The Book of Revelation compared with the Gospel of John.

Beloved Brother (To W. Kelly.),

1872 153 Your enquiry about John and the Apocalypse has great attraction for me; but having been so much occupied by the order or structure of parts of the book of God, and knowing how much my poor soul should rather desire to know it as its substance and power, I feel a little timid in coming again so distinctly to the old work, as your letter invites me. But that is not your fault, but mine. Had the soul felt the power, as the mind has discerned the order, of God's word, one might still go on, and welcome every fresh task. But we have to do with the God of all grace — and even the bad habits and tendencies of the soul, and the poverty of our best affections (chiefly humbling and grieving as they are) in the presence of such a God, as we would deal there also with our overtakings and betrayals.

I have never read John as the Prophet, so to speak, of the Church (that is, the Church, as the mystery gives it to us, as the body of Christ). Paul is conveniently and characteristically that. John enters into regions which the Church knows and appropriates; but it is not so formally to see her there, to see her (I mean) in her person and condition as the Church of God.

He assumes at the opening of the Gospel, as you observe, the loss of Israel. "He came to his own, and his own received him not." From thence He becomes the witness of two things, personal quickening and heaven. The Spirit in Him delights to draw the living picture of a sinner brought unspeakably near to the Son of God, quickened by the knowledge of Him, made the personal vessel of an indwelling Comforter; and the expectant heir of a mansion in the Father's house.

Such sinners may be as many as the stars of heaven. But it is not John's business to constellate them. It is not his office under the Holy Ghost to embody them in one, making them exhibit "the fellowship of the mystery." I do not know that for a single moment we track him at such work in either his Gospel or his Epistles. It is not in presenting quickened sinners as forming "the body of Christ," or as constituting "the fulness of him that filleth all in all," that John is engaged; but in the previous work of the quickening itself of the individual elect sinner, and the linking of the hope of such an one with mansions in the Father's house in heaven.

It is not the case, however, that in the doing of these services for us, John loses all sight of Israel and the earth. This would not be a correct thought. He never reaches a sight of the mystery; but at the same time, as in the distance, he never loses sight of Israel and the earth. It is, I grant, only in the distance be sees those objects, but still he sees them.

In the first chapter of the Gospel, he sees the Jew and the kingdom on earth in the person and confession of Nathanael, the Lord there distinctly making promise of the earthly millennial joy.

In chapter xii., after being seated with the risen heavenly household at Bethany, we get the joy of Zion in her day rehearsed, and the joy of all the attending nations — the earthly scenery of millennial days being thus more largely exhibited in John's gospel, than in the kindred passions in the others, for there alone we get the Gentiles seeking Jesus.

And in chapter xxi., in the restored office of Peter, we get, as I judge, something that tells of Israel, when an unbroken net shall gather them.

And beside these distant prophetic glimpses of Israel and the earth, in days of glory by and by, we find the Lord, in John's Gospel, more at Jerusalem than in any of the Gospels. This surprised me when I discovered it, not that I at all mean by this to say that He was specially lingering over Israel. No. All places were alike to Him, I may say, in John's Gospel. But so it is, that He is seen there more than in the other Gospels; and we find, in chapters 5, 6, 7, distinct applications to the conscience of the Jews on the ground of certain ordinances and feasts among them.

But, beside this, there is nothing of dispensational details, that is, of Christendom, in his writings. When he looks at corruption, he does not look at it in its history, its progress, or its different aspects and characters. He contemplates the great closing feature, but scarcely anything beyond that. Paul looks at Christendom. So does Jesus in other Gospels. Paul anticipates "latter times," and "last days," and their different workings. Jude and Peter anticipate Cain, Balaam, and Core, forms of apostasy in Christendom. But John looks right onward to the last days and to Antichrist himself, suggesting last days present in spirit, and many Antichrists already in spirit. But there is no attempt whatever to fill up the interval, to furnish the history and progress of the dispensation, or give us a chart of Christendom, so far as John is prophetic. (See John 5:43, 1 John ii. 18.)

What then, beloved, do we get in our divine John? We get the witness of what the individual saint is as quickened and brought personally near (with unspeakable nearness) to the Son of God; as indwelt, informed, by the Comforter; not as a vessel in God's house or Church fit for the Master's use to the benefit of the household, but as a vessel full of richest treasure for his own personal joy and dignity, as a child of God and a native of heaven. We get the witness of what the earth will be in season, in the day of its visitation and glory; but this only in the distance, the heavenly people always occupying his foreground; and finally, we get the witness, not of a lengthened and varying course of corruption, but of a certain form of it, which is to mark the worst and last days, with notice that in the spirit we are called into conflict with that even now. This is, I judge, what we find in John. Of course I do not assume that this is all. But these three distinct subjects engage his thoughts.

Is the Apocalypse then (considered as giving us only the closing days previous to the exhibition of the millennial heavens and earth) such a book as such a penman would be summoned by the Holy Ghost to give us? I believe it is.

It opens with the judgment of the candlesticks; or the crisis of the Church. And that scene closes by leaving in the soul an impression, that the Lord was to be disappointed in the steward of His glory in this age, as He had ever been in all His stewards — in him who had the care of the garden Eden, and in those who afterwards had his rights and possessions in Canaan, and in the throne and sanctuary there, committed to them. The Church, as an embodied witness, is just seen for a moment in such a condition as to leave this thought with us; and then (because the Church on earth was not his theme) John passes rapidly to his proper regions, the heavens, to see there his proper objects, sinners who had been saved and quickened, whose destiny, he had told us before in the Gospel, was laid in heaven.

The detailed history of Christendom's corruption is thus passed by. We see the candlesticks under inspection, "for that they may be no longer stewards;" we gather an impression that unfaithfulness will be the end of their stewardship, as of every previous one; but that is all. We have nothing in the course of things here, but we see the results of grace in heaven, elect quickened sinners in the presence of the throne of God.

This is not discord. John had already told us of such quickened sinners, destined for heaven. At the close of his Gospel, we had intimation that nothing was known as to times and days and months and seasons; that, if Jesus pleased, some might live till He came, but whether or not, there was to be a following of Him to heaven, and here we see them in heaven: when they got there, we know not.

There are, however, after this (in the Apocalypse), the visions of a prophet. Yes; John has visions, visions of coming days — days on earth; but such days as are to succeed the heavenly people leaving it.

This is still in harmony. For John had in other writings looked at his heavenly people (as I have already said) as personally, individually, in nearest intimacy with the Lord; as informed and filled by the Spirit of truth, and as expectants of heavenly mansions; but his business had not been to look on them as on the earth in the unfolding of the earth's history and their part in that history. And so now, when John gets visions of the earth, his heavenly people are not there.

Besides, when a prophet before, he had been a prophet only, as I have already said, of last days or of Antichrist's way; and so here, when called to be a larger prophet, it is of last days he is given visions, and of Antichrist's way he is made again the witness.

And, further still, this is accompanied by constant visions of his own peculiar people (the heavenly saints); for in those exercises of his spirit in Patmos, he passes from heaven to earth, and again from earth to heaven, with ease, rapidity, and frequency. It is not that he has lost sight of his own people, because he has become the prophet or seer in Israel, as I may say; but he is made to see only those moments in Israel's history, which allow him to have his eye upon the heavenly people (whose minister and prophet he specially was) all the time. So that we know not which to call chief in his visions — those visions, all awful and gloomy as they are, of the corruptions and judgments that proceed on earth; or those visions, all peaceful and bright, of the family already at home in heaven.

I might be bold to suggest that the earthly action is really but second, like an underplot; because, at the end, the earth is altogether in the distance, and the heavenly part of the millennial system is that which owns and claims all. The city which occupies the greater part of the last two chapters is heavenly, and her joys and treasures and dignities are published to us in fulness, while the interests of the earth in those days of blessedness get but a passing notice.

All is harmonious, I take it, dear brother; Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse — all is harmonious — all is John — all is that perfect wisdom of the Holy Ghost who breathes through His instruments and fills His vessels to tell us what a Master of assemblies He is, who is condescending to serve and furnish our tables.

Thus have I mused and written on reading your paper which much attracted me. If I have expressed a judgment decidedly, you will know that I do not mean to teach or dictate, but the heat of my heart led me on a little with boldness. Correct me as freely and where you judge I have mistaken the mind of the Spirit. I have written as the subject was in my mind. Excuse blots and corrections!

May the truth of these things be the substance of our souls more and more, if their beauty be our admiration.

Believe me, dear brother, Ever yours affectionately, J. G. Bellett.