Notes of an address on Revelation 1:17, 18.
Delivered at Birmingham, June 1st, 1914, by W. J. Hocking.
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not: I am the first and the last, and the living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (R.V.).
We have had before us the great hope of the New Testament — the blessed anticipation of our Lord's return; and it is unnecessary for me now to remark how essential it is that we should keep this hope before our hearts. There is, however, another truth connected with it, which will have its due weight and help for us if we keep it before our souls. I refer to that aspect of the truth which assures us of the present concern of our adorable Lord and Master with our own particular welfare individually, as well as with the welfare of the whole of His church collectively.
We are sometimes so borne down with our own cares and difficulties, and by the distractions that we find coming upon others, personally and ecclesiastically, that to a certain extent the spirit of despair takes hold of us; and, looking at things within, and our own inefficiency, our own lack of progress, our own inability to clear away the things that oppose our onward march, and then again, counting the foes that encounter us, and the strength of the difficulties which surround us, we feel that all these things which are against us are too many for us. We bow our heads and think that we must give up. And so we might well give up if we had to fight the battle in our own strength, if we had to hold fast by our own energy, if there was none to stand by us, if there was none to impart to us the needed grace for the moment.
But the scripture shows that the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, Who we know was at the cross for us, and Who we believe and know also left this earth and ascended up in glory, and Who is coming again to receive us into that place which He has gone to prepare for us — this blessed person never relaxes in His present interest in us, and in His continual and sufficient supplies of what we require.
The Lord Jesus Christ never forsakes His saints; and He never forsakes His church. We cannot count up the members of that body, but He knows them every one. We do not know all that are His, but He knows every one, and they are all in His hands, and His love is upon each of them. Is this not something to lift up our hearts and to enable us to go forward with increased confidence, assured that we shall reach that goal to which we are hastening? and having gained that goal, we shall then look back and praise the grace that has brought us safely through.
The apostle John received this revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Isle of Patmos. I am not about to say anything as to the prophecies recorded in this book, but I wish to draw your attention mainly to the fact that in this island of Patmos, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared unto the apostle John, and He appeared to him as to a follower of His — one in tribulation — one who had been, and was, a faithful witness to His name. And I think that if we could transport ourselves to that island, and if we could in any degree enter into the feelings of that holy man, we should find that he had abundant reason to be depressed and cast down because of the circumstances of his time.
Consider the great changes John had witnessed since the departure of the Lord. You know that when the church commenced at Pentecost there was a glorious work here on the earth. There was a power that gathered men and women together to a new centre, united them as one, bound them up closer together, and, as such, they were all moving along the path of discipleship to their Lord and Master, while the world looked upon them with distrust.
And, at first, it seemed as if that new power in the earth, a power which spread itself by preaching, would revolutionise the whole world, and that men everywhere would quickly be brought to call on the name of the Lord.
Men in high places received the gospel as little children; they abandoned their former pursuits and occupations, and confessed the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It looked as if the world as a system without God, was to be overthrown by the gospel, and that the millennium, to use the word in the common sense, would be seen very soon upon the earth.
But Scripture history shows us that a change came over this aspect of things very rapidly. It shows us that the power of the world which seemed paralysed at first, awoke to a spirit of energy of persecution against the gospel and those that followed Christ. The world arose in its might, determined to stamp out the very name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Persecution began, and that was evil enough to bear.
But there was more than this. There was within the church itself that which corrupted. There was the shameful fall of some men from the truth of the earliest days. Do you realise what this meant to the apostles? Oh, how they loved to see men receiving the gospel, to see them walking in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then — to see the same men divided, turned aside, abandoning the very name of the Lord Jesus Christ! It was a trial to these men, to see the leaven of evil doctrine working for the corruption of the saints, while at the same time the power of the world was such that the mouths of the apostles were stopped, and they could not testify when we might think the truth most needed such testimony. It was possible for wicked men to take holy servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and put them to a shameful and ignominious death!
These apostolic men were surely following Christ: where, then, was their Christ? He had gone away and left them, and they were fighting in a losing battle, and dropping out of the ranks one by one; and here was John, the last of them, a prisoner in Patmos, his mouth closed to all intents and purposes! How much he would long to see His Master as of old but there he was, alone. Had the ascended Christ forgotten? Was He there, and had He forgotten His struggling saints here upon the earth? Was He leaving them alone to battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil?
Perhaps John's thoughts went back to that night long before on the Sea of Galilee. He would remember how the Lord Jesus Christ, in a strange way, hurried them from the shore, after He had fed the multitudes, and constrained them to get in the boat. He bade them push off, and He was left alone on the shore. They rowed out on the waters, and the storm gathered, and they were tossed and buffeted with the waves. They wanted to go in one direction, but the winds and the waves drove them in the other direction. All this while, their Master was absent. Once before they had experience of a storm on the lake, but He was there. He was in the boat; He was asleep, but still He was there. Now the question arose, why did He command them to go away from Him? The long hours crept by; the watches passed; the first watch, the second watch, and the third watch, found them bending to the oars. Everything seemed to be against them; that night went by, and Jesus was not there. How refreshed their hearts were when, in the fourth watch of the night, they beheld Him walking on the waves, making His pathway over those circumstances which were so adverse to them, and against which they were fighting and struggling in vain!
You say, how they reproached themselves for mistrust; but no, their hearts at first were filled with fear. They thought they saw a phantom, but they were brought to recognise His power and His love which they had never seen before just in that way. And perhaps it was at this point in His recollection that a voice fell upon John's ear. It was a familiar trumpet sound, but it came from an unexpected quarter. He had to turn to see the vision that was behind him. His eyes were directed away from his beloved Master. Oh, beloved friends, is this not a lesson to us? Do we not so often look at the storms, the billows, the trials, perplexities; and we say, where can He be? Where is the One that has told us, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world?” The world seems so strong against us, and we are so weak.
Why do we feel like this? Why cannot we be certain of the One that loves us? We are then, surely, looking in the wrong direction. Yet He never fails to come to us. The disciples were downcast and in despair, but the Lord came to them on the waves — the very thing that was so distressing to them — to their relief. Amid those tangles in which we find ourselves, and those foes that are with us day by day, we too shall not fail to see the Beloved coming to us across the waves of trouble.
It is also true that He comes in the way that we do not always expect, and often it is to our shame that we have to turn and seek the voice of that One Who speaks for our comfort. He will never fail; He is faithful. Let this be written on our hearts. It is the glory of our Master that He provides a faithful and true witness for Himself, while He is faithful and true to those whom He loves, and who are passing through this world to the home above.
But the vision before the eyes of the apostle John was a vision of the Lord in His glory, and I wish to draw your attention especially to this feature. We have brought before us very vividly, the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ in His exit, as it were, from this world, left it in the attitude of benediction. He was dispensing a parting blessing to those left here, and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Luke 24:50, 51).
Let it not be thought that there is ever a cloud between us and Him. He comes to us; He who is the pre-eminently glorified One comes to us. He who is the brightest and supremest in the heaven of heavens comes even now.
He comes to us here. You find in the 14th chapter of John, that the Lord first speaks of coming personally to receive unto Himself those whom He is leaving in the world. He said, I go away, I am coming again. “If I go away, I will come again and receive you unto myself.” But if you continue the reading of that chapter, you will find that He speaks again of His coming. He then says, “I will not leave you orphans in this world; I will come to you” (verse 18). Does this refer to His coming in the day for which we are all waiting, when He will receive us unto Himself? No. There He had been speaking about the advent of the Holy Spirit, and it was in connection with His advent that the Lord said, “I will come to you,” “I will be with you.” And the Spirit who was sent is the one given for the very purpose of making the presence of the Son known and felt here in this world. Just as no man knew the Father but the Son, who was here upon the earth and who spoke those illuminating words that set forth the Father Himself, so the Holy Ghost is here at the present time to give every believer to know the close companionship of the One in the glory.
Do we not remember that other promise of the Lord before His departure, Lo, I am with you alway, every day, all the days, all the bright days and all the dark days, the days of happiness and the days of sadness? “always” means that in an uninterrupted way He is with us. Beloved friends, we often speak about the Lord Jesus as if He was an absent friend. It is good to talk of one whom we love but who is far away. It is good to hold intercourse concerning such a one. It is good to receive communications from him, but much better when he is present with us. And the Lord Jesus is equally dear, whether He is with us or not, but if we can see Him and hear Him by faith, — if we are conscious of His presence all the day, it is blessed indeed. Is it too much to expect that when the Lord Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you alway” that you and I in the experience of our souls day by day may be enabled to realise that He is with us? Did He not mean this when He said “Lo, I am with you alway?” Did He not mean also that we should delight to have the experience of it? and that we should see to it that we are standing in the light and power of His promise?
But how often the Lord's voice has to come to us like the voice of a trumpet. Now, a trumpet is to awaken the dead. The trumpet is used in Scripture as an indication of authority and summons; and the Lord had to speak to the beloved apostle, the one whom He loved, with a voice like thunder. And John turned and saw Him. Boanerges saw His love, His matchless pity, but He also saw that wondrous Person transfigured now. Once he beheld a glorious vision on the holy mount; but that was for a moment only. John was not prepared for it, he was afraid of it then; but now it was the Lord's day in Patmos, and he was in the Spirit. The Spirit gave him to witness the glory of his absent Master, and as he looked on Him, he saw His power. He also saw the dignity with which He was invested, His purity, His holiness. He saw that everything bespoke power, and administrative strength, and that the living Lord was in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
The whole church of God was represented by this symbol of the candlesticks, and Jesus was seen in the midst, the place that He must always have. If there are but two or three gathered to His name, He will come to be in the midst. So there He was seen in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Had He forsaken them? Was He up there in the glory, and was He in unconcern suffering His church to be buffeted by the winds and waves of persecution? No, He was in the midst. And look in His right hand — there are seven stars. There is a star for every church, and a star for Laodicea. He will not be content with six, He will have seven. He holds in His hand of power the seven stars.
Beloved friends, do not let us lose heart, do not let us lack courage, do not let us be overborne with despair by the distracting things. Look at that glorious Man of power and what He has in His right hand. He will maintain the seven stars to the very end. And in this manner the apostle saw Him. The effect upon the exile was remarkable. It was what might not have been expected from John, who was so attached in heart to his Master. When he beheld Him he fell at His feet as one dead. Why was this prostration? We may rather ask, How could he keep himself in an erect position in the presence of such glory? He must go down.
Beloved friends, it is always when in the power of the Spirit of God we by faith have a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we assume a right attitude of worship. There is many a person, both old and young, who strives in vain to work himself up to a frame of worship. Worship is not forced, but spontaneous. It springs up like a well. What causes it to spring up? The power behind it, of course. You gather together, two or three of you, and there is an unseen Person present there. It is for you to see His glory. Do not let any distractions annoy you. Do not let the noise disturb your heart. No, see to it that all these things are lost upon you, and that when you are together you have vividly before you the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. All will be well then, because you are in line with the operations of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is here to display the perfections of the Person of Christ, and I cannot see Him unless the Holy Spirit so works in my heart that I do see Him by faith: then I must worship Him. Hence there arises worship in spirit and in truth, and there is a needful preparedness of heart for this, which is expressed in this way.
John tells us he fell at His feet “as one dead.” I do not know whether it was so, but perhaps he had been too self-confident. Perhaps he had been thinking, like Elijah, that everyone else had gone wrong, and he was the only one right. It was I, I, I, with him. He says, “Here am I in the Isle of Patmos, and what is the church going to do without me? It will go to rack and ruin because I, the last of the apostles, am not there to care for it.” And the Lord says, “You have forgotten Me; you have left Me out.” John felt what a blunder he had made, and felt himself to be no more than a helpless corpse, so far as life and power were concerned.
It is in the posture of dependence that we know what it is to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is then that the love of the Lord Jesus Christ is manifestly in us. John took his right place before the Lord. Had he wronged Him? Who has not done so in his heart? Who has not thought unholily and improperly of Him? How often we approach His person, and even discuss what He is, and what He became; and how little we know of these things and of the wondrous mystery of His death! Who shall understand them? Let us walk softly in the presence of His glory. The Spirit has spoken of Him in His word, and we must regard that word, but let us beware of inquisitive thoughts which would seek to penetrate beyond the revealed word. One day we shall be in the Father's house, and better able then to comprehend the glory of that One whom we now believe.
But we here see that the Lord laid His right hand upon that recumbent one before Him, and He spoke definite words to him. It was not now with a voice of a trumpet, nor as the sound of many waters, but it was the same voice that he had heard so long ago, the voice of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.
But we may also recall again that night on the Sea of Galilee, when the disciples were so weary and worn, just before the morning broke, and the bright and morning star appeared. The first thing that the apostles heard was the voice of the Lord speaking to them, but fear took possession of their hearts, and the Master knew this. Fear often misleads us, as it misled them, so that they mistook the Lord for a phantom. But love casts out fear.
We ought to have the spirit of trust continually, but, if we have not, He still comes. He does not forsake us, but He comes, and, with His right hand upon us, dispels the gloom of our hearts. This loving action was characteristic of Him when He was down here. It was not a matter of the mere exercise of power with our Lord. He took hold of the weak and suffering ones. He lifted them up, putting Himself in touch, as it were, with them in their circumstances. And so it was with the shrinking fear-stricken apostle. The Lord came to him, laying His right hand upon him, and I think there must have been a power which then thrilled through John at the touch of his Master. I think the helpless man felt at that moment transformed with power. The touch of the loving One was upon him, and the word in his ear was, “Fear not.”
I think it is not an exaggeration to suppose that we ourselves may be sometimes afraid of Him, particularly if we have done Him some slight wrong, if we have abused His grace to us, and if we have failed in our responsibilities to Him. There is then just a little feeling of fear, a distrust, an anxiety lest His heart may be turned away from us, and that when He opens His mouth that sharp sword will smite us. We feel we shall be judged and doomed. He does not, however, come to us in this way. He comes truly as the all-powerful One, but His words are, “Fear not.” “You need not fear Me. I am still the One who cares for you. I am still the One who stands by you. I am still the One that will never leave nor forsake you.”
Here is comfort for us, beloved friends. We may be fearing the world. We may be fearing the powers that are against us. This word, “fear not,” comes to us with soothing power again. If He is for us, who can be against us? And the Lord went on to amplify this to John, setting Himself before him in the power of His Person and of His resurrection. “Fear not,” He said to the apostle, “I am the first and the last. I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen. And I have the keys of death and Hades.”
Now the Lord here speaks of Himself as “the First and the Last,” expressions which we shall find several times in Isaiah, and there the phrase is connected with the being of God Himself. He only is the First and the Last. Who else is there that could be the Beginning and the End? While this term applies to the Son, may we not look at it here in connection with the church of God?
With whom did the church begin? The church began with a risen and glorified Saviour; so the apostle Peter explained the wonderful things that happened in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. He explained very clearly that God had made Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified, both Lord and Christ. He was invested on high with dignity and glory beyond all heavenly principalities and powers, and so mighty things were done. Men and women were convicted of their sins, and when they looked away in faith to Him they found peace for their consciences and hearts.
Moreover, the Holy Ghost possessed their souls, and they were thus united to Him on high. He is the first so far as the church is concerned, and He is the last. It is He that binds that church into one invisible and indivisible unity. He it is that makes the centre and the circumference of the church of God.
In view of the security afforded by the Lord Himself, we need not be over-anxious to prevent the apparent downfall of the church of God. There is One in the midst of the church who will care for it. The power of Christ shall never be lost, never be lessened nor destroyed. The unity of the church especially shall be made plain, and its beauties shall shine through the endless ages of eternity to the praise of Him that loved the church and who loved us, and who gave Himself for it and for us. Its final perfection and glory do not depend upon us, but upon Him who is the “First and the Last.”
Of course, we have our responsibilities; but my subject is this, that the Lord has pledged Himself to present us before God without spot and blemish. He can and will do this, for He has said, “I am the First and the Last.”
Then He speaks of Himself as the living One. “I am He that liveth,” and again, “I am alive for evermore.”
Put this truth in an abstract way. We believe in the living Christ. Of course we believe that Christ died also. We know that He came forth from the tomb in the power of the Spirit of God, and by the glory of the Father, and rose up as the One who had vanquished death. We know that He arose. Death has no more dominion over Him who is alive for evermore.
Put it now practically. He is continually and constantly watching over us, and is interested in our welfare. He is with us always. The living Christ can never die. My eye may be set upon earthly things, but my Christ can never die. “I am He that liveth and was dead. And behold, I am alive for evermore.” Here we are to walk in the power of this truth day by day. The living Christ, where is He? He is here to keep us continually, and to carry us safely through. Do not let us doubt or distrust Him. He will not fail us. He lives and when He speaks of living, this means activity. It does not imply that He has not died, but it means that He is living on our behalf, that He lives for us in glory, that He claims us for Himself, and that He carries us through, supplying everything that we require.
You will say that I am speaking of things that you know perfectly well, and I am aware of this. But we may know the power of them still more, if we can only in our hearts see and know and realise something of the value of the living Lord to us. You may say, “I have proved that for many a year,” and it may seem a long time as you look back. But think of the long-lived apostle John. The Lord appeared in Patmos to him. It was necessary that His right hand should be laid upon him, and that the familiar word should come again to that aged disciple of Christ, “Fear not,” and that he should receive the reminder, “I am He that liveth and was dead, and am alive again, and have the keys of death and of Hades.”
What was it that the Lord promised when He spoke of building His church? Was it not that the gates of Hades should never prevail against this church. Here was the strong assurance, “I have the keys of Hades.” The continuance of the church of God is therefore the proof of the power and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us then remember that while the Lord is living for us there, He is also with us here. Did not the apostle Paul confess, that when he was in grave peril and had to stand before his enemies at Jerusalem, the Lord stood by him? He felt that glorious Person was by his side, and he felt strong in His strength, and confident in His word.
The Lord stood by Paul. Let us see that we do not miss the unseen presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. This marvellous revelation of His word is needed, that we may think of that One who has passed up through the heavens and into whose hands all the power in heaven and earth has been committed, of that One before whom the celestial hosts do homage. Yet from that resplendent glory, where He orders the government of innumerable worlds, He comes to bear the sorrows of His saints. He singles out an individual from some sixteen hundred million inhabitant's of the earth, and lays His right hand upon one lonely exile in Patmos! Beloved friend, you may know and feel something of this fine Christian experience. It is within the reach of each one of us. We may have in our apprehension day by day, and hour by hour, the immediate presence of the Lord and Master for whom we wait. It will be good for us if this is so. It will be good for us if the mists can be removed, as it were, and our dim eyes of faith be strengthened to see Who is with us continually. Let us therefore ponder this revelation of Himself that the Lord made. See how the Lord is endeavouring to impress upon those who are still in the world that He will not leave them alone. He is going to be with us just as really as when He was walking here, that is, in the world. When He went away He said, “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” And, beloved friends, I ask “Do we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as we believe in God”? He is the One who is ever present with us; and if we have Him whom need we fear? W.J.H.