets into the priest’s place of nearness to God and begins to plead for Sodom. This is, in a higher sense, the place of the church, as far as she has faith for it. “We have the mind of Christ.” In this sense it is that the Christian is a prophet, having the mind of Christ; and also, as having the spirit of intercession, he is a priest; and likewise, he is the vessel of ministry for carrying the gospel to poor sinners; and he will reign when Christ reigns. At present, the church, having received grace, through the cross of Christ, is the messenger of grace to those who are ready to perish.
But now we will turn to our proper subject, for in chapter 5 we pass into fresh ground again. When God begins to unfold His purposes, Christ must come in, for not only does all belong to Him by divine title, but He is also Heir of all things by divine appointment. Therefore, when we have the redemption of the purchased possession, the taking the inheritance out of the hands of the usurper by judgments, we find the book of God’s counsels, as the conveyance of the inheritance of the rightful heir who won His title to it by His work. Consequently when the book of God’s purposes concerning the inheritance comes on the scene, we also get the Son whom “He hath appointed heir of all things.” It was customary among the Jews (Jer. 32:11), on conveyance of property, to have two books, an open one in which were title deeds, etc., and a sealed one laid by, in order that no mistake might be made; and this book which God put into the hands of the Lamb, was a sealed one, “sealed with seven seals.” “And I wept much because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look therein.” Of course, there could not be any thought of looking therein as to how God would accomplish His purposes; for I would here remark that where the heart is brought near to God, it is not that there is a disposition to pry into these things, for that would be sin; but when we find God has purposes to reveal to us, it would be sorrow not to know them. But some might say, surely salvation is the all-important thing, but I ask, Is not that settled? That ought to be the question, most surely, if it be not yet settled; but if I am a child, I have the interest of the family at heart, and, therefore, when that which concerns the First-born is brought out, I am interested in it, because my affections are drawn out by it. For there are affections which flow from this relationship itself, as well as those resulting from the fact of being saved. Of course, it is nothing but idle curiosity to be looking into prophecy before the great question of salvation is settled between the soul and God. When the conscience is set at rest before God, there will then be liberty for the exercise of those affections which flow out from such relationships. But still there are affections flowing from the relationship itself, and felt in measure, it may be, as soon as that relationship is effected in the soul, and before the soul itself is conscious of its portion. That is, we often meet with those whose hearts are towards God, without having settled peace in their souls. Take Job, for instance: he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” God was breaking him down, and breaking him up, just to shew Job what he was all the while. Job had full confidence in God, although his soul did not know real peace. Affection was there, and when the soul got peace, then the pent-up affections flowed out. For I do not mean to say that there is no affection until the soul has got peace; but when the question of salvation is settled, then there is unhindered liberty for the affections to flow out. And when the soul has got peace, then it is ready to learn in quiet communion with God, all that He is about to do. “And one of the elders said unto me, Weep not.” It is most striking how much these twenty-four elders are found occupying the church’s place of nearness to God; and we constantly find intelligence in these elders—not merely worship, but intelligence. They are always the persons who are the vessels of understanding— “made kings and priests.” The church has a much higher kind of knowledge than that of the prophets, who prefaced their messages with a “Thus saith the Lord.” What the Lord had communicated to them, they delivered, and after they had delivered their message, they had to search into its meaning, for, as Peter says, “Not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you.” So, here, we find John in the character of a prophet had not the same kind of intelligence as the elders; he had just so much light given him as was revealed at the time, just so much as was needed for the delivery of his message, and no more. But now the Holy Ghost is come down, and the full revelation is given of the mind of God in His written word; the church, as such, having the mind of Christ, not only knows the message, but knows the mind of Christ about that which is revealed.
John sees no one in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth that was able to open the book, neither to look thereon, and then, naturally enough, he “wept much.” But what is the result of the elders sitting round the throne? Do they weep? Are they disturbed by it? No, not any more than they were by the thunderings; for with the utmost calmness and composure they at once say, “weep not.” Could they doubt Christ as being the appointed Heir of all things? Certainly not. That was a settled thing, and more than this, they knew Christ as the Lion of the tribe of Judah: the lion, denoting power— the having full power to take the inheritance. But the elders knew what redemption was, and therefore to them it was a peaceful, settled thing that this “Lion” had all power to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof, to unfold and fulfil the counsels of God, and to bear the glory. The two things that most peculiarly belong to Christ, are power and wisdom—
“Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God”; and He makes the church to participate in His wisdom, for “He is made unto us wisdom,” etc., and He will give her to share His power. We see this order beautifully maintained in the history of Joseph: when in the prison, God gave him wisdom to interpret dreams; and afterwards we find him at the right hand of the throne of the king, exercising all power. So, likewise, the church will share the power with Christ, for she will reign with Him, and will be the sharer with Him in everything, the essential glory of the Godhead excepted. Our proper portion now is not power (I am not here speaking of spiritual power to overcome evil), but now is the time for the church to manifest wisdom in the undsrstanding of the ways of God; having the Holy Ghost, who, as the Lord said, shall guide into all truth; but this must be through the written word, as the written word of God is the only depository of the truth of God. Therefore, it is the great instrument in the hand of God for communicating this knowledge through the teaching of the Holy Ghost, although at the same time He may be pleased to make use of various channels to accomplish it. Thus we see that where there is the desire in the heart according to God’s mind, He cannot fail to satisfy that desire. If the desire is expressed, even to weeping, it is infallibly answered with a “weep not”; for this reason, that Christ has done that which will enable the mind of God to be communicated to every seeking soul. But this could not be before Christ came, as the Lord Himself says, “Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear, for many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them.” But the moment the work of redemption was accomplished, and Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, the Holy Ghost was sent down in testimony of the acceptance of the work and Person of the risen Man, now in glory. And, therefore, now, whenever there is a desire in the heart according to God, it is always met and answered in the power of the Holy Ghost; for if Christ is revealed, then it is God’s mind that we “should grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” But then there must be a lowly mind to receive it: “The meek will he guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his way.”
“Behold the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book.” In the first place we get here the special definite counsels of God, as to the centre of His purposes on the earth. Judah was the one in whom the promises were centered. When Jacob blessed his sons, he said, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise,” Gen. 49:8. The general promise at the beginning was, “the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” Then all was vested in Abraham’s seed, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The line became narrower and narrower, Judah was chosen from amongst his brethren, and last of all, the family of David; as it is said of the Lord, “He shall sit upon the throne of his father David.” It is not a .throne in heaven, as governing creation, but a throne set up on the earth, to govern file earth. “When the Most High divided to the heathen their inheritance, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” He is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah, because it is by power that He will accomplish God’s counsels. He is the “Root of David.” David, looked at as a type, and as a responsible man, had failed, and his family failed also; and this has always been the way whenever God has put man in a place of trust. But God cannot fail, and He must raise up a seed to David according to His promise. At the end of the book we see the Lord spoken of as the Offspring of David, as well as the Root, but before He can be manifested as the Offspring, He must be proved the Root. For He is the root and source of all the promises of God. In Him they are “yea, and amen,” whether for the church of God, or for Israel. If David bears fruit of blessing, he is not the root, though he may be the stem; if he bears fruit, it must be through Him who is the root.
The Lord meanwhile, takes another character, that of the Lamb. “In the midst of the throne stood a Lamb, as it had been slain”—the poor lowly one with the marks of humiliation. “As the sheep before his shearer is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” In the “Lamb as it had been slain,” we find the Lord taking up a dispensational character, because of redemption; and thus we find Him as the lowly, uncomplaining, unresisting sufferer, in a world of sinners, and that is where real power is found. It is the same for us now; we dwell where evil prevails, and it is our place to suffer as Christ suffered, to have discernment between right and wrong, and to suffer, rather than yield for a moment to the evil. “In the midst of the throne stood a Lamb.” Although He was the suffering Lamb as regards the earth, still His real place was upon the throne itself. How blessed is the thought that Christ fills all things! If I go down into the lower parts of the earth, I find Him there. If I reach up to the throne of heaven I find Him there; and not only as God, but as the One dealing with good and evil. What a blessed thing it is to find all this in the One who is so near to us! He who said, “I am among you as he that serveth,” He who washed the disciples’ feet, is not going to cease to serve them; although He could not continue in companionship with them, He serves them still; yea, He will yet “come forth and serve them.” He who was one with the Father, to whom as the Son, God had given everything, humbled Himself to be the servant! How blessed to see our full and perfect association with all that love and righteousness could bring! Oh! it is a solemn thought that there is no place in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, that is not filled with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, except indeed in one sad exception, that of the heart of the poor, wretched, unbelieving sinner. There is no place from Calvary to the throne of God, that is not filled with the love and righteousness of God, as manifested in Christ; and if we could always give ourselves up to the knowledge of this, what quiet peace of heart should we enjoy! The very peace of God Himself would be keeping us, for we could get into no place or circumstances, sorrow or suffering, but we should find Christ there; and, as we were remarking, if Christ be between our hearts and the suffering, instead of the suffering getting between our hearts and Christ, we shall find the place of suffering to be the best place on the face of the earth for us, as all suffering will then bring us nearer to Christ. There is no middle place. The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp; Heb. 12:11-13. You must take up the cross outside, if you get the heavenly place inside. There was a veil over God for Israel, but we have liberty to enter into the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus. The veil is done away in Christ, and to us it is the throne and temple up there, and the cross and the Lamb down here. Those who are in heavenly association with a risen Christ must have the cross down here, because we are alive and accepted within the veil. All that is precious is there. The church is brought to see sin as God sees it— brought into the light as God is in the light, and, being cleansed from sin, gets into the sanctuary through the rent veil. That is our proper and only place, the earth being entirely shut out from us, excepting we are just strangers and pilgrims through this wilderness world. And just in proportion as we practically know the cross down here, will be our enjoyment of fellowship with Christ up there in heavenly places. Light fills up all the space between the cross and the glory. There is no possible place that we can get into but we shall find Christ there; for to simple, single-eyed faith there is no spot between the cross and the glory, be it earth, or be it heaven, that is not filled with Christ.
When John gets into this church-understanding (as we may call it), he sees a “Lamb as it had been slain”; and he sees power given to the Lamb, for in seven horns and seven eyes we have the perfection of power and all-seeing wisdom which is given to the Lamb, before a single seal is opened. And before we get the unfolding of God’s purposes, we have the presentation of the Person of His Son. It is just this in God’s dealings with a soul: the eye of the soul being fixed on the Person of Christ is the way in which it gets peace; as before you can get peace of soul through the work of Christ, your eye must have rested on the Person of Christ. It was so with the thief on the cross, with the poor woman of the city who was a sinner, who stood at His feet weeping. The soul must first be fixed upon the Person of Him who has made the peace, before there is the knowledge of the work which has wrought the peace. Before it all and after it all, it is Himself that is presented.
“No one was found worthy.” None could touch or even dare to look upon the book, until the Lamb, so to speak, had filled his eye. And this is that that gives peace and steadiness to the soul while searching into prophecy; for if you get into prophecy without Christ, you may be able to understand it, but it will be the mere result of the rambling of an unsanctified mind; but if you learn it with Christ, you will find Him the key to the whole thing; for if He is the centre, He is also the key to the glory about to be revealed; and if you thus learn prophecy in connection with Christ, it will be to the glory of God.
“A Lamb, having seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.” It is not said here ten or twelve. The number “seven” denotes divine perfection; the number twelve denotes human perfection in its administrative power—there were twelve apostles, and twelve patriarchs. The seven eyes shew the wisdom which sees everything, and the seven horns denote power. A horn is used throughout scripture as a symbol of power, whether in speaking of an individual or a kingdom. We will now refer to a few passages as shewing the importance of the expression, “seven eyes.” The perfect harmony of this blessed book is a wonderful testimony (were it needed) to its divine origin, as no human skill or intellect could have preserved the connection between passages written 2,000 years apart. But we see the secret of it is, that the divine mind is running throughout the whole of scripture. (See 2 Chron. 16:9). “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards him.” Simply rely on the Lord in everything, just to do His will quietly, and He will shew Himself strong on your behalf. Then in Zechariah 3:9, “Upon one stone shall be seven eyes.” It was the figure of the establishment of God’s authority in Jerusalem. Then in Zechariah 4:10, “The eyes of the Lord [not in Zion merely, but going further out] which run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Besides seeing the general truth of the providential vision of God, we see that in a future time, when the true branch is introduced, perfection is established in Jerusalem as the centre of peace and blessing. Then these seven eyes will be established in Jerusalem as the centre of peace and blessing. Meanwhile God is dealing with the earth, taking notice of everything, and manifesting His power in governing all things. And our place and portion is not that of power, but that of suffering with Christ. “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.” But in Revelation 5 we find these eyes of God in the midst of the throne in heaven. We hear nothing about the Father with the children, nor Christ as the Head of the body, with the members; but it is the rejected Lamb upon the throne of judgment in heaven, as He is not yet come forth to take His earthly throne, but on the throne of judgment “set in heaven,” having these eyes of wisdom and intelligence to unfold all God’s purposes.
Now, then, having the Person of the Lamb set before us, we get Him taking the book; and what a picture of full peaceful power (full power is always peaceful) when He takes all the purposes of God to unfold and accomplish them! It was not so when He took the cup of trembling; then He said, “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? “And in order that the blessed purposes of God towards us might be fulfilled, He passed through that dreadful hour, the very thought of which made Him say, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” He came under the full power of the wrath of God, for our full, perfect, and eternal blessing. It is the same Lamb in the midst of the throne, that drank the cup of wrath to the very dregs, that there might not be left one drop of sorrow, or trouble for those who know Him, which enabled Him as the slain Lamb, and at the same time, as the wisdom of God and the power of God, to take the book and unfold and accomplish all the deep purposes therein contained (v. 8-10).
Here we have “kings and priests” again— “they sing a new song.” It is not here the celebration of the praises of God in creation, but in redemption, for it is in connection with the slain Lamb. If the glory of the Lord God Almighty as Creator, brought out worship, so is the praise of the Lamb in redemption adequate to call it forth. If the display of the majesty of God brought out worship without fear, so here the same who were fit to worship His majesty, have their hearts’ affections and thoughts called forth by the display of the glory of the Lamb. It is a blessed thought that He that descended so low for us, has the adoration of the whole mind of heaven; and having made us kings and priests, we have communion with the mind of heaven, even now; and mark how immediately this connects itself with our daily walk. If I were a Jew, I should want a priest; but I am a Christian, and therefore I could never so far disown redemption as to say that I want a priest; for I am a priest, and we have a great High Priest, who is “higher than the heavens,” so that we go at once to the throne of grace, for through Him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father. If I have got Christ, He is God; and never let me lose sight of this one blessed truth, that I am brought to God. Anything but Christ allowed to come between my soul and God, dims Him before my eyes. He is the great High Priest; and we enter, because He enters, into the very holiest of all; so that we are more than mere priests, for they never got beyond the holy place, but we have boldness to enter into the holy place, because Jesus is there, and we degrade the efficacy of the work of Jesus, if our hearts do not go straight up to God Himself, in testimony to the value of the blood of Christ. All was adoration here, and with a free heart. A child is at liberty with its father; it will reverence its father, but its heart is free before him, not fearing and trembling as to what will please him. It should be so with us before God. His love is as perfect as His glory; and if He brings us near to adore, He will bring our hearts near in the confidence of the love that has brought us there.
Verse 9. “Thou art worthy, to take the book, and to open the seven seals thereof.” Here as in the former chapter we have the intelligence of the elders brought out—full, blessed intelligent worship indicated by the expression, “For thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” Now mark, besides the tides of Christ, as Creator, as man, as the Son of God, we get here the grand thing which is brought out the moment the “slain Lamb” appears, which is redemption. And it is redemption that calls forth new praise, as it is redemption that displays everything that God is. Do I think of the holiness that cannot bear sin? I see it there; of love to sinners? I see it there; of the justice that must punish sin? I see it there. I see God fully glorified in this book, whether in His love, holiness, majesty, grace, judgment against sin, all has been fully met as well as brought out in this grand work of redemption. The Son is equally glorified also, for if Adam had never sinned in eating the fruit, he would have gone on in innocence; but what would that obedience have been compared with Christ’s, which was obedience to death, even the death of the cross? Then see the entire devotedness of Jesus; and we have God glorified in Him. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him”; and all the other titles of Christ find their full display and development in redemption. How infinitely higher are God’s thoughts than ours! They write folly and confusion upon every thought of man. For while men were saying, “Ah, so would we have it,” and their enmity to God’s Son was displayed by their nailing Him to the cross, at that very moment the love of God rose to the highest; for when man was insulting Christ to the very uttermost, then it was that salvation was accomplished. God’s love rose above man’s wickedness, without in the least degree lowering the standard of God’s holiness: when sin was carried to the uttermost pitch in the crucifixion of Christ that only served to bring out more prominently and give freer exercise to that divine love which was at that very moment saving lost sinners.
Thus while we have seen the character of the Lion of the tribe of Judah to have been fully maintained, God never giving up one iota of His justice and holiness, and at the same time through His wondrous wisdom, by the very rejection of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, poor sinners of the Gentiles are brought in. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance; therefore Israel will be restored according to His word. But meanwhile, He is bringing in Jews and Gentiles in a heavenly way. Redemption does not set aside the Lion of the tribe of Judah as the future source of blessing to Israel, but all kindreds of the earth must celebrate His praises in redemption. “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests,” etc. We see here two things, royalty and priesthood. Besides the joy of being with God, as we have seen, we are also the nearest to God in power and worship. As the kingship brings us nearest to God in power, and the priesthood brings us nearest to God in worship, it is the blessed Person of Christ, the slain Lamb, that introduces poor sinners into such high and blessed privileges; for Christ being made King and Priest, we also are made kings and priests. All that Christ is made we are made, in Him now in the day of grace, and with Him then in the day of glory. We have the joy of this even now in our souls when walking close to God; but being still in bodies of sin and death, and thus still linked to the old creation, we groan being burdened: the presence of evil makes us groan. But when the throne is set in heaven, it will be for the deliverance of all that is now under the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God—not the liberty of grace, but the liberty of glory. Now the souls of those who believe are brought into the liberty of grace, and in the glory we shall be delivered from the body in which we now groan. Now it is the power of the Holy Ghost sustaining us against the streams of evil, but then it will be the exercise of divine power setting the evil aside. The Lord will reign then. If the Lord were ruling in direct dominion now, should we have all the misery and wretchedness that is around us on every hand? God does reign in one sense now, and in a most blessed sense for His children, for the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Yet now, as it is said, “One event happeneth alike to all, the righteous and the wicked.” But when Christ comes in power to take the universal dominion as the Son of man, He will discern between the righteous and the wicked, the evil and the good. Then the wicked will not prosper. The sun of grace has arisen in our hearts, and now it is given to the righteous to suffer for Christ’s sake. But when the Sun of Righteousness ariseth on the earth, when power comes in, in direct dominion, then a man shall be a covert from the storm. Now man does not know where to find a hiding-place. “The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.” But then the earth will rejoice in the fruit of the reign of Christ. Now we are to suffer with Christ, then we shall reign with Him. “When the heavens do rule,” then the saints of the Most High take the kingdom and reign with Christ. We are not to be reigned over, but to reign with Him. Our joy will be in and with Christ, but our official place will be reigning with Him.
Verses 11, 12. “The voice of many angels saying, Worthy is the Lamb,” etc. We do not find the same measure of intelligence in the angels as in the elders. The angels do celebrate the glory and honour and worthiness of the Lamb, but we do not find them using that little word “for,” as was used by the elders, first, in connection with creation, “For thou hast created all things,” etc.; secondly, in connection with redemption, “For thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God,” etc. The church is much nearer to God than angels, being one with Christ, and our bodies the temples of the Holy Ghost. This can never be said of an angel, although they are infinitely above us as creatures. “They excel in strength and hearken to the voice of his word.” Christ never died for an angel, and therefore took not on Him the nature of angels, but was made man for sinners; nor did He send the Holy Ghost to angels; and though they excel in strength, and as creatures are greater in power, still what is this to the display of His grace to a sinner? It is in redemption that God is fully glorified, and therefore it is that the redeemed ones get the nearest place to God, because in them redemption is unfolded. What amazing grace it is that could take up vile, depraved sinners that we are, and place us nearer the throne than those holy ones that never sinned, and always do His will! — “that in the ages to dome he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.” Ought not our hearts to be moved by this? We cannot understand the loving-kindness of God, if we do not know the value of redemption. Affections flow from the apprehension of it, and praise will be the result. The lispings of a babe are acceptable. But our hearts ought to be able to tell an angel what Christ has done for us, and why He is so precious to us. We shall be associated with Himself in the very presence of the glory of God. The angels are round about the throne. They know what power and blessing mean, for they ascribe it to Him who sits upon the throne. They see the glory of the Person of the Lamb; but they know nothing of redemption. That word never comes out of their lips. How wonderfully we see that everything has its place in the counsels of God!
In verse 13 we see creation joining the full and universal chorus, ascribing glory to Him who sits upon the throne. They are in everlasting companionship with that divine glory. Not only do they worship Christ as God, but as the Lamb. It is as that glorified Man that they acknowledge His Lordship. He is “God over all “truly, but takes a peculiar glory as Son of man, and this peculiar glory that Christ has got by redemption, will never be dimmed. As the Lamb He will always have it. Praise to the Lamb for ever and ever! The very one whom we have loved, whom we have seen with our eyes by faith, whom we have handled as the Word of life, will be the object of eternal and unceasing adoration. What a thought it is! And we learn what the thoughts and counsels of God about us have been, when we see this company in the everlasting glory. He who became as one of ourselves; He who stooped to take the lowest place, and as having no sin to be made sin for us, is there as the universal object of praise. The place peculiar to the church will be that of worship. It is a most blessed scene! The great thing that our hearts should rest upon, is the blessed character of the counsels of God as regards the church, for we see the church to be so thoroughly identified with Christ, that the moment God is going to bring in judgments for Christ, we find it has its place with Him in heaven. If the church is His body, His bride, He cannot leave it behind, it being the fulness of Him who filleth all in all. There is no unfolding of the book, no sound or sign of that judgment which is to be brought in, until we have been in perfect peace around the throne, before the Lamb, praising for redemption, that glorious, wonderful work of redemption. And while the rolling tide of judgment sweeps along, and like the deluge, rises higher and higher, until there be not one mountain-top left uncovered to escape upon, what we have to do is to sing of the glory of that redemption, which has delivered us from the wrath to come. The Lord grant us to find in those things which redemption has wrought out, not merely peace of soul, but understanding of all God’s counsels of glory about the Lamb who has accomplished it all.
Chapters 6 and 7
The ways of God with the church and with the world are always intended to have a practical application to our own individual souls. The expectation of the coming of the Lord changes the moral bearing of everything. There may be many a detail we are incompetent to explain, but we get from God a positive revelation which gives another aspect to all else. “The wise shall understand.” Knowledge is not given for the sake of mere increase, but to “profit withal.” There are general principles which set the church right on many things. If I have been working for the conversion of the world through the spread of the gospel, what a different thought is presented in the three unclean spirits, like frogs, gathering the whole world together to fight against God!
In teaching we never should say anything that we did not feel to be God’s mind; and even then, of course, we might be mistaken in what we believed to be true. A great question has been raised as to the prophetic part of this book. Does it apply to the whole period of the church of God, from the beginning onward to the close; or does it give the character of God’s dealings with the earth in the great crisis in which the church is not involved at all after the first chapters? I feel quite clear that it is not about the church, but about the world. The book is given to the church, but it does not in the strictly prophetic parts apply to the church. This part shews us the elders looking down from heaven, seeing things which are going to happen to others, not to themselves. It is a history of God’s future dealings with the earth.
When Abraham was on the mountain, God came and told him what was going to happen on the plain, things in which he himself was not at all concerned. This thought is of great importance, because, with the thought of being in the judgments, no wonder we should be like the men spoken of in Luke 21, whose hearts fail for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked,” Psalm 91. When Abraham rose in the morning (blessed morning for us!) and saw the smoke of the cities going up, where was he? On the mountain, where he had stood before the Lord, and where the Lord had talked with him. Our place is not like Noah, floating on the waters while the judgments are abroad. For him it was a question of being moved with fear and preparing an ark to the saving of his house; but we are destined by grace to be as Enoch, after walking with God here, looking down from heaven on things below. He prophesied of the Lord coming “with ten thousand of his saints”; but his own portion was on high. There will be a remnant on earth saved as by fire through the judgments; but this is not the church. What a place this puts the heavenly saints into! What a character it gives to the Christian who should be ever expecting Christ! We are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world; we are quickened and risen with Him. By-and-by we are to be caught up in our place as associated with Christ, before He visits the earth to make inquisition for the blood that has been shed from righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias. What God is going to do upon the earth is not our happiest study, but it helps to keep our affections set on the right objects. The Christian can say to those who are busying themselves about the politics, the riches, the hopes, the improvements, of the world, See where your world is going to end! it is not my world at all. There may be a carnal seeking for detail in the study of this book, but to know these things from God solemnises the heart, and puts the world into its proper background as a doomed system. God does communicate His purposes to us now, as He did of old, to Abraham.
In chapter 6 we have the course of the six seals. At the seventh trumpet the whole thing finishes; chap, 11:18. The scene in chapter 10 is parenthetical; it has this place given in the general history, but it is the last great scene, which is afterwards more fully unfolded. It shews Christ’s tide to dominion and power. From chapter n:19, to the end of chapter 14, we have a series of subjects. In chapter 12 is disclosed the secret agency, or the dramatis persona, as men say. The springs and source of all the evil, and the hidden cause of the final crisis are here explained. Chapter 13 gives the providential instrumentality under the instigation of Satan in the worldly and the religious powers. Chapter 14 is God’s dealing in judgment with respect to all these, and in testimony, with the results also. Chapter 15 is another scene altogether. The sea of glass mingled with fire shews us the martyrdom of the faithful remnant. With this is connected chapters 16 in which the vials, which are God’s wrath, are filled up and poured out. Then we have in chapter 17 and 18, Babylon connected with the beast, and her judgment. Above, we see in chapter 19 the marriage of the Lamb, and then the Lamb coming to execute His judgment, preparatory to the closing scene of blessing on the earth during the millennium, followed by the eternal state.
To get the moral influence and right understanding of these things, it is most important to remember that the church is a heavenly body connected with the Lamb in heaven. I believe there has been, in a certain measure, a lengthened accomplishment of the opening of the seals. This is a general principle in scripture. Thus our Lord could say, “If ye will believe it, this was Elias which was for to come.” John said, “even now are there many antichrists,” but this was in no wise the fulfilment of all that was true about the Antichrist. It was not yet the person, but it was evil and error which had the moral stamp of him who was coming. Antichrist is the great characteristic of the “last times,” growing out of the corruption of the last good thing that God brought in before judgment. When the heavenly thing that God sent into the world, was, as a dispensation, spoiled, Antichrist entered. “He is the Antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son “; he also denies that Jesus is the Christ. It is the activity of the false spirit, instead of the true. Could anything more be revealed than the Father and the Son? The presence of many antichrists was not the accomplishment of the coming of Antichrist, but it was and is a state which answers in spirit and character to it. When such a state is tried to be proved to be the full accomplishment (as in the historical scheme), Christ is not put in His right place in connection with it all. But, from this book doubtless, we may discern the elements of all that evil which will hereafter be ripened—the principles now, but not the accomplishment till by-and-by. The spirit of Babylon is in Popery: but Popery exclusively is not Babylon. We go morally wrong as to what God is about, if we do not keep in view the great end which He is unfolding in the Revelation, namely, the introduction of Christ into the world as the “First-begotten,” and this, too, as the “Faithful Witness,” after the failure of the church to be the true witness.
The great thing is to know, by God’s teaching, what God is occupied with. Suppose David had gone and put the ark into the tabernacle after Ichabod had been written upon it, it would not have been piety, however it might have been thought so; to do so, would have been like going back and saying, “It is not Ichabod.” God was going to supplant the tabernacle and set up the temple. The ark had been carried into captivity, and God had let it go. How could it have gone into captivity without Him? as David says, “He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, and delivered his strength into captivity, his glory into the enemies’ hand” (Psa. 78:60, 61), and this because He had given up the people. This is all simple to him who understands. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us.” If a person is not spiritual, he cannot understand: he has no moral or spiritual power to discern God’s mind. But where there is spiritual discernment, things get simple and clear as daylight. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant.” Where there is the fear of the Lord, there will be the understanding of His word and mind. But the word of God will not be simple without subjection to Him.
We will now turn to the progress of the evil as it will be in the latter day. The first thing is the general providential coming in of trouble and sorrow. Symbols are a regular language, conveying certain universal ideas. It is important we should be clear as to the abstract principle. The sun, for instance, used in scripture continually, as a symbol means supreme power. It is said, “the sun of righteousness shall arise,” etc.; but it may not be always used for Christ. Sometimes it may be used of God’s enemy; Ezek. 32:7. It simply means the ruler of a given system. Trees, thus employed, signify the greatest in a kingdom as distinguished from the grass. The horse denotes imperial power in aggressive exercise; and a white horse is that power victorious. Thus victorious, subjugating power, whether of Christ, or Antichrist, etc., might be represented as a white horse. Other features enter and decide who is meant.
In chapter 6:2, the rider on the white horse goes forth conquering and to conquer. Then war comes on (v. 4). Then comes a “black horse”: here we see anxiety as to provisions. The colour denotes mourning. Verse 8, is the “pale horse.” It is distress among nations, closing in with God’s accumulating judgments, famine, etc.—what He calls His “four sore judgments” in Ezekiel. Then the fifth seal opens to us what has been going on in the earth. It is a very definite scene. We see the souls of those who had been slain like victims for God; therefore they are under the altar of burnt-offering. Mark what they say, for this shews who they are: they cry for vengeance. They who have been killed for God at the time meant are in the spirit of retribution. They have not the blessed hope of being taken up to glory, but they cry, “How long dost thou not avenge our blood, on them that dwell on the earth?” They had been mixed up with the dwellers upon earth; they have suffered from them, and it is upon these they cry for judgment. It is a blessed thing to see divine deliverance from the power of evil on the earth. In Psalm 94 we see the same thing, in a lower measure, but the same spirit. “O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself… Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee? “God was going to set up the throne at Jerusalem, and these godly ones caught the tone of the coming day. We do not say, “How long shall the wicked triumph?” (though we anticipate in spirit the Lord’s setting aside of evil) but, How long before Thou takest us to Thyself? How long before Thou takest Thy bride to be with Thee in heaven? The difference is very great, and so are the practical results in communion and ways. And mark another thing, They are told that they must wait. They find their place, and the white robe is given them, but they have to wait until others are killed, and the number fulfilled (that is, those who would not worship the beast, chapter 15). They have thus a partial answer, but not a full one yet. The sentence of judgment is not executed yet, because iniquity is not filled up to the uttermost. They are getting the silent fruit of righteousness and their place above, but not judgment, because there is a distinct epoch to come in before. In chapter 20:4, the other class is completed, and then there can be judgment to the uttermost.
As to verses 12, etc., this is not the appearing of the Lord, which is much more terrible, as we see in Revelation 1:7; ch. 19:18. He will come like lightning, and His presence thus will be worse than all the earthquakes that ever were. He will come to tread His enemies Himself; whereas verse 12 described one of a series of providential events which awakens the uneasy dread of that day. They are panic-struck. Everything that seemed steady and stable is moved and overturned; and this not merely among the crowd. The “stars of heaven” here are the powers of the world, the symbols of subordinate governments. The kings of the earth and the great men hide themselves from the face of Him, that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. But it is not the Lord who tells them He is coming; their consciences utter this in their terror. Here is a plain proof that the seventh seal is not yet opened; the wrath of God not filled up. But we get the close of God’s providential dealings with the earth. Then follows the public, open history of the Roman imperial world, that would be set up. Last of all, the final blasphemy of the beast against God must be dealt with in judgment.
Before the judgment comes out, the Lord shews His saints all cared for. In the first eight verses of chapter 7 we see the sealing of the elect 144,000 of Israel (12 being a mystic number). In verse 9, onwards, we see the countless company out of every nation under heaven. These are distinct from the elders who have intelligence. One of the elders says, “these are they which come out of the great tribulation.” The church always has intelligence. “We have the mind of Christ.” What are the blessings of this remnant? Simply relief. They have neither joy nor intelligence like the elders. It would be a great comfort to have rest in this way, but that is all. They have been through tribulation, and they shall now have no more of it; but we do not find them rilled with the Spirit, worshipping in the fulness of joy: “Thou art worthy,” etc. By-and-by will be fulfilled in the crisis of the world the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be delivered out of it. So will these Gentiles also. They cry, “Salvation to our God which sitteth on the throne and unto the Lamb.” This is to me a proof that it is not the church here speaking, for there is nothing of the Father. The place and character given to their salvation is that it is from God upon the throne. It is real salvation, of course, but of a different character. It is not they who go in with Christ into the Father’s house, or are coming with Christ to the judgment. It is the throne of judgment, and God has delivered them from the great tribulation: “Therefore are they before the throne of God,” and “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” In the gospel we may say God is doing all this for us now; He wipes away all tears from their eyes, and gives rest to our hearts now. Tears we may have for others, but not for ourselves. The saints are going in triumph to heaven; they even sit with Christ in the heavenly places, while here. They have got nearer to God in a different revelation from this. They have lived near Christ—members of His body; in an atmosphere which this language will not suit.
How much our hearts should seek while seeing God’s government and care, to get into the peaceful, happy consciousness of the place that Christ has given us; that our souls may live in the enjoyment of our common portion in Christ. It is not vengeance we look for, or such deliverance as this, but Himself. The soul, knowing this, has a quiet, happy, peaceful sphere, separated from all around. It does not want the world, nor the things of the world. It can say, “I know whom I have believed.” “To depart and be with Christ is far better,” not for a term to our sorrow, but that the very radiance of Christ may shine in full power into the soul. Stephen, looking up, saw heaven opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. It is a terrible world we are passing through: vanity that attracts the flesh, and misery that rakes the heart. But in Christ we get that which makes the vanity tinsel. When Jesus walked through the world He saw nothing but trouble and misery in it, while He came to bring in blessing: “He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Alas! for the man who is not this, but finds pleasure in vanity, and that which is contrary to Christ. It is not with ill-will, not with scorn, that the saint looks at this poor world, but his heart is weaned from it, and he does not want it. A heart that is weaned from the world can pity what is great in it, if Christ is not known, and can comfort where there is sorrow, because he can speak of Christ as the remedy who came to pour oil and wine into the rent sin has made: he can pity what is great, because it is not Christ, and he can comfort what is sorrowful because it is Christ. Let us seek to get through this world in His spirit and mind, carrying Him with us.
Chapters 11 and 12
We find ourselves here in the midst of Jewish circumstances, not earthquakes, horsemen, etc., as before, but the ark, the covenant, Moses and Elias testimony, etc. The reason is simple, namely, the government of the earth is connected with Israel. Israel is the centre of Gentile blessing and judgment. The church is in heavenly places with Christ, but the object round which all God’s ways on earth centre is Israel (See Deut. 32:8.) There we see the grand centre round which He portioned the nations at first. (See also verse 15.) They forgot God, His anger is stirred, He scattered them among their enemies. Then, verse 36, the Lord turns His hand again upon them for good. He has mercy on His heritage, and then judges the Gentiles. (Read to verse 43.) To this point of the history we have now arrived; but the subject of Revelation is judgment upon the apostate part of the Gentiles, not the Gentiles generally. It is where the light shined and has been rejected. Here in the true sense of the word are adversaries, and we have to notice the rebellious character of this apostasy, and Jew, Gentile and church of God (so-called) are in open opposition to Him who has the right to reign. The time will come when there will be only a passive testimony for God, in those who refuse to worship the beast; and as the iniquity ripens, there will be no testimony for God at all, when those who are in Judea will flee to the mountains.
Let us turn and see in this chapter 11 the condition in which Israel will be in that day, then the Gentiles themselves, and the testimony of God to them then. When God begins to measure in this way (v. 1), there is something to measure, but there is something left out: God says, there is something I own as My portion. First, those who are worshippers are taken account of, those who have a priestly character; they are not going with the multitude, but are within. All this language is connected with Jews; the locality is the holy place, properly so called, and the people are those who own the true God, and all the rest is given up to the Gentiles; the holy city is given up to be trodden down of the profane.
Verse 3. God has a witness. It is not the gospel, but His power over the earth. It is not the same testimony now, for He is gathering out a people to be to the praise of the glory of His grace. In these witnesses, we see there are not only those in priestly character, but prophets, and they are in sorrow— they prophesy in sack-cloth: opposition is their portion, and it is for a limited period.
Daniel 9:24. Bear in mind that Israel were to be cast aside until he saw what the end would be. In Daniel we never find the blessing fully given. Daniel is in the place of a remnant, and sees the blessing just about to be brought in. Millennial blessedness is not yet come. Here the thing closes at sixty-nine weeks, the last week is wanting. Afterwards the prince comes, not Messiah, but the anti-messiah for the overspreading, etc. He will make alliance with the Jews (the first half-week), and in the midst will be the overspreading of desolation, utter desolation comes in because of this idolatry or abomination in Israel. Idolatry will come in to Israel (Isa. 66:17), sanctifying themselves behind one tree in the midst, etc. There is an interval, how long we know not (“it is not for you to know the times and the seasons “) between the rejection of Christ and His coming again; Dan. 11. Desolations are determined, the history of the evil is narrated, the ships of Chittim shall come; and in verse 33 of that chapter, the expression “days “alludes to the present—it is a picture of what is going on, and we are now in the unlimited period signified by the expression “days.” The week, which remains to be fulfilled after the interval, is taken up in the Revelation.
The mission of the two witnesses (Rev. n) is not to preach the gospel, but they come with the testimony that Christ is Lord of the earth. There is a God that judgeth in the earth. It is true that God’s eternal righteousness is connected with the Man in heaven, for the only righteous One has been rejected from earth and accepted in heaven, and now the angels are learning the manifold wisdom of God through the church, His body, down here. Then He will turn round and shew that He has a right on the earth, and He will not give it up. Then He says to His people as in Isaiah, “Come ye into your chambers,” etc. This claim the men of the earth will not hear, and as soon as God gives His two witnesses leave, they devour them with fire (v. 5).
There is an allusion to Zechariah in the account of these two witnesses. Zechariah shews how this is all set up in order in Israel (Zech. 4): the candlestick of gold and a bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon, and everything is in its place. The source of the two olive-trees is shewn—Christ in Melchisedec order, ministering the oil; shewing that Jehovah takes the name of God over all the earth, maintaining the brilliancy of the testimony, and the Jewish people as the candle of God’s government. In Revelation we do not get the establishment of them on the earth, and therefore there is opposition: it is the time which precedes their establishment. We find that the character of the testimony of these two witnesses is judgment: “let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness”—there are two witnesses, “that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Verse 5, there is present, living, manifest power against the people that oppose them. Elijah-power is first, and what was that? The testimony of God in an apostate people. Moses-power is last j turning everything into death. As the Mosaic plagues characterised the testimony in the midst of an oppressed Israel, so when they are captive amongst the Gentiles in the last days, there will be the same kind of testimony. Then as soon as the Lord has given an adequate testimony, they are given over to believe a lie: there is power from beneath permitted to influence them. The beast comes but with Satanic power. All power comes down from heaven. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” magistrates, etc.; even Pilate’s power to crucify Jesus was of God, as the Lord said, “Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” But the question is, what use did he make of it? But in the day that is coming, after the witnesses are removed, the power will come from beneath, from the devil.
The judgment then becomes alarming, and after the Spirit: of God has raised up the witnesses, and they have ascended to heaven, the remnant being affrighted (not converted) give glory to the God of heaven. But it is too late. No wonder the Lord says of that time, it is such as never was, and except those days should be shortened there should no flesh be saved. These prophets tormented them that dwell on earth; the “remnant are affrighted.” There is alarm at the judgments disclosed, but no reception of the testimony. There is zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. The Jews had this before, and how did they shew it? By killing the disciples and thinking they were doing God service, because they knew neither the Father nor the Son. There was nothing but the fruit of alarm in them, as in Judas when he went and hanged himself. They give glory to the God of heaven, but they should have given glory to Him as God of the earth. We see in the chapter a very special definite form of evil and also of good, and the centre is Jerusalem.
In the seventh trumpet nothing is entered into, because it is the opening of the seven vials. Faith anticipates the blessing coming—no woe here. He is going positively to reign, and have things His own way. Would God have such a world as this is now, if He had taken to Himself His great power and reigned? His patient grace is being exercised, but not His right to reign asserted. The nations are angry, and that is what His coming produces. “Thy wrath is come.” They see the whole result of God’s taking all into His own hand. If the wrath is come, who are the objects of it? (v. 18).
The last verse of this chapter is connected with chapter 12 and in it we get two things: the ark of His covenant symbolical of God’s faithfulness to Israel; and earthquakes and judgments on the earth.
The outline of chapter 12 shews the same thing as we have noticed in others: God’s purpose of bringing in the First-begotten into the world. We must know the value of the symbols, to be able to understand the language at all. The sun always means supreme power—the woman is clothed with sovereign power. Christ is to be born of her—clearly not of the church. The church is the woman out of the man, but Christ is the man out of the woman. The church is the Eve, the woman taken out of the man. Here we have the man born of the woman, and it is a far more blessed thing to be in the position of the church than of this woman. But Christ was born of Israel. The moon is seen under her feet: all the passing phases which have been her glory are all done with— Judaism in its old form is gone completely. The twelve stars are all its administrative power in perfection, subordinate power.
Verse 3 has in it the principle of strength out of weakness. It is the Roman Empire historically, but literally Satan’s power. It has ten horns, not seven, and not the human administrative perfection of twelve. The child that is to rule does nothing at all, being caught up to God, and the woman who is to be the centre of God’s power is hidden in the wilderness. The church is included in the Man, all through the Old Testament; Isaiah 50, etc.
Satan’s being deprived of a place in heaven, causes him to stir up war on earth (v. 12). There is war in heaven first, and then Satan is cast out and makes war on earth. Connect Daniel 12 and Matthew 24 with this account. While Satan is in the heavenly place, whatever God has done in goodness man has spoiled in wickedness. This terrible power that man is unable to cope with (that the saints cannot is their own fault, it is true), which hinders God’s testimony on the earth, will be cast down, and he can then rage against heaven, but he cannot corrupt from heaven. Christ anticipated this when He said, I saw Satan fall like lightning— “the accuser of our brethren is cast down.” This is the last woe to the earth: Satan rages on it. A flood issues from his mouth (v. 15). He tries to overwhelm Israel, but God will not suffer it.
The subject of the chapter is the dramatis persona, as men say, of the great flood of evil coming on in that day. The testimony of Jesus is the testimony of the whole book—not preaching the gospel; as in 1 Peter 1 we see the preaching of the prophets, as the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. So here it is not the Holy Ghost sent down and making you see with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. The testimony of Christ is of a different kind, the testimony of power, not of grace. The cherished place is to be above and see the thunderstorm rolling beneath.
In this chapter we have the history of the two beasts, and they are something distinct from Babylon. One point must be remembered, that beasts are great temporal powers or empires; instead of being in subjection to God’s authority, they are ravenous and exacting. Nebuchadnezzar was the first and Babylonish power; and all the four great empires have taken the same character. They rose out of the sea (unformed peoples) and became great corporate powers, ruling the world. Notice that it is not only the ravenous character of the beast, but here the dragon gives it its power.
Being cast out of heaven, Satan rouses the earthly people in rebellion against the Lord and His saints in heaven. This character of the beast exclusively belongs to him for the half-week. In speaking of this beast or empire, the beginning of its history is given. Its origin we have in verse 1. The form of the beast is the same as the dragon in many respects. It has seven horns and ten heads. Chapter 12:3 and 13:1 compare together. The Roman Empire is divided into ten kingdoms— the world acknowledges it as the rightful power. The crowns are on the horns, and on the heads, the names of blasphemy. The heads are characterised by blasphemy, not power. Daniel 7:7 is identical with this in Revelation 13. Satanic power characterises this last empire. Satan resists Christ; and the Roman world in the beginning, by the power which was vested in the person of Pilate, was that which rejected, condemned, and crucified God’s king, the King of the Jews, and stamped its own condemnation upon the act, by writing over them, “This is the king of the Jews.” Thus it was not done in ignorance, but “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews,” was written there distinctly, and with authority. As soon as Satan is cast out of heaven, he gives his power to the beast—which had the character of beast before—he is the open opponent of a Christ in power as he had been of a Christ in weakness. Seven heads imply Satanic wisdom, and the expression [of it] is blasphemy. All the characters of power are associated with the beast here. He is wounded to death and healed—the same power, imperial power, revived. This power had been lost, but it revives and gathers up to itself all that the ten horns wield. They worship the dragon. There is direct thorough adoration of this power which is opposed to Christ; the giving up the earnestness and the energy of the soul to all this, not actual bowing down to Satan.
He boasts as man and blasphemes God. The tongue is a little member and boasts great things, a world of iniquity, as James says. Men are just preparing for this great wondering after the beast. Society is worn out, and wants something new—some energising centre, something it can follow, for old things are broken up. All the old things were broken up at the old French Revolution, and they have never been repaired. Whatever has been set up has been only breaking and breaking ever since, but this great power that is to come will just supply the lack. He blasphemes the name of God and His tabernacle, and theirs that dwell in heaven. Satan can blaspheme the saints in heaven, but he cannot hurt them, they are in the heavenly Jerusalem of which the Lord God is the temple. Satan can never get back to heaven when once cast out; when loosed from the bottomless pit, he will not get beyond the earth. He will make war with those on the earth, but he cannot touch those in heaven; and we are associated with Christ there, and can sit in as much composure and peace above the devil’s blasphemy, for we are with God, as while the “lightnings and thunderings and voices” were proceeding from the throne. It is a blessed thing to be so identified with God in being thus the objects of Satan’s blasphemies. We want to get our hearts filled with the sense of this connection with God in the heavenlies, and it is this which is always in contrast with the dwellers upon earth; but just as far as we are mixed up with the dwellers upon earth, we lose the sense of our identification with Him.
“It was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” There are some killed, for example, the two witnesses. This could never have been before—God never allowed them to be overcome. All that dwell on the earth are swayed by this power except those who were elected from before the foundation of the world. These do not worship the beast, the vessel of Satan’s authority. There are four things specially to be remembered: first, the dragon is worshipped; second, those are blasphemed who dwell in heaven; third, those on earth are overcome; fourth, all the characteristics of the four beasts are to be found in this one. “If any man have an ear to hear, let him hear.”
Now we find ourselves, as in chapter 11:19, in Jewish circumstances. Verse 11 of this chapter introduces us to a sovereign power in his way, and he assumes to have Christ’s power. He has horns like a lamb, and yet if you really hear what he says, you find it is a power in opposition to Christ; though pretending to be Christ, he has a mouth like a dragon, he has the devil’s energy against Christ, and pretends to be the Messiah. Christ was a prophet when down here, and He will be a king when He comes again, and both these this second beast takes to himself, so that he is the Antichrist (Herod being a figure of him). We find in him the pretension to Christ’s royalty, and His prophetical character, but the priesthood of Christ he cannot claim. In the three great powers in action at this time, the dragon, the first beast and the second beast, we find a mimicry of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit.
“He maketh fire come down out of heaven” (v. 13). This miracle resembles that of Elijah’s with Baal. The very thing that was done to prove Jehovah God is done here to prove Satan’s power. He mimics that which proved Jehovah to be God, and he will also mimic those which proved Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ of God. Thus we see that idolatry will be again set up in the earth, for man after all, infidel as he may be, cannot get on without religion, because he must have something that is above and greater than himself, for his thoughts to rest on. Man by nature in every act is infamous, and he is not only blasphemous in heart, but idolatrous in ways. The character of idolatry is to consecrate what is in man’s heart already, will or lust, in absolute subjection—as much will as you please may be allowed, provided it be consecrated—to this beast. Chapter 19:20, refers to these two beasts of this chapter. It becomes quite Jewish at the end; but the character of evil working now we see from 2 Thessalonians 2. The expressions used in verse 9 of that chapter in reference to Satan’s powers are just the same as those applied to Christ in Acts 2:22. The words in Greek are identical—miracles, wonders and signs. All the pride now rolling around, and the intellect setting itself up, wasting itself for want of an object, will here find its focus. All the pride of man will be as a mere puppet show, for Satan to stand behind and pull the strings.
What painstaking care was given the apostle to warn us of these buddings of evil! We have more than buddings now— Judaism attached to Christianity, ordinances added to the work of Christ, instead of the Holy Ghost recognised as uniting the members to the Head in heaven, with nothing between. They who hold such things deny that the members on earth are Himself; but He says of them “I am Jesus.” They have begun in the Spirit and end in the flesh. The stamp and character of apostasy is upon it: denying the Master that bought them, going back to days and months and times and years—and this with the Galatians was going back to the heathenism they had given up. The flesh makes an effort to accredit itself with what God accredits Christ with. But if we take Hebrews 10 as our stay, we shall be glad to part with all this as a mere lie: believing God’s word from verses 19-23, it will all be gone like a mere fog (the mere form of godliness). The energy of Satan is now being exercised in the mystery of “iniquity,” and this will continue so long as Satan is in heaven, from whence he corrupts all the truth God has ever given to the church. Therefore in 2 Thessalonians 2 we get the link between the mystery of iniquity which is now working, and the man of sin; between the false Christianity which now exists, and the false Christ which will then appear. False Christianity is now deceiving the Gentiles; but when it takes its ripened form under a false Christ, then it will be connected with the Jews. Those who have not the love of the truth, God says, shall love a lie. There are even now plenty of lovers of religion, and but few who love the truth. This is a sad and solemn truth, to believe and witness. May the Lord give us to be very plain in our testimony, and to have our souls entirely separated from a form of godliness without the power thereof, for when it becomes a mere form it is the direct power of Satan. Do not let us be violent in our efforts; for if we are convinced of the truth of it, we can be quiet, and let God work in His own way; and as to persons, treat them graciously, taking all things quietly. May we so experimentally know what a saint is as united to Him, as to be following Him, and not denying His name, for the contrary would be blaspheming it.
Chapter 14, 15, 16
Before the judgments are poured forth, not before tribulation, you get the redeemed from earth hid—their place marked out; not delivered, but sheltered before the Lord appears. The moment they see Him, it will be the defeat of the antichristian action. Those who obey the word of prophecy will not be exposed in the last three and a half years. This chapter 14 stands alone. Whether in testimony or in judgment, it contains the Lord’s dealings while this evil is going on.
(1) Verses 1-5. Zion is royal grace, after failure at Sinai: Zion in Hebrews 12 is earthly. The passage takes in the millennium up and down—church blessings and earthly blessings. Zion is of great importance in scripture. “Ichabod” was pronounced by the faithful on Israel, the ark being taken into captivity; there is a thorough break up, and then comes in a new thing by the divine interference of David, and the ark is then placed on Zion. Those who had faith went to the ark in David’s time. All was confusion in David’s reign. The ark was brought back, but the ark and the altar are never united again; the ark never set up again in the tabernacle. The priest walked before God’s anointed; but now it was before God where the ark was. A believer would say, I go to the altar, and there is the priest, but I find no ark, no cherubim; and the faithful would connect themselves with David, and then get the ark of the covenant. The high place was at Gibeon, and there God did visit His people, as Solomon: to faith the Solomon-reign was inferior to the David. This is the state of things now. “Ichabod” is written on the whole system of things; Christ is the ark.
These 144,000 are not the same as those sealed in chapter 7; they are Judah, and do not include the ten tribes; the saved remnant of those who pass through the tribulation three and a half years, “continuing with me in my temptations.” It is “the” Lamb, not “a” (as in common editions). The remnant are in an analogous position to Christ (and now His body), only on earth, and not united to the Son of man in heaven. Therefore they are learning the song from the church in heaven, and in principle like Christ, suffering from the evil around.
There are two points distinct in repentance: two kinds we get in the Psalms and also often in our own hearts. Deliverance by power, and this answering to the ark on Mount Zion. Then when delivered, they see their horrible sin against Christ who has delivered them. It is worship as on Mount Moriah. “Cleanse me from blood-guiltiness,” etc., also Isaiah 53 is an expression of it: we have done it. This is what is now called evangelical repentance; not merely the cry of fear, “Who shall deliver me?” “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee.”
“First-fruits” (v. 4) has always the same general meaning, gathering out from the old into the new thing. These have nearness to heaven. This scene is the Lord beginning with the world. The character of salvation we get all through Revelation is coming from the throne of God—not the Father’s house.
(2). Verses 6, 7. God is setting things to rights on the earth. This same gospel was given in Eden, not the gospel of the glory in heaven as now—the peculiar gospel given to Paul. Gospel means good news in all ages. It is “every family” in Ephesians 3:15, not “the whole family.” See Amos 3:2. Every being who comes into connection with God, angels, Jews, Gentiles, the church—come under the name of the Father of Jesus, not Jehovah.
The everlasting gospel—good news to the earth—is that which will bruise Satan’s head, and set up the kingdom. It is the same as the gospel of the kingdom, and there is nothing to hinder that being extended over the whole earth. It goes on through all the tribulation; Matt. 24. Psalm 96 is the expression of it. There is a cluster of Psalms all connected with the setting up of the kingdom: Psalm 93 gives the consequences— Jehovah reigning, and the throne established in holiness after all the raging of men; Psalm 94 is a cry for Jehovah’s coming in vengeance from the remnant; in Psalm 95 the Jews are called to come up; Psalm 96—testimony goes out to the Gentiles because Jehovah is coming; Psalm 97—He is actually coming in the full power of His reign; Psalm 98—He is come; Psalm 99—He is seen sitting between the cherubim in Jerusalem on earth; Psalm 100—all in order: they are worshipping. Jesus is Jehovah the Saviour, Jah, the Saviour, Joshua, Jesus. This gives the character to His people; Matt. 1:27.
Psalm 32 is just the character of verse 5: that the Kingdom-character of the gospel; this the Creator character. Here is all the difference.
(3) and (4). This chapter gives us an epitome of God’s dealings. Babylon falls first, then the beast. Revelation tells the end of the thing. There are many lanes leading into the great thoroughfare of judgment. The spirit of Babylon is one.
The Book of Revelation will be of special use to those living at that time. We have to do with the book: but the book will have to do with them.
There are two principles of evil at work. In the beast there is the principle of association, or despotic power. This we see in France. Babylon is a weaker system—commercial in its character, but also papal idolatry. This we have in spirit in England, everything to quiet the conscience, and anything done for the sake of peace to carry on her commerce; and so there is the setting in of all evil. Commerce destroys principle, but it promotes civilisation; they will not scalp people, but goodness depends on paying bills. Verse 10 is fear, and not the blessed attraction of grace, as we have it. The fear of God is put in contrast with the fear of the beast. The fear of the beast is no doubt great, but the fear of God is to be greater. (See verse 7.) Here (v. 12) is the patience of the saints to be tried, of those who keep the “commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” There is belief in the promises—confidence in Him, which enables them to walk as He walked, looking for deliverance from God.
(5). Verse 13. “Blessed are the dead.” God is coming in judgment and in power; the dead will get their full blessedness at once without waiting longer—” dead “are those who have been slain, not those who are going to die, but those who have died.
(6) and (7). Verses 14-17. There are two judgments, one distinguishing, the other crushing. The harvest applies to what is good; not so the vintage, all is crushed in that: when reaping, some may remain untouched. The vine of the earth takes in the Jews and Antichrist. Babylon is degenerate Christendom: Israel is called a vine. In John 15 it is not the church, because we never get the church till the day of Pentecost. We find all through scripture Christ supplanting Israel. (See Isaiah 49.) I suppose that it is in Edom that the Jews are judged: see Isaiah 63. The Mahometans and Jews with all their corruptions hold a personal Antichrist. Some suppose the reference (v. 20) is to the length of the land of Palestine, but it is tremendous slaughter.
Attention is here drawn to a second great wonder. There was one great wonder (or literally sign) in chapter 12, and in this chapter 15 there is another.
The seven last plagues give us the wrath of God, not of the Lamb—we do not get that until chapter 19. Here God is dealing with those on the earth; nor yet the destruction of the beast, when the Lamb comes forth, but the filling up of the preparatory judgments after the woes. The wrath is filled up when the Lamb comes forth.
In verse 2 we have a second set of martyrs, not those under the altar (chap. 6), who have been beheaded in an ordinary way, but those who have been under the beast, and refused to worship him. They are distinguished in chapter 20:4.
These martyrs on the sea of glass are singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb: Moses and the Lamb are connected. There are those who understand His ways by going through the same with Him; and others understand His works by His judgments on the enemies. Some “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” In verse 3 the critical reading for “saints “is nations, the same persons as are mentioned in chapter 5. There the celebration is about them, here by them. He who had the lowly place there of the Lamb slain is here celebrated as “King of nations.”
The “sea of glass”; it is not merely water, purity, but glass, stability. It is not only water to wash defiled feet, as in the tabernacle service, but here it is solid purity to walk upon, and mingled with fire. They had passed through the fire of tribulation in the judgments. Two things have brought them there: it is not like the elders who are seen in heaven, as in their natural place, but they have got there, so to speak, through the judgments—saved so as through fire. They have not got clear of these dwellers upon earth, and they have to escape for their lives, like Lot. How came they down in the tribulation at all? They were doubtless faithful when in it, but, like Lot, who would never have been in Sodom if he had not liked the plain of Sodom, they have liked the comfort of the world while they could get it. To Philadelphia the promise was to be kept “from the hour of tribulation,” but here they are not kept from it, but taken through it. They were truly a testimony in the tribulation, but it was inactive testimony, not worshipping the beast. In chapter 20 there are two classes of martyrs spoken of—those beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and those who have not worshipped the beast. In chapter 6 we see those who have been beheaded for the witness of Jesus. This is the positive actual testimony of the faithful, three and a half years. In this chapter is no testimony, but a negative one—they had not worshipped, etc. We see in both that they had not been faithful as the church, or they would never have been in the tribulation. Better to be like Abraham on the top of the mountain, than like Lot in the plain of Sodom, vexing his righteous soul from day to day with the filthy conversation of the wicked. God has sometimes to pass us through a kind of trial on our own account, as well as in testimony, which would not have been necessary if we had been more faithful. The song we learn in tribulation we sing in glory (v. 4). So with Christ. So here with the remnant. The manifestation of the judgment of God was their salvation. These nations had been oppressing them, and now they will be brought into subjection.
There is not historical order pursued here, for it is anticipative, as are all these scenes with the elders now. This remnant have to go through the tribulation to get at what is here presented. God has come in, in the way of deliverance. Enemies now begin to be made His footstool. Satan has to be cast out of heaven. He does not yet rule with a rod of iron. He has taken His friends to Himself, and the first thing is to cast Satan down. As soon as this is done, Satan begins to stir up the earth against Christ. The woman then flees: the half-week. If these two sets of martyrs were not mentioned (chap. 20:4), as having part in the first resurrection, we should be left to infer that neither had they heaven nor earth. As they did not go up with the church, and were cut off for their faithfulness, so that they could not have earth, if they had not resurrection, they would have been shut out from both, without getting a reward for their faithfulness. The twenty-four elders probably include all who have part in the first resurrection.
The vials are direct judgments here. The temple is taken possession of in judgment. The preliminary judgments prove of no use, and then these positive judgments are filled up in wrath. The former were in the character of chastening, but we do not talk of chastening when wrath is to be filled up. Heaven in Revelation becomes the scene of judgment, and the time is between the church being spued out, and the Lamb coming forth in chapter 19. The Witness does not come out on earth until then.
Verse 3. “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty.” This was the original title in the book. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Then the Lamb’s song, “King of nations,” all anticipative of the double judgments of God and the Lamb.
Verse 5. Remark “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven.” (See chapter 11.) All this is an earthly thing in connection with God’s covenant. The testimony is not the gospel, but according to law—Jewish ground being merely secured in the covenant. The temple is the house (naos) —the place of approach. Compare Acts 7:44, “the tabernacle of witness” —the tent within. It is here opened for man to see what had been God’s ways within.
These angels (v. 6), in their clothing give us the figure of human righteousness (white clothing), and divine righteousness (golden girdles). They were vials of the sanctuary that the angels threw out upon the earth. “Bowls” is more simple than “vials,” but there is no difference—vessels of God’s house: the idea is golden bowls, divine righteousness, looked at in its judicial character, within. Blood was on the outside of the mercy-seat, signifying divine righteousness had to be satisfied. We have got into the house, as it were. And here is one of the things given from the throne by one who is there: “Him who liveth for ever and ever.” This stamps eternity on the wrath, as well as its being the moral nature of God. “The temple was filled with smoke.” Man is excluded from the temple which is filled with wrath, and they cannot get in. So Sinai was all of a smoke. “Smoke went out of his nostrils.” It is constantly used as a figure of consuming fire, in opposition to grace clearing transgressions, etc. “No man” (v. 8) merely means no one—it often does not mean man at all. Here none could enter in, priests, angels, or any. God alone fills the house with His glory, as in the Solomon reign in type. Even the angels have come out. “God chargeth his angels with folly.” None can be there when the house is filled with His glory.
Chapter 16:1. It is between God and man now—the wrath of God with man on the earth. The temple in heaven is shut up. There is a glory of God “no man hath seen, or can see”; but there is where the devil goes near. See Job and Zechariah for different characters of His dwelling-place.
Verse 2. There has been an analogous course going on a long time. The system of the earth is going on—Babylon, and other evils, even many antichrists, and God is taking things into His own hand now. The character of His dealings is like those through Moses in Egypt, quite different from the description in chapters 12-14. It is another sign, and quite distinct, “grievous sores” and “boils breaking out.” All those giving themselves up to the influence of civil power will get some terrible judgment, and men will see it—a “mark,” a sign upon them, of being a slave—what we should call a brand, a Taw, as in Ezekiel, for service and worship—as people mark cattle now—a mark of entire possession of and authority over. It is terrible thing to be marked by the devil. Paul suffered for Christ, having been faithful to Him, and he was branded for it. It is the same thought.
Verse 3. “Sea” is the unsettled mass of nations. The difficulty here is that every man died in it. Verse 4. The springs that should have been life became death—everything is polluted, deathful. Everything which should have been death bringing to life is life bringing death—every principle in the world turns to death. Any remnant will be kept clear of this. The “earth” is that part brought out into connection with God. There are certain floating, unformed nations besides, and these represented by the “sea.” They have been inflicting death, and now they are drinking in death. Gentile apostasy is centred up in Jerusalem.
The temple is still the place from which the judgments proceed. None can enter into it while all this is going on. In the previous chapter we had the things prepared; in this it is the pouring out of wrath. Now it is not the testimony or dealings with saints, but we see God’s dealings with the Jews as a people, something the same as the last verse of chapter 11, but there is a difference. Here it is more in the way of government, the throne; in chapter 11, faithfulness to His promises; therefore the ark of the covenant is mentioned. See also the allusions to God’s covenant-dealings with them in the next chapter; the figures are connected with the Jews and God’s covenant people. Smoke from the glory of God filled the temple—not leading to worship, as in Solomon’s time, but it is filled with wrath. It is all Sinai character, only it is in heaven, instead of on earth.
In the pouring out of these vials, we see the usual division of four and three. The first four are poured out upon the earth, the sea, the rivers, and the sun: and the fifth upon the beast, and the “sore” upon those who have the mark of the beast. The rivers of water are symbolical of classes of popular principles, masses of people moved along by a certain class of principles, for example, the French Revolution. The sea is the great mass; the river the floating population, a particular local influence. The king of Egypt said, “My river is mine own.” All they had to drink was the power of death—the water turned into blood.
The restitution of all things, spoken of in Acts 3, begins as soon as Satan is cast out of heaven, but it is not accomplished until after the millennium.
The “sun” (v. 8) means public authorities, “and men were scorched with great heat.” Tyranny becomes intolerable when fire is poured out. The principle of the thing was seen in France, where you used to have a padlock on your lips, if they did not know what kind of a person you were. “Blasphemed the name of God”—this shews the effect of judgment when the heart is not changed.
Verse 10. The term “beast” is used, because of the ravaging power of this king. A beast’s heart was given to Nebuchadnezzar. Man’s heart looks upwards to God; a beast’s heart looks down and ravages others. A beast is a wild ravenous creature, which devours all below it. They “blasphemed the God of heaven”: but faith would have owned Him as the God of the earth as well as heaven— “because of their pains and their sores,” they ascribe them to Him.
Verses 12-14. “Kings from the east” are connected with the same subject. The barrier of the empire will be broken. The seven heads on the beast denote forms of government: the ten horns, its division into ten kingdoms. The miracles wrought by the spirits of demons are those which are so beyond the power of natural science to interpret, that they cannot be understood in the age in which they are worked. A more advanced age might be able to understand them. The devil has uncommon knowledge of the resources of nature and science; they may be beyond the power of man to effect, but such a combination of natural things as to be within the reach of Satan. There are things very like miracles performed now through electro-biology and animal magnetism. The brain is a voltaic battery, the nerves the wires, etc., but the question is, who is to fire the battery? They could not make an animal move itself, and they could not make the animal. In chapter 13:15 it should be “breath,” not life, given to the image of the beast. It is life to man’s eye, but not really so.
The three unclean spirits are: 1, the dragon: this is infidelity, war against Christ; 2, the beast: pretensions to imperial power, given by the devil; 3, the false prophet: antichristian Judaism. The saints are endangered, and therefore exhorted to keep their garments (v. 15). “Garments “in scripture mean our daily habits or daily life. How needful it is to keep oneself in death, while walking through the world! The great thing is to keep nature dead. “Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” “I die daily,” Paul said. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” When God’s mind, or God Himself, comes in, natural joy would be confusion and disgrace.
Verse 16. When both Hebrew and Greek are named as in chapter 9:11, there is connection between Hebrew and Greek power; but when Hebrew is alone, it is solely Jewish.
Babylon (p. 19) is idolatry; commerce, too, and worldly power connected with civilisation. The things men are judged in are not always those they are judged for. Here men are judged in wealth, because of the abominable heart which sought the wealth apart from God. So was the merchant city of Chaldea, whose cry was in the ships. The thing judged is the idolatry, but the judgment reached their commerce. When you get the abomination for which God strikes her, she is spoiled of her comfort. The “great city “means the civil association; the “great Babylon” is its recorded character, idolatry.
“Judgment” (v. 1) does not merely mean the execution of punishment, but the sentence pronounced or accusation. There are here things with which Babylon is charged: it is said of Christ that Pilate put up His “accusation”17—the thing for which He was sentenced. Babylon here has the character of the church, and yet it is the most wicked system in the world. John, having part in the poor despised church, was banished to the isle of Patmos for the testimony of Jesus; and yet he saw that which was called “the church” governing this Roman empire which had put him in prison, a constituted system controlling peoples, etc. No wonder that he marvelled (v. 6): it must have been astonishing to him. The expression means, he wondered with a great wonder, somewhat as we should say, dying the death. “They that dwell on the earth shall wonder” —in their moral character, dwellers upon earth: it is general. The place to be looked to as the scene of it is the Roman empire.
The special character of the whore is seductive influence of the masses, and alliance with the leading powers. The kings commit fornication with her, and the masses are made thoroughly stupefied—drunk with new wine—not like those who were accused of being so in Acts, but in truth filled with the Spirit. In their sober senses they would have seen the corruption, but they are made drunk. It can only be understood in “the wilderness” (v. 3), where it is seen there is not one green blade for the soul. Upon her forehead was a name written, “Mystery,” etc. If a person is drunk, you may write on his forehead anything, things that were never heard of. She would not have taken such names as Mother of Harlots, etc., if her eyes had been open. The character of it is very plain, except to the besotted mind. John was in the Spirit led into the wilderness, and therefore he could understand it. A “mystery” can only be discerned by revelation and the power of God. It is simple to him who understands, but “great is the mystery of godliness; God manifest in the flesh,” etc., is a riddle to those who have no spiritual understanding.
This false thing which has the name of “mystery,” to those who are used to it, is as rotten as possible. The priest, with all his mummery, genuflexions, etc., can laugh at it; but the simple man who is ensnared by it thinks it all piety, and he is deluded by it. Absolution is thought to be a very wonderful thing—it quiets his conscience, and then he begins sinning again. Men call it a mystery, and so it may be, because it is the devil’s work. There is only one thing to keep a man out of popery, and that is the knowledge of divine righteousness. If one has got that, he will never want to try putting a cross on the ground, and then licking the dust. Divine righteousness can never be made a whit better by any works of self-crucifixion, mortification, etc., and therefore the man who knows he has this will not be trying works of his own to add to it.
Popery not only wants to add works, but it wants a priesthood. In Christendom, wherever there is a pretension to priesthood there is the devil. There is something that separates between me and God: there may be ever so little a germ of it, but still it is there. Priesthood in any shape is a denial of Christianity, though there may be a great deal that modifies the case. It brings a veil between me and God, as though Christ had not accomplished the work. Priesthood and clericalism, as set up by man, are both against God and the priesthood of Christ, interfering with the work of redemption as though this wanted something to be added to it. A man-organised ministry or clergy, denies liberty to God’s love; and virtually says, If you do not let me cut the channel, the gospel shall not go forth. I believe in ministry, but that is the very reason I will not admit clericalism; just for the same reason that, if I support royalty, I shall not admit a usurper. If I am not spiritual enough to get to God myself, I naturally enough get someone else to go for me; that is why priesthood and the clergy are set up. Popery is denying not so much truth as the application of truth. They allow there is efficacy in Christ’s blood-shedding, but how am I to get it? is the question. Oh! said Luther, get it by faith. Here is the application of it.
There is another thing that characterises Babylon—idolatry; like Balaam, who set a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, etc. When priesthood comes in, there is always more or less of idolatry also. If I know how to come to God, I do not want a priest any more than an idol; but if not, I want both. “Abominations” (v. 4, 5) simply means idols. The word ‘abomination’ constantly occurs in the Old Testament, meaning an idol. It is connected with all that is degraded; and the moment man gives up belief in the true God, he is sure to degrade himself. If man does not look to something above himself, he will sink to that which is below him, as we see in Romans 1. The attributes of God Himself were made to be symbolised in the cherubim which the Ninevites, etc., used to worship. They stopped short at the symbol, instead of going beyond to Him who was symbolised, and this was idolatry. In Israel they made pillars of God’s throne. What men had formerly about the Creator, they have now about the Intercessor. The truth of God is thrown into a channel that suits nature, but it is opposed to the Holy Ghost.
Then the next thing is murder. Satan is a liar, and the “father of lies”; and he is also a “murderer from the beginning.” So, in the working of Satan, we find there is first idolatry, and then it leads to murder. The “woman is drunken with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This is the time of prosperity to her. She is drunken. There are two characteristics given of those with whose blood she is drunken. It is not said any Christians; but they who “will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” “I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them.” The terms, saints and martyrs of Jesus, witnesses for Him, are given to characterise them. They are not characterised as those who are settling down here upon earth.
“The kings of the earth have committed fornication with her” (v. 2). This, in a hidden way, we may find going on now. The departure of the pope from Rome was the beginning of it. The kings of the earth are allying with the pope, in order to keep down radicalism, which is an enemy to them. The woman sits upon a scarlet-coloured beast (v. 3), and the beast must carry her, but she governs the beast.
“The beast that was, and is not,” etc. (v. 8), means the Roman empire—an expression that is intended to characterise it, not date. It “shall be present”; that is, it is the resurrection of the Roman empire in a devilish way—the perfection of power in a diabolical energy. There are seven heads and ten horns—neither spiritual nor human perfection.
Verse 14. “They that are with him are called and faithful, and chosen.” This is the bride individualised. When Christ is spoken of as Bridegroom, she is spoken of as bride, and that is in the Father’s house; but when the throne or the Lamb is spoken of, they are individualised who are connected with them.
Verse 15. “The waters which thou sawest” are not only dwellers on the Roman earth here, but China and all over the world. Wherever Christ goes, she, the mother of abominations, thinks she has a right to go. Kings mean kings as such; horns mean kingdoms—the whole power, such as France, where there may be no king reigning.
The beast was the vessel of Satan’s power against the vessel of God’s power—Christ. There is the holiness of the one city— the heavenly Jerusalem; and the scenes of corruption God judges in the other: and it is well to notice that what is after the flesh is always successful at the first, in order to put the faithful to the test. “That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural.” Cain and his doings are first narrated, before we hear of the true seed; Ishmael, the apparent heir, was long before the birth of Isaac; Esau remained in the promised land, while Jacob was a fugitive; Saul was king before David, and, to all appearance, Saul possessed the title to God’s power for a long time, while David did not resist him. We may see it in Jesus Himself, when He said, “I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought”; while others said, “Aha! aha! so would we have it.” Yes, and Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.” It is God’s way, in His rule of government, to allow it to go on for a time. He will put to the test whether the heart will go through the trial of being put down, but when God takes His power He will have it otherwise; until then, the Lord says, “I waited patiently” (Psa. 40): take no rescue till He comes. When did Jesus ever save Himself from all that came upon Him?
The whore sits upon “many waters.” The wicked may have children at their desire, and have substance; but the saint says, When God fills all things, I shall then be satisfied, and I shall awake up in His likeness. We have a description of Babylon before the heavenly Jerusalem—the whore in chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 21.
There is imperial glory in Babylon also—all that could attract—purple, scarlet, and precious stones; but John saw by the Spirit the true character of it all—the beauty which attracts man but disgusts God, and He will never be mocked. He will have us walk by faith, and though He shews us the woman riding the beast, and the beast carrying the woman, He holds the bridle till the church is gathered. “Babylon the great”! This is the character of it, and in this way it is the world, it is the source and spring of all the idolatry, the rival of the Jerusalem of God; and she is not the only one, but the mother of all, and in her was found the blood of saints and martyrs. As Babylon she had corrupted all the nations, and here she is drunken with blood. You always find the great opponent of truth is the corrupter. See it in the chief priests, who gave up Christ; they were more guilty than the soldiers. After paganism we have corruption from what bore the name of Christianity; and not only so, but oppression; in her the blood is found—that which called itself the holy city!
In verse 8 the beast was, and is not. The Roman empire ascends, for there is a connection between the two—the seven heads and ten horns. The Roman empire was, and is not, but comes back again, and comes under the influence of Satan, for it ascends “out of the bottomless pit.” Christ came out from God’s throne, and the beast out of the depths of the pit—an antagonistic power; one out of the light, the other out of darkness, and they wonder who are not guarded by God’s electing grace. The shadows are coming over the renewed Roman earth, the principles are at work. But verse 9 is a distinct character, the woman is on the seven hills, not on the beast—Rome, and marked to shew not merely a beast, but Babylonish power: the whole power so concentrated in the last head, that it becomes the beast. Christ wields the power of heavenly things, and in the same way (v. 12) for a season, no kingdom yet. But the ten horns receive power for one hour with the beast: they are contemporaneous—did not supplant the beast, but received power with him. We have seen, in a sense, they have power with the woman, but here it is a person in whom the power is concentrated, but I get in the ten horns the federacy, associated with the beast, they give “their power and strength,” “their kingdom” unto the beast. Western Europe will present it, they will have one kind of general unity, not individuality of the nations but unity, and they cannot go on without a head; so they are content to give power to the beast, and they say, “Who is like to the beast?” And they make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb overcomes them and we have the church with Him. Angels are not called to this; they are upheld by grace, but not “called” (v. 14).
In verse 16 the ten horns hate the whore, for, after all, the woman will be in the way; they will not bear to be priest-ridden, and they will destroy her. All that is ripening up will be destroyed by the people in an ignominious way; for though this corruption is trying to keep down the people, it will not succeed.
This is the latter-day scene, and, in closing, I would say, it is a solemn scene; but what can we expect from sinful man? and, I must say again, there is no corruption so terrible as the corruption of the mediation of Christ. The heart that is brought to Him is astonished to see how people are attracted by the external, which has not one trace of Christ in it. But the soul that is brought to God has got divine righteousness, and if one comes to me to offer pardon of my sins, I say, I have got it. And if I receive from you, I must get it again and again; but through Christ’s blood my sin is remembered no more. The thing offered is not Christianity, for the Christian has got his place; and it has got Babylon on its forehead, and if you cannot see, you have not got a spiritual eye. The Lord help us, for all are in danger who are not on simple ground. I have no thought that man’s wisdom will do anything; but He will keep the feet of His saints. If the woman is destroyed, the horns give power to the beast: if corruption ceases, these make war with the Lamb, but the soul that is brought into peace, and holding the Head, shall be hid secretly; near to Jesus is a hiding-place, and there we shall be spared from all that is around. The Lord keep us from the spirit of the world, and guard us from the corruption of the mediatorial work of Christ!
The other angel (v. i) is not the Lord. Babylon (v. 2) “is fallen,” or morally sunk into the lowest degradation. The actual fall is narrated in chapter 19:2. The consummation is openly diabolical, because Satan is cast out of heaven.
Verse 4 is a cry to the people of the Lord to come out, etc. The mixture of Judaism and Christianity will be such as never was known before: Judaism, which is really heathenism, as in Galatians 4, where Paul calls observing days and years a turning back to the beggarly elements—being circumcised to keep the law, etc. It is the religion of the flesh. Up to the cross of Christ God was dealing with all this; but when Judaism is grafted on Christianity, it is hateful to Him. What are prayed to as Saint Peter and Saint Paul are demons: as they used to introduce false gods, so now they introduce false mediators. Puseyism is heathenism. The shapes of evil, counterfeiting God, are Judaism, demonism, and heathenism. Infidel latitudinarianism is the character of evil in England, different from what it is in India. Popery slurs over sin; no matter how they sin, an indulgence will atone for it. It is a shame for His people to be there, but still He remembers them (v. 4). People who are in the ark cannot be touched, but an apostate protection He will judge thoroughly.
Verses 12, 13. Everything not heavenly is mixed up with her: “Souls of men.” “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you,” 2 Pet. 2:3. There is a time “to love, and a time to hate,” and there are certain things which if a person does not hate, he has no right estimate of God. Some things ought to be hated—not the persons of course— “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” We must not confound natural kindness with grace; but it is easy to do it, and to be indifferent to God’s honour. The popish hierarchy has been guilty of shedding all the blood that has been shed upon earth. It is the centralisation of all the wickedness that has been done on the earth from the time of Abel downwards, and Rome will be judged for it (v. 24).
Chapters 17 and 18 are a parenthesis in the history, which is Continued from chapters 16 to 19. Chapters 17 and 18 are descriptive, not historical. In chapter 21:9, we have a description of the heavenly city after the Lamb is come, just as we get this description, in chapter 18, of this other city, the object of God’s wrath; first that which is carnal, and afterward that which is spiritual. There is the false and the true, and it is after the false is set aside that the true is put in its place. The corrupt pretended to be the heavenly thing, but the Lord will take His bride, and produce her before the world in glory.
Babylon is “the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth.” The whole character “of it is idolatry and hostility to God. The Lamb does not execute judgment upon her, but the one true God executes the judgment upon that which had come in between Himself and the souls of men (chap. 19:1, 2).
We are little conscious of the blessing granted us, in being made acquainted with God’s purposes, even those of judgment. The first thing, of course, for the soul to be anxious about, is the possession of peace with God. But then the heart will not be shut up to that, but is enlarged of God, to enter into the whole scene and scope of glory, in which the Lord Jesus Christ delights, and in which He will have us with Him, and in connection with this scene, into the judgments on opposers and enemies, consequent on His taking His inheritance.
If we think of the past or the present, in scripture or profane history, and consider how power has been abused, we cannot wonder at the joy heaven evinces, and the song of praise bursting forth at God’s taking the government: “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” Trace it back to the flood. After delegating the new world to Noah, we find man despising the authority of God, and idolatry coming in; in fact, the whole course of the world is according to the prince of the power of the air—according to Satan—and not according to God; all is apostate from God. The more religious they were, the more Satan was honoured. As the apostle says, “The things the Gentiles offer, they offer to devils and not to God.” It is not simply the natural lusts contending, and the motives enlisted on the side of sin: every way, it is all the devil’s. What a change, when God shall take the power into His own hands, and we can sing, “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!”
All idolatry is summed up in Babylon, “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” Go back to Nebuchadnezzar. The head of gold turns to idolatry. And I would note here, all that was connected with the worship of Pluto in pagan religion; and you will see that the unity of the Godhead was not the truth denied (a shadow of truth men never effaced even here, though hell and the devil were all that remained of it). That which man quarrelled with was that which reveals the Mediator Satan cannot deny there is a God, but he will try to hinder (by putting another object between) His light and love from shining into the heart and conscience, and so revealing Him who alone can give us peace. When the golden calf was made, the devil did not take away the name of Jehovah; for they said, “To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah.” So now it is not the name of God cast out; but the introduction of that which hides the truth. All Satan’s aim is to blot out the Mediator. So John, in his epistles, when heathenism and Judaism were combined in this one object, meets it by “God is light,” and “God is love.” And the saints are to be partakers of the same. So long as Satan can hinder that, he will give the name, and call it Christianity; but his object is to keep up the distance between our souls and God, and to prevent us from reaching the blessed end for which Jesus suffered— “who suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” Blessed be God, we have such a mediator, who brings us to God, raising us up to Him; not as Satan tries to bring God down to us— “after the similitude of a calf eating hay.” The corruption of the mediatorial work of Christ is Satan’s widespread power over the nations in the hands of Babylon,—but “Strong is the Lord God that judgeth her.”
The first verse ascribes salvation and glory, etc., to God— not to the Lamb—but to God on the throne, reigning; first, executing judgment, then reigning; to the God of heaven sitting on the throne (not coming to earth) in the characters known to the Old Testament saints as Shaddai and Jehovah, judging Babylon. He reserves to Himself the judgment which puts down Satan’s power and malice. Be not surprised at power unintelligible, yet chaining men’s minds. It is Satan’s work. It is quite beyond us, and cannot be put down till the Lord God takes the power and gives perfect deliverance. Christ cannot display His long-affianced bride until the evil is removed, that which is false and corrupt put aside, and that which is true brought out in its place. The pretended heavenly thing removed, Christ will bring forth His bride and produce her before the world in the glory prepared for her. While He is hid with God, we are hid too. Our display shall be with His display. The church and the world cannot go on together. By the Holy Ghost she is planted and set down here in the character of witness. In as far as she is true, she is hated by the world. For a brief season there was gladness, and the people glorified God; but she has to walk by faith, not by sight now. A heavenly character is hers. “Ye are not of this world.” And He cannot appear till we come forth with Him.
God will have realities. Now although He is bearing with corruption, it is only in order to the gathering His church to Himself. She having gone up and been received of Christ, He will come back with her, and be manifested to all. May we keep ourselves for Him until He comes!
Protestantism is what Sardis characterises, and comes to nothingism—a name to live, but dead, etc. In Thyatira it is positive, active corruption. Jezebel is a religious character or Babylon, the world-church system. Jezebel is popery, producing papists. Babylon is popery governing the world. Her final condemnation we have in chapter 19:2. The rule of God and the marriage of the Lamb are kept back until this great system is judged. No wonder there is the voice of much people heard, saying, Alleluia, etc. “The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped.” Verse 8 explains verse 7.
Verses 6, 7 are the song; the following verses are the history. It is necessary to see the distinction. His wife hath made herself ready by being faithful in what God had given her. “Righteousness” should be plural, and I believe it is God owning the practical walk of the individual saints that compose the bride. They were given to have resurrection-life with Him. What is produced is the righteousness of saints, and seen before God in resurrection character—the display in glory of responsibility as to service done in the Holy Ghost by us down here. “Their works do follow them.” “Was granted that they should be arrayed in fine linen” shews it is grace, after all. The Lord is pleased to own the work wrought in us, and by us, in the Holy Ghost down here. In virtue of life in my Head I stand before God: in virtue of what He has done in me, the manifestation of that life, I stand before the saints, before man.
“These are the true sayings of God” (v. 9). “Sayings” have a very large meaning. Christ is the Word of God, and His are the sayings of God.
The parable at the beginning of Matthew 25 is not Jewish, though the hidden bride is the earthly Jerusalem. The wise virgins are true Christians, and the foolish those who profess, have only the name, in this dispensation—going out to meet the Bridegroom. The Jewish remnant does not “go out,” but Christ comes to it. The figure of virgins characterises them as individual saints, not in their corporate character as the church, though they are of the church (that is, the true and faithful virgins). In the Gospels, when the bride is alluded to at all, it is usually in this way (namely, as individual saints). The difference between the wise and the foolish virgins is not in their watching, for they all go to sleep, but it rather consists in the reality of what they have got. If they were caring for Christ, they would be thinking of the light He would want to see, and would look to the oil; but if they only cared about the company of the other virgins, they would be thinking about their dress, and many other things, rather than the light. In Matthew 24 Christ was giving instruction to those who inquired of Him about Jewish things, down to verse 44. Next, from verse 45 down to verse 31 of chapter 25, He applies to His disciples while He is away. Then, to the end, He takes up earthly things which will be known in reference to the Gentiles.
The bride in Revelation 19 and 21 is the church. The symbol of the “city,” in chapter 21 shews the glorious character of the saints. The heavenly people have more enjoyment than the earthly, in the same way that I get more happiness than the poor family I go to visit. They may enjoy the thing, but I enjoy something quite different. The heavenly people will be a medium of communicating blessing to the earthly.
The marriage supper (v. 9) introduces the millennium.
The “fellow-servant” (v. 10) is an angel. All that John is here is as a prophet, a servant, not as one of the church, indwelt by the Holy Ghost.
“The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” This is distinct from the gospel—His prophetic testimony, and the people are named “servants “rather than sons.
Two words are used in Revelation generally, “diadems” and “crowns.” Here it is “diadems.” If they gain a victory, they put on a crown; if it is to signify royal power and authority, it is a diadem.
Verses 11, 12. There is a difference between warlike and sessional judgment. This is, of course, the first. The Lord is coming out to execute judgment on the beast, who took the character of the false prophet, and was cast alive into a lake of fire, whilst Babylon was burnt with fire. “And I saw heaven opened.” This expression occurs four times in scripture connected with the Person of the Lord: first, in Matthew 3, the Holy Ghost descends, and bears record that God’s object of delight being on earth, heaven is open upon Him. The Spirit, as a dove, rests upon Him, and bears witness to Him as the Son of God. Secondly, in the end of John 1, the Lord says to Nathanael, “Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” It is not the Holy Ghost here, but the angels, and if those around had had their eyes opened, they might perhaps have seen them, for after His temptation angels came and ministered unto Him, and in the garden of Gethsemane one “strengthened” Him. The third time there is a difference, for the Son of man is gone up: God has taken to Himself the Objects of His delight. Then the Holy Ghost fills the saint on earth. He looks up and sees the heavens opened and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. The link is broken with earth, and the heart of the saint is taken up to heaven. The testimony of this is corrupted and lost, and we have now a great tree instead. Then here, for the fourth time, heaven is opened again, and Christ comes forth in judgment against hostile power; and, when thus opened, it is for us as well for Himself, for we belong to Him, and come with Him. “The armies which were in heaven followed him.”
The white horse is the symbol of triumph, and He who sits upon him is called “Faithful and True,” the same character in which He is presented to the church of Laodicea, though there He is the “Witness” and the “Amen.” Here it is not as a “Witness,” but as a Judge, and as executing judgment in the character of God, and He is always the “Amen” to that. His eyes are as a flaming fire, shewing how piercing the judgment is; and then “on his head were many crowns” —or royal glories. His name none knew but Himself. This is Christ’s consciousness of what He is. So, in Matthew n, He says, “No man knoweth the Son but the Father.” And why? Because no man can fathom incarnate God; and the way He maintains it is by going down and down, for “He humbled himself,” and became obedient unto death,” etc. But He is exalted, and “His name is called the word of God,” the Revealer of God. He appears in “a vesture dipped in blood,” significant of His coming forth as a warrior.
Isaiah 63 is the same scene. There He is described as treading the “winepress of Almighty God” —executing judgment indeed as Son of man; but He could not tread the winepress of God if He were not God. In His lowest services He was still God. None could have put his hand upon the leper but He without being defiled. The priest was only able to look, not to touch the leper; but here is One who could touch. It is sweet to know how near He is to us j and yet how great. His name is publicly written: “he hath on his vesture, and on his thigh, a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
How Paul to Timothy rests upon the glory of His Person, when he says, “the only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords,” etc., “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
And Christ comes forth here to judge the quick. The subjects of His judgments are not the nations, which are connected with the throne, or sessional judgment: but here it is as seated upon a horse. This is judgment on hostile power, the place where light has been—the Gentile and the Jewish power, given to them by Satan—the Roman emperor, and the false or pretended Christ.
God sends His Son to get men out of heathenism, idolatry, etc., and they turn that into idolatry. There may well be joy in heaven when there is an end to it; for Christ now sets it all aside by judgment on the earth—but as come down from heaven. The kings and their armies gather together; but all ministers to the setting up of the Lord Jesus Christ as Prince of Peace, and we have our position with Him, and come out with Him.
Beloved friends, it is very important to see the solemnity of the judgment about to be executed on Babylon. The effect will be to separate our hearts from all around, and keep us looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, keeping our garments white. It will be a struggle, but now are we the sons of God, and “when he shall appear, we shall be like him”—He will come out with us. May we seek to realise it even here, keeping ourselves distinct from everything that is to be judged, and our “heart’s desire be to see His face with joy, to be with Him who has given Himself for our portion now and to all eternity.
The beast and false prophet destroyed, Satan is bound and put into the bottomless pit. Then comes sessional judgment. It includes Matthew 25, but it is not that only, for it is going on—they sit on thrones all along—through the millennium. Then Satan is let loose and deceives the nations; namely, those who are not kept by grace: he gathers them around Jerusalem, and fire comes down and destroys them all. Then follows the judgment of the dead: the 8th verse of chapter 21 finishes the book.
The prophetic part of the Book of Revelation closes at chapter 21:8. Then we get from verse 9 a description of the heavenly city, in that shape and form: as to what it is, what cannot enter into it, and what it reveals’. This chapter gives more the outgoings of it, the river of the water of life, [the tree of life, and the leaves of the] tree for healing of the nations, etc. This closes at verse 5, and ends entirely at verse 7. Then it was, “I, John, saw these things,” and certain addresses are given which I desire to speak about; also a general truth, bringing down the light of the heavenly city on us now.
The Lord put Israel under the law, and there was complete failure; but still He will accomplish, in infallible power, what He had promised to Israel, for He will write His law on their hearts, He will accomplish in power to Israel what He had given in responsibility. It is the same in regard to the church— He has set it in responsibility among men now.
The practical application we should derive from these promises is, that there is nothing here morally that we ought not now to be looking for. By the power of the Holy Ghost we should have a present anticipation or reahsation. Of course, when there is the full result, there will be a great difference—the body freed from sin and death, etc.; but still more, “The river of the water of life”; for it is said now, “He that believeth, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” The tree of life was the manifestation of grace, the leaves being for the healing of the nations—a beautiful character of the church, to be ministering the healing power of grace. In Israel will be seen, when righteousness is reigning, “the sinner, being a hundred years old, shall be accursed.” But here I find, even in the glory, the blessed principle of divine grace through which we came there. The earnest is given us now, “Christ having been made a curse for us.” “The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it”: the immediate throne of God is now within the church. Do we not judge those who are within? The Holy Ghost also sets up His throne in the heart of the saint, because it is the witness that there is no curse; he is not judged for sin—the word of God being the judge, a discerner between good and evil according to God. When this is not accomplished, it is a testimony against the saint.
“His servants shall serve him.” Now there are many hindrances and conflicts with the enemy in service; but still, what I am called on to do now will then be fully accomplished; now, as far as we are spiritual, we enter into the anticipation of it. “His name shall be on their forehead.” By-and-by there will be a perfect display of Him whom we serve; but now all men ought to see the display of Christ’s name in us— to speak, and walk, and meditate as He did. In the glory it will be Christ reflected in everything; so now it ought to be. The more we search into the details of the glory in this blessed book, the more shall we learn the higher blessings to enjoy. The Holy Ghost brings it out for us to anticipate now, learning the grace that comes in, and the life that flows out. God will accomplish the highest desires that now we have for our comfort and joy to anticipate; all will be accomplished. God produces desires within us that nothing but the glory can satisfy. The Holy Ghost produces the power now to enter into these things. This shews the importance of our minds dwelling there. The lovely fruit then is seen, “Whatsoever is lovely” or “of good report, think on these things.” How bright the heart would be! What growing up to the knowledge and preciousness of Christ, if accustomed to be where God dwells! Christ was one over whom circumstances had no power, except to draw out God’s grace; and so should we be, for He is our example. Mark the outgoings of His grace to those in need. Christ was not governed, though of course acted upon, by circumstances to shew grace, the power of His affections being drawn up to His Father: there was no effect in Christ, only expressive of what was in Him—the very fountain of life, the source of all He did.
“He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.” Three times it is repeated. What has the Spirit of God declared? Two things have been shewn in this book. The terrible history of man’s pride, and God’s judgment against it. Then He takes the saint out of that scene, and sets his heart at the end of these things, even bringing before him the heavenly Jerusalem. This has always a sanctifying effect, it stops many a haughty word. In the former part of the book I see God knowing everything. This I might not be able to explain, but I see the result of all. We are called on to “keep the sayings of the book.” The soul has been given a sort of gravity in the world, not to be meddling with what will be judged. The next thing—He goes a step further when addressing us, on what has been before, or going on now, or is to be hereafter: whoever receives these things may find this stay for his soul—“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” There is the rest, as to all that has been performed, and what is unaccomplished: the heavenly Bringer-in of the light that is to shine in the world—the Star of heaven to arise on this benighted world.
What is the spiritual feeling of the church after all has been gone through—after the terrible schism between light and darkness? What does the church say? “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Those who have the place of the bride desire the Bridegroom, having the blessed fellowship together. Look at chapters 1 and 3; there you see the full expression of this. As the Faithful Witness He was seen on earth; for no man could see Christ on earth, but saw God in Him. Whether He took the little child in His arms, or comforted the poor widow whose son was stretched on the bier, all exhibited God, and I know Him as such. He is also “the First-begotten from the dead,” witness to God for us, hereafter as “Prince of the kings of the earth.” What does the church cry at this contemplation? The Spirit of God in her breaks forth at this revelation of joy, and says, “Unto him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” She testifies to the world, “Behold, he cometh”: the church’s own position is of the testimony for Christ. The Spirit cannot speak to the saint’s heart without that saint giving a response. Now we get the result of all the testimony, closing with what Christ is in Himself. It turns from the city to Him who is the centre. Why am I in the golden street? Because Christ is in the midst of the city, not now washing my feet, for the place I walk on cannot defile, for it is righteousness and holiness of truth.
In the whole scene all is summed up—“I, Jesus.” He must have the heart of the church, He may tell the church many things, open to them His mind: as to Abraham, it was said, “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do? “Also says Christ, “Ye are my friends.” After He has communicated what He was going to do, and done all, He says, “I, Jesus.” He Himself comes and addresses the church. Beloved brethren, when the Spirit of Christ works in the heart, it says to Christ, ‘It is You I want—come and bring in the glory.’ “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Not merely the bride, but the Spirit. The source and substance of what is in the heart is the Bridegroom. What is the next desire? “Let him that heareth say, Come.” He calls on the saint to join and say, “Come.” Those who have entered into the full apprehension say to others, “Come.” This is the next step. The church at the same time has the blessing in itself, that is, the water of life, and turns round and says, “Let him that is athirst come,” because we have the waters of life—not yet in all the blessed fulness, but we are sure the river of life is flowing in the heart of each saint, however feeble. Christ said this first, in John 7, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink,” and now sets the church in the very same place of invitation, because it has got eternal life. See here the blessed consciousness of what the church has got: salvation—no uncertainty, though many may pass through trial in getting it; but I speak of the portion of the church. “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” But what is the record? Not one of uncertainty, “and this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” There is the gospel, the answer of peace given by God to those whose souls are working in this way. Peter, in his address to the Jews, shews this: the gospel, the revelation of what is in Christ, is the answer of peace to the conscience under all the anxieties produced by having neglected Him. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” so the Christians can say, “Let him that is athirst come”— not merely say it, but go and testify to Christ as hard as ever he can.
“Whosoever will, let him come,” is another step. There is the same certainty of having life. It comes fresh from the throne of God and the Lamb. Having the water of life, I am looking for the glory in saying all this. “Behold, I come quickly.” Mark the way in which, both importunate and solemn, Jesus presses it on the hearts of His saints, to say, “Come”: “I come quickly,” as much as to express, ‘I leave on your hearts these last words’—with which He closes the book, and solemnly adds, “Amen.” The Christian again breaks out, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Whatever has been testified about, this is to be laid on the heart of the church. Could your heart say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”? Having heard this word of comfort and encouragement, can you say this? If you are not at peace, you cannot say so, but would rather the Lord would come and take you to-morrow, and not to-day. If I look for Him as a Judge, I cannot say, “Come.” If the conscience is at peace, it does not enter into the question of sin: having blessed me with every spiritual blessing, Christ comes without sin to receive me to Himself. In practice the affections enter in. You may see a person truly in Christ, and not happy in God, not before God; the conscience active, but the affections not right there. I must have my affections in my conscience. The effect of His work is to bring me to God. The Holy Ghost sets up His throne in the heart, and judges what we are not to be judged for. If, by careless walking in the flesh, or having my interest in the world, I cannot disown my state, the Holy Ghost takes these things that are in my heart, and makes me see what I have allowed, and I get exercised, troubled, and ashamed. I doubt not of being saved, but have lost the fountain of joy. My heart cannot be in this state, if I am doing things in His house that are not pleasing to Him: I shall not like for Him to come and see I am neglecting Him. Any one of these things, contrary to His mind, will hinder our looking to God. There ought to be that sifting in the heart, that the desire of our souls may rest in confidence in the work done for us; and the desire too, that the Holy Ghost may drive away everything from our affections that is not of God, and that our affections may be so brought into our conscience, that we may say, Come, Lord Jesus; even so, come.
There is peculiar graciousness in this invitation to the world to come and take of the river of the water of life. Here is the authority of the church for considering herself as the bride before she really is so manifested. The angel (in verse 16, and other passages) is the representative of the Lord; even though declared to be an angel, he stands as the distinct messenger of the Lord Jesus, and speaks as His representative.
Chapter 22:16, 17
The Morning Star is the place Christ has taken so as to have the church with Him in that character. Christ is the subject of prophecy as regards the earth, and then disappearing and going up: never the subject of prophecy as hid in God.
Chapter 1:5. Earthly association with Him is spoken of first. The church has her own proper place, and says, “To him who loveth us, and hath washed,” etc., and then turns round to speak of His manifestation on earth. His earthly work for me was when He washed me from my sins. He is not only the “Faithful Witness” for me, but the faithful worker. In every sense He was a faithful witness for God. But we begin not with that, but, “He loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood”; we look back, too, and see He has all the rest. He has put us in the same official nearness with Himself to God— “king and priests, unto God and his Father.”
In chapter 4 we see the church now in heaven. The judgment of the churches down here in chapters 2 and 3; judgment of the world afterwards; and then, at the close, a description of the heavenly city: “Behold, I come quickly,” etc. All is closed: just as revealed at the beginning, so it is at the close. “I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches”—a personal word after the book is closed. The beginning of the book opened also with what He was.
Chapter 22:16, being in contrast with what had been said for the world, draws out the expression from the saints of verse 17; this shews our position till He comes. “The Root and the Offspring of David” is the Source of all, and the Heir of all—the holder, or vessel, in which all the blessing is set. This does not draw out the peculiar feelings of the church; but when He says, “I am the Bright and Morning Star,” it calls out the expression from the church, shewing her secret or private knowledge of His own personal value. In rejection while in the world, Christ was keeping up connection with it. Death comes in: the witness closed. Then redemption’s history begins— “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,” etc. Moreover, when He is manifested to earth, we shall be manifested with Him. The Bright and Morning Star stands contrasted with the blessing the earth will get. Then comes the invitation of the Spirit and the church; it is Himself she wants, and, until then, she is the full vessel of the grace of God, and says, “Come.” Israel is not that. They do not know relationship and deliverance in consequence of that, but they wait for deliverance out of the sorrow— “out of the depths.” They groan for deliverance, that is, the coming in of power to set them free.
The hope of the church is by the power of the relationship. She is the bride, she has the Spirit, and does not wait for it. Israel says, “Thou to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.” Does the bride say that? Does she call for vengeance? No; she is waiting for the Bridegroom. It was that which closed the relationship with the world, that began our relationship with Christ. His death was the ending of that in which God could have anything to say to man as man. As connected with Him in manifestation (not union—never that), all closed at His death. I can say, I am dead, crucified with Christ, my life is hid with Christ in God. The centre and root, too, of all our relationship to God is Christ’s death. Sins are gone, not existing any more: the be ing is gone in which they were, that is, I. We begin by death, and we are never clear unless we see that. It is not by His death I am put into union with Him, but by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven. They would not hear, killed Stephen, and the like; and then comes out this position—exclusively a heavenly Christ; and then we get the Morning Star. He is not only a Christ in heaven, but He has associated believers with Him while He does not come to the earth: His blood-shedding is the ground of it all. The revelation to Paul after this is “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Paul got the teaching of the church, and said afterwards, “I know no man after the flesh”—I know no such people as Israel on the earth—no such Head as the Messiah. My connection is with Christ risen and glorified on high. In John 14 He says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He does not say, I will prepare a place for Israel. We are going to the Father’s house. We are connected with the Father and the Son by faith while waiting for Him, and we shall be with the Father and the Son by-and-by. Christ, the hope of the glory to be revealed, is the foundation of that, and therefore it is said, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” How can we tell that? We know it, for He “shall be in you.” The Holy Ghost is an unseen Spirit in the world, but He is linking you with an unseen Saviour in heaven. This is our proper hope, as being of the bride through the Holy Ghost dwelling in her.
What is the Morning Star? The revelation of Christ to the church when He is not seen by the world—the completion of present privilege. In 2 Peter 1:19 Christ is the “day star.” The allusion in this passage is to the transfiguration, recorded in the three Gospels. The kingdom is the earthly glory spoken of. The heavenly thing is the hidden part. “They feared as they entered the cloud.” It was not a common cloud, but significant of the presence of God—the Shekinah, where God dwelt in connection with Israel. They did not see from without what was within. The Shekinah frightened those in the wilderness. Moses and Elias went into the cloud: the others did not see them then. The word of prophecy is confirmed by the glory revealed—a candle that shineth in a dark place. The Father was in the cloud. Moses and Elias went in, and the others could not see in. Paul only knew afterwards what was within.
There is to be something besides broad day. This is the night; but the Morning Star is to be seen by those watching through the night. Prophecy tells you of the day, but not of this Star. Prophecy could not tell you of the hidden Christ, “until the day dawn.” Those who are waiting for the day see the dawn, and watch for the day. They do not belong to the earth (as in darkness of night), because the spared remnant on the earth are that; but they belong to heaven as well as to the power of the day before the day comes. We get Christ Himself as He will never be seen in the day. Hence in Revelation 2:28 the address to Thyatira says, “I will give him”— the overcomer, not only the glory of the kingdom, as revealed to Peter, but that within the cloud not revealed to him—“the Morning Star.” Here the bride responds to Him—the Morning Star. Now I shall have my proper place. He has washed me from my sins long ago. The relationship is understood, and enjoyed—no need of explaining it. Did you ever hear a person explaining to a child what its mother is? The relationship is there. There is no explanation when He says, “I am the Bright and Morning Star.” Those who have got hold of the relationship say directly “Come.” They know Him as the One who has loved them, and washed them from their sins, etc., and they are within the veil. The Spirit leads the chant, “Come.” The church has the consciousness in herself of the relationship, and the coming of Christ to receive the church could not be a matter of indifference; it could not be understood by a person who has not the living relationship. If I have the relationship, and He knocks, do I want an explanation of who He is before I open the door? Does the wife wait before she opens to her husband, when she knows his knock? “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Are all Christians saying, Come? No! Then what is to be done? The church is corrupt: there is the great house. But there are individual hearers; let them say, “Come.” The first desire is to have Christ, and to Him she says, “Come”; the next, that all who hear should have right affections towards Christ, and say, “Come.” You that hear, do you join, and say, “Come.”
You get the whole circle of right affections in this verse: first, that arising from the consciousness of being the bride; secondly, desire for all the saints. Why are you lingering outside Christ? Are you waiting for judgments on the earth? There is a desire that the saints should have no hindrance to the single eye, and readiness to say, “Come,” knowing the heart is not right if not saying, “Come.” Then is that all? No; there is a third thing—the gracious perception, that there are thirsty souls wanting to be refreshed. She says to them, ‘I have the Spirit, I have been refreshed.’ The church does not say, ‘Come to me’—the false church says that—but says, “Come.” I have not got the pure flowing of the river yet (Rev. 22), but you come. The next thing to the supply of our own need is the discernment of the wants of these thirsty ones. We can say, I have part in the Bridegroom—I have rivers of living water. We ought to be able to say, I have got the river. Anyone can say, There are rivers; but we ought to be able to say, We have them. If our hearts are in the circle of these affections, we shall say to others, Come, and have them too. Is that all? No; there are yet others invited: “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” Thus the church is seen, first, in its full bridal place and desire for Christ’s coming without a question of judgment; and so in the individual that hears His voice; then follow the invitations of grace.
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
16 [For the remaining papers in this series, the reader is referred to the Editor’s Note, Vol. 12, page 1. They are mainly notes of Addresses, not known to have been revised by the Author, save where this is specially indicated.]
17 [But this is aitia, Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26.]