The Times of the Gentiles
We are indebted to the executors of the estate of our deceased brother C. W. Ross for these important papers on the TIMES OF THE GENTILES. Although published in 1933, their relevance to the present urged the family to have them reprinted. It is an honour to comply in this, and we trust that the careful perusal of each article will quicken in hearts the living hope of the imminent return of the Lord.
But not only was the Church the body of Christ, it was the house of God, His dwelling place here, thus displacing Israel as God’s witness on earth. To make this manifest to all beyond cavil, the time came when God scattered the remnant of Israel, closed their worship, allowed their temple to be destroyed and thus left nothing on earth as a collective witness for Him save the Church of God.
Now the question arises, how will the Church of God behave as His lampstand or candlestick on earth? The Papist quotes “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” as a proof that the Church would never fail, but would remain God’s faithful witness in spite of all the devices of Satan and the weakness of men. But is that what this statement means? Surely not. Do the gates of hell signify Satanic power or even sinful men in their hatred to God? Does not the expression rather stand for the power of death? Those gates that hold men in the unseen world will not keep the Church from being the display of God’s grace and glory in the eternal ages. We humbly submit that the text simply assures us that the powers of the unseen world will not affect this thing, that in resurrection its real glory will be seen, and moreover, that it will not die out as movements have died out in the world, but will go on continuously until all the purposes of God are accomplished. In keeping with this the Apostle assures us “we shall not all sleep.” It is not a question of its faithfulness or otherwise, it is simply a question of its continuity of being, death will not stamp it out on earth, nor will death keep it when the time comes from shining out in all the glory of God. But its faithfulness as a witness for God is not touched by this assurance of the Lord, — that is another question and is the one before us in the second and third chapters of Revelation.
In this book of the Revelation the Lord is presented in an entirely new character. He is not here the Head of the body, the Saviour and High Priest of His people. The whole book is one of judgment, and because all judgment has been committed to the Son, He is here presented in the character of the Judge. Naturally enough His judgment begins at the House of God, and so in the second and third chapters He is found going over the history of that which was established for God’s glory here. In a later chapter we shall have occasion to go into more detail as to the whole book, because the last part of the chart takes us into its contents in some details. Enough has been said for the present to enable us to take up the two chapters that are immediately before us.
Now let us turn to our chart. On the left hand is the name Ephesus and beside it is the figure of a man with a seed-basket, scattering seed. A sower sowing seed is the Lord’s own picture of the first of the mysteries or secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven. He is the Sower and the seed He sows is the Word of God. The natural thought awakened in the mind by the word kingdom is certainly not that of a farmer as is depicted here. We think of power and pomp; we think of a king receiving homage from his subjects and being acclaimed as their sovereign. But here is a marked contrast, a patient labourer in the field without any outward show or that which would appeal to the mind of man as imposing in any way. Alas! although our Lord was a King in very deed and entitled to the homage of all mankind, it was little of that He received while here. The wise men from the East acknowledged Him as King and paid Him royal honours, and when He entered Jerusalem riding on an ass in keeping with the prophecies that declared the King of Israel would so come, the multitude acclaimed Him as the King of Israel, the Son of David, and spread their garments before Him and cut down branches off trees and strewed them in the way, thus giving Him a royal welcome to His own metropolis. But alas! it was but a flash in the pan, and this soon gave way to bitter hatred and plotting against His life. Full well He knew what was in the heart of man and so that there might be something for God in this world He turned away from the throne and took up the seed-basket and called on His servants to do likewise. How completely true to the fact is the picture the Lord draws. What has characterized the activity of the servants of God since the day of Pentecost? Has it not been preaching the Word of God throughout the world? Have those who can be called true messengers of His ever sought the place of rulers over their fellows like the ambitious men of earth? Have they not like their Master gone to the darkest places of this world enduring all kinds of suffering that they might carry the Word of God and sow it in human hearts? Who will question it? This, then, is the picture the Lord draws of the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course there is more in the picture than merely sowing seed; there is a detailed description of human hearts as the soil into which the seed falls, but to go into this would take more space than we feel we can give here. So we turn from the parable of the kingdom to the letter from Revelation 2, which we believe is to some extent parallel with it.
Very much is said to this church (Ephesus) by way of commendation. It was still young and full of spiritual vigor. The connection between it and the sowing of the seed is that in Ephesus we have the result of the seed-sowing, a bounteous harvest apparently. If we turn to Acts 19, we have the story of the sowing and the wonderful results in human hearts and human lives. For a space of three years that splendid servant of the Lord, the Apostle Paul, sowed the seed by day and night and publicly and from house to house. Opposition of course develops but every enemy is borne down and Christ is triumphant over all, “so mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.” Thirty-five years have now passed away and the Lord is visiting this assembly to see its condition. What does He find? Much to approve, thank God, and fully does He accord it the praise it earns from Him for its work and patience and labor and intolerance of evil as well as its unsparing judgment of false apostles. But it is added, “Nevertheless I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.” In the text of the Authorized Version this is put as if it were a little thing, but the Revision corrects this and gives it its true weight as a condition that spoiled everything — indeed even without the correction we might easily perceive that it was a grave condition, for He says, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.” Sometimes it is spoken of as a sort of accident, that we have lost our first love but that is a mistake, the language would suggest rather that there was a deliberate turning away from Him as the prime object of their affections. And without this as the spring of everything in their activities it was a fallen condition. One can understand this, and we think the address to the elders of Ephesus throws all the necessary light on it. In that address, given us in the twentieth chapter of the Acts, the Apostle tells them of some rising up from amongst themselves who would teach perverse things to make themselves the object and center of the saints, and evidently that had already begun. Christ was not the alone object of their spiritual activities but self, maybe in some subtle form, had displaced Him and therefore in principle all was lost. Perhaps His eye alone could detect this, but it does and He sees nothing but a total setting aside of the Church as the witness for God in the world if this is not repented of.
But this raises a question in the mind. What will the Lord do to recover His witness from this path of departure from Him? Will He let it go on to reap the fruit of folly, or will He do something in a direct way to arrest this downward trend? What would His past ways teach us to look for? Without question we would expect Him to do something definite. When we read of the church in Corinth and one there who had given himself up in a gross way to the indulgence of his flesh, we are told of the Apostle’s judgment to “Deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5). Again the same Apostle tells us of two men, “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20). And even in Old Testament times when God would deliver His servant Job from pride and self-confidence He permits Satan to work his will on him for a time. Simon Peter, too, that noble confessor of the Lord, was given up for a season to Satan when the Lord saw the need for a severe lesson to wean him from himself. Undoubtedly Satan hates the people of God and it suits his heart of hostility to everything divine in the world, to rage and tear them to pieces, but his opportunities to do this are limited by the Lord, Who has been exalted far above all principalities and powers of every kind. So Satan can go with his fiendish plans against the saints, only as far as he is permitted. But all this would prepare us for just what we find in the next letter to the church of God, that is, Satan being allowed to do his work as of old.