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The Revelation of Jesus Christ

In Revelation on May 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show unto His servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and He sent and signified it through His angel unto His servant John; who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein: for the season is at hand.” (Revelation 1:1-3).

The first chapter of Revelation introduces us to the whole book, and supplies in great measure the key by which we are to interpret it. The book is not intended to be a mystery in the sense in which we commonly understand that word. It deals indeed with the future, the details of which must always be dark to us; and it does this by means of figures and symbols and modes of speech far removed from the ordinary simplicity of language which marks the New Testament writers. But it is not on that account designed to be unintelligible. The figures and symbols employed in it are used with perfect regularity; its peculiar modes of speech are supposed to be at least not unfamiliar to the reader; and it is taken for granted that he understands them. The writer obviously expects that his meaning, so far from being obscured by his style, will be thereby illustrated, enforced, and brought home to the mind, with greater than ordinary power.

The word Revelation by which he describes to us the general character of his work is of itself sufficient to show this. “Revelation” means the uncovering of that which has  been covered, the drawing back of a veil which has hung over a person or thing, the laying bare what has been  concealed; and the book before us is a revelation instead of a mystery.

 Again, the book is a revelation of Jesus Christ; not so much a revelation of what Jesus Christ Himself is, as one of which He is the Author and Source. He is the Head of His Church, reigning supreme in His heavenly abode. He is the Eternal Son, the Word without whom was not anything made that was made, and who executes all the purposes of the Father, “the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.”

1) He is at the same time “Head over all things to the Church.”

2) He regulates her fortunes. He controls in her behalf the events of history. He fills the cup which He puts into her hand with prosperity or adversity, with joy or sorrow, with victory or defeat. Who else can impart a revelation so true, so weighty, and so precious?

Yet again, the revelation to be now given by Jesus Christ is one which God gave Him, the revelation of the eternal and unchangeable plan of One who turneth the hearts of kings as the rivers of water, who saith and it is done, who commandeth and it stands fast.  Finally, the revelation relates to things that must shortly come to pass, and thus has all the interest of the present, and not merely of a far-distant future.  Such is the general character of that revelation which Jesus Christ sent and signified through His angel unto His servant John. And that Apostle faithfully recorded it for the instruction and comfort of the Church. Like his Divine Master, with whom throughout all this book believers are so closely identified, and who is Himself the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the disciple whom He loved stands forth to bear witness of the word of God thus given him, of the testimony of Jesus thus signified to him, even of all things that he saw.

He places himself in thought at the end of the visions he had witnessed, and re-traces for others the elevating pictures which had filled, as he beheld them, his own soul with rapture.  Therefore may he now, ere yet he enters upon his task, pronounce a blessing upon those who shall pay due heed to what he is to say. Does he think of the person by whom the apostolic writings were read aloud in the midst of the Christian congregation? then, Blessed is he that readeth.

Does he think of those who listen? then, Blessed are they that hear the words of the prophecy. Or, lastly, does he think not merely of reading and hearing, but of that laying up in the heart to which these were only preparatory? then, Blessed are they that keep the things which are written therein, for the season, the short season in which everything shall be accomplished, is at hand.


The Effect of the Second Coming

In Revelation, The Second Advent on March 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

What will be the effect or the consequences of Christ’s second coming in the history of the earth and the human race?  In answering this, let me premise that the great event is not limited to a single point of time, but in a sense, covers a long period of time. The second coming, in other words, might be spoken of as a drama with several acts, or as an act with several scenes.  The first scene will be the translation of the church to meet Christ in the air, according to the words of Paul already quoted in part: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ”—not all the dead, but those who have fallen asleep in Christ—” shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18).  Some think too strange, too mysterious to be possible, the translation of the church into the air! But God has shown us what it means. In the antediluvian age “Enoch walked with God and was not; for God took him “; or, as the New Testament says: “He was translated, having never seen death.” In the Mosaic age we have a demonstration in Elijah. Walking with Elisha across the Jordan, dry shod, when they reached the other shore the chariot of fire came down, and took him in a whirlwind into heaven, having never seen death. What God can do with one He can do with a million when the time comes.  It is written in the Scriptures: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9: 27); and I have heard it rendered as though it read: “It is appointed unto all men once to die.” But this is not true. There is one generation of men that, living on this earth, shall never see death. That generation is the one just referred to, who, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and waiting for His coming, shall be caught up to meet Him in the air when He comes.” People wonder about the air, and the church dwelling in the air! But Scripture enlightens us on this subject also. It speaks of “the prince of the powers of the air.” It speaks of evil principalities that inhabit the air now over whom Satan rules, and from which vantage-ground he controls this world as the god of it. But we see in Revelation that a day is coming when Satan and his hosts shall be cast out from the air, and it shall be made ready for Christ and His glorified church to live and reign in throughout the millennial age. We have only to read the Bible, and compare scripture with scripture to understand what the secrets of the Lord are, and to get the comfort from them that He would minister to us.  But what about the second scene in this act? While the church is with Christ in the air, and He is inquiring into the faithfulness of His disciples, and they are having their places assigned in the coming kingdom, events are transpiring here such as were referred to a week ago. The nations of the Roman Empire are coming together in that federation under the “man of sin.” Events are transpiring in Jerusalem also, and hastening that crisis of iniquity which will bring the Lord Jesus Christ personally to the earth.

The church of Laodicea

In Revelation, The church of Laodicea on March 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

The seventh epistle is to Laodicea, and here there can be no doubt that we have the picture of a church in which the power of the world carries almost all before it. The church is addressed by Him who describes Himself as the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, upon which immediately follows a charge as to her condition in which there is no redeeming point. Only later do we see that there is hope. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one, and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. To interpret the boasting of the church given in these words as if it referred to spiritual rather than material riches is entirely to mistake the meaning. Worldly wealth is in the writer’s view. The members of the church generally have aimed at riches, and have gotten them. Possession of riches has also been followed by its usual effects. The seen and the temporal have usurped in their minds the place of the unseen and the eternal. Perhaps they have even regarded their worldly prosperity as a token of the Divine favour, and are soothing themselves with the reflection that they have made the best of both worlds, when they have really sacrificed everything to one world, and that the lower of the two. The last picture of the Church is the saddest of all. Yet is Laodicea not altogether without hope. Behold, says He whose every word is truth, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. Even in Laodicea there are some who, inasmuch as they have fought the hardest battle, shall be welcomed to the highest reward. He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne. Beyond that neither hope nor imagination can rise. The epistles to the seven churches are over. They present the Church to us as she appears on the field of history. They set before us the leading characteristics of her condition partly as she was in “Asia” at the moment when the Apostle wrote, partly as she shall be throughout all time and on the widest, as well as the narrowest, scale. These characteristics may be shortly summed up as—in the first group of three, love to the Redeemer, yet love liable, and even beginning, to grow cold; persecution and trials of many kinds; preservation by the secret grace of God and in the hidden life: in the second group of four, yielding on the part of the majority to sins associated with unchristian doctrine; formalism in religion; weakness in the midst of trial, even though not accompanied by faithlessness; and lukewarmness, springing from a preference of the things of time to those of eternity. To these characteristics, however, have to be added, as more or less accompanying them, many of the active graces of the Christian life: labour, and patience, and faith, and charity, and works, whatever makes the Christian Church a light in the world and the object of her Lord’s care and watchfulness. In reading the seven epistles, we behold a lively picture of the Church of Christ in her graces and in her failings, in her strength and in her weakness, in her joys and in her sorrows, in her falls under the influence of temptation and in her returns to the path of duty. The characteristics thus spoken of are not peculiar to any particular age, but may mark her at one time less, at another more, at one time individually, at another in combination. Taken as a whole, they present her to us in her Divine ideal marred by human blemishes; we are prepared to acknowledge the necessity, the wisdom, and the mercy of the trials that await her; and we learn to anticipate with gladness her final and glorious deliverance.

The church of Philadelphia

In Revelation, The church of Philadelphia on March 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

The sixth epistle is to Philadelphia; and the remarkable circumstance connected with this church is that, though spoken of as having but “a little power,” it is not seriously blamed. In this respect it resembles the church at Smyrna in the first group of these seven epistles. What has mainly to be noticed, however, is that it is not simply, like that at Smyrna, a suffering church. It has been engaged in an earnest and hot struggle with the world, as the superscription, the commendation, and the promises of the epistle combine to testify. The superscription is, These things saith He thot is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth. The figure is taken from the Old Testament; and both there and here the context shows us that it is neither the key of knowledge, nor the key of discipline, nor the key of the treasures of the kingdom that is spoken of, but the key of power to open the Lord’s house as a sure refuge from all evil, and to preserve safe for ever those who are admitted to it. “I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,” says the Almighty by His prophet, “and I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” Whoever be our adversaries, we know that in the hollow of the Lord’s hand we are safe. The commendation of the epistle tells the same tale: I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name. The Church had “a little power,” and she had shown this in the struggle. So also with the promises: Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou didst keep the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole inhabited earth, to try them that dwell upon the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one lake thy crown. He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall no more come forth: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name. How fierce the struggle of Philadelphia had been with the world we learn from these words, in which the enemies of the Church—” Jews” they call themselves, the people of God, but “they are not” —are brought before us like vanquished nations at her feet, as she sits in the heavenly places, paying homage to her against whom they had so long, but vainly, struggled. It is impossible not to see the difference between this church and that at Smyrna. No doubt there had been “blasphemy of them which say they are Jews” in the latter case, but worse trials were only spoken of as about to come. Here the trials have come, and the church has risen triumphantly above them. Therefore will the Lord admit her to His heavenly mansions, and will make her a pillar in His Father’s house, whence she shall come forth no more. He Himself ” went forth ” from His Father that He might be the Captain of our salvation and might die on our behalf. He returned to His Father, and never again “comes forth” as He came in the days of His flesh. Having died once, He dieth no more; and they who have borne His cross shall wear, when victors in His cause, His crown of victory.

The Church at Sardis

In Revelation, The Church at Sardis on March 10, 2011 at 8:00 am

The fifth epistle is that to Sardis, and in the superscription He who sends it describes Himself as One that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars. Both expressions have already met us, the former in chap. 1. 4, the latter in chap. 2. 1. A different word from that used in the address to Ephesus is indeed used here to indicate the relation of the Lord to these stars or angels of the churches. There the glorified Lord “holdeth the seven stars in His right hand;” here He “hath” them. Like every other change, even of the slightest kind, in this book, the difference is instructive. To ” hold” them is to hold them fast for their protection; to “have” them is to have them for a possession, to have them not only outwardly and in name, but inwardly and in reality, as His own. Thus Christ “hath ” the Holy Spirit, who in all His varied or sevenfold influences is, as He proceedeth from the Father and the Son, not only God’s, but His. Thus also Christ ” hath” the seven stars or churches, here spoken of in immediate connexion with the Spirit, and therefore viewed chiefly in that spirituality of feeling and of life which ought to be the great mark distinguishing them from the world. It was the mark in which Sardis failed. Let her take heed to Him with whom she has to do. I know, are the words addressed to her, thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which were ready to die : for I have found no works of thine fulfilled before My God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shall not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shall not know what hour 1 will come upon thee. The world had been tolerated in Thyatira, the first of the last four churches; in Sardis, the second, it is more than tolerated. Sardis has substituted the outward for the inward. She has been proud of her external ordinances, and has thought more of them than of living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. True piety has declined; and, as a natural consequence, sins of the flesh, alluded to in the immediately following words of the epistle, have asserted their supremacy. More even than this, Sardis had a name that she lived while she was dead. She was renowned among men. The world looked, and beheld with admiration what was to it the splendour of her worship; it listened, and heard with enthusiasm the music of her praise. And the church was pleased that it should be so. Not in humility, lowliness, and deeds of self-sacrificing love did she seek her “name,” but in what the world would have been equally delighted with though the inspiring soul of it all had been folly or sin. A stronghold had been established by the world in Sardis. Yet there also the Good Shepherd had His little flock, and there again we meet them. But thou hast a few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments. These were to Sardis what ” the rest” were to Thyatira. They were the “gleanings left in Israel, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches of a fruitful tree.” They were the “new wine found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it.” To them therefore great promises are given: They shall walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. It is the glorified Lord who, as the High-priest of His Church, “walketh” in the midst of the golden candlesticks; and, as priests, these shall walk with Him in a similar glory. Upon earth they were despised, but beyond the earth they shall be openly acknowledged and vindicated. They shall be arrayed in those garments of glistering purity which were with difficulty kept white in the world, but which in the world to come Divine favor shall keep free from every stain.

The church in Thyatira

In Revelation, The church in Thyatira on March 9, 2011 at 8:00 am

With the fourth epistle we enter upon the second group of epistles, where the Church is brought before us less as she is in herself, than as she fails to maintain her true position in the world, and as that separation between a faithful remnant and the whole body which meets us at every step of her history, throughout both the Old Testament and the New, begins to show itself. Now therefore there is a change of tone. The first of the four, the fourth in the series of seven, is that to Thyatira; and to the church there the Lord presents Himself in all the penetrating power of those eyes that as a flame of fire search the inmost recesses of the heart, and in all the resistless might of those feet that are as “pillars of fire :”These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like unto burnished brass. The commendation of the church follows, what is good being noted before defects are spoken of: I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first. The commendation is great. There was not only grace, but growth in grace, not only work, but work in Christ’s cause abounding more and more. Yet there was also failure. To understand this it is necessary, as already noticed, to adopt the translation of the Revised Version, founded on the more correct reading of the later critical editions of the Greek. Even in that version, too, the translation, given in the margin, of one important expression has to be substituted for that of the text. Keeping this in view, the Saviour thus addresses Thyatira: But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest (that thou toleratest, that thou lettesl alone) thy wife Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willcth not to repent of her fornication. Behold, I do cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works. In these words “Jezebel” is clearly a symbolical name. It is impossible to think that the “angel” of the church was the chief pastor, and that the woman named Jezebel, spoken of as she is, was his wife. We have before us the notorious Jezebel of Old Testament history. Her story is so familiar to every one that it is unnecessary to dwell on it; and we need only further call attention to the fact that the sentence in which her name is mentioned is complete in itself. The sin of the church at Thyatira was that she “suffered” her. In other words, the church tolerated in her midst the evil of which Ahab’s wife was so striking a representative. She knew the world to be what it was; but, instead of making a determined effort to resist it, she yielded to its influences. She repeated the sin of the Corinthian Church: “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you. . . . And ye are puffed up, and did not rather mourn, that he that had done this deed might be taken away from among you.” The world, in short, was in the church, and was tolerated there. Of the threatened punishment, the “bed ” of tribulation and sorrow instead of that of guilty pleasure, nothing need be said. It is of more consequence to observe the change in the manner of address which meets us after that punishment has been described: But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, which know not the deep things of Satan, as they say; I cast upon you none other burden. Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come. For the first time in these epistles we meet with those who are spoken of as “the rest,” the remnant, who are to be carefully distinguished from the great body of the Church’s professing members. The world has penetrated into the Church; the Church has become conformed to the world: and the hour is rapidly approaching when the true disciples of Jesus will no longer find within her the shelter which she has hitherto afforded them, and when they will have to “come forth out of her” in her degenerate condition. It is a striking feature of these apocalyptic visions, which has been too much missed by commentators. We shall meet it again and again as we proceed. In the meantime it is enough to say that the moment of withdrawal has not yet come. The faithful “rest,” who had rejected the false teaching and shunned the sinful life, are to continue where they were; and the Lord will cast upon them none other burden. Well for them that they had such a promise.  Their burden of suffering was heavy enough already. Hard to contend with under any circumstances, suffering rises nearer to the height of the sufferings of Christ when the Christian is “wounded,” not by open foes, but “in the house of his friends.” It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man mine equal, my companion, and my familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together; we walked in the house of God with the throne.” The trial was great; so also is the consolation: And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and as a shepherd he shall tend them with a sceptre of iron, as the vessels of the potter are they broken to shivers; as I also have received of My Father: and I will give him the morning star. It was a heathen element that clouded the sky of the church at Thyatira. That element, nay the nations out of which it springs, shall be crushed beneath the iron sceptre of the King who shall “reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously.” The clouds shall disappear; and Jesus, “the bright, the morning star,” having given Himself to His people, He and they together shall shine with its clear but peaceful light when it appears in the heavens, the harbinger of day.

The church in Symrna

In Revelation, the church in symrna on March 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

The second epistle is that to Smyrna, a rich, prosperous, and dissolute city, and largely inhabited by Jews bitterly opposed to Christ and Christianity.  Here therefore persecution of those leading the pure and holy life of the Gospel might be peculiarly expected, as indeed it also peculiarly appeared. The church at Smyrna thus becomes the type of a suffering church, the representative of that condition of things foretold in the words of Christ, and constantly fulfilled in the history of His people, “A servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” It will be observed that at Smyrna the church is stili faithful, and that against her no word of reproach is uttered. Hence the aspect under which the Redeemer presents Himself to that church is purely animating and consolatory, the same as that which, in the introductory vision in chap.1., followed the action of the Lord when He laid His right hand upon the Apostle, who had fallen to the ground as dead, and when He said to him, “Fear not.” So now: These things saith the first and the last, which became dead, and lived again. Death and resurrection are the two great divisions of the work of Christ on our behalf, and the Gospel is summed up in them. Just as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians when he would remind them of the substance of his preaching in their midst, “For I declared unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” in like manner here the same two facts include all the truth which Smyrna held fast, and with which come the life that conquers sin and the joy that triumphs over sorrow. The state of the church is then described : I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Tribulation, persecution, the blasphemy of men calling themselves the only people of God and denying to Christians any portion in His covenant, are alone alluded to, though the church is at the same time cheered with the remark that if she had no share in worldly wealth and splendour, she was rich. “God had chosen them that were poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to them that love Him.” The church then was in the midst of suffering. Was not that enough; and shall she not be told that her sufferings were drawing to an end, that the night of weeping was gone by, and that the morning of joy was about to dawn? So we might think; but God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways.  The consolation afforded to him is, not that there shall be a short campaign, but only that, whether long or short, he shall be more than conqueror through Him that loved him. Thus our Lord does not now say to His church at Smyrna, Fear none of those things that thou art suffering, but Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. It is hardly necessary to say to any intelligent reader of the Apocalypse that the ” ten days” here spoken of are neither ten literal days, nor ten years, nor ten successive persecutions of indefinite length. In conformity with the symbolical use of numbers in this book, “ten days ” expresses no more than a time which, though troubled, shall be definite and short, a time which may be otherwise denoted by the language of St. Peter when he says of believers that ” now for a little while they have been put to grief in manifold temptations.”1 Encompassed by affliction, therefore, those who are thus tried have only to be faithful unto death, or to the last extremity of martyrdom. He who died and lived again will bestow upon them the crown of life, the crown of the kingdom, incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

The Church in the book of Revelation

In Revelation on March 5, 2011 at 8:00 am

The fortunes of the Church are to be traced in the Revelation of St. John; and the first thing necessary therefore is that we shall learn what the Church is. To accomplish this is the leading aim of the second and third chapters of the book. The first chapter of Revelation is the Introduction or Prologue of the book, containing the ideas to be afterwards illustrated in the history of the Church. The struggle of the Church with the world does not yet begin, nor will it begin until we come to chap. vi. In the meantime we are to see in chaps. ii. and iii. that Body of Christ the struggle and victory of which are to engage our thoughts.  These chapters consist of seven epistles addressed to the churches of the seven cities of Asia named in chap. i. II, and now written to in the same order, beginning with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea.

The seven epistles being addressed to the seven churches, and not to any individual in each, the following particulars with regard to them ought to be kept in view:— They are intended to set before us a picture of the universal Church. At first sight indeed it may seem as if they were only to be looked at individually and separately. The different churches are addressed by name. In what is said of each there is nothing out of keeping with what we may easily suppose to have been its condition at the time. There is as much reason to believe that each epistle contains an actual historical picture as there is to believe this in the case of the epistles of St. Paul to Rome, or Corinth, or Ephesus, or Philippi.  The question, however, is not thus exhausted; for it is perfectly possible that both certain churches and certain particulars in their state may have been selected rather than others, because they afforded the best typical representation of the universal Church. Several reasons may satisfy us that this was actually done. (1) We have good ground for believing that, besides these seven churches of Asia, there were other churches in existence in the same district at the time when the Apostle wrote. One of the early fathers speaks of churches at Magnesia and Tralles. It is also possible that there were churches at Colossse and Hierapolis, although these cities had suffered from an earthquake shortly after the days of St. Paul. Yet St. John addressed himself not to seven, but to “the seven churches which are in Asia,” as if there were no more churches in the province.1 More, however, there certainly were; and he cannot therefore have intended to address them all. He makes a selection, without saying that he does so; and it is a natural supposition that his selection is designed to represent the universal Church. (2) The nature of the call to the hearers of each epistle to give heed to the words addressed to them leads to the same conclusion. Had each epistle been designed only for those to whom it was immediately sent, that call would probably have been addressed to them alone. Instead of this it is couched in the most general form : He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. The seven churches then of chaps. ii. and iii. are thus intended to represent the one universal Church. The Seer selects such particular churches of Asia and such special features of their condition as afford the best illustration of that state of God’s kingdom in the world which is to be the great subject of his prophetic words. He is to keep in view throughout all his revelation certain aspects of the Church in herself and in her relation to the world. But these aspects were not merely in the bosom of the future. Still less are they an ideal picture drawn from the resources of the writer’s own imagination. To his enlightened eye, looking abroad over that part of the world in which his lot was cast, they were also present, one in one church, another in another. St. John therefore groups them together. They are ” the things which are,” and they are types of “the things which shall come to pass hereafter.” In the first group the Church has stood firm against the world. She is full of toil and endurance; in her poverty she is rich; and the troubles of the future she does not fear. She holds fast the name of Christ, and openly confesses Him. Seeds of evil are indeed within her, which will too soon develop themselves; but she has the Divine life within her in as much perfection as can be expected amidst the infirmities of our present state. She walks with God and hears His voice in her earthly paradise. In the second group the evil seed sown by the enemy has sprung up. The Church tolerates the sins that are around her, makes her league with the world, and yields to its influence. She rallies indeed at times to her new and higher life, but she finally submits to the world and is satisfied with its goods. There are many faithful ones, it is true, in her midst. As in the Jewish Church there was a “remnant according to the election of grace,” so in her there are those who listen to the Saviour’s voice and follow Him. Yet they are the smaller portion of her members, and they shall eventually come forth out of her. It is the same sad story which has marked all the previous dispensations of the Almighty with His people, and which will continue to be repeated until the Second Coming of the Lord. That story culminates in this book of the Revelation of St. John, when the bride, allying herself with the world, becomes a harlot, and when the Seer hears “another voice out of heaven, saying, Come forth, My people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”

Revelation Chapter 1 Cont’d

In Revelation on March 4, 2011 at 8:00 am

“I John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice which spake with me. And having turned, 1 saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of lire; and His feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and His voice as the voice of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword : and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as one dead. And He laid His right hand upon mc, saying, Fear not ; I am the first and the last, and the living One; And I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which arc, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter; the mystery of the stars which thou sawest upon My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.” (Revelation 1:9-20)   After the Introduction and Salutation, the visions of the book begin, the first being the key to all that follow. The circumstances amidst which it was given are described, not merely to satisfy curiosity, or to afford information, but to establish such a connexion between St. John and his readers as shall authenticate and vivify its lessons. I John, he begins, your brother and partaker with you tn the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. It is no longer only the Apostle, the authoritative messenger of God, who speaks; it is one who occupies the same ground as other members of the Church, and is bound to them by the strong deep tie of common sorrow. The aged and honoured Evangelist, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” is one with them, bears the same burden, drinks the same cup, and has no higher consolation than they may have. He is their ” brother,” a brother in adversity, for he is a partaker with them of the “tribulation” that is in Jesus. The reference is to outward suffering and persecution; for the words of the Master were now literally fulfilled: “A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted Me they will also persecute you ;” “Yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God.” The scorn, the hatred, the persecution of the world! for such as were exposed to these things was the Apocalypse written, by such was it understood; and if, in later times, it has often failed to make its due impression on the minds of men, it is because it is not intended for those who are at ease in Zion. The more Christians are compelled to feel that the world hates them, and that they cannot be its friends, the greater to them will be the power and beauty of this book. Its revelations, like the stars of the sky, shine most brightly in the cold, dark night.  “Tribulation” is the chief thing spoken of, but the Apostle, with his love of groups of three, accompanies it with other two marks of the Christian’s condition in the world,—the “kingdom” and “patience” that are in Jesus. St. John therefore was in tribulation. He had been driven from Ephesus, we know not why, and had been banished to Patmos, a small rocky island of the Aegean Sea. He had been banished for his faith, for his adherence to ” the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” the former expression leading our thoughts to the revelation of the Old Testament, the latter to that of the New; the former to those prophets, culminating in the Baptist, of whom the same Apostle who now writes tells us in the beginning of his Gospel, that they “came for witness, that they might bear witness of the light; “ the latter to “the true light, even the light which lightelh every man coming into the world.” Driven from the society of his friends and “children,” we cannot doubt that St. John would be drawn even more closely than was his wont to the bosom of his Lord; would feel that he was still protected by His care; would remember the words uttered by Him in the most sublime and touching moment of His life, “And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me”; and would share the blessed experience of knowing that, on every spot of earth however remote, and amidst all trials however heavy, he was in the hands of One who stills the tumults of the people as well as the waves of the sea beating upon the rock-bound coast of Patmos. Animated by feelings such as these, the Apostle knew that, whatever appearances to the contrary might present themselves, the time now passing over his head was the time of the Lord’s rule, and not of man’s. No thought could be more inspiring, and it was the preparation in his soul for the scene which followed. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. Like St. Paul, he was caught up into the third heavens; but, unlike him, he was permitted, and even commanded, to record what he heard and saw. And I heard behind me, he says, a great voice as of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. We need not dwell now upon these churches. We shall meet them again. They are “the seven churches which are in Asia” already spoken of in ver. 4; and they are to be viewed as representative of the whole Christian Church in all countries of the world, and throughout all time. In their condition they represented to St. John what that Church is, in her Divine origin and human frailty, in her graces and defects, in her zeal and lukewarmness, in her joys and sorrows, in the guardianship of her Lord, and in her final victory after many struggles. Not to Christians in these cities alone is the Apocalypse spoken, but to all Christians in all their circumstances: “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” The Apostle heard. And I turned to see the voice which spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a Son of man. It was a splendid vision which was thus presented to his eyes. The golden candlestick, first of the Tabernacle and then of the Temple, was one of the gorgeous articles of furniture in God’s holy house. It was wrought, with its seven branches, after the fashion of an almond tree, the earliest tree of spring to hasten (whence also it was named) into blossom; and, as we learn from the elaborateness and beauty of the workmanship, from the symbolical numbers largely resorted to in its construction, and from the analogy of all the furniture of the Tabernacle, it represented Israel when that people, having offered themselves at the altar, and having been cleansed in the laver of the court, entered as a nation of priests into the special dwelling-place of their heavenly King. Here, therefore, the seven golden candlesticks, or as in ver. 4 the one in seven, represent the Church, as she burns in the secret place of the Most High.

But we are not invited to dwell upon the Church. Something greater attracts the eye,—He who is “like unto a Son of man.” The expression of the original is remarkable. It occurs only once in any of the other books of the New Testament, in John v. 27, although there, both in the Authorised and Revised versions, it is unhappily translated “the Son of man.” It is the humanness of our Lord’s Person more than the Person Himself, or rather it is the Person in His humanness, to which the words of the original direct us. Amidst all the glory that surrounds Him we are to think of Him as man; but what a man Clothed with a garment down to the Foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto burnished brass as if it had been refined in a furnace; and His voice as the voice of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars; and out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in His strength. The particulars of the description indicate the official position of the Person spoken of, and the character in which He appears, (i) He is a priest, clothed with the long white garment reaching to the feet that was a distinguishing part of the priestly dress, but at the same time so wearing the girdle at the breasts, not at the waist, as to show that He was a priest engaged in the active service of the sanctuary. (2) He is a king, for, with the exception of the last mentioned particular, all the other features of the description given of Him point to kingly rather than to priestly power, while the prophetic language of Isaiah, as he looks forward to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, language which we may well suppose to have been now in the Seer’s thoughts, leads to the same conclusion : “And I will clothe him with thy robe and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand.” The “Son of man,” in short, here brought before us in His heavenly glory, is both Priest and King.  Not only so. It is even of peculiar importance to observe that the attributes with which the Priest-King is clothed are not so much those of tenderness and mercy as those of power and majesty, inspiring the beholder with a sense of awe and with the fear of judgment. Already we have had some traces of this in considering ver. 7: now it comes out in all its force. That hair of a glistering whiteness which, like snow on which the sun is shining, it almost pains the eye to look upon; those eyes penetrating like a flame of fire into the inmost recesses of the heart; those feet which like metal raised to a white heat in a furnace consume in an instant whatever they tread upon in anger; that voice loud and continuous, like the sound of the mighty sea as it booms along the shore; that sword sharp, two edged, issuing from the mouth, so that no one can escape it when it is drawn to slay; and lastly, that countenance like the sun in the height of a tropical sky, when man and beast cower from the irresistible scorching of his beams,—all are symbolical of judgment. Eager to save, the exalted High Priest is yet also mighty to destroy. “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now, therefore, O ye Kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” The Apostle felt all this; and, believer as he was in Jesus, convinced of his Master’s love, and one who returned that love with the warmest affections of his heart, he was yet overwhelmed with terror. And when I saw Him, he tells us, / fell at His feet as one dead. In circumstances somewhat similar to the present, a somewhat similar effect had been produced upon other saints of God. When Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord he cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” When Ezekiel beheld a vision of the same kind, he tells us that he ” fell upon his face.” When the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel in order to explain the vision which had been shown him, the prophet says, “I was afraid, and fell upon my face.” Here the effect was greater than in any of these instances, corresponding to the greater glory shown; and the Apostle fell at the feet of the glorified Lord as one “dead.” But there is mercy with the Lord that He may be feared; and He laid His right hand upon me, adds St. John, saying, Fear not: and then follows in three parts that full and gracious declaration of what He is, in His eternal pre-existence, in that work on behalf of man which embraced not only His being lifted on high upon the cross, but His Resurrection and Ascension to His Father’s throne, and in the consummation of His victory over all the enemies of our salvation,—I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; . And I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore; . And I have the keys of death and of Hades. A few more words are spoken by the glorified Person who thus appeared to St. John, but at this point we may pause for a moment, for the vision is complete. It-is the first vision of the book, and it contains the key-note of the whole. As distinguished from the fourth Gospel, in which Jesus clothed as He is with His humanity is yet pre-eminently the Son of God, the Savior while here retaining His Divinity is yet pre-eminently a Son of man. In other words, He is not merely the Only Begotten who was from eternity in the bosom of the Father: He is also Head over all things to His Church. And He is this as the glorified Redeemer who has finished His work on earth, and now carries it on in heaven. This work too He carries on, not only as a High Priest “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” but as One clothed with judgment.

Introduction to Revelation Chapter 1

In Revelation on March 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

There are obviously three parts in the Introduction,—the Source, the Contents, and the Importance of the revelation: and each of these is again divided into three. Three persons are mentioned when the Source is spoken of,—God, Jesus Christ, and the servants of Jesus; three when the Contents are referred to,—the Word of God, the Testimony of Jesus, and All things that he saw; and three when the Importance of the book is described,—He that readeth, They that hear, and They that keep the things written therein. “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to 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; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins in His blood; and He made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they which pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall wail over Him. Even so, Amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord, God, which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1: 4-8).  From the Introduction we pass to the Salutation, extending from ver. 4 to ver. 8. Adopting a method different from that of the fourth Gospel, which is also the production of his pen, the writer of Revelation names himself. The difference is easily explained. The fourth Gospel is original not only in its contents but its form. The Apocalypse is molded after the fashion of the ancient prophets, and of the numerous apocalyptic authors of the time; and it was the practice of both these classes of writers to place their names at the head of what they wrote. The fourth Gospel was also intended to set forth in a purely objective manner the glory of the Eternal Word made flesh, and that too in such a way that the glory exhibited in Him should authenticate itself, independently of human testimony. The Apocalypse needed a voucher from one known and trusted. It came through the mind of a man, and we naturally ask, Who is the man through whom it came? The inquiry is satisfied, and we are told that it comes from John. In telling us this St. John speaks with the authority which belongs to him. By-and-by we shall see him in another light, occupying a position similar to ours, and standing on the same level with us in the covenant of grace. But at this moment he is the Apostle, the Evangelist, the Minister of God, a consecrated priest in the Christian community who is about to pronounce a priestly blessing on the Church. Let the Church bow her head and reverently receive it.  The Salutation is addressed to the seven churches which are in Asia. On this point it is enough to say that by the Asia spoken of we are to understand neither the continent of that name, nor its great western division Asia Minor, but only a single district of the latter, of which Ephesus, where St. John spent the later years of his life and ministry, was the capital. There the aged Apostle tended all those portions of the flock of Christ that he could reach, and all the churches of the neighbourhood were his peculiar care. We know that these were in number more than seven. We know that to no church could the Apostle be indifferent. The conclusion is irresistible, that here, as so often in this book as well as in other parts of Scripture, the number seven is not to be literally understood. Seven churches are selected, the condition of which appeared most suitable to the purpose which the Apostle has in view; and these seven represent the Church of Christ in every country of the world, down to the very end of time. The universal Church spreads itself out beneath his gaze; and before he instructs he blesses it. The blessing is, Grace to you, and peace; grace first, the Divine grace, in its enlightening, quickening, and beautifying power; and then peace, peace with God and man, peace that in the deep recesses of the heart remains undisturbed by outward trouble, the peace of which it is said by Him who is the Prince of peace, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.” The source of the blessing is next indicated,—the Triune God, the three Persons of the glorious Trinity, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son. Probably we should have thought of a different order; but the truth is that it is the Son, as the manifestation of the Godhead, who is mainly in the Apostle’s mind. Hence the peculiarity of the first designation, Him which is, and which was, and which is to come, a designation specially applicable to our Lord. Hence also the peculiarity of the second designation, The seven Spirits which are before His throne; not so much the Spirit viewed in His individual personality, in the eternal relations of the Divine existence, as that Spirit in the manifoldness of His operation in the Church, the Spirit of the glorified Redeemer,—not one therefore, but seven. Hence, again, the peculiar designation of Christ, Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth; not so much the Son in His metaphysical relation to the Godhead, as in attributes connected with His redemptive work. And finally, the fact that when these three Persons have been named, the Seer fills up the remaining verses of his Salutation with thoughts, not of the Trinity, but of Him who has already redeemed us, and who will in due time come to perfect our salvation.

Now, therefore, the Church, reflecting upon all that has been done, is done, and shall be done for her, is able to raise the song of triumphant thanksgiving, Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins in His blood, and He made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. In these words the possession of complete redemption is implied. The true reading of the original is not that of our Authorized Version, “Unto Him that washed,” but “Unto Him that loosed” us from our sins. We have received not merely the pardon of sin, but deliverance from its power. “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are escaped.” The chains in which Satan held us captive have been snapped asunder and we are free. Again, this loosing has taken place “in” rather than “by” the blood of Christ, for the blood of Christ is living blood, and in that life of His we are enfolded and enwrapped, so that it is not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us. Once more they who are thus spoken of are “a kingdom, priests unto His God and Father,” the former being the lower stage, the latter the higher. The word “kingdom” has reference, less to the splendour of royalty than to victory over foes. Christians reign in conquering their spiritual enemies; and then, in possession of the victory that overcometh the world, they enter into the innermost sanctuary of the Most High and dwell in the secret of His Tabernacle. There their great High Priest is one with “His God and Father,” and there they also dwell with His Father and their Father, with His God and their God.  The statement of these verses, however, reveals not only what the Christian Church is to which the Apocalypse is addressed; it reveals also what the Lord is from whom the revelation comes. He is indeed the Saviour who died for us, the witness faithful unto death: but He is also the Saviour who rose again, who is the firstborn of the dead, and who has ascended to the right hand of God, where He lives and reigns in glory everlasting. It is the glorified Redeemer from whom the book of His revelation comes; and He has all power committed to Him both in heaven and on earth. More particularly, He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” This is not a description of such honour as might be given by a crowd of loyal nobles to a beloved prince. It rather gives expression to a power by which “the kings of the earth,” the potentates of a sinful world, are subdued and crushed.  Lastly, the Salutation includes the thought that He who is now hidden in heaven from our view, will yet appear in the glory that belongs to Him. He is the Lord who “is to come “; or, as it is expanded in the words immediately following the doxology, Behold, He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they which pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall wail over Him. Even so, Amen. It is of importance to ask what the glory is in which the glorified Lord is thus spoken of as coming. Is it that of one who shall be the object of admiration to every eye, and who, by the revelation of Himself, shall win all who behold Him to godly penitence and faith? The context forbids such an interpretation. The tribes “of the earth “ are like its kings in ver. 5, the tribes of an ungodly world, and the “wailing “ is that of chap. xviii. 9, where the same word is used, and where the kings of the earth weep and wail over the fall of guilty Babylon, which they behold burning before their eyes. The tones of that judgment which is to re-echo throughout the book are already heard: “Give the king Thy judgments, O God, and Thy righteousness unto the king’s Son. He shall judge the people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment”; “Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily, He is a God that judgeth in the earth.” And now the glorified Redeemer Himself declares what He is: I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord, God, which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty. By the Son the Father acts. In the Son the Father speaks. The Son is the manifestation of the Father. The same Divine attributes, therefore, which are to be seen in the Father, are to be seen in the Son. Let us hear Him as He seals His intimations of coming judgment with the assurance that He is God, who has come who is and who is to come, the Almighty.