The glory which shows itself to us at the opening of the Gospel by John, is both entitled and described there very simply. It is called "the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father," and borne by one who is described as "full of grace and truth."
And that Gospel is the journey of that glory in this evil world of ours, and a display of the work which it was always at, so to speak. Upon whatever scene the Son of the Father there enters, He is seen to shine in that glory which brought life and peace to sinners.
Accordingly, none but sinners discern it. It was a glory that could be seen only by the eye or heart of a convicted sinner. It was full of grace, and could not, therefore, suit itself to any other. But such ever found it to their joy and blessing. Andrew, who follows Jesus as the Lamb of God, gets entrance and dwells in the place of that glory, while even the mother, knowing the Lord not as a sinner, but as one who would have him honourable before men, is kept apart. (John 1:39; John 2:4.) So the Rabbi who seeks him as a teacher, is kept back, while the woman and the Samaritans, who learn their sin, and that He was indeed the Saviour, get His company, with them for two days. (John 3, 4.) And it is so afterwards with his kindred in the flesh, and with a convicted adulteress. They know him not, save as one whom they sought to exalt in the world; and he would have them remove from him - while she enjoys the unspeakable preciousness of finding herself alone in his company; and all between them is reconciliation and kindness. (John 7:8)
Other instances of this character show themselves in the Lord's public ministry through that Gospel, down to the end of the twelfth chapter, where that ministry closes. And so, when we see him afterwards in secret with his own (John 13-17), it is still "the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father" that is shining before us; his discourse to them is full of the Father - how he had come from the Father to reveal Him to them - how the Comforter would soon come to make that revelation effectual to their souls - how he was going away to get mansions for them in the Father's house, and that he would return to take them there. So full is this glory still of its own proper light and power, and so diligent about its due and appointed work.
And at the very end we see it still. The glory is moving upwards, returning to the place from whence it had descended, and has sinners in its train, conducting them along with itself. Jesus rises; and Peter and John follow him. His path is theirs. They all leave this earth together. The Only Begotten of the Father is on his way home, taking the younger of the family with him, and we lose sight of them on the upward journey. (John 21:19, 20.)
Such, I judge, to be the glory that is seen in the Gospel by John - such its journey across this world, such the spoils it gathered, and such its end and home.
But, as soon as we open the Apocalypse by John, it is another glory we see. It is not a revelation of Jesus Christ which the Father gave him; so that he could again say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" or, "Whatsoever I speak, therefore, even as the Father saith unto me, so I speak" (John 12, 14); but it is a revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him. It is the glory, not of the bosom of the Father (John 1:11), but of the throne of God. (Rev. 1:14.) It is the effulgence, not of Him who lay in the one place, but of Him who is to inherit the other. And just on this glory being introduced to us, the saints, in a little ascription of praise, tell us, as it were, that they had already learnt the lesson which the Gospel had been teaching them, the value of the ministry of the son of the Father, and that they stood now in the conscious washing of His blood, and in the dignity of kings and priests unto God and his Father. (Rev. 1:5, 6.)
And having thus learnt the lesson of the former glory, they were prepared for the lesson of this second glory. Such is the holy order of the soul in getting the knowledge of God and of His ways. Such divine knowledge is from glory to glory, from one revelation to another. And being instructed in the glory of "the only begotten of the Father," the saints may well stand before this glory of "the Prince of the kings of the earth," of Him who is coming forth as "the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the Almighty." If the bosom have comforted us, may I say, the throne may now elevate us - if we stand in grace, we may learn judgment.
Accordingly, this book gives us the actings of the throne of God. There are judgments - voices and thunders, seals, trumpets and vials - all ordered by the power of the throne which judges right, and which is preparing for the righteous kingdom, at the time of which, the heavenly seed of God, in embodied glory, descends as the golden city or the Lamb's wife.
Such is the path of the glory here. It is a descending path. And such are the links between the Gospel and the Apocalypse of the beloved Disciple. In the one, he leads us by the light of the glory of grace out of the world, first to the knowledge, and then to the house, of the Father - in the other, he leads us, already in heaven or in the Father's house, forth from that, first to the scene of judgment (Rev. 4), and then to the scene of our inheritance and dominion. (Rev. 21)
Christ will look at the Bride with delight, when thus manifested in glorious beauty as the Golden or Holy City. But still it is herself that will be His chiefest object. The heart well and always knows this, when there is true and pure affection. And we have the expression of this on the return of the Prodigal. (Luke 15) For the Father had fallen on himself in secret, and then brought him forth and presented him in the house, clothed in beauty and honour. But his heart had been the most deeply touched at the beginning. For, as another has said, "glory is but the consequence of love, and the source is always the sweeter. The favour out of which a benefit flows is dearer than the benefit itself."
The opening of this wondrous Book gives us its title and character. "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him." For it will be found, I judge, to be a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ in such characters of glory and power as He derives from God, or a revelation of Him in the exercise of judicial authority. And, as two exercises of judicial authority awaited Him after He had ascended to God, so, accordingly, this Book has two parts.
Revelation 1 - 3. These chapters give us the first part. The Lord is here exercising judgment in the church, or among the lights of the sanctuary. This is called "the things which are."
Revelation 4 - 22. These chapters give us the second part. The Lord is here exercising judgment in the earth (first by agencies, and then personally), and thus preparing it for His kingdom. This is called "the things which shall be hereafter."
This is the general order of the Book. It also contains both a preface and a conclusion.
In the preface, we first learn that this wondrous Book deals with "the word of God," and "the testimony of Jesus Christ;" that is, God's counsels made known by Jesus Christ. Then we are told the manner in which Jesus Christ ministers this testimony to the churches; and blessing is then pronounced on him who acts righteously by this Book, by either reading or hearing it, and by keeping the things which are written in it. After this, the Seven Churches in Asia are called to listen; and, after a benediction on them, the Lord Jesus Christ is announced as the One who is about to come "with clouds," or in the solemnities of judgment (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; Matt. 26:64), a coming quite according to the judicial character of the Book, and which is to make the kindreds of the earth wail because of Him, and them which pierced Him, to see Him to their confusion.
But in the midst of such an announcement of the Lord as even this, the saints have two happy utterances put into their lips. On His being here revealed as "the faithful witness, the first-begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth," they praise Him as the One who had loved them; and again, when His coming in the clouds, as for judgment, is announced, they invite His glory with full confidence still, and say, "Even so, come." For they have thoroughly learnt that they may have boldness even in a day of judgment. (1 John 4:17.) Then, when these utterances of the saints pass by, the Lord reveals himself as the "First and the Last," a title which he frequently takes in this Book, the very title, too, that he so constantly assumes when judging the idols of Babylon in Isaiah (see Isa. 40-48); all this still assuring us, that He is now about to speak in judgment again.
In the mouth, indeed, of every witness here, we learn that this Book is a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ which God, not the Father, gives him, or in judgment, not in grace. But this is only here at the close of the volume of the New Testament; for we may observe, that the Lord has ever sought, so to speak, to publish His name in grace, before He does so in judgment. In one way or other He will and must make Himself known, for that is His glory; but he seeks the rather to be known in goodness than in judgment, if men will hear.
We have this variously illustrated. To Egypt, for instance, the Lord made himself known in Joseph, the witness of His goodness; for by Joseph He filled Egypt's storehouses with all kinds of wealth. But Egypt forgot Joseph, A king arose there, who persecuted Joseph's people, and said of his God, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?" Then the Lord had to publish His name in that land in judgment, saying to the king, "In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord, behold I will smite with the rod." He was now to be made known not in Joseph, but in plagues. So in Israel afterwards. The Lord Jesus was offered to them as "the chief corner stone," the "sure foundation," the One in whom they should find salvation and strength. But being rejected as such, He was to be revealed to them as "the head stone of the corner," in the power and judgment of an exalted stone, which was to fall and grind to powder.
And so in the world now. This present dispensation is publishing God in grace. He is beseeching men to be reconciled. But they who will not thus know Him in the great salvation, must know Him by and bye in judgment. (2 Thess. 1:8.) If the blood of the Lamb be despised, the wrath of the Lamb must be met. (Rev. 6:16.) The same "Lord," who is "full of grace and truth" now, will by and bye send the sword out of his mouth to execute righteousness. (Rev. 19:15.)
And this is the difference between the Gospel and the Revelation by John. The Gospel publishes the name of the Lord in grace, the Revelation in judgment; the one flows from the Father, the other from God.
Now, according to all this, when we pass the preface, and get into the body of the Book, it is the Lord, the Son of Man, in the place of judgment that we see. (See Rev. 1:9-20.) For these verses introduce the first scene which the Book discloses. John sees the Lord, as Son of Man, prepared to judge the sanctuary. He does not show Himself to John as the Priest at the Golden Altar, with his censer and burning incense, but at the Candlestick with the Golden Snuffers; as though He were inquiring (and that for the last time), whether or not the Lamps of the Sanctuary would burn worthy of the place, or whether He should not be compelled soon to remove them. It is the Son of Man with garments down to the foot, and golden girdle about His loins, with head and hair white as wool, eyes of flame, feet of brass, and voice as of many waters in His hand holding the seven stars, and in His mouth the two-edged sword, and walking in the brightness and power of the midday sun, among the Seven Candlesticks. All this was an expression of judgment, judgment of the House of God. John shall hear himself personally and individually addressed with the wonted words of God's sweet love to us, "Fear not;" but still this is a vision that may well make the stoutest of the children of men to fall as dead.
It is to be observed, for the comfort of our souls, that, in restoring the heart of John to full ease in the presence of the glory, the Lord does not remind him of their intimacy in the days of his flesh; how he had lain in His bosom, how he had been with Him on the holy mount and in the garden, and how he had committed His mother to His special care - but He simply says, "I am He that liveth and was dead." For our title to confidence before God, our ability to face the glory, and to stand before it at ease and in liberty, rests not at all on any special grace which may be in us, or on any personal privilege conferred, or any peculiar place or excellence, but only and altogether on the preciousness of the blood of the Lamb, or on the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is the common property (as through boundless grace we may call it) of all believers.
The place in which the Lord is thus seen by John was not his natural place. He had been raised from the dead, and was now ascended into heaven, there to dwell for an age as Mediator between God and men, the Advocate with the Father, and the Lord too, the Son over His own house, the Head over all things to the Church. He had received gifts for men, and was dispensing apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists from His glory, for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body here, as Lord to, and of, the Church. But his place and action here are not the necessary attributes even of this his lordship. As, though Moses was king in Jeshurun, it was not natural to him in that character to call on Levi to draw the sword and slay the thousands of the people. Jesus the Lord is here seen on the earth, and arrayed in judgment and vengeance. For he had been disturbed. It was like his action in the days of Babel or Sodom. He had either to go down and see if things were according to the cry that had gone up, or to go down to confound and to scatter. (Gen. 11, 18) It was also like the God of Israel afterwards, who, while on the Mount with his servant Moses, giving him the shadows of Christ, "the shadows of good things to come," occupied there as it were with that which naturally was his in the riches of his goodness, is disturbed by Israel's apostasy at the foot of the Mount, and has to tell Moses to go down, and visit the people who were corrupting themselves there. (Ex. 32)* So here; the priest was to be in his temple in the heavens, waiting daily (as we may speak), in his natural grace, on the defiled feet of his saints, or giving the gifts still, that he might both feed and trim the candlesticks. The Lord was on high, Head over all things to the Church, ordering every thing for her blessing and profit. But, now, the corrupters again at the foot of the mount have disturbed Him, and He comes down again to see if indeed it be according to the cry of it, and if so, to confound and to scatter again.
*The glory in the cloud guided the Camp - but when the Camp sinned, the glory was disturbed, and looked forth to judge.
Another character of judgment had gone on previously. I mean, the judgment of the churches within their own borders; the Lord, as the Priest, being then still in heaven. Thus Corinth had been judged. "For this cause many are sick and weakly among you, and many sleep." This was the chastening of the Lord of the Church. (1 Cor. 11:32.) But here, it is the Son of Man descended to the earth (the place for Jesus as Son of Man) with a threat to remove, and not with grace to correct and purify. The difference between these judgments appears to be the same as the judgments on Uzzah or Shelomith's son by the hand of the Lord and His congregation, and the judgment of Jerusalem by the hand of the Gentile. The first class of judgments was for correction and purity of the house of God, and for the keeping of the people still at home. The second was for their removal out of His sight. Delay there was, in thus bringing the Destroyer of the Gentiles on his way against God's city. Prophet after prophet had risen early and warned the people, and Jeremiah had wept and prayed and preached, even after Nebuchadnezzar had sat down at the gates. But when he entered, he entered with a new character of judgment. It was for the removal of Jerusalem; as here, the Son of Man has come (after the like delay and patience), but it is for the removal of the candlesticks if they repent not.
This I judge to be the place in the history of the Church which we reach here. This place and action of the Lord do not naturally, so to speak, suit him as the priest. But the Church's corrupt state puts him into it. Just as His coming in the latter day with vengeance on the world, and on His apostate Israel, is not His natural coming. At first He came offering peace and the kingdom. His heavenly heralds said, "Peace on earth!" But the unbelief of Israel, and the confederacy of Jews and Gentiles, which prevailed to cast Him out from the earth, has so changed His course, that He is now to return to the rebellious citizens in the power of "a day of vengeance." But that is His unnatural course, "His strange work," as Scripture calls it. Israel's and the earth's sin alone account for it. Just as here, the corruption of the Church changes the place and action of the Lord; and, instead of seeing Him with the towel and the water in the heavenly temple, or with His hands filled with gifts to give out from the glory on high, we see Him arrayed in judgment, taking to Him His righteous power to remove the candlestick if it repent not.
And the sight of Him in such a character overwhelms even John. It must - it could not but do so. For this is the Lord marking iniquities; and before Him, in such a place, who could stand? It is not the Lord talking with His own, as a travelling friend, or as a happy guest, or as a gracious Master, as once He did when He rose from the dead. But it is the Lord, awakened by sin at the foot of the hill, coming down to see if all were even according to the cry that had gone up. And who could stand when He was thus angry?
Isaiah, in his day, saw Him in such a place. The doors and posts were shaken, and the house filled with smoke, for the Lord was about to put judgment on the house that was called by His name; and the prophet, seeing himself in that house, trembles and learns his uncleanness. And the Lord restores him, as here He restores John; though, like the Prophet of Israel, John falls as dead. But the Lord, by the seraphim and the coal from the altar, taking away his iniquity restores Isaiah; as here, the revelation of Him who was dead and is alive again, and alive too for evermore; restores John for that carries the restoring virtue with it, The death and resurrection of Jesus gives the sinner his full confidence; taking the sentence of death from him, to lay it on One able to bear it. And so, from this time forth, let John (our brother) be called through this book to what visions and judgments he may, he is not again disturbed. He is twice overwhelmed, it is true; but it is by the holy delights of visions of joy and glory, and not by the storms and lightning of judgment. And, according to such an introduction as this, we find our Lord in the following scene. (Rev. 2, 3.) It is the Lord in "the house of God," challenging the churches to answer for them selves. He had before set them in blessing, and now He looks for fruit. It is as though he had heard a report of their unfaithfulness, and was now saying to them, "How is this that I hear of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward." He had already communicated with them through the Apostles; but now He does through the Angels. Paul had addressed them as in the pastoral grace of Christ; John now addresses them as from the judicial authority of Christ. The Apostle had fed them and disciplined them as in the place of dependence; but now these epistles challenge them as in the place of responsibility.
And one striking, though it may be minute, feature of this difference in the mind of the Lord, when addressing the churches through the apostle and through the angel, the one being gracious, the other judicial, appears in this. In olden times, under the dispensation of the law, God was constantly regarded as the Searcher of the heart, the Trier of the reins of the children of men; and, then He did so, in order to reward according to every man's work (see 1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 7:9; Jer. 17:10). But, by the apostle, God is revealed as the Searcher of the heart with another intent. "He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit." That is, He is not searching the heart, in order to reward the works, or even to refine as gold is refined; but, in His search of the heart, He finds out the exercises of the spirit. This is what He considers there; that is what detains and engages Him. It is not a search ending in the detection of evil, but good - of good to be owned according to Himself, and not of evil to be judged and punished. (Rom. 8:27.)
But in this book we have Him again as the Searcher of the reins and the hearts, for the ends and purposes that He was so under the law. "All the Churches shall know that I am He that searcheth the reins and hearts and I will give unto every one of you according to your works." (Rev. 2:23.)
These are the principal passages in the New Testament, presenting God in this character of the Searcher of the heart; and this comparison of them helps still to show us the Lord in judgment in this book of the Revelation, and that He has changed His aspect, now addressing the Churches through the angel, from what it was when addressing them through the apostles. He has returned now to take His place, such as it was when He was under the law, the Exacter of righteousness, the Assayer of the heart, that He might render according to every man's work done there, and not to, find out the breathings of His own Spirit there; to bless and comfort accordingly. And the moment they are thus addressed, they are found wanting. As candlesticks bound to shine to the praise of Him who had set them in His sanctuary, they are now visited; and the common result of all such visitations of God's stewards may tell us the end of the candlesticks also. For the crisis or judgment has always found man unready. Whether planted in innocency, in a sphere of providence, or under a ministration of grace, man has been found unequal even to hold a blessing. "Adam, where art thou?" got this answer, "I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." The vineyard of Israel afterwards should have yielded its fruit to Him who had planted and dressed it; but when He came, it was only the wild grape that He found; and so it is now with the candlesticks in the house of God. They had been duly prepared by God's care. They were nothing less than golden candlesticks - Churches fed by the Spirit, blessed with blessing from "God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," made fully furnished and well-ordered lights in the sanctuary. But now that visitation is made in due season too, and the Son of man finds something unsuited to the holy place. These seven Churches (the sevenfold or perfect expression of the Church) are challenged by the Son of man with these words, "I know thy works;" but the sevenfold light is but dim and uncertain. This steward of God's glory is but unfaithful also; and so, by and bye, the same inquisition will be made of the "earthly gods" - the Gentile powers, to whom the Lord has committed the sword; and they will then, in like manner as Adam, Israel, or the candlesticks, be found wanting; and they will have to fall as men, and die like one of the princes. (Ps. 82) All the stewards are thus found wanting, when weighed in the balance; and the Lord is justified in His sayings, and clear when He judges.*
*The "Son of Man" is the Lord's title here (Rev. 1:13), and that belongs to Him in judgment. (John 5:27.)
These seven Churches are the places of this judgment. There were, it is true, other congregations of the Lord at the time; but the seven are enough to exhibit the judgment - for seven is completeness. So some of them may be found, by this judgment or visitation, in a better condition than others; but still the Son of man sees the whole thing different from what it ought to be: one was not judged in the other, but each was responsible for itself; and thus some maintained their purity longer than others. But still the whole tone of this visitation bears with it a notice of what the end speedily was to be, as in our day we see it; for Philadelphia and Smyrna are now as fully removed candlesticks as Sardis or Pergamos.
These challenges of the Churches by the Son of Man lead us to see that all was nearly over, that there was but a step between such rebukes and their removal. And surely we do not, in our day, need to be told of the disturbance which has taken place in the "House of God." We learn that Adam lost Eden; and the present groans of creation tell us so. We learn, that Israel lost Canaan; and their present wanderings over the earth tell us so. And how do we see the sanctuary? Are we not witnesses to ourselves, that we have been no more able to hold the blessing which was ours, than Adam could hold Eden, or Israel, Canaan. The candlestick that was set for the rebuking of all else as darkness, and for being itself the embodied and well-ordered light of the world, is not now at Ephesus or Sardis, or anywhere else.
We may try our ways, most surely, by all that is here said to the Churches; but this does not amount to the Son of Man owning us as His only light in our place. And our first duty, therefore, both in grace and wisdom, is, to be humbled because of this; for, though we may have much, in fragments, that belongs to the candlestick, yet all that does not give us the standing and privilege of the candlestick, entitling us to set aside as darkness, and as not of the sanctuary, all that is not of ourselves.
When our fidelity to the Lord became the question, we were found wanting, as any other steward. This book will, at the end, show us that the question of the Lord's fidelity to us will be answered in the other way. For as the Lamb's wife, the Church will then be found to survive all the judgments, though here, at the beginning, she could not, as the candlestick, stand the righteous challenge of the Lord. And this is man; and this is God always. Shame and ruin mark our end; honour and peace and everlasting truth and love, the end of the Lord.
And in this shame and ruin, I believe our three chapters end. The perfect order of the seven lights of the house of God is gone, and gone too, not to be restored and, according to this, the prophet is at once called to see other things and other places, to witness other scenes (but still a scene of judgment, as we shall find), not that of the priestly Son of Man in his temple, but that of God and the Lamb in the earth. But this judgment is delayed till all the foreknown family have come in. For "God's long-suffering is salvation" (2 Peter 3:15). "The fulness of the Gentiles" must come in, and all be brought to the knowledge of the Son of God (Rom. 11:25); and, therefore, before we are led, in our prophet, to behold this second scene of judgment, or the judgment of the earth, we are given, I believe, a sight of the Church (now gathering from all nations) in Heaven, under the symbols of the living creatures and crowned elders round the throne; so that the ascension of the saints into the air had taken place at some untold moment, between the times of our 3rd and 4th chapters.
Our ascension into the air will lead us to the Lord, and then, with him, to the Father. (John 14:1-4.) But it is not these results we get here. It is not the saints either in the Lord's presence, or in the mansions of the Father's house, that we see here; but the Church before the throne of "God Almighty," of Him "who was, and is, and is to come," for whose pleasure all things were created. This scene we get here. It is not the children before the Father, but the Church in dignity before the throne. It may be a scene in the Father's house, in anticipation of the kingdom now about to be assumed; but it is not simply and merely a view of that house in its abstract form. But how perfect is the wisdom of God in appointing all the seasons for revealing His mind and purposes! A view of the Father's house in its simplest form, as the home of the children, would not have been in character here; for this is the Book, not of consolations for the children, but of judgments by which God and the Lamb are asserting their holy rights, vindicating their own praise, and delivering the long usurped and corrupted inheritance out of the hands of its destroyers. The Gospel by John conducts us to the Father's house; our path there ends, as the path of children, in that home of love. But this Apocalypse by John gives us the action that clears the earth for the kingdom and the glory, and gets the golden city ready; and our path here ends, as the path of heirs, in that place of glory. For both are ours - the joys of children and the dignity of heirs; the house of the Father, and the throne of the Son.*
* Something like the difference between Ps. 23 and 24.
Here, then, when taken into vision of heavenly things, it is the throne of God, with its due attendants, and not the Father's house with the children, that we see. It is the throne of God Almighty, Creator, and Ruler of all things; around which is, therefore, thrown the holy pledge of the earth's covenanted security; and it is the place, too, from which the subsequent action of the book, or the judgment of the earth, flows; and, therefore, lightnings, and thunders, and voices (the symbols of those judgments) issue from it.
The thrones, crowns, and white raiment, strongly intimate that these elders symbolize the redeemed. And the living creatures do the same, only in another aspect.* And the giving forth the same object, under different symbols and in different aspects, was common in the shadows of the law, to the style and language of which this Revelation by John so much conforms itself. For instance, the same person stands before us in the sanctuary of old, expressed under different aspects in the symbols of the Golden Altar, the Golden Table, and the Golden Candlestick.
*Some judge that the elders symbolize Old Testament saints. Be it so. I am not disposed to contend with such a thought.
But, as to this wondrous subject of the Living Creatures or the Cherubim, I would observe a little more particularly.
Wherever we see them throughout Scripture, they are always attendants on the throne of God - always reflecting, by their action or attitude, the mind and ways of Him who sits there.*
*They were, therefore, I judge, made out of one piece of gold with the throne itself. (See Ex. 25:19.)
1. Thus: They were seen at the gate of Eden, with a flaming sword; because then the Lord was expressing His own unrepenting righteousness, driving the sinner out of His place.
2. Thus, also, they are seen over the mercy-seat, in the Holiest, with fixed, delighted gaze, inquiring into the secrets of that throne of grace, because the Lord was there, expressing His work in Jesus, the fixedness of His purpose, and joy in the Gospel of His dear Son. (Ex. 25:20; 1 Peter 1:12.)
3. Thus, also, they are seen with unfolded wing under the God of Israel (Ezek. 1-10); because then the Lord of Israel was about to leave His sanctuary, the apostasy of His people having disturbed His rest in Jerusalem. And they are there, also, seen reaching out their hands to take fire to cast over the city; for there the Lord had commanded the judgment for its sins.
4. Thus, also, as here, they are seen round the throne, still attending on it, to celebrate the praise of Him who sits there, and do His will and learn His mind; still, therefore, reflecting His mind and ways.
But, in this last place of the Cherubim, we observe a distinction of great importance. Hitherto, or in the first three instances, they were angelic, because the law had been ordained by angels (Gal. 3:19); with delight the angels inquired into the mysteries of Christ (1 Peter 1:12); and the angels waited on the Lord of Israel. (Isa. 6:2.) But the Cherubim, or attendants on the throne, have now become human; because "the world to come" is to be made subject to man, and not to angels (Heb. 2:5), and this throne, in Rev. 4, is the throne of judgment preparing the earth for the kingdom, and which is by and bye (with new and changed attributes) to preside over "the world to come."
But this is glorious and wonderful. Poor sinners redeemed by blood are destined, through grace, to take the cherubic dignity and joy, in which angels, unfallen angels, once stood - the angels themselves falling back, as it were, and opening their ranks to let redeemed sinners in, and then to take their own place around them, as well as around the throne itself. (Rev. 7:11.) Angels are thus passed by; and the seed of Abraham are taken up; and it is blessed to know that angels themselves take delight in this. They desire to look into this mystery. "God manifest in flesh" is seen of them. (1 Tim. 3:16.) Their own joy is enhanced by all this; for by it they have learnt more of the shining and gracious ways of Him who created them, and on whom they, as we, depend. Beggars from the dung-hill are set, as among princes, round the throne; and the living creatures and the crowned elders accordingly, never in the whole action of this wondrous Book, move out of heaven, but there abide, either in the intelligence of the mind of God, in authority under the throne, or in the holy office of leading the joy of creation. (See 5, 6, 7, 9, 15, 19. ) They abide in their sphere on high, while the action proceeds on earth.*
*There was something like this order of living creatures and crowned elders in Israel; I mean, in the way in which the ark was attended. The Priests and the Levites surrounded the ark in a nearer and smaller circle, and then the Twelve Tribes (on each side three) encompassed it in a larger and more distant circle or square. Thus the one had more intimacy with it than the other; as here, the order of living creatures, elders, and angelic hosts around the throne (see Num. 1 - 4) is preserved and exhibited.
And there is another distinction touching these Cherubim or living creatures, which I must notice. In Ezekiel, they are accompanied by wheels, but here with crowned and enthroned elders. In the Prophet, one spirit animates them and the wheels. As here, they sing in holy concert with the elders, and with them ever act as with one mind. But still, it is significant, that there, their companions are wheels; while here, they are crowned and seated elders. For, in those days of Ezekiel, the throne, whose purpose they express, was about to remove itself from the sanctuary, and wheels were suited to it; but in the day anticipated by this vision, the throne is at rest, with the Church, in her royal and priestly glories, around it, and crowned and seated elders are suited to it.
And, indeed, it is much to be observed, though it may draw us aside for a moment, that it is the Father who is now preparing a Sabbath for Himself, and not simply God the Creator. The Seventh Day was the Creator's Sabbath; the kingdom will be the Father's. The Creator had engaged His energy of old, and His works were the reflection of His eternal power and godhead. All was then good in His sight. In all He delighted, and by all He was glorified. But in the Sabbath of the kingdom, He will survey richer and deeper reflections of Himself. All His excellencies will be displayed; the work of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, of our God in His grace and salvation, will then be the fairer and fuller witness of Him, than the heavens and the earth of old. And if all things in the Creation of old were needed to give Him His full glory and satisfaction then; so, in the Father's kingdom, all of us, beloved, must yield our contribution. We may be little, a small unit, in the account of redemption; but we contribute to the survey of the great Redeemer's work. Then let us not doubt our place in that system; but, by faith, take it as simply as any flower in Eden would have blossomed, to its great Creator's delight and praise. Grace is planting the second garden; and we are there not to our own glory, but to His, who works as much to His own praise and delight, and as much alone, in Redemption, as He did in Creation.
But, this only by the way.
Such as I have said, I judge to be the throne, with its attributes and attendants. It is the throne of the Creator and Upholder of all things, from which are to go forth the judgments which are to clear the earth of its corrupters and destroyers.
The earth has evidently now become the object of attention in heaven. The whole of this chapter, as well as the following one, indicates this; and very strikingly so, the feature of the rainbow round the throne - because the rainbow is the symbol of that covenant which God has made with the earth, the pledge to it that it shall abide before Him.
But this being so, the earth and its history and destinies now becoming the immediate object of thought and concern in heaven, it would seem, even from this alone, that the Church or heavenly people from among the Gentiles,* must previously have been gathered in and taken home, as I have already suggested. Because, until that is done, the earth is not the object of attention in heaven. The bringing in of the elect, who are to be conformed to the image of the Son, and to share his heavenly joy and throne, is the object that forms and orders the concern of heaven now. There is general providence here, no doubt - but earth is not the great animating object in heaven, but the gathering of sinners out of it, the washing of their feet daily when thus gathered, and the filling up of the number of those heirs of salvation. But now when we have reached Rev. 4, and when we look in at the door opened in heaven, we find the earth directly and immediately awakening thought and action there, and (as we might from this expect), the Church already there. For when "the fulness of the Gentiles" shall come in, Israel will be thought of again; when the heavens are filled, the earth will be the scene of divine attention, and finally of divine husbandry and preparation again.
*Old Testament saints will ascend at the same time, for they are children of the resurrection.
But the throne being thus seen, and God's glory and pleasure, as Creator and Governor of all things, being thus celebrated, the question arises, "Who can He seat on this throne with Himself?" "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy place?"*
*See Ps. 24. A hill is the symbol of government. See Ps. 2:6; Isa. 2:2.
The earth and its fulness is the Lord's by this title of creation here celebrated, and owned in that 24th Psalm. But it was His pleasure of old to set His image over those works of His hand. Adam was given dominion, but Adam lost his place and forfeited his kingdom. Who, then, shall reassume the dignity, and again ascend the hill of the Lord? Who is he whom the Lord God can reinstate in Adam's forfeited lordship? That now becomes the question; and, accordingly, it is raised in the 5th chapter, immediately after the exhibition of the supreme throne in the 4th. And the answer to it from every region is this, "The Lamb that was slain, the Lion of the tribe of Judah." He who sat on the throne gives that answer, by letting the book pass from his hand into the hand of the Lamb. The seven Spirits are seen as centered in the Lamb, intimating that the administration of the kingdom is now to be lodged in His hand. The living creatures and elders join in giving this glory to Him, by singing their song of gladness in the prospect of the earth being soon the scene of their glory. The hosts of angels join in giving it, by now willingly transferring all strength and glory and faculty for dominion, into the hand of the Lamb. The angels now empty themselves. In previous dispensations they had been the ministers of power; as one of them says, "I stand in the presence of God." The law was ordained by angels; they were all ministering spirits. The prophet's servant saw the mountain filled with chariots and horses. It was an angel that went through Egypt; and an angel that stood over Jerusalem with a drawn sword. Angels accompanied the Lord in his visit to Abraham, and revealed and executed God's purpose towards Lot in Sodom. The chariots of God were twenty thousand - even thousands of angels. But now they empty themselves and lay their honours at the feet of the Lamb, and ascribe all that was once theirs executively to the Lamb. But they might easily do this; for a greater than they, even the Lamb Himself, the Lord of angels, had shown them the way to this self-emptying. He had been in the form of God, thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, but He made Himself of no reputation; He emptied Himself; He laid aside His glory, and took on Him another form altogether. So that angels, His creatures, may well follow Him. And then, finally, every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and such as are in the sea, in their order and measure, join in giving it, by uniting the name of the Lamb with that of the Creator and Lord and they all at once feel, as though their groans were already turned into praises; for, as soon as Adam fell, creation was sensitive of the curse, and became a prisoner of hope (Rom. 8:22); but now that the Lamb takes the book, she becomes equally sensitive of deliverance, and glories in the liberty of the children of God - of course by anticipation, as the Church had just anticipated their reign. Thus is this question settled in heaven. The title of the Lamb to take dominion in the earth is owned and verified in the very place, where alone all power and dominion or office could righteously be had, the presence of the throne in heaven, for "power belongeth to God." Messiah owns that in the 62nd Psalm; and here He again owns it by taking the book out of His hand; for that is an action which confesses, on the part of the Lamb, that powers are ordained of God, that the Lord of heaven is the fountain of office.
Thus it is from heaven and from the Ancient of days, that the Son of Man takes dominion; or the nobleman receives his kingdom. (Dan. 7; Luke 19) Jesus would not take power from the god of this world (Matt. 4:9); nor would He take it from the heated desire of the people. (John 6:15.) He waits to take it (for there alone it could be righteously received) from the hand of the God of heaven and earth, from whom Adam of old received it. And, as the Lamb here owned God on the throne to be the source of power, so God on the throne owns the Lamb to be His ordinance of power. This action of taking the book has this concord of sweet sounds in it; for the Lamb goes up to receive it, and the Lord allows it to pass from His hand. God's glory as supreme and only potentate is thus vindicated, and he commits power in the earth again to the hand of man, as fully sanctioning it there, and all the exercise of it, as of old He did in Adam, delighting again in this other image and likeness of Himself. And this governs all the subsequent action of this wondrous book; for the title of the kingdom being thus approved in the due place and form, it only remains to clothe that title with possession. The inheritance is the Lamb's by purchase of blood. That blood sealed Him as the fully obedient one, and, therefore, God could thus highly exalt Him (Phil. 3); and that blood has also reconciled all things in heaven and earth (Col. 1); and the inheritance being, therefore, thus purchased, be has now only to redeem it - as we read "the redemption of the purchased possession." His blood, as the Lamb slain, had given Him title to it; His strength, as the Lion of Judah, must now give Him possession of it.
The extended virtue of this same precious blood of Jesus is here blessedly declared. It had already redeemed the saints out of all nations and kindreds, and seated them in heaven, as kings and priests unto God but it is now also owned as giving the Lamb, who shed it, title to the inheritance, and, consequently, title to lead these His redeemed people into their reign over the earth. It had already redeemed them from the world, and now would soon seat them in dominion over the world.
For it is by His blood the Lamb here prevails to take the book, or the title to the inheritance. The "Lion of the tribe of Judah" is seen in the person of "the Lamb that was slain." His blood was His title. His blood made Him the purchaser of the inheritance; He is now its redeemer, as the prevailing Lion of Judah. And, consequently, as the Lamb, He is the spring and fountain of all the resulting glories of the kingdom. Extensive virtues of the blood of Jesus! It has been the object of faith - the ground of worship - the title of security - the bond of covenants - from the beginning. By it Abel was an accepted worshipper, and even Adam himself a believing reconciled sinner. By it Abraham had the covenant of promise made with him. By it the people of the Lord dwelt safe while the sword of judgment passed over. By it the veil of the temple was rent - all distance between God and sinners removed. By it the trumpet of the jubilee might give forth its gladdening note; for on the day of atonement they were to sound it. But why say more about it, than, again, on this beautiful fifth chapter to observe, that, by it the saints, already redeemed from earth and seated in heaven, now look to return as kings over the earth, in the train and honour of that slain Lamb whose blood, but whose blood only, has all this prevalency in it.
Thus, there is no blessing or dignity, nothing of either grace or glory, which this blood cannot command for us poor sinners; but there is no other price for anything, no other ground or title for blessing but itself. It does every thing, and does it all alone. Adam lost both himself and his estate; he became a sinner in his own person, and also an exile from Eden. But the blood of Jesus, God's Lamb that was slain, restores all - ""Thou hast redeemed us;" and again, "We shall reign on [over] the earth."
In Israel, there was the ordinance of redeeming the inheritance, as well as the heir or person. (Lev. 25) If either an Israelite or his possession had been sold, it was both his kinsman's duty and right to ransom him and it. Now Jesus has approved Himself our kinsman in both ways. The Son of God became the Son of Man, and thus showed his kinsman-nature. He died to purchase us and our inheritance by blood, and thus showed his kinsman-love. And in this Book of the Revelation we get, Him, I judge, perfecting His acts as such kinsman, and redeeming our inheritance out of the bands of its corruptors. The kinsman in Israel had a title to redeem the inheritance; but then he had to do it on condition of discharging the debt that was on it. Jesus has paid a full and more than adequate value, as is here owned; for the book or title to the redeemed possession passes into His hand. But the usurper of the inheritance is still to be removed; the enemies to be made the kinsman's footstool; and, whether the action be that of God or that of the Lamb Himself, the character of the action is equally clear and certain. The action is the redemption of the inheritance, flowing from the Lamb's acknowledged title. The book taken by the Lamb is His title-deed. He has already been the Purchaser of the inheritance, He is now to be the Redeemer. And that this is not a book of instructions to John as the Prophet of the Church, or any thing but this title-deed that concerns the Church's inheritance of the earth, appears to me from several considerations.
1. Because it lay in the hand of God Almighty, the Creator of all things, before the Lamb receives it.
2. Because it is taken by Him, as the Lamb slain, and as the Lion of Judah, characters of purchase and strength.
3. Because, on the taking of it, the Church sings in prospect of her dominion over the earth - the angels who had been previously ministers of power in the earth, then transfer all to the Lamb - and creation ends her groans in praises.
These witnesses establish, in my mind, the character of the Book which the Lamb takes. And the Book of the Revelation is in concord with this. It is the history of the redemption of the inheritance. I mean, of course, the second part of it, after the third chapter. It occupies the same place in the history of the acts of the Lord in the New Testament, as the Book of Joshua does of the acts of the Lord in the Old. It records the manner of redeeming the inheritance, as that did. And without His acts, as recorded in Joshua, the Lord's ways, in old times, would have been imperfect. He had redeemed the heir out of Egypt by the hand of Moses; educated and trained him in the wilderness; and thus prepared him for rest in Canaan. But He had still to redeem Canaan out of the hand of the Amorite; and this act of His is recorded in Joshua. Then, but not till then, the Lord went through the whole course of His mercy and strength. And so without this Book of the Revelation, the record of the Lord's acts would, in like manner, have been incomplete. The Gospels and the Epistles tell us, like the books of Moses, of the redemption of the heir and of his education in the wilderness of this present evil world; but now it is this closing book of the Revelation that tells us of the redemption of the inheritance; and thus it properly closes and completes the perfect acts of the Lord in behalf of the Church of God.
And let me further observe upon the ordinance of the Jubilee under the law, that if no kinsman were found able or willing to redeem the inheritance, it returned to the heir in the Jubilee. The Lord of Israel thus kept in His own hand the means of restoring all things. He acted as Lord of the soil; and said, the land was His. (See Lev. 25:23.) He created, as it were, a tenancy for forty-nine years, and after the traffic of the occupiers had disturbed every thing, in the fiftieth year He returned to the land, and then settled it anew on His family, according to His own mind.
And so with the earth, of which the land of Israel was the sample. Man may take it into his own hand for a time, and by his selfishness and iniquities disturb God's order in it. But a day is coming, the promised and expected Jubilee, the time of "the restitution of all things;" and then, the earth shall be brought back to God again, and He will re-settle it in His family according to His own holy and righteous principles.*
*I might here observe, that sacrifices may be allowed among the Jews in the kingdom, to keep in memory the blood of the Lamb which was the price, or the purchase of the kingdom. For then the system will be glory enjoyed and grace remembered; as now it is grace enjoyed and glory expected. The Jubilee Trumpet, sounded on the day of Atonement, witnessed that that happy season was debtor to the blood of Jesus, the great purchaser of every blessing.
But "the day of vengeance" is united with "the year of the redeemed." (Isa. 63:4; Isa. 34:8; Isa. 61:2.) And, accordingly, the redemption of the inheritance is conducted by judgments, or vengeance on the enemies of the heir of it, its usurpers, and corrupters; and, therefore, from henceforth, in this book, until the inheritance is redeemed, until the kingdom is brought in, it is judgment that is taking its course. (Rev. 6-19) It is Joshua's or David's sword again. It may be seals that are opened, trumpets blown, vials emptied; but all is judgment on the enemy, preparing the inheritance for the Lamb and the Church; all is action for the redeeming of it, and bringing it into the hand of Him into whose hand the title-deed of it, as we have seen it, has already passed.
Thus it is henceforth a Book of judgments, as it has been hitherto; only, judgments in another sphere and for another end; not of the candlesticks, but of the earth and its corrupters. Judgment had begun at the house of God, and now ends with those who would not obey the Gospel. One enemy may appear after another, the Beast and the False Prophet, the Dragon and the great Whore, or the kings of the earth, but it is only that each, in his season, may meet the judgment of the Lord. So there may be sorrow after sorrow. The woman may have to fly into the wilderness, the remnant of her seed to feel the rage of the Dragon, those who refuse to take the mark of the Beast to know and exercise the patience of the saints, and the two witnesses to lie slain in the street of the great city, but all this sorrow is only leading on to the rest of the kingdom, or to the descent of the golden city. The inheritance is thus redeemed by judgment out of the hand of its usurpers, and then the righteous nation that have kept the truth enter, and the Lamb takes the throne.
But in all this action, I judge the Church has no place, but that the saints have been taken to meet their Lord in the air, as I have already suggested, before it begins. This scene is one of judgment, and they have been removed, like Enoch, to another altogether; and I would now suggest a few reasons on which I ground this conclusion, as I did before, for my conclusion on the character of the sealed Book.
1. The saints are seen round the throne in heaven, as I have already noticed, in the fourth chapter, and throughout the Book onward from that, they are never seen but there - and this leads me to judge that the Church has been removed from the earth at some untold moment between the times of the third and fourth chapters, as I have already said.
2. At the opening of this action (Rev. 6), the same signs are given, as had before been given by the Lord Himself to His Christian-Jewish Remnant (Matt. 24), respecting the end of the world; and as in all that prophecy, the Church is not contemplated, so she is not contemplated here, but that it is the faithful Jewish election who are engaged in the action, as they only are considered in that prophecy of Matt. 24.
3. It is a scene of judgment, as I have already noticed, and the calling of the Church is that of Enoch to be taken out of it, and not like Noah, preserved in it. (See 1 Thess. 4, 5; 2 Thess. 2.) The Church had her judgment previously in Rev. 2, 3.*
*Judgments on the enemy, and tribulations of the righteous, go on co-temporaneously in this Book.
4. Besides - the saints are to judge the world, as well as to reign in the kingdom.
From such considerations, I do conclude, that the Church is not mixed up in the scene which now lies before us. They have been taken into their more immediate inheritance, which is in heaven (1 Peter 1:4), before these judgments on the corrupters of the earth, the mystic Amorites of Canaan, begin. But I do not particularly notice these chapters. Indeed I do not believe that we are competent to speak of them with authority. We may draw much warning and exhortation from them which we should lay deeply to heart, in order that we may stand in any evil day that may arise (as arise it may) to try and sift us. But of the scenes themselves, I would not speak with authority. The Lord in them is clad with zeal as a cloak; but the end is "redemption." For, however gloomy the way may be, this is the end of it, the end that we reach in this Book. The action was the judgment of the corrupters of the earth; and the result is, the holy occupation of it by the Lord and His saints. The wars of our Joshua end in victory and the kingdom. (Rev. 20:1-6.) "I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given unto them." Of course, if I speak of the action of the Lord Jesus in this Book being like that of Joshua, I am quite aware that He Himself is not personally manifested in the exercise of judging the nations, till Rev. 19. But from Rev. 6 the judicial visitation of the earth had been going on, though till Rev. 19 Jesus was hidden. It is this judicial character which leads me to liken the Book to Joshua - these judgments leading, like the wars of that Book, to the possession of the earth by the true Inheritor. And in Egypt there were judgments, first from a hidden, and then a manifested, God. All the plagues were poured out while as yet the Lord was hidden, using the hand of Aaron in the ashes of a furnace, or the rod of Moses. But at the destruction of the firstborn, He Himself went through the land; and, at the overthrow of the nation at the Red Sea, He looked through the cloud. And so in this Book. The Lamb is hidden first, and then manifested; but His hand and His power, whether hidden or manifested, are dealing out not grace and gifts, but chastenings and judgments.
But before I hasten to the result of all this action I would further observe, that in the progress of the action itself, we see, I believe, the deliverance of Jewish remnants from amid the corruption and judgment. Some of them suffer for righteousness even unto death, and they ascend to heaven to take their place before the throne; and some are hid in God's city of refuge through the judgment, sealed or measured for final security, and for a place on the earth or footstool. But in both ways, they are separated from the corruptions and the judgments around them, and, like Rahab, are safe in the Lord, whom they own in the midst of the apostate nation. And I also see, in the progress of this action, the occasional joy of the family in heaven. (See 5, 7, 9, 14, 15, 19.) Heaven, surely, is a place of continuous joy. There the saints hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the Lamb feeds and refreshes them for ever. But still they may be sensible of seasons and occasions of rapture. And this appears to be intimated to us in these passages. The joy of the heavenly family and their songs are, every now and then, awakened afresh, when some new display of grace, or some new prospect of glory, opens before them. Just as with the heavenly hosts before - for, when the foundations of the earth were laid, they sang together anew, and, still louder than before, shouted for joy.
And again, in the epistle to the Ephesians, we learnt that the Church was teaching the heavenly powers a lesson of God's wisdom (Eph. 3:13); but here, we see the angels practising, as it were, the lesson they had thus previously learnt. The Church leads the joy, and the angels take it up. They follow the living creatures and the crowned elders in their praise in Rev. 5; and again, when the redeemed celebrate "salvation," they, as having learnt the lesson, say "Amen." (Rev. 7)
Thus much I will observe on the action of these chapters, but particularly of their contents I would not speak. We gather great moral principles and warnings from them, which we can abundantly use; but I doubt that details are intended to be spoken confidently of, till the time comes. Of them, therefore, I would not speak.
Passing, then, beyond Revelation 18, we first listen to a song over the fall and judgment of the Woman, and then praise is heard at the immediate prospect of the marriage of the Lamb and of the kingdom. For the Wife has now made herself ready (Rev. 19), by which expression, I understand this, - that the saints, or redeemed, have till now been in heaven, as children of the Father's house; but that now, they are embodied to shine together in the glories of the golden city, which is the Lamb's wife. (Rev. 21:9.) He has now presented her to Himself a glorious Church. (Eph. 5.) The saints are now ready to be manifested in the Son's kingdom, as they had till now been hidden, as children, in the Father's house. The manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ then takes place after this marriage in heaven. And in this manifestation, we see Him putting on all the glories he had acquired previously (just to compare human things with divine), as on great public occasions we see persons of distinction arraying themselves with all their honours suitable to the moment. These displayed glories of our blessed Lord are the names He bears; and they are various, being, as I have said, the glories He has already acquired, or such as now belong to Him. And they are, also, here brought forth in the order of time in which they had been earned.
1. "He was called Faithful and True." This honour he acquired by his ministry while on earth, in all things then approving himself faithful to him who had appointed him, and thus earning this title of the Faithful and True.
2. "A name written, which no man knew but himself." This honour he entered into when, having ended his faithful and true service here, he ascended the .heavens, and was both glorified with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was, and became the Head of the Church, the First-born of that family who have also names which none know but they who receive them.
3. "His name is called, the Word of God." This title is his in judicial power, when, having left the heavens, he comes out with the sword of judgment to execute righteousness on the wicked confederacy, as the Word of God. (See Heb. 4:12.)
4. "A name written. King of kings, and Lord of lords." This is the last honour he bears. This he will acquire and put on when, having finished the judgments as the Word of God, he will sit down in the peaceful and complete honours of his kingdom, all nations owning him Lord, all royal powers and thrones bowing to his supremacy.
Thus, his names or honours are here unrolled in due order before us. He appears with many crowns. It is a great occasion, the re-appearing of that Man whom the world had refused - his second advent: and how changed! At his first coming, he disrobed himself; for he was coming in grace, coming for sin. But now he arrays himself as fully as he then emptied himself; for he is coming in glory. At his first appearing, he had no name, no reputation (see Phil. 2); now he has every name, every expression of dignity and praise in heaven and earth. It was only "Jesus" then, the name both of contempt and salvation, yea, of contempt because of salvation, for our salvation was purchased by his shame and death. But now it is a name above every name.
Such is the preparation for the taking of the kingdom or the inheritance. It is as the sword of David first, and then the throne of Solomon, as we read here "They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." (Rev. 20:4.) The shout in heaven was now realized on earth: "The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!"
But there is progress in this work of judgment which thus attends the second advent.
The binding of Satan in the bottomless pit (connected with the overthrow of the Beast and the false Prophet) may be called the morning judgment, or the judgment of the quick, ushering in, as it were, the millennial day or the kingdom. Then, at the close of that day, Satan being let loose from the pit to raise the last mischief in the world, the Great White Throne is erected, before which proceeds the evening judgment, or the judgment of the dead, closing, as it will, the millennial day or the kingdom, And the day of the Lord being then over, the kingdom will be delivered up, and the new heavens and the new earth will appear, the saints exchanging the kingdom for "God all in all," or their millennial for their eternal joy, and Satan the bottomless pit for the lake of fire, or his millennial for his eternal doom. (Rev. 20:7; Rev. 21.) *
*As another has observed, the inheritor and the inheritance will then both have risen in character. The second man, or the glorified body, will exceed the first man, or the earthly body; and so, the new heavens and the new earth will exceed in glory and joy the Paradise of Creation.
Of all this our Prophet is given a passing sight, and then he is called up to another vision. He had before seen the Bride prepared in heaven (Rev. 19); and now, he is called to see her descend out of heaven (Rev. 21:2); and by and bye, he will be called, in order to see herself as descended. (Rev. 21:9.) But now, while descending, and he is looking at her, a voice accompanies the descent, saying: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away."
This voice interprets the results of the descending city. This voice is as if a friend, in the secret of it, were to explain to us the meaning of a procession that might be passing before us. "Behold!" it says to John, calling his attention; and then it shows him the descending city as the witness that God was now restoring Himself to man, - "The tabernacle of God is with men," and thus, that all their sorrow should cease. But this result might not be in all its fulness at once, or during the thousand years; but the descent of the city, now at the opening of that kingdom, was the pledge of all this restoration of God to man, and of the consequent ceasing of sorrow, and death, and tears. And so, this friendly voice now interprets it. The former things were now passing away, that state of things in which God and man had been separated, and during which, accordingly, there had been lamentation, and weeping, and death.
The Lord from the throne then verifies all this voice from heaven, and adds His own word: "Behold I make all things new." And when he had thus spoken, he addresses John, giving him to know, that when this came to pass, all would be done; adding, moreover, such warnings and encouragements as may be listened to by all from that moment to the end, being delivered by the Lord in the consciousness of the solemn sanction which the end imparts to all things, - as it is written, "Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end."
Thus this vision of the descending city, and this audience from the voices from heaven and the throne pass by, and our seer is carried to a great and high mountain, that he might see this city herself, the Bride, the Lamb's wife. (Rev. 21:9; Rev. 22:6.)*
*Into a wilderness he was taken to see the great whore, but now to a high mountain to see the Lamb's wife. (Rev. 17: 1, Rev. 21:9.)
One of these angels, who had carried the seven last Plagues, is John's conductor now; and in his presence he measures the city; and that being the sign of security (Rev. 11:1, 2), he thereby gives us a pledge, that there is no agency of destruction against it.
The Church, as the candlestick, may be shattered; but as the Lamb's wife, she shall live; and this golden city is this Bride of the Lamb, the Church of God now manifested in her perfectness. She has length, and breadth, and height equal, with twelve foundations, and twelve gates, her wall great and high, and her street of pure gold. Various all this, but all shining and costly, expressing her to be the one that is perfect in holy beauty. And she is not only thus perfect in herself, but she has her dignities as well as her beauty. She is the habitation of the glory of God, the place of the throne, a sanctuary too, as well as a palace, having a presence within her, which makes the whole scene a temple. Thus is she the suited dwelling-place of kings and priests; and being thus in herself the beautiful one, and bearing with her this honour of the royal priesthood, all that goes forth from her, or enters into her, or dwells there, is according to these things. Light is shed from her, that the nations may walk therein; water from the river of life flows from her, bearing leaves with it, that the nations may be healed thereby; and all that goes in is purity; and all who dwell within are in joy and dignity, having no need of candle or even light of the sun, being also in the conscious dignity of their everlasting kingdom; and nothing must touch such a habitation of holiness, and gladness, and glory, but the very honour of the kings of the earth. They may bring up their glory and honour unto it, but nothing less than that can approach it.
The features of this holy city, here delineated, become so many tests (as we may observe, for it is profitable for our souls) whereby to try the condition of our own hearts towards heaven, and to ask ourselves, Is it the heaven of God that we indeed desire? Thus this place is stable, it has foundations. Are we satisfied with it for ever, or would we fain, in the waywardness of the affections, still have change? This place is a sanctuary, or place of constant worship and communion. Is that according to the heaven which we desire? It is the region of light from the lamb. Are our souls even now delighting and basking in that element, or do we love the light, and wisdom, and beauty of men? It is the place of holy government, where all is peace. Do we love purity now; and are the workings of unclean nature an offence and sorrow to us? And, it is a bosom of rich and generous benevolence, for it is ever giving forth what it has, its light, its leaves, and its waters, for the refreshing and strengthening of others. Are our hearts cultivating like affections? Are we desiring and watching, that we live not for ourselves, but in the enlarged charities of the Gospel which thus will exercise themselves to perfection in that happy place?
The answer of our souls to these things will show the measure of our present sympathy, in spirit, with this heaven here revealed to us. And, thus, this divine description of the holy Jerusalem becomes not merely food for the hopes of the saint, but trial of the heart of the saint, that we may be guided both happily and safely onward. And we may surely say, this is indeed a heaven of holy happiness, a heaven worthy of God its builder.
All is thus pure and shining within and around her, and she yields forth streams of light and life that all may be gladdened and blest by her. This is the manifestation of the Church. In this present dispensation, the Church is but forming, like Eve for Adam, but when the time of the kingdom comes, and Adam awakes, then will his Eve be presented to him, the associate of his joy and kingdom, the saints will be shown all fitly framed together, the Church presented to Himself, a glorious Church without spot, as here, in the place of blessing and government. Surely all this is beautiful, as is every thing of our God, in its season. The incarnation and ministry of the Lord had been the manifestation of the Father and the Son - the present age is the manifestation of the Holy Ghost - and the age that we look for, and into which this vision of the golden city introduces us, will be the manifestation of the Church. For all is perfection in the ways of God's wisdom, as in the ways of His love. - He tells out to us one secret after another, bringing each in due season out of His treasures. "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"
But this only as we pass on. I was tracing the character of that holy city which has now been disclosed to us, and observing that every thing in it told us that it was the symbol of the Church in her perfectness and manifestation in glory, or the saints in their dominion and honour. And I would again, as connected with this, recur to the difference between the gospel and the revelation by John. The gospel closes by taking the children to the Father's house, or hiding them in heaven. (John 21:22.) The revelation, by leading them down from heaven into the place of dominion over the earth, or manifesting them as the golden city. It is not the mansions in the Father's house which, at the end of the revelation, we look into, but the place of the sanctuary, and the palace, the residence of the kings and priests unto God and his Christ. It is not the children in their home, but the saints in their glory whom we see.
And all this is in full character. For the Gospel by John had been, throughout, training the children for the Father; but this revelation by him had been getting the inheritance and glory ready for the saints. It is a further stage in the history of the heavenly family. It is not that they have left the joy of the mansions in the Father's house, which the Lord has now gone to prepare for them (John 14:2); but they are to receive the glory of the inheritance in addition; and that is what is here, in figure, presented to us.
And this day of the descent of the golden city is the promised day of power, the day for the shutting up of the influence of hell upon the earth, for the binding of Satan in the pit, and for the opening of the influence of heaven upon the earth by this descent of the city of God, and (as we may say in a larger sense) by the setting up of that mystic ladder on which the angels of God are to pass from heaven to earth, and back to heaven again. And the throne of God, seen in this city, has a new attribute. At the beginning, it was the throne of God; and the Lamb only came up to it, to take the Book from the hand of him who sat there. But now, the Lamb has ascended it. It is now "the throne of God and the Lamb." The Lamb has now got up to the hill of the Lord, and is now standing in the holy place.
The action of this Book was preparing the throne for the Lamb. It was not that of the Son on high preparing mansions in heaven for the children, but it was, the Lord on high (or God in the supreme place, for him) coming forth in the power of one judgment after another, to make His enemies His footstool; and then to erect His kingdom, and lead His saints into it. And accordingly, the kingdom is here displayed, as I have observed, in all its holy order and righteous authority. It is the Golden City we get, the symbol of righteousness and power united in government - the Church with the enthroned Lamb descending out of heaven, to take association with the earth, ruling it and yet blessing it, presiding over it in righteousness, and yet dispensing to it the water of life and the light of the glory, of the very fountains of which she had now become the scene and the dwelling-place.
Such is the end of the second part of this Book of judgments. Through the terrible judgments of seals, trumpets, and vials, we have been led to the blessing of the earth under the light and life that were in the golden city, the throne of God and the Lamb. And as we had a preface to the Book in its place, so now we have a conclusion. (Rev. 22:6-21.)
Here we first listen to the angel, who had attended John, attesting the full truth of all that has passed; and then, we listen to the Lord pledging His speedy coming, and a blessing (as in the preface) on those who should righteously use this Book. We then find that the hearing and seeing of these excellent things so wrought for a moment on the mind of John, that be falls down and worships the angel, as he had done before. (Rev. 19:10.) But on both these occasions he had been receiving some overwhelming vision. In chap. 19 he had just seen the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, and now the golden city in her glory and beauty; and his engaged and overpowered affections, awakened by such visions (as with the Queen of Sheba on seeing King Solomon), must account to us for these worshippings of the angel. But the angel rebukes him, as Peter did Cornelius in such a case; and then instructs him in one particular touching this Book, which is strikingly different from the instructions given to the Jewish prophet on a like occasion. (Dan. 8:26; Dan. 12:4-9.) Daniel had seen and heard wonders, but was told to seal them, till the time of the end, because the vision was yet to be for many days; but here our prophet is told to publish these things which he had seen and heard, because the time did not wait, but was at hand.* This marks the mind of the Spirit so differently in the Jewish prophet, and in John, who was standing in our dispensation addressing the saints. And, according to this, the Lord at once again breaks in with an announcement of His speedy coming, and that, too, with the rewards of righteousness, revealing Himself again, as He had done at the beginning, in His supreme place, as "the Alpha and Omega."
*Isaiah is also told to bind up the testimony, because the Messiah was still waiting (Isa. 8:16, 17). Such reason and such action are not found or given here to John.
After this, the attending angel returns to His own proper theme, promising a blessing in righteousness on those who obey, and setting aside all the workers of evil. For this is the theme of the Book, a book which does not say, "Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered," but pronounces blessing on the righteous, and doom on all evil-doers. For it is not a Book of ministering grace, but of executing righteousness - it is not sympathies or consolations that we find in it, but judgments, as we have been seeing throughout. It is the place of Ezekiel which the Lord fills here, as it was that of Jeremiah which He had occupied in the gospel. In the gospel or in His ministry, through the cities and villages of the land, He was the sorrowing, sympathising prophet; so that some said, "It is Jeremias;" but here He stands, the Son of Man, like Ezekiel, in the place of judgment, in the Spirit, saying, "He that heareth, let him hear, and He that forbeareth let him forbear" - "he that is filthy let him be filthy still, and he that is holy let him be holy still." There was no tear on the eye of Ezekiel, though divers of waters ran down the cheeks of Jeremiah. All is so perfect in its time. The Lord knew the sympathies of the one, as He walked in the land and saw the moral ruins of Zion, and He can now know the righteousness of the other, as He stands above all that defiled ruin, and apart from it all in judgment.
After this, the Lord reveals Himself as "the Bright and Morning Star." The Church then invites Him to come, and invites others, who would "hear," to join her in this; and then those who were "athirst," having some affections towards her Lord just stirred, to come up to the full measure of her desire; and lastly, through the largeness of her heart, "whosoever would," in whatsoever mind or state they might be, to come and drink of the living waters with her.* Thus was her soul divinely moved upward and around her. But this was an interruption of the more orderly progress of the Book (like Rev. 1:6) on Jesus being revealed. But we should be prepared for such interruptions. We should not expect that the Lord could be revealed, without the Church being moved, as in these places. Praise must fill her, if His grace be revealed, as there (1:6) - desire must move her, if His person or glory be revealed, as here. And we should all, beloved, be cultivating that longing of heart after Him, that will lead us to take a ready part in such raptures of the Spirit in the Bride as these.
*In the action of this wondrous Book, times had been measured out by months and years. And on this I would say, that is a further proof of the Jewish or earthly character of the action - for Daniel and John are the only two prophets who thus compute time, and Daniel was clearly Jewish. Paul never talks of months and years; for the end of the Church's course on earth does not depend on them.
But still this was an interruption; and, therefore, when it passes; the Lord resumes the more proper theme of the Book, and threatens plagues to him who unrighteously adds to it, and loss of life and glory to him who unrighteously takes from it. This, however, must not be allowed to close all. "Surely I come quickly" is heard again - words which had now broken forth from the Lord three times during this conclusion. For His heart was fuller of that than of any thought, and He would fill ours with it also. All was either to yield to that, or issue in it. Judgment must be executed; but judgment is His strange work. Affliction of the righteous must be gone through, but He never willingly afflicts. All is imperfect till Jesus appear. His own heart is upon this, and this is the last thought that He would leave upon ours. And the saint responds, "Come, Lord Jesus" - that the Lord may know, that this is His people's desire and point of hope, as it is His.
Here, Jesus the Lord, and His ministering angel close their testimony. The apostle, then, in his turn, takes his leave of the saints, saying, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." In the love of the Spirit He commends them to that which is their only provision for the way, till the journey be ended. Till He come, come when He may, bringing His glory with Him, they must stand in His grace. For the Lord gives both, and grace leads to glory. The wilderness is now proving that, He has riches and stores of the one for us, and Canaan will, by and bye, prove that He has riches and stores of the other for all who love Him in this thankless and evil world.