—REVELATION 1:10-20.—JUNE 11.—
THE messages of our glorious Lord, sent through the Apostle John and given to us in the symbols of the book of Revelation, are as truly the Savior's messages as those uttered during his earthly ministry and those subsequently sent us through the apostles.
The book of Revelation was written at a time when severe persecution was upon the infant Church—near the close of the first century, probably A.D. 93-96, in the reign of the Emperor Domitian, though some date it nearly thirty years earlier, in the reign of Nero. No matter—in either case it was written at a time of special peril and severe persecution. For a time the Lord allowed the truth to become well planted and to take root; the gifts of miracles and other gifts in the Church at that time assisted in this matter.
For a time, although there were persecutions of individuals such as are recorded in Acts, the believers as a whole were not subjected to the severest of trials at first. It was when the truth began to spread, and had not only the enmity of the Jews but also of the Greeks, that emperors and governors found favor with the masses by persecuting the followers of Jesus. And for aught we know, so it will be in the not-far-distant future. For a long time the pure truth has been hidden from men, and worldliness in the form of godliness has had the upper hand in influential circles; but doubtless, as the troublous times the Scriptures predict for the end of this age draw closer, those who will stand firm for the word of the Lord's testimony may expect to be made the scapegoats under various pretexts. We shall not be surprised to find a considerable measure of persecution against all the children of the light, who will walk up to the light, developed within the next seven years. John, the beloved disciple, in some measure or degree typified or represented the last living members of the little flock. Doubtless this was the meaning of our Lord's statement, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" John did not tarry, but a class whom he in some respects illustrated are represented to tarry—a class who see with the eyes of their understanding the visions and revelations which John saw in symbols in a trance.
John at the time of the trance vision was a prisoner, exiled to the Isle of Patmos, a penal colony of those days—an island almost uninhabitable, rocky barren. The crime for which he suffered this banishment [R3569 : page 168] was his faithfulness as a mouthpiece of the Lord. At the time he must have been between sixty and ninety years of age, supposing that none of our Lord's disciples were younger than himself at the beginning of his ministry. If his exile in any degree symbolized ostracism, which the Lord's followers may expect in the close of this age—a complete isolation from others and a treatment implying that they are prisoners—we may take comfort in the thought that as the Lord's favor and revelations to John more than offset his persecutions, so the opening of the eyes of our understandings and the granting to us of greater lengths and breadths and heights and depths of knowledge and appreciation of our Lord and his plan will far more than offset the various experiences which in his providence he may permit to come upon us. His assurance is that all things shall work together for good to those who love God, to the called ones according to his purpose. Whoever rests his faith securely upon his promise may indeed with the Apostle Paul count all tribulations as loss and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Presumably John referred to the first day of the week, now generally called Sunday. It is peculiarly to us the Lord's day—the day on which our Lord rose from the dead, and on which all the promises of God's Word received life and our hopes through Christ were quickened. We may see in the expression also a reference to the Millennial age, called in the Scriptures frequently, "The day of Christ." We, today, according to our understanding of chronology, are living in the early dawn of this day of Christ, and it is here and now properly that we begin to see the wonderful things of the divine character and plan. But to see these things, to understand these things, we must be in the spirit. Only those who have become new creatures in Christ Jesus can be expected to understand and appreciate spiritual things, and this is the class whom John represented. As John heard a voice behind him and looked in that direction, so we who now are having the realities find that the message is behind us, and turn and look toward the past to see the fulfilment of the various features of the divine plan and to hear and understand the message given to his people by the risen Lord. The voice said, "What thou seest write in a book and send to the seven churches"—naming seven prominent churches in Asia Minor. (The words, "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last," are not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts and are properly omitted in the Revised Version. These words, however, do occur in the Greek MSS. in verse 8 and again in Revelation 21:6, and a portion of them later on in this lesson.)
There are many reasons for concluding that while the messages were given to the seven churches specified and were applicable to them, they should properly have a still wider application to the whole Church of Christ, the number seven representing completeness and the order representing different epochs in the history of the Church. Thus the Church at Ephesus would represent the condition of the Church in the Apostle's days at the time of the writing of the messages, while the Laodicean Church would represent the Church in our day—in the end of this Gospel age. The other churches would correspondingly represent different epochs intermediate, between the beginning and now. To think otherwise would be to attach more importance to those seven comparatively small churches of Asia Minor than they would seem to have deserved, and would have implied an ignoring of other churches more numerous and more influential than they; as, for instance, the churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Colosse, Philippi, Thessalonica, etc. Furthermore, the details of the messages given to these seven churches apply to and fit historically the one Church of the living God, over every member and branch of which the Lord has a care. This thought, that the seven represented completeness, we find emphasized in the other symbolical representations—in the seven golden candlesticks, the seven stars, etc.
Turning and looking, John saw in symbol as we may now see with the eye of faith and understanding. He saw one like a Son of man [like a man—like a priest, as implied by the clothes described] walking amongst seven golden candlesticks, caring for them, trimming the wicks, seeing to the supply of oil, etc. We see that our Lord Jesus, our glorified Master, although absent from us, has been present with his Church throughout the past eighteen centuries and more, protecting the interests of his cause and directing in respect to all of his people's affairs, especially inspecting and caring for the Church as a light bearer, a candlestick. Alas, how poor the wicks sometimes have been, how feeble the light that has sometimes shone out into the darkness, how much of trimming has been necessary and how much more may yet be necessary!
In the Tabernacle, and subsequently in the Temple of Solomon, the golden candlesticks or lampstands were placed by the Lord's direction—not seven candlesticks, but one with seven branches, representing the whole Church, the complete Church during this Gospel age. In Revelation the same candlestick or lampstand is brought to our attention, but the parts are separated—the union, the relationship between them, being supplied by our Redeemer, the antitypical High Priest. The lampstand symbolized the Lord's nominal people of this Gospel age, including his "members." It holds forth the light of life, the light that shines in the darkness and which he directed should be so let shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven. Alas! the Master evidently found but few good works, but little glorifying light shining out from his earthly representatives in many of these epochs. This is represented by his messages, chidings, encouragements, etc., given to each of these epoch churches represented by the different candlesticks or lampstands. It is to be noted that the lampstand represents the nominal Church of Christ rather than the true. This is shown by the fact that in the Lord's addressing each of these lampstands or churches he finds fault with the many [R3569 : page 169] and approves the few, especially so in the last, the seventh, the Laodicean Church of our day.
We are not to regard the word-picture of verses 13-16 as a portrait of our Lord in glory. It is a symbolical picture merely. He will not look as here described when we see him as he is and behold his glory. This symbolical picture, nevertheless, has precious lessons for us, more useful than an attempt to describe to our minds the appearance of our Lord as a spirit being, "dwelling in light which no man can approach unto," and which we cannot appreciate until we shall be "changed" and be like him and see him as he is.
His head and hair as white as wool and snow tell us of his wisdom, and that he is the "Ancient of Days;" they speak also of splendor and purity. His eyes like a flame of fire tell us in symbol that our Master is all-seeing, omniscient; that he is not deceived by outward forms or ceremonies, but can and does read every thought and intent of the heart. The contemplation of his glance should of itself purge and purify our hearts to the extent of ability, to put far from us everything which would have his disapproval.
Having described the head John mentions the hands and feet. The remainder of the body was covered with a garment which reached from his head to his feet. This may possibly represent the fact that the glory of Christ was manifested in his own person, in his own ministry and in that of his twelve apostles, his representatives, and that with their death the body of Truth was almost completely veiled throughout the eighteen centuries intervening until now, in the end of the age, the feet members will be illuminated by the Truth and shine forth—not like the Head, but as polished brass. When we think of the great advantage every way which we of the present age possess, we are inclined to say, What manner of persons ought we to be in all holiness of living and God-likeness. We who have the focused rays of divine inspiration and revelation from the past 6,000 years shining upon us with almost burning brightness, how it should consume in us all the dross of selfishness, how it should purify us, how humble it should make us, how we should be even in our flesh polished, bright, luminous representatives of the glorious Head and members of the Christ!
The countenance of the majestic one present amongst the candlesticks is represented as being like lightning. This reminds us of Daniel's description of the holy one who communicated the message of God to him upon one occasion; it reminds us of Paul's description of the great light that he saw on his way to Damascus, which represented to his understanding the glorified Lord shining above the brightness of the sun at noonday. So great was the splendor that John fell as dead when he beheld it, just as Daniel fell prostrated and was like a dead man in the presence of the mighty one whom he saw, and just as Saul of Tarsus fell down before the majesty displayed to him. So symbolically with us, when once we get a glimpse of the glories of the divine character through the divine plan, when once we get a true view with the eyes of our understanding of him with whom we have to do, as the great heart-searcher and caretaker of his Church, we fall before him humbled to the dust, realizing that we are imperfect, that we cannot stand before our Master, that we are unworthy of his favor and blessing. But as he touched John gently, raising him up, so he has [R3570 : page 169] spoken to us comfort, peace and love, assuring us that we have not an High-Priest that cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, but, on the contrary, one who is able to sympathize and mercifully to assist, one who has bought us with his own precious blood, who has accepted us and will number us as his body members so long as we abide in him, seeking in our hearts to know and to do his will.
His comforting assurance to us is (1) "Fear not." The same message that the Father sent us through the prophet Isaiah, saying, "Their fear of me is not of me, but is taught by the precepts of men." (Isa. 29:13.) This lesson, "Fear not," is one of the first that we must learn. We cannot come into close sympathy with our Lord and be taught of him respecting other features of his plan until we learn this lesson, "Fear not," until we learn to have confidence in him as the one who loved us and bought us with his precious blood, and whose purposes toward us continually are for our welfare and, if we submit ourselves to his guidance, to bring us off conquerors and more than conquerors. (2) "I am the First and the Last." We must recognize our Lord as the one who was the beginning of the creation of God and the end of it, the one by whom were all things, the one who is next to the Father, his very representative in everything pertaining to the affairs of the universe.
(3) We must recognize him as the one who was dead, the one who really died for our sins, but who as really was raised out of death by the power of the Father. (4) We must realize that he is alive for evermore, that death has no more dominion over him, that the work is finished, that neither sacrifices of the mass nor death in any other sense or form has dominion over him nor ever will have, nor will ever be needed; his work is perfect, and, as he cried on the cross, "It is finished." (5) We must recognize that he has the keys, the authority, the power over the tomb, to deliver from it all who are there imprisoned. We must also realize that he has the "key," the power over death, so that those whom he liberates from the prison-house of death, the tomb, like those who have not yet gone into it but who are under the sentence of death, may all be ultimately delivered, set free from the dominion of sin and death, delivered into the full liberty of the sons of God, righteousness and life eternal.
It is this one whom we thus know, thus recognize as the instructor and caretaker of the candlesticks, the churches; whom we are to recognize also as having in his right hand, in his favor as well as in his power, seven stars—the angels or messengers of the seven churches. These stars apparently represent special ministers [R3570 : page 170] or servants of the Church. In Revelation 12:1 the Church is pictured as a woman crowned with twelve stars. These stars evidently represent the twelve apostles as the special lights of the Church. Similarly, in the picture before us, the seven stars which the Lord holds in his right hand seem to represent special light-bearers in the Church—in each of the seven phases or developments. That they are held in his right hand seems to teach us that these should be considered as in some special sense under the Master's guidance and protection and care in the interest of the churches which they represented.
It will be noticed that the messages to the various churches are all addressed to these stars or messengers or angels of the churches, as though he would have us understand that the appropriate message for each appropriate time or epoch in the Church's experience would be sent by the Lord through a particular star or messenger whom he would particularly commission as his representative. Our Lord himself is represented by the great light of the sun, and his special messengers in the Church throughout the entire period are consistently enough represented as stars. The difference between the figures of the star and the candlestick is manifest: the star light is the heavenly light, the spiritual enlightenment or instruction; the lamp light is the earthly light, representing good works, obedience, etc., of those who nominally constitute the Lord's Church in the world and who are exhorted not to put their light under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and to let their light so shine as to glorify their Father in heaven.
No part of the description could more thoroughly convince us that the description of our Lord here given is a symbolical one than does this statement that out of his mouth proceeded a two-edged sword. As a symbolic picture, however, it is full of meaning to us. It speaks of the word of the Lord as the sword of the Spirit, "sharper than any two-edged sword." It reminds us that our Lord's words are not one-sided, not merely directed against sin in one class, that his word is sharp and cutting in every direction, that sin is reproved by him as much when found in his most earnest followers as when found elsewhere. It assures us that none need attempt to pluck out the mote from his brother's eye without getting rid of the beam in his own eye. It assures us that if we do not show mercy to those who are our debtors we must not expect mercy from him who has proposed to extend his mercy to us.
How heart-searching is the Word of God when we get to understand it—not merely as a compendium of rules and regulations, but when we come to catch the spirit of it, when we come to see that its requirement is love out of a pure heart, first to the Father, secondly to our Lord and Head, thirdly to all his brethren, fourthly to the world in general, groaning and travailing in pain, waiting for the glorious blessings of the coming day, and fifthly, sympathetically toward our enemies also, realizing that they are warped and twisted and blinded through the deceitfulness of sin and through the machinations of the great Adversary.