Lecture 11 of 11 on "The Hopes of the Church of God"

Revelation 12.

Summing Up, and Conclusion.

J. N. Darby.

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I have read this chapter, not as professing to explain it in detail, but because it gives a summary of that which will happen at the close of this dispensation, at least the heavenly sources of these events, and the woes of the earth.* My object this evening is to take up, in their order, the prophetic events which have been occupying us, as far as God shall give me ability.

{*The deliverance of the earth is found elsewhere.}

But, beforehand, dear friends, it will not be amiss to return to a few of the thoughts which were given out at the very beginning of these lectures. Let us be reminded, in treating of these subjects, of their great end - a double one. One end is that of detaching us from the world, to which (though indeed the effect of every part of the word, when the Spirit of God is applying it) prophecy is peculiarly adapted; its tendency must be to "deliver us from this present evil age." The other end is to make us intelligent of the character of God, and of His ways towards us. These are two precious and wholesome fruits, which spring from the acquirement of the knowledge of prophecy.

Many are the objections made to its study; it is thus that Satan always acts against the truth. I do not mean objections against such or such a view, but against the study of prophecy itself. And Satan works in this way as to the entire word of God. To one he says, Follow morality, and do not meddle with dogmas, because he knows that dogmas will free a man from his power, by the revelation of Jesus, and of the truth in their hearts. To another he suggests the neglecting of prophecy, because in it is found the judgment of this world, of which he is prince. But to allow weight to such objections, is it not to find fault with God, who has given prophecy to us, and who has even attached a particular blessing to the reading of the part reputed the most difficult? Prophecy throws a great light upon the dispensations of God; and, in this sense, it does much as regards the freedom of our souls towards Him. For what hinders it more than the error so often committed, of confounding the law and the gospel, the past economies or dispensations with the existing one?

371 If, in our internal fighting, we find ourselves in the presence of the law, it is impossible to find peace; and yet if we insist on the difference which exists between the position of the saints of old, and that of the saints during the actual dispensation, this again troubles the minds of many. Now the study of prophecy clears up such points, and at the same time enlightens the faithful as to their walk and conversation; for, whilst it always maintains free salvation by the death of Jesus, prophecy enables us to understand this entire difference between the standing of the saints now and formerly, and lights up with all the counsels of God the road along which His own people have been conducted, whether before or after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Again, dear friends, as we have before said, it is always the hope which is presented to us which acts upon our hearts and affections. There are thus always enjoyments in prospect which stamp their actual character upon our souls. That which occupies the heart of man as hope makes the rule of his conduct. Of what vast importance is it not, then, to have our souls filled with hopes according to God! Persons say it is the idle curiosity of prying into hidden things; but if it were true that we ought not to look into prophecy, the conclusion is inevitable, that our thoughts are not to go beyond the present. The way of knowing what God's intentions are for the future is certainly the study of that prophecy which He has given to us. Prophecy records things to come; it is the scriptural mirror, wherein future events are seen. If we refuse the study of what God has revealed as to come, we are necessarily left to our own ideas upon it.

The famous passage of Paul has been quoted to some here (1 Cor. 2:2): "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." It is constantly used as an objection against the study of what is found revealed in the word. This arises from two causes. The one is due to that prolific source of error, namely, the citation of a passage without examining the context; the other, alas! arises from a greater or less want of uprightness - from a desire (unrecognised, it may be, in our own deceitful hearts) of standing still in the ways of the Lord, by making as little acquaintance with them as may be. It is not true that we are to limit ourselves to the knowledge of Jesus Christ crucified. We must also know Jesus Christ glorified, Jesus Christ at the right hand of God; we must know Him as High Priest; as Advocate with the Father. We ought to know Jesus Christ as much as possible, and not be content with saying, "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." So to say is to take the letter of the word and abuse it. The apostle, seeing the tendency that there was in the church at Corinth to follow rather the learning and philosophy of man than Christ (a thing not to be wondered at in a city renowned for science), points out, in leading their souls back to Christ, how foreign his entry among them was from earthly wisdom. He "was with them in weakness and fear; his speech and his preaching were not with enticing words of man's wisdom"; "he determined not to know anything among them but Jesus Christ, and him crucified" - Jesus Christ, and even Christ as the despised one among men. He is not speaking of the value of the blood, but of the condition of Christ Himself, in order to bring down, by the cross, all their vain glory, and found their faith upon the word of God, and not on human wisdom. But in the same chapter he says, that from the moment he comes into the midst of true Christians, his conduct changes; he speaks "wisdom among them that are perfect." He would have nothing to do with human wisdom; but as soon as he finds himself among the perfect ones, he says, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect." Desiring to confine ourselves to Jesus crucified, in the way it is urged, is, I repeat, to confine ourselves to as little as possible of Christianity. In Hebrews 6 the apostle says, he is unwilling to do what they would make him say in this place; he altogether condemns that which is urged upon us. "Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ," says he, "let us go on unto perfection." After these observations on the study of prophecy in general, I proceed to recall, in a few words, how God has revealed Himself by it.

372 Revelation 12 presents to us the great object of prophecy, and of all the word of God, that is, the combat which takes place between the last Adam and Satan. It is from this centre of truth that all the light which is found in Scripture radiates. This great combat may take place either for the earthly things (they being the object), and then it is in the Jews; or for the church (that being the object), and then it is in the heavenly places. It is on this account that the subject of prophecy divides itself into two parts: the hopes of the church, and those of the Jews; though the former be scarcely, properly speaking, prophecy, which concerns the earth and God's government of it.

373 But before coming to this great crisis, namely the combat between Satan and the last Adam, it was necessary that the history of the first Adam should be developed. This has been done. And in order that the church, that is, Christians, may be in a position to occupy themselves with the things of God, it was needful, first of all, that they should be in happy certainty as to their own position before Him. At His first coming, Christ accomplished all the work which the wisdom of the Father, in the eternal counsels of God, had confided to Him; this effected the peace of the church. The Lord Jesus came, in order that the certainty of salvation, by the knowledge of the grace of God, should be introduced into the world, that is, into the hearts of the faithful. After having accomplished salvation, He communicates it to His followers in giving them life. His Holy Spirit, which is the seal of this salvation in the heart, reveals to them things to come, as to the children of the family and heirs of the family estate. During the period which separates the first coming of the Lord from the second, the church is gathered by the action of the Holy Spirit to have part in the glory of Christ at His return.

These, in a few words, are the two great subjects which I have been opening; namely, that Christ, having done all that is needful for the salvation of the church - having saved all those who believe, the Holy Ghost now acts in the world to communicate to the church the knowledge of this salvation. He does not come to propose the hope that God will be good, but a fact - that fact, once more, that Jesus has already accomplished the salvation of all those who believe; and when the Holy Spirit communicates this knowledge to a soul, it knows that it is saved. Being then put in relationship with God as His children, we are His heirs, "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." All that concerns the glory of Christ belongs to us, and the Holy Spirit is given to us, in the first place, to make us understand that we are children of God. He is a Spirit of adoption, but more, a Spirit of light, who teaches the children of God what their inheritance is. As they are one with Christ, all the truth of His glory is revealed to them, and the supremacy which He has over all things, God having also constituted Him heir of all things, and us co-heirs.

374 After Christ has fulfilled all that was necessary, the church, until the second coming of its Saviour, is taken from out of all nations, and united to Him. It has, whilst here below, the knowledge of the salvation which He has accomplished, and of the coming glory, the Holy Spirit, in those who believe, being the seal of salvation accomplished, and the earnest of the future glory. These truths throw a great light upon the entire history of man. But let us ever remember that the great object of the Bible is the conflict between Christ, the last Adam, and Satan.

In what condition did Christ find the first Adam? In a condition into the lowest depths of which He was obliged to enter, as responsible head of all creation. He found man in state of ruin - entirely lost. It was needful that this should be unfolded before the coming of Christ; for God did not introduce His Son into the world as Saviour until all that was necessary to shew that man was in himself incapable of anything good was brought out. The whole state of man, before and after the deluge, under the law, under the prophets, only served as a clearer attestation that man was lost. He had failed throughout, under every possible circumstance, until, God having sent His Son, the servants said, "This is the heir; let us kill him." The measure of sin was then at its height; the grace of God then did also much more abound, and gave us the inheritance - us poor sinners, the inheritance with Christ in the heavenly glory, of which we possess the earnest, having Christ in spirit here below.

But (to enter a little more into the succession of dispensations, and also into that which concerns the character of God in this respect) the first thing which we would remark is the deluge, because until then there had not been, so to speak, government in the world. The prophecy which existed before the deluge was to this effect, that Christ was to come. The teachings of God were ever to this end: "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints."

375 Let us pass on. In Noah's time there was government of the earth, and God coming in judgment and committing the right of the sword to man. After this comes the call of Abraham. Mark: the principle of government is not put forward by the word, but the principle of promise, and the call to be in relationship with God, of that one person who becomes the root of all the promises of God - Abraham, the father of the faithful. God calls him, makes him quit his country, his family, bidding him go into a country which He would shew him. God reveals Himself to him as the God of promise, who separates a people to Himself by a promise which He gives them. It is at this epoch that God revealed Himself under the name of God Almighty.

After that, among the descendants of Abraham, by this same principle of election, God takes the children of Jacob to be His people here below - the object of all His earthly care, and out of whose midst Christ was to come according to the flesh. It is in this people of Israel that God displays all His characters as Jehovah; it is not only as a God of promise, but it is a God who unites the two principles of calling and government, which two had been each successively brought out in Noah and in Abraham. Israel was the called, separated people - separated indeed only to earthly blessings, and to enjoy the promise; but, at the same time, to be subject to the exercise of the government of God according to the law. We say then, that in Noah was marked the principle of government of the earth, and in Abraham that of calling and election; and so Jehovah will accomplish all that He has said as God of promise, "who was, and is, and is to come," and govern all the earth, according to the righteousness of His law - the righteousness revealed in Israel.

We have shown that God (Exodus 19:4-9) made the accomplishment of the promises, in those times, to depend upon the faithfulness of man, and that He took occasion to prove him, and to represent in detail, as in a picture, all the characters under which He acted towards him. It was this which He was doing under priests, prophets, and kings. And it is to be particularly observed, that the bearing of prophecy, in the unfolding of this succession of relationships of God with Israel, and with man, is not alone the manifestation of the fall of man, but also, and chiefly, of the glory of God.

376 When Israel had transgressed in every possible way and circumstance, even in the family of David, which was the last human resource of the nation - at the moment that family failed in Ahaz, prophecy commences in all its details, having these two features: one, the manifestation of the glory of Christ, in order fully to shew that the people had failed under the law; the other, the manifestation of the coming glory of Christ, to be the support of the faith of those who were desiring to keep the law, but who saw that everything was out of course It is too late to take an interest in the prophecies when they are fulfilled. Those to whom at the actual time the prophets addressed themselves, were the people from whom submission was expected. The word of God should have touched their conscience. It ought to be so with us. In the midst of all this, however, were predictions which announced that the Messiah was to come, and to suffer for ends most important.

Prophecy applies itself properly to the earth; its object is not heaven. It was about things that were to happen on the earth; and the not seeing this has misled the church. We have thought that we ourselves had within us the accomplishment of these earthly blessings, whereas we are called to enjoy heavenly blessings. The privilege of the church is to have its portion in the heavenly places; and later blessings will be shed forth upon the earthly people. The church is something altogether apart - a kind of heavenly economy, during the rejection of the earthly people, who are put aside on account of their sins, and driven out among the nations, out of the midst of which nations God chooses a people for the enjoyment of heavenly glory with Jesus Himself. The Lord, having been rejected by the Jewish people, is become wholly a heavenly person. This is the doctrine which we peculiarly find in the writings of the apostle Paul. It is no longer the Messiah of the Jews, but a Christ exalted, glorified; and it is for want of taking hold of this exhilarating truth, that the church has become so weak.

Having thus briefly retraced the history of the different dispensations, it remains for us now to see the church glorified, but without the Lord Jesus having abandoned any of His rights upon the earth. He was the Heir: He was to shed His blood, which was to ransom the inheritance. As Boaz said (whose name signifies, In him is strength), "What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth, the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance," Ruth 4:5. So it was necessary that Christ should buy the church, co-heir by grace (as Boaz, type of Christ, bought the inheritance by taking to wife Ruth) to whom the inheritance had devolved in the decrees of Jehovah.*

{*This is true in principle; but Ruth, as a figure, applies more directly to the remnant of Israel, brought in under grace.}

377 Christ then, and the church, have title to the inheritance, that is, to all that Christ Himself has created as God. But what is the state of the church actually? Does it actually inherit these things? Not any; because until we are in the glory we can have nothing, possess nothing, except only the Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession." Until that time Satan is the prince of this world, the god of this world; he accuses even the children of God in the heavenly places, which, however, he occupies only by usurpation (the way being made for him by the passions of men, and the power which he exercises over the creature, fallen, and at a distance from God, although, definitively, the providence of God uses all to the accomplishment of His counsels).

And now, dear friends, having contemplated the rights of Christ and of the church, let us consider how Christ will make them good. The consideration of this will lead us into the discovery, in their order, of the accomplishment of events at the close. Perhaps, however, having arrived thus far, it would be better (as I have only been speaking of the Jews) to turn for a moment to the Gentiles. We have remarked that, when the fall of the Jewish nation was complete, God transferred the right of government to the Gentiles; but with this difference, that this right was separated from the calling and the promise of God. In the Jews, the two things were united, namely, the calling of God, and government upon the earth, which became distinct things from the moment that Israel was put aside. In Noah and Abraham we had them distinct; government in the one, calling in the other.

With the Jews these principles were united; but Israel failed, and ceased thenceforward to be capable of manifesting the principle of the government of God, because God in Israel acted in righteousness; and unrighteous Israel could no longer be the depository of the power of God. God, then, quitted His terrestrial throne in Israel. Notwithstanding this, as to the earthly calling, Israel continued to be the called people: for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. As to government, God transports it where He will and it went to the Gentiles. There are, indeed, the called from among the nations (namely, the church), but it is for the heavens they are called. The calling of God for the earth is never transferred to the nations; it remains with the Jews. If I want an earthly religion, I ought to be a Jew. From the instant that the church loses sight of its heavenly calling, it loses, humanly speaking, all.

378 What has happened to the nations by their having had government given over to them? They have become "beasts": so the four great monarchies are called. Once the government is transferred to the Gentiles, they become the oppressors of the people of God: first, the Babylonians; secondly, the Medes and Persians; thirdly, the Greeks; then, the Romans. The fourth monarchy consummated its crime at the same instant that the Jews consummated theirs, in being accessory, in the person of Pontius Pilate, to the will of a rebellious nation, by killing Him who was at once the Son of God and King of Israel. Gentile power is in a fallen state, even as the called people, the Jews, are. Judgment is written upon power and calling, as in man's hand.

In the meanwhile, what happens? First, the salvation of the church. The iniquity of Jacob, the crime of the nations the judgment of the world, and that of the Jews - all this becomes salvation to the church. It was accomplished all in the death of Jesus. Secondly, all that has passed since that stupendous event has no other object than the gathering together of the children of God. The Jews, the called people have become rebellious, and are driven away from the presence of God; the nations are become equally rebellious; but government is always there - in a state of ruin indeed; but the patience of God is always there, also waiting until the end Then what takes place? The church goes to join the Lord in the heavenly places.

Let us now suppose that, in the time decreed by God all the church is assembled; what will happen? It will go immediately to meet the Lord, and the marriage of the Lamb will take place. Salvation will be consummated in the seat of the glory itself - in the heavenly places. Where will the nations be? The government of the fourth monarchy will be still in existence, but under the influence and direction of Antichrist; and the Jews will unite themselves to hum, in a state of rebellion, to make war with the Lamb. Why all thus? and why has not the gospel hindered such a state of things? Because Satan, unto this hour, has not been driven out of the heavenly places, and, by consequence, all that God has done here for man has been spoiled - whether government of the Gentiles, or the actual relationship of the Jews with God. All has been deteriorated by the presence of Satan, always there exercising his baneful influence.

379 But God now, at the close, when the church is gathered and called up on high, takes things into His own hand. What will He do? Dispossess Satan - drive him from power. It is what Jesus will do when the church shall be manifestly united to Him, and He begins to act to restore everything into its proper order.

Dear friends, as soon as the church shall be received to Christ, there will follow the battle in heaven, in order that the seat of government may be purged of those fertile sources, and of those active agents, of the ills of humanity, and of all creation. The result of such a combat is easily foreseen: Satan will be expelled from heaven, without being yet bound; but he will be cast down to earth, "having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time." Thenceforward, power will be established in heaven according to the intention of God. But on the earth it will be quite otherwise; for when Satan is driven away from heaven, he will excite the whole earth, and will raise up in particular the apostate part of it, which has revolted against the power of Christ coming from heaven. It is said, "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! . . ."

Behold, then, the created heavens occupied by Christ and His church; and Satan in great wrath upon the earth, having but a short time. Under the conduct of Antichrist, the fourth monarchy will become the sphere upon which the activity of Satan will then be displayed, who will unite the Jews with this apostate prince against heaven. I do not enter upon the scriptural proofs here - they have been already spoken of; I merely sum up the facts in the order of their accomplishment. It need scarcely be said that the result of all this will be the judgment and destruction of the beast and Antichrist, the heads of evil among the Gentiles and among the Jews, the secular and spiritual heads of mischief and rebellion on the earth. Jesus Christ will destroy, in the person of Antichrist, the power of Satan in that government, which we have seen was confided to the Gentiles. This wicked one, having joined himself to the Jews, and having placed himself at Jerusalem, as the centre of government of the earth, will be destroyed by the coming of the Lord of lords and King of kings; and Christ will anew occupy this chief seat of government, which will become the place of the throne of God on the earth. But although the Lord is come to the earth, and the power of Satan in Antichrist is destroyed and the government established in the hands of the Righteous One, the earth will not be reduced under His sceptre. The remnant of the Jews is delivered, and Antichrist destroyed; but the world, not yet acknowledging the rights of Christ, will desire to possess His heritage; and the Saviour must clear the land in order that its inhabitants may enjoy the blessings of His reign without interruption or hindrance, and that joy and glory may be established in this world, so long subjected to the enemy.

380 The first thing, then, which the Lord will do will be to purify His land (the land which belongs to the Jews) of the Tyrians, the Philistines, the Sidonians; of Edom, and Moab, and Ammon - of all the wicked, in short, from the Nile to the Euphrates. It will be done by the power of Christ in favour of His people re-established by His goodness. The people are put into security in the land, and then will those of them who remain till that time among the nations be gathered together. When the people are living thus in peace, another enemy will come up, namely, Gog; but he will come only for his destruction.

It would seem that in those times - probably at the commencement of this period - besides the personal manifestation of Christ in judgment, there will be a discovery much more calm, much more intimate, of the Lord Jesus to the Jews. This is what will take place when He will descend on the Mount of Olives, where "his feet shall stand," according to the expression of Zechariah 14:3, 4. It is always the same Jesus; but He Will reveal Himself peaceably, and shew Himself, not as the Christ from heaven, but as the Messiah of the Jews.

381 Blessing to the Gentiles will be the consequence of the restoration of the Jews, and of the presence of the Lord. The church will have been blessed; the apostasy of the fourth monarchy will no longer have existence; the wicked one will be cut off, as well as the unbelieving Israelites; in fine, the land of the Jews will be at peace.

Afterwards there will be the world to come, prepared and introduced by these judgments, and by the presence of the Lord, who will take the place of wickedness and the wicked one. Those who shall have seen the glory manifested in Jerusalem will go and announce its arrival to the other nations. These will submit themselves to Christ; they will confess the Jews to be the people blessed of their Anointed, will bring the rest of them back into their land, and will themselves become the theatre of glory, which, with Jerusalem as its centre, will extend itself in blessing wherever there is man to enjoy its effects. The witness of the glory being spread everywhere, the hearts of men, full of goodwill, submit themselves to the counsels and glory of God in response to this testimony. All the promises of God being accomplished, and the throne of God being established at Jerusalem, this throne will become to the whole earth the source of happiness. The re-establishment of the people of God will be to the world "as life from the dead."

One thing is to be added, namely, that at this time Satan will be bound, and in consequence the blessing will be without interruption until "he is loosed for a short season." Instead of the adversary in the heavenly places; instead of his government, the seat of which is now in the air; instead of that confusion and misery which he produces, as much as is allowed him to do; Christ and His church will be there, the source and instrument of blessing ever new. Government in the heavenly places will be the security, and not the hindrance, or the compulsory instrument, of the goodness of God. The glorified church - witness for all, even by its state, of the extent of the love of the Father, who has fulfilled all His promises, and has been better to our weak hearts than even their hopes - will fill the heavenly places with its own joy; and in its service will constitute the happiness of the world, towards which it will be the instrument of the grace which it shall be richly enjoying. Behold the heavenly Jerusalem, witness in glory of the grace which has placed her so high! In the midst of her shall flow the river of water of life, where grows the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the Gentiles; for even in the glory shall be preserved to her this sweet character of grace. Meanwhile, upon the earth, is the earthly Jerusalem, the centre of the government, and of the reign of the righteousness of Jehovah her God; as indeed in a state of desolation she had been of His justice, she will be the place of His throne - the centre of the exercise of that justice described in such language as "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish." For in that state of terrestrial glory - though indeed placed there by the grace of the new covenant - this city will still preserve its normal character, that she may be witness of the character of Jehovah, as the church is of that of the Father. God also will realise the full force of that name: "The most high God, possessor of the heavens and the earth"; and Christ will fulfil, in all their fulness, all the functions of High Priest, after the order of Melchisedec, who, after the victory gained over the enemies of God's people, blessed their God on the part of the people, and the people on the part of God; Gen. 14:18, etc.

382 Dear friends, you will understand that there is an infinity of details into which I have not entered; for example, the circumstance of the Jews who will be persecuted during the troublous times in Judea, of which we have some instruction in the word. This general sketch will engage you to read the word of God for yourselves on the whole subject. For myself, I attach more importance to the larger features of prophecy; and for this reason, that there is to be found in them, on the one hand, the distinctions of dispensations, which become, by the consideration of these truths, very clear; and on the other, the character of God, which is, in this manner fully unveiled. However this may be, there is nothing to hinder your study of prophecy, even in its minute details. If, indeed, we attempt the examination of the works of man in this way, an abundance of imperfection is found; but it is the contrary in the works of God. The more we enter into their minute details, the more does perfection appear.

May God perfect in you, and in all His children, this separation from the world, which ought to be, before God, the fruit of the expectation of the church, at the discovery of these its heavenly blessings in store, and of the terrible judgments which await all that which still binds man to this lower world; for the judgment will come upon all these earthly things! May God also perfect the desires of my heart, and the witness of the Holy Spirit!

[End of Prophetic  -  Vol. 1]