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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : VIII.--WATCHING THE HORIZON

Quiet Talks On The Crowned Christ Of Revelation by S. D. Gordon

VIII.--WATCHING THE HORIZON

|Thy Kingdom Come.|

|Thou art coming! We are waiting
With a hope that cannot fail;
Asking not the day or hour,
Resting on Thy word of power,
Anchored safe within the veil.
Time appointed may be long,
But the vision must be sure:
Certainty shall make us strong,
Joyful patience must endure.

|O the joy to see Thee reigning,
Thee, my own beloved Lord!
Every tongue Thy name confessing,
Worship, honour, glory, blessing,
Brought to Thee with glad accord!
Thee, my Master and my Friend,
Vindicated and enthroned!
Unto earth's remotest end
Glorified, adored, and owned.|

-- FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL.

The Thrill of Expectancy.

Watching reveals character and makes it. It means wakefulness, an ideal, a purpose, and a hopeful expectancy. Some people only look. Their eyelids are not shut. Something passes before the eye. They look, but they rarely see.

It takes a soul to see. It needs a spirit awake to see out through the eye, and see into persons and events passing by, and see forward to what is coming to-morrow. Some sleep. The body is awake in daytime. They walk and talk and eat, buy and sell, count money and hoard it. But their eyes are never lifted to the outer horizon. They are settled in an even, contented round. Their spirits sleep.

A wakefulness of spirit to the time and its need, an ideal clear and high of what should be, a purpose strong and masterful that holds the life up toward the ideal, an expectancy eager, brave, steady; an eye fixed intently on some One unseen, -- this is what watching means. It reveals character. It makes character. It reaches out strong spirit hands, and brings nearer and sooner the thing watched for.

Watching has always been a characteristic of the men God has used. He used them because He could. They were of use. Their spirit made them serviceable. Their watching opened the way for fellowship of spirit and partnership in action. It put them in tune with Him who never slumbers nor sleeps, and who watches over His pledged word, to bring it to pass at the earliest possible hour.

The watcher sings. His favourite song is |I will lift up mine eyes.| He sees what is coming. He sees Him who sits beyond the horizon of our common outlook. And seeing Him grows this sort of expectancy, and the expectancy becomes the controlling thing.

It was this sort of expectancy that made Abraham a pilgrim at seventy-five, and that grew deep the pilgrim trait of patient endurance through the weary twilight years till the promised heir came, and even beyond that, wove the finest texture into his character when the severest test came.

It was this expectancy that drew Moses away from the court life of Egypt, and the possible prospect of wearing imperial purple, to become the leader of a straggling crowd of slaves. And it held him steady on through long years, wilderness travel, criticism, and non-appreciation, on and on, till Nebo's top was climbed. He endured as seeing Him who was invisible to the unseeing eyes of the crowds at His side.

Such expectancy has steadied every leader for God, in these old pages from first to last, young Joseph in the dungeon, Joshua in the glare of the limelight, into which he was suddenly thrust, and ruddy-faced singing David fleeing and hiding for his life from the javelin of Saul. It was the clear-seeing eye of Isaiah and Jeremiah in the homeland, and of Ezekiel and Daniel among the weeping exiles, that kept the heart of the nation warm with the vision of what was surely coming. The thrill of expectancy runs through the pages of this old Hebrew classic. Its light is never out of the eye, nor its alluring out of earshot.

When Jesus walked among men expectation ran high. When He was killed the gloom of the three days was the gloom of a bright light suddenly put out. The darkness was intensified by the light that had been shining. Then there came a new sort of expectancy, higher, finer, of the inner spirit. This Jesus was coming back, in all the glory of the old prophetic vision, made realer by the personal touch these men knew, and this new expectancy puts all the paper of the New Testament a-tremble with delight. It is the light that lighteth every page and epistle, every contested path of witness, and every hour of suffering because of faith.

The Church of these New Testament pages is a watching Church. The expectancy of the Lord Jesus' return is the north star of their sky. It never swerves. All the rest revolves around it. They see everything else in relation to this. Their going into all the world and preaching to every creature was not simply for men's conversion: that surely: but beyond that, it was to bring the Christ back for the next step in His world programme. He would come and set up His kingdom, and then through the kingdom would come a yet wider, farther-reaching world evangelizing. This expectancy controlled their life and activity. Through their faithful world witnessing He would come.

And as the knot is put on the end of the thread of revelation the very knotted thread seems aglow with the glory of what is coming. The Bible from end to end is a-thrill with expectancy, a hopeful watching for something, aye, for some One.

A Calendar of Events.

We have been looking a bit closely at this knot in the end, the threads composing it. Now we want to gather up all that we have been going over with the light that comes from the other pages, so as to have some sort of a simple, clear grasp of the truth. This will help our eyesight. We can watch the horizon better. Our eyes will be steadier in the glare of the lower lights, and sharper to see in the spells of darkness that get thicker now and then.

It is interesting to notice that this book of the Revelation is a calendar book. That is to say, it is not a calendar of dates but of events. It gives coming events in the order in which they will occur. Its table of contents becomes an outline of coming events. There is the Man of Fire standing among the candlesticks. Then comes an hour when He advances to the next step in His programme. Then, step by step, there follow the occurrences until the kingdom is actually here. And then the after events, when the kingdom's work is done.

It turns out that this thing of our Lord's return cuts a wider swath than we are apt to think, if we don't stop to think. That is because of Who it is that is coming. An event takes on the size of the chief person concerned. This Lord Jesus is the One through whom our world was made in the early time, when there were no calendars. So His coming naturally concerns the whole world. It concerns the system of evil in which the world is entangled, and the evil spirit world so closely interlocked with our own.

Then our Lord Jesus came amongst us as a man. He came as a Jewish man, and to the Jewish nation. So His coming concerns the Jew and the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. When He sent down His executive, the Holy Spirit, a new organization was formed, the Church. So His coming concerns the Church, and concerns it very intimately, for it is spoken of as a body of which He is the head. When Jesus came it was to die for a world and to redeem a world. And so His coming concerns the future plans of the earth and the race.

Yet though His coming has such a broad sweep, it is quite possible to get a grasp of the few essential items in the programme. And this will make our footing steadier, our vision clearer, our praying more confident, and our soul-winning and witnessing warmer and truer. We turn now to try to get this simple, helpful understanding.

The present is the time of the candlesticks. The Man of Fire is in our midst unperceived. The unseen Eyes of Flame see. Our Lord Jesus still waits, and depends on the faithfulness of His Church. The light is still shining out. The dark places are getting some light. The light has not yet wholly failed to get out through the human lantern to the crowd in the dark.

The characteristics of this waiting time, so long prolonged, are plainly put. In the outer world there will be an increasing lawlessness and disregard of every sort of restraint, and an increasing power of organization and centralization. There will be an increasing getting together for more effective action.

In the Church world there will be an increasing formalism, a compromise with evil and with the world spirit. There will be a decrease of warm personal devotion to the Lord Jesus as the controlling motive power. And there will be a growing inclination to make light of, or ignore, or jeer at, the idea of the Lord Jesus' return.

As this period wears on toward its close, and so on toward the events to follow, there will be a coming together of the Jews scattered throughout the world in an attempt to regain Palestine and reconstitute the Hebrew nation there with its temple and old sacrificial ritual. These are the three chief tendencies that will characterize the present waiting time preceding the group of coming events.

The decisive index-finger, that this present period is actually coming to its close, will be this movement among the Jews. The movement to regain control of Palestine may rise and fall back, gain and lose again. But some day it will come to its head. By some arrangement with the nations concerned the Jewish nation will actually be set up again in Palestine, and the building of the temple in Jerusalem begun. This will be the decisive indication. This is an unfailing index-finger. The hands of the clock are moving then toward the striking of the hour. Soon the sands will be run out and the hour-glass turned.

The Beginning of the End.

At some time soon after that point is reached two unseen events will occur, that is, unseen on earth. Roughly, it will be three and a half years after, though the whole tendency of the Scripture is to discourage the figuring of exact time. Yet information is given that the outlook may be intelligent. These events are unseen on the earth. They take place in heaven.

The Holy Spirit will be withdrawn from the Church. He will not be withdrawn from individuals. He abode in men before the Church was formed, and will after the Church has cast Him out. He is withdrawn only because He has been practically and wholly cast out.

The Lord Jesus, who sent Him down to form the Church and witness through it, will withdraw Him from the Church. The candlestick has moved out of all touch with the light. And now the light is withdrawn, and so the candlestick moved out of its place as the light-bearer. This is probably the advance step taken by our Lord Jesus that marks the beginning of the end.

At the same time there occurs a conflict of spirit forces up in the heavens. While the earth seems to be Satan's chief place of activity, yet his headquarters are up in the heavens, that is, somewhere below the throne of God and above the earth. This conflict is against him and his spirit forces. It is led by Michael, the archangel. It results in Satan and his host being cast out of the heavens and down to the earth.

It is significant that as the Holy Spirit goes up, this conflict follows, and Satan is cast out and down. Is it the Holy Spirit's return there that precipitates this conflict, and defeat for Satan? It would seem not improbable. So the moral situation on the earth is intensified doubly. The blessed Holy Spirit, with all His power of restraint over evil, is withdrawn. The evil spirit, with all his power of intensifying evil, is cast down in person to the earth. These are the two unseen events marking the advance move of the end time.

There will be nothing on earth at the moment to indicate that these tremendous events have happened. There is no suggestion of how much time is involved. Time is a matter of earth's calculation. Quite possibly we would speak of these events as occurring in a very brief time, perhaps an instant of our reckoning. These are the two events unseen on the earth.

At the same time there will begin two events seen taking place on earth. The first is the coming to the front of a man, a terrible leader of the forces of unrighteousness. Paul speaks of him as |the Lawless One.| John's name for him is |the Antichrist.| He becomes the human representative or incarnation of Satan. As Satan is cast down out of the heavens this leader comes to the front on earth.

He seems to have official position at the head of some great coalition of nations, with a wide area of authority. He seems to be some former notable leader known in history, who died, but is now brought back to life again by Satan's supernatural power.

As he forges to the front there follows on earth a horrible time of war, famine, pestilence, death, and persecution. He arbitrarily breaks the agreement with the Jews under which they have re-established their nation, and begins a terrible persecution of them. He sets up in the temple a blasphemous image, and requires that all people shall worship it. This strikes not only at the Jew, but at the Christian as well.

At one stroke of genius he compels absolutely universal attention to his command by forbidding the doing of any business except by those willing to worship the image. Those refusing the worship are killed. He will have an assistant doing wonderful miracles by Satanic power to deceive and persuade the people. During this time there is a loosing out on the earth of countless hordes of unseen demons to torment men.

All this continues for three and a half years. The time is stated in three different ways to make quite clear just how long is meant. This is the first of the two seen events. It centres at Jerusalem and seems to reach out practically to all the earth.

The second event is significant. During all this terrible time of persecution and blasphemy and the riot of evil, there will be two men in Jerusalem preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, and calling on men to repent. As an emphasis of their witness against the awful wickedness current they will be clothed in mourning. They will have miraculous power to attest their witness, and to protect themselves against attacks upon their lives. The great crowds of many nationalities in Jerusalem will make their witness practically world-wide in its direct as well as its indirect influence.

This also continues for three and a half years. As the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the Church as the witness of the Lord Jesus, these two special witnesses appear. In His great faithfulness and patience God never leaves Himself without a witness. This is the second event seen on earth. These two, evil at its worst, and God's special witnesses, run along side by side, both centring in Jerusalem.

The Climax -- He Comes.

Then there comes a group of four events. And these four are very closely associated together in point of time. They occur at the close of the period of persecution and wickedness. Indeed, it is their occurrence that brings the close. Yet the exact time when they happen is left quite uncertain.

And this clearly is another bit of the tendency in the record to keep our thought on the main events, and not on figuring out time. We are to keep to the essentials and be wary of mere speculation. For the sake of clearness I am putting these four events separately, but this does not mean that some of them may not be occurring at the same moment, or that all may not come within a very brief time. We simply do not know. It looks as though we are not meant to know.

There is a Jew event. The Holy Spirit comes down upon the nation of Jews in simple, tremendous, converting power. This is put in connection with the coming down out of the heavens on a cloud of the Lord Jesus. It seems to be this sight of their great Kinsman, Jesus, whom they crucified, that is used by the Holy Spirit to strike penitence to their stubborn hearts. Literally a nation is born again in a day. It will be with the whole nation as it was with Saul on the Damascus road, as sudden and unexpected, as startling and as radical; as sudden and unexpected an appearance of Jesus, as startling to the Jews, as radical in the absolute spirit transformation.

There is a Church event. And here the word Church is used to describe all believers in the Lord Jesus. That will be a much sifted and chastened company of people. This event is also connected with the open, visible coming of the Lord Jesus, out of the upper blue, before all eyes. It affects two separate companies of believers. The bodies of all believers who have died will be raised out of their graves, inhabited again by those who lived in them. Then the living believers shall have a transforming touch upon their bodies. And the two companies shall be caught up into the air into the presence of the Lord Jesus.

As they come into His presence there will be a purifying and perfecting of character, and an adjustment of relations with Him. There is no suggestion of how much time is involved. We naturally think of things as taking place through so much time. Our limitations in this regard will be gone then. It may be what we now call instantaneous.

There is a world event. There will come to the earth and to men a visitation of terrible judgments, affecting men's bodies, the sea and rivers, vegetation, an intensifying of the sun's heat, and possibly a terrible darkness -- in short, affecting everything concerning man and life on the earth. There will be a great gathering of the armies of the nations at a place in Palestine. Again there is no suggestion of how much time this visitation of judgments runs through, nor this gathering for battle.

Then there is the event, the great climax event, the actual coming of the Lord Jesus, out of the heavens, down to the earth. At the moment when He comes the Jews will be in the midst of a terrible siege in Jerusalem. Against the city will be assembled the armies of the nations. The city will be taken, the looting and ravaging already begun.

Then suddenly, out of the blue above, the Lord Jesus comes in a great blaze of blinding light, accompanied by great numbers. He will come to Olivet. With the coming will be a terrible earthquake, such as the earth has never known.

It is a striking geological fact that the greatest |fault,| or break in the earth's surface, is found in Palestine, running north and south from Antioch on the Orontes down even into Africa. But this earthquake will affect very wide areas, including the city of Babylon, which will be shaken to utter destruction. That earthquake will make radical changes in the formation of the earth's surface in Palestine.

At the same time there will be an equally terrific shake-up in the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars. The effect of both these upon the vast panic-stricken multitudes will be most pitiable. They will call upon the upheaved rocks to hide them from the wrath of God.

These are the four events occurring at this time. They are grouped together. It seems impossible to say first this, then that. They are grouped. The great essential thing standing out is that our Lord Jesus' coming will be at a terrible climax of evil. There will be partial judgment visited on the earth. The system of evil will be wholly overthrown. The Jews will be converted as a nation by the Holy Spirit. The Church will be caught away out of the distress, and will have part with our Lord Jesus in His coming.

It should again be noticed that in all this there are no time notes, except as to the length of this tribulation time. The persecution of the Jew and desecration of Jerusalem, the time of the two witnesses, and the sway of the Antichrist, each runs through three and a half years. There are no time notes whatever for the present waiting-time. And though the length of the tribulation itself is stated, yet it should be noted that the exact time of the Lord Jesus' actual return still remains quite undetermined.

In Daniel's prophecy there are four events spoken of as occurring at this time, and each is measured from the time when the sacrifices are stopped and the chief desecrating act in the temple begins. The tribulation runs for three and a half years. Thirty days later comes some glad event not specified further. Seventy-five days later there comes another glad event, and two years ten months and twenty days later the complete cleansing of the temple. Each of these portions of time is measured from the same starting point. This would suggest a period of readjustment after the Antichrist is slain, running through almost three years. All these time notes are of a year of three hundred and sixty days, not our common calendar year of three hundred and sixty-five and a fraction days.

There comes the period called the kingdom. Its capital is Jerusalem. The regenerated nation of Israel becomes the first nation of the earth, with all other nations tributary. Israel's leadership is a blessed one in its spiritual influence over all others. The Jews are a missionary nation, whose one passion is to make the knowledge of God known throughout the earth.

The redeemed ones of all the earth through all times will reign over the earth in fellowship with the King, the Lord Jesus. In their resurrection bodies, with all present bodily restrictions and limitations gone, they will have a blessed share in the new earth ministry.

The purpose of the kingdom is world-wide evangelization, but with all the conditions radically changed. Satan, with all evil spirits, is removed from the scene of action. The nation of Jews, baptized by the Holy Spirit, is the missionary force, under the direction and help of the Church. The Holy Spirit will have been poured out upon all flesh, making all peculiarly open to the truth.

What a wonderful time of continual revival it will be! But that much abused word |revival| will have its sweet, original meaning restored. It will mean a re-living, a new life of the Spirit coming, that will naturally include the body, too.

Intelligent Watching.

Such are the events, near and far, which some day will come up over the horizon of our common life, ushering in a new day. And we are bidden by our Lord Jesus to watch. We watch for Him, and for anything that tells us His coming is nearing.

Watching means wakefulness, an ideal, a purpose, an expectancy, and a daily life under the control of wakefulness, ideal, purpose, and expectancy. That our Lord Jesus will actually come to this old earth and reign, this is the ideal. That we shall, by grace, be true to Him in everything, day by day, during this waiting-time, this is the purpose. That we shall indeed see Him come, and be caught up into His presence without death, this is the expectancy.

That this shall all be a real thing to us, controlling all our relationships, our gold, and our life, and that we shall reverently, thoughtfully seek to understand what He has told us about it, this is the wakefulness. This is what watching means. Our bodies may be asleep, our brains and hands absorbed in the day's task, but our hearts can be awake for the sound ahead of the coming of His feet.

|But how can you watch for Him if there are intervening events?| So the question came to me this summer by a thoughtful, godly minister who looks for His coming. And I said: |Because His coming is one of a little group of events which cluster about His coming.|

The crowd stands watching at the railway station in England to see the king's train come in. Yet they know that before it comes the pilot-engine will come, running ahead about so many minutes to insure the safety of the way. The coming of the pilot-engine heightens the intensity of watching, for now soon the king will come.

The watcher in the sick-chamber, weary with the long night's anxious vigil, goes to the east window to see if day is coming. There comes a bare lighting-up in the east, just a slight lessening of the darkness that is everywhere. But even this much brings a sigh of relief. The sun itself may not be seen for two hours or more. But you know without looking at the clock that the sun is coming and is near. Its presence near sends the light far ahead.

When the trees begin to send out swelling bud and tender green leaf and catkin, we know summer is coming, even though the chill is in the air, and the night may even now bring a touch of the white of frost. |Even so ye also when ye see these things know that He is nigh, even at the doors.|

There's something intensely practical about this thing of watching. I mean the intelligent watching that a thoughtful study of God's Word promotes. There is a striking sentence used in describing some of the men that rallied to David during the clearing-up storm that preceded his reign. It is said of certain of the tribe of Issachar that they |had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do| in the matter of making David the accepted king over the realm. Their thoughtful study and judgment of the time made them wise leaders of action.

There is a similar significant word spoken to Daniel in the final vision in which these end events are being disclosed. And we recall that the speaker is He for whose coming we look. He says, |They that are wise shall understand.| Daniel had prayerfully set himself to understand God's will for his people. When the wonderful vision was given him in answer to his patient study and continued prayer, the Man of Fire who came to him said, |Now I am come to make thee understand.|

It is wise, by thoughtful, prayerful study of God's Word, to try to understand what He has told us. Not to do so is not wise. And more, it will become increasingly needful that others be taught as these events draw on. Daniel is told in this same connection that |They that are wise shall instruct many.|

The opening words of the Revelation, and especially the closing paragraphs, emphasize this same thing. The revelation is given that we may read and understand and hold our lives true to this vision. This thing is intensely practical. Indeed, it is the practical thing for our day. We can understand the simple essentials revealed here. Our Lord Jesus earnestly desires us to do so. Surely we will, for His sake.

A Spirit Sensitiveness.

The thoughtful watching that grows out of an understanding of our Lord's plans influences subtly and mightily one's whole life. It deepens wondering reverence for the Lord Jesus Himself, His present power and personal glory sitting up yonder in the indescribable glory of the Father's presence, and His patience and strength in this waiting-time. It draws out a depth and tenderness of personal love for Himself and of devotion to Him.

There comes to be a keenly acute conscience about evil, and about compromise with evil; and yet with it a sanity of judgment on particular questions arising, and a gentle consideration for others who see otherwise, or think they do. Evil grows in subtlety and in aggressiveness in our day, and probably will yet more. It seeks especially to make inroads among God's professing people. Yet evil is evil. Its true inwardness is quickly revealed by adding a |d| at the beginning of the word. And it grows increasingly repugnant in whatever guise, as we come to study more its inner spirit as revealed in these disclosures of the end times.

Then, too, this watching affects one's judgment of, and attitude toward, Christian service, and toward movements in the Christian world. The getting-together spirit is getting more and more into Church circles. The fervent heart repeats constantly our Lord's prayer, |that they may all be one.| Yet it becomes clear that there may be movements toward union that are not of the Holy Spirit's initiation, and that cannot have his approval.

It is not enough to do good. That may prove to be a low level of action. The thing is to find out what God has planned, and fit into that, with all the warmth of one's being. His will is always good, and better, and best. The good thing may not be the thing He has planned and wants done.

It becomes increasingly clear that our Lord Jesus is a great general. He has the whole campaign of action mapped out, and every detail of it thought into and thought out. As one comes to learn more of His plans, and Himself as a planner, there comes to be a passion for doing His will. One moves from the old position of working for God up to the position of so fitting in that God works through us.

And there comes to be a consciousness that He is doing immensely more through the things we do than we are conscious of. So in all Church activity there comes to be a reaching out in spirit to discern what He wants done, and putting all the strength into that.

Then, too, one's thought of foreign missionary service undergoes a change. The actual taking of the message of Christ to those who haven't heard comes to have first place. Educational work and medical and humanitarian, and the like, in missionary service, are seen to be wisely used when held strictly in place as a means to a direct end. And their value is judged wholly by their being a means of bringing those whom they touch face to face with the Christ that died.

It seems to be possible to spend fifty years and more establishing mission work in the city centres of a foreign-mission country, and all good, blessed work; and yet have the great mass of that country's population in utter ignorance of the Gospel message and its power.

As the Holy Spirit is allowed control increasingly, there comes to be a better understanding of God's purposes and of His plans, an earnest cooeperation in the Church movement for making Christ known to all men everywhere, a faithfulness in all the circle of one's own home Church, and a warm personal winning of men to know the Lord Jesus as their Saviour.

So it is seen that watching for our Lord's return affects one's whole life in an intensely practical way. It deepens faith in Him. It leads to an intelligent detachment in social and commercial and even Church circles, while making an increase of thoughtful regard for others. It purifies the personal life. It chastens and deepens and gentles the personal character.

It seems very striking and very strange that when Jesus was born there are just two persons named, outside the immediate circle, who seemed to have the spirit instinct that recognized who He was. There was a man living in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. Who was he? rich? poor? cultured? of lowly station? No one knows. But whoever he was, he had cultivated close walk with God. That's clear. And into his inner spirit came the conviction that the Christ promised for ages, so long waited for, the Christ was now coming, and he would see Him.

And a similar story is told of the woman called Anna. These two were in that simple touch of heart with God that could in spirit sense the coming of the Christ. There may have been others. We are not told. But the emphasis remains on the fact that few seemed to discern the working out of God's tremendous plan.

Will it be so again? It would surely seem that intelligent watching would make one sensitive in spirit to coming events. Yet there would ever be a mingling of deepest reverence, and a thoughtful caution regarding mere speculation, while the fervent prayer that Jesus taught is daily repeated, |Thy kingdom come.|

And John's closing Revelation prayer constantly breathes out, |Even so, come, Lord Jesus.|

FOOTNOTES:

Acts iii.20-21; xv.14-18.

Matthew xxiv.33.

1 Chronicles xii.32.

Daniel xii.10.

Daniel viii.15-17; ix.1-2; x.1-3, 11-14.

Daniel xi.33.

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