(Revelation, Chapters iv. and v.)
|We are watching, we are waiting,
For the bright prophetic day;
When the shadows, weary shadows,
From the world shall roll away.
|We are watching, we are waiting,
For the star that brings the day;
When the night of sin shall vanish,
And the shadows melt away.
|We are watching, we are waiting,
For the beauteous King of day;
For the chiefest of ten thousand,
For the Light, the Truth, the Way.
|We are waiting for the morning,
When the beauteous day is dawning,
We are waiting for the morning,
For the golden spires of day.|
A Look into Heaven.
Heaven is a place of intensest and tenderest interest to every one. It is true that there is less emphasis on getting to heaven as a result of being saved than there was a generation ago. Indeed, no emphasis at all. The whole thought now is about our life here on the earth. We think less about dying and more about living.
This is true. Yet every one of us has loved ones who have slipped from our grasp, and gone from our midst. We think of them. The tenderest memories brood over us, and come like a flood sometimes.
We may have the sweet sense of assurance that these loved ones are saved. But there is an intense longing at times to know more about them, where they are, what they are doing, how much they know of things down here. These thoughts will come crowding in upon us.
Now here is some light. All the questions are not answered. But there comes clear, sweet light to comfort our hearts during the waiting time until we shall be joined with them again. We are given here in John's Revelation the first clear, definite glimpse into the upper world. It is told us in the language of earth of course. It must be, else we would not understand. But clearly there is a glory and happiness clear beyond what earthly words can tell.
This is the first glimpse into heaven given us in this old Book of God. Jacob wakes up in his dream and sees a ladder set up connecting earth and heaven, and the angels going up and returning again while God talks with him. It means much to him, but gives us no answer to our questions, except to make plain that there is a very real and wondrous world up there where our loved ones go.
Moses is up in the mount with God for six weeks nearly, twice over, but there is no suggestion of what he may have seen; only the transfiguring change in his face, and the strongly gentling change in his character.
Ezekiel finds the heavens opening and sees the vision, so like John's, of the wondrous Man. Stephen looks up steadfastly into heaven and sees the resplendent glory of God, and the crucified Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Paul is caught up into heaven, not improbably at the time that his body lay bruised and bleeding and apparently lifeless outside Lystra. But the sights he sees and the over-awing glory are too much to be told. But here John is taken up in vision into the heavens, into the presence of God, and sees much, and tells us what he sees.
It was after the vision of the glorified Man and His message. John is sitting thinking on all he has seen and heard, thinking back to Ephesus and the other Churches he knew so well. He is wondering perhaps how he can tell them what, whom, he has seen; and wondering too how he can tell them this message entrusted to him.
The holy spell is still strong upon him, when all at once he noticed what looks like a door, a door opened above him in the blue. And as he is looking, astonished, that same voice that had been speaking with him before speaks again. He is bidden to |come up hither,| and he will be shown the things that are to happen some time in the future. At once he is conscious of that same gentle, enveloping presence of the Holy Spirit as before. At once He is up in heaven. And he tells us the scene that opens to his eyes.
There is a throne set. What a comfort! There is a throne. There is a centre of authority and power to our world. This Revelation is peculiarly the book of a throne. Up yonder above the moral tangle and confusion of earth is a reigning throne.
There is One sitting on the throne. That throne is occupied. It has not been vacated. Men down here may push God off the throne of their lives, and try to push Him out of the affairs of the earth. But He sits on the throne above. And that throne dominates the life of the earth. Nothing can be done without permission.
John can't describe this one sitting on the throne. The sight is too much for his eyes. When the seventy elders of Israel see God, all that they can remember is the dazzle of glory in the wonderful pavement under His feet. It seems like a pavement of precious stones of sapphire, but as clear as crystal. So now all that John can see is some One who seems to his eyes like transparent precious stones blazing with light. This is the only thing he can think of to tell of what he sees.
Rest in the Midst of Unrest.
There is a rainbow around the throne. The radiance of light shining out from this One on the throne makes a rainbow. If one wonders how God can look down on the misery and sin, the rebellion and wretchedness that dominate most of the earth, here is the answer. His finger is never off the pulse. He knows all as we never can. And he feels as we never do the pain of life, and the discord of earth. The unceasing cry of earth comes up in his ears.
But He is controlled by a purpose. It is a purpose of strong patient love. He has made a promise that man shall have fullest opportunity unchecked by the natural sweeping judgment, that invariable working out of sin and wrong. That throne keeps the order of nature working smoothly and faithfully for man's sake, holding in restraint the forces that would hinder and destroy. The rainbow is the signature to His promise. That rainbow is always before His face. That promise has never been forgotten. This explains the quietness of the One on the throne, looking down on the moral confusion of the race.
But this rainbow is not like the common rainbows that we know. It completely encircles the throne. Our rainbows are broken up. They are never seen in their completeness. Our lookout on things sees only a part; it never sees all. It is never complete. The view of things up there is complete. Everything is seen and is seen in its true relation to everything else. The throne is the one place of perfect perspective and poise.
And this rainbow is all of one colour, a clear, soft emerald-green. We know that green is the most restful of all colours. Some colours are irritating. Some persons of very sensitive, nervous temperament are even made sick by certain colours. And we are all affected more than we know in a hurtful way by certain colours. But green is the colour of rest. It soothes the eyes and nerves and even the spirit. The rainbow round about the throne looked like a quiet, quieting emerald-green. The One on the throne is at perfect rest regarding things down here. He knows all. His ears hear all, the cry of distress and despair, the defiance and arrogance and blasphemy. His eyes see His children down here, creative children all of them, prodigal children so many of them, and trusting children walking in the shadows. He sees all. And He feels all with His great feeling heart.
Yet He is at rest. Do you wonder how He can be? When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion; He suffered in heart with them, for they were as shepherdless sheep, torn and distressed. And the heart beating in rhythm with His has as hard a time as He. If He lead you in service to some foreign mission land, you see and know and feel as no tourist party hurried through the outer fringes ever does or can.
And in Christian lands of the West, and the homeland, in slum as in polite circles, in commercial quarters as in the university world, the heart that is in touch with Jesus' heart sees and hears and feels and senses things as they are under the surface or sticking boldly out through the surface. And feels at times as though it can never again be at rest.
How can He, on the throne, be so quiet, and be at rest? And there is an answer to our burning question, a simple, real answer. He knows the end. He has a purpose and a plan. The present is only one stage in His great plan. This is man's opportunity, and possibly some one's else opportunity, too. It is to be followed by something else radically different down on this earth.
He is held steady during this time by a great purpose. It is a purpose of great, tender love. To His eye looking sleeplessly down there is rest even as of emerald-green. And so there will be rest for him who looks sleeplessly up to the throne of control, encircled in the emerald rainbow of perfect peace. And we can be of best service to Him by resting in our hearts, resting in Him, even while working in the thick of things as they are down here.
They See His Face.
Then John sees twenty-four other thrones round about the central throne. And on these there are twenty-four men sitting. These men are wearing white garments, and have crowns of gold upon their heads. This is the part of intense interest. Who are these? And what does this mean?
What has been said before about picture language, the language of the Orient, of childhood, of the common crowd, the universal language, will help us here. The Bible is an Oriental book. It talks in picture language. This is humanly what gives it such freshness and peculiar adaptation. The radical change of circumstances and speech and mode of thought in different centuries makes all books antiquated after a certain time. This book has the freshness of youth, for in its simple picture language it deals in principles. But picture language must be held to its simplicity. And something of familiarity with the whole range of the Scripture is needful to use the key to the simple picture language.
Let us look a bit at the simple scene here. These men are elders, that is they are leaders. They represent multitudes of others. Throughout the Bible twelve is the number of completeness, both in things and people. A complete gathering or throng of people is represented by the number twelve. There are twelve tribes of Israel, and so on. This is so familiar that it need only be named without further illustration.
There are two great divisions of this Bible, the Old Testament and the New. These stand naturally for the two great divisions of time, before Christ and after. This division is strongly marked in the Bible, and sharply marked in our Christian consciousness. It has been a common thing to wonder about the salvation and spiritual knowledge and privileges of people who lived before Christ came and died.
Twice twelve make twenty-four. These twenty-four elders represent the redeemed ones from both of these great divisions of time. That is to say, the picture tells us this. All the people from creation's earliest morn up to the present, including the one who went out last from some sorrowing family circle, all who have had the touch of heart with God, are gathered in the presence of Him who sits on the throne. That is one simple thing that stands out clear and sure.
These are represented as sitting. The slave or servant never sat in his master's presence. Friends sit together. Angels are never spoken of as sitting in the presence of God. When our Lord Jesus was received up He sat down at the Father's right hand. We are spoken of as seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Sitting together means being on terms of intimacy and fellowship. Through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus we are all accepted in the Beloved and received and trusted as He is.
These elders are clad in white garments. That is one of the familiar things spoken of much in this end-book. Part of the promise to those of overcoming faith is that they shall be arrayed in white garments, and walk with Christ in white. Those who are faulty in the Church are urged to get white garments. The martyrs waiting their vindication, and the great multitudes who come up out of the tribulation are given white raiment. The bride at the joyous marriage supper, and the armies following the conquering Christ, are clad in fine linen, bright and pure.
We are told that this white linen means a pure life. These garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. These multitudes have been cleansed in the blood of Christ and purified by the Holy Spirit and made perfect in purity and holiness as they came up into the presence of the Father on the throne.
These elders are wearing golden crowns. This language, too, is familiar. The acknowledgment and reward of faithfulness and of service is spoken of commonly under this bit of picture talk. The angels are never spoken of as being crowned. Christ was crowned, that is received into the presence of the Father, as the full recognition of His worthiness and of what He had done, and in vindication after the shameful rejection by men.
These men and women and children in the Father's presence have been rewarded and are being rewarded for their faithfulness in obedience and in life. All the struggles and difficulties, the hard road, the endurance, the patient suffering for His name's sake, the faithfulness in doing the allotted tasks, all these have been noted and acknowledged. There is the sweet peace of the Father's approval in all of these before the throne.
Going to School to God.
And these are sitting on thrones. When Jesus was teaching His disciples, in the dark days of bitter opposition He wooed them with this: |Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones.| And a bit later as they sat round the supper table on the night of His betrayal, when things are getting to the darkest, again He woos them: |Ye may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom; and ye shall sit on thrones.| He that overcometh is assured of sitting with Christ on His throne.
All the redeemed ones of earth are to have part with Christ in the coming Kingdom time. They reign with Him. During this present time the countless hosts of angels have a part in ministering to man on the earth. Even so during the Kingdom time to come the countless hosts of the redeemed will have the sweet privilege of service with Christ and on behalf of those on the earth. And it is quite possible that they already have a part in such a ministry.
A little farther in the description it is seen that these elders have |each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.| Heaven is a place of wonderful music. Its very atmosphere must be tuned to the rarest rhythmic harmonies. And each one has part in the music being made.
And yet more, they are continuing the sweet ministry of intercession learned down on earth. This means that they are in touch with earth. They know the needs of loved ones and of all, and they have the privilege of fellowship in this with Him who ever liveth to make intercession.
And there is one other thing we know here at once without being told. If a friend tells me that he has a rose garden under the care of a skilled gardener, I know without being told that the roses are growing. I at once look through my friend's words and see bushes full of roses of all colours, some full blown, some half blown, some bursting buds, and some just budding. For there is a garden, and a gardener, and sun and rain and dew. I know there must be growth and beauty.
Even so we know that the loved ones who have parted from us, are growing. They are in the Father's presence, in intimate fellowship. That tells me of their growth. That little one who slipped away so young, years ago, has been growing in mental powers, in character as well as in what down here we call stature, and growing most of all in love. And so at the meeting time, in the air or up there, there will be instant recognition, as well as instant delight over the growth under such wondrous tutorage.
This is the glimpse into the upper world which John sees and is allowed to give us here. The redeemed ones of earth of all the ages are in the presence of the Father and of the Lord Jesus and of the angels, on terms of intimate fellowship, made pure and perfect in character, but always growing from more to more, and having a share in blessed ministry. And they listen to and have share in making music more exquisite than our earthly language can describe.
They understand the wondrous plans for the earth, for now they see all things through the Lord Jesus' eyes. They have some part without doubt in welcoming those who come to join them, even as they will have part in receiving those who are caught up at our Lord's return. And they look forward eagerly to the glad time of righting that will come then.
But let us look a bit more at what John sees. Out of the throne are seen proceeding lightnings and voices and thunders. Three other times in this book it speaks of lightning and voices and thunder. These things of course are the familiar accompaniments of a storm. It is noticeable that each other time they are named in the book it is in connection with some direct action being taken by God in the affairs of the earth. And each time there is some added item intensifying the scene.
A physical storm is caused by two areas of unequal temperature coming together. The storm is the process of coming together and equalizing of the atmospheric conditions. The inference here would seem to be that the time of action has come to straighten out matters on the earth. The two moral atmospheres of heaven and earth seem to be coming into contact, and a storm is resulting before clear weather comes. It suggests that our Lord Jesus is taking the next direct step in His broader plan.
God's Ideal of Creation.
But let us look a little further. In the book's picture language there are |seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.| These we are plainly told |are the seven spirits of God.| That is a Hebrew way of saying |the perfect spirit of God.| This is of intense interest. The Holy Spirit is represented as being before the throne.
In the confidential talk with the inner group of disciples on the betrayal night, in John's Gospel, Jesus promises that when He has ascended up to the Father He will send down the Holy Spirit to them. When the Spirit has come down to the disciples He will begin a new ministry of witnessing to the world through them.
In the Book of Acts that promise is fulfilled. The Spirit comes down with remarkable manifestations on the day of Pentecost. The distinctive thing He does is to take possession of a group of men and form them into a new witnessing body called the Church. He had dwelt in the nation of Israel as a nation, and had been withdrawn from that nation when it proved finally faithless to its mission. He had dwelt in individual men before and during and after that time.
At Pentecost He is sent down on a new mission. He is to do in men all that Jesus has done for them in His life and death and resurrection. But the distinctive thing of Pentecost is His forming this new body called the Church, through which He begins a new ministry of witnessing to the world.
All through the Acts and Epistles He is constantly spoken of as here on the earth working in the Church and through it. He in the Church is a powerful restraint upon the powers of evil in the world. In Thessalonians, Paul has spoken of a day coming when that restraint would be withdrawn. The Holy Spirit, the |One that restraineth now,| is to be taken away.
Now here the Holy Spirit is represented as being, not in the Church, as always in the Acts and Epistles, but as being |before the throne.| This is the second significant thing to note in this scene. This also would seem to suggest the beginning of a new order of things.
John goes quietly on with his description. Before the throne he sees a great expanse that looks like a sea of clear, bright, beautiful crystal. Before the throne and around about the throne are four living creatures or creatures of life. These living creatures are of intensest interest. They appear throughout the Scriptures from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the very close of this Book of Revelation.
They are also called cherubim and seraphim, that is, cherubs and seraphs. They are always associated directly with the immediate presence of God, and with His presence-chamber, in the tabernacle, in the temple, and in Ezekiel's vision of a new temple, and in the thought of the people. There is one possible exception to this, where they are seen at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. The description of them is most full in Ezekiel. It varies in details, but with the essentials always the same.
The general appearance is that of a man, but there are four faces as of a man, a lion, an ox or calf, a flying eagle, and sometimes a cherub face. They are full of eyes everywhere, and they seem enveloped in the pure fire which everywhere is associated with God's own presence. These descriptions combined suggest perfection of purity, of intelligence, of obedience, and of power.
In this book of the Revelation they are spoken of seven times, that is, more frequently than in any other book, though not so fully as in Ezekiel. Five times they are leading or joining in the worship of God, by men and angels, and twice they are cooeperating with the Lamb or the angels in what is being done on the earth.
These beautiful, intelligent beings seem to represent the whole animate creation, man, the animals intimately associated in service with man, those that roam at will, and the birds, and the angels. It would seem as though they stand for God's ideal of creation, as it was before the hurt of sin came, as He holds it in His heart, and as it will be after sin has gone. His ideal of a perfect and perfected creation is always in His presence and before His face, intelligently and gladly carrying out His will, reverently and joyously sounding His praise.
It suggests that He will not rest content until His ideal for the creation shall be a sweet, full realization, all sin and rebellion removed and all His works uniting in joyous, continuous worship, and glad, harmonious obedience.
The Significant Book.
All this is interesting; some of it intense in interest. But it is only a setting. It is incidental. The chief thing is yet to be told. John had been told that he would be shown the things that would come to pass some time in the future. We come now to the beginnings of these |things.|
The One who is sitting on the throne has a carefully sealed book or document in his hand. An angel calls out loudly for any one who is qualified to do so to step forward and take the document and break its seals. And as John watches intently no one comes forward. No one can be found, either in the heaven, in earth, or in the region spoken of as under the earth.
At this John is greatly distressed, and weeps much, so he must have understood at once just what this meant. And one of the elders comforts him with the assurance that there is One who has |overcome to open the book, and the seven seals thereof,| |the lion of the tribe of Judah.| This word |overcome| suggests that this one has been in some great conflict and has gotten the victory and overcome all opposition. And this qualifies Him to take and open the document. He is the only one among untold numbers so qualified.
And now John sees this One. He is standing in the very midst of the throne surrounded by creatures and elders. We easily recognize this as our Lord Jesus. He is a lion in leadership and strength. He is a lamb in gentleness of character, and in the sacrificial experience He has been through. The marks of death are plainly seen on His person.
As He comes forward He reaches and takes the book out of the hand of the One on the throne. He is allowed to take it. His qualification to take the document and break its seals is acceptable to the One on the throne.
And as He takes the book there is a remarkable burst of praise and adoration that must have made all heaven ring. And those on earth in touch of spirit with the scene and its purpose and the Chief Actor would surely feel some thrill in the spirit currents of earth.
The outburst of worship is led by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders who fall down before the Lamb and sing a song. What music that must be when the untold thousands sing as only redeemed ones can sing. Then countless hosts of angels join in and lift the chorus. And then there is the creation chorus, every created thing in heaven and earth, under the earth, in the sea, absolutely everything seems to join in this indescribable music. And the four living creatures say, |Amen.| And again the elders fall down and worship.
John's distress at the beginning, and now this indescribable outburst of praise, tell us that this is something thrilling and significant beyond expression. What does this mean, our Lord Jesus taking the sealed document preparatory to breaking its seals?
It has been said in a previous talk that every thread woven into the fabric of the Old Testament can be found in the fabric of this Revelation book. So that if one goes to work patiently he can trace every allusion here to something back in these older leaves. This gives us the clue to the significance of this remarkable scene.
That clue seems in this case to be found in the book of Jeremiah, chapter thirty-two. There is found an allusion to a simple primitive custom of the Hebrew people in the exchange of real estate and in taking possession of property to which one is entitled.
The old Hebrew custom seems to have been as follows: When property was purchased the deed to the new owner was made out in duplicate, an open copy and a sealed copy. The open copy was clearly for public information, open to all. The sealed copy as clearly belonged only to the owner of the property as his evidence of ownership. So it identified him as the one named in the open copy.
If a new heir comes to take possession of an estate, or in case of a dispute over ownership, the claimant who was adjudged the rightful heir or owner would be given the possession of the sealed document or deed. And as so attested by the judge or court, he only would be properly qualified to |take| the sealed roll, break its seals, read its contents, and so formally take possession of the estate, or property.
Now under the symbolism of this old bit of Hebrew custom, our Lord Jesus is represented here as stepping forward to take possession of the earth, and begin His reign over it. A Hebrew immersed in the old primitive customs of his people in Palestine would understand this allusion at once, however startled or sceptical he might be as to its significance in this connection.
The language used in the song of praise when our Lord Jesus takes the sealed book is significant. They say, |thou art worthy,| that is, thou art qualified; thou art the duly attested one with the right to take possession. |For thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe,| and so on.
Man had been given the dominion of the earth. He had by obedience to the evil one transferred his right to Him who is repeatedly called |the prince of this world.| Our Lord Jesus purchased men out of their slavery back to their original Lord, -- with all that was rightfully theirs. He has allowed fullest opportunity for all who will to accept His Lordship. Now He is about to take possession of the earth on behalf of men, and for them.
This is the tremendous significance of what John is shown here as something that will take place hereafter. In the scene of the candlesticks He is patiently waiting, holding Himself in restraint. Now the waiting time is over. He is making the next move in His broader plan for the earth.
There is no hint as to the length of interval between the two scenes, how long He will wait. There is no suggestion as to when this next move will be made. But we are here plainly told that at some time that candlestick waiting time will end, and He will take a forward step in connection with His plans for the earth. And it should be keenly noticed that what follows now in this book of Revelation is the run of events that will immediately follow that next step of His.
Yet this step is taken up in heaven. The first action of the new move will be there. There will be nothing to be seen on the earth to indicate the change. Things there will go on as before, eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, all unconscious of the tremendous events being worked out.
But now the waiting time still waits. Our opportunity is still open. If we might only be simple enough to be true to our absent Lord Jesus during this waiting time.
A bishop of the American Episcopal Church, widely known for his saintly character, his culture, and long years of tireless service, was visiting in the South. In the town there lived a judge of wide repute for his scholarly learning as well as for his culture and uprightness. Now he was seriously ill, and had requested an interview with the bishop.
He asked the bishop to talk to him about personal religion. And the clergyman talked to this thoughtful, scholarly judge in choice philosophical language about the fatherhood of God, the character of Christ, and the essential harmony of man's true nature with God. The judge listened attentively for some time.
Then he apologetically interrupted his visitor, and said:
|Bishop, I'm dying. Won't you please talk to me just like you'd talk to my black boy, Jim?|
And the bishop could, and did. He told him in simplest talk that he was a sinner. Jesus died to save sinners. His blood washes away our sins. We must take Christ as a Saviour, just trust Him, as simply as a child trusts its mother.
So he talked. And the judge listened. And the tears came, and the peace. He came as a child, and trusted, and he knew the peace that passeth understanding. It was the simple telling of the simple story of the Saviour who died, and the simple, child-like acceptance of that Saviour. The scholarly bishop helped the learned judge best, in the crisis of his life, by talking as simply as to a child.
If we might only be simple enough to be true to this Jesus who died, during the remnant of waiting time that remains.
W. O. Cushing.
Rev. xix.8, 14.
Rev. vii.14; xxii.14.
Rev. ii.10; iii.11; I Corinthians ix.25; II Timothy iv.8; James i.12; I Peter v.4.
Rev. v.10; xx.4, 6.
Hebrews i.14 with Daniel vii.10 and Psalm ciii.20-21.
Rev. viii.5; xi.19; xvi.18, 21.
II Thessalonians ii.6-7.
Ezekiel i.4-28; x.1-22.
Exodus xxv.17-22; xxxvii.6-9.
I Kings vi.23-26; viii.6-7; II Chronicles iii.10-14; v.7-8.
I Samuel iv.4; II Samuel vi.2; xxii.11; I Chronicles xiii.6; Psalm xviii.10; lxxx.1; xcix.1; Isaiah vi.1-3; xxxvii.16.
iv.6-9; v.6, 8, 14; vi.1, 3, 5, 7; vii.11; xiv.3; xv.7; xix.4.