The Revelation of John


Division 2. (Rev. 4 — 22.)

Things that come to pass after these. The salvation of Israel and the earth.

We are but following the division of the book, which the Lord's own words imply, into "the things that are," and "the things that are about to be after these." It is not "hereafter," as in our common version; which might be indefinitely, at some future time. The words intimate a connection between the two parts of Revelation such as we should naturally suppose, at least if the epistles to the churches are in themselves prophetic. Even if it were not so, and the addresses simply had to do with existing churches of the time of the prophet, yet we should see no reason for any great break, although the coming to pass "after these" would, as such, naturally lose much of its significance. But if, as we may be well assured from the introduction to the whole book, all of it is a prophecy, and if we have found this confirmed in the application, as we surely have; if these addresses carry us down, therefore, until the coming of the Lord, which is more and more pressed upon us as we reach the end, then the things that follow:are, of course, things taking place after the removal of the Church, as already implied in the Lord's promise to Philadelphia. What we must expect, therefore, if these things are so, is that entire change as to things on earth which would result from the Church being absent from it; which would mean the taking up afresh of Israel, and with Israel the earth once more.

The Church is heavenly. It is a gathering out of the world, which does not affect, at least savingly, the world as such. As we have seen, also, the Lord's coming for His people is spoken of as the promise of the Morning Star, which does not bring the day to the earth, although it heralds the approach of it. We have but to look at the Old Testament prophecies in order to see that for the blessing of the earth Israel must be blessed, as Hosea distinctly says (Hosea 2:14-23) that the Lord "will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her, and give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor" (the place of judgment) "for a door of hope; and she shall sing there as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shall call Me Ishi" (my husband), "and shalt call Me no more Baali" (my lord); "for I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name." We see that this is absolute assurance of their being brought back into relationship with God abidingly, and into a nearer relationship than they have ever known before.

The prophet goes on: "And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord." Nothing can possibly be more decisive than this is, and there follows the general blessing for the earth resultant: "And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto Me in the earth" (the application of that name Jezreel, which means "the seed of God," or "God shall sow"); "and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not My people, Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God." It is not possible, one would say, to pervert this in the way which has been so common — reading "the Church" instead of "Israel"; and this is the language of the Old Testament generally. Thus Isaiah says (chap. 27:6): "He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." These are the promises which the apostle to the Gentiles has told us distinctly (Rom. 9:3-4) belong to his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh, (not Spirit) who are Israelites and they assure us not only of the conversion of Israel, but of their distinctly being reinstated in the place of peculiar blessing, and being made instrumental to the blessing of the whole earth. Thus Israel becomes Jezreel, "the seed of God."

This, then, is the character of things that we must expect in the prophecies to follow this. The Church is no more seen upon earth, but we have, in a remarkable introduction to the things that follow, the picture of the redeemed in heaven occupying already their thrones as kings and priests to God, from whence we see them issuing in the nineteenth chapter, in the train of the white-horsed Rider; that is, accompanying Christ when He comes to the earth in judgment. The whole character of the intermediate time will be in harmony with this. The Church gone, there will only remain, as representing the one Christian profession, Babylon the Great, in full reality then "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."

Subdivision 1. (Rev. 4 — 8:5.)

The sources of power.

The first subdivision carries us to the end of the opening of the seals, which therefore fully opens the book. All prior to this must therefore be of an introductory nature. The book is not fully open until every seal is broken. He who opens them is in heaven, the Object of all the worship there; and it is heaven that now manifestly rules upon earth. God, of course, has never given up His throne, and could not do so. Nevertheless, He has permitted things, apparently, to go on as if He knew nothing of what was doing there. According to the parable in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 4:26-29), "So is the kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. … But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." The change which takes place now indicates that the harvest of the earth is at hand. The power which governs all is distinctly shown as being in heaven. The evil may assume, and does assume, a more malignant character even than before, but there goes forth now judgment that is to arrest it, at the call of the cherubim, the executors of the government of God on earth.

Section 1. (Rev. 4, 5.)

The opening of divine counsels by the Lion of Judah in the midst of the throne.

It is in perfect correspondence with all this, that when we look at the One by whom the book of the divine counsels is now opened, we find, in Him who is in the midst of the throne of God, the Lion of Judah; a significant term, which as applied to Christ can hardly be missed. Judah's Lion has risen up. Christ is taking a place in relationship to Israel; and "the times of the Gentiles" are necessarily come to an end.

This is a most important change: for when God gave up His manifest throne in Israel, and Ezekiel had seen the glory finally leave the city, Daniel (who was contemporary of Ezekiel) next represents to us the transference of power to the Gentiles, Nebuchadnezzar being distinctly given title over the earth, a title which the successive empires that the prophet sees following the Babylonian inherit from him. This gives us "the times of the Gentiles;" God being now spoken of in Daniel as "the God of heaven," as one who had left the earth, so to speak — as driven out by the sins of His professing people. This is coincident, as the Lord shows us, with the treading down of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). Jebuzite feet are again upon her: "And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." Immediately after this, the Lord speaks of "signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; … men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth;" and then they are to "see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." Power is now in the hands of One who is truly the King of kings, and this of necessity shows us how we are to take the sealing of the 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel; and the view of the Gentile company following in the same vision only makes their Israelitish character stand out the more completely. The Church, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, is passed from the earth, and the old distinctions are obtaining again. One may say that as it is the Lion of Judah who opens the seals, and therefore gives us to realize these counsels of God, so it is only as we discern the Lord in this character here that the book will practically open to us — that we shall be able to see what is being put before us.

1. The first thing now before us is the throne of God; not indeed as it was in Israel, but the higher throne, in heaven. It is seen as manifested in necessary righteousness, therefore in judgment, because of the condition of the earth, but yet girdled with the bow of promise, which limits the judgment, and shows the blessing which is to result from it.

(1) "After these things," says the apostle, (using the very words which remind us of that division of the book which has been already given) "I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee what must take place after these things." This is something which in all Scripture we have not had before — not only a door opened in heaven, but the prophet called up there, in order to see from that point of view (from whence alone things can be fully comprehended) what is now going to take place. Heaven has been opened before this. Enoch and Elijah went there of old, and the assurance of this has been given for the comfort of many generations since; but there was but the fact that they had gone there. No voice came back from heaven as the result. When everything had gone utterly to wreck in Israel, and Ezekiel was given to see the end in judgment, "the heavens were opened," says the prophet, and "I saw visions of God;" but he was not called up there; and the glory which he saw come forth went back without any new revelation of the place from which it came.

When our Lord was born the heavens were again opened, characteristically now to simple shepherds in the field, and the angels celebrated openly that good pleasure of God in men which has ever since characterized the revelation for us.

When, after His resurrection, the Lord went up, it was revealed that now a Man sat upon the right hand of God. Henceforth an opened heaven is that which is peculiarly characteristic of the present blessing. Stephen, under the stones of his persecutors, is given to see heaven opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God — a glorious gleam of brightness which transfigures, as well it might, his dying face.

Still, there is a certain reticence. No one who has been there comes back; until Paul, the apostle of the mysteries, can at last tell us of his being caught up (2 Cor. 12). He knows not, indeed, "whether in the body or out of the body," but he has been there, and heard "unspeakable things," which it was not lawful for him to utter. The vision, whatever it was, is for himself alone. He has not been there as a prophet, but simply as a man in Christ. The blessing of it, no doubt, is in some sense for us, but it is equally plain that there is no communication. But now there is a prophet caught up, whose lips are no longer to be sealed. We are, so to speak, to be transported with him into that blessed place into which he goes. We are permitted at last, as we may say, to breathe the atmosphere of heaven, and to hear the voices of its inhabitants. But there is more than this, and we have a fuller interest in it, as we are directly shown.

John has already spoken of himself as in some sense the representative of the Church at large. He is the recipient, as we know, of this divine communication to Christ's servants, and he associates himself with these as their fellow-servant, and partaker with them in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Christ. It is John, let us remember also, of whom the Lord had said, in contrast to what He had announced to Peter, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" They could not read this enigma, and thought evidently that the Lord had said that that disciple should not die; a mistake against which he himself immediately cautions us. Nevertheless, in some sense John was, as we see, to go on to the coming of the Lord. He is the one who is given here to anticipate that blessed time; thus in his own person again, as it were representing that Church which abides on earth as a company waiting for the Lord, against which the gates of hades cannot prevail, but which is to be caught up to meet Him — the antitypical Enoch of this later time. In fact, everything reminds us here of how the Lord will take His own to Himself. It is "a voice of a trumpet" speaking with him, that calls him up, the anticipation of that last trump which will awaken the sleeping saints, and call the living, with them, to their meeting with the Lord. It need be no wonder, then, if, when he is there, he finds himself as it were part of a company of redeemed, who are there also with him.

There is, indeed, no direct prophecy of that wondrous event which the apostle has described for us in the first epistle to the Thessalonians. There is a certain mystery attaching to it all, a mystery which we are called upon, as it were, to consider and penetrate; for all God's parables and deep sayings are to furnish us with wisdom — not to take wisdom from us. We are left to a certain exercise about them, which is meant as a test for the state of soul in which we are, and without which Scripture will never have the blessing which God designs for us from it. No doubt also, in this way, a certain latitude, if one may so say, is permitted to us, which leaves room for that historical application to Christian times of the things which are before us here, which we shall have more to consider in the future, but which already has been spoken of as something naturally to be expected from what is inherent in the character of prophecy itself; the things that are around us being in this way the foreshadowing, with a necessary limitation, of the things to come — a foreshadow that should have true interest for us, limited as it necessarily must be; for, as with Israel's shadows, we must not be allowed to mistake the shadow for the substance. It cannot even be the perfect image of the things therefore, — but we shall have to speak of this more at another time.

What we see here is simply the prophet caught up, and with no idea, such as in the case of the apostle Paul is suggested, of a possible bodily taking up into these heavenly scenes. This, for us at least, is not needed. It is what he saw and heard that we are to be occupied with; and as to the manner of it, it is sufficient to say, as he says here, "Immediately I became in the Spirit." But he had already said this in connection with his first vision, which was upon the earth; the being in the Spirit simply assuring us that the Spirit was, as it were, eyes and ears to him, so that all was definitely secured and perfect. What he was as man was to be no hindrance to this. When God would reveal, He takes perfect care that no "human element" entering in shall mar the revelation. John became then in the Spirit. It is evidently a new beginning of his being so. It is an entirely new series of visions that he is to behold; and immediately there is before him a throne set in heaven, and One sitting upon the throne.

In Scripture the introduction to a book, or to any part of a book, will be found to give the character of that which follows. In this way we are helped to seize the central point, that point of view which, when we have it, puts other things in proper connection with it. Here, a throne set in heaven is characteristic of the whole book, but more especially of that part upon which we are entering now. Revelation, as a fifth part of the New Testament Pentateuch, is necessarily that which gives us the divine ways in government; and if we divide this number 5 into its two parts, we have, as must be quite familiar to us, 4+1, the number of the creature with the number of God; the weak, therefore, with the Strong; which gives us necessarily responsibility to God on the one hand, as it declares on the other the power of that government with which this responsibility has to do. But everything is characterized by the throne here. God Himself, although spoken of as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, does not appear even once as our Father." It is not, of course, that He is not fully this, but we are in a different line of things from what this would speak of.

We therefore naturally come into the Old Testament connections; for the government of God is that of which the law necessarily speaks. Thus we find God as Jehovah, the One who is, and was, and is to come, which is but the interpretation of that name. So, also, He is the Almighty, as He declared Himself to Abraham, power being the first and necessary thought in connection with all real sovereignty. Again, as we shall find, it characteristically that the white raiment of the saints is not that of which we habitually think — our righteousness in Christ, or Christ our righteousness — but it is a righteousness governmentally awarded, and the robe requires to be washed — washed in the blood of Christ — in order that it may be the pure white needed for the presence of God. Everything is in character thus from beginning to end, even in that where we should least expect to find it, in that final city of God in which we shall find indeed our home, the central blessedness of the Father's house; and yet the thought of government is everywhere in it. The measures and numbers attaching to the city all give us the 12 which speaks of manifest divine government; and here we have not children with the Spirit of adoption, but worshipers praising, and servants serving. Of course this is all in perfect harmony with that place of near relationship which, in His goodness, God has given us. We worship the Father; and service is that which belongs in the fullest way to children. Nevertheless, the line of things which is before us is quite distinct.

A throne, then, is set in heaven, and One sits upon the throne; with a certain necessary mystery as to Him, for here is One dwelling in the light unapproachable, who in His innermost glory no man hath seen or can see. Yet there are images which convey to us what we may realize as to Him; and to us it is perfectly natural that these images should speak of Him as redemption has declared Him. This is what seems to be the thought of the jasper and the sardine stone. Gems, as we have seen in the high priest's breastplate long since, are pictures to us of God in His various attributes, so far as He can be displayed to us; and the names written upon these stones, the names of His people, show in what connection He has manifested Himself. The jewels are the lights of Him who is the Father of lights, in the perfect ray of light itself too bright for us, but tempered in a way which brings out glories that would otherwise be hidden; the many-hued manifestation of the light — the light spread before us in its component rays. As it is to man the revelation is, so that this may be perfect as possible, it is in man that the revelation is, and Christ is therefore the blessed revealer. It is of this revelation of God in Christ, as it would seem, that the jasper and the sardine speak; for the jasper does not seem to be what we ordinarily call this. Its light is not as it is spoken of here (Rev. 21:11), "clear as crystal," which scarcely suits its banded appearance. Ebrard has therefore suggested the diamond, which seems most perfectly to suit what is said of the jasper here. It is indeed, like the crystal light itself, as suited as we could imagine to that which is said to image the glory of God. But there is another character of the diamond which seems to have escaped notice, and yet it gives us, as it were, the very heart of the matter. The diamond, as is well known, is crystallized carbon, which we find, in the pure form, as graphite, the black lead of our pencils.

Carbon exists in these opposite conditions. In one form the symbol of divine glory, it might in the other be naturally the symbol of sin and evil. These two things, moreover, God's grace has shown us to be in strange and intimate connection with one another; for how could God's grace display itself other than in connection with sin and evil? And it is striking to find here also that carbon is an element characteristic of all organic products, so that organic chemistry has been called "the chemistry of the carbon compounds." It is thus in beautiful connection with living forms as we see them around us, even as God has brought for us life out of death, and wrought in the transformation of our ruined humanity that which is the brightest display of divine glory. Christ is Man, the highest possible type of manhood; and while in Him the thought of evil is absolutely excluded, yet is He "the Seed of the woman;" and God has in this done what was possible to Him alone, and brought "a clean thing out of an unclean." But more than this, for here is one who has emptied Himself of that which was properly His, "the form of God," to assume the form of a servant, and to be made in the likeness of men. He too has been in the darkness of death, and come up out of it to be thus the glorious Light of redeemed men forever — the display also of God, in the love which brought Him down, and which has prepared for Him also a body, the sign of that perpetual service to us which He has taken up. Of the depths to which He has descended the sardine stone reminds us by its ruddy hue; and thus, in the combination of the jasper, or diamond, and the sardine stone, we have, indeed, God manifest as nowhere else we could find Him: for if this seem for a moment to be Christ rather than God, or, let us say, the Father, yet, as we know, it is not Christ's own love simply that has been displayed to us, but the Father's love who sent Him, "Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all." This, one might even say, the jasper and the sardine stone must needs be intended to convey to us; for what other manifestation have we of God than that which we have seen in Christ? He is "the Image of the invisible God," who is at the same time "the First-born of all creation," the One in whom appears the true creation of God, never more to be marred by sin or failure, but abiding in Him who is the centre and glory of it, who is "all and in all."

Here, then, is the "appearance" of the One who sits upon the throne; and suitedly the next thing that we read is that about this throne there was "a rainbow, in appearance like unto an emerald." Here, again, we are reminded of the ruin of humanity — reminded, in fact, of the Flood, after which God used the bow as a token that it should recur upon the earth no more — this by His grace alone; and here the bow is but the glory of the light displayed in that which was the storm of judgment, but which is now destined but to refresh and fertilize the earth. It is a promise for the earth that we rightly read in it. Judgment is about to be poured out, but it is a judgment, not to destroy the earth, but to destroy those that would destroy it — a judgment to salvation; and here the character of what is coming before us is shown at once. Israel on the earth is necessarily connected with it, for with blessing for the earth, as we have already seen, the blessing of Israel is an ordained necessity. This is what all the power of the throne is set in motion to accomplish now.

(2) But it is not the one throne that is before us simply. There are thrones around the throne; and here at once we come again to what is of central importance for the understanding of what follows. In the common version we find, perhaps, an illustration of the strange way in which even Christians hesitate fully to believe the grace of God. The translators have put "seats," although there is no possible doubt as to the meaning of the word; and there is a similar illustration, as one may surely think, in the view of many, that those who fill these thrones are angels rather than saints. Yet everything here decisively declares that they are saints, and saints alone, who are intended. The very word "elders" naturally implies this. The elders in Israel were the representatives as well as the judges of the people, representing God indeed in that judgment which they exercised for Him, so that, as we know, and as the Lord argued with the Jews, they were even called "gods," as those to whom the word, that is, the commission, of God had come. As His representatives, they are identified with Him. Here, of course, everything is in a higher sphere, but we see upon these elders the white garments which are afterwards interpreted to us as the "righteousnesses of the saints;" and while their golden crowns proclaim them kings, their number seems designed to speak of the priestly courses, which were twenty-four in Israel, as their priestly connection afterwards confirms; and it is in their song of praise that we hear the explanatory words as to the redeemed, "Thou hast made them to our God kings and priests, and they shall reign over the earth" (Rev. 5:10).

Thus there is no room for doubt as to who are represented by the crowned elders here; and these thrones and crowns certify to us also another thing — that these are saints, not only redeemed, but glorified. They are not spirits simply in happiness, as "absent from the body and present with the Lord," but they are saints risen and glorified; for these crowns speak of their reward having come, as it comes for us all together; not singly and individually, as the Lord calls away His own by death, but all together; as the apostle wishes for the Corinthians that they did reign, that the apostles themselves therefore might reign also.

It is less certain as to what their number indicates, which, one would say, should be certainly symbolic. As 24 it would most naturally seem to yield two twelves, the number of manifest rule, which we see in the 12 apostles, and in the 12 tribes of earth's royal people. The two twelves, therefore, may speak to us of a double company, of the saints of the Old Testament times and of the New, reigning together now in a common kingdom, while at the same time they are distinct as companies, "the Church of the first-born ones, whose names are written in heaven," as the apostle gives them (Heb. 12:23), and the "spirits of just men made perfect:" not merely spirits now, for they could not be perfected apart from resurrection, but such as had as a company passed through death, as with the Church, as a whole, it will not be. Here are certainly two companies shown us who reign here together, although the distinction between them is not noticed here. It is not in the line of truth with which we are to be occupied.

Daniel has already shown us these thrones set, when the Son of man comes to take the kingdom (Dan. 7:9). Our common version has "cast down," but it is allowed that "set" is the proper rendering. But Daniel sees no occupants for these thrones. That remains as a secret hereafter to be revealed. We are in the complete and final prophecy here, which gathers up all these intimations, and makes plain to us their full significance. Here, it is now quite manifest what has taken place. The trumpet-voice which called the seer up to heaven was indeed representative of that which will soon gather all the saints. He who said to Philadelphia, "Behold, I come quickly," has in fact now come; not yet manifesting Himself in the clouds of heaven so that every eye should see Him, but to His own simply, who, by grace, have been waiting for Him. It is strange how persistently still the mass of commentators refuse to acknowledge this, and see in these crowned elders but an anticipation of what was in the far-off distance yet — a vision, for instance, such as we find in the company gathered out of every nation and with their palms before the throne, which is plainly-anticipative. Now these two visions are in fact identified, although it is distinctly said of the latter one that it is of those who come out of the great tribulation, as the mass of the saints here most certainly do not, while it is one of these very elders who explains to the seer as to the company at whom he is looking. And this in itself lets us know that the vision of the elders is not in that way anticipative: for the presence of the elders is seen through the after-prophecy: they worship when the seventh trumpet sounds; the new song, which the 144,000 alone can learn, is sung in their presence; and when great Babylon is judged, they fall down once more before the throne, saying, "Amen, halleluiah."

Thus they are an abiding reality all through this long reach of prophecy; and we must accept the view of glorified saints, risen therefore with Christ and reigning, all through the time of which the prophecy speaks. Even this is only one of the intimations, however important an one, of what is here before us. Christianity upon earth is at an end, and we are in what the Lord calls, in the prophecy upon the mount of Olives, "the end of the age;" that is, as we have seen there, the end of the Jewish age, (Christian age there is really none) — the broken-off last week of those seventy determined upon the city and people of Israel, at the end of which their full blessing is to come. The tokens of this are all around us at every step as we proceed, and it is only an utter confusion between the Jew and the Christian, between the earthly and the heavenly, between suffering and reigning, between "the kingdom and patience" of Christ and His kingdom and glory, that can cause any possible mistake as to what is so abundantly manifest.

(3) We are turned back now to look at the supreme throne itself, and we see proceeding from it lightnings and voices and thunders. The character is manifestly one of judgment, but we have been permitted to see, first, the bow of promise over it. The voices give character to what is here: the lightnings and thunders are interpreted by them. They are no longer simply providences, which we may be wholly unable to interpret. Their purpose is becoming more and more 'manifest. Then there are "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God." They are the different operations of the Spirit in that perfection which must necessarily attach to these. They carry us back in thought to the sanctuary-lamps, but which are connected with the central stem, which speaks of Christ Himself maintaining the divine light for men, as we see Him, though in other connection, in the eleventh of Isaiah (ver. 2), where we have exactly the candlestick: three pairs of branches, and the central stem, "the Spirit of Jehovah," Israel's covenant-God, being the lamp upon this; while "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord," give us evidently the three pairs of branches. These all rest upon the One who comes forward to take the kingdom, "with righteousness" to "judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth." It is added, "He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked one." It is evident how near we approach in that to what we find here. The seven spirits are before the throne. They act in connection with divine government, giving effect to the counsels of God concerning Christ, and for the bringing in of blessing upon the earth. These operations of the Spirit are as "lamps of fire" illuminating the scene, which otherwise, if we think of the earth, is in darkness; and it is the earth, of course, that is contemplated here, although the lamps burn before the throne in heaven. Thus we see clearly the character of what is before us.

(4) But there is yet more to be seen. Before the throne there is a sea of glass like crystal. This is evidently intended to remind us of the brazen sea in the earthly temple, but which was for purification. Here purification is accomplished. It is not a sea of water any more, but filled with that which is the image of perfect purity. In the after-vision, those that have gotten the victory over the beast and over his image stand upon the sea of glass, having the harps of God. Purification for them plainly is accomplished: they stand in triumph upon the sea. But they are not upon it yet, as we contemplate it here. Their purification upon earth has yet to be accomplished. At present the significance is necessarily for those who have reached it, the heavenly saints themselves, for whom the world-trial is over and sanctification perfected.

And now, in the midst of the throne, and around it, are seen "four living beings full of eyes before and behind." The translation "beasts," as in the common version, is plainly wrong and misleading, the human element here being degraded to the bestial, for the third living being has the face of a man. The word, although applied constantly to animals, simply means (as the word animal itself does) "a living being." In these we find the four divisions of nature as Scripture presents them: the wild beast in the lion; cattle in the ox; one with the face of a man, the form not being given; and the last, the flying eagle, the prince of the birds of the heaven. We necessarily connect them with the similar figures in Ezekiel, connected also with the throne of God, and which are cherubic: remembering the cherubim also upon the veil, the figure of Christ's humanity, we should have no difficulty in seeing their typical resemblance to what is presented of Christ in the four Gospels. This has been already before us in looking at the Gospels themselves. Christ is He into whose hands divine government is entrusted, and therefore the connection of these symbols of it with the veil. But the cherubim speak of divine government, no doubt, as identified with the instruments used of God, in whose hand all things are, and who works out His purposes by means of whatever instrumentality He pleases. In Ezekiel we find, accompanying the cherubim, wheels within wheels — the wheels of the chariot of deity, which present, after the manner of Ecclesiastes, the course of things continually revolving; the history, as men say, that repeats itself with the generations of men, yet never returns to just what it was before, the course being ever onward. This is because it is God who is controlling it, and there is in it divine meaning and purpose, even while necessarily the creature is put into his place as such; man, if you look at him in himself, but vanity, and yet God working throughout that which is not vain, and of which eternity will proclaim the wisdom.

But the wheels are not seen in Revelation: we have simply the cherubic beings, the coursers of the chariot. And here, as we look at them, we see evidently that they show us the character of this government which God is exercising; the order itself being also significant, and indeed that which, as connected with Christ, we find in the Gospels. For the first being, like a lion, represents, as is plain, that power which is the first requisite to any government at all, the "lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any" (Prov. 30:30). But this needs guarding against thoughts which might attach to it, for the lion is a beast of prey pure and simple, and his rush and spring are little characteristic in general of the government of God, although there are crises, as we know, which may be better represented by it. But here, the second living being, the patient ox, comes in, in which strength is imaged also, but strength devoted to service and working in the interests of man; and thus the rule of God is service also, and in man's fullest interests, as we are sure. The hands that hold it now are human also, and the hands of the perfect Servant who has served us well, and whose humanity is the pledge that He will serve us ever. The third living being has therefore the face as of a man. The face is that in which you read both intelligence and heart, and God has in Christ come near us after this manner. A man's face may, after all, hide the secrets of his heart; but here is One with whom there is no hiding, who seeks to be known by men, and to make God known; God being indeed manifest in flesh as nowhere else, come to be so near to us, so tender in condescending grace. Yet here also the fourth living being adds what we must not, and cannot, forget — the inscrutability oftentimes of perfect wisdom; ways that in one sense are open to us, and yet everywhere beyond us: this is the thought of the flying eagle. "The way of an eagle in the air" is one of the four things which the wise man declares "too wonderful" for him (Prov. 30:18-19). The eagle naturally reminds us of judgment also, and that "wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together:" a scripture which applies to the very time before us, when the instruments of God's judgment will cleanse the earth from all its defilement, and by the very ban upon evil consecrate it to God. But the eagle is associated by God Himself with much more tender thoughts. "I bare you on eagles' wings," says the Lord to Israel (Ex. 19:4), "and brought you to Myself;" and again (Deut. 32:11), "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him." The flying eagle naturally connects with such passages as these, and there is no contradiction in any of them; God's judgments also being under the control of and working out the purposes of His love — love to which judgment is at the same time a necessary and yet a "strange act."

Here then, plainly, are characteristics of divine government,* while the whole make us think, of necessity, of how God uses the creatures He has made, aye the dumb creatures, and much more those who were created in the image of Himself, to accomplish His purposes. These living beings have each one of them six wings, the number of full and, indeed, unresting activity, while they are "full of eyes around and within." Divine omniscience is in them, although this does not mean that the instruments themselves possess it, though as instruments they manifest it. Thus the instincts of the animal creation generally manifest a wisdom higher than what is really in them, and so will all God's instruments which work out His purposes, guided (as we see in inspiration) better than they know. And as they rest not, so they cease not day and night saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come." The day and night are evidently from the earthly standpoint, for in heaven there is no night; but we have to do with the government which is over the earth, where day and night exist, but where the night as well as the day, the darkness as well as the light, speak in the ears of those that hear, of the holiness of an almighty God, the perfect Master of all, and the Unchangeable. Well then may it be that when these living beings give "glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him that sitteth upon the throne," the living God throughout eternal ages, the redeemed fall down before Him that sitteth upon the throne, and worship, and cast their crowns before the throne, — crowns that they have received from Him, — saying, "Thou art worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy will they were, and were created." What a rest for the heart as we go on to consider events, often so terrible in themselves, which are now to follow! The absolute sovereignty of God from which, alas, men so often shrink, is nevertheless what is the salvation of all. There is nowhere any mere drift. He who has given Christ for men is making all things work together for good in the accomplishment of His perfect will.**

{*As has been frequently noticed, these living creatures correspond in significance closely to the four Gospels, which set forth Christ. All judgment is committed to Him, and each Gospel presents Him in a character suited to the features of one of these living creatures. Thus in Matthew, the Gospel of the Kingdom, we see Him as the Lion of the tribe of Judah; in Mark, the Gospel of the perfect Servant, we see Him as the patient ox serving God's will and man's need; in Luke, we see the face of a Man, for it is the Gospel of the Son of man; and in John, the heavenly Gospel, we see the soaring eagle. — S.R.

**It is also of the greatest importance to see that creation exists for God's glory, and not primarily for the creature's happiness. Where this latter is considered as its end, men spend their lives in the vain pursuit of that which can only be had in full subjection to God. How the restless ways of men would be stilled, how selfishness would cease, were men to seek God's will and glory! Need we add, in the words of our Lord, that "all these things" — happiness, peace, prosperity — would be "added unto" us? — S.R.}

2. The ground of praise, as we see in the worship of the elders, has been hitherto creation. "Thou hast created all things" is the word; but we have now what is clearly different from this. A book, hitherto unnoticed, is seen in the right hand of Him that sitteth upon the throne, "a book written within and on the back, and sealed with seven seals." This book only One is found worthy to open; and when we look at Him, He is plainly revealed as the Lamb of sacrifice — the Redeemer therefore of His people. It is the Redeemer who alone can be the opener of the seven-sealed book. But what is intended by this? It is natural for us to think, especially in connection with the character of Revelation as a whole, that we have here the book of God's counsels, which, opened, shows us what is now coming, and to what the present action of the throne is directed. It is taken by some, however, as being rather the Lamb's title-deeds to the inheritance, and we are referred to the fact that such a sealed book was put into the hands of the redeemer of an inheritance, with the names of the witnesses written upon the back. It is said that any other thought is unworthy of what we find here — the tears of John when for the moment no one is found worthy to open the book; while it is plain that Christ was at all times the Revealer, and John could surely not be ignorant of this.

Redemption is of course, and rightly, considered to be the actual bringing out of the inheritance from under the power of the enemy, and from all the state of alienation into which it has got; and thus it is the Lion of the tribe of Judah who prevails to open the book. Power is now about to accomplish what divine grace has laid the foundation for. We are told also that when the Lamb takes the book, the song that is sung in heaven is not the song of praise for revelation, but for redemption, and that the redemption goes forward with the breaking of the seals step by step. This view of redemption is certainly according to Scripture, and that it is redemption which is in progress here; but it does not follow any the more that the book speaks of the title-deeds to the inheritance, and it seems late indeed in the history to have such title-deeds brought forward now. Moreover, that John should not know to whom these title-deeds belong is as incredible as anything. Such books moreover, in which the writing overflowed upon the back, were not unknown, outside of such title-deeds as are referred to. No doubt what opens this is not mere words, but deeds, which alone will make everything plain, clear up all the difficulties of unfulfilled prophecy, and show us the complete thoughts of God as they have never been seen before. In fact, when the seals are opened there is no proving of title or declaration of it: but the redemption itself proceeds by orderly steps to its completion. Not till the seals are all broken is the book fully opened, and this is of importance as to what is contained under the seals themselves, which are clearly thus introductory, rather than giving the details of redemption.

(1) But we have to notice first, what is emphasized by the structure, that it is "the Lion of the the tribe of Judah, the Root of David," who prevails to open the book. It is astonishing how little such a title as this seems to have impressed the mass of the interpreters of Revelation; but the lack of discernment as to Israel's place in prophecy, and that, as the apostle has said, to Israel belong the Old Testament promises, has resulted in a generalization of such things in a way that has blurred all distinctness of vision. Judah's Lion has thus been separated from Judah. It speaks of power which is in the Lord's hand to execute the purpose of redemption, no doubt; but the Church is looked at as the inheritor of all such promises, and prophecy has been made, as we have often said, so much a matter of private interpretation, each one taken so apart from the whole mind of the Spirit as revealed in those who spake by Him, that of necessity any application may be accepted which may seem competent to be the fulfilment of what is in it. On the other hand, when we remember that we are at the end of the addresses to the Church — that the whole place of vision has been now removed from earth to heaven, — and that there the saints are upon their thrones around the throne of God, — that the rainbow also around the throne is prophesying of a salvation by judgment of the earth itself, — how plainly significant it is that we should find here just "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" coming to the front, and power put into His hand!

Israel and the earth are in the closest possible connection with one another. No blessing for the earth can be until Israel is blest, and thus the conqueror-King of Israel as seen here is every way significant. It is true that we do not stop with this. We are reminded of David and of the promises to him; but here is not merely David's Son and Heir, but "the Root of David," which speaks of the One who, while truly David's Son, is no less David's Lord. He is the Root from whom David and the promises to him alike spring; and how competent are the elders now to point to the One who has taken the set time, and comes forward to fulfil purposes wider than those revealed in the present gospel, which, however presented to men as a whole, the earth at large will never receive. As we find in the second psalm, against the One whom God has declared His Son, against Jehovah and His anointed, alike, "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together;" and this spirit of rebellion, vain as it is, will not be ended until the Shepherd of Israel comes forth with His iron rod. Then, when the heathen are given Him for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, He shall tend them (as the word is) with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. How different from that overspreading of the earth with the gospel to which men, after all these centuries of delay, are still looking forward! After all, it is the only way in which the blessing can come, and the present time of grace and forbearance is just that which perfectly demonstrates this. Till then, spite of the gospel of peace, peace there is not; and the only word possible on God's part is that through the prophet: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn, until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it Him." Christ must come to put down all rule and all authority and power, and all enemies shall then be put under His feet. The time at which we have arrived here is as evident therefore as can be. Here, however, the hands that rule are human hands: yet they are capable of acting in far more than human power. In Him at last judgment shall return to righteousness; and the rod of power which, out of His hands, has assumed the serpent form, now that He puts forth His hand to grasp it, is to return obediently to Him.

(2) The seer turns to behold the Lion of Judah, and He beholds, in fact, a Lamb; nor merely a Lamb, but One that has been slain — One who has been dead, yet lives, and is in the midst of the divine throne, and of the four living beings and of the elders, the Centre of all. The word for Lamb is significant. It is not the ordinary one, but a diminutive; instead of amnos, it is arnion — One who has been belittled and rejected by man, although here with all power as His. Here is His title to be the Redeemer, that He is the Lamb, the slain Lamb, but the slain Lamb risen; His work therefore accepted of God, and the seal upon man's fallen condition broken at last and forever; death yielding to resurrection. He has therefore the seven horns, which speak of complete power, and the "seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth," perfect in omniscience and executive ability. The whole earth is before Him as come into it in humiliation; He has learnt, as man, the whole condition of things; and as man, therefore, and the Son of man, judgment is committed to Him. In this character it is that He takes the book out of the right hand of Him that sits upon the throne. He is the Son-servant of that throne. He is the One who, having done the will of God Himself alone, in the infinite depths of darkness, comes forth still to do the will of His Father upon the throne; and thus all things are put into His hand to give the universe its final adjustment, never to be disturbed again. He is the "Father of Eternity," the King of kings and Lord of lords.

(3) When He takes the book, the four living beings and the throned elders fall before the Lamb and worship. They are united together here, and in a song in which no angel joins or can join. It is most significant, the union of these in this praise in which inanimate creation itself, as betokened in the harp, yet can unite, touched by the hand of him who was placed originally as lord over the earth, but who has hitherto brought how much else beside music out of it! Now he has at last come back to the original purpose of God with regard to him, and with songs sweeter and more wonderful than creation itself could furnish. The angels, as already said, have no place here. Although it be most contrary to the thoughts entertained of them, we never hear of the angels singing. They have not in their song the deep notes necessary for this; nor can they (still more strange as it may seem to us) rise up to the high ones which grace is teaching us. They "behold in the Church the manifold wisdom of God," and "see the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." The angels we find in a circle outside the singers here, and therefore necessarily apart from them.

The four living beings are plainly, as we see now, not angels, but men; that is to say, the government of God of which they speak is now according to that which Scripture fully declares shall be in the hands of men: "To the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak;" but it is man — made, indeed, a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death — who is in this way crowned with honor and glory, and set over the works of God's hand. Christ is in the midst of the throne. He reigns, and reigns as man; but thus also His people reign with Him. The cherubic figures are no class distinctly; they are not necessarily angels or men. They speak of administration, of government which may be in the hands of either: it has been in the hands of angels, as we see most plainly in the book of Daniel, while now in the world to come it is in the hands of men; and thus we have in the song that is sung now, "Thou hast made them to our God kings and priests; and they shall reign over the earth." The editors have decided that it is not "we shall reign," as in our common version, but "they." But that does not mean that these are speaking of others than themselves. They are not speaking of all redeemed men, for it is not of all redeemed men that it could be said, "They shall reign over the earth;" nor could it be said of all, "Thou hast made them kings and priests to God." In the elders, on the other hand, we see clearly such. They are all enthroned; and now we find them with the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of saints; but in this case they speak generally: "Thou hast purchased to God by Thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, … and they shall reign."

Thus the time at which we have arrived should be perfectly clear. These are heavenly saints, seen as about to enter on their reign over the earth; and in their character as priests it is that they have the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of saints. It is not said that they are offering them. In fact, at this moment they are in another attitude; but this seems to be given as a mark of the period which is now beginning, and of the company before us. Observe, however, that they are never looked at as themselves interceding, nor do they add anything to the prayers with which they are charged. They have no supererogatory merits to give efficacy to what they present, and the prayers themselves are the incense; not incense is added to them, although it may well be (perhaps we should say must be) that the incense is the sweet savor of Christ discerned in these which are the fruit of His work; but it is plain that these priestly ones cannot add this to them.

The song that they are singing is a new song; not because Christ is to them a new person, or that they have made new discoveries as to Him, or as to His work, but redemption is now at last for them accomplished, and it is this they celebrate, or rather the person who has accomplished it. Worthy is He to take the book of God's counsels, and open it fully out, the execution of them all being absolutely in His hands. And if He is assuming a character as the Lion of Judah in which they are not so immediately in personal relation to Him, their joy in Him will lack nothing on that account. They are those of whom He said upon earth, "I have not called you servants, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).

(4) The praise of the redeemed is echoed now by the praise of all creation. Not only is there sympathy with the blessing of others, but this redemption has much to do with the blessing of those who are, in a sense, altogether outside it. We know that the angels are deeply interested spectators of what is now going on. They are learning, not merely of that grace to others which redemption shows, but they are learning for themselves, in this way, the depths of the heart of God as otherwise they could not know them. Yet the power of the redemption is seen in the place of the redeemed. The angels are not only around the throne, but around the living beings and the elders, thus in a distinct circle: naturally an astonishing thing for us who know that by creation they are nearer to God than we — "angels that excel in strength, that obey His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word;" and moreover, beings who have never fallen, never lost the place, therefore, which they had by creation. How is it possible, we might ask, that sinners, though delivered from their sins and brought to God in righteousness, can have a nearer place than these unfallen beings? Such a view has been denounced, moreover, by Christians themselves, as the mere haughtiness of human imagination. But on the other hand, what is forgotten by those who take this ground is that which gives the only right point of view. This nearness and exaltation for the redeemed is a testimony not to them, but to the Redeemer. It is the value of His work which they thus enjoy, as it is here the worthiness of the Lamb slain that the angels proclaim: "Worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." And this Lamb, who is He but the One who has Himself been pleased to come down into the creature-place, Himself to take up manhood, not because it was near enough to Him, so that there would be little distance traversed to take it up, but the very contrary. He has reached out, and is reaching out, to that which was in the lowest place and farthest distance, and in that way has acquired a glory to Himself also which is just the glory of this unspeakable grace. The lower His love has descended, the more it has displayed the innermost nature, the heart of God; and in this display all nature is now therefore glowing with the light of it. Thus the song of the redeemed which the angels cannot sing, the harp in their hands, the response of inanimate nature itself as touched by their hand — all this proclaims now the glory of Christ, the glory of Him for whom as well as by whom all things were created.

Therefore the response of creation in its widest extent follows now: "And every creature which is in the heaven, and upon the earth, and under the earth, and upon the sea, and all things in them, heard I saying, To Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, be blessing, and honor, and glory, and might, unto the ages of ages." It is evident that the praise here is not simply human; it is like the praise-bursts of the Psalms: "Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity" (Ps. 98:7-9). That is now to be attained for which "the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth. … Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19-22). More and more, therefore, is it confirmed — if any confirmation were needed — that it is the time of the glory of the children of God, of their manifestation in their own 'proper character, that is now come. The government of God, as represented by the four living beings, confirms it with their Amen; and the elders, prostrate in the homage of their hearts, fall down and worship.