Let angels prostrate fall:
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all.
"O that with yonder sacred throng
"With all my powers Him I greet,
"I hail the power of Jesus' Name,
The Crowning Book.
There is a crown book in this old Book of God, -- the Revelation of John. It is the crown book, the only one. It is the crown book of the sixty-six in two senses. It is the capping climax of the whole revelation of God's Word. It gathers up into itself in a peculiar way the dominant characteristics of both the Hebrew Old and the Greek New Testaments.
And it is the book of the Crown. The King is in action. He Himself gives the message of the book to John. He is seen stepping forward to take possession of His realm. Then He takes possession. He dispossesses the pretender. He reigns over the earth. The Revelation of John is the Crown book.
This is the peculiarity of the Revelation in comparison with all the other books. Only here is Christ seen exercising His crown rights. From end to end of the Old Testament pages, His coming is looked forward to, with an eager longing that grows in intensity as the national failure grows ever worse.
In the Gospels He comes, but not as He was expected. He is heralded as King, and claims to be King. He has all the graciousness of a King in ministering to the needs of the people, and all the power of a King in His personal touch. But He is rejected by the nation, and goes to the Cross, yet still as a King, -- a humiliated, crucified King.
In the Acts He is the risen, glorified King seated at the Father's right hand in glory, and at work through His followers among men on the earth. But it is always in the midst of sharp, bitter opposition. In the Epistles He is seen crowned at the Father's right hand, guiding and teaching His followers who are still suffering persecution.
But in the Revelation of John all this is changed. There's a sharp, decided, advance step. Here He is not only crowned, but stepping directly and decisively into the action of the earth in the full exercise of His crowned rights and power. It is peculiarly the book of the Crown, the royal book, the enthroned Christ exercising fully and freely at will His crown rights.
Jesus' Bosom Friend.
The book was written by John the disciple and apostle. This is our same old friend John, whom we met first that ever-memorable afternoon, down by the Jordan River road, when he was introduced to Jesus by the John of the deserts, and had his first long, quiet talk with Him. The friendship began that day, grew steadily, and never flagged. It was one of the few friendships that Jesus had that never knew any lapse nor eclipse.
He became, in an outstanding sense, the bosom friend of Jesus. Probably it was not because of any special gentleness or amiability on John's part, though he may have had something of these traits. It was more likely because of the deep, intelligent sympathy between the two, a sympathy not only of personality, but deeper and stronger because of a mental and spirit likeness growing up between them. It would seem likely that John developed a mental grasp, a spirit insight, a student thoughtfulness, a steadiness of temperament, and with these, a growing understanding of much -- at the least -- much of Jesus' spirit and ideals and vision.
It may quite be that all this came slowly, and grew up out of the constant contact with Jesus, and out of the warm personal love between the two men; quite likely. Who could live so close to Jesus as he and not bear the marks on mind and spirit? The fire that burned so fiercely in early years grew into a steady, unflickering flame under the influence of that personal friendship.
It seems not unlikely that John belonged to a good family, and had his home in Jerusalem. He was clearly on terms of easy intimacy at the palace of the High Priest, which in itself would suggest his social standing in the city. It was to this man that Jesus, on the Cross, committed the care of His mother. And John accepted the trust as a tender token of friendship, and took Mary at once to his own home. And as Mary remained in Jerusalem at least some time, and John clearly for a long time, the home was likely there.
John was one of the chief leaders in Jerusalem during the Pentecost days, and after. Peter was the chief spokesman, but John was always close by his side. The friendship between the two seems to have been close and of long standing. They were sent together by the Master to arrange for the supper that memorable betrayal night, and they are seen together in the activities in Jerusalem for many years.
It would seem that in later years John left Jerusalem, and made his home for the remainder of his life in Ephesus. Doubtless he was led, after the years of leadership in the mother Church, to leave the great Jew centre, and devote his strength to missionary service in the outside Gentile world.
Ephesus was the chief city of the province of Asia, and the natural centre of the population and life of the province. John probably worked out from Ephesus, preaching throughout the whole district; teaching, advising, praying with, and visiting the groups of little Churches scattered throughout the province, perhaps founding some, and strengthening all. For his work seems to have been, not so much evangelizing, but the much more difficult work of teaching, patiently, carefully, teaching; a work so essential to the life of any Church. So he would be quite familiar with the Churches to which the Revelation letters are sent, and would be well known by these people and loved and revered by them as a father in the faith.
This personal bit about John is of intensest interest in studying this book of his. It was to this man that Jesus could entrust the writing of this special message. John could take in what the Master was showing him as few, if any others, could. The close, sympathetic friendship made him able to take in what his old Friend and Master is now telling him in the glory. And he could give it out too, simply, fully, clearly, just as it was given to him.
Love can see and grasp, and can obey simply, where mere mental keenness fails. There is no tonic for the brain like love in the heart. No brain ever does its best work, nor can, until the heart is fired by some tender, noble passion. It was to Mary Magdalene who had such reason to love tenderly that Jesus showed Himself first after the resurrection.
And it is to John, the bosom friend, whose friendship stood the severest test where all others failed, that He now shows Himself in glory, and entrusts this pleading message, and vision of coming events, and of the after glory. He that willeth to do the Master's will shall know surely and clearly what that will is. And he that goeth farther yet, and willeth to give the tenderest love of his heart, ever kept at summer heat, shall know the Master Himself, in present personal touch, and in clear and clearing understanding of His coming victorious action and crowning glory.
John wrote a Gospel; one chief Epistle, besides the two very brief personal letters; and this book of the Revelation. The Gospel and Epistles were quite likely written while in Ephesus.
The Gospel was his plea to all men to whom it might come to accept Jesus as their personal Saviour. Its characteristic word is "believe." And the plan of it is a simple array of incidents about Jesus that would lead men to a warm, intelligent belief in Him.
The chief Epistle is written to the little groups of believers scattered throughout Asia Minor, and doubtless in the old home district of Judea, too. Its characteristic word is "abide." It is an intense plea, by a personal friend to abide, steadily, fully, in Christ, in spite of the growing defections and difficulties pressing in so close.
The Revelation was written, quite likely, on the island of Patmos while all was yet fresh in his mind; or possibly in Ephesus after his release from his island prison; or perhaps begun in Patmos and put into its final shape in Ephesus. It is written to the little groups of believers in and near Ephesus. It is a most intense plea to be personally true to the Lord Jesus in the midst of subtle compromise and of bitter persecution.
Its characteristic word is "overcome." It speaks much of the opposition to be encountered, and tells of greater opposition yet to come, the greatest ever known. And it pleads, with every possible promise, and every warning of danger, that the true believer set himself against the evil tide, at every risk, and every possible personal loss, and so that he "overcome" in the Name of the Lord Jesus.
Old and New Woven Together.
The language in which the book is written is of intense interest. It is so unusual. It combines Hebrew thought and Greek speech. It is as though a Hebrew soul were living in a Greek body, and the soul has so dominated the body as to make decided changes in it. The thought and imagery, and the very words are largely taken over from the Old Testament, much of it not being found elsewhere in the New Testament. It is as though the Old Testament reaches clear over the intervening space and writes the last book of the New as an additional book of the Old, but with distinct additions. But all these additions are outgrowths of what is already in the Old.
But while the thought and imagery are Hebrew, the language is Greek. But scholars note that John's Greek here is different from that of his Gospel, and is indeed peculiar to itself, with new grammatical adjustments, as though better to express his Hebrew thought. Yet, like the Gospel, it is an easy Greek to learn and to understand. It is as though the Old Testament were the warp of a new bit of fabric, with the New as the shuttle-threads, and yet with such additions as makes the pattern stand out much more definite and clear, and the colours in it more pronounced. Thus this end-book is a weaving of both Old and New into a new bit of fabric, but with a more distinct pattern than either.
This explains the use of the symbolism which is so marked here. The picture language of John's Revelation has seemed very puzzling. It has seemed like a new language, to which we had neither grammar nor dictionary, and the intended meaning of which we could only guess at. But this is because we are Westerners and a bit set in our western way. And possibly, too, though we dislike to confess it, because we have not gotten a clear, simple grasp of this old Book of God as a whole. The Bible is an Oriental book, written in the characteristic picture language of the Orient.
The truth is that the symbol or picture language is meant to make the book easier of understanding. We simply need to learn how to read picture language, not whimsically, but sensibly according to the laws of picture language. The symbolism or picture sees things as they look at the moment the picture is taken. The picture is meant to give one general distinct impression of the thing being presented, the details of the picture being of value only as they give coloring to that one general impression. It is concerned, not at all, or only in the most incidental way, with the process by which the thing came to the point pictured.
There is a rare wisdom in the use of this picture language. It is really the common language not of the Orient merely, but of all the world. In our western half of the globe it is the language of the street, the common crowd, the common exchange of life, and of children. It is the language of the primitive peoples of all parts of the world. Everywhere the conventionalized book-language is spoken by the few. The picture, with its companion, the story, is the universal, the original, the natural language of the race.
On the mere human side here is one secret of the freshness of the Bible. It is the oldest book in some of its parts, but admitted to be the freshest and most modern in its adaptation to modern life. And the reason is simple. The pictures give principles. Principles don't change with the changing of centuries. Rules change. Principles abide. Details alter with every generation. Principles of action are as unchangeable as human nature, which is ever the same, east and west, below the equator, and above.
John's Revelation is naturally full of this picture language, for it is a gathering up of the chief threads of the old Oriental Hebrew fabric. It will help us understand the meaning if we keep in mind the simple rules of this Hebrew picture language.
John, of course, was a Hebrew, born and bred in a Hebrew home, and immersed in the old Hebrew Bible from the time of his mother's milk. What Greek language and culture had come was a bit of the outer world come into his Hebrew home and life. Now in his old age the early memory is asserting itself.
Then too it is quite likely that in his imprisonment he had been brooding anew over the old prophecies, reviewing afresh events since the resurrection of Jesus, -- the growth of the Church, and now the severe persecution, with himself a prisoner. And while he in no way doubts the unseen overruling Hand, yet he is seeking to get a fresh outlook into the future from the old prophetic writings.
And through all of this without doubt the Holy Spirit was brooding in unusual measure over this man, reviving early memory, bringing to his remembrance all things of other days, deepening impressions, bringing old facts into new perspective, giving clearer vision, mellowing and maturing both mind and heart into fresh plastic openness to further truth. And so we have this little book with its Hebrew soul and its Greek body.
The meaning of all this is very simple, and yet a meaning of intense significance. Here is summed up the whole of the revelation of God's Word. Here all the lines of Revelation meet. Almost two thousand years of inspiration come to a climax in this little end-book. Psalmist and prophet, historian and law-giver, Gospel and Epistle come to a final focus point in one simple intense message. The purpose of the book is intensely and only practical. Here is the message of the whole Bible to Christ's people for this present interval between the Ascension and the next great step in our Lord's world-plan.
Jesus' Plea to His Friends.
And the message is simply this: put to us with all the intensity of the One who gave His very life for us, it is this, -- that we be personally true to our Lord Jesus during His present absence. This comes as His personal request, that, in sweet, stern purity of life, in full glad obedience of spirit, in tender freshness of personal devotion, in holding absolutely everything, of talents and position and possession, subject to His call, and in keeping our eye ever open forward and upward for His return, we be true to Him.
He is the Lamb slain. Only through His blood is there salvation for any one. He is now allowing man fullest opportunity before He comes to set things right. This is the in-between time, much lengthened out. In the midst of formalism and subtle compromise, the tangling of ideas and issues, and the blurring of vision within His Church, He calls to His own blood-bought ones to be true to Himself.
There's a terrific moral storm coming. Wickedness will wax to a worst never yet known. Evil will be so aggressive, compromise so radical, temptations so subtle and coming with such a rush, and ideals of right so blurred and dimmed in the glare of the lower lights, that even those of the inner circle will be sorely tried, and many will be deceived. Just at the bursting of the worst of the storm the crowned Christ will appear. He will come on the clouds before all eyes, take away His own out of the storm, then clear the storm by His own touch, and begin the new order of things.
The test coming will be terrific. He knows it. And his knowledge makes His plea intense that we be true to Himself, our beloved, crucified, crowned Lord, utterly regardless of consequences to ourselves. So we shall "overcome by the blood of the Lamb," and be joined with Him in closest intimacy during His coming reign over the earth.
There is a striking thing told us at the very outset of the book; -- it is a revelation. That is, it is something revealed directly by God. It is the only book of the Bible of which we are told plainly and directly that it is a revelation.
It is not that the other books do not have the same inspirational characteristic. But our attention is explicitly called to the fact that this one is, in its entirety, a direct revelation; and not only so, but it is a revelation given directly by God to the Lord Jesus, and given in person by Him to John. This is significant. It marks out the message of the book as of the utmost meaning and importance.
This suggests a need. And the need of something of the sort is plain enough, if one think into it. Already in John's day there was a distinct break-away from the simplicity and purity of the Gospel, both in the Church and in the lives of professed Christians. The messages to the Churches of Pergamum and Thyatira and Sardis show clearly that there had already begun a rubbing out of the sharp line of distinction between the Church and the world. The world spirit was -- not creeping in, but -- walking boldly into the life of the Church.
It is striking to note the thing that leads John to write his First Epistle, that is, the alarming conditions among Christ's followers. The spirit of compromise seems seeping in at every crevice. And worse yet, the spirit of Antichrist, that makes such a savage attack on Jesus, on the deity of His person, and the atoning significance of His death, this was openly at work among them. These conditions, so familiar to those who first read his little Epistle, are the continual underscoring of His intense plea for abiding.
It is most significant that Jude's intense flame-like Epistle talks entirely about conditions within Church circles. Run through it again with this fact fresh in mind, and the significance of it stands out in a startling way. Peter's Second Epistle reveals the same sort of an atmosphere seeping in among the groups of disciples to whom he writes. Not only was there doubt and confusion about the meaning of the prophetic teachings, but even a sneering and mocking at the teaching about the second coming of our Lord.
These are a few indications of how things were in the Church generally before the first century had closed. It was a time of confusion and compromise. The air was tense. The need was critical. It would seem that if ever our Lord would give a simple direct revelation afresh, to His people, it would be in just such circumstances. And it reveals to us at once how grave things looked to His eyes, and how much depended on His followers having a clear understanding of how things would work out, that our Lord Jesus does do just this thing, -- send a direct revelation that would meet just such a need.
More Alike than Different.
It is most striking that the conditions of the Church then and to-day are so much alike. The line between Church and world is either badly blurred, or quite wiped out. And this one fact throws a flood of light upon Church conditions. Within the Church, when it comes to the matter of what its real purpose of being is, and what the essentials of faith, the lines are hopelessly crossed and tangled, even though the surface shows so much striving toward at least a seeming unity, and so much aggressiveness in action. The common absence of real spiritual power, that unmistakable moving, like a breath, of the Spirit of God, is freely admitted.
It is a painful fact that membership in a Church no longer gives any clue to a man's vital belief, nor even to his moral conduct. There is utter confusion about the practical meaning of God's prophetic Word, and what the actual outcome of the present order will be; that is, where such things are not quite dismissed from consideration. And, stranger yet, indifference, or an actual repugnance, to any mention of the Lord's return is the common thing. It is not surprising that earnest people are bewildered as to just what should be the attitude of one who would ring true to the absent Jesus. It hurts to remember that all this is the freely admitted commonplace, where such things are seriously spoken of.
Indeed it is of intense interest to note that just this sort of thing has marked the whole interval since these early Church days. Broadly the same characteristics have marked both world movement and the Church movement in this long interval. There is a unity characterizing the age since our Lord ascended. There have been differences, very sharp and marked, but always they have been differences in degree, now more intense, now less. The general characteristics have been the same in kind.
The need of the Church in the end of the first century is its need in the beginning of the twentieth. Surely the thing of all things needed is a simple, clear, understandable revelation direct from our Lord Jesus Himself. It was needed then. Clearly it has been needed in every generation since then. And one whose pulse is at all sensitive to spirit conditions to-day feels that surely it is the thing needed now.
And here it is, a revelation of Himself, crowned in the upper world, keeping in closest touch with things down in this world, telling us what the outcome is to be, and especially speaking of our attitude toward Himself in this present in-between interval.
Usually God's method with man is to give him enough of a revelation of Himself in nature, and in His Word, to start him straight, and guide him as he goes to school with himself as chief pupil, with all of nature to find out and develop, and so to get mastery both of himself and of nature and its forces. We recognize this as the best school-teacher method for good self-development.
But here something more seems needed. The situation down on the earth has gotten badly mixed up. Even though Jesus has been on the earth, and has died, and has sent down the Holy Spirit in such irresistible power, the situation in the world, and among His disciples, has gotten so subtly tangled and intense, the enemy is so viciously and cunningly at work, that only one thing will meet the need, -- a revelation, a simple, direct, warm revelation given us personally by the Lord Jesus Himself. And here it is in this little end-book, with its vision of the glorified Jesus, its pleading heart-cry to His followers, and its simple but tremendous outlook into the future.
It would not be surprising if such a book should be made the subject of special attack by the evil one. It is not surprising, though it is deeply grievous, that the common idea about this book among Christian people is that it is a sort of a puzzle, that it is impossible to get a simple, clear, workable understanding of its message. Parts of it are conned over tenderly and loved, a paragraph here, a verse there, and so on, but a grasp of the one simple message of the book seems not common, to put it mildly. No book of the sixty-six has seemed so much like a riddle to which no one knew the answer. And without doubt the full meaning of much will be quite clear only as events work themselves out. Events will be the best exposition of certain parts. But these parts, be it keenly noted, are not essential to the grasp of the whole message. God is intensely practical. Jesus was too intent on helping people to be otherwise than practical. He hasn't changed. He is too tremendously wrapped up in the outworking of His plans. The Bible is wholly a practical book. And this crowning end of it is intensely and only practical. It is with the clear conviction that it is entirely possible to get the simple grasp of it that shall steady our steps, and clear our understanding, and feed our personal devotion to the absent Jesus, our blessed Lord, that these few simple quiet talks have been put together.
Doing Leads to Understanding.
The outline of the book is very simple. After the brief introduction and personal greeting, there comes the wondrous vision of the glorified Jesus, and His personal message to John. He is the Living One, who became dead for a great purpose, and is now living, never to die again. He is seen walking quietly among the groups of his followers, with eyes of flame, and heart of love, keeping watch over these, His empowered witnesses on earth.
And He tells John that he is to write to the groups of his followers a threefold message, a description of Himself as just now seen by John, a description of affairs in these Churches as seen by His own eyes, and an account of the things that are going to happen on the earth.
Then follows this description of the Churches. It is in a sevenfold personal message to His followers on the earth. Then the vision of Himself in heaven as He steps directly into the action of the earth to take possession of His crown domain. Then comes the account of coming happenings. It is a sevenfold view of a terrific moral storm on the earth, that will follow this advance step of His in the heavens. It is so terrific and includes so much, that it is possible to get a clear view of it and its sweep only by looking, now at this feature of it, and now at this; now from this angle of vision, and now from this other.
It is the final contesting of Christ's crown claim as He steps forward to assert it; the final outburst of evil unrestrainedly storming itself out. And it is the clearing-up storm, too. There is ever the shining of a clear light just beyond the outer rim of the terrible blackness of the storm clouds. This takes up the greater part of the little book, including chapter six, to the close of chapter eighteen.
And then there is given briefly the actual coming to earth in glory of the crowned Christ; the new order of things under His personal reign; a final crisis; and then in a vision of wondrous winsomeness, God and men are seen dwelling together as one reunited family, though still with a sad burning reminder of the old sin-rebellion as part of the picture. And the book closes with personal paragraphs to John and to the groups of Churches.
Another of the striking things peculiar to this book is the personal plea that it be read and lived up to. At the very front-door step as one starts in he is met full in the face with this: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear, (or give careful heed to) the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein."
Here at the very outset is a plea, made to each one into whose hands the little book may come, for a reading, and a careful thinking into, and then, yet more, a bringing of the whole life up to the line of what is found here. The blessing of God will rest peculiarly upon him who heeds this threefold plea. That man is moving in the line of the plan of God.
A little past the midway line of the book, all at once, abruptly, in the thick of terrible happenings being told, an unexpected voice comes. Clearly it is the Lord Jesus Himself speaking. It is as though He were standing by all the time throughout all these pages, watching with a sleepless concern. Now He speaks out. Listen: "Blessed is he that watcheth," that keepeth ever on the alert against the subtle temptations, and the compromise that fills the very air, "and keepeth his garments;" sleeplessly, kneefully, takes care that no breath of evil get into his heart, no taint of compromise stain his life, no suspicion of lukewarmness cool his personal devotion to the absent Jesus.
And again, doing sentinel duty at the rear-end, is the same plea. "Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book." Reading, heeding, obeying, watching, living up to, this is the earnest plea peculiar to this book. Clearly our Lord Jesus desires earnestly that it be read. And He expects us to understand it. And He pleads with us to live in the light of what He tells us here.
He that willeth to do shall know what he ought to do. He that doeth the thing he does know will know more. And that more done will open the door yet wider into all the fragrance of a strongly obedient life, and into a clear and clearing understanding of the Lord Jesus Himself.
He that brings his life bit by bit up to the level of the earnest plea of this special revelation, as bit by bit it opens to him, will find his understanding of it wonderfully clearing. Obedience is the organ of understanding. Through it there comes clear grasp of the truth.
A single recent illustration of this comes from Korea, that land that gives us so much of the romance of missions, as well as so much of its pathos. Dr. James S. Gale, of Seoul, tells of a Korean who had travelled some hundred miles to confer with him about Christian things. He recited to Dr. Gale the whole of the Sermon on the Mount without slip or error. After this surprising feat of memory, the missionary said gently that memorizing was not enough; the truth must be practised in daily life.
To his surprise the Korean quietly said: "That's the way I learned to memorize. I tried to memorize, but it wouldn't stick. So I hit upon this plan; I would memorize a verse, then find a heathen neighbour and practise the verse on him. Then I found it would stick."
That's the rule for understanding this revelation of Jesus through John, as well as all of this inspired Word of God. This rule simply, faithfully, followed will open up this little end-book which to many has seemed a sealed book. He that "keepeth the things" that are written here will find these pages opening to his eyes. He that liveth the truth he does understand will understand more and better, and so live in the wondrous power of it, and in the sweet presence of Him who gives it to us.
 John i.35-42.
 Luke ix.54.
 John xviii.15-16.
 Luke xxii.8.
 Acts iii.1, 3, 4, 11; iv.13, 19; viii.14, 25; Galatians ii.9.
 Mark xvi.9; John xx.1, 11-18.
 I John ii.18-29; iv.1-6.
 Revelation i.1-3.
 Revelation i.4-8.
 Chapters ii. and iii.
 Chapters iv. and v.
 xix. i-xx.3.
 xxi. i-xxii.5.