(Revelation, Chapters xx: 4-xxii.)
|On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits.|
|A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Ferned grot --
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not --
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.|
Day Is Coming.
It's a long lane that has no turning. Every valley leads up a hillside to a hilltop. Every storm ends in sunshine at the last. Every night runs out; the dawn will break; the new day comes; the shadows flee before the new shining. The battle for right will end in victory, and in a decisive victory. There'll be no draw here. Faith wins at last. It's been a long night of fighting. Sometimes it seems endless.
The man in the thick of the fight, with moist brow, and clenched hand, and quick breath and throbbing heart, sometimes sobs out the prayer, |O Lord, how long before the night is over, and the dawn breaks?| And quietly through the smoke and din of the conflict a still, small voice says, |Steady, my child, steady; the day is surely coming, and with day victory; steady, steady a bit longer.|
Now here in vision the fight is over, the victory won. And God's visions always become realities. The vision is yet for the appointed time, and it panteth breathlessly toward the realization, and will not fail nor delay. Though it tarry, wait for it; it will certainly come on time; it will not be late.
In the seventh view the kingdom follows immediately that decisive conflict and the putting of Satan out of the way for the time being. The redeemed ones at once begin their blessed service of fellowship with the King in reigning over the kingdom. Emphasis is placed on the fact that at this time there has been a resurrection of believers. And these resurrected ones join with those caught up without death in administering the kingdom. This kingdom is said to last for a thousand years, that length of time being named only here, and here six times.
There is much talk in our day about the kingdom. All Christendom has been repeating for nineteen centuries the petition, |Thy kingdom come.| It will be of intense and practical interest to see just what the kingdom is, as pictured in the Bible. It is barely mentioned in this place in Revelation, to fit it into its place in the scheme of future events being outlined.
But it is the chief theme in these old prophetic pages, around which all others group. Immediate historical events furnish the setting, but there is a continual swinging to the coming future greatness. The yellow glory-light of the coming kingdom is never out of the prophetic sky. Jeremiah is the one most absorbed in the boiling of the political pot of his own strenuous time, but even he, at times, lifts his head and gets such a glimpse of the coming kingdom as causes him to mix some rose tincture with the jet black ink he habitually uses.
The Kingdom Picture.
Let us look briefly at the kingdom picture of these older pages. Its capital is Jerusalem, which becomes the world capital. It will be the joy of the whole earth. Israel will be the first nation of the earth, to which all others will be tributary. But it will be not the Israel of these old pages, nor the Jew as he is known characteristically throughout history. Israel will be a new nation, made new in character by the power of the Holy Spirit. The winsome picture of the baptized crowds at Pentecost gives an inkling of the spirit that will sway the new nation. They will be a nation of radiant faces and thrilled hearts.
The effect of this upon all other nations is marked. Through Israel's regeneration and new leadership, every other nation is to know a new spirit life. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Israel is to be followed by an outpouring upon all flesh. Pentecost is merely a beginning of what is to be universal. There will be a widespread voluntary coming to Israel for religious instruction. She becomes the world's teacher until the knowledge of God covers the whole earth as the waters cover the sea. But all this will be purely a voluntary movement among the nations. There will be war no longer, but universal peace.
There's one part of the picture specially comforting. That vast majority, the poor, will be specially guarded and cared for. There will be no hungry people, nor cold, nor poorly clad; no unemployed begging for a chance to earn a dry crust, and no workers fighting for a fair share of the fruit of their toil. But there are yet tenderer touches on the canvas. Broken hearts will be healed, prison doors unhung, broken family circles complete again.
A recent issue of The Sunday School Times tells a simple, touching incident of a mission hall in Korea. A Korean woman living in the country heard of the wonderful things happening there, and came to town to find out for herself, and get some help. But she didn't know where the hall was, nor what name it was called. So she inquired on the streets for the place where they cured the broken heart. And at once she was directed to the mission hall. That sort of thing will become a blessed commonplace in the beginning of the kingdom time.
Then there are certain radical changes in nature. Splendid rivers of waters are to flow through or by Jerusalem, suggesting radical changes in the formation of the land there. That fortress city, on the hilltop, Jerusalem, becomes as the world's metropolis, a mighty city, with rivers floating a world's commerce. The light of sun and moon will be greatly intensified, so influencing the fertility of the earth. Before their healing light and heat, in the newly tempered atmosphere, all poisonous growths, the blight of drought, and suffering of untempered heat, will disappear.
And with this goes a change in the animal creation. Hate will be gone. And so beasts that are dreaded because of their ferocity and treachery and poisonous power will be wholly changed. There will be mutual cessation of cruelty to animals by man, and of danger to man by animals, for all hate and violence will be gone.
And some one raises his eyebrows sceptically and says, ironically, |What fairy tale, what skipper's yarn, is this?| Well, I frankly confess that I don't know anything about this matter, except what I find in this old Book of God. But I confess, too, that I try studiously to get a common-sense, poised, Spirit-enlightened understanding of what this Book does tell. And then I accept it, and go by it, regardless of probabilities or improbabilities. It may seem like a fairy tale, yet it is only the picture of the coming kingdom soberly set forth in these old pages.
As we turn to the Gospel pages we find the kingdom to be the chief thing Jesus is talking about. The Gospel days are sample days of the kingdom in the personal blessings bestowed. Read through these accounts of blind eyes opened, the lame walking, the maimed made whole, the dumb singing, the distressed in whatever way relieved, the ignorant instructed, the sinful wooed, and the bad of heart and life being blessedly changed.
All this is a taste of the kingdom. Jesus was wooing men to accept King and kingdom. To-day, as in all Church time, bodily healing is a privilege for those who can take it, and a gift for the rare few who can be entrusted with it. In these Gospel pages it was freely bestowed on multitudes, and the gift exercised with power by many. Even so it will be in the kingdom time.
Most of the parables are found to be connected in their first meaning with explaining about the kingdom. The kingdom will follow the law of growth that is common in nature, sowing, waiting, cultivating, and reaping. Its influence will spread gradually until all feel its presence and power. It must meet and deal with the obstacles presented by different men's temperaments and dispositions and temptations. There will be opposition, gradually overcome, but never fully. Many will be carried along by the current of the day. It will be a good current, for righteousness will be the common thing then. But in their hearts many will long for something else, something different.
But to many, the new blessed kingdom message will come as a treasure accidentally stumbled upon, not being looked for, but now valued as very precious. To others it will come as the thing they have been eagerly seeking for, and which satisfies the deepest yearnings. One who has had any touch with the pathetic yearning of years found in non-Christian lands can better appreciate the results of this kind in these glad coming days.
The characteristic spirit of the kingdom stands sharply out in contrast with the dominant spirit of our own time. The kingdom is said to belong peculiarly to those who are |poor in spirit,| in whom self-assertion and pride have quite gone out, leaving them humble and lowly in heart. The meek will inherit the earth, and will take down all the walls and fences, for all conditions of life are radically changed. The penitent man or woman will be freely received regardless of their past, while the proud will find the doorway too low for their unbending heads.
Rewards in the kingdom will not be given as a matter of merit, as in our present endless cutting and rivalry, but will be thought of wholly as evidence of the graciousness of the King. And yet more striking, the rewards given will be the privilege of serving, some more, some less, according as they have become skilled in serving. He who serves most truly will be given preferment. The thing prized above all else will be glad obedience to the King.
It will be seen that the kingdom is to be a time of world-wide evangelization. Indeed this is the purpose of the kingdom. There are two periods of world-wide evangelization in our Lord's planning. The present is the Church time of such evangelizing. This is, of course, the true main objective of the Church. This is the reason for the Church's existence, to take the message of a crucified risen Christ to all men, that so the way may be prepared for His return, and through that for the next period of evangelizing.
The kingdom period of world-wide evangelization is under radically different conditions. Then the evil one will be removed from the scene of action, the Holy Spirit will have been poured out upon all flesh, and so the moral veil now upon men's eyes will be removed. The Jews, with all their characteristic aggressiveness and perseverance, now intensified by the Holy Spirit's presence, will be a nation of missionaries to all the earth. The redeemed ones in their resurrection bodies will have the blessed privilege of helping. And over all will be the presence and supervision of the King, our Lord Jesus Himself. That will be world-wide evangelization in earnest.
Such is a faint glimpse given in both Old and New Testaments of the kingdom spoken of in these Revelation pages in such few words. Almost the whole Bible lies back of those few words. What a time it will be for this old earth! With renewed fervour our hearts repeat, |Thy kingdom come.|
The Final Crisis of Choice.
But it is made clear at once to John that the kingdom is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, a wonderful means to a blessed end. It is startling to find that after that long blessed reign the evil one is to be loosed out of his prison-abyss. This seems at first flush too startling to be credible. But on reflection the reason becomes plain, and reveals the strength as well as the tenderness of God's love.
All through the kingdom time there are those who are in heart opposed to this new order of things. They long for the leeks and onions and garlic of the old eating. There will be some yielding only a feigned allegiance to the King. That dragnet of the parable has gathered some fish that didn't want to be caught, and want a chance to get away to their own native waters again. The tares of another parable are left in with the wheat until the end reveals which is real wheat and which really tares.
The one thing God longs for is love. And that only is love which is the free outpouring of the heart. He longs for love as our free choice. This is the image of God in which we have all been made. We are most like God in power, in the right of free choice. We are most like Him in character when we use our power as He uses His; when we choose what He chooses for us. And so there must be a final time of sifting and choosing.
Here is the strength of love, that dares loose Satan out that so we must choose in the face of opposition. For faith isn't faith except it can stand the fire test, the friction fire test of opposition. Here is the tenderness of love, that longs to have a return love as pure and free as its own, and so gives fullest opportunity for it to be revealed and to grow.
So Satan is loosed out for his tempting work. And another great world crisis comes, and another great settlement; this the final one. The devil, his beastly Antichrist and false prophet, are put out of the way forever.
A great dazzling throne is set. And One sits on it with a face of indescribable glory. Then comes the second resurrection, of all those not included in the first resurrection a thousand years before. This is a judgment of all who have died, with the exception already noted. The judgment of the living spoken of in Matthew, twenty-five, probably is in connection with the closing scene of the great crisis, just before this judgment of the resurrected dead, or possibly in connection with this judgment. This is the final judgment.
Gladness and distress mingle in reading the account: gladness that the contest, age long, is over; distress to find that for some there is what is described briefly but with terrible intensity, in the words, |the lake of fire.| Yet there is still comfort in noting the language used of these, -- |if any.| It is not the language of a great multitude, but rather of an incorrigible scattered and scant minority.
Home at Last.
And now for the seventh time in this last vision John says, |I saw.| Bit by bit the view opens up before his eyes, from the coming of the Lord Jesus out of the opened heavens, on and on, until now the final view of all bursts in a winsome glory before his astonished, delighted eyes.
God's own ideal, that He has been carrying in His heart, is pictured. That ideal is that He and man shall dwell together as a family. The ideal is not a Church nor a Kingdom. These are merely great means to a greater end. The ideal is the family, all dwelling together in sweetest harmony and content, with a common board, and a common fireside in the twilight of the day, and all the sweet fellowship that these stand for.
John sees a new heaven and a new earth, the old heaven and earth gone, and with them the separation of the wide sea gone forever, too. He sees the holy city, Jerusalem, made over new, coming down out of the new heavens to man's new dwelling-place, the new earth. It presents a wondrous, joyous appearance as of a bride adorned for her husband.
Then a great voice out of the throne speaks of this ideal in the heart of God for Himself and His friend, man. |Look! God has pitched His tent down amongst men, and they shall be His peoples, and He will be their God.| He will live with them as a Father-mother-God, personally caring for each one, Himself wiping away every tear from every eye. A single tear and a single pair of eyes will be enough to claim His personal attention at once.
His presence insures the absence forever of death, and mourning, and pain, and crying. The dirge music has sung its last song. The minor chords are gone. All the old things of a sorrowful sort are quite gone. And as John looks He that sitteth on the throne makes the glad announcement, |Behold, I make all things new.| And John is bidden to write all this, for |these words are faithful and true.|
And again the One on the throne seems to look eagerly forward to His ideal as already actually accomplished: |They are come to pass.| And to let John feel the certainty of it all He says, |I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.| The power that has done all from creation's morn will complete all clear to the end.
And then the tenderness of that highest love which finds expression in the personal touch comes out in the next words: |I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of life freely.| The smallest need of any one will have His personal thought and attention, and they shall have the best there is, and have it in abundance.
And the old pleading that runs like a strain of music throughout these pages comes again: |He that overcometh shall inherit these things. I will be His God, and he shall be my son,| and so entitled to the inheritance.
Then plainly, clearly, with all the honesty of love, comes the warning of the terrible outcome for those who refuse His tender love. It is most significant that this most winsome picture at the end of the book contains the dark, black shadows, which remain in the picture at the end.
All this is spoken directly to John by God Himself. It is not sent by an angel, or by a redeemed human messenger. It comes to John direct with all the force and tenderness of a word spoken to him out of the very heart of God.
And now an angel carries John off to let him see this that is called both a bride and a city. And from the top of a high mountain John looks out and sees a most wonderful city, coming down out of heaven from God, filled and flooded with the glory of God.
And the best language that earth knows anything about is used in the attempt to describe this city ideal. Its dimensions are perfect in proportion and in their outer relations. Its foundations are adorned with the costliest, most precious stones, the walls are built of jasper, and each gate is one immense pearl; but the city itself is builded of a gold as transparent as pure glass. Israel and the Church are as sweet memories of past days, recalled now by gates and foundations.
But these are passed by in noting the outshining glory of the presence of God. In the simple language which has become so imbedded in the heart and imagination of the Church, |the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine on it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.| And the winsome description goes on. The nations walk in this wondrous light of God's presence, and the kings of earth bring glad tribute of their glory into it. |And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day, for there shall be no night there.| |And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that doeth an abomination and a lie, but only they that are written in the Lamb's book of life.|
In the midst of the city is a river of water of life clear as sparkling crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. On each side of the river is the tree of life yielding continual fruitage. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And the heart never fails to respond with a quickened beat to the lines: |His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads;| -- that is, His character shall shine out of their faces. |And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.|
Such is the heart-touching, heart-gripping tale of God's ideal for man, His creature and companion and friend. All the best that the city stands for of human life, and all the best that the country, typified in the garden, stands for, are forever blessedly joined. And in the midst -- Himself, and gathered about Him His redeemed ones, as children about a father, in a union and fellowship cemented by the heart's blood of God, never more to be put asunder.
The Master's Last Words.
And John closes the book with a few personal paragraphs. The vision is complete. Now come the closing words. For the third time John is solemnly assured, |these words are faithful and true.| And again comes the voice as of some One always standing by as John is being shown, |Behold, I come quickly.| And again the words with which the book begins come to seal all its impressions, -- blessed is he that reads, and prayerfully seeks to understand the simple message, and who sets himself to live his life in the light of this simple tremendous message.
And John is significantly told not to seal up the message. Daniel had been told to seal up the message given him, for it would not come to pass until the latter days after great intervening events had taken place. But there are no intervening events before this message is to come true. It has been possible for the fulfilment to come in any generation since John saw and wrote. It is yet more possible, growing distinctly toward the probable, that these things shall come in our generation. The words remain open, waiting an expectant fulfilment. They are not to be sealed up but openly proclaimed, for the time when it is possible for these things to work out is at hand. This is a present practical issue.
And meanwhile, during these days of the waiting time each one who reads or listens, however reluctantly, to the message, will follow the bent of his own deliberate choice, but with ever increasing intensity. The pure will become more pure; the bad yet worse. There's no standing still as we listen.
And again come the solemnly repeated words: |Behold, I come quickly.| His coming is the next step in the great plan. There were then, and there are now, no great intervening events to be worked out, and waited for. His coming is imminent. It is a thing to be expected. And He brings with Him the wages due each one.
And like the signature of certification at the book's beginning, comes now the personal signature at its close: |I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.| So He personally certifies to us the absolute accuracy and reliability of this message.
And with the signature come again the gracious pleading and warning intermingled. Any one who will may wash his robes in the fountain provided, and may eat of the life-giving tree, and come unto the God-lit city. And equally clear it is that any who insist on doing so may remain outside unwashed. Each one is free to do as he wills.
And once again comes the emphatic, solemn announcement of the accuracy and dependability of this message of John's Revelation: |I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the Churches.| It is distinctively a Church message, and comes with all the direct authority of our Lord Jesus Himself. And He patiently reminds us of His authority, -- I am both root and offspring of David, both before him and after him. I am the bright, the morning star, that rises while it is yet night and brings in the new day.
And again the spirit of winsome pleading breaks out to those unwashed ones who insist on staying outside the gate. Both the Spirit and the whole company of washed ones say |come.| And let him that heareth that sweet word pass it out to those farther away until the last man hears and feels. And let them know that anybody at all who is thirsty may come freely and drink of the river of the water of life.
And yet once again comes the peculiar certifying of the contents of this Revelation message, and a solemn warning against any interfering with its meaning. Jesus says, -- I hereby certify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any man add to them, making them mean something else than I intend, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away, or lessen the meaning, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and out of the holy city. It comes as a very solemn warning.
And yet once more comes the emphatic assurance both of the reliability of the book itself, and of the certainty of its great central message, -- |He who testifieth these things saith, 'yea, I come quickly.'|
And John fervently adds, |Amen; come, Lord Jesus.| And so says every heart in tune with His heart who is coming.
Acts ii.44-47; iv.32-34.
Mark iv.26-29. Matthew xiii.31-32.
Matthew xiii.3-9, 18-23.
Psalm xviii.44; lxvi.3; lxxxi.15; note marginal readings.
Matthew xiii.24-30, 36-43.
Daniel xii.4, 9.