But there's more, ah, much more than a man in this man! This is the stupendous part. There is some One, other than man, and more than man, possessing this man. The divine fills the human. It is this sense of the glory filling the man that is so overpowering to John.
A glorious presence overshadows the man and shines out of Him, but never obliterates nor makes the man less. That indescribable glory within shining out through the man magnifies every part of His human being. The head and hair are white, not like a pale or painted white, but a transparent whiteness, an intense searching, glowing light shining out from Him through the human head and hair.
The eyes are as a flame of pure fire, the feet like melting metal glowing in fire. And the whole countenance was as the sun in its noontime strength shining out of a rainless, cloudless sky. Humanity enveloped in deity, yet remaining true, full humanity. God within man immeasurably more than man, yet not overwhelming, not disturbing nor obliterating, any part of his humanity, rather making every part stand out more distinctly.
Is this incidentally a kind of parable? Is it something like this on an immensely humbler scale that was meant for us men? God the Holy Spirit dwelling in a man. He the chief one, the divine one, yet expressing Himself through the man, and doing it fully to meet the need of the hour. His presence magnifying, vitalizing, and using every human power, yet Himself the dominant personality.
It is most striking to note that this is the same in principle as every appearance of God in the Old Testament pages. Sometimes He talked with men when there is no suggestion made of any appearance or of what the appearance was like. But wherever the appearance is spoken of it is always either fire or some touch of the human kind or both.
In Eden He waits and speaks, two human things. He talks with Abraham as a man talks, and ratified the covenant by passing fire through the pieces of the covenant sacrifice. It is as a simple, natural man appearing at Abraham's tent door that He talks about Sodom. It is a human voice speaking about Isaac, though no appearance is mentioned. Moses sees a flaming bush, and hears a voice in the desert, and sees a whole mount aflame while a voice speaks at Sinai.
And so it was always: the fiery presence-cloud in the Wilderness, Joshua's Captain taking command, Manoah's angel ascending in the flame of the altar, the voice in the night heard by Samuel, the flooding of Tabernacle and Temple with the glory-presence, Carmel's fire descending, Elijah's "still small voice," Isaiah's vision of glory and the voice, Ezekiel's man of flame speaking, and Daniel's, both of the latter two akin to this Revelation appearance.
But there is a distinctness and a fulness of description here greater than at any previous time, yet the same essential thing as at every appearance of God in Old Testament pages. The coming of Jesus among us has brought God closer to us and made Him mean more. Jesus was God coming closer and in a way that we could understand better and take hold of more easily.
The Identifying Mark.
But let us reverently look a little closer that we may understand yet better. There are certain characteristics of this Man of Fire that are allowed to stand sharply out here. We are meant to look at them. This is part of the purpose in the heart of Christ in letting us see Him as He is here.
The sense of purity is intenser than can be put into words. Fire is pure. There is nothing so pure. It resists impurity. It burns it up. It is most significant that this is the one thing familiar to us that always accompanies the presence of God as He appears to men. It is always in fire whether to speak His message of peace and love or to remove the impurity of evil.
Our God is a consuming fire. Yet fire only consumes what can't stand its flame. The fire reveals purity and makes pure. God is pure. The presence within the man looked out in eyes of flame, in a countenance like the sun, and feet like molten brass glowing in a furnace. There could be no stronger statement of purity than this.
Then there is an overwhelming sense of authority. That seems the human word to use, though the word seems to tell so much less than John felt. John feels it more than he can tell it. He cannot tell it in words. His limp figure lying flat on the earth tells what words never can. He had seen the glory outshining in the Transfiguration Mount, but this is unspeakably beyond that.
There was a voice like a trumpet. It commanded John to write. It says: "I became dead, and, behold! I am alive forever more." It is an authority over life to yield it up, and over death to put it to death, and call life back, never again to be touched by the finger of death. No such authority is known among men to-day. And this is further emphasized in the quiet words: "I have the keys—- the control—of death and of the whole spirit world."
But immensely more than all this to John was the intense feeling of majesty which completely overpowered him. The sense of authority was overwhelming. The items in the description can thus be catalogued, but it is impossible to get the overwhelming sense of majestic authority that came to John, except as he got it,—by a sight, something of a sight of this great crowned Christ.
But who is this? Is this not merely Ezekiel's vision repeated? He saw just such a vision, one in the likeness of a man, enveloped in fire, and sitting on a throne. And the effect was the same as Ezekiel lies flat on his face. Is it not the same as Daniel saw? A man clothed in linen, aflame with inner fire, and the same authoritative voice, and Daniel in a deep sleep of awe-stricken stupor with face on the ground? He does indeed seem to be the same. The descriptions tally remarkably.
But listen. He speaks. And the sense of terrifying authority in the voice that spake is gentled to John's tense ear in the quiet words that come. Like the loving words that came to Daniel's quaking heart is the personal message that came to John,—"Fear not." And with the words, as ever, come the new sense of stilling peace within. "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One."
Still it may be Ezekiel's Man even yet, or Daniel's. But listen: "and I became dead." Ah! this identifies Him. Now we know for the first time that this Man of Flame is Jesus our Brother-man. The cross becomes the mark of identification. The form of the words as spoken fits in with the sense of authority. With great strength of heart in carrying out a great purpose He "became dead."
This is Ezekiel's Man and Daniel's and more, unspeakably more. The Man they saw has lived amongst us for a generation of time, and then given His life clear out for us. He has become more in coming as Jesus. He has taken human experience and suffering up into Himself. He was Creator. He has become more—Saviour.
There is the same purity and authority speaking out here as there. But here is love speaking out as never was spoken out before. Here is love lived out; aye, here love is died out, and never living so much as when dying. Here is love putting death to death for us. Purity and authority fastened on a cross! This is love such as man had never known, and God never shown before. Calvary lets us see the love that burned in the purity and controlled in the authority.
John's Man is Ezekiel's and Daniel's, but with the love shining out through purity and authority, and outshining both. Yet that love is the purity and authority combined in action. We don't know love only as we know God. And we don't know God only as we know Jesus not living merely but pouring out His life for men. This is love—that Man, that God-man, but with the God-glory hidden within, using all His authority over His life to fasten His purity on a cross with the thorns of our sin, and then throttling death and bringing up a new sort of deathless life for us. This—He—is love.
The Outstanding Characteristic.
But we haven't gotten to the heart of this yet. There is immensely more here than even this. The distinctive thing, the characteristic thing in this sight of Christ, is yet to be noticed. All of this can be gotten from other sights of Christ. But notice now keenly where this Man of Fire is. For this is the distinctive thing. He is not up in the heavens, as in Ezekiel. He has not come on a special errand, as in Daniel's experience. He is walking down on the earth. His whole concern is about affairs on the earth.
But note where He is on earth: not in Jerusalem, the Jew centre; not in Rome, the world's ruling centre, nor in Athens or Corinth, the world's culture centres. He is seen walking among a small group of candlesticks. This is the centre of earth action for Him. This is the significant thing of this new sight of Christ. Let us look at it a moment to get at the simple significance of the scene.
The candlesticks, we are told, are the Churches, the little groups of followers banded together here and there. These small groups of Christ's followers are called candlesticks or lampstands.
There is no suggestion yet of their giving any light. No lighted candles nor oily wicks are burning and shining. They are only candlesticks. They are of gold, the most precious metal, but they can give no light, they can only hold the light some one else supplies. The Man standing amongst them is the light. The whole effect of the sight of Christ here is that He is the light. The presence within the man shines out through head and eyes and limbs, as light, intense dazzling light, even as the sun in his strength.
Here is the distinctive thing. Christ's whole interest centres in the earth. All heaven is bending over watching the run of events down here. The intensity of His suffering and death tell the intensity of Christ's interest in the movement of things on the earth. He has a plan. He has put His very life into it. It centres wholly in the affairs of us men down here. And it centres in His Church.
This quite upsets our common ideas about the centre of things down here. We class London and New York as the great financial centres; Paris and Berlin as the great fashion and military centres. Rome is the centre of authority of the Catholic Church, and St. Petersburg of the Greek Orthodox. The Man who holds all power in His hands, and on whose word everything depends, quietly brushes all this aside with scarce a move of His hand. The earth-centre of things is the Church. That is, the groups of his followers banded together in various parts of the world.
Sometimes it is seen as a magnificent organization intimately connected with the machinery of government. Sometimes as very small groups of persons with no social standing, despised and reckoned as not worth reckoning with. But this is the thing He is depending on for getting out to His world. All His plans centre here.
He is the light. The light He gave and gives through nature, and within every man's breast, has been awfully darkened through refusal and neglect to use it, through stubborn self-will. It is so darkened that ofttimes it seems to have been quite put out. His coming amongst us as one of ourselves, living our life, dying on our behalf to free us from sin, rising again victorious over death, sending His Holy Spirit to make all this real and living to each of us,—this is the light at its full shining, the flood-light.
He has made a plan for sending this flood-light to every one in every part of the earth. That plan centres in His followers. He is the light. The Church is the light-bearer, the candlestick. It is to hold Him up in such a way that men everywhere can get in direct touch with Him. When He is held up, the darkness goes. The darkness can't stand the light. This is the immensely significant thing here. This is the sight of Christ needed to-day, a sight of Him as He stands waiting on the Church to carry out His plan for the earth.
The faithfulness of the Church is not measured by compact organization, costly houses of worship, impressive services, eloquent scholarly preaching, and a ceaseless round of organized activities. It can be told only by how much of the spirit of the Christ who died is carried, in the daily life of its individual members, into home and social and commercial circles until men are compelled to feel its power in conviction of the sin of their own lives.
Nor yet is it told by transplanting the western type of civilization to far-away lands, with schools and hospitals and innumerable humanizing influences. All this may be blessed. And it will be blessed and blest. But it is the incidental thing. It is sure to follow where the Jesus light is allowed to shine clearly through and out. It is quite possible to have these good things without getting the real Christ. It is quite impossible to have Christ Himself without such influences coming, too.
The emphasis must be not on these things, but on Him, Christ. Men need Him. He answers the heart longing, and only He can. He changes the nature, and nothing else is enough. The Church is to take the loving, healing, personal Christ to men in the fulness of His power, and to all men. This is the measure of its faithfulness.
What Christ Sees.
The tremendous question that crowds in here is this, What does this Man of Fire see as He stands among His followers? And He tells us. This is why the vision is given. He wants us to see things as they look to His eyes of flame.
The Man and His message are one thing here. Chapters one, two, and three belong together, and should be held together in our minds. We have put the Man and His message as separate talks to get a clearer grasp of each. But they are one.
Now we recall enough of the message to note this. Five-sevenths of the light-holders are in bad shape. The lamps are smoky, badly smoked, and cobwebbed. The light is dimmed. It can't get out through the lamp. The crowds are standing in the darkness and falling into the ditch by the side of the road.
Two-sevenths let the light clearly out. The others are an intermingling of light and light obscured, but with the obscurity overcoming the other. The net result is an irritating smokiness. And the movement unhindered would naturally be toward a steady increase of smoky irritation and obscurity until no light can get through. This is what He lets us see that He sees.
Now the instinctive thing to do with a smoky lamp irritating nostrils and eyes is to put it out. That is the first instinct. The second is to trim the wick and do whatever else it needs to correct the smokiness. Yet He waits. That first natural instinct is restrained. The candlesticks are not yet moved out of their place. The light still tries to get out through them. The human candlestick may yet do the needful trimming and cleaning. With marvellous restraint He waits.
It is a tremendous scene that is stretched out here before us,—purity and authority combined in One who is standing in the midst of impurity and failure. The purity is more intense than we can grasp. The authority is greater than any one can realize. The impurity, the failure, are bad clear beyond what we can take in. The whole natural instinct here would be a cleansing, instant and radical, a correcting of the evil. Yet He waits. The purity would act through the authority; the authority restrains the purity. Love quietly, strongly holds both in check. This restraint, this inaction is tremendous.
Why this inaction? this restraint? And the answer is simple, and as sweeping as simple. His plan at this stage shall have fullest opportunity. His followers will be given full opportunity to the last notch of time and the latest possibility of their being yet true.
All the intensity of His love, all the eagerness of His expectancy, all the fulness of His plan for the earth, yes all the millions of the race, all the misery and ignorance, the sin and darkness, the millions of babies being born into wretchedness, and the millions of non-Christian women being held in slavery, and the countless numbers in every land groping along in a darkness that not only can be felt, but that is felt to the hurting point and then past that to the insensitive stupor,—all this waits.
With a heart that feels all that any man is feeling and that breaks under it, He waits that fullest opportunity shall be given His followers to be true. If His Church is set aside it will be only at the last moment when her failure is utterly hopeless. If the candlestick is removed out of its place, it will be only after it has completely removed itself out of all touch with the Light. A candlestick holding out no light is an utterly useless thing to the man in the dark.
It is possible for the Church to be a magnificent organization, an honoured institution, exerting immense influence in national politics, enormously rich in gold and in scholarship and in traditions, and even in carrying forward an aggressive missionary propaganda, and yet be faithless to its one mission. If the Church should fail in this its one mission, then the waiting time is over. The way is clear for the next step in the world plan. And a momentous step that would be, beyond our power to grasp. But the waiting time still holds out.
This is the simple, tremendous plea of this new sight of the crowned Christ as He is shown here. The centre of the universe to Him is this earth. The centre of things on the earth is His Church. The centre of things in the Church is its giving Jesus the Light out to all the earth.
And if this be the way things looked to His eye at the close of the first century, how, think you, do they look at this beginning of the twentieth? Has that momentum of movement toward increasing smokiness slacked? Is the waiting time nearly run out?
The present is a momentous time. Even men of the world speak of the world-wide restlessness as pointing to some impending event of world size. And he who is in some sort of simple touch with the spirit world can feel the air a-thrill with the possibility of world events impending, even while he wonders just what and when.
One in the Midst.
It is most striking how it came about that John got this sight of Christ. The change was not in Christ's presence, but in John's eyes. Christ did not come. He was there. John's eyes were opened. Then he saw Him who stands watching and waiting. Christ is here. The Man of Fire and of restraining love is here on the earth in the midst of His Church looking and longing, listening, and feeling.
If only our eyes were opened to see! There standeth One in our midst whom we recognize not. Wherever any company of believers banded together as a Church to worship and pray and break holy bread are gathered, under whatever local name or in connection with whatever Church communion, He stands in the midst, this crowned Christ of the Patmos Revelation.
Our eyes need treatment. The hinge of the eyelid is in the will and in the heart. A bended or bending will opens the eye. A brooding heart opens it yet more in spirit vision. Then we shall see Him, as He is now in our midst, waiting our obedience.
Those forty days between the resurrection and the ascension are seen to be illustrations of this. One can see through this Revelation sight that this is one of the chief things the Master is teaching as He still lingers on earth in His resurrection body.
Along the old Emmaus road, gathered about the evening meal in the twilight, twice in the upper room at Jerusalem, He appears to little groups of His faithful followers. Their hearts are burning with the thought of Him, they are talking with both tongue and eyes about Him. But that He is in their midst is the last thing to come into their minds. Then their eyes are opened to see Him in their midst. It was a forty-days' session in their training school. Then He said quietly as His bodily presence goes up into the blue: "Lo! I am with you all the days until the end." Their mission and His presence are inseparably linked.
And it is striking again to note how John's Gospel ends. The others describe the Ascension. John begins his Gospel with Jesus in the bosom of the Father before the world was, and ends with Him walking and talking with a little group of fishermen along the shore of the waters of Galilee's Lake.
This is what the Church needs to-day, a sight of Christ as He is now. Nothing else can save its life. And nothing less can save its mission from utter impending failure.
And yet while the distinctive message here is for the Church, it is an individual message, too. It is for each of us. I am the Church, as much of it as I am, counted as one. You are the Church. The Church is made up of you and me and the rest of us. I must take this message for as much of the Church as I am. The Man of Fire is depending on me to be a candlestick for His light. It is on me He is patiently waiting to obey as fully as He means I should.
And on you.
A recent incident is told of a man whose name is a familiar one in the financial world, who died a few years ago. He was the executive head of one of our country's great railways. And a man of remarkable largeness of insight and grasp, and of unusual power of execution. He dealt in hundreds of millions as easily as most of us deal in dollars, and his rugged honesty has never been brought into question. His greatest achievement bulks big in the material structure of one of our great eastern cities.
But his gigantic tasks ran his strength to ebb tide, and then it was seen that the tide was running out. As he lay in the sick chamber a minister called, whose ministry had touched large numbers of the men in the railroad of which the sick man was head, and in the course of conversation tactfully asked:
"Are you a Christian, Mr. Blank?"
"Yes," was the quiet, prompt reply that rather surprised the minister.
"How long have you been a Christian, Mr. Blank?"
"Two days," came the answer as promptly and quietly.
Feeling that there was an interesting story under these answers, the minister gently pressed the question. Then the story came out.
"You know William, who handles freight out here at ——?" the sick man asked.
"He showed me the way."
"William" had been a worthless, drunken man of the "down and out" sort. He had been converted at some mission and been radically changed. He had gotten employment at one of the freight-handling stations of this railroad system. It was rough, hard work, but he had gone at it earnestly in his purpose to live an honest life. And in his quiet, earnest way he was always seeking a chance to speak to men of Christ as a personal Saviour, until he became known throughout that part of the system for his simple, earnest piety.
As the sick man realized the seriousness of things for him he had sent for this William. The president of the road whose capitalization ran into hundreds of millions sent for the rough-handed freight handler. And William in his simple, earnest way had pointed the sick man to Christ. And the man of millions had made a new sort of transaction. Christ and he had an understanding.
And as the sick man told the minister the story he paused, and then added, "I have given my strength to the secondary things."
This was the judgment of this shrewd man of big affairs as the new light had come into his life at its close. Happily he had gotten the readjustment of values in time for readjustment of personal relationships. But his life's strength was gone.
If we might get the readjustment that would put secondary things in second place, and put wrong and useless things clear out, in time to be of some use to our blessed Lord.
 William Norris Burr.
 Notably Ephesians i. 20-23.
 Revelation i. 1-3.
 Revelation i. 4-8.
 Revelation i. 9-20.
 Genesis xv.
 Ezekiel i. 26-28.
 Daniel x. 5-9.
 Daniel x. 20.
 Hebrews x. 13.
IV.—A MESSAGE FROM THE CROWNED CHRIST
(Revelation, Chapters ii and iii)
"The glory of love is brightest when the glory of self is dim, And they have the most compelled me who most have pointed to Him. They have held me, stirred me, swayed me,—I have hung on their every word, Till I fain would arise and follow, not them, not them,—but their Lord!"
Patmos Spells Patience.
Patience is strength at its strongest, using all its strength in holding back from doing something. Patience is love at flood pleading with strength to hold steady in holding back.
The love in the strength insists on waiting a bit longer for the sake of the one being waited for. The strength in the love obeys the love passion and takes fresh hold in holding back.
Patmos spells out the patience of our Lord Jesus. It tells the strength and tenderness of His love. Olivet spelled out His plan, His great sweeping plan, through His followers, for a race. Calvary spelled out His passion, passion of love, passion of suffering, in dying for a race.
Calvary, Olivet, and Patmos are inseparably linked, the gentle slope of the Jerusalem hillside, the little mount to its east, and the little rocky isle in the far AEgean. Calvary was the passion of love pouring out a life for a race. Olivet was the plan of love for telling a race, till every one would know the love by the feel. Patmos is the patience of love pleading with the should-be tellers of the story to carry out the plan, and waiting, and then waiting just a little longer.
Olivet had heard the last word. There the Master had told the disciples the plan. All the race was to be told and taught, bit by bit, earnestly, repeatedly, patiently, tirelessly, by word and act and life. He Himself unseen by outer eyes would always be with them, His supernatural power making real and living what they told and taught. This was the plan. Olivet was to be the executive of Calvary, bringing home to men and making vital to them what had been done there.
Then Jesus went up on the Cloud. And they went out everywhere. And His power convincingly went with them just as He had said. Within a generation the news and the power had gone together to the outermost rim of the world they knew.
They were expecting Him to return as a result of this witnessing of theirs. The next time they see His face and hear His voice will be as He comes on the Cloud out of the blue. So they understand and believe. This is their constant expectancy.
Now that generation has moved off the scene of action. Another generation has come in its place, and has almost run its course and moved off the scene. And still they are looking forward to and talking about His return.
But now to this new generation of His followers something quite different comes. Instead of Himself coming in glory there comes another last message to them. It fits perfectly into the Olivet message, but goes further and says something more.
The Olivet message is about taking the light of the Gospel message out everywhere. The Patmos message in its pictured setting of candlesticks and Man of Fire and blazing light recognized this as the one thing to be done, but says there's something the matter with the candlesticks.
The Olivet word is about taking the message. This Patmos word is about the messengers. That one is about the service of His followers; this other about their life. The life underlies the service. Nothing can so hinder and hurt the service as a life not true in itself. Here something in the life of the Church is hindering its service. The Master's plan at this stage is in danger.
His broader plan extends beyond this Church movement. This is one great step to be followed by another. That broader plan had been outlined at the first Church Conference, held in Jerusalem. James, the presiding officer, said that the carrying of the Gospel to all men was to be followed by a national regeneration of the Jews; and then through a regenerated Jewish nation there would be a new era of world-wide evangelization, and with this the Conference was in agreement.
The leaders among these early disciples are eagerly anticipating Jesus' return to carry on the next stage. They understand that what they are doing is preparing the way for this next step.
But now instead of returning to carry forward the broader plan here comes another message. Apparently things are not going satisfactorily. The plan at this stage is in danger, while the Calvary passion back of it still burns. Failure is impending. The Master might sweep aside the men that are failing, and press on Himself into the next step of His plan. For the case is urgent. A race is waiting. The darkness thickens.
But instead He waits. With patience and strength and love beyond our power to grasp He waits. This is the setting of the Patmos message, to which we now turn.
The Unity of the Message.
We must keep our eyes on the Man who is talking. His overawing presence gives tremendous meaning to His words. That gentle touch of the right hand has no doubt strengthened John even as Daniel was strengthened. And he is standing and looking as he listens. But the sight of that wondrous Man walking among the candlesticks floods his face and his whole being indescribably as he listens to the message spoken.
The overpowering sense of awe, of reality and power, and of the tremendous meaning of what is being said never leaves. So he listens. So we must listen. So only can we get into the meaning of these words. The words will mean only as much as the Man means in the intensity of His presence. You must keep your eye on this crowned Christ as you listen.
The seven-fold description given us of Christ is the key to these seven messages. The partial description beginning each message is seen to fit into the particular condition of the Church spoken to. Yet all these bits of description must be put together to get the full description. It is a seven-fold description of one person.
And so all the messages must be taken together to see the Church as He sees it, and to get His message to it. It is one message. A look at the seven promises made to the overcomers makes it clear that all seven are one promise. It is not that one overcomer receives one thing, and another another, but each one gets all of what is mentioned in the seven. A rather careful, swift look at these promises makes this clear enough.
It is spoken to one Church in seven groups in seven different cities. There is one call to repentance, one warning of what will happen to the unpenitent at five successive stages, one plea to hear seven times repeated, and one blessed result to the overcomer, in a seven-fold statement.
And there is just one evil to be recognized and fought. That evil is seen to grow from one degree to another, from bad to worse and worst. Its emphasis changes from one phase to another. It has shown itself differently in different parts of the world, and in different ages since, but it is the one evil power, always the same behind the different manifestations.
There is rare combination and adaptation in this message. It was meant for the Church of that day, and of every day since, and for some future day. For it stands as the one message from Christ to His Church between Olivet and His return. It is meant distinctively for the Church as a whole, and yet it makes an intense personal appeal to each one in the Church.
It is spoken to the little groups of Churches in Asia Minor grouping about the city of Ephesus, which had been founded by Paul and ministered to by John. And without doubt it fitted into the conditions and tendencies of those particular seven Churches.
But these are representative of all. Probably any group of seven would be representative of all in varying degree. The mother Church at Jerusalem is not named, nor the great Gentile missionary Church at Antioch. But these messages with their approval and criticism, their warning and promise, were meant for all the Church in Asia and Europe and Africa at that time.
They are found to fit into the need of the Church scattered throughout the world in every generation since then. Always there have been little groups that were faithful and true, always some suffering because of their faithfulness and remaining faithful in spite of suffering. And always those who have been formal, who have companioned with evil, who have been swamped by the evil with which they companioned, and those practically asleep or dead.
This Patmos message will be found to fit the Church of to-day with remarkable accuracy and faithfulness. And the whole probability is in favor of finding that it will fit peculiarly the future Church, the Church at the end of this present period.
This whole book of the Revelation is peculiarly a Church book. While it is full of instruction and plea for our individual lives, yet it is distinctively the Church book. It stands out among the books of the New Testament as the one book addressed to the Church and to the whole Church.
It gives the great bulk of its space to an awful time of persecution that is coming to the Church at some future time. This is spoken of elsewhere, notably by Jesus in His talk with the disciples on Mount Olivet, but it is the chief subject treated here. And it is treated with great detail. The name commonly applied to this coming persecution is the great tribulation.
It is significant that the book that clearly is distinctively a Church book is taken up chiefly with a description of that future persecution. It leads to the deep conviction that this book of the Revelation so fitted to the need of the Church when spoken, and in every generation since, will be found to be peculiarly fitted to that generation of the Church that is to pass through this great coming persecution; that is, to the Tribulation Church.
It will probably be the mainstay and comfort of those who will insist on being true during those awful days, regardless of the suffering involved. No book has been more slighted and ignored. It has been called by some within the Church of our own generation "the joke of the Bible." It will likely come to be the book most studied and loved for its light and help in the terribly troublous times ahead. There will be an eager, hungry searching for every scrap of information, and for any fresh ray of light on its meaning.
The Seven-fold Message.
Now this seven-fold message lets us see things through Christ's eyes. He is letting them and us see what He sees. The Scottish poet's thoughtful lines might well be changed to get the yet better look: "Oh! wad some power the giftie gie us, to see oursel's as" God sees us. It would do more than free us from blunders and notions. And we are needing more.
Each one of these seven messages begins by our Lord drawing their eyes to Himself. This is the thing needed most. And this will give meaning and force to the message. They are to be looking at Him as they listen. Then He speaks of all the good things He sees. Then of the faulty, weak, bad things, in a few simple but unmistakably plain words. No one could doubt what He meant.
Then is the pleading call to repent, with the faithful warning of what will surely happen if they don't. Then the earnest plea that His words be listened to and taken to heart, and the wondrously gracious promise held out to those who steadily set themselves against the evil, and who get the victory.
Let us look for a moment at each of these Churches as seen by those searching eyes of flame.
Ephesus is the centre of the group, the natural leader, the largest and most influential, perhaps the mother Church of the group, where Paul and John had put in so much time and strength, and whence they reached out to these others.
Christ reminds them of His presence in their midst and His control of the angel messengers that minister to them. Then he speaks of their good deeds, their tireless activity, steadfast endurance, intense zeal for the true faith, with special emphasis upon their unwearying steadfastness even under sore difficulties, and their hatred of those who made compromise with evil so hateful to Himself.
But there is something lacking, the tender personal love for Himself. There's intense loyalty to Church and to the faith, but a lack of personal love for Himself. And the startling thing is that this is said to quite outweight all these good things. They may have these things without the love, but they cannot have the love without having these things, and at a finer temperature.
And this defect is crucial. If persisted in it is fatal. It will actually mean their rejection as His messenger. This is the critical thing which we seem to have such a hard time getting hold of. The essential qualification for true service is the personal attachment to our Lord Jesus Himself, that warm heart love which the human heart longs for and gives to some one. He longs for this. This is the essential; not Church organization nor creed, not zeal for orthodoxy, but warm love for a person. Service, witnessing, all the rest, are valuable to Him in reaching His world only as they grow out of a tender love for Himself.
And the startling thing is that this privilege and opportunity of service is to be taken away not because displeasing to Him, but because it fails of the end in view. The candlestick is only removed because it is no longer serviceable; it is not giving out the light. This earnest, aggressive, orthodox, patiently-enduring Church is to be rejected as a light-holder, because it is not holding out the light. This is tremendous!
The group in Smyrna is tenderly reminded of the suffering of their Lord, for they are filling up what is left behind of His suffering. This tells at once the depth of their personal love for Him, nothing could tell it more.
They are poor in money and so despised, but rich in faith and so precious to Him. They are suffering at the hands of the Jews, who were the outspoken, intense, fanatical enemy of the Christians. There is no reproach, only earnest encouragement to keep steady even through fiercer fires yet to come.
The description of Himself to the Pergamum group is startling. He is the one with a sharp two-edged sword. There is something here He must fight against. They are frankly told that they have had a hard place to witness in, and earnestly commended for being true even in the midst of persecution.
But there's something wrong, and it is very serious. It is as wrong and bad as it can be. There is actually compromise with evil, partnership with the world in its wickedness. The thing is put in the intensest way possible by characterizing it as adultery. No stronger language could be used to tell how He sees the evil they are guilty of. And they are plainly told that He will fight against them. They have made themselves His enemy by joining His enemies.
The Thyatira group is reminded of the purity of their Lord, who cannot stand impurity but searches it relentlessly out, and pursues it to the death. There's a faithful minority here. Their activity and love and faith and patience and increasing activity in service are all counted carefully over and warmly commended.
But the evil here is much worse. It is put into the gravest language. "Thou sufferest the woman Jezebel." This is most significant. There is no worse character named in the whole Old Testament. She not only represented the worst adulterous uncleanness in herself, but she was the national leader energetically fostering unclean idolatrous practices among the people. Jezebel pulled God's light-holder nation down to the lowest moral level it ever reached. She brazenly dominated king and people, and remained stubbornly obstinate to the terrible end.
Christ brings her name in here. Again this is tremendous. No more terrific parallel could have been made. Here evil characterized as adulterous has actually come to a place of leadership in the Church. With great longsuffering time has been given that all this might be changed, but with Jezebel-like obstinacy it was determined that there would be no change. And the inevitable result that will surely follow continued obstinacy will be a great tribulation or deadly persecution.
The Sardis group is told that Christ is the centre of all life and help, in the control of the Holy Spirit and of the angel messengers. There is nothing to commend here. There are some who insist on living true lives, but they are a scanty scattered few, not enough to count.
There are some ragged remnants of good, but even these are sickly and nearly dead. The Church is well organized, energetic, standing high among men, but with an utter absence of spiritual life. The personal lives of most are like dirty garments. And the warning is this: He will come as a thief, that is unexpectedly, disagreeably, to take away what they prize most and leave them stripped and naked.
The longest message is to the group in Philadelphia. Christ reminds them that He is holy in character, faithful to His promises, having full control, and giving opportunity of service as the highest reward of faithfulness. This candlestick is giving out light, for it is given yet further opportunity of shining.
The chief characteristic of this group is its steady plodding faithfulness. They are not spoken of as brilliant or talented, but faithful in the midst of opposition. He loves them with the sort of deep love drawn out by love freely given. And a special promise is given, a significant promise. A great persecution is coming, an awful testing time to all the earth. But He will keep them through this unhurt because they have been keeping His word so faithfully.
The common reading here is, "I will keep thee from the hour of trial." It is quite as accurate to read "through" in place of "from." And there is good reason for taking this as the sense here. The word underneath here is translated by several different words in other passages.
Where a word in one language may be translated by any one of several words the general sense of the passage must decide which one correctly expresses the meaning. Here the meaning must be gotten from the whole trend of New Testament teaching. Like the Israelites during the plagues that came to Egypt these faithful ones will be kept untouched through this terrible time that is to come.
The Laodicea group is to be talked to plainly by one who is a true, faithful witness in dealing with His people's faults, and who has all the authority of God in doing so. This is the second group that actually has not one good thing to be commended. There is no false teaching, no compromise with evil; they are simply asleep. Rich, influential, self-satisfied, grown fat and sleek,—so they seem to their neighbours and themselves. Wretched, poor, blind, naked,—so they are. And the chastening threatened will be of the severe radical sort that strong love insists upon.
A Heart-breaking Sight.
Here then is the picture of the whole Church as seen by the eyes of searching flame. There is a mixture of bad and good, active bad, active good, and sleepy indifference. There is a Church within the Church. But the bad is bad enough and big enough to endanger seriously the usefulness of the whole as a light-bearer.
The glass of the lantern is so smoked and cobwebby that it is more useless than useful to the light inside, and the crowd outside in the dark. The uselessness threatens what usefulness is left. Smokiness is contagious. Cobwebs grow thicker and hold more dust.
Two Churches are true and pure in the midst of sore opposition. Two are corrupt in the very worst way. Three, including the leader, are orthodox in form, but indifferent to Jesus Himself, or asleep, or dead; three degrees of the same thing,—indifference, sleep, death.
In all of these five there are those who, like Ezekiel's companions, "sigh and cry over the abominations that are going on," but they are helpless to stay the sweep of the tide. They are the salt that is saving the lump so far. Even Sodom would have been saved by ten righteous.
It is plainly said to the leader Church that it is no longer of use as a candlestick, except a change come. It fails to give out the light. It is being carried along, patiently borne with for its own sake. It is failing at this point in the mission. The smoking flax sending out its irritating smoke in place of clear light is not yet quenched. The Holy Spirit life within is being sorely grieved, but is not yet put entirely out.
And this is only one. Four others are plainly in much worse fix. Five-sevenths are failing. That bit of preservative salt would seem to be working to its full capacity.
This is the picture given us here by our Lord Himself. John would never have dared make such a terrific arraignment of his own accord. It is a picture of the whole Church at the beginning of the First century.
How is it at the beginning of the Twentieth? A thousand million people, two-thirds of the race, pretty freely supplied with the light of western oil and of gunpowder, with the help of the western sewing machine, and with the guidance of western learning and skill, but to whom with minor exceptions no scant ray of this light has yet gotten, these make answer. That smokiness would seem to be rather dense.
The non-Christian crowds in so-called Christian lands, the overwhelming majority, to whom the name of Jesus has no more practical meaning than other foreign names, Shanghai, or Tokyo, or Calcutta,—these make answer. The light doesn't seem to have been able to get through and out much, even near the candlestick.
The Church itself, when it has sometimes forgotten its statistical tables long enough to look thoughtfully into this old Patmos looking-glass, has now and then made answer, in a few of its thoughtful leaders, while the rank and file push on absorbed in their Ephesian or Sardisian or Thyatiran way.
There's a striking companion bit to this in Ezekiel's vision. That messenger to the exiled colony by the Chebar had first of all the vision of God that completely overwhelmed him. Then he is taken in spirit to Jerusalem, and shown things as they were, through God's eyes. The heathen idols were set up in the very temple of God, so actually stimulating among the people the horribly gross, unnamable impurities connected with their worship. This was done in the open, with no pretence at concealment.
Then in the vision he digs "into the wall" to see the hidden things that are being done. There he sees every sort of creeping, crawling, slimy, repulsive animal pictured on the walls of this secret chamber, and the leaders of the people burning incense and worshipping.
This he is told is a picture of the inner hearts of the men who are the leaders of the nation. For dramatic intensity it would be hard to equal this. The imaginations of their hearts are as the unclean snakes and beasts that are found only in the damp, unwholesome slime and ooze of swamp and stagnant pond.
And this is God's light-bearing nation to all the earth. And these are the leaders! But there's yet worse. The mothers and wives and daughters of the nation, the real moulders of the nation's life and character, are seen pouring out their very hearts over a heathen idol, with all the horrible evil practices included in its worship. And then a group of men are shown in the holy temple standing with their backs to God and His temple and worshipping the sun.
Under these four items are pointed out the impurity and violence, the injustice and oppression, that mark the people. It is the inner heart life of the nation that is being pictured so vividly. But in the midst of all this are those who are broken-hearted over these conditions. And as the time of judgment comes in the vision these are marked and spared, though they see the work of judgment on every hand.
Such is the tremendous scene depicted by Ezekiel. It will be seen at once what a striking parallel it presents to the scene in this Revelation book with the new light-bearer to the nations of the earth. One would never dare make such an arraignment of his own accord. It is humbling and heart-breaking to the last degree simply to repeat what is spoken here by our Lord Himself.
Clearly the Patmos picture is not only of the Church then, but ever since, and now. And the simple law of momentum in sliding down hill will make it an accurate picture of the Church at the end, the future Church.
The colouring changes at different times in different places, the black getting intenser, pot black, and the light shining out more brightly by contrast. But the picture remains essentially as painted on Patmos.
The warnings so faithfully given run a sliding scale outward and downward in five degrees. If the Church continue as it is, it is told here that it will be rejected as a light-holder. Its privilege and opportunity as God's messenger will be taken away.
Then Christ will fight against it as an enemy, it will be given over to a time of terrible tribulation, it will be treated as prey to be robbed and plundered, and it will be rejected, spewed out of the mouth, as personally disgusting.
Yet in all this plain speech there is no bitterness, only grief, only tender pleading. The plain bluntness is the language of love that yearns to save even yet, and that waits with untold patience hoping for a change.
But it is noticeable that, while the warning is to the corporate Church, the plea and promise that persists throughout is to the individual. He that is willing to, let him hear and heed and be controlled by the Spirit's message.
There are two groups that have remained faithful. There are scattered through the other five those who are faithful. And there are no doubt many who feel the pull to be true but are yielding to the strong undertow of the rising tide by which they are being carried.
The coupled promise and plea that call out so pleadingly to these at the close of each message are, "to him that overcometh." This word "overcometh" is very significant. It is one of the characteristic notes of these messages and indeed of this entire book. It is one of that sort of word that sums up a whole situation in itself.
There is opposition. There is conflict because some won't yield to the opposition. And the result of the conflict varies. Some are overcome by the evil; they go over to the enemy, body and soul. Some wabble. They slip along the line of least resistance, secretly holding on to some few ragged remnants of convictions, but not letting these affect their standing or comfort or particularly their profits.
Some overcome evil. There is struggle tense and continued, quickened breath, moist brow, tightened nerves, the stain of blood, a scar here and there, and heart-breaking experiences. But they fight on, and victory comes. And the evil is less, weakened in its hold on this companion and that neighbour. They get the victory over evil.
There's a wondrous promise to these. It is as though the treasure box is placed at their disposal. It is a seven-fold promise. Every overcomer will receive all that is contained in these seven promises. Note this seven-fold promise: He that overcometh will have everlasting life, and this is emphasized by the reverse statement, "will not be hurt of the second death."
He will be admitted into the sweets of intimate fellowship with his Lord, hidden from all save those in this inner circle. And will receive a new name, the family name, that is an inheritance in the family of God, joint heir with Jesus Christ. He will have the privilege of serving with the King in the blessed Kingdom time coming.
And with this goes the word, "I will give him the morning star." Jesus calls Himself "the bright, the morning star." The morning star rises in the dark of night after midnight and ushers in the new day. He who is in touch of heart with Jesus as the night deepens to the dawn will (probably) have an intimation in his inner spirit of the glad coming of the Morning Star that ushers in earth's new day.
The overcomer will be made perfect in character, and find his name not only in the family book, but mentioned by Christ personally to His Father before the angels. He will be admitted into the innermost circle of the King and be reckoned among the dependables. And he will have closest fellowship with Christ in the administration of the wondrous kingdom.
It will be seen that these promises overlap, the same thing being put now positively, now negatively, and being repeated in differing words to different groups. Each promise touches the characteristic trait of the group spoken of. The Ephesians, who had many things but lacked the vital thing, are wooed with the promise of life itself, which is only through touch with Jesus Himself.
Smyrna in its suffering is cheered with the prospect of suffering no more. The Pergamum overcomer is wooed away from intimacy of friendship with evil to intimacy of friendship with the coming King. They who resist the evil Jezebel rule in Thyatira will have the privilege of ruling with the King. Those in Sardis who hunger and thirst after a pure heart will have the longing fully satisfied.
Those who have proven dependable in the trying days in Philadelphia will have the exquisite pleasure of being depended upon in the inner circle as wholly trustworthy. Those in Laodicea who resist the current and insist on letting the knocking pilgrim in for heart fellowship will find themselves in fellowship with Him on the throne.
It should be noticed that these promises are one promise, and that that is the promise of everlasting life, of a purified perfected character, and of the privilege of closest fellowship with the King Himself in the coming Kingdom time.
These promises do not take up the matter of rewards for faithfulness in service, such as our Lord speaks of in the twin parables of the pounds and talents. The things promised here are the results of being saved by the blood of Christ. The privilege of fellowship with the King during the Kingdom time is included in salvation. All the redeemed will reign over the earth.
This is significant. Overcoming would seem to be the decisive evidence of faith in Jesus Christ, the faith that receives everlasting life. It takes opposition to let you know whether you are willing to accept Christ. A man does not know whether he really believes Christ until he is opposed in his believing, and opposed to the real hurting point. He has just as much faith in Christ as he is willing to declare, and stand by, and insist upon, when he is under fire. Opposition is the fire test. Faith isn't faith unless it can stand the fire test.
The Decisive Trait of Faith.
The plain inference here is that he who doesn't overcome shows that he really doesn't believe in his heart. And the natural result is that he does not receive these things promised. That is, he is not saved because he won't accept the Lord Jesus as his Saviour when it comes to the fire test.
There are without doubt thousands in the Church who will be left behind on the earth when our Lord Jesus catches up His own. This does not mean necessarily that they will be lost. There will be another opportunity of being saved for those living on the earth at that time. The Kingdom will be a wonderful time of salvation. There will be a continuous revival of the realest sort going on everywhere all the time.
But these would not have the blessed privilege of fellowship with the King in the Kingdom, nor the blessedness of fuller resurrection life at this time. That is reserved for those who by grace have believed on the Lord Jesus, during His absence and continued rejection, in spite of the fire of opposition.
It is notable that the Thyatiran message speaks of great tribulation coming to that Church if it continue unchanged. And that the Philadelphia Church is to be kept through "the hour of trial, that which is to come upon the whole earth." Throughout the Scriptures mention is made of a time of persecution coming at the end. The common term for it is tribulation. It is called the great tribulation. There will be more to be said about this again.
It is possible that it will be found that this Patmos message will have special significance during that trying time at the end. But it should be noted that it fits into the spirit of opposition that is always found where there is true, faithful witnessing.
The tribulation itself will be the time of intensest opposition carried to the extreme of violent persecution. It will be the climax of conditions always present, wherever there is faithful witnessing. Faithfulness to Christ always arouses opposition.
The test of whether we really accept Christ and believe Him is not in anything we say. It is not even in what we are in our lives when all goes smoothly. It is in what we are in our lives when opposed, when it costs criticism, ostracism, petty persecution, or more outright persecution. This is our Lord's test of acceptance of Himself.
We have had many definitions of what it means to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. And these have been helpful in clearing the air and helping us to a simple acceptance of Him. These definitions have touched chiefly the inner part of faith, the part we are conscious of.
Here is another definition. Here is the last word on the subject, the authoritative word, from our Lord Jesus Himself. It tells what faith is in its outward working, the part the crowd sees. The faith that accepts Jesus as Saviour accepts Him also as Lord.
That faith naturally rings true to Him under all circumstances. It rings truest and clearest whenever opposition to Him is aroused, whether the opposition of indifference, of criticism and sneer, or of persecution.
There are certain commonly accepted things that are in themselves only good, but which are not conclusive evidence that we really have saving faith in the Saviour. The act of coming into Church membership whether by confirmation, by an assent to questions regarding one's personal faith, or by being baptized, the fact of membership in the Church, the partaking of the Lord's supper, serving as an official of the Church in pulpit or pew, faithful attendance, liberal support,—these things are only good.
But they do not furnish conclusive evidence of one's acceptance of Christ. It is quite possible to be carried along on the common current in such things. There is clear evidence that many are. The decisive thing, the test thing is this: how we stand opposition, the polite, sneering sort, the more aggressive sort, or—if it come to that—the violent sort. The fire reveals every man's faith if there be any there.
There are two fire tests. One is of our faith in Christ, as revealed in the frictional fires of opposition. Whoever stands that test is caught up into His presence when He comes, or goes at once into His presence if our going precede His coming.
The second is of the love-spirit, how far it has been the very breath of our life as revealed by the fire of His presence. For the love-spirit means personal loyalty to Jesus, purity of heart, holiness of life, steadiness of purpose, and the exquisite gentleness of patience in our conduct toward all others.
These words of our Lord Jesus are very searching. This Patmos message must have been a painful one for Him to give John, and painful for John to repeat. It is painful for any one to repeat when its meaning is understood. It should send one off into some quiet corner alone on his knees with that great "search me" prayer of the Psalmist.
Recently I was told a simple incident of one of the truly great Christian men of our generation. He was at the head of one of the largest concerns of our country employing thousands of men, but never knowing any labor troubles. I remember the impression made on me a few years ago at the time of his death, by the remark made to me by two different men of this man's city, men that I think did not know each other, or maybe very slightly. As I spoke of him each man said in a subdued voice, "Oh, everybody in —— loved Mr. ——!"
This incident was told by his son. The two were on a train together. The father rose and went forward to another part of the train. As he went out a man sitting opposite came over and spoke to the son. His flashy manner of dress and the fact that he seemed to have been drinking suggested the sort of man he was. He said to the son:
"Wasn't that Mr. So-and-so?"
"Yes," the son replied.
"Well," the man said, as though talking half to himself, "if there were more men like him, there'd be fewer like me."
And he turned to his seat and sat as though absorbed in his thought. The son, in speaking of it after his father's death, said it was one of the tenderest memories he had of his father.
The common crowd on the street and our Lord Jesus are united in one thing: they want more men like Him, Jesus our Saviour. Then there'd be fewer of the other sort.
 Ruby T. Weyburn.
 Acts xv. 14-18.
 Ezekiel viii and ix.
 Rev. ii. 5.
 Rev. ii. 12-16.
 Rev. ii. 22, 23.
 Rev. iii. 3.
 Rev. iii. 16.
 Rev. ii. 7.
 Rev. ii. 11.
 Rev. ii. 17.
 Rev. ii. 26-28.
 Rev. xxii. 16.
 Rev. iii. 5.
 Rev. iii. 12.
 Rev. iii. 21.
 Rev. iii. 20, 21, with Jeremiah xiv. 8.
 Rev. v. 10.
 Psalm cxxxix.
V.—AN ADVANCE STEP IN THE ROYAL PROGRAMME
(Revelation, Chapters iv. and v.)
"We are watching, we are waiting, For the bright prophetic day; When the shadows, weary shadows, From the world shall roll away.
"We are watching, we are waiting, For the star that brings the day; When the night of sin shall vanish, And the shadows melt away.
"We are watching, we are waiting, For the beauteous King of day; For the chiefest of ten thousand, For the Light, the Truth, the Way.
"We are waiting for the morning, When the beauteous day is dawning, We are waiting for the morning, For the golden spires of day."
A Look into Heaven.
Heaven is a place of intensest and tenderest interest to every one. It is true that there is less emphasis on getting to heaven as a result of being saved than there was a generation ago. Indeed, no emphasis at all. The whole thought now is about our life here on the earth. We think less about dying and more about living.
This is true. Yet every one of us has loved ones who have slipped from our grasp, and gone from our midst. We think of them. The tenderest memories brood over us, and come like a flood sometimes.
We may have the sweet sense of assurance that these loved ones are saved. But there is an intense longing at times to know more about them, where they are, what they are doing, how much they know of things down here. These thoughts will come crowding in upon us.
Now here is some light. All the questions are not answered. But there comes clear, sweet light to comfort our hearts during the waiting time until we shall be joined with them again. We are given here in John's Revelation the first clear, definite glimpse into the upper world. It is told us in the language of earth of course. It must be, else we would not understand. But clearly there is a glory and happiness clear beyond what earthly words can tell.
This is the first glimpse into heaven given us in this old Book of God. Jacob wakes up in his dream and sees a ladder set up connecting earth and heaven, and the angels going up and returning again while God talks with him. It means much to him, but gives us no answer to our questions, except to make plain that there is a very real and wondrous world up there where our loved ones go.
Moses is up in the mount with God for six weeks nearly, twice over, but there is no suggestion of what he may have seen; only the transfiguring change in his face, and the strongly gentling change in his character.
Ezekiel finds the heavens opening and sees the vision, so like John's, of the wondrous Man. Stephen looks up steadfastly into heaven and sees the resplendent glory of God, and the crucified Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Paul is caught up into heaven, not improbably at the time that his body lay bruised and bleeding and apparently lifeless outside Lystra. But the sights he sees and the over-awing glory are too much to be told. But here John is taken up in vision into the heavens, into the presence of God, and sees much, and tells us what he sees.
It was after the vision of the glorified Man and His message. John is sitting thinking on all he has seen and heard, thinking back to Ephesus and the other Churches he knew so well. He is wondering perhaps how he can tell them what, whom, he has seen; and wondering too how he can tell them this message entrusted to him.
The holy spell is still strong upon him, when all at once he noticed what looks like a door, a door opened above him in the blue. And as he is looking, astonished, that same voice that had been speaking with him before speaks again. He is bidden to "come up hither," and he will be shown the things that are to happen some time in the future. At once he is conscious of that same gentle, enveloping presence of the Holy Spirit as before. At once He is up in heaven. And he tells us the scene that opens to his eyes.
There is a throne set. What a comfort! There is a throne. There is a centre of authority and power to our world. This Revelation is peculiarly the book of a throne. Up yonder above the moral tangle and confusion of earth is a reigning throne.
There is One sitting on the throne. That throne is occupied. It has not been vacated. Men down here may push God off the throne of their lives, and try to push Him out of the affairs of the earth. But He sits on the throne above. And that throne dominates the life of the earth. Nothing can be done without permission.
John can't describe this one sitting on the throne. The sight is too much for his eyes. When the seventy elders of Israel see God, all that they can remember is the dazzle of glory in the wonderful pavement under His feet. It seems like a pavement of precious stones of sapphire, but as clear as crystal. So now all that John can see is some One who seems to his eyes like transparent precious stones blazing with light. This is the only thing he can think of to tell of what he sees.
Rest in the Midst of Unrest.
There is a rainbow around the throne. The radiance of light shining out from this One on the throne makes a rainbow. If one wonders how God can look down on the misery and sin, the rebellion and wretchedness that dominate most of the earth, here is the answer. His finger is never off the pulse. He knows all as we never can. And he feels as we never do the pain of life, and the discord of earth. The unceasing cry of earth comes up in his ears.
But He is controlled by a purpose. It is a purpose of strong patient love. He has made a promise that man shall have fullest opportunity unchecked by the natural sweeping judgment, that invariable working out of sin and wrong. That throne keeps the order of nature working smoothly and faithfully for man's sake, holding in restraint the forces that would hinder and destroy. The rainbow is the signature to His promise. That rainbow is always before His face. That promise has never been forgotten. This explains the quietness of the One on the throne, looking down on the moral confusion of the race.
But this rainbow is not like the common rainbows that we know. It completely encircles the throne. Our rainbows are broken up. They are never seen in their completeness. Our lookout on things sees only a part; it never sees all. It is never complete. The view of things up there is complete. Everything is seen and is seen in its true relation to everything else. The throne is the one place of perfect perspective and poise.
And this rainbow is all of one colour, a clear, soft emerald-green. We know that green is the most restful of all colours. Some colours are irritating. Some persons of very sensitive, nervous temperament are even made sick by certain colours. And we are all affected more than we know in a hurtful way by certain colours. But green is the colour of rest. It soothes the eyes and nerves and even the spirit. The rainbow round about the throne looked like a quiet, quieting emerald-green. The One on the throne is at perfect rest regarding things down here. He knows all. His ears hear all, the cry of distress and despair, the defiance and arrogance and blasphemy. His eyes see His children down here, creative children all of them, prodigal children so many of them, and trusting children walking in the shadows. He sees all. And He feels all with His great feeling heart.
Yet He is at rest. Do you wonder how He can be? When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion; He suffered in heart with them, for they were as shepherdless sheep, torn and distressed. And the heart beating in rhythm with His has as hard a time as He. If He lead you in service to some foreign mission land, you see and know and feel as no tourist party hurried through the outer fringes ever does or can.
And in Christian lands of the West, and the homeland, in slum as in polite circles, in commercial quarters as in the university world, the heart that is in touch with Jesus' heart sees and hears and feels and senses things as they are under the surface or sticking boldly out through the surface. And feels at times as though it can never again be at rest.
How can He, on the throne, be so quiet, and be at rest? And there is an answer to our burning question, a simple, real answer. He knows the end. He has a purpose and a plan. The present is only one stage in His great plan. This is man's opportunity, and possibly some one's else opportunity, too. It is to be followed by something else radically different down on this earth.
He is held steady during this time by a great purpose. It is a purpose of great, tender love. To His eye looking sleeplessly down there is rest even as of emerald-green. And so there will be rest for him who looks sleeplessly up to the throne of control, encircled in the emerald rainbow of perfect peace. And we can be of best service to Him by resting in our hearts, resting in Him, even while working in the thick of things as they are down here.
They See His Face.
Then John sees twenty-four other thrones round about the central throne. And on these there are twenty-four men sitting. These men are wearing white garments, and have crowns of gold upon their heads. This is the part of intense interest. Who are these? And what does this mean?
What has been said before about picture language, the language of the Orient, of childhood, of the common crowd, the universal language, will help us here. The Bible is an Oriental book. It talks in picture language. This is humanly what gives it such freshness and peculiar adaptation. The radical change of circumstances and speech and mode of thought in different centuries makes all books antiquated after a certain time. This book has the freshness of youth, for in its simple picture language it deals in principles. But picture language must be held to its simplicity. And something of familiarity with the whole range of the Scripture is needful to use the key to the simple picture language.
Let us look a bit at the simple scene here. These men are elders, that is they are leaders. They represent multitudes of others. Throughout the Bible twelve is the number of completeness, both in things and people. A complete gathering or throng of people is represented by the number twelve. There are twelve tribes of Israel, and so on. This is so familiar that it need only be named without further illustration.
There are two great divisions of this Bible, the Old Testament and the New. These stand naturally for the two great divisions of time, before Christ and after. This division is strongly marked in the Bible, and sharply marked in our Christian consciousness. It has been a common thing to wonder about the salvation and spiritual knowledge and privileges of people who lived before Christ came and died.
Twice twelve make twenty-four. These twenty-four elders represent the redeemed ones from both of these great divisions of time. That is to say, the picture tells us this. All the people from creation's earliest morn up to the present, including the one who went out last from some sorrowing family circle, all who have had the touch of heart with God, are gathered in the presence of Him who sits on the throne. That is one simple thing that stands out clear and sure.
These are represented as sitting. The slave or servant never sat in his master's presence. Friends sit together. Angels are never spoken of as sitting in the presence of God. When our Lord Jesus was received up He sat down at the Father's right hand. We are spoken of as seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Sitting together means being on terms of intimacy and fellowship. Through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus we are all accepted in the Beloved and received and trusted as He is.
These elders are clad in white garments. That is one of the familiar things spoken of much in this end-book. Part of the promise to those of overcoming faith is that they shall be arrayed in white garments, and walk with Christ in white. Those who are faulty in the Church are urged to get white garments. The martyrs waiting their vindication, and the great multitudes who come up out of the tribulation are given white raiment. The bride at the joyous marriage supper, and the armies following the conquering Christ, are clad in fine linen, bright and pure.
We are told that this white linen means a pure life. These garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. These multitudes have been cleansed in the blood of Christ and purified by the Holy Spirit and made perfect in purity and holiness as they came up into the presence of the Father on the throne.
These elders are wearing golden crowns. This language, too, is familiar. The acknowledgment and reward of faithfulness and of service is spoken of commonly under this bit of picture talk. The angels are never spoken of as being crowned. Christ was crowned, that is received into the presence of the Father, as the full recognition of His worthiness and of what He had done, and in vindication after the shameful rejection by men.
These men and women and children in the Father's presence have been rewarded and are being rewarded for their faithfulness in obedience and in life. All the struggles and difficulties, the hard road, the endurance, the patient suffering for His name's sake, the faithfulness in doing the allotted tasks, all these have been noted and acknowledged. There is the sweet peace of the Father's approval in all of these before the throne.
Going to School to God.
And these are sitting on thrones. When Jesus was teaching His disciples, in the dark days of bitter opposition He wooed them with this: "Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones." And a bit later as they sat round the supper table on the night of His betrayal, when things are getting to the darkest, again He woos them: "Ye may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom; and ye shall sit on thrones." He that overcometh is assured of sitting with Christ on His throne.
All the redeemed ones of earth are to have part with Christ in the coming Kingdom time. They reign with Him. During this present time the countless hosts of angels have a part in ministering to man on the earth. Even so during the Kingdom time to come the countless hosts of the redeemed will have the sweet privilege of service with Christ and on behalf of those on the earth. And it is quite possible that they already have a part in such a ministry.
A little farther in the description it is seen that these elders have "each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." Heaven is a place of wonderful music. Its very atmosphere must be tuned to the rarest rhythmic harmonies. And each one has part in the music being made.
And yet more, they are continuing the sweet ministry of intercession learned down on earth. This means that they are in touch with earth. They know the needs of loved ones and of all, and they have the privilege of fellowship in this with Him who ever liveth to make intercession.
And there is one other thing we know here at once without being told. If a friend tells me that he has a rose garden under the care of a skilled gardener, I know without being told that the roses are growing. I at once look through my friend's words and see bushes full of roses of all colours, some full blown, some half blown, some bursting buds, and some just budding. For there is a garden, and a gardener, and sun and rain and dew. I know there must be growth and beauty.
Even so we know that the loved ones who have parted from us, are growing. They are in the Father's presence, in intimate fellowship. That tells me of their growth. That little one who slipped away so young, years ago, has been growing in mental powers, in character as well as in what down here we call stature, and growing most of all in love. And so at the meeting time, in the air or up there, there will be instant recognition, as well as instant delight over the growth under such wondrous tutorage.
This is the glimpse into the upper world which John sees and is allowed to give us here. The redeemed ones of earth of all the ages are in the presence of the Father and of the Lord Jesus and of the angels, on terms of intimate fellowship, made pure and perfect in character, but always growing from more to more, and having a share in blessed ministry. And they listen to and have share in making music more exquisite than our earthly language can describe.
They understand the wondrous plans for the earth, for now they see all things through the Lord Jesus' eyes. They have some part without doubt in welcoming those who come to join them, even as they will have part in receiving those who are caught up at our Lord's return. And they look forward eagerly to the glad time of righting that will come then.
But let us look a bit more at what John sees. Out of the throne are seen proceeding lightnings and voices and thunders. Three other times in this book it speaks of lightning and voices and thunder. These things of course are the familiar accompaniments of a storm. It is noticeable that each other time they are named in the book it is in connection with some direct action being taken by God in the affairs of the earth. And each time there is some added item intensifying the scene.
A physical storm is caused by two areas of unequal temperature coming together. The storm is the process of coming together and equalizing of the atmospheric conditions. The inference here would seem to be that the time of action has come to straighten out matters on the earth. The two moral atmospheres of heaven and earth seem to be coming into contact, and a storm is resulting before clear weather comes. It suggests that our Lord Jesus is taking the next direct step in His broader plan.
God's Ideal of Creation.
But let us look a little further. In the book's picture language there are "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne." These we are plainly told "are the seven spirits of God." That is a Hebrew way of saying "the perfect spirit of God." This is of intense interest. The Holy Spirit is represented as being before the throne.
In the confidential talk with the inner group of disciples on the betrayal night, in John's Gospel, Jesus promises that when He has ascended up to the Father He will send down the Holy Spirit to them. When the Spirit has come down to the disciples He will begin a new ministry of witnessing to the world through them.
In the Book of Acts that promise is fulfilled. The Spirit comes down with remarkable manifestations on the day of Pentecost. The distinctive thing He does is to take possession of a group of men and form them into a new witnessing body called the Church. He had dwelt in the nation of Israel as a nation, and had been withdrawn from that nation when it proved finally faithless to its mission. He had dwelt in individual men before and during and after that time.
At Pentecost He is sent down on a new mission. He is to do in men all that Jesus has done for them in His life and death and resurrection. But the distinctive thing of Pentecost is His forming this new body called the Church, through which He begins a new ministry of witnessing to the world.
All through the Acts and Epistles He is constantly spoken of as here on the earth working in the Church and through it. He in the Church is a powerful restraint upon the powers of evil in the world. In Thessalonians, Paul has spoken of a day coming when that restraint would be withdrawn. The Holy Spirit, the "One that restraineth now," is to be taken away.
Now here the Holy Spirit is represented as being, not in the Church, as always in the Acts and Epistles, but as being "before the throne." This is the second significant thing to note in this scene. This also would seem to suggest the beginning of a new order of things.
John goes quietly on with his description. Before the throne he sees a great expanse that looks like a sea of clear, bright, beautiful crystal. Before the throne and around about the throne are four living creatures or creatures of life. These living creatures are of intensest interest. They appear throughout the Scriptures from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the very close of this Book of Revelation.
They are also called cherubim and seraphim, that is, cherubs and seraphs. They are always associated directly with the immediate presence of God, and with His presence-chamber, in the tabernacle, in the temple, and in Ezekiel's vision of a new temple, and in the thought of the people. There is one possible exception to this, where they are seen at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. The description of them is most full in Ezekiel. It varies in details, but with the essentials always the same.
The general appearance is that of a man, but there are four faces as of a man, a lion, an ox or calf, a flying eagle, and sometimes a cherub face. They are full of eyes everywhere, and they seem enveloped in the pure fire which everywhere is associated with God's own presence. These descriptions combined suggest perfection of purity, of intelligence, of obedience, and of power.
In this book of the Revelation they are spoken of seven times, that is, more frequently than in any other book, though not so fully as in Ezekiel. Five times they are leading or joining in the worship of God, by men and angels, and twice they are cooeperating with the Lamb or the angels in what is being done on the earth.
These beautiful, intelligent beings seem to represent the whole animate creation, man, the animals intimately associated in service with man, those that roam at will, and the birds, and the angels. It would seem as though they stand for God's ideal of creation, as it was before the hurt of sin came, as He holds it in His heart, and as it will be after sin has gone. His ideal of a perfect and perfected creation is always in His presence and before His face, intelligently and gladly carrying out His will, reverently and joyously sounding His praise.
It suggests that He will not rest content until His ideal for the creation shall be a sweet, full realization, all sin and rebellion removed and all His works uniting in joyous, continuous worship, and glad, harmonious obedience.
The Significant Book.
All this is interesting; some of it intense in interest. But it is only a setting. It is incidental. The chief thing is yet to be told. John had been told that he would be shown the things that would come to pass some time in the future. We come now to the beginnings of these "things."
The One who is sitting on the throne has a carefully sealed book or document in his hand. An angel calls out loudly for any one who is qualified to do so to step forward and take the document and break its seals. And as John watches intently no one comes forward. No one can be found, either in the heaven, in earth, or in the region spoken of as under the earth.
At this John is greatly distressed, and weeps much, so he must have understood at once just what this meant. And one of the elders comforts him with the assurance that there is One who has "overcome to open the book, and the seven seals thereof," "the lion of the tribe of Judah." This word "overcome" suggests that this one has been in some great conflict and has gotten the victory and overcome all opposition. And this qualifies Him to take and open the document. He is the only one among untold numbers so qualified.
And now John sees this One. He is standing in the very midst of the throne surrounded by creatures and elders. We easily recognize this as our Lord Jesus. He is a lion in leadership and strength. He is a lamb in gentleness of character, and in the sacrificial experience He has been through. The marks of death are plainly seen on His person.
As He comes forward He reaches and takes the book out of the hand of the One on the throne. He is allowed to take it. His qualification to take the document and break its seals is acceptable to the One on the throne.
And as He takes the book there is a remarkable burst of praise and adoration that must have made all heaven ring. And those on earth in touch of spirit with the scene and its purpose and the Chief Actor would surely feel some thrill in the spirit currents of earth.
The outburst of worship is led by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders who fall down before the Lamb and sing a song. What music that must be when the untold thousands sing as only redeemed ones can sing. Then countless hosts of angels join in and lift the chorus. And then there is the creation chorus, every created thing in heaven and earth, under the earth, in the sea, absolutely everything seems to join in this indescribable music. And the four living creatures say, "Amen." And again the elders fall down and worship.
John's distress at the beginning, and now this indescribable outburst of praise, tell us that this is something thrilling and significant beyond expression. What does this mean, our Lord Jesus taking the sealed document preparatory to breaking its seals?
It has been said in a previous talk that every thread woven into the fabric of the Old Testament can be found in the fabric of this Revelation book. So that if one goes to work patiently he can trace every allusion here to something back in these older leaves. This gives us the clue to the significance of this remarkable scene.
That clue seems in this case to be found in the book of Jeremiah, chapter thirty-two. There is found an allusion to a simple primitive custom of the Hebrew people in the exchange of real estate and in taking possession of property to which one is entitled.
The old Hebrew custom seems to have been as follows: When property was purchased the deed to the new owner was made out in duplicate, an open copy and a sealed copy. The open copy was clearly for public information, open to all. The sealed copy as clearly belonged only to the owner of the property as his evidence of ownership. So it identified him as the one named in the open copy.
If a new heir comes to take possession of an estate, or in case of a dispute over ownership, the claimant who was adjudged the rightful heir or owner would be given the possession of the sealed document or deed. And as so attested by the judge or court, he only would be properly qualified to "take" the sealed roll, break its seals, read its contents, and so formally take possession of the estate, or property.
Now under the symbolism of this old bit of Hebrew custom, our Lord Jesus is represented here as stepping forward to take possession of the earth, and begin His reign over it. A Hebrew immersed in the old primitive customs of his people in Palestine would understand this allusion at once, however startled or sceptical he might be as to its significance in this connection.
The language used in the song of praise when our Lord Jesus takes the sealed book is significant. They say, "thou art worthy," that is, thou art qualified; thou art the duly attested one with the right to take possession. "For thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe," and so on.
Man had been given the dominion of the earth. He had by obedience to the evil one transferred his right to Him who is repeatedly called "the prince of this world." Our Lord Jesus purchased men out of their slavery back to their original Lord,—with all that was rightfully theirs. He has allowed fullest opportunity for all who will to accept His Lordship. Now He is about to take possession of the earth on behalf of men, and for them.
This is the tremendous significance of what John is shown here as something that will take place hereafter. In the scene of the candlesticks He is patiently waiting, holding Himself in restraint. Now the waiting time is over. He is making the next move in His broader plan for the earth.
There is no hint as to the length of interval between the two scenes, how long He will wait. There is no suggestion as to when this next move will be made. But we are here plainly told that at some time that candlestick waiting time will end, and He will take a forward step in connection with His plans for the earth. And it should be keenly noticed that what follows now in this book of Revelation is the run of events that will immediately follow that next step of His.
Yet this step is taken up in heaven. The first action of the new move will be there. There will be nothing to be seen on the earth to indicate the change. Things there will go on as before, eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, all unconscious of the tremendous events being worked out.
But now the waiting time still waits. Our opportunity is still open. If we might only be simple enough to be true to our absent Lord Jesus during this waiting time.
A bishop of the American Episcopal Church, widely known for his saintly character, his culture, and long years of tireless service, was visiting in the South. In the town there lived a judge of wide repute for his scholarly learning as well as for his culture and uprightness. Now he was seriously ill, and had requested an interview with the bishop.