The Right Position and Condition

The Lord has been pleased "to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1), and to one of these servants He gave commandment to write the things which he had "seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter" (v. 19). With regard to these things the Lord has taken up a very definite position, and there is no excuse ignorance as to His thoughts about them.

The Lord as Judge

It was in a strange and new character that John beheld his Lord in this chapter; not here, as He had known Him, weeping for the sorrows of the afflicted, tenderly pleading with the wilful, and speaking words of comfort to the broken-hearted penitent, but of terrible aspect and unbending attitude as He looks out upon an apostate world, to scrutinize and judge the great systems that compose it. As undertaking this, as God's faithful Witness and Servant, John sees Him.

He comes forth in all the dignity of the Ancient of Days, the unbroken calm of eternity encircling His brow as a halo.

"His eyes as a flame of fire," to search out the motive of every act in the world's strange drama, and to trace from its origin to climax every system that rears its head beneath the sun.

"His feet like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace," to tread down in righteous indignation all rebellion against God.

"His voice as the sound of many waters," the compelling voice of judgments which, sounding above the frenzied clamour of Satan's poor dupes, will rivet the attention of the living, and call into animation those that are dead.

"Out of His mouth goeth a sharp two-edged sword," to fight against all evil and to smite the wicked with death.

The World to be Judged

Unregenerate man has continued to build his tower of Babel in defiance of God: and to perfect himself without his Creator is the design that lies at the back of his every activity — whether these activities are political, social, industrial, or religious; and the completion and crown of all the progress in which the world boasts, will be the deification of man, in the "man of sin," "the son of perdition," who will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God will sit in the temple of God showing himself that he is God (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

Everything is, most evidently with great rapidity, preparing for this; the presence of the Holy Ghost in the true church of God, still on earth, is the only hindrance to its final development; but when the church is caught up out of the world (1 Thess. 4:13, 17), which event must be very near fulfilment, then shall this climax of all man's efforts, since the day when Satan declared "Ye shall be as gods," be speedily reached.

In the Revelation we have a panoramic view of the clash of the various forces at work in the world of the rising up out of the chaos resulting of this marvellous production of fallen humanity, after whom all that dwell upon the earth will wonder; and of the immediate and unsparing judgment of God upon the world for this culmination of all blasphemy.

This judgment will be executed by the Lord as the Ancient of Days, and then to Him shall be given, as the Son of Man, "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him" (Dan. 7:14).

As we read this book of judgments — and there is a special blessing for the reader, verse 3 — we hear ringing clearly throughout its pages the call to the people of God to be in separation from all these things that will call forth His judgment; things which have taken such definite shape of late years that the student of Scripture cannot fail to identify them: —

"And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (18:4).

The Lord and the churches

We an not surprised that the Lord is compelled to adopt this stern attitude towards the world of which Satan is the god and prince, for all Scripture bears witness to the fact that evil must come under judgment. In great long-suffering, God may endure for a while the vessels fitted for wrath, giving them space for repentance, but His Spirit will not always strive with men, the limit of evil is set, there must be an end to rebellion against Almighty God.

What does astonish us, however, is to find Him standing thus in the midst of the churches, the circle in which, professedly, the name of Jesus is loved and revered, and that they are the first to come beneath the all-searching eyes of flame. And yet this must be so, for how could He deal out righteous judgment to the vast outer circle, if evil were permitted to proceed and develop without detection or rebuke in that which may be termed His own household?

The church was espoused to Christ as a chaste virgin (2 Cor. 11:2) and should have maintained a place of rigid separation from the world which cast out and crucified her Lord, but instead she has been beguiled and corrupted; first invaded by the same principles, motives, and aspirations that flourish in the world, she has gone down, by a quick descent, as a great system, until as completely assimilated with the world, she will be spued out of the Lord's mouth as a most offensive thing (Rev. 3:16). This is the sad history of the church in responsibility on earth, given to us prophetically in the letters to the seven churches.

The Cause of the Great Declension

The churches would never have been called upon to hear the rebuke of the Lord for unfaithfulness if they had continued in the freshness of first love. "Thou has left thy first love" discloses for us the opening of the door to the traitor and every evil, for at this point Christ ceased to be paramount. They lost the sense of His great love to them, and He ceased to be the spring of their lives; as a consequence their love to Him began to wane; they owned Him still as Lord and Master, doing His work with diligence, but Himself as the unchanging Lover they had lost, and this was the devil's opportunity.

The Lord cannot brook a rival in the affections of His church, and we can only be acceptable to Him as He sways our hearts and lives as our great and only Lover. An Old Testament scripture (S. of Sol. 5:9-16) presents Him to us in this character, and the contrast between this description of Him and the way He appears in Revelation 1 is arresting.

"His locks are bushy, and black as a raven." Here is all the vigour and strength of an undecaying affection; no trace of grey hairs or mark of decline on Him.

"His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set." Here is described the infinite gentleness of that love which is so strong and changeless.

"His lips are like lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh." His words woo and win the heart by their gracious and heavenly melody; they are the words of eternal life, sweeter to the heart that knows Him than the honey or the honeycomb, for "His month is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend."

It was not the Lord's purpose to disclose Himself in any other character than this to the church, but their infidelity made it a necessity. We see how gladly He reverts to the lover-character when He finds devotion to Himself in the Philadelphian church (Rev. 3:9): the one sentence that stands out in His words to them is "I have loved thee." Others are to know that soon: they knew it when thus addressed, it was their choice treasure, and He exhorts them to "hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."

The crown is the highest possession, that which perfects and completes every other, and throughout eternity the love of Christ will be the crown of the church. The earth has lost its crown, but, thank God, this may be recovered now: not by the whole profession, but by all who desire to keep His word, and not deny His name. The way of recovery is clearly stated — Remember, Repent, Return (Rev. 2:5).

"The Disciple whom Jesus Loved"

It is true that even John had to see the Lord as the One who with stern justice would destroy the wicked, but He was to see Him thus as being one with Him in His thoughts, and in communion with all His ways. He stands in this chapter as Abraham stood in days gone by, before the judgment of God was poured out upon the cities of the plain, when God said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" Abraham was the friend of God, and John was the friend of Jesus, and every one of us may stand in this relation to Him, for He has said, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the several knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:14-15).

It is very evident that this was to be John's position here, and that he was not to stand in dread of the Lord, as would the workers of iniquity, for as he lay prone on the earth, the right hand was laid upon him, and the tender voice that had so often thrilled his soul said unto him, "Fear not," and John was able to arise and view with his Master the "things that are" and the things still to come, and as being in full accord with His thoughts he was able to write that which his eyes had been opened to see for our instruction.

No book in the divinely inspired Canon can be of greater use to us now than the Revelation; if we are to be intelligent as to the times we must understand its teaching; but if we are to do this, and to shape our ways accordingly, we must be in the position and condition in which John found himself when he received it from the Lord.

Let us remember that it was the disciple who always designated himself as the one "whom Jesus loved," who was chosen by infinite wisdom to write the Revelation; he had the qualifications for it. Attachment to his Lord had led to detachment from the world: this is the true Christian position.

John's story as recorded for us in the Gospel that bears his name is deeply instructive and will help us in this connection. He needed no command to follow the Lord at first, and he is introduced to us as doing this (chap. 1:37); and in the last glimpse given us of him in the book he is still following without any word of command (chap. 21:20).

He first speaks of himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" when treachery and unfaithfulness were breaking forth amongst the twelve, and when we should have supposed that the chief thing would have been to have had a disciple who loved Jesus, and he continues to speak of himself in this way until the end.

Twice only in the Gospel does he record his own words: first, on the night of the betrayal, he, lying upon Jesus' bosom, said, "Lord, who is it?" and his question revealed the traitor (chap. 13); and then on that fair morning by the sea of Galilee, as he beheld One standing on the shore, he said, "It is the Lord."

"That disciple whom Jesus loved" discerned the traitor, and he knew his Lord, and these two things are the great necessities for us today.

He leaned on Jesus' bosom at the supper table, resting in the Lord as the Lover of His own, and as a consequence he was able to stand beside the cross in the hour of the Lord's untold sorrow; he was also able to stand by the Lord as His friend and servant when as the Victor over death He unfolds the counsels of God in judgment.

As saints of God, we must get into John's place, relying only upon the love of Jesus, in the midst of unfaithfulness and basest treachery, having all the glamour of the world obscured by the brighter light of His glory, who is altogether lovely, and being undeterred from following Him in spite of any course that others may take. Then shall our eyes be anointed with eye-salve, and we shall discern the way of the traitor, and see the hand of the Lord; we shall be enriched with fine gold tried in the fire, and so be proof against all the silver pieces that the world may offer; we shall be clothed in white raiment, keeping our garments unspotted by the world, and so be acceptable unto His eye whom our souls love (chap. 3:18).

Near to the Lord whose love we know, we shall not be in ignorance as to the trend of the times, but we shall be able in quietness and confidence to await His coming again, meanwhile approving all that He approves, as His friends maintaining His interests and labouring in His name for His glory, and walking in separation from all that must eventually come under His condemnation.