Horatius Bonar Commentaries
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:The Book Of The Last Days.
The TITLE of this last and most wondrous of inspired books is 'the revelation(uncovering, unveiling) of Jesus Christ'. It is He who "unveils," and it is He who is here unveiled to us, and who shines out with transfiguration-brightness before the Church's eye. The spirit and sum of this book is 'testimony to Jesus' (Revelation 19:10). He is its Alpha and its Omega. We find Him everywhere—in description, in song, in symbol, in prediction; in things past, present, and to come. Here Christ is all and in all. This last book completes the "unveiling" which was begun in the Gospels and carried on through the Epistles. The last fragment of the veil is here taken from His face. We see Him as He is, on the Father's right hand, on the throne, through the rent veil. The heavens are opened, and we see Him (as Stephen did) in His present glory and in the glory of His second coming.
Which God gave unto Him.This unveiling is given to Him by the Father that He may give it to us; for even on the throne is He subject to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28), waiting on His will and doing it. This revelation is God's gift to Him, and it is His gift to us; becoming thus doubly precious, as a gift worthy of God—worthy to be given to Him, and worthy to be given by Him to us.
To show unto His servants."Show" is the word used in the case of Moses—'the pattern showed to you in the mount' (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5); and is almost always used in reference to things submitted to the eye. They are sons, yet servants also; both of these names of honor belonging to Him who was both the Son and the Servant of the Father (Romans 1:1; Php 1:1; Revelation 7:3, Revelation 22:3). This book, then, consists of the things shown by Christ to His servants.
The things that must shortly come to pass.He had said, "This generation shall not pass away until all these things happen". The word is the same, signifying, not to be fulfilled, but to be or begin to be. So here it is the things that must shortly (or quickly) be—the things just about to be, that the Lord shows to His servants. And what He has shown to us it becomes us to study. These things are the unveiling of Christ, and of earth's future, in connection with Him, both in grace and glory, both in love and wrath. These are some of the things which the angels desire to look into, and in carrying out which they are specially 'ministering spirits;' and it does not become us, whom they chiefly concern, to slight them. Seeing that God has revealed them, we may conclude that they are neither too high nor too low for us, but worthy of most earnest thought. The tendency of the present age is to set aside prophecy as specially belonging to the supernatural, and therefore incredible and impossible to comprehend. Let us stand aloof from this incredulity, and welcome the prophetic word as all the more precious because supernatural and specially divine.
And He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John.More exactly the words run, 'and He signified it (having sent it by His angel) to His servant John.' This 'unveiling' is of no common importance; for mark the steps by which it reaches us. The Father gives it to the Son; the Son summons His angel (perhaps the angel who once and again ministered to Him on earth, as in Gethsemane); this angel descends from heaven with it, and makes it known to the prophet (Revelation 22:16). All the agencies in heaven and earth are thus brought into connection with it. How valuable its contents must be when such pains are taken with its transmission! Shall we slight that book which has been thus attested and honored?
Here being those references to angelic agency of which this book is full. God takes us (as in Daniel) behind the scenes, and shows us the living instrumentality through which the movements of earth and the judgments of divine righteousness are wrought. We look into the inner and invisible world, and see angels there at work, executing God's purposes—the 'angels who excel in strength;' who 'do His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word;' His 'hosts;' His 'ministers that do His pleasure' (Psalm 103:20-21). ANGELS have far more to do in the affairs both of the Church and the world than we generally conceive. Ever at hand, ever waiting and watching, ever working, they help, they protect, they strengthen, they deliver, or they smite, they destroy, the inflict the judgments of God. In this last book of the Bible there is more of angelic ministry, both for good and evil, than in any other; as if men would need more to be reminded of this in the last days; and as if, when Satan comes down with his hosts, having great wrath, Michael and his hosts were to have more to do than ever; as if, in the battle of the great day, their numbers required to be reinforced, and their reserves brought up, to meet the multitudinous foe.
Who bore record of the word of God.It is the same JOHN who said, 'In the beginning was the Word,' that now is written to by his Lord. He who testified of his Lord on earth now testifies of Him as He sits in heaven. And we know that his testimony is true. The Word spoken of in the Gospel, and the Word revealed in the Apocalypse, are one (Revelation 9:13); both of them revealing wonderfully the Son of the Father, the one in His grace, and the other in His glory. To believe this 'record' is to become a son of God; for it is faith that introduces us into the heavenly family. He who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.
And of the testimony of 'Jesus Christ'.The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, no less than of the four Gospels. To make known the divine contents of these two glorious names—Jesus and Christ—was John's special mission, both at the beginning and at the close of his life. He is a witness for Jesus from first to last. It is not merely of the eternal Word that he testifies, but of the 'Word made flesh,' 'God manifest in flesh,' the bearer of sin, the 'Savior of the world,' the Anointed of the Holy Spirit.
And of all things that he 'saw'.Here also the Gospel and the Revelation are similar. In the former we have what John saw of Jesus on earth (John 19:35'he who saw bore record') in the latter, what he saw of Jesus in heaven. The earthly grace and the heavenly glory are thus proclaimed to us on like sure authority—that of an eye-witness, an inspired eye-witness, whose testimony has in it all that is true and certain, both in God and man. It is all true. Not only do the water and the blood bear witness, but 'the Spirit bears witness' (1Jo 5:6); the testimony of God is greater than all the testimony of man (1Jo 5:9). The reception of this testimony by the sinner, is life eternal.
Blessed is he who 'reads'.What God calls blessedness must be great; and that word 'blessed' is used by Him very frequently in the Old Testament and New. In this book it occurs seven times (Revelation 1:3, Revelation 14:13, Revelation 16:15, Revelation 19:9, Revelation 20:6, Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:14), as if the fullness or perfection of blessedness were contained in what this book reveals. The word "reads" refers to the public reading in the church (Luke 4:16; Acts 15:21; Colossians 4:16; Revelation 5:4). The reader even in his public reading finds blessing. God blesses him in so doing. Into him as well as out of him flow rivers of living water. Most wondrous book! It begins and ends with blessing on those who read it and give heed to it. How much has the Church of God lost by her neglect of it! It may be hard to be understood; but the privilege of reading it and keeping its sayings remains the same. Surely the Holy Spirit knew what He wrote, when He pronounced blessings on its readers and its observers! Not to gratify the curious; not to suit itching ears; not to encourage human speculation or restless guesses; not to excite the excitable, or furnish materials for poetry; but to feed the Church of God; to be a light in a dark place; to set up a line of beacons along the rocky and stormy coast of the Church's perilous voyage; to be her chart and compass in the last days; to make man wakeful, happy, and blessed; to bring us into sympathy with the mind and purpose of God—these are the objects of a book in which Father, Son, and spirit are all engaged.
And those who 'hear' the words of this prophecy.Those who are but listeners receive the blessing too. To hear the voice of God speaking to us in grace, though to the world in judgment, is blessedness. 'Open ears' are the least that God can expect when He speaks. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! The words spoken are so full of God, so full of Christ, so full of the Spirit, that in listening we are blessed. His doctrine drops as the rain, and distills as the dew. 'Blessed are those who hear,' are among the opening words of this wondrous Revelation; and 'let him who hears say, Come,' are among its closing ones. The result produced upon the hearer by the reading of these prophecies should be to make him say, "come!" 'Even so, come, Lord Jesus!'
And 'keep' those things that are written therein.'If you know these things, happy are you if you DO them.' The 'keeping' and the 'doing' are the consequent of the 'hearing.' The 'keeping' of Christ's word is what is specially enforced here. For the Revelation is a thoroughly practical book, meant to bear upon our daily life, to guide the Church, to warn kings and kingdoms, to lift us out of the region of the visible into that of the invisible! 'Keep the words of this book' is Christ's message to the Church and the Churches. But how shall we 'keep' them if we do not study the book? Whether we fully comprehend it or not, let us study it. Each perusal will give a new insight into its visions; we shall take on the mold and impress of its truths, even unconsciously, in the simple childlike reading of it.
For the time is at hand.Coming judgments, coming glories, a coming Judge, and a coming kingdom—these are some of the things held up before our eyes. In regard to all these we are bidden to 'watch.' When and how they are to burst upon our world, and to awaken the slumbering church, we know not. The time has always been concealed. It is uncertain. It may be soon. "Of that day and hour knows no man." "Awake you who sleep," for the time is at hand. The trumpet is always ready to sound; the last storm is always just on the point of breaking. Christ is always 'coming.' The end of all things is at hand. Whether we are able to reconcile these words with the delay of so many centuries, it matters not. The words were meant to be words of warning, on account of the suddenness of the final crisis. In looking forward from a human view-point, and measuring the times and seasons by a human standard, the above expression may seem 'hard to be understood;' looking back upon it hereafter from the eternal view-point, we shall see how it was always near.
Here let us stop short and gather up the following LESSONS, taught us in these verses by the Spirit of God—
I. God wishes us to study Christ. Again and again He opens out His 'unsearchable riches,' and gives us another and another view of the 'unspeakable gift.' Study His person; study His work—the wisdom, and the power, and the love of God are there! Study all His fullness, and, as you study it, drink it in! Study the cross; study the resurrection; study the present majesty of the ascended and interceding Christ; study His coming glory as Judge, and King, and Bridegroom. There is none like Him—neither shall ever be. He is the chief among ten thousand; the only perfect One; the all-perfect One; the representative of the invisible Godhead; the doer of the Father's will; the accomplisher of the Father's purpose—both of vengeance and of grace.
II. Christ wishes us to study Himself. 'Look unto me,' He says in this book. Jesus showed to His servant John the things concerning Himself, that the Church in all ages might see and know these things. He unveils Himself in His glory, and says, Look on me! Here Christ is all and in all; and He would gladly teach us here what that all is, and what that in all implies.
III. Christ uses 'human' messengers. He is head over all things to the Church, and He makes use of all things as His servants, saying to one, 'Go,' and he goes, to another, 'Come,' and he comes. Though invisible now and in the heaves, He uses human agencies still. He speaks through men; He teaches through men; He comforts through men; He warns through men. 'We beg you, in Christ's stead be you reconciled to God,' are words which show us how He stands towards us.
IV. God uses 'angelic' messengers. In the government both of the church and of the world He makes use of angels. They are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation. Jesus comes Himself to John; yet the Revelation comes to John by an angel. How the angel communicated with John we know not. Who he was, whether Michael or Gabriel, we know not. But it is an angelic messenger that is made use of here. This whole book is full of angelic agencies and ministries. God lifts a little of the veil, and shows us angels at work in conducting the affairs of earth. This is the book of ANGELS—for the word occurs in it seventy-six times. They minister to man; they execute God's judgments; they do His will here; excelling in strength, and able to counteract the power of Satan and his angels.
V. God annexes a 'special blessedness' to the study of this book. Few believe this; fewer act upon it. The Apocalypse is too many like the Sibyl's books, or the Iliad of Homer. The so-called philosophy of the age is undermining the prophetic word, reducing it to a mere collection of figures, or symbolic representation of principles or abstract truths. Prophecy as the direct prediction by God of what is to come to pass on earth is set aside, and the prophetic books are studies merely in reference to their poetry or their lofty ideas. Blessedness in studying them is seldom thought of, even by many Christians. Yet the word of God here stands true. Prophecy is a sure word, and it is as blessed as it is sure. Woe to him who slights it! Blessed are all those who meditate on it, seek to know it, and take it for guidance and counsel in the evil day!
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;The Grace And Peace Of The Three-One God.
'In the last days perilous times shall come;' yet in those days, where 'sin shall abound, grace shall much more abound.' It shall be the grace of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the manifold and perfect fullness of the grace of Godhead; 'exceeding riches of grace.' Then shall be the greatest of all the manifestations of grace—both to the Church and to the world. It shall be grace to the uttermost, patience to the uttermost, love to the uttermost, from the Three-one Jehovah to the chief of sinners. Before judgment comes grace; and not until that large fullness of grace has been rejected shall the wrath descend.
Verse 4—John to the seven churches which are in Asia.
Here is the apostolic salutation; very like Paul's (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2), only shorter. It is Jesus who writes; it is the Holy Spirit who writes—yet also John—John the servant of Christ, and His witness-bearer. He addresses the seven Asian Churches. There were many others—Colosse, Tralles, Magnesia—but seven are chosen as representative Churches, selected because of certain peculiar characteristics and conditions which were found in them, that, in speaking to these seven co-existing peculiarities, he might speak to all Churches in all ages; so that each Church, in every age, might find, in some one of these seven, a picture of itself, and, in the words of warning or of cheer, something exactly suited for admonition to itself.
To speak 'symbolically'—no one of these Churches has passed away. Ephesus has always existed and still exists in some of the many Churches throughout the world. So with Smyrna and Pergamos and the rest. They are not representatives of successive stages or conditions, spiritual or ecclesiastical; they are not prophetical or consecutive, as if Ephesus pictured the primitive Church, Smyrna that of the third and fourth century, down to Laodicea, the representative of the Church of the last days. They picture 'seven states in which the Church will always be found', and in regard to which each should put the question—Is it I? Lord, is it I?
Why they are selected from Asia Minor is hard to say. Certainly it is Gentile ground; and it is to the Churches of the Gentiles that the book is written. Israel had been cast off and had gone out of sight. Jerusalem had fallen; and the apostles, rejected by the Jew, had turned to the Gentile. But why these representative Gentile Churches were selected from Asia, and not from Greece or any Gentile region, we cannot say, further than that John preached at Ephesus and superintended the neighboring Churches. Seven is the number of completeness—manifold completeness; fullness in variety; covenant-certainty. The portrait is one; of the one Church of God on earth. But of this one portrait there are seven different views, each bringing out something special, while preserving the common outline and features; all combined giving the complete enumeration or record both of the evil and the good belonging to the universal Church below, in this the day of her imperfection and continual declension.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come.GRACE—'Free favor' (or free love) is the first note of blessing—apostolic blessing, as in Paul's epistles; and then 'PEACE,' as the stream flowing from the heavenly fountainhead of grace. 'Peace' simply as the master's blessing (John 14:27), as if the 'grace' were not needed to be expressed, He Himself being the visible grace or love. 'Grace and peace,' or sometimes 'grace, mercy, and peace,' we find to be the blessing of His servants, full and large, containing all they needed. 'From Him which is, and who was, and who is to come.' This is the inspired interpretation of the name Jehovah, 'who is, and was, and shall be.' Here it is given to the Father, as elsewhere to Christ. 'Yesterday, today, and forever,' 'from everlasting to everlasting God.' The Father's grace and peace must be, like Himself, eternal. Eternal grace, eternal peace—this is the Church's portion—this is the heritage of each saint.
And from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.This must mean the Holy Spirit in His sevenfold completeness and fullness—this sevenfold fullness corresponding with the seven Churches, and intimidating the manifold abundance of the gifts which flow out of Him to the whole Church of God.
From this storehouse are dispensed the 'gifts of the Holy Spirit,' which Christ has received for men. These seven Spirits are 'before the throne of God;' and from that throne they issue forth like 'the pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God, and of the Lamb.' The Holy Spirit is 'the promise of the Father;' and He comes in His fullness, from His throne, the seat of all authority and power.
Verse. 5. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness.It is not merely the Father's grace that is prayed for, but the grace of the Son, the grace of Him whose name is Jesus—Jesus the Christ; and it is the peace of Him who said—Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, that is here dispensed. And this Jesus is the 'faithful Witness,' who has come to us from God with a true testimony—a testimony concerning the Father and the Father's purpose; a testimony to the church and to the world; a testimony which, on being received, enables us to say, "We know;' for if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.
The first-begotten of the dead.The word 'first-begotten' in the Old Testament is almost always used in its literal sense, the eldest of the family, or the first of the heard and flock. So in the New Testament (Matthew 1:25). But in one or two places it is used symbolically—in reference to majesty or excellency, to power, to possession of the inheritance or birthright (Psalm 89:27; Jeremiah 31:9); and in the New Testament the allusions to Christ are symbolical of these, referring not so much to priority in time as to the birthright. These allusions are the following—(1) "First-born among many brethren' (Romans 8:29); (2) 'First-born of every creature' (Colossians 1:15; lit., 'first-born of the whole creation'); (3) 'First-born from the dead' (Colossians 1:18; same as in Revelation 1:5); (4) "the first-born; or 'first-begotten' (Hebrews 1:6, where the word stands alone, like 'only-begotten'); (5) Church of the first-born' (Hebrews 12:23).
Christ then has the resurrection-birthright; whether actually He was or was not the first that rose, as to time, He has the primogeniture of resurrection. All of excellency, and power, and glory, and inheritance that belongs to the first-born is His. He is, moreover, 'the first-fruits of those who slept' (1 Corinthians 15:20); the pledge, the model and type of resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life. He stands at the head of the long procession of the risen saints, the Church of the first-born, who are in their turn 'a kind of first-fruits of His creatures' (Jam 1:18).
And the Prince of the kings of the earth.The word 'prince' is simply 'ruler' or 'president,' as 'ruler of the synagogue' (Luke 8:41); 'Nicodemus a ruler of the Jews' (John 3:1). As, then, the ruler presided over the synagogue, or the head of the Sanhedrin presided in that court of the elders, so does Christ preside in the assembly of the kings of the earth. The expression is not exactly the same as 'King of kings and Lord of lords;' it rather refers to presidency and power, such as is described in the 82nd Psalm—'God stands' (or 'has taken His stand,' a solemn act, for the solemn purpose, immediately declared) 'in the congregation of God' (Numbers 27:17, Numbers 31:16, Joshua 22:16-17, 'the congregation of Jehovah'); 'in the midst of the gods He judges;' showing Himself president of earth's kings, and as such taking His place among them (for judgment upon them), even as they do in their court or cabinet; and they are called 'gods,' not simply as having authority or worthy of an honorable name, but as His vice-regents, 'God's ministers' (Romans 13:4), to whom their subjects are to look for the embodiment of all that is divine, and in whose laws and actings they expect to find exemplified and represented the laws and actings of God Himself.
Christ is thus declared God; and as such He presides over the assembled potentates of earth as their Ruler and Lord, by whom they reign, to whom they are responsible, and for whose glory they are to make use of all that they possess of power, and honor, and wealth. 'Worthy is the Lamb of to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength!' (Revelation 5:12). The gold and silver of earth, the thrones and kingdoms of the world, all belong to him, and are to be employed for His glory, in all ages, present and to come!
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.The Chief Among Ten Thousand.
Suddenly and abruptly does this doxology break in. The first and third persons of the Godhead are, if one may say so, passed by, and the second person is singled out for praise. The naming of His name draws forth this loud burst of irrepressible song. The 'man Christ Jesus,' the 'Word made flesh,' the crucified Christ, is the theme.
If He be not God, why is He thus specially singled out? If He be less than the Father and the Spirit, why is so large a portion of song and glory reserved for Him? If He be a creature, why are divine honors thus heaped upon Him? Why do the Father and the Spirit thus join in exalting His name?
This is pre-eminently the doxology of the heart. It is a song of love. Love dictates it; love begets it and calls it forth—that 'perfect love' of the Son of God, which not only casts out all fear, but rouses to joyful, loving adoration. Was ever any love like His? Did ever any love so merit song? Did ever any favors received, so call for thanksgiving?
Unto Him who loved us.He loved and He loves; for we may take in both the past and the present (and the future also), whatever reading we accept of the original words. This is 'the love that passes knowledge,' without bounds and without end—the same yesterday, today, and forever. 'He loved us, and gave Himself for us.' The love is great for He is great. It is divine, for He is divine.It is human, for He is human. It is free, and altogether irrespective of goodness in us; for no other became Him, and no other would have suited us.
And washed us from our sins in His own blood.The love leads to and secures the washing. He washed the feet of His disciples; so He washes us wholly—head and foot, spirit, soul, and body. He did it—it is a certain and accomplished fact. He did it in one sense when he died; He did it actually when we believed; for it is our believing that brings us into contact with Him and His blood. As soon as we receive the Father's testimony to Him, and in so doing receive Himself, He washes us—washes us from our sins, washes us in His own blood—the blood nobler and richer than that of bulls and goats, the blood that speaks better things than that of Abel. He is our Cleanser.He is the great Fuller, who with His 'fuller's soap' (Malachi 3:2), which is His blood, cleanses us. He is the great High Priest,who with His hyssop (Psalm 51) purges us. He makes both us and our garments whiter than the snow; like His own transfiguration body and clothing (Mark 9:3); like His own head and hair, which was 'white like wool, as white as snow' (Revelation 1:14). Thus we become 'the Church without spot,' like Himself; and then He can say of us, 'You are all fair' (Song of Solomon 4:1; Song of Solomon 4:7); 'You have ravished my heart;' 'How fair and how pleasant are you, O my love!' (Song of Solomon 7:6.)
Verse 6. And has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.The lovingis the first thing; the washingis the second; the constituting us kings and priestsis the third, which consummates all, and reveals the extent of the love—the great things which it is doing for us here, and will do for us hereafter. It is this love that makes us the 'royal priesthood;' which gives us the priestly throne and kingdom; which sets us on high, as, like Himself—Melchizedeks, priests of the most High God—kings of righteousness, kings of Jerusalem—not of the Jerusalem which now lies in ruins, but of the true Jerusalem, the heavenly city, which knows no ruin and fears no Roman host, whose builder and whose maker is God.
He HAS done this! Not He shall do it. It is done. We became kings and priests as soon as we became believers; nor can anything alter this royal privilege. Degrees of honor and differences in the extent of our dominions there are, as star differs from star in glory; but the kingship and the kingdom, once conferred upon us, cannot be taken away. Ours is an everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:27), a crown of life and righteousness which fades not away—the pledge of all which we have in the present possession of the Spirit, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption.
Yes, kings and priests unto God and His Father—that is, 'to Him who is His God and Father!' Our kingdom and priesthood are in connection with God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a special kingdom and priesthood—such as can belong to no other than the redeemed. We are kings and priests in the service of, and at the disposal of, His Father and our Father, His God and our God. Our right to wear the crown and miter is connected with redemption and sonship—and it is as one with His Son that the Father uses us, and gives us the honor and glory.
To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!Praise and prayer are directed to Christ! Strange that some should say—We are not to pray to Him directly; as if the many passages which begin, 'O Lord,' were not addresses to Him, and as if the many doxologies in which we ascribe praise to Him directly were not proof of His being equally the object of prayer as of praise. Shall we ascribe glory to Him, and shall we not pray to Him? His is 'the glory.' All excellency, created and uncreated, in heaven and earth, is His. His is the 'dominion;' universal dominion, over all creation. He is its Head, and Lord, and King!
Forever and ever! Never shall this glory and dominion cease to belong to Him; never shall His praises cease to be sung by all earth and heaven—by men and angels. There is none like Him; none so fitted to receive our praises; none so qualified to wear the crown and be exalted head over all. He had by His divine nature the right of universal dominion; by His human nature as the second Adam, the right of earthly sovereignty; as God-man and Redeemer, He has won these in a new way by His blood. They are doubly His. Amen! So be it, and so it shall be.
Let us gather up the foregoing exposition into the following points—
(1) The love; (2) The cleansing; (3) the dignity; (4) The praise; (5) The amen.
I. The love. The name of Him who loves is not given, because it would be superfluous to state it. Only One could be meant. His is love like Himself, infinite; love like that of the Father to the son, or the son to the Father; unchanging, never ending, yet free! Love stronger than death or the grave; love that loves us out of sin, out of hell, out of the grave, into heaven. It is the love whose breadth and length, depth and height, are immeasurable; the love that passes knowledge. Of this love none could better speak than John; he who had leaned on the bosom of Him, whose Gospel is throughout the story of Jesus' love.
II. The cleansing. This cleansing is the great proof of the love; for it is not 'to Him who loved us and delivered us from wrath;' but 'to Him who loved us and washed us.' He washed and He washes; it is both—the washing of the whole person once, and the daily washing of the feet. He washed us "from our sins." These defiled us all over; He washes us all over from the all; He makes us clean—'Now you are clean, through the word which I have spoken.' He makes us clean every whit. He does this in his own blood; not in the blood of bulls, which can never take away sin, but in His own. It is precious blood; it is spotless; it is divine; it is sacrificial; it is efficacious; it is altogether suitable. He does it all Himself; "By Himself He purged our sins;' 'how much more shall the blood of Christ purge your consciences!' We have God's testimony to this blood and to its power; and he who receives the testimony is then and there and thereby cleansed; so that, though the chief of sinners, 'we have no more conscience of sins.' Nothing can wash but this, he who uses it needs nothing more; and yet nothing less will do. It does its work effectually and at once.
III. The dignity. He has made us kings and priests. Such is the height of dignity to which He raises us. He gives us a kingdom; and in that kingdom He makes us kings, not subjects. It is the throne that is ours—not a home in it merely, or wealth in it, or a place of honor in it. It is nothing short of the throne and the crown! It is not yet ours in possession, but it is ours in prospect; we are kings just now, though it does not yet appear what we shall be.
But the priesthoodas well as the throne is ours. We are not simply, like national Israel, to get the benefits of priesthood; we are priests ourselves, belonging to the priestly tribe and family—true Aaron's—true Melchizedek's; appointed to minister in the heavenly sanctuary. The priestly miter and robe and ephod are all ours—and we are to exercise our priesthood hereafter throughout the universe! We reign as kings, and as priests we form the medium of communication between the creature and the Creator, between the works of God's hands and the great Maker of all. It is unto God and His Father that we are such; our priestly, royal service has directly to do with God, and is given us by God Himself. As Christ is, so are we—His joint-kings; His joint-priests; the royal priesthood in whom and through whom God is to be glorified, and His creation governed forever.
IV. The praise. It is to Him who loved us, whom we ascribe the praise; for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. It is to Him that the song of earth and the song of heaven are both sung. The glory is His, the dominion is His—and for eternity! Eternal glory, eternal dominion, we ascribe to Him! All that the Father has is His—the Father's throne, the Father's dominion, power, honor, dignity. He is Head of His Church; Head of creation; Head of the universe! In our songs we heap these honors on His head; in our service, and in every part both of work and worship, we do the same. Glory and dominion to Him who loves us!
V. The amen. This is the summing up of all; with heart and voice we sum up this doxology, and cry Amen! This is the response of heaven just now; it will before long be the response of earth. Meanwhile it is the response of the Church of God on earth, of each saint here. We hear the glorious doxology first uttered in Patmos, and we cry—Amen! We shall one day do it with a louder voice, and with our whole soul!
How are we disposed to this doxology just now? Does it suit our taste, does it meet our sympathies? Does the love of which it speaks constrain us? Has it touched, broken, melted our hearts?
Have we realized our own dignity? Do we feel the honor, the privilege, the responsibility of being kings and priests? Do we act, live, speak, feel accordingly? Do our glorious prospects impact upon us now? Are we walking daily in the anticipation of what shall be? Are we working, praying, praising, giving, suffering, denying self, under the influence of that honor which shall so soon be ours?
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.The Great Advent.
The Lord shall come! This is the theme of this last book of Scripture. It was the theme of the Old Testament; for Enoch's prophecy runs through all its books—'Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of His saints.' It is the theme of the New Testament; for both the Master and His apostles give out the same solemn utterance—'Behold, He comes;' and the Church in the early ages took up the subject as of profoundest and most pressing interest, 'looking for that blessed hope.'
It was no minor hope to the primitive saints. It cheered them at parting with their Lord, and it comforted them at parting with one another. It upheld them in evil days; it nerved them for warfare; it gave them patience under persecution; it animated them in their work; it kept alive their zeal; it enabled them to look calmly round upon an evil world, and to face its mustering storms; it showed them resurrection and glory, fixing their eye upon scenes beyond the deathbed and the tomb; it ever reminded them of the day of meeting, when Jesus will gather all His own together, and those who have slept in Him shall awake to glory, honor, and immortality.
The aspect in which the advent is here presented to us bears more upon the world than upon the Church. When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he brings before us the advent as it bears upon the Church and her resurrection hope (1 Thessalonians 4:16). 'The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven' is the word of consolation and gladness. But here it is a warning to the world, and to the apostate Church, that John proclaims the coming One. He comes as Avenger, and Judge, and King! He comes with the iron rod, to break the nations in pieces. He comes arrayed in righteous majesty, to take vengeance upon those who know not God. He comes to shake terribly the earth. And who shall abide the day of His appearing?
The world scoffs at the message, and believes in no advent except the advent of gold and silver, of commerce and science, of luxury and pleasure. The Church has lost sight of it, and says—My Lord delays His coming; or perhaps, 'I sit as a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.' Multitudes of professing Christians cannot bear to hear it preached or spoken of, as if it were an evil doctrine fraught with gloom, and paralyzing all effort.
Yet, though the world may mock and the Church forget, the Lord shall come! He has tarried long. Eighteen centuries have gone by since He said, 'Behold, I come quickly!' He must be night, even at the doors.
Verse 7. Behold, He comes with clouds.How often has that word 'behold' been used in Scripture, to call the attention of a careless Church or world to something great—generally something visible—connected with Messiah and His glory! It is the finger of the Holy Spirit pointing to the open heavens, and His voice saying, 'Look! He comes!' For that event absorbs all others in earth's future. It is the center of the prophetic word. It is the Church's hope. It is the world's dread. Long deferred, it comes at last. The Morning Star rises on a night of storm and gloom. Jesus comes—'the same Jesus' who left us on Olivet, returns as He went. He comes with clouds! The reference is here first to Matthew (Matthew 26:64), and then to Daniel (Daniel 8:13), for both are here; also to first Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Sometimes it is 'clouds' (Revelation 1:7); sometimes 'the clouds' (Matthew 13:26); sometimes 'the cloud' (Luke 9:34); sometimes 'a cloud' (Acts 1:9); sometimes a 'bright cloud' (Matthew 17:5); sometimes a 'white cloud' (Revelation 14:14). All these passages point us not merely to the natural clouds of the sky, but to the pillar-cloud—the cloud of the glory which dwelt over and in Israel's tabernacle and temple. 'With' and 'in' such clouds of GLORY—as His clothing, His chariot, His pavilion, He is to come.
And every eye shall see Him.This takes in the whole human race then upon the earth; whether simultaneously, all in one moment is of no consequence. Every eye shall see Him, as every man sees the sun each day. The whole human race beholds the sun, though not all exactly at the same moment. The glory may be universally visible at the same time; but to some parts of the world He Himself shall appear first. Every eye shall see Him! Then let us prepare, by looking to Him now. The seeing Him now will cure and bless us; the seeing Him hereafter will be woe to those who have not looked to Him now as the crucified Jesus.
And those who pierced Him.They are specially singled out. Israel pierced Him; Israel shall then specially behold Him, as Saul on his way to Damascus, whose conversion seems a type of that of his countrymen at last, when He whom they pierced shall appear. Like him, they have for eighteen hundred years been kicking against the goads, and like him they shall be amazed and overwhelmed when they see in the returning Jesus of Nazareth Him who their fathers slew. No doubt we pierce Him and crucify Him afresh by our unbelief; each day is He pierced and crucified by the sons of men; for the piercing is the common act of all who, by reason of unbelief, are in sympathy with the original piercers.
Still it would seem, from Zechariah (Zechariah 12:10), that to Israel the special guilt of piercing belongs, though the actual spear which did it, was in the hand of a Gentile soldier. The 'piercing' was the greatest proof of human hatred—man's determination that the Christ of God should die the death—and in that visible exhibition of the whole world's hatred we have our part; though Israel, as those who should have known and owned and loved their Messiah when He came, may be the guiltiest of all.
And all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.Not Israel only, but all the tribes of earth, shall beat upon their breasts because of Him. All the inanimate creation rejoices (seas, woods, hills, and floods, Psalm 96); man mourns. For He comes to deliver creation from the bondage of the corruption, but to take vengeance upon His enemies. The joy of creation and the wailing of man are striking contrasts. They 'wail,' or beat their breasts, because—
(1) He comes—Rather would they have Him remain away forever, and themselves left unhindered in their plans; undisturbed in their lusts, and sins, and enjoyment of the creature. His presence extorts the weeping.
(2.) He comes to judge—There shall be no mistake as to that. The trumpet has told them that. He summons to judgment. He will right all the wrong.
(3.) He comes with the iron rod—For His enemies is the rod of iron. The great day of breaking shall overwhelm them; and who shall be able to stand?
A remnant in Israel shall mourn with godly sorrow. The sight of Him whom their fathers pierced shall first strike them to the ground, as it did Saul, and then melt them. So a remnant from the spared Gentiles shall wail and turn. But the vengeance shall be widespread. The nations rejecting Christ shall perish. Christendom shall sink like Babylon in the mighty waters. Destruction from the Lord shall consume them utterly. This is the world's day of rejoicing; that shall be the day of its weeping. Rejecter of the cross, repent and turn! Refuser of the love of God and of the grace of Christ, reconsider your ways, before the Judge descends! This is the acceptable year of the Lord. Avail yourself of the free pardon, and the open door, and the paternal welcome, before it is too late.
Even so, Amen.The first of these words is Greek, Yes, the second is Hebrew—"So be it", both together forming the fullest expression that could be of the certainty and truth of what is stated, and the deep longing of heart for the fulfillment of the prediction. Here all of John's innermost desires are summed up and spoken out. What earnestness, what vehemence, what longing, are expressed in this double Amen! It is the amen of faith, and hope, and joy. It is the amen of a weary, heart-broken exile. It is the amen of a saint left on earth long behind his fellow-saints, and sighing for the promised rest when the great Rest-giver comes. It is the Church's amen; her vehement desire for the day of meeting. It is the sigh of the bride for the dawning of the marriage-day.
The WORLD is not ready for that advent; how shall it meet the Judge? It has neglected the 'accepted time;' and how shall it stand before the neglected One? What excuse shall it give for slighting the love, despising the blood, and turning its back upon the cross? How terribly, to an unready world, will the last trumpet sound! Poor world! Your day of grace is drawing to a close. Your pleasures are nearly done. Your laughter will soon be quenched. Your vanities will soon disappear. Your dreams will before long be scattered by the dreadful awaking—when the 'shout,' and the 'voice of the archangel,' and the 'trumpet of God' shall sound. Be wise in time! Awake, you who sleep!
Is the CHURCH ready for this glorious day? Has she put on her apparel? Has she trimmed and lighted her lamp? Has she filled her lamp with oil? Is she sitting loose from the world? Is she remembering her coming Lord, and seeking to be faithful to Him in His absence? He has entrusted to her His cause, His truth, His honor. Is she alive to her responsibility, and acting accordingly? Is she realizing His nearness and His glory? Is she daily influenced by His sure world of promise, 'Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me?' Is she laboring and suffering for Him? Or is she self-indulgent, worldly, indolent? As if the Lord were not coming, and as if He were bringing no reward with Him?
Look forwards! Look upwards! Stand apart from a present evil world. Remember that in the last days perilous times shall come. It remains for us, that we let our light shine and keep our garments undefiled. Labor on, O man of faith! Labor on; the toil and the battle will soon be done, and you shall rest from your labors, and your works shall follow you.
Beware of the leaven of the last days; the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees; the leaven of mingled infidelity and superstition; the leaven of atheism and pantheism. "Liberality" is the watchword; but is it the liberality of the Bible of God? Is it the liberality of Him who says in reference to false teaching, "which thing I hate?' (Revelation 2:15).
Beware of letting go the truth of God; of either denying, or disgracing, or depreciating it. 'Hold fast that which you have.' The Master is absent; and responsibility in the Master's absence is double responsibility. He trusts us to maintain His truth and to honor His name, until He returns. Let His Churches be faithful to their trust, honoring Him as Prophet, Priest, and King. He may be returning soon. If, on His return, He finds us unfaithful to Himself and to His truth, what shall be our recompense? Behold, He comes! Like a trumpet-voice, let that cry go through the Churches; let it echo through earth. His long absence will soon be ended. Let us be ready—let us watch and be sober.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.The Fullness Of The God-Man.
Here the voice of the Son of God breaks in and interrupts the utterance of the apostle. John had been speaking of Jesus; and now Jesus speaks. He speaks of Himself, but in new figures, and in a new style of language. We are carried back to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, and the first chapter of the first Epistle of John; yet the language is not the same. It is a peculiar declaration of the eternity and infinity of the Christ of God—a declaration specially suited to the present book, as unfolding the ages yet to come, in which this glorious One is to be all in all. It is the ascription to Christ of one of the special and incommunicable names of Godhead. In verse 4 this name is given to the Father; now it is given to the Son, or rather to Jesus Christ—'the Christ of God,' the 'Word made flesh.'
The name as given in full is, 'the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the ending; the first and the last; the Lord; who is, and who was, and who is to come; the Almighty.' This is the full name, when its various parts are put together. It is the unfolding of the one name, Jehovah; for as the sunbeam is composed of many parts and colors, so is this great name 'Jehovah' divisible into such parts as the above, which proclaim to us the manifold fullness of God, and reveal to us His divine character and nature as the infinite and eternal Lord.
The following may be given as the meaning of the above symbols—Christ the fullness of all things, created and uncreated. We may thus set them in order—
I. In Christ is the fullness of WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE. He is 'the Alpha and the Omega;' and as these letters form the beginning and ending of the Greek alphabet, we suppose they are meant to denote all that can be contained in the language of man. Wisdom beyond that of all Greek philosophy is in Him; 'in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.'
II. In Christ is the fullness of all CREATION. He is 'the beginning and the ending.' The 'first-born of every creature' is His name (Colossians 1:15). 'He is the beginning' (Colossians 1:18), as well as 'in the beginning' (John 1:1); and as such, He is the Creator of all things in heaven and in earth (Colossians 1:16); the circumference as well as the center of the universe.
III. In Christ is the fullness of all SPACE. He is 'the first and the last.' That which man calls space, from its one extremity (if we may use the word) to the other extremity is all in Him.
IV. In Christ is the fullness of all TIME. He is 'from everlasting to everlasting, God.' Past, present, and future are His. 'Who was, and who is, and who is to come.' The fullness of the past eternity is His; the fullness of the future eternity is His; and the fullness of the vast present is also His. The infinity of time belongs to Him; He is Himself that infinity. The eternal past is His; and His is the eternal future. He is living eternity.
V. In Christ is the fullness of all POWER. His name is 'the Almighty;' the Lord God Omnipotent, to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth. As the Creator of the vast universe; as the sustainer of all being; as the Redeemer of His Church; as 'the Lord strong in battle;' as 'able to save to the uttermost,' 'mighty to save;' as the binder of Satan; as the destroyer of Antichrist; as the renewer of the earth—He is Almighty. And when the great day of His wrath is come, who shall be able to stand?
Thus, Jesus here reveals Himself in this book of the Revelation; for all these excellences come forth into special manifestation in this glorious book, which may well be called the fifth gospel—the record of Christ in heaven—the unveiling of His love and power. He is the same Jesus, with unchanged heart, and undiminished love, bending in grace and pity over this earth, 'His well-beloved world;' as it has been called. For here we have the 'long-suffering' and the 'salvation' of which Paul and James and Peter speak in their epistles—'The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy;' 'not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;' 'who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.'
All fullness is in Jesus—the fullness of the God-man; divine and human fullness; the fullness of love and power; the fullness of grace and glory. It is the very fullness which we need—and it is accessible to us; free to us; brought down to earth and placed at our side; pressed upon us, that we may take it and use it all. It is a fullness which eye has not seen nor ear heard. It contains 'unsearchable riches.' Being the fullness of Him who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, it is altogether suitable, so that no one can say there is not in it provision to suit my need. It is of this fullness that He Himself speaks elsewhere, when he says, 'I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white clothing, that you may be clothed; and eye-salve with which to anoint your eyes, that you may see.'
In this fullness there is something infinitely attractive. It is as gracious as it is glorious. It is fitted to win us. It is God's provision for the needy. How large and excellent!
From this fullness no one is excluded. It is open on every side, that all may partake. 'Every one' and 'whoever' are the words in which the invitation is made. What can be wider or freer? How could eternal life be brought nearer, or made more accessible? Jesus stands beside you; He presents you with Himself. What more could He do? What more could you ask or need than this?
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.The Voice From Patmos To The Churches.
The voice of the Master ceases, and that of the disciple begins again. He does not call himself 'the disciple whom Jesus loved,' as he does elsewhere, but simply "John'. And as another apostle writes, 'I Paul,' so he does here, 'I John,'—that is, 'I who am that very John whom you have known; who have been among you and cared for you as an apostle and shepherd—I now write to you.' He calls himself the following names—
I. BROTHER and PARTNER.He does not write as a lord over them, or as Diotrephes, wishing to have preeminence, but as one of themselves. He is one of the many 'brethren' in Asia; one of the 'household of faith;' a son of the same father; a member of the one family. He is no stranger or exotic or distant relative, no master or ruler, but truly a part of themselves, who needed their sympathy and love even more than they needed his. Not a brother only, but a partner with them in all things; a sharer with them in the same faith and hope, the same sorrow and joy. 'Brother and partner!' how comfortably must these words have sounded in their ears! How well fitted to remove suspicion or resistance in regard to the reproofs and warnings about to be conveyed! Such a one was not likely to speak unkindly, or rebuke without a cause; or expose faults with any feeling but that of affection and earnest longing for their welfare. Not to wound, but to soothe and bless, would be his motive and desire.
II. Brother and partner in TRIBULATION.There was tribulation in the Churches then, as now; in some cases it was 'much tribulation' (Acts 14:22), or 'great tribulation' (Revelation 2:22, Revelation 7:14). 'Weeping endured for a night' (Psalm 30:5); for this is the night, and it is the time of tears. The Church, the injured widow, waters her couch with her tears, and will do so until the morning dawns, and the day of the wiping away of all tears arrives. What John suffered, these Churches suffered; what they suffered, he suffered—for the sympathy between all the members of the body was quick and instantaneous in these days of love. They felt for each other; they bore each other's burdens; they shared each other's griefs and joys. John could say with Paul, 'Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?' (2 Corinthians 11:29).
The 'communion of saints' was understood then more fully then ever since. For sympathy between the members of Christ's body is little known in these last days; so many things have come between; so many non-conducting materials have prevented the communication. The world has come in; false brethren have come in; the members do not realize the vitality of their connection with the Head. Life has gone out; love has sunk low; and thus the thrill of sympathy which once went through the body when one suffered is no longer felt. The links are broken; the fine nerves that carried the spiritual feeling through every part have frozen or become insensible, if not dead. Who of us appreciates this deep, true spiritual union, with which no external unity can intermeddle, either to hinder or to help? It is the union of life and love; of faith, and truth, and hope. It is a unity of joy and peace; a unity to which nothing earthly can be compared; a unity altogether heavenly and divine.
III. Brother and partner in the KINGDOM.The kingdom belongs alike to all the members of the one body from the beginning; and the apostle, in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, gives us a few of the names of these 'joint-heirs,' these co-partners in the coming glory. It is an inheritance in light, and each has the whole of it, as each dweller on the earth has the whole sun as his. A common faith, and a common hope, a common exile—and a common kingdom! One in sorrow, one in joy; one in shame, one in glory; one in tribulation, one in triumph! It is a kingdom that is before his eyes, and before theirs; a kingdom which had not yet come; the kingdom of the saints; the everlasting kingdom, the kingdom which cannot be moved. 'Kings and priests unto God' is the common name of all the saints, from Abel downward. 'We shall reign on the earth,' is their unceasing song, even in heaven. Even in exile, and persecution, and sorrow, they anticipate their crowns. From desolate Patmos, the eye of John beholds the glory in which all this shame and banishment are to end.
IV. Brother and partner in the PATIENT ENDURANCE of Jesus Christ.Until that kingdom comes, there is need of patient endurance, such as all the saints have shown in the days of their pilgrimage; the patience exhibited by the Master Himself; the patience of faith and hope; the patient waiting for the kingdom. Truly they 'have need of patience'. Often is 'the patience of the saints' dwelt upon. 'He who endures to the end,' says the Lord Himself; and again, 'In your patience possess you your souls.' Take also the following passages—'Tribulation works patience' (Romans 5:3); 'with patience we wait for it' (Romans 8:25); 'the God of patience' (Romans 15:5); 'patient in tribulation' (Romans 12:12); 'if we suffer (literally, if we are patient), we shall also reign with Him' (2 Timothy 2:12); 'let us run with patience' (Hebrews 12:18). The Churches of Asia, and the whole Church of God, are called upon to this patient waiting for the kingdom, and yet to be 'looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord. Be patient under wrong, and suffering, and weariness, and hope deferred! Fret not! He who believes does not make haste; the Lord is at hand; the kingdom is about to come; the tribulation will soon cease; the joy will soon begin; and once begun, it will never end. The 'everlasting joy upon our heads' will compensate for the ages of patience through which the Church has had to pass on her way to the kingdom.
All this John knew from present experience. He was in the isle that is called Patmos, a banished, lonely man; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. It was for the Master's sake that he was in exile. Faithful to 'the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ,' he was made to know what great things he must suffer for his beloved Lord. He was now the last of the apostles, as his brother James had been the first to go, and he could not but feel his loneliness in his extreme old age.
But he is not alone, for the Father is with him, and the Master too. 'I was' (was 'made to be,' or 'became,') 'in the Spirit on the Lord's day.' One Lord's day he was in the Spirit—not exactly at first, like Paul, caught up to the third heaven (though afterwards he was summoned up, Revelation 4:1), but still so 'filled with the Spirit,' so 'in the Spirit', that the invisible things of God were revealed to him. In 'the visions of God' he saw what was coming on the earth. 'The secret of the Lord was with him.' The kingdom and the glory, for which he was suffering banishment, came up before his view.
Thus God sustains His own. He comes to them in exile, and compasses them about with songs of deliverance. He opens heaven and descends to keep them company in their solitude, making them forget their sorrow and their exile!
Let us live near Him; walking with Him in simple faith; tasting His love; and enjoying His sympathy. He is with His own here, and His own people will, before long, be with Him where He is. 'Lo, I am with you,' is His promise to us now; 'so shall they ever be with the Lord,' is the consummation of that promise in the coming day.
'Therefore comfort one another with these words.' For the time is short. The Lord is at hand. The glory will soon be dawning. Earth's thrones will soon be emptied of all unfaithful kings, and the true Monarch of the world will take to Himself His great power and reign.
He hears what mortal ears could not take in—'a great voice,' as of a 'trumpet'. That voice is his Lord's. It repeats the words already spoken concerning Himself, 'I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,' that John might be reminded of the glory of the speaker. And then it is added, 'What you see, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia.' Thus the things that are seen are for these seven Churches, as well as the things that are heard. This whole book of the Revelation was not only for the Church of these last days, but for the Church of the first age as well. The Lord speaks to the whole Church, and summons it to hear. These seven representative Churches get the message first, and from them it goes forth to all. Jesus is speaking still. 'The great voice as of a trumpet' has sounded through the ages, and it is sounding still; nor will it cease until He whose voice it is has arrived to introduce the consummation and the glory for which we are waiting.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;The Seven Golden Lamps.
John hears a voice-a great voice, a voice like a trumpet-behind him, not above, nor before. Dwelling, if tradition be correct, in the southern extremity of the island, on a steep cliff, and looking over the Aegean, he would have his back to the continent of Asia, and, of course, to the Churches there. The voice he heard makes him turn round, and look to the north-east, where the cluster of the seven Churches lay, the churches with which he was specially connected. The first thing meeting his eye is seven golden candlesticks, or lamp stands, as if just somewhere in the region where he might have expected to see the Churches. What a vision in that lonely, barren island! It would seem as if he had been transported back to Jerusalem, and brought into the sanctuary, or as if the golden relics of that now ruined sanctuary had been transported by some angel hand, and placed upon the desolate rock!
Let us seek to gather something from this vision. What did the Holy Spirit mean by it? What does it teach us? We are told that 'the seven candlesticks are the seven churches' (Revelation 1:20). This much is plain. Seven Churches, which he knew well, had just been named to him, and he is told that these golden lamp stands are meant to represent or symbolize these churches.
With these 'golden candlesticks' we must connect the 'seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God' (Revelation 4:5). Not that these two sets of lamps are the same. In the one case we read of 'lamp stands,' in the other of 'lamps;' in the one case it is the Churches that are described, in the other it is the Holy Spirit. Still, they are connected. The former get their light from the latter. It is by the Holy Spirit that the seven Churches are made 'burning and shining lights.'
The 'stars' (verse 20) are not, as some have supposed, the flame of the lamp. They are quite different, as we shall see. Of the New Jerusalem, the Lamb is the light; but in His absence from this world just now, the Holy Spirit, in His sevenfold fullness, and with His sevenfold gifts and sevenfold illumination, gives light, by lighting up the churches. They owe all their light to Him. As He came down at Pentecost under the emblem of fire (Acts 2:3), so does He abide upon the Churches still. In the upper chamber this fire 'sat upon each' of the disciples, and so it sits still. It is the Pentecostal fire that kindles these seven lamps, and maintains their heavenly brightness; for that brightness is not human nor angelic-it is divine. It is light communicated by the Holy Spirit-a spark or flame from the Shekinah glory; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let us look at this more in detail.
I. The CANDLESTICKS.It is not so much to the light as to the utensil or stand for holding it that his attention is turned; for the light of these lamps is not from themselves, or from any earthly source, but from Him who is 'the light of the world,' and who said to His disciples as His representatives here, 'You are the light of the world.'
'Among whom you shine as lights in the world' (Philippians 1:15), says Paul, adding, 'holding forth the word of life.' The individual saint is a 'light;' a Church is a 'light holder' or 'lamp stand.'The saint personally, and the Church or body of saints, is placed 'in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,' and, like 'the word of prophecy' (2 Peter 1:19), 'shines as a light in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise.'
Israel, for ages, was the world's only lightï¿½a light confined within narrow boundaries-not diffused over earth, nor set upon a hill. Of this the one seven-branched candlestick in the tabernacle and temple was the symbol. That lamp stand was doubly shut in-first, by the outer curtain, or wall of the house; and, secondly, by the inner curtain, or wall of the holy place. But these curtains have been torn in pieces, these walls thrown down; and now that lamp stands in uncurtained, unhidden splendor, shining out over all the world.
Take the lamp as meaning, in the first place, CHRIST Himself, the light of Israel, and of the world. This is true. He was 'a light to enlighten the Gentiles;' "His life was the light of men.' Take it again as meaning ISRAEL, who was so long earth's only light. This is true; for Israel, when her exclusive privileges passed away, gave forth her light around. Take it as meaning the CHURCH, or Churches, or saints of God. This is also trueï¿½they shine out as lights over all the worldï¿½not over Israel's valleys and hills alone, or her cities and villages, but over all earth's wide expanse, over all kindred's, and nations, and tongues, and peoples.
Christ is the world's light; the church is the world's light; each saint is the light of the circle where he dwells and where he moves.
II. The MATERIALS of which the candlesticks are made.They are of GOLD. Generally in scripture gold symbolizes the holy, the perfect, the divine. 'Be holy, for I am holy;' 'be perfect, as your Father who is in heaven is perfect; 'partakers of the divine nature;' 'as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly,'-these are some of the passages which help to illustrate the meaning of 'gold.' The Churches are 'in God the Father, and in Christ Jesus, our Lord.' They are not from beneath, but from above; they are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. They are composed of men born from above. With divine glory they shine; with divine beauty they stand forth before the world, 'perfect with the loveliness which God has put upon them,' and representing the surpassing and all-precious excellence of Him in whose beauty they are beautiful, and in whose perfection they are perfect.
How noble the lesson which we are thus taught! How holy and unworldly ought the Churches to be, and each saint in them! As gold cannot rust, so neither ought they to take on the world's rust or defilement, but to stand in the midst of it as a witness against its evil; 'holy, harmless, and undefiled, separate from sinners;' 'unspotted from the world.' If the iron and clay cannot mingle, how much less the gold and the clay! What a rebuke to the Churchesï¿½'How is the fine gold become dim!' Where is the church now that could claim the symbol, and say, 'I am a goldencandlestick?'
The furniture of Israel's two inner sanctuaries was all of gold; the candlestick of the holy place was of gold-thus in all past ages foreshadowing the true character of a church and of a saint. Golden Churches! Golden men! Golden witnesses for Christ and His truth! How far the church of God in the past centuries, since John wrote, has fulfilled the description, ecclesiastical history can tell. The age of gold was not a long one; and then followed the silver, the brass, and the iron. How much of gold is to be seen in the churches of our day? It does cheer one to know that the Lord still counted such imperfect churches as Ephesus and Pergamos, or such backslidden ones as Sardis and Laodicea, as represented by gold. The grace of our Lord is exceeding abundant. He prefers to praise rather than to blame. His love and patience are boundless; His desire to discover the least 'good thing' in His people is sincere and earnest.
And this truth is of itself a gospel for the declining churches of the last days. While the sight of the golden candlesticks rebukes, it encourages amazingly. It humbles, yet it cheers. The love of Jesus cannot fail. The efficacy of the cross, as covering, with its atoning shelter, all who have consented to accept that shelter, cannot change; the backsliders shall be saved, but it will be 'so as by fire.' Lowest of all, it may be, will the 'orthodox' Churches of the last days be found, who had the name, and the form, and the professionï¿½but not the love, or the holiness, or the power.
III. The NUMBER of the candlesticks.SEVEN. In the temple the candlestick was one, the branches seven. In this symbolic scene it would rather appear that the seven were quite separate form each other-possibly with the view of intimating that the Churches throughout the world, though all of gold, were to be separate; and if so, then there is here a most vivid protest against the pretended unity of Rome. The number seven is the number of-
(1) PERFECTION. As the one sunbeam is composed of seven parts, and thus perfected into whiteness-so seven is the divine number of perfection, or completeness.
(2) VARIETY. Not absolute uniformity, but variety; the variety which is needful for perfection-the manifold gifts of the one Spirit, sent from the one Christ.
(3) UNITY. Seven is oneness; oneness with diversity-one body, many members; one household, many members; one temple, many stones; one loaf, many crumbs; one sky, many stars.
(4) Covenant-CERTAINTY. Seven is the covenant number. The seven lambs at Beersheba were for covenant; and that place means 'the well of the seven,' or the 'well of the oath' (Genesis 21:31). The Churches are the Churches of the everlasting covenantï¿½the covenant between the Father and the Sonï¿½'ordered in all things, and sure.'
1. What HONOR belongs to the Churches! They are made of heavenly gold, the gold of the sanctuary. All splendor is theirs; untarnished beauty and glory.
2. What RESPONSIBILITY rests upon them! It is special responsibility to the Son of man, who walks in the midst of them; the responsibility of being what He would have us to be, and what He represents us in this emblem as really being-'golden Churches;' the responsibility of being holy and consistent-of reflecting the image of our Lord; of being lights in the world.
To the Churches, the Son of man is saying, 'Let your light shine! Hide it not. Raise it aloft, that it may send its radiance wide and far. Let nothing dim it; let nothing intercept it. The world is dark. The night is gloomy. The light shines in the darkness. There is no other light but this for a dark world.'
The day is coming, the time when these lamps shall be needed no more. Until then, shine on, shine on, O church of the living God! And in proportion to the darkness of the last days, let your light blaze out in heavenly splendor!
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.The Glory Of The Son Of Man.
There stand the seven golden lamps in their heavenly brightness! There stand the seven Churches of the Gentiles as represented by these lamps!
But they do not stand alone. One is seen in the midst of them whom the apostle recognized. He is 'like unto the Son of man,' that is, He is the very Son of man Himself. It is He who said, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matthew 18:20); and again, 'Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world' (or 'age'; Matthew 28:20). He 'walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Revelation 2:1). He is 'the Son of man'—He whom Daniel knew by that name (Daniel 7:13, Daniel 10:5, Daniel 10:16); and whom John also knew by it (John 1:51, John 3:13). True son of man, in His connection with the Churches; for it is as the Son of man that He walks in the midst of these golden lamps.
I. His CLOTHING.He is clothed with the long robe, and He girt round the bosom with a belt of gold (Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 10:2; Daniel 10:5). The ROBE reaching to the feet was the robe of kings and priests—and this Son of man is both. It is the Melchizedek dress, the priestly-royal robe; for glory, and for beauty, and for majesty. His BELT is not that of the waist or loins, like warriors, or the servant's. It is for adorning—it is the symbol of dignity—it belongs to priest and prince—it suits the crown and the throne on which the Son of man is seated in regal glory, yet as a ministering Priest in the Holy Place, attending to the service there, caring for the vessels of ministry, and especially trimming the lamps, or keeping their fine gold ever bright and shining.
II. His HEAD and HAIR.His head as a whole, with its hair, was 'white like white wool (this is the literal rendering), like snow.' Or it may be simply 'the hair of His head were WHITE.' Here is purity, intense purity, and magnificent majesty, the same figure used concerning the 'Ancient of days' (Daniel 7:9), as if here also, as in other replaces (Daniel 7:4) and (Daniel 7:8), the designation and description of Father and Son were interchangeable; absolute and divine perfection being ascribed equally to both. It is by wool and snow that the sinner's cleansing is described (Isaiah 1:18), as if to show how complete that cleansing is, and how complete the transformation is from scarlet to snow, from crimson to wool; scarlet and crimson representing the extremity of human defilement and guilt, snow and wool the perfection of divine purity.
We are 'made perfect through the loveliness which He puts upon us' (Ezekiel 16:14). In the Song of Solomon we read, 'His head is as the most fine gold; His locks are bushy and black as a raven,' as if describing the perfection of earthly beauty—in our text they are said to be 'white as wool and snow,' as if describing the perfection of heavenly purity and glory.
III. His EYES.They were as a flame of fire; piercing, burning, searching. They are like the eyes mentioned in Ezekiel, as connected with divine glory (Ezekiel 1:18). 'The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good' (Proverbs 15:3). 'The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth' (2 Chronicles 16:9). 'All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom they have to do' (Hebrews 4:13). He 'searches the heart and tries the thoughts.' All-penetrating and all-searching eyes are those here ascribed to Christ—eyes which not only look at us, but look through us—eyes of heavenly flame! When He comes to judge and make war, it is said, 'His eyes are as a flame of fire' (Revelation 14:12). Such are the eyes which wept at the grave of Lazarus; which wept over Jerusalem; which were turned on Peter when he went out and wept bitterly.
IV. His FEET.They were 'like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.' In Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10:1-3) the person seen had an 'appearance like the appearance of brass.' Molten brass is said to be especially bright and lustrous. His feet are like the rest of His body, altogether pure and perfect; brilliant to the eye, and repellent of all stain or evil; like glowing brass when the fire has burned out all its dross and brought out all its beauty. Even when He treads the wine-press, and tramples the wicked in His wrath, His feet take on no spot; and as He walks among the seven golden candlesticks, this purity and splendor shine out all around, rebuking sin, showing the true standard of divine perfection, and saying, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'
V. His VOICE.'As the sound of many waters.' These may be the waters of the sea (the waves of which were now dashing at the apostle's feet), or of the cataract, or of the rolling river—loud and overawing, heard afar off above the din of the world. When He speaks, the world shall hear. The trumpet, the thunder, the noise of many waters—these are the symbols made use of to describe His heavenly voice—that same voice which said, 'Come unto me, and I will give you rest.' The voice which uttered here the gracious words of loving invitation, that voice will, in the day of His appearing and His kingdom, say, 'Come, you blessed ones,' and 'depart, you cursed ones.'
VI. His RIGHT HAND.This is the hand that grasps the sword and scepter; it is the place of POWER and AUTHORITY. It is often made mention of in the Psalms as such—'Strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand' (Psalm 89:13). There, in that almighty hand, are you seven stars, or seven angels; for 'He makes His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.'
VII. His MOUTH.This is the place of utterance the place from which goes forth the voice which is as the sound of many waters. From this comes the voice of mercy; from this comes also the voice of judgment—'Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword,' the sword with which He executes righteous judgment; for as He spoke, and all things were made, so He speaks, and the stroke of judgment falls. Thus we read in Hosea (Hosea 6:5)—'Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth.'
VIII. His COUNTENANCE.That is, His whole face—His visage. It is said that on the holy mount 'His face did shine as the sun' (Matthew 17:2); and we read that 'His face was as the appearance of lighting' (Daniel 10:6). So here 'His countenance was as the sun shines in his strength.' Infinite brightness, divine glory, irradiating, penetrating, revealing, is in His face—that face which once was covered with blood on the cross, and pale in death.
Such is the excellence of the Lord Jesus Christ. All divine and all human perfections are in Him. 'In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.' In Him are the unsearchable riches. He is 'the king in His beauty!' He is 'fairer than the children of men!'
Thus excellent is the Church's Head, and He is Head over all things to the Church. He is, moreover, 'Prince of the kings of the earth;' and all allegiance from earth as well as heaven, from nations as well as Churches, from kings as well as saints—is due to Him! All crowns are His, all scepters, all thrones! Heaven is now full of His glory, and before long earth shall be the same!
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:Fear And Its Remedy.
The spirit of this book, as of all others written by God, is the 'testimony of Jesus.' It bears witness to him throughout—to His person, His work, His kingdom. Here are things both new and old concerning Him. He is the Revealer, and He is the revealed One; the Teacher and the lesson; the Sower and the seed. In the marvelous visions of this prophecy respecting Him and His kingdom, faith has much to rest on, and hope much to feed on. They are worthy of all study—and 'blessed is he who reads.'
The three things in this passage which need our notice, are—
(1) The vision.
(2.) The apostle's alarm.
(3.) The comfort administered by Christ.
I. The VISION."And when I SAW Him." That which John saw was real; so that of it he could say, 'That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you' (1Jo 1:1). He saw the Lord; and he knew that it was He. He 'beheld His glory' (John 1:14). It was this same glorious Christ that Isaiah saw upon His throne (Isaiah 6:1-3). It was He whom Ezekiel saw in His majesty, seated in the chariot of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:24, Ezekiel 1:26; 1 Chronicles 28:18; Psalm 18:10). It was He whom Daniel saw 'clothed in linen,' and 'girded with gold,' and resplendent as the lighting (Daniel 10:5-6). It was a vision of the Son of man—not as He was in the day of His weakness and sorrow—but as He now is in the day of His might and gladness. A glimpse of this glory John had seen, some sixty years before, on the transfiguration mountain—but hastily and with dazzled eyes. This was more prolonged and complete—intended, moreover, for a steadier gaze.
It was the very Son of man who stood beside him, even He who, though 'crucified through weakness, lives by the power of God;' even He who died, and was buried, and rose again, and ascended into the heavens, and sits in glory at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. He appears now clothed in flowing clothing, and girt with a golden belt. His head and hair are of effulgent whiteness; His eyes like flames; His feet like glowing brass; His voice like many waters; seven stars in His right hand; a glittering sword flashing from His mouth; His face like the noonday sun!
It was a vision of wondrous splendor—very unlike what John had been accustomed to see in Christ; unlike the son of the carpenter; unlike the Man of sorrows, with his much-marred visage; unlike the crucified criminal, with bleeding head, and pierced hands and feet. In this heavenly vision, all that was feeble and earthly, all that was sad, and bruised, and weary, had passed away, like clouds passing from the sun, and leaving it to give forth the fullness of its radiance. He seemed now clothed with heaven itself, in all its majesty and brightness!
A vision like this suited John well in his lonely exile. The last of the apostles—the sorrowful survivor of a whole generation of beloved ones, most of whom had died the martyr's death—persecuted for his Lord's sake—how cheering for him to be thus reminded that He, for whose sake he suffers, is the GLORIOUS One! It suited no less the seven Churches to whom he wrote—sustaining them in their sufferings, rousing them from their sloth, and rebuking them for their loss of first love and early faith. It suits us no less in these last days. We need to be reminded of the glory of Him whom we are following. It will comfort us in tribulation; it will shame us out of unfaithfulness; it will nerve us for battle and for toil; it will quicken, and invigorate, and purify.
II. The apostle's ALARM.'I fell at His feet as one dead.' Similar to this was the effect of ISAIAH'S vision—'Then I said—Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips' (Isaiah 6:5). Similar to this was the effect of EZEKIEL'S vision, when he 'fell on his face' at 'the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord' (Ezekiel 1:28). Still more similar to this was the effect of DANIEL'S vision, when not only 'a great quaking fell upon the men that were with him, so that they fled to hide themselves,' but he himself 'retained no strength,' and his 'loveliness was turned into corruption' (Daniel 10:7-8). Similar to this was the appearance of the angel to ZECHARIAH in the temple, of which it is said, that 'when Zechariah saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him' (Luke 1:12). In the case, too, of the Bethlehem SHEPHERDS, the effect was similar—'The glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were greatly afraid' (Luke 2:9). But the TRANSFIGURATION vision was most similar to this of the Revelation, both because John himself was there, and Jesus had there put on the heavenly glory in all its radiance. It is said that, when the disciples saw and heart it, 'they fell on their face, and were greatly afraid' (Matthew 17:6).
In all this there was the old idea (circulating even among the heathen), that no man could see God and live—an idea which man's evil conscience suggests, believing that God must be the sinner's enemy, that He can only show Himself in order to slay him. Not discriminating between what was true in this idea and what was false, even righteous men were filled with terror at the visible manifestations of God. And though we might have expected something different from this in the beloved disciple, when his old Master appeared to him, still let us remember that he was still in flesh and blood—still a feeble, imperfect man, both in soul and body.
Besides this, there was much fitted to overawe him. The vision was so SUDDEN and so GLORIOUS—the splendor so overpowering, the voice so majestic, the place so lonely, that it was not amazing that he should have 'fallen at His feet as one dead;' especially as the contrast in appearance between the Christ that he knew once, and the Christ that he saw now, was so great. He could still recognize his Lord; but how marvelously changed! And this outward change might for a moment raise the thought that there could not have been the same familiar fellowship as in the days of His sorrowing lowliness.
We know how the altered dress, and circumstances, and manners of a long-absent friend, suddenly returning, suggests misgivings as to the continuance of confidence and love, and we are not sure how far we may count upon his friendship. Here there might be something of this feeling in the apostle's mind; and, at any rate, the heavenly glory could not but be overwhelming to one who had still but the tremulous frame of mortality, the feeble eyes and ears of earthly imperfection.
This vision of the Holy One, side by side with himself, would make the apostle feel his unholiness, and cry out, like Isaiah—'I am unclean!' Self-abhorrence could not but be uppermost in his mind, even though fear might be cast out by love. Nor is there anything more fitted still to deepen our sense of sin, and give us true self-loathing, than direct dealing with the Holy One—the being brought into contact with Himself, whether in His grace or glory. The law may fail; comparison with our fellow men will fail; inspection of self will fail; but direct transaction with the Lord Himself will accomplish all. Compare yourselves with Him—that will search—that will abase.
But if John, who had known Christ so well and long, was thus overawed at the glory—what will become of you, O Christless sinner! In the day of the full revelation of that glory? How horrendous will that day be to you! How it will overwhelm you! O sinner, learn to know this Christ now as the Savior, before the day arrives when you shall see Him as the Judge! His LOVE would save you now—His MAJESTY will crush you then.
III. Christ's method of COMFORTING His apostle, and soothing his alarm.He begins this by laying His right hand on him—the right hand where was 'the hiding of His power' (Habakkuk 3:4), and in which John had just seen the seven stars; that right hand which John had so often beheld raised to heal and to bless; the right hand in which were the marks of the nails! As the expression of condescension and kindness, as the symbol of priestly blessing, the action would at once be understood by the apostle; and the touch of the well-known hand, thus laid on the head of the apostle as he lay upon the ground, would be of itself reassurance and peace.
While the gracious right HAND is thus laid on John, the WORDS of grace accompany the action—'Fear not.' In these there is no hidden spell, no native power to calm, apart form the recognized character of Him who speaks them—just as the effect of a promise depends on the ascertained mind and power of the promiser. 'Fear not' coming from the lips even of the glorified Son of man, could not fail to recall times when they were used to the disciples by this same Christ, in the days of His earthly humiliation; so that the effect of this utterance, in the ears of the apostle, was at once to identify the present glorious Being with that Jesus who had gone out and in with His disciples on earth, and who thus declared Himself to be the same in mind and heart, the same in love and sympathy, as when He calmed their fears upon the Sea of Galilee with the kindred words—'It is I; do not be afraid!'
Before the words 'Fear not' can have any effect in calming a single fear, or dispelling a single doubt, there must be the knowledge of the character of Him who speaks them. Until then they are as idle wind. Suppose that you lose your way in the wide desert, and with its terrors compassing you on every side, you begin to tremble for your safety. An unknown wanderer passes you, and says "Fear not' but his words do not calm you. One of your fellow travelers says, 'Fear not' but neither do his words soothe you. But suddenly you meet with some well-known Arab acquaintance, some chief of the desert, in whom you have confidence, and he says, 'Fear not!' you are reassured in a moment.
So is it in your transactions with the Lord. You must know WHO and what He is before His words of peace will avail. Know Him, and His one 'Fear not' will suffice to cheer and sustain you in any circumstances of danger, or perplexity, or conscious unworthiness. He who received publicans and sinners, who went to be 'a guest with a man who was a sinner,' is just such an one as you may go to, and such an one as can say to you, 'Fear not!' with the certainty that the gracious words proceeding from His well-known lips, do mean all that they seem to do, and will speak to you all the peace which they seem to contain.
The announcements that follow all bear upon this point. They not only say, 'It is I,' but they show WHO and what this 'I' is. They give reasons for the 'Fear not' and these reasons are all concerning the speaker Himself. It is what He tells us about Himself that He expects to soothe us and to banish alarm; for it is only His 'perfect love' that can cast out fear, and restore confidence to the soul. Hear, then, what he says:
(1.) I am the FIRST.This would recall to John the words of his own Gospel—'In the beginning was the Word' (John 1:1); 'the same was in the beginning with God' (John 1:2). It recalls to us the psalmist's expression, 'From everlasting' (Psalm 90:1), and the description, in the eighth chapter of Proverbs, as to the unbeginning eternity of Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22); and reminds us of Paul's 'yesterday'—the everlasting yesterday (Hebrews 13:8), for the two passages correspond strikingly. And in the announcement, 'I am the first and the last,' we recognize the same truth as, 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.' The epithet 'first' points to time, or rather to eternity; 'Alpha' to eternal wisdom; and 'beginning' to creatorship, as it is written, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth' (Genesis 1:1). He thus means to say to John, 'Fear not—I am the eternal One!'
(2.) I am the LAST.Not that to Him there is truly any 'last;' for to Him, as the true Melchizedek, there is 'neither beginning of days, nor end of life' (Hebrews 8:3); but He stands in the place of that which men call 'laws,'—He is the crowning, the consummating, the summing up of all—the great Circumference, as He is the great Center of the universe! He is not only 'FROM everlasting,' but 'TO everlasting;' the same 'today, and forever', as He was 'yesterday;' the 'Omega' as truly as the 'Alpha;' the 'ending' as much as the 'beginning.'
As God, the eternal Son, He is neither first nor last—but as the Christ, the God-man, He is both; and He is all that can be supposed to be included in both. As all the past eternity was His, so is all the future; and over all that future He watches; all that future He regulates in behalf of His own—'for His body's sake—which is the church.' Well may He say to John, 'I am the last,' 'fear not!'
(3.) I am the LIVING One.Thus should the passage be read—'I am the first, and the last, and the living One.' Throughout Scripture the name of the Messiah is associated with life. He is—Jehovah—the I Am—the Being of beings—the Possessor of all life—the giver of all life—the living and the life-giving One. His association with death is only transient—and that for the purpose of overcoming death, and bringing life out of death. He is the PRINCE of life—He is the LIGHT of life—He is the BREAD of Life—He is the WATER of life. Everything connected with LIFE is linked with Him; for as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself.
The words, "I am living One,' would remind John of the many things which he himself had narrated, and of the many words he had recorded concerning Christ as the Life; for he, of all the evangelists, has brought this great truth before us. It was as the Living One that He said, 'the Son quickens whom he will' (John 5:21). 'He who believes in me has everlasting life. This is the bread that came down from heaven, that if a man eats of it, he shall not die. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life' (John 6:50-54).
Ah! Truly it was the living One who spoke such words as these; and it is as the living One that He utters them still. We fall at His feet, like John, as one dead! He lays His right hand upon us, and says to us, "fear not; I am the living One;' it is not death, but life, that I have come to bring; and in beholding the glory of the living One, it is life, not death, that you should look for!
(4.) I was DEAD.Or, more literally, 'I became dead,' I laid down my life. His word of cheer to John, then, is; 'Fear not; I am He who died.' The words here remind us of those of Paul—'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is Christ who died.' Yes; it was with the Christ who died, that Paul had to do; and it was with the Christ who died that John also had to do, though, in the blaze of the glory that now dazzled him, he seems to have lost sight of this. To this, however, the Lord recalls him, in order to reassure him. He takes him back to the cross, and reminds him of what he saw and heard there. He sends him to the tomb, that he may again look upon the dead body of his Master.
And thus reminding him of the cross and tomb, He reproves his present terror, and makes him feel how unlikely, how impossible it was that any amount of 'glory, and honor, and power, and majesty,' such as that with which he was now surrounded, could alter the relationship between them, or make Him less the Christ whom he knew so well on earth; less the SAVIOR whom, as a sinner, he needed then, and needed still—less the LAMB of God that takes away the sin of the world—or make himself less the disciple whom Jesus loved—less the trusted one, to whom his Lord had confided that most precious of earthly deposits, His mother, when dying on the cross. It is as if He had said, 'Fear not; I am the SAME Jesus whom you saw die upon the cross, whom you saw lying in Joseph's tomb. Yes, fear not! I was dead.'
(5.) I am ALIVE for evermore.'Though I died once, yet I die no more—death has me no more—death has no more dominion over me—I LIVE forever!' To have died, and yet to have triumphed over death—no, to have triumphed over it by dying, so that never again could death approach Him—this was the truth by which the risen Christ comforted His affrighted apostle. In DEATH He showed Himself the Lord of life! In LIFE He showed Himself the Lord of death! In dying, and living again, He showed Himself all that a sinner needs to give him boldness in his dealings with Him. This ever-living One, with whom death has now no more to do; this ever-living One, between whom and everything pertaining to death, a great gulf is fixed—He it is with whom we have to deal, in the great transactions of life and death.
He is made our Melchizedek—Priest and King—'after the power of an endless life;' and the life which he possesses forever is something more than what He possessed before His death, or could possess simply as God—it is "resurrection life", which only He who died could have, and with which He was filled for us in consequence of having died. That which we need, both for body and soul, is RISEN life, resurrection-life, the life of Him who has risen! And it is this that He so specially announces here when He says, 'I am alive for evermore!'
Here John abruptly interposes his hearty and joyful "Amen!" as if this announcement were the one which he most rejoiced in, and which at once woke up an echo in his bosom. He hears the words, 'I am alive for evermore;' and appreciating something of the might import of these words, and looking forward into that long eternity, during which he was to be partaker of all the life which this risen One possessed, he exclaims, with eager gladness, 'Amen!'
A sentiment like that which we always find used in the Old Testament in reference to kings—'Let the king live forever. Amen.' It was in the eternity of this risen life of Christ that John rejoiced—in that same eternal life of the risen One let us rejoice, adding our Amen to that of the apostle, and saying, 'I know that my Redeemer lives!' Oh blessedness unspeakable! Oh consolation beyond all others! To be told that, in a dying world like ours, there is a living One like this—One all made up of life—One whom death can never touch—of whom no one can ever bring to you the tidings, "He is no more!"
No amount of death in us can affect Him, or prevent us receiving His endless life. Our death is swallowed up in this boundless life; so that, where 'death' has abounded, their 'life' abounds much more. This is the tree of life, whose leaves are health, whose fruit is immortality. Let us gather round and under this great 'Plant of Renown'; from it to draw present life to our souls, and the assurance of resurrection to ourselves, and to all who have slept in Jesus!
(6.) And have the KEYS of hell (Hades) and death.He claims power over soul and body, and over those regions into which they pass when separated here one earth. He opens, and none can shut! He shuts, and none can open! No one can enter these places except by means of Him—nor can any pass out of these except by His authority. He is absolute Lord of the invisible world, in all its realms!
This truly is blessed to the bereaved. It is not chance, nor natural causes, nor fate, nor the necessity of mortal disease. It is Christ Himself, Christ the living one, who effects the death—and in doing so takes both soul and body into His own keeping. In this sense is the sickbed His, and the deathbed His, and the burial His. He it is who is loosing life's bonds for a season, removing with His own hands, each of His own, and saying to body and to soul—Go in peace!
Nor can that invisible world hold any of its tenants one moment longer than He pleases. He keeps the KEYS, and as He leads in, so does He lead out. As He unlocks the gate in order that they may enter, so does He again unlock it, in order that they may leave it—to put on incorruption and strength and glory. No enemy, either of Himself or of the Church, shall prevail to hinder the unlocking of the gate, and the great exodus of the rising saints. Not the power of Satan, nor of death, nor of Hades—shall prevail. He has the keys of Hades and of death, and he will yet bring forth His own in triumph. 'The gates of Hades shall not prevail against His Church.' Though guarded by all the powers of hell, they shall be unlocked by Him who keeps the keys—they shall fly open, and the saints shall come forth to resurrection-glory!
Is it not true that 'all things are ours—whether life or death, things present, or things to come'? (1 Corinthians 3:22). For He is ours who is Lord of all these—'You are Christ's, and Christ in God's.' If so, we may hear the voice that spoke to John speaking also to US—"Fear not—I have the keys of Hades and of death. Fear not the resurrection and the life. Fear not, I will yet swallow up death in victory; I will be its plague; I will the destruction of the grave; my dead people shall arise and live! Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust.'
What an antidote to fear, what a consolation in bereavement, what a binding up of wounds is this! Christ is Lord over all; over death and the grave, over the body and the soul. He binds, and none can loose. He looses, and none can bind. He kills, and none can make alive. He makes alive, and none can kill. He scatters, and none can gather. He gathers, and none can scatter. And to us He says, 'Fear not; I am the first, and the last and the living One.' We have known what death is, we shall now what life is; we have known what the grave is, we shall know what resurrection is; we have known the killing, we shall know the making alive; we have known the binding, we shall know the loosing; we have known the scattering, we shall know the gathering; we have known the corruption, we shall know we shall know the incorruption; we have known the withering, we shall know the blossoming; we have known the parting we shall know the meeting; we have known the sorrow, we shall know the glory and joy.
Thus it is that the words of consolation are all concerning Christ Himself. The counteraction of all fear—the removal of all doubt—comes from the knowledge of Christ Himself. 'Then were the disciples glad—when they saw the Lord.' He spoke peace to His apostle John by reminding him of who and what He was and is. So does He still speak to us—nor will one fear ever be dispelled, or one doubt removed, in any other way. The sight of Christ will do everything—no other sight will do anything. A simpler, fuller knowledge of this gracious One is all that we need to give us perfect peace, and to keep us in that peace forever!
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;The Symbolic Sevens.
Write, says the Lord! Write! You can not now speak to these churches over which you did once watch; but write! Write (1) the things that you have SEEN—this glorious vision of my person, a vision like that which you saw when you were with me on the holy mount. Write (2) the things which ARE—the things relating to the present state of these churches. Write (3) the things which shall be HEREAFTER—the words of prophecy which this book is to contain. Write them for the churches now; write them for the churches throughout all the ages. What you write, let them read, 'The writing is the writing of God' (Exodus 32:16).
Christ dictates the words of the message, and John writes them; yet even in this writing he is something more than a mechanical instrument. The Spirit takes full possession of his whole man; so that while it is the Spirit that speaks it is also John; no, and it is Christ also. The thoughts and words are divine, and yet it is in a human mold that these thoughts and words are cast. We recognize the voice of the beloved disciple; but we recognize also the voice of the Spirit—'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.'
Here is the mystery or secret of the vision which you has seen. The seven stars are the angels of the churches; for each church, like each kingdom (Daniel 10, 13, 20, 21), has its angel. The seven candlesticks are the seven churches.
The symbols or figures in this book are very vivid and expressive. They are not ornaments, but truths; not flowers, but fruit bearing trees. They are pictures, no doubt; but each has an articulate voice, and a living eye, and a powerful hand.
Let us arrange and group together the symbols of the first three chapters into sevens; for it is that number that is so conspicuous among them.
I. The seven candlesticks or CHURCHES.There were hundreds of churches in the apostle's days throughout the Gentile earth; but the Holy Spirit selects seven of these, and presents them to us by name; all in Asia Minor, not in Palestine, for from Judea the glory had departed. They are 'representative churches'; chosen to set forth 'seven distinct states' in which the Church of God would in all ages be found. They do not represent or predict seven consecutive states, in which the Church would be found during succeeding ages; but seven co-existing states, in which the Church would be found in each age; so that there would be always an Ephesian state, and a Smyrnian, and so on. Every age would exhibit these seven spiritual phases; so that, taking this as our key we might always classify the church. We shall at all times find churches, congregations, individuals corresponding to these seven photographs. It is this that makes these epistles so searching. Were they consecutive and prophetic, much of their practical design and importance would be lost. Let each saint and each congregation be always asking, 'Is it I?' as the words to Ephesus or Sardis or Laodicea are read. We shall be sure to find one of them to suit us.
II. The seven STARS.These epistles are sent to the churches through the 'angel' or 'star.' The lamp and the star are both (each in its own way) figures referring to the dark night in which the Church now exists. Shining in the midnight skies, there is the star; and shining down here on earth, there is the lamp. The members of the Church are addressed through this angelic messenger. He carries to them from the Lord a letter descriptive of their spiritual state, and containing corresponding warnings and encouragements.
III. The seven TITLES of Christ.We find these in the first chapter; and we find them repeated in the second and third, in connection with the admonitions to the churches.
(1) He who holds the seven stars, and walks among the seven golden candlesticks.The source of all light in heaven and earth—the watchful guardian of the churches.
(2) The first and last, the dead and living one.He to whom all things belong in time and space, above and beneath—the crucified Christ, the risen Lord.
(3) He who has the sharp two-edged sword.The judge, the searcher, the executioner—God's true minister, who bears not the sword in vain.
(4) He who has eyes like fire, and feet like fine brass.He with the penetrating glance, and feet all splendid, yet repellent of evil.
(5) He who has the seven Spirits and the seven stars.He who has the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and who has it for His Church, and for ministry therein.
(6) The holy, the true, the holder of David's key.He who is the fountain-head of holiness, faithful to His word, true successor of David, heir of his house and throne.
(7) The Amen, the faithful witness, the beginning of the creation of God.He who is the true witness of the Father, who created all things by the word of His power.
Each of these seven titles is wonderful—each a brilliant orb of glory—each a storehouse of heavenly provision—each a mine of gold—each a coronet of gems—all together, how transcendently excellent and glorious!
IV. The seven SEARCHING words.'I know your works.' Your works! Not your words, but your works; what they are; whether real or formal, genuine or heartless. All that you do and have done, I know. How piercing and overawing! He who cannot be deceived or imposed upon as to quality or quantity—He tells you that He knows you and your works! O saint of God, O child of His love, O Church of His election—He knows you!
V. The seven words of GRACE.To each of the churches He has some loving message, suited to its state. These are various, scattered through each epistle. Of Ephesus He acknowledges the labor and the patience, the hatred of evil, and the unfainting endurance. Of Smyrna He acknowledges the spiritual wealth, in the midst of earthly poverty; and to her He says, 'Fear none of those thing which you shall suffer.' To Pergamos He says, 'You hold fast my name.' In the case of Thyatira, He acknowledges the charity, and service, and faith, and patience. In Sardis He owns the few names who have not defiled their garments, and promises that they shall walk with Him in white. To Philadelphia he speaks of her fidelity to Him, and His love to her. But the most gracious words are reserved for Laodicea, the worst of the seven churches. He offers her gold and clothing and eye salve; He knocks at her door, and offers Himself as her guest; He tells her of His love in rebuking and chastening.
VI. The seven EXHORTATIONS.How suitable, how various, yet how brief! To Ephesus He says, 'Remember whence you are fallen; repent, and do the first works;' to Smyrna, 'Be faithful unto death;' to Pergamos, 'Repent;' to Thyatira, 'Hold fast until I come;' to Sardis, 'Be watchful; strengthen what remains; remember, hold fast and repent;' to Philadelphia, 'Hold fast that which you have;' to Laodicea, 'Be zealous and repent.' In each of these, each one of us may find something for ourselves.
VII. The seven REWARDS for the seven conquerors.Each epistle takes for granted the warfare—warfare for the churches as well as for each member; and each epistle speaks of victory. 'To him who overcomes' is the keynote of each. Battle and victory, to these are we called. And then there are the spoils of battle; and the division of these among the conquerors. The strong one is overthrown, and his kingdom is divided among the victors. But there are special rewards.
(1) To Ephesus there is the tree of life; the restoration to Paradise; the gift of the Paradise of God.
(2) To Smyrna the crown of life, and deliverance from the second death—through Him who was dead and is alive, and who is now crowned with glory and honor.
(3) To Pergamos the hidden manna, the white stone, and the new name; each of these denoting something very glorious.
(4) To Thyatira power over the nations, and the morning star; she is to be made partaker of Messiah's glorious reign on earth.
(5) To Sardis the white clothing and acknowledgment before the Father and the angels.
(6) To Philadelphia the being made a pillar in God's temple, the name of God and His city, the new name.
(7) To Laodicea a seat upon Christ's throne. This is glory—thus are we heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
We shall reign with him forever. Even Laodicea is counseled and besought to return from her lukewarmness ('Be zealous') by the assurance not only of reception into former favor, but of a kingdom! Herein is love—love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown—'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?'
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.