Horatius Bonar Commentaries
And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God:
For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.
And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.
And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.
And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.
And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.The One Witness And The One Testimony.
Revelation 19:10Revelation 22:20.
John was overpowered with glory. It was but the glory of an angel, and the words were the words of an angel; but the glory and the words were those of one who had come from the presence of God. Perhaps he was like Peter on the mount, who knew not what he did and said. He forgets for a moment that it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God,' and he falls down at his feet to worship him. 'Stop!' cries the angel, 'don't worship me!' And if the holy men and women, to whom the idolatry of the Church of Rome is paid, could speak, they would say the same, shrinking back horrified at the robbery of being made equal with God. But it is to the answer of the angel, and his declaration concerning himself, that I ask your attention.
Who am I, that you should worship me? Am I God? No, I am your fellow servant—and shall the servants worship each other, and forget the Master? No, I am the fellow servant of your brethren who keep the sayings of this book (Revelation 22:9). No, I am the fellow servant of the prophets of old (that is, the same angel who ministered to them). No, I am the fellow servant of the prophets of old (that is, the same angel who ministered to them). No, I am the fellow servant of all who 'hold the testimony of Jesus;' for 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.'
Thus then we have a proclamation made to us as to the oneness of the whole Bible.
I. The oneness of the TESTIFIER.He is the one God. The sender of the testimony is the one Jehovah; the subject of the testimony is the one Jesus; the inspirer is the one Spirit. Through many lips He has spoken, by many pens he has written; but it is the mind, the will, the purpose, the revelation of the one God that is here.
II. The oneness of the MESSENGER.It is intimated here that it was the one angel alone that was employed to communicate the testimony. He was sent to patriarchs and prophets of old, to apostles and brethren in later times. The instrument or medium of communication was a created being, an angel; but it was the same throughout.
III. The oneness of the TESTIMONY.It is not many testimonies, but one; it is the word (not words) of God. It was given at sundry times and diverse manners; in fragments and portions, great and small; by many lips and pens; spread out over more than four thousand years, for it began in paradise and ended in Patmos; yet there is unity throughout, not discord or contradiction—marvelous unity, which can only be accounted for on the fact that there was in reality but one writer—He to whom one day is as a thousand years; and that therefore the truths enunciated are the offspring of one mind, the thoughts of one heart. This testimony bore all upon one point, one person, one work, one kingdom. It was the "testimony of Jesus;" that is, it testified of Him from first to last; for Christ is the all and in all of prophecy, the all and in all of the Bible.
But let us consider the oneness of this testimony more in detail.
(1) Its oneness as to the character of GOD.His is one name throughout, Jehovah. He is the Holy One; righteous, good, true; hating the sin, loving the sinner. He is King eternal, immortal, and invisible; infinite in all things; without variableness or shadow of turning. It is the same good and gracious God that you meet with at man's creation, that you meet at the close of time; it is the same holy God that you find driving Adam out of Paradise, and bringing His deluge over the world, that you find pouring out His vials upon earth, and preparing His judgments for the sons of men.
(2) Its oneness as to the character of MAN.He was made upright, but he sought out many evil inventions. And since sin came in, we see him perpetually evil—a dark understanding, a rebellious will, a heart full of sin; thinking evil, speaking evil, acting evil. His "progress" is always downward, not upward. God's testimony to man throughout the Bible is the same. Patriarch, and prophet, and apostle tell us the same thing about the evil of man—and the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It nowhere hides the sins of the good; nor does it exaggerate the crimes of the evil. It bears one unvarying and undeviating testimony to man and man's heart—'deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.'
(3) Its oneness as to the way of SALVATION.That salvation is described in many aspects, under many figures and types—yet it is but one salvation—one way to life for the sinner, through a death and a righteousness not his own. God's free love—the great sacrifice—the sinner's faith. 'The just shall live by faith.' Salvation free, complete, present, everlasting—this is the announcement of Scripture from first to last.
(4) Its oneness as to the SAVIOR.He is the Seed of the woman; the Son of Abraham; the seed of David; the Child of Mary. He is the Man with the bruised heel—finite, yet infinite; created, yet uncreated; dead, yet living forever! Through His death life comes to us—through His blood cleansing comes. He is Jesus the Savior—able to save to the uttermost—Messiah, the Sin-bearer, the Lamb of God. Every book of the bible bears on this with marvelous concord.
(5) Its oneness as to the CHURCH'S HOPE.It is resurrection; glory; a kingdom—and all connected with Messiah. 'Behold!' was Enoch's utterance at the beginning. 'Behold! He comes with the clouds!' is John's at the close. One unvarying testimony to our eternal future.
(6) Its oneness as to the SINNER'S DOOM.Death, wrath, woe—a fearful judgment, and an endless darkness! Throughout it is the same. It began with, 'You shall die!' It ends with, 'They were cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death.' They shall have death without hope, who have refused the death of the one Substitute.
The Great Prophetic Theme.
The meaning of this passage may be given in the two following propositions—(1) The theme of prophecy is Jesus. (2) The Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets bears testimony in them throughout to Jesus—His great object in the prophecies is to bear testimony to Jesus.
'For' connects the two clauses thus—'I am the angel that ministered to the Old Testament prophets; I now minister to you, communicating the same testimony to you as to them—the one testimony of Scripture concerning Jesus. I am nothing but a creature, a fellow servant with yourself in the same work and mission, testifying to Jesus—do not worship me, but that God from whom I come, to testify of His Son.' Let us take these words in their widest sense—
I. The theme of the Bible is Jesus.Not philosophy, nor science, nor theology, nor metaphysics, nor morality—but Jesus. He is the alpha and omega, the first and the last. We acknowledge Him as the theme of the Gospels; let us no less acknowledge Him as the theme of all Scripture, all inspiration.
II. The theme of Bible-annals is Jesus.Not mere history—but history as containing Jesus. Not the mere rise and fall of nations and kingdoms, but these as connected with the promised seed of the woman.
III. The theme of the Psalms is Jesus.It is not mere poetry, Hebrew poetry, that we find in them—but Jesus. It is poetry embodying Jesus; it is praise, of which every note is Immanuel.
IV. The theme of prophecy is Jesus.It is not certain future events, dark or bright, presented to the view of the curious and speculative—it is Jesus; earthly events and hopes and fears only as linked with Him.
What man needs, then, is Jesus; not mere knowledge or wisdom. What humanity—unconsciously and ignorantly, it may be—sighs for, is Jesus. What earth, ruined and accursed because of sin, groans for, is Jesus—nothing less than this. No other prophet or priest or king can meet the exigencies of the race and its dwelling, the earth, but Jesus only.
Yes, 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' I might take up these words and show how they are fulfilled in the things written concerning His first and second comings. But I prefer taking them up under the two great heads.(1) Himself; (2) His work. This will embrace the whole Christology of the Bible.
I. Himself.It is He, His own self, that shines out to us in the prophetic word. There we have His Person announced to us—the God-man; Son of God, and Son of man; the Wisdom of God; the Word made flesh; the Seed of the woman; the Bruiser of the serpent's head; the man with the bruised heel; Seed of Abraham; Seed of Judah; Seed of David; Star of Jacob; Root of Jesse; the Lamb slain; the Lion of the tribe of Judah; Prophet, Priest, and King, Judge and Lawgiver. As the Creator of all things, He has relationship to the universe; as Redeemer of His chosen, He has special relationship to earth. As the Light of the world, he is connected with the present state of the world's darkness; as the Morning Star, He is connected with dawn; as the Sun of Righteousness, He is connected with the promised day—the day of the Son of man.
II. His work.This, of course, is in correspondence with His character and person. It is prophetical work; it is priestly (or sacrificial) work; it is royal work. He is both teacher and lesson, the prophet and the prophecy; He is both priest and sacrifice, the altar and the victim; He is King—King of kings; and all things are His, though not yet put under Him. This work is (1) past (2) present, (3) future.
But let us mark the bearings of this work upon—
(1) HEAVEN,and the things of heaven. It has revealed God, in His love, wisdom, power, and righteousness; the three-one God, father, Son and Spirit. It has formed the great lesson for angels; for from it, and the Church redeemed by it, principalities and powers learn the wisdom of God. 'Angels desire to look into it;' and angels in Him have received their head; for He is the head of principalities and powers, and shall yet be manifested as such. He is King of heaven, seated on the throne of the universe!
(2) EARTH,and the things of earth. Here it is that His cross once stood, and His blood was shed, and His grave was made. Truly He is connected with earth; for He was of the substance of the Virgin, and therefore linked with the dust of earth. Here it is that He has been saving sinners; redeeming to Himself a Church, a bride; preparing His kings and priests for the universe, as well as for this earth itself. It is from this earth (by virtue of His blood) that He removes the curse; it is of this earth that He says, 'Behold, I make all things new;' it is here that He is to reign as King.
(3) The GRAVE,and its inhabitants. He did not enter the tomb merely to show that He could come out again. He entered that He might acquire power over it, in virtue of His death. He is now Lord of the grave, and Conqueror of death. 'O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction.' He is 'the resurrection' as well as the risen One; from Him comes the first resurrection, with all its glory—the better resurrection—the resurrection unto life.
(4) HELL,and its possessors. He came to pluck brands from the burning; to deliver from the wrath to come; to take the prey from the mighty; to spoil the spoiler; to destroy the works of the devil—him who has the power of death, the prince of darkness. He comes to bind Satan, and shut him up; to smite Antichrist, 'prince of the blood-royal of hell.' He comes to fight the last battle with Satan, when the cup of his iniquity is full; for Satan's enmity to Christ and His Church during these six thousand years is filling that cup; and though Satan has not the guilt of rejecting Him as the Savior, he has the guilt of deliberately warring with Him and His saints.
Thus, then, Jesus is the great Bible-theme. For Him let us search the Scriptures—for Jesus—nothing less than Him! What do you think of prophecy? What do you think of Jesus? What do you think of the testimony to Him given by the Father and the Spirit? Shall earth be ashamed of her coming King? Shall His Church be ashamed to bear testimony to His royal prerogatives in this dark day of His absence?
Messiah's Many Crowns.
God's great eternal purpose was to rule this world by a man—not directly by Himself, but mediately by a man, such as he whose creation is recorded in Genesis; not by an angel or mere spiritual creature, but by a being of flesh and blood. Earth's government was to be in and by humanity. 'To the angels has he not put in subjection the world to come' (Hebrews 2:5).
The first intimation of this is in Genesis, in the history of man's creation—'God blessed him and said, Have dominion.' This is a man's investiture with regal power; this is earth's magna carta; this is God's constitution for our world; a monarchy, not a republic, nor an oligarchy; the crown is put upon man's head and the scepter into his hand by God Himself.
Man sinned away his dominion—the crown fell from his head, the scepter from his hand. Yet still, ages after, God speaks of dominion as his. The question is asked, 'What is man, that You are mindful of him?' no, puts into our lips a new acknowledgment of the original title, 'you have put all things under his feet' (Psalm 8:6). Therefore it is that the redeemed sing, 'We shall reign on the earth' (Revelation 5:10).
But the scepter was not to pass from the hands of humanity. God's purpose must stand. In its first unfolding it seemed to break down; but it cannot fail. One in our very flesh, a true son of Adam, has the crown secured to Him. Messiah, the Word made flesh, is earth's King—the last Adam, the Lord from heaven. Man and man's earth are not to be disjoined.
But before Messiah reigns, there are to be ages of misrule and evil, rebellion and treason against the righteous King; for now 'we see not yet all things put under Him.' God puts man on trial to see if he can rule the earth—to see if he will rule it according to the holy principles of its original constitution. In every region of earth this has been tried; and man's total incapacity for righteous government has been proved, as well as earth' persistent refusal to submit to righteous rule. Earth is at this day no nearer order, and peace, and holiness, than at first.
Yet God has enunciated the true principles of government to man. He did it briefly at first; He did it more fully afterwards, when He chose a land for the special scene of His dominion, and a people in whom the divine principles of government might be exhibited. He has done it most fully of all in His revelations of the future of man and man's earth. All prophecy, more or less directly, points to this. Isaiah's predictions of latter-day glory contain in them not only the germs of such principles of government, but their full and frequent exposition. God has told us how He wishes His world to be ruled. 'He who rules over men must be just;' judges and rulers should be fearers of God, seeking to do His will and glorify His name. The crown and scepter are to represent holiness and righteousness, as well as power. The throne is to be established in judgment and justice. The legislation is to be religious; interwoven in all its acts with God and His laws. The king rules for God, and in the name of God; all that he says and does, are to remind his subjects of Him by whom kings reign.
Thus all God's history of the past, and His revelation of the future, declare the principles on which He desires His earth to be governed; the true theory of earthly rule and legislation. He who dissevers God from government, or would exercise dominion without religion, is setting aside what God has taken such pains to affirm. Divine politics are heavenly in their nature; and it is by these politics that our world is to be swayed.
All that is good, and holy, and just, is concentrated in the person of Messiah. He is the Just One. His scepter is a scepter of righteousness; the center of His dominion is the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.
Messiah then is the representative of Adam—yet also of God. To Messiah, when all else have failed, is committed the government of earth. He, the true Adam, with His true Eve, the Church is set by God on the throne, when the four great monarchies that have tyrannized over earth and trodden down the saints shall have been broken in pieces, and made like the chaff of the summer thrashing-floor. God casts down the thrones of earth; sets up the true throne, and places His Son upon it, King of kings and Lord of Lords. 'On His head are many crowns.'
I. The crown of HEAVEN is on His head.'We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor' at the Father's right hand. Heaven is His dominion. He sits upon its throne.
II. The crown of EARTH is on His head.Not yet, not yet—but soon! All the present crowns of earth shall pass away, He shall take to Himself His great power and reign. He shall yet wear the crown, and exercise dominion here, when all things are made new; 'come forth, O you daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him'.
III. The crown of PRINCIPALITIES and POWERS is on His head.He is the Head of these. I do not mean merely that the powers of hell are put under His feet—but the powers of heaven. He is the King of angels.
IV. The crown of the CHURCH is on His head.He is King of saints. He is at once the Husband and the King of the Church. 'He is your Lord, worship Him.' The saints sit with Him on His throne; yet they fall down before Him.
Thus Christ is all and in all. Earth was made for Him as well as heaven. Men were made for Him as well as angels. Might and dominion are His here below; and he shall yet take the scepter and show what holy government is; what holy legislation is; what holy judgment is; what holy politics are; what a holy king is. Earth waits for His arrival. Men rebel against His government. They would cast out the heir. They would not have Him to rule over them. Yet God shall set His Son upon His holy hill of Zion!
The First Resurrection.
Resurrection is our hope—not death. It has always been the Church's hope—the hope of patriarchs and kings and prophets. Martha only uttered the confession of the Church universal when she said, 'I know that he shall rise again.' Israel knew resurrection well—and the Old Testament assumes the truth of it.
It is not the putting off this vile body (or this 'body of our humiliation'), but the putting on of the immortal and incorruptible that is our hope; not our going to Christ, but His coming to us; not merely our victory over sin and its spiritual consequences, but victory over death and the grave. This hope grew brighter as the ages went on, until it was fully revealed in Him who is the resurrection and the life. But still more was needed; and it was reserved for Paul and John fully to unfold the hope.
This twentieth chapter of the Revelation is a very wonderful one, and specially valuable as giving us details of the resurrection hope.
An angel is seen descending out of heaven; he has the key of the bottomless pit, or abyss, and a great chain in his hand. He seizes the dragon, the old serpent (the murderer and liar from the beginning, John 8:44), who is the Devil, and Satan; binds him a thousand years; casts him into the abyss; locks him up; sets a seal above or upon him, to hinder his escaping and deceiving the nations for a thousand years. Then thrones are set up (Daniel 7:9); and there are sitters upon them, to whom judgment is given (1 Corinthians 6:2); the souls (Acts 2:41, Acts 7:41) of the martyrs and the non-worshipers of the beast are made to live again; and being thus raised, they reign with Christ (Revelation 5:10). But the rest of the dead are not raised until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection.
It gets the designation of 'first,' not because of its pre-eminence and glory, but because it is before another. Properly speaking, the great resurrection fact is but one—'all that are in their grave shall arise;' but it divides itself into two parts or acts, separated from each other by a considerable interval—an interval (like that between the Lord's two comings) not at first revealed. But here the interval is explicitly announced—a thousand years. The righteous rise to glory at the beginning of that period, and during it they live and reign with Christ. At its close, the wicked rise, and are judged. This resurrection of the wicked at the close of the thousand years, sets aside the doctrine of annihilation entirely. They do not rise in order to be annihilated. They do not get new bodies merely in order to have these new bodies destroyed.
I. WHEN is it to be?When the Lord comes the second time. In the preceding chapter he is described as coming with the hosts of heaven for the destruction of His enemies. (See 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). He comes as the resurrection and the life; the abolisher of death, the spoiler of the grave, the raiser of His saints.
II. WHO it is to consist of?This passage speaks only of the martyrs and the non-worshipers of the beast; but other passages show that all His saints are to be partakers of this reward. 'This honor have all His saints;' all who have followed Christ, or suffered for Him, from Abel downwards. They have suffered with Him here, and they shall reign with Him here. They have fought the good fight; they have overcome the world, and the god of this world. The conflict and the tribulation have been sore, but the recompense is glorious. Oneness with Christ now secures for us the glory of that day.
III. WHAT it does for those who share it?It brings to them such things as the following:
(1) Blessedness—Peculiar blessedness is to be theirs. God only knows how much that word implies, as spoken by Him who cannot lie, who exaggerates nothing, and whose simplest words are His greatest.
(2) Holiness—They are pre-eminently 'the saints of God;' set apart for Him; consecrated and purified, both outwardly and inwardly; dwelt in by him whose name is the 'Holy Spirit;' and called to special service in virtue of their consecration. Priestly-royal service is to be theirs throughout the eternal ages.
(3) Preservation from the second death—They rise to an immortality which shall never be recalled. No dying again, in any sense of the word; not a fragment of mortality about them, nothing of this vile body, and nothing of that corruption or darkness or anguish which shall be the portion of those who rise at the close of the thousand years. 'Neither shall they die any more' (Luke 20:36). They 'shall not be hurt of the second death' (Revelation 2:2), but shall feed upon the tree of life. Their connection with death, in every sense, is done forever.
(4) The possession of a heavenly priesthood—They are made priests unto God and Christ—both to the Father and the Son. Priestly nearness and access; priestly power and honor and service; priestly glory and dignity—this is their recompense. They, with their glorified and reigning Head, form the link between creation above and creation below—between the Creator and the creature, carrying up the incenses of prayer and praise and service from all parts of a holy universe, now linked to Godhead forever, beyond the possibility of fall. They maintain the communication between God and His world, between Paradise regained and the Paradise that was never lost—no, between God and His innumerable worlds throughout all space. For priesthood is not for sacrifice alone, but for carrying on the endless communion between heaven and earth.
(5) The possession of the kingdom—They shall reign for a thousand years over a renewed earth, where there are traces still of the fall, and on which Satan is for a brief season to be let loose; and they shall reign forever and ever over a world thoroughly restored and purified, into which Satan shall never again find entrance. They are kings as well as priests, both in one—God's Melchizedek's, wearing the priestly miter, and wielding the royal scepter. Having their home and place and throne in the new Jerusalem, they rule over a delivered creation, over the converted nations, over a world now filled with the Holy Spirit in all its nations.
Such are our prospects—let us live accordingly. Let our coming honors influence us now—making us self-denied, consistent, heavenly—quickening us to zeal and love.
Sinner, walking on in unbelief, and worldliness, and pleasure, what are your prospects? Have you considered them? Are they satisfactory? What is your hope? What is judgment to do for you? What is resurrection to bring? Look at the following alternatives, and ask which is to be yours. Everlasting gladness—or everlasting sorrow? Everlasting glory—or everlasting shame? Everlasting songs— or everlasting wailing? The marriage supper of the Lamb—or the perpetual banishment from all that is good and holy? The new heavens and earth—or the eternal wilderness, with its parched and burning wastes? The heavenly Jerusalem, with the Lamb as its light—or the blackness of darkness forever? The fruit of the tree of life and the waters of the celestial river—or the eternal hunger and the unquenchable thirst? (Luke 16:24). The first resurrection—or the second death? These are the alternatives before you—and there is no middle doom.
O that second death, and that resurrection unto condemnation! (John 5:29; Revelation 20:13.) You shall arise, O man—but what will that rising do for you? When you were carried out at the first death, there were tears shed upon your coffin; but shall it be so when you are carried out at the second death? Your funeral procession moves on; but there are not friends, no mourners. What means that dark procession? It is a legion of fallen angels come to escort you to that place where the worm dies not. They lament not, but rejoice that they have got you, both soul and body, into their keeping forever. O man! Man, made in the image of God, and made for fellowship with God—is this to be your end? Man, with a soul susceptible of such gladness and such sorrow, and with a body capable of such pleasure and such pain—is this to be your doom? Is this the end of all time's hopes, and fears, and dreams—its songs, and smiles, and laughter? Is this the end of sermons, and Sabbaths, and sacraments? Is this the end of warnings, and judgments, and providences, and entreaties, and messages of love? Well may hell from beneath be moved at your coming, and say—Have you too become like one of us?
Oh, before the last trumpet sound, before you lie down upon your earthly deathbed, lift up your eyes to the saving cross! There is healing in a look. Look and live! Though it were your last look here, before the eye closed forever, it would suffice. The uplifted Savior saves even at the last—saves even the chief of sinners!
The Great White Throne.
This ought to have begun a new chapter, or formed a separate section. It is a new scene—following, no doubt, close on the judgment terrors of the preceding verses, but still separate from them. It is a scene of infinite grandeur and solemnity; a scene from which the world shrinks back, but which shall one day be realized on this very globe. John 'saw' it—in vision, no doubt; but in a vision presented by God Himself—a true picture of coming realities to man and man's world. All this scene shall one day come true. It is the 'vision,' and it shall be one day the reality of—
(1) A THRONE—YES, a royal seat, a seat of judgment, the seat of the great King and Judge of all. There have been many thrones on earth, but none like this—one throne in place of the many.
(2) A GREAT throne—All earth's thrones have been little, even the greatest—Nebuchadnezzar, or Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon—but this is 'great;' greater than the greatest—none like it in magnificence.
(3) A WHITE throne—White is purity, truth, justice calmness. Such is the throne to be—unsoiled, untainted, incorruptible—no one-sidedness nor imperfection—no bribery nor favor there. All is 'white'—transparent and spotless perfection.
(4) One SEATED on it—It was not empty or unoccupied, nor filled by a usurper, or by one who could not wield the power required for executed its decrees. God was seated there; that very God before whose face heaven and earth flee away; that God whose presence melts the mountains, and made Sinai to shake (See Psalm 102:26; Isaiah 34:4, Isaiah 51:6; Jeremiah 4:23, Jeremiah 4:26; Revelation 6:14, Revelation 16:20). In the last two passages we find men upon the earth, and hail falling from heaven upon them, after it had been said that all had fled away; which shows that it is not annihilation that is meant in any of them. Nothing is annihilated. Our bodies return to dust, but return out of dust into themselves again; so earth will undergo changes, but will come out of these the same earth, only purified. For our bodies there is resurrection, for earth restitution, but for neither annihilation. If annihilation is the portion of the wicked—what then, does their resurrection mean? He who sits on this throne is the mighty God, able to judge and to carry out His decrees in spite of all human or hellish resistance. How terrible to stand unready before such a Judge and such a throne! All justice, all perfection, all holiness! Who can abide His appearing?
But besides the Judge and the throne, there are the millions to be judged. They are—(1) The dead; those who did not rise in the first resurrection, called 'the rest of the dead' (Revelation 20:5). They remained behind the dead in Christ, but they must rise at last. (2) Small and great; from the youth to the old man, from the feeblest to the strongest, all are there. 'They shall not escape.' They have to do with unerring eyes.
These 'stand before God.' There are others who 'stand before God,' or 'before the throne of God,' but for very different purpose.
'The angels stood before God' (Revelation 8:2); the two witnesses 'stood before God of the whole earth' (Revelation 11:4); the great white-robed multitude 'stood before the throne' (Revelation 8:9-15); the elders 'sat before the throne of God' (Revelation 11:16). But all these are very different from the 'small and great' who stand before 'the great white throne.' The former stand for honor and glory and gladness, the latter for judgment.
The process of judgment is also seen. (1) Books are opened—books probably containing God's history of the sinner's life. His record of the sinner's deeds. How different from man's! How different God's story of our great men, our literary men, our poets, our philosophers, our captains, our kings, from man's! The divine version of human history—how unusual it will be! How unlike all earthly annals! Most of the leading facts the same, yet how differently told! Most of the scenes and events and actions the same, yet how differently put the interpreted! What a strange thing will be a biography, a human life, seen by divine eyes and recorded by a divine pen! What 'books' these will be! Alongside of these is another book, called the book of life—the register of those whose portion is life eternal, whose home is to be the land and city of life, whose heritage is to be that God in whose favor is life. (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8, Revelation 21:27).
The books first mentioned contain the materials for the Judge's decision. Out of them the individuals are judged, 'every man according to his works.' The 'things written in these books' being thus connected with the 'works' mentioned, lead us to conclude that they are the record or annals of the works of each. All things are written down. God keeps His diary of every soul's doings and sayings and thinkings. Nothing is forgotten! Every deed awakes from its slumbers and speaks on that day! What a resurrection of each buried thought and word at that great white throne!
The judgment will be just and fair; nothing overrated, nothing underrated. Every fact will speak exactly for itself. Each word will be weighed in perfect balances. No one shall be able to complain. God will be justified in all. What a scrutiny! What impartiality and calmness, yet what exactness and minuteness!
It shall be universal judgment then. Sea and land shall give up their dead. Death and the grave shall part with their victims. Each region of earth shall furnish its thousands or millions of the dead for judgment. And again it is said, 'according to their works.' On these each man's judgment is to turn.
Then death and the grave are utterly destroyed. They exist no more, but are consumed. The lake of fire is their portion; and in this lake there is the second death. The first death passes away only to give place to a second far more terrible; a death that never dies, that has no grave, and no end. The second death! The lake of fire! What words of horror are these! Yet they are not exaggerations, but God's own calm and solemn language. It indicates real punishment, not annihilation.
And all who are not found in the book of life are cast into this fiery lake—handed over to this second death, this eternal mortality, this never-ending dying—this death that is always both present and to come—the worm that never dies, the fire that is never quenched. Such is the eternity of the lost, according to God's account of it. Man may dilute or disbelieve or allegorize the statement, but there it stands. Eternal sorrow or eternal joy!
(1) Is it all true? Do we believe it? All this about the great white throne, and the Judge, and the books, and the lake, and the second death? Are all these things true?
(2) Does it bear upon us? Have these scenes of judgment any bearing upon us? Are their terrors for us? Has humanity anything to do with that lake of fire? Or is it only for lost angels?
(3) Is it rousing to us? If anything could awake us, it would be a futurity like this. That Judge, that judgment, that woe!
Death and the Grave.
It is of His two chief enemies that God here speaks—'death and the grave,' or 'place of the dead' (Hades)—for such, and not hell, ought to be the rendering of the latter of the two words.
This is not the first time, nor the only place, in which they are thus classed together. There is a striking series of passages, running through all Scripture, in which they are names as allies—fellow-workers in the perpetration of one great deed of darkness from the beginning. Often are death and the grave in the lips of Job. David thus speaks of them—'In death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who shall give You thanks?' (Psalm 6:5.) Solomon thus uses them in figure—'Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave' (Song of Solomon 8:6). Hezekiah thus refers to them—'The grave cannot praise You; death cannot celebrate You' (Isaiah 38:18). Isaiah thus mentions them in their connection with Messiah—'He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death' (Isaiah 53:9). Hosea thus proclaims their awful fellowship in evil—'I will ransom them (His people) from the owner of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be the plagues; O grave, I will be your destruction—repentance shall be hid from my eyes' (Isaiah 13:14). Paul thus takes up the language of the old prophets—'O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is the victory?' (1 Corinthians 15:55.) And then, as the summing up of the whole, we have these strange words of the Apocalypse—'Death and the grave delivered up the dead which were in them; and death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.'
These last words accord strikingly with those in Hosea; yet they are not meant as a mere quotation or reference, but as an intimation of fulfillment—an announcement as to the way in which God is to execute His threat. 'O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction,' is the old prediction; and of this John records the awful fulfillment, 'Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.' This is the end of that death-power which was let loose in Paradise, and which has continued to exercise dominion upon earth through these two channels. The reign has been long and sad; it has been one of dissolution, and blight, and terror; but it ends at last! This dynasty of darkness, this double vice-regency of hell, is broken in pieces—death and the grave are cast into the lake of fire—which is the second death, the death that absorbs all other deaths, the death of deaths, the deepest death of all, the death after which there is no life, and no resurrection, and no deliverance forever.
These two enemies of God and man are here personified as two powers of evil, the one the handmaid of the other— twin demons,coming forth from the blackness of darkness, and returning to the darkness from which they sprang—servants of, or rather co-operators with, the prince of darkness, with him who has the power of death, even the devil, in carrying out the inexorable sentence, 'Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.' They are treated as two hideous criminals; who, though for a time permitted to go forth, like the Assyrian and Babylonian ravager, to execute the divine commission, are at last called to reckoning, for the havoc they have wrought, and dragged forth, as pre-eminent in crime, to receive their sentence of doom—and to be cast into the lake of fire.
DEATH has been the sword of law for ages; but when it has done its work on earth, God takes this sword, red with the blood of millions, snaps it in pieces before the universe, and casts its fragments into the flame, in the day of the great winding-up, in token that never again shall it be needed, either on earth or throughout the universe.
The GRAVE has been the chain and the prison-house of justice; but when its purpose is served, and justice has got all its own in the heaven of the saved, and the hell of the lost—God gathers up each link of the chain and flings them into the lake of fire upon the head of the great potentate of evil! He demolishes the dungeon to its foundation, and buries its ruins in a grave like that of Sodom—the lake of the everlasting burnings. Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire!
The great truth taught us here is God's abhorrence of death, and His determination not merely to end it, but to take vengeance on it. Let us then inquire into this, and into the reasons for it.
I. God abhors death.The fact of its existence on earth by His permission, is of no proof of His non-abhorrence; else would the prevalence of sin, side by side with death, be demonstration that He does not hate it. Accustomed with death, as WE sometimes are by its frequency—HE abhors death more truly than even we do who are the subjects of his ravages. We cannot but hate death, even when we have ceased to fear it, and know that for us its sting has been extracted. We hate it, and thrust it from us; loathing its advances, and waging daily war with it—seeking by every contrivance of skill to overcome it and ward off its stroke. We hate it because of its darkness—and its coldness—and its silence. We hate it as the great "robber of our loves and joys"—who gives nothing but takes everything. It cuts so many ties; it rends so many hearts; it silences so many voices; it thins so many firesides; it comes with its dark veil, its screen of ice, between friend and friend, between soul and soul, between parent and child, between husband and wife, between sister and brother. Of human sympathies it has none; it concerns not itself about our joys or sorrows; it spares no dear one, and restores no lost one; it is pitiless and mute; it is as powerful as it is inexorable, striking down the weak, and wrestling with the strong until they succumb and fall.
No wonder, then, that death is so unlovable to us—no, of all objects the most unlovable in itself, though occasionally acquiring some faint attractiveness, or at least losing some little of its hatefulness by its being made the termination of pain, and conflict, and weariness, and the gate into the presence of Him who is our life and joy.
After all, however, our estimate either of its attractiveness or repulsiveness would be of little significance, were it not that on this point God takes our side. His estimate of death coincides with ours. It is to Him even more unlovable than it is to us. He has set limits to its power; He has made it to His saints the very gate of heaven—for blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. He has proclaimed resurrection and incorruption. But still, with all these abatements, He hates it—nor is reconciled to it in one act or aspect. It is, in His eyes, even more than in ours, an enemy, a destroyer, a demon, a criminal, a robber. So thoroughly does He loathe it, that in order to make His displeasure known, He reserves it to the last for doom; He sets it apart for a great striking condemnation, and then casts it into the lake of fire.
But besides this final condemnation, He has given us others equally explicit. He calls it 'the king of terror;' 'the last enemy;' and thus addresses it—'O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction—repentance shall be hid from my eyes'—that is, never will I revoke my sentence against you (Hosea 13:14). Hardly could words be found to express more strongly God's estimate of death, and His determination to abolish it utterly and forever. For six thousand years death has been the fulfiller of His purposes, His rod for the chastisement of His saints, His scourge for clearing earth of His enemies—yet He hates it; and as soon as His ends with it are accomplished, He will show His displeasure against it by casting it into the lake of fire.
There is then abundant consolation for us in this dying world, from the thought that God sides with us in our abhorrence of death and the grave. He is the enemy of our enemies; and specially of this, the chief. When He raised His Son from the dead, He showed us that life and not death, was His purpose, both for Him and for us. Resurrection is at once our faith and our hope. In His great love He has revealed to us the coming victory over death, when He who is our life shall appear to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all those who believe. Because He rose, we shall arise. He has taught us to say, 'I know that my Redeemer lives;' and to add, 'God shall redeem my soul from the power of the grave.' He has made us to hear the sure words—'Your brother shall rise again;' 'I will raise him up at the last day;' 'He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body.'
So that in covering dust with dust at the grave of a saint, we look beyond the tomb and see the glory; our eye rests not upon corruption, but upon incorruption; our fellowship is not with death, but with life. We shall arise. That which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power. The reign of death is hastening to a close, the reign of life about to commence its eternal gladness. Our true life is coming; the conqueror is on His way; He will redeem His own people from the power of the grave, and swallow up death in victory. Behold, I come quickly, He cries. We respond, Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
II. God's reasons for abhorring death.It contains nothing in itself that is lovable; nor has it done any excellent works because of which God or man might love it. Its history is one of evil, not of good; of wrong, and sadness, and terror; of breaking down, not of building up; of scattering, not of gathering; of darkness, not of light; of disease, and pain, and tossings to and fro, not of health and brightness. But God counts it specially unlovable for such reasons as the following—
(1) Death is the ally of sin—'Sin entered into the world, and death by sin' (Romans 5:12). With sin it has gone hand in hand, passing down the generations, and spreading itself round the earth. Partners in evil—sin and death have held dark fellowship together from the beginning—the one reflecting and augmenting the odiousness of other—like night and storm, each in itself terrible, but more terrible as 'companions in havoc'. God abhors death as the fellow and the offspring of sin!
(2) Death is Satan's tool—One of the most fearful of Satan's designations is, 'he who has the power of death.' Death is Satan's most satisfying work—his trustiest weapon. To inflict disease—but not to heal; to wound—but not to bind up; to kill—but not to make alive—these are the works of the devil—which God abhors, and which the Son of God came to destroy. The evil workman and his tool—the master and his servant—are alike hateful in the eyes of that God who loves not evil—but good; not death—but life.
(3) Death is the undoing of His work—'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.' Specially did he rejoice in man as His handiwork and His property, and in man's body as that material form which His Son was afterwards to assume. God did not intend creation to crumble down or evaporate. But death has seized it! Death—the poison of hell has penetrated everywhere! Man's body and man's earth are falling to pieces, undermined by some universal solvent; the beauty, and the order, and the power giving way before the evil invader! The sculptor does not love the hand that spoils his statue, nor the mother the fever that preys upon her darling—so God has no pleasure in that enemy that has been ruining the work of His hands.
(4) Death has been the source of earth's greatest pain and sorrow—Pain is the messenger of disease, and disease is the touch of death's finger—and with disease and death what an amount of sorrow has poured in upon our world! We come into contact with sorrow only in 'fragments' or 'drops', as it falls upon ourselves and our friends. We cannot estimate the accumulated grief of a year or a century, or even of one day, all over earth. There is no 'sorrow-gauge' to measure the quantity that has fallen all over our earth, since the first drop alighted. If there were such a measurement, we would be appalled at the amount of sorrow which death has inflicted on our race!
But God has measured it! He knows what the amount of human grief has been; and He abhors alike the evil and the doer of it. He does not love sorrow—He has no pleasure in pain—He is not indifferent to creation's groans—and He will yet avenge Himself, and avenge man and man's earth for all the woe which death has wrought—in the day when He destroys death, and banishes pain, and dries up tears, and delivers creation from the bondage of corruption!
(5) Death has laid hands on God's people—Though He permitted Herod, and Pilate, and Nero, and the kings of the earth, to persecute His Church, He was not thereby indifferent to the wrong—far less in sympathy with the wrong-doer. He treasures up wrath against the persecutor—He will judge and avenge the blood of His own. So will He take vengeance on death, the last enemy. He will yet vindicate His saints, and honor the 'holy dust' that has been scattered over sea and earth. Death and the grave shall be cast into the lake of fire, to make known to the universe eternally—His sense of the wrong done. Speaking of the resurrection of His own, and His plucking the prey from the spoiler, He says, 'I will redeem them from death, I will ransom them from the power of the grave;' and then, shaking His hand against the spoiler, He proclaims His purpose of vengeance—'O death, I will be your plague! O grave, I will be your destruction! Repentance shall be hid from my eyes.' For in proportion to His love for His own, is His abhorrence of their injuries—'He who touches them, touches the apple of His eye.'
(6) Death laid hands upon His Son—Death smote the Prince of life—and the grave imprisoned Him! This was treason of the darkest king, the wrong of wrongs, perpetrated against the highest in the universe—God's incarnate Son! And shall not God avenge for this? Shall not His soul be avenged on such a destroyer—for such a crime? If the lowest of His saints shall be avenged—how much more His beloved Son? In the day when God shall judge the world, this deed of darkness shall come into remembrance; and God, in casting death into the lake of fire, shall intimate His abhorrence of death, and His displeasure against this the worst of all his deeds—the slaying of His only-begotten Son!
It is not then resurrection merely, but something more than this, that our text reveals—even God's condemnation of all that death has done.We see, too, His joy in resurrection, and His determination to prevent the recurrence, more—the possibility of the recurrence of such an evil as death. To take the sting from death was much—to abolish death was more—but it is something more still to cast death and the grave into the lake of fire! Surely as over Babylon, the prison-house of the saints, so over death and the grave, when they are thrown into the abyss—we may sing this song of triumph, 'Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you of her—for in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.'
Then shall resurrection be not merely a prospect and a hope—but an accomplished fact; and not merely an accomplished fact—but an irreversible condition of creaturehood. 'Neither shall they die any more,' is the consummation to which resurrection brings us. The inhabitant shall not say, 'I am sick.' The eye shall not be dim, and the ear shall not be dull, and the brow shall not wrinkle, nor the hair be gray, nor the limbs totter, nor the memory fail. There shall be no more curse, nor death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain; for the former things have passed away!
We know that our Redeemer lives, and because He lives, we shall live also! He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and when He appears, we shall appear with Him in glory. And He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry—and those who sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him.
We preach Jesus and the resurrection; Jesus the resurrection and the life; Jesus our life. We bring glad tidings concerning this risen One, and that finished work of which resurrection is the seal; glad tidings concerning God's free love in connection with this risen One. The knowledge of this risen One is forgiveness, and life, and glory. Oh then, what is there in our dying world like this to impart consolation and gladness? We shall not die, but live. Eternity is a life, and not a death; a life with Christ, and a life in Christ. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of waters, and God Himself shall wipe away all tears from our eyes!
The Vision of the Restitution of All Things.
Of these two last glorious chapters, we could say, 'You have kept the good wine until now!' They take us into the shrine of shrines—into the very heart of the glory—into the paradise of God; into the royal banqueting-house—into the very splendor of eternity! What a summing up of God's purposes is here! What a conclusion of the divine oracles! What a termination to the long, long desert-journey of the Church of God, calling forth from us the exulting shout which broke from the lips of the Crusaders, when first from the neighboring height they caught sight of the holy city, 'Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
The first book of Scripture—and the last—fit well into each other; the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two of Revelation fit together like the two halves of a golden clasp set in gems. Enclosed between the two is the history of six thousand years. And what a history! What a beginning, and what an ending! It began with the new, and it ended with the new—the strange checkered 'old' lying mysteriously between. 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.'
'I saw new heavens and a new earth.'
Of these Revelation visions, some were seen by John on earth, and some in heaven, according as the point of view suited best the vision and the prophet. His sight of Jesus in His priestlyglory was from earth,Patmos itself. Jesus had come down to him and showed Himself face to face. The epistles to the seven Churches are written from Patmos also.
But after this John is called up to heaven,like Paul, to see and hear unspeakable things, which, however, unlike those which Paul saw, would be 'lawful for a man to utter;' and most of the subsequent visions are from this heavenly standing-place. What eyes must his have been—to look upon such terrors and such glories unmoved and undazzled!
Let us notice a few of the many things regarding which he says, 'I saw'—while standing in these heavenly places. We cannot cite even one half. 'I saw twenty-four elders sitting,' Revelation 4:4. 'I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,' Revelation 5:2. 'I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain,' Revelation 6:9. 'I saw, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,' Revelation 7:9. 'I saw, another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud,' Revelation 10:1. 'I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire,' Revelation 15:2. 'I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored best,' Revelation 17:3. 'I saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints,' Revelation 17:6. 'I saw an angel standing in the sun,' Revelation 19:17. 'I saw thrones, and those who sat upon them,' 20:4. 'I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat on it,' Revelation 20:2. 'I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God,' 20:12. 'I saw a new heaven and a new earth,' Revelation 21:1. 'I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven!' Revelation 21:2.
This new heaven and earth which John saw were still future. He saw the future as if it were the present. Yet this new creation shall not be shadowy, but real—as real as that described in Genesis. The former creation passes away, and the new creation comes—new heavens, new earth, new sea. The old creation is not annihilated but only purged and renewed. It passes away as the gold passes into the furnace—to come out purified. It passes away as this 'vile body' does into the grave, to come forth glorious and immortal, yet the same body. The 'restitution of all things' is to do for earth and heaven what resurrection is to do for the body. What a change! What a perfection! What a holy blessedness! Oh when shall the day break, and the shadows flee away!
This first verse most significantly brings before us such things as these—all of them blessed.
I. Here is the end of SIN.The world has lain in wickedness—but it shall do so no more! The overflowing flood of evil shall then be dried up, and sin be known no more upon this earth and under these heavens. What an ending shall be the ending of sin! For six thousand years it has triumphed—then its triumph ends. Not the 'shadow' of sin or evil in any form shall pass over this fair globe. It shall, even more than at the first, be very good!
II. The end of the SERPENT and his seed.How many ages had run out from the time that the serpent seduced Eve and ruined our world—from the hour when God said, 'You are cursed above all cattle—I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed!' The seducer's triumph is now over—he himself is cast out of this earth and bound—the terrible battle of so many ages has been fought, and the battlefield cleared forever—earth is now no longer at Satan's mercy—and no trace of his long dominion over it remains. The creation that he marred, rises from its ruin and sorrow more glorious than at first. His reign is ended—his legions are in chains—his spell is dissolved—his work of disfigurement all undone!
III. The end of the CURSE.From this time there shall be 'no more curse.' He who was made a curse for us, has cancelled earth's curse forever! No cursed thing in any shape shall again be seen—only that which is blessed and holy. The earth and its fullness shall then be the Lord's, in a way until now unknown. Blessed kingdom, and blessed King! From every particle of dust—from air and earth and sea—shall the curse be expelled forever! O fair and spotless creation, great paradise of God! The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose!
IV. The end of CORRUPTION and MORTALITY.These are the FRUIT of the curse—and with the curse they disappear. Death is no more. The grave is emptied. Disease is abolished. The inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick. Feebleness and weariness are unknown. The head aches not, nor the heart. The eye grows not dim, nor the ear dull. All is immortality and incorruption—and beauty and eternal health.
V. The end of SORROW.Into this new creation no grief shall ever enter. The days of mourning shall be ended. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. God Himself shall wipe away all tears. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying. There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun—for it is written, 'The Lord shall be the everlasting light, and your God your glory!' 'You shall weep no more.' Everlasting joy shall be upon our heads. The valley of tears, shall then be the land of song!
And with the end of these things, shall come the beginning of the glorious and the blessed. The old passes away, and the new comes up like the sun in its strength. Winter is over and gone. It is sweet spring and perpetual summer now. It is the kingdom which cannot be moved—the undefiled inheritance—the reign of righteousness—the reign of the righteous King. Into this nothing that defiles shall enter—nothing unworthy of the presence of the glorious King!
All this for those who once were sinners—the lost and worthless! Blood has brought it. The cross has done it all. Through death, life has come. The crucified Christ has opened the gate for us—and all may go in. The same Jesus who has brought the glory for us, bids us come. Far and wide go out the messages of invitation—Come in, Come in! At each gate waves the blessed hand afar, beckoning us with all urgency to enter. Echoing amid earth's valleys and hills, through every land, the trumpet sounds that summons the wanderer, and assures him of most loving welcome. Will you hesitate, O men, or neglect, or scoff, or refuse? All this glory waiting you! These open gates inviting you! And this poor, dark, death-stricken earth speaking to you each hour, and saying, "This is not your rest—I have nothing for you but sorrow, and pain, and despair!" O men of earth, will you miss the prize thus placed within your reach? Will you despise the love that yearns and weeps over you in your folly? Will you not listen and live? Will you not listen, and go in, and become heirs of the glory and the joy?
God's Tabernacle On Earth.
The voice that uttered these words is said to have been a great one, indicating their importance, and God's desire that we should listen to the announcement. It is not surely without a meaning that a great voice should be thought needful to speak the words, and that a special note of its greatness should be left upon record for us.
We are not told who utter it. It came 'out of heaven'—that is all we know. It was not the inhabitants of earth looking round and wondering at something which had thus taken place in the midst of them; it was the inhabitants of heaven looking down from the upper glory, and rejoicing in what had at length, after so many ages and so many hindrances, been accomplished upon earth. It reminds us of the joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, though the occasion is one of far greater magnitude and wider compass.
Yet it does not seem in this place to be the voice of God Himself, but the voice of the angel multitudes that fill the heaven of heavens, and stand before His throne. That the tabernacle of God should be pitched in heaven, and among themselves, was nothing new—but that it should be pitched upon earth, and among the sons of men, this calls forth admiration and gladness. 'Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!'
Frequently in the course of these visions does John hear 'voices,' which, like explanatory words, come in to cast light upon the symbols, and to tell us the impression which the scenes are making, not merely upon John, but upon other beings, both in earth and heaven. Sometimes it is the voice of a 'mighty angel' (Revelation 5:2); sometimes the voice of 'many angels' (verse 2); sometimes the voice of the elders and living creatures (ib.); sometimes it is the voice of 'many people' (Revelation 19:1); of a 'great multitude' on earth (verse 6); sometimes it is a great voice 'out of the temple' (Revelation 16:1); sometimes it is a voice from the 'altar' (Revelation 9:13); sometimes from the 'throne' (Revelation 19:5); sometimes it is a voice 'in heaven' (Revelation 11:15, and Revelation 12:10); sometimes it is a voice from or 'out of heaven,'—which two last expressions come with fuller meaning when contrasted with that other passage, 'there was silence in heaven' (Revelation 8:1). This great voice from heaven is heard making such announcements as these—'Come up here' (Revelation 11:12); 'the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.'
It is this voice which is as the voice of many waters and of a great thunder; which is as the voice of harpers harping with their harps, who sing new songs before the throne, which none could learn but the hundred and forty and four thousand who were redeemed from the earth (Revelation 14:1-4). It is this voice out of heaven which, in our test, proclaims, 'Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!' Perhaps it is the same with the 'shout' (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Taking up this announcement as containing something of unspeakable interest and importance to us, we consider the great event which it proclaims, not indeed as yet accomplished, but most assuredly to be so in God's wise time; so that just as eighteen hundred years ago the cry was heart from earth, 'It is finished,' so the second great cry shall be heard from heaven, 'It is done.' 'Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!' 'Behold! I make all things new!'
As to the TIME when this great phenomenon comes to pass, I do not say much. It is, of course, after Christ has come the second time; yet not perhaps immediately, at least to its full extent. For while the millennial age of peace and glory may be truly called the tabernacling of God with men, the new heavens and the new earth—it is still imperfect, being but the first and preparatory stage of the more glorious, and perfect, and eternal consummation which is to follow, and to which specially our text refers.
Keeping this in mind, we consider—
The desirableness of this event.
God's declared purpose of this event.
The manner or process by which God brings it about.
I. The DESIRABLENESS of this state of things.Many things show us this—
(1) The interest which the inhabitants of heaven take in it, as seen in the words before us.Though not of the race of man, nor dwellers on earth—they rejoice in the holy blessedness which has now taken possession of earth. They do not envy our race, nor are they jealous of our earth as having obtained an honor which once belonged exclusively to themselves and to heaven. There is no bitterness of selfish rivalry, no uneasiness felt at the prospect of having their 'monopoly of glory' thrown down, and the prerogative of being the metropolis of the universe shared with a planet like ours—so inferior in size, and once the seat of most hateful evil. They can do nothing but rejoice in seeing earth become the dwelling-place of Jehovah—in beholding the tabernacle of God now pitched among the children of men.
(2) The pains and costs which God has been at to bring about this issue.He has grudged nothing; He has not spared His only-begotten Son—so infinitely desirable does He reckon this result. Surely that must have a large space in His eye and heart, for the accomplishment of which He was willing to make such a sacrifice! Surely the ultimate glory must be precious in His estimation, when, in order to bring it about, He can submit to allow such developments of evil, such an overflow of sin, such a reign of Satan for so many thousand years—instead of at once setting fire to the guilty world, and burning it into a second hell.
(3) The work of Christ, through which it has been brought about.Not without the sacrificial work of Christ could this end have been attained. As it would have been unrighteous in God to pardon a sinner without this work, so would it have been no less so without this to restore and re-glorify the sinner's world. The leper's habitation, no less than the leper himself, requires the sacrifice, and the blood, and the cleansing water. In the restoration of earth, and its re-inhabitation by God—Christ sees of the travail of His soul.
(4) The desire with which prophets and righteous men have desired this event.The times of the restitution of all things have been spoken of by all the holy prophets, since the world began. All prophecy is full of this coming glory. Holy men spoke of it, prayed for it, waited for it, saw it afar off, and were glad. Surely that which their pens so largely wrote of, and their hearts so earnestly longed for—must be infinitely desirable.
(5) The change which it will produce on earth.Over all its face, sin has spread itself, like the over flowings of some dark river of hell. Evil has prevailed—Satan has reigned—a rebellious hatred of Jehovah has showed itself—pain and sorrow have poisoned it in every part—disease and death compass it about. It is a blighted, withered, ruined, woe-stricken world! It is so as seen by oureyes—how much more when seen by angels' eyes! How much more still when seen by the eyes of God!How infinitely desirable that all this evil should be undone—this curse up torn—this death exchanged for life—this sorrow turned into joy! And what a difference it will make when such shall actually be the state of things on earth! Sin shall no longer defile—death shall no longer destroy—sorrow shall no longer overshadow. God shall not longer be banished from His own creation.
Who, when reading such prophetic descriptions as the following, can fail to realize the desirableness of the glorious change? 'There shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him!' 'There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light, and they shall reign forever and ever!' 'There shall never enter into it anything that defiles!' 'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away!'
If, then, that change be so infinitely desirable—if the event described in our text be so inconceivably glorious—how needful that those who are expected to share it, should meanwhile walk worthy of it! The prospect of such a glory should be as transformingas it is comforting,as sanctifyingas it is gladdening.If this be our hope, what kind of people we ought to be, in all holy conversation and godliness! Is it so with us?
II. The declared PURPOSE of God as to this glorious event.God having His tabernacle (or dwelling) with men.
One of the earliest statements is an intimation of God's purpose respecting this. Paradise was meant not merely as man's abode—but as God's abode with man. The great original purpose of God to have His dwelling with men, continued to be presented to man in type and prophecy form that day forward, to show that it had only been postponed, not abandoned—postponed in order to be carried out more fully and more gloriously than it could have been before. Especially was this the case in Israel's history, from the time that the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness to the day when the temple and city were laid in ruins by the hand of the aliens. The name of the tabernacle was 'Jehovah's Tent'—the tent in which He took up His abode, and round which He gathered the tents of Israel—'the tent which He placed among men' (Psalm 78:60). The whole story of Israel is the exhibition of God's desire to dwell with men—and man's refusal to allow God to dwell with Him.
The statement in the Gospel of John regarding the Son of God is another declaration of this same purpose—'The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us;' literally—tabernacled or pitched His tent among us. And, in our Lord's words, we have more than once the intimation of the same thing, or rather of a twofold purpose—that God should dwell with man, and that man should dwell with God; as in that remarkable answer to one of His disciples, 'If any man loves me, he will keep my words—and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him' (John 14:23). And it is this which is the complete fulfillment of Christ's name Immanuel, 'God with us.'
God then has all along been telling us not merely that He has a heaven of which He desires to make us partakers—His own blessed heaven, the paradise that was never lost—but that He means to make a second heaven of this very earth of ours; and out of that paradise, that Eden, that earth, which was lost and marred by man, to bring a more blessed and incorruptible paradise, in which He will pitch His tent, and where He will make His dwelling with the sons of men. As in the person of Christ we see these two things—man taken up to God, and God coming down to man—so as indissolubly to combine in one perfect being all that is excellent in the Creator and in the creature; so in the universe of God the same two-fold perfection is to be exhibited—man taken up to dwell with God in God's holy heaven above, and God coming down to dwell with man in man's holy earth below.
And are not these two things brought before us in these words of Christ spoken to the Laodicean Church—'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me?' I with him as well as he with me! And is not this the filling up of all blessedness, the consummation of all glory? Without it would not something have been a wanting both in earth and heaven—both to God and man?
From the beginning then, God has announced this as His purpose. Age after age has He set this before us—in type and prophecy. All that has taken place on earth has been bearing upon this, and helping it forward. God means yet to dwell with men! This is the Bible message to us. God means to dwell with men. This is His eternal purpose; and had it not been so, would He not long since have abandoned such an earth as ours—and either made it pass into nothing or turned it into hell?
Nor have there been any intimations of God's design ultimately to abandon earth, after He has accomplished His certain ends. He has nowhere said that after having spared it, and made use of it for a certain time, and for certain ends, He will leave it to desolation, or reduce it to nothing. On the contrary, all that He has said and done hitherto indicate His intention to restore it, to glorify it, and to fit it for being His abode. God has, beyond mistake, declared His purpose as to the destiny of earth—and that purpose shall stand.
The BARRIERS in the way of its accomplishment are vast and many. The whole power of the fallen creature, both men and devils, is arrayed against it. Sin and righteousness alike oppose it—the former blighting it, and the latter forbidding the removal of the blight. Death and life alike oppose it—the former destroying it, the latter refusing to come and restore the desolation. The evil, too, has increased so great, and has been of so long standing; the curse has had its full and protracted sway, so as to eat into the very core of everything good and beautiful; the poison has had time so thoroughly to infuse itself into the constitution of creation, that its life's blood seems poisoned, and the taint of corruption become ineradicable; the weight of guilt which is upon it, calling for eternal judgment, seems so tremendous specially the guilt of crucifying the Lord of glory; the authority of Satan over it seems so complete and so irrevocably established—that the hindrances in the way of creation's restitution seem all but insurmountable! Yet the eternal purpose shall stand. Not a jot of it shall fail—even that pertaining to the smallest atom of this moldering earth. All shall come to pass. Eternal Sovereignty has decreed it. Infinite Wisdom has planned it. Omnipotence will bring it to pass.
III. The means, or PROCESS, by which God is bringing all this about.
This whole process, from first to last, centers in His Son. As the Christ of God, He is the accomplisher of the Father's purpose; and through Him God has been all along ripening that purpose, removing the hindrances, and hastening on its full revelation.
1. The first actual step was the INCARNATION.When 'the Word was made flesh,' the first link was formed which was to secure creation from sinking into utter ruin—to fasten it to Godhead—and in the end to raise it up to a brighter glory and excellence than that form which it had fallen! The Son of God took bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; and as our bodies are part of the dust of the ground, out of which they were formed, so He, in taking to Himself a true body, took into His person the materials of creation—the dust of our very earth—thus linking creation to Himself by an indissoluble tie—and fastening earth to heaven. He took not upon Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham; and while this identified Him with our race, it no less identified Him with that earth which was given us as our special home and dwelling-place and kingdom. By thus taking a body made out of the substance of earth, He joined Himself in perpetual affinity with man and his world—and that which God has thus joined together, who shall put asunder?
2. HIS LIFE ON EARTH was the second step towards the end in view.His living here for thirty-three years was the declaration of His desire and purpose to make earth the seat of His dwelling place. But in His life we see more than this. We see him taking possession of creation; we see Him doing battle with its oppressors; we see Him casting out Satan, healing diseases, overcoming death. We see Him hushing the winds, calming the sea, exercising dominion over its inhabitants, creating bread for the multitudes, walking upon the deep, and giving others power to do the same. In all this we see not merely power and love, but we see the visible and material pledges of the deliverance of creation from the bondage of corruption. He who did these things has, by doing them, pledged Himself to do more, more—to do all that earth requires. He who did these things in the day of His humiliation and weakness—and before His great work upon the cross was accomplished, will surely do exceeding abundantly more than all these, in the day of glory and power, now that He has finished His work, and put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
3. His DEATH was the next step.For it is through death, that life is to come—both to man and to his earth. Only the death of Him who has identified Himself with us and with our world can remove the guilt under which earth was groaning, can secure the revocation of the sentence, can obtain forgiveness for earth, as well as for man, its dweller. He was earth's Sin-bearer as well as man's. He took upon Him the curse of earth as well as man; and the thorns which formed His crown showed how truly He was bearing the curse upon creation, which Adam's sin had caused. As the bearer of man's guilt, He was nailed to the cross; as the bearer of earth's curse, He was crowned with thorns. Earth has now been sprinkled with His blood; and that blood cleanses from all sin.
4. His BURIAL was the next step.Death had taken up its abode upon earth, and every sepulcher on its surface was one of his strongholds. Until death then be overcome in his very fortress—until he be dispossessed out of his dwelling—there can be no hope for earth. Mortality would still reign. But Christ went down and fought the lion in his den! From his lair He drove him out; and in demonstration of His victory He compelled him to let go a company of saints, who, when He rose, rose with Him as a pledge of His final victory over death, and of the expulsion from earth of the last enemy which had hitherto devastated it. By death the Prince of life overcame death; and in His burial He was pursuing the routed foe, and compelling him to deliver up his prey. Thus did He commence the expulsion from earth, of that mortality and corruption which had defaced it so sadly.
5. His RESURRECTION was the next step.Wresting His own body from the dominion of death, He showed how before long He is to wrest, not only the bodies of His saints—but the whole creation, from the bondage of corruption. If He on whom sin was laid, and who on account of that load went down to the grave, thus threw off mortality, and shook Himself free from its fetters, bringing life and immortality to light, how certainly may we conclude that He is able to do the same thing for that creation which was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who had subjected the same in hope! Christ's resurrection not only proclaimed Him to be the Son of God with power—but also the Prince of the kings of the earth!
6. His ASCENSION into heaven was the next step.When He ascended, He not only led captivity captive, but He carried up into heaven His own body as the representative of earth. That body is now at the Father's right hand, the pledge of earth's security and final glory. An ascended Christ is earth's great pledge of restitution, and another step of the process towards the accomplishment of the purpose of God. That portion of earth which, in His body, He has carried up into heaven, proclaims to the inhabitants of heaven His interest in earth, and to the inhabitants of earth the certainty of His purpose respecting earth's final restitution. And for what is this ascended Savior interceding? Not only for His Church, but for earth itself. 'Ask of me, and I will give you the uttermost ends of the earth for Your possession.' He pleads for earth—earth, where He was born, and lived, and died; earth, whose air He breathed, whose plains and hills He walked, and whose soil He watered with His blood; earth, out of whose dust His body is composed, and the future bodies of His risen saints. Nor shall these intercessions be long in vain. Soon shall they be all answered, and the cry be heard, 'Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!'
1. SAINT, are you making ready for that day?Are you walking worthy of an heir of that glory? Are you remembering that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? Are you at one with Father and with Son in your desire for that restitution of all things? Do you not only long to depart and to be with Christ, but do you also long for the arrival of Christ here, and for God's making His tabernacle with the children of men?
2. SINNER, what are your thoughts of that day?What hopes have you of sharing its blessedness? At present, none! None! What have you to do with it? What has an unforgiven soul to do with a forgiven and delivered creation? What has an unrenewed sinner to do with a glorified world—a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness? From that world all sin is swept away; and can you hope to dwell in it? Nothing that defiles shall enter; and do you expect to enter it?
Yet Christ says, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock—if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in unto him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' Let the Son of God enter now; His entrance now will be the pledge of your entrance into the new Jerusalem. Admit this Christ whom you have long shut out. Admit Him at once. He will come in, and dwell in you and with you; and that will be the pledge of the eternal indwelling, the eternal fellowship, the eternal blessedness, when the tabernacle of God shall be with men!
The Coming of the Perfect, and the Departure of the Imperfect.
'The things which are seen are temporal,' says the Apostle Paul; and again he says, 'Old things are passed away;' and again, 'The fashion of this world is passing away.' These are words that suit us well in our changeableness, and vanity, and mortality. It would not be well for us, if our present earthly condition were immoveable and eternal. Fading and dying, and then entering on the possession of an unchanging life—this is surely far better than a 'prolonged mortality of pain and weakness' like that which we have here and now.
The words do not teach annihilation of any kind—of man or matter. When one is renewed of the Spirit, there is a new creation—old things pass away, all things become new, yet the man's identity is unchanged. He is the same individual, and yet a new man. So is it here. Former things pass away, all things are made new—yet all are in the truest sense the same—the same, only without the sin, and the evil, and the pain, and the decay.
These former things are many—great and small, material and spiritual—all of them more or less connected with earth and man. Note some of these:
I. The former things connected with the BODY have passed away.Our bodies shared the ruin into which sin brought our race. Mortality and corruption took possession of them. They became subject to pain, and weariness, and disease—in every organ and limb. The one drop of poison coming from Adam's sin has spread itself out and pervaded every part of us. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. We begin with pain—and we end with it. Our flesh, from the cradle to the tomb, is feeble, broken, ready to faint—the cause and the inlet of a thousand sorrows. It is truly an 'earthly house,' a frail tent, in which we groan, being burdened; a 'vile body,' needing such perpetual care, and food, and medicine, and rest—yet, after all, incapable of being preserved; the seat of a daily warfare between life and death; in spite of all our pamperings, hastening on to the sick-bed and the separation from its guest, the soul.
All this shall yet be reversed. Former things shall pass away. This head shall ache no more; these hands and feet shall be weary no more; this flesh shall throb with anguish no more. 'God Himself shall wipe away all tears from these eyes; and there shall be no more death; neither, sorrow, nor crying, for the former things are passed away.' 'He will take these vile bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like His own!'
He who once hung upon the cross, but now sits upon the throne, says, 'Behold, I make all things new.' 'This corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality, and death be swallowed in victory!
II. The former things connected with the SOUL have passed away.The beginning of this renovation was our 'being begotten again into a living hope.' This rebirth displaced the old things and introduced the new. The sin, and the darkness, and the misery, and the unbelief, and the distance from God—all these shall come to a final end. In their place shall come holiness, and love, and light, and joy, and everlasting nearness—unchanging and unending fellowship with that Jehovah in whom is life eternal. Every fragment of evil shall be expelled from our souls—and we shall then know what perfection is—perfection according to the mind and after the image of God—perfection without a flaw, or taint, or shadow—perfection without the possibility of reversal or diminishing. From our heart, from our conscience, our intellect, our feelings, our affections, from every part of our spiritual being—shall all evil depart. 'Former things shall pass away.' We shall be holy as God is holy; we shall be perfect as He is perfect; we shall be children of the light and of the day in the fullest sense—no trace of remaining sin in any part of us. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is! We shall be changed into His image from glory to glory! He who is righteous shall be righteous still; he who is holy shall be holy still.
III. The former things connected with the EARTH have passed away.Since man fell, this earthis the seat of evil. The curse came down on it—creation was subjected to the bondage of corruption—Satan took possession of it. It has been overshadowed with sin, overspread with misery. Its air full of sighs and groans—its soil made up of decomposed bodies—its cities the centers of ungodliness and rebellion—its thronesthe fountainheads of misrule—God disowned—Christ rejected both in State and Church—the Bible despised—the gospel mocked—blasphemy resounding on all sides—evil everywhere!
These are the former things which shall pass away. Satan shall be bound, and his angels traverse earth no more. The devouring lion shall be in chains, and 'no lion shall be there.' The curse shall vanish from creation; the blight disappear. Beauty shall clothe all things. Paradise shall return. Holiness shall revisit earth. God shall once more delight in it and set His throne in it. The second Adam shall be its Lord and Ruler. His scepter shall supersede the oppressive scepter under which the race has groaned from Nimrod downwards. Righteousness shall flourish, and holiness to the Lord be inscribed everywhere. The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the lamb. The meek shall inherit the earth—and the glory of the Lord shall shine over all its skies. There shall be the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.
And all this irreversible! No second fall. No second overflow of evil. No failure on the part of the righteous King. No waxing old; no ruin; no decay; no return of disease and death. All is everlasting! Messiah—even He who died for us and who rose again—is on the throne, and no usurper can assail it! He ever lives and ever reigns!
Blessed consummation and hope! It draws nearer and nearer. Soon shall 'time' no longer be. Soon shall this present evil world give place to the glorious world to come. Our king is coming! He will not tarry. Our Bridegroom is at hand! He is not slack concerning His promise. In an hour when we do not think, He will arrive. Are we ready? Is the oil in our vessels? Have we put on the garments of beauty? Are we preparing to bid Him welcome? 'Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him!
The New Things Of God.
There are many 'new things' spoken of in Scripture, some of more, and some of less importance. Of the less important we have such as these—Samson's new cords(Jdg 15:13); David's new cartfor the ark (2 Samuel 6:7); the new swordof the giant who sought to slay David (2 Samuel 21:16); Elisha's new cruse(2 Kings 2:20) the new tonguesof Pentecost (Matthew 16:17); Joseph's new tomb(Matthew 27:60). These are not so directly connected with things spiritual and eternal, and so we may call them of less importance; yet they have all their important lessons.
But let us take up the following as specially the new things of God—
I. The new TESTAMENT or covenant(Matthew 26:28). That which was old has vanished away. It was insufficient; it could not help the sinner; it said nothing of forgiveness. But the new covenant is all a sinner needs; it comes at once with a free pardon; it presents a work done for the sinner, not a work for the sinner to do. The motto or theme of the new covenant is, 'Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.'
II. The new MAN(Ephesians 4:24). This seems to correspond with the 'new creature' (2 Corinthians 5:17); with the 'new heart' (Ezekiel 18:31); with the 'new spirit' (Ezekiel 11:9); with the 'heart of flesh' (Ezekiel 36:26); with the 'new birth' (John 3:3); and the being 'begotten again' (1 Peter 1:3). It supposes the destruction or removal of the old man and the creation of the new—this new thing being the workmanship of God, the production of the Holy Spirit. Newness of nature, or heart, of life, of words, of the entire being, is the basis of all religion and true worship.
III. The new WAY(Hebrews 10:19). The approach or access to God by the sinner is said to be by a 'new and living way'—that way being Christ Himself, for through Him we have access by on Spirit to the Father. It is a new way in contrast with Adam's old way; a new way, because newly made by Him who had newly died; a way into the holiest; a way through the veil, by means of the blood. All God's dealings with the sinner are on a new footing, that of free love, simple grace. It is a free way, a sufficient way, an open way, a perfect way. He who walks thereon is safe; for the way not only leads to life, but is the life. Yes, life and truth are in Him who is the way; for Christ is all and in all.
IV. The new SONG(Psalm 33:3; Revelation 5:9). Every new day brings with it a new song; or rather it brings materials for many new songs, which we should be always singing. Our whole life should be full of new songs. Yet the old songs are not thereby made obsolete; they do not grow tame or unmeaning. As the old songs of a land are always fresh and sweet, so is it with the old songs of faith. They never come amiss, and they help us with the new. These new songs have to do with the past—for often, in looking into the past, we get materials for a new song—with the present, and with the future. They are connected with ourselves, our families, with the Church, with our nation, with the work of God just now, with resurrection, with the restitution of all things, with the glory, the new Jerusalem, and the new creation. It is specially with the last that the new song of the Apocalypse is connected,
V. The new COMMANDMENT(John 13:34; 1Jo 2:8). It is both an old and a new commandment which Christ gives us; substantially the same as from the beginning, yet in many respects altogether new; a new lawgiver, a new motive, a new standing-place (Zion, not Sinai), new light fullness; everything in the commandment now connected with Christ Himself and with His love. This new commandment bases itself on 'God is love,' and revolves round the cross. Love me, says the Master; love one another with a pure heart fervently; love the brethren as I have loved you—thus fulfilling both the old and the new commandment at the same time, more—treating them as one.
VI. The new WINE(Matthew 26:29). In one sense the Lord's Supper is new wine; and there we remember His love, which is 'better than wine.' But Christ, in using the expression, 'until I drink it new with you,' refers to the heavenly feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. There is in the highest sense and degree 'the new wine'—wine made from no earthly vine, but from him who is the true vine, and from the juice of whose grapes there comes the new and royal wine, the wine of the kingdom. He is Himself the giver and the gift. His blood is drink indeed here—much more hereafter. It is 'new' here—it will much more new hereafter.
VII. The new Jerusalem(Revelation 3:12, Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:10). This is no earthly city. It is not the old Jerusalem rebuilt; that is another thing. This is a new and more glorious city, heavenly and divine, which comes down out of heaven from God; and it has the glory of God and of the Lamb. It is altogether new; for the risen and the glorified; for God's kings and priests; the city and the palace of the Great King.
VIII. The new HEAVENS and new EARTH(Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13). The whole of what God had made, and which sin had defiled, is made new. The universe is renewed; it is the restitution of all things; it is the replacing of all creation on a higher and more glorious footing, from which there shall be no second fall. There dwells righteousness; it is the kingdom of the righteous King.
IX. The new NAME(Revelation 2:17). This is for the dwellers in the new Jerusalem, the inhabitants of the new heavens and earth. Let us consider what it is and what it means. What the actual individual name is we know not; it will be as unlike the past as 'Israel' (the prince with God) was unlike 'Jacob' (the supplanter). It will be—
(1) A name of love—The Father's love will be in it—Christ's love will be in it.
(2) A name of honor—It will be no mean nor common name—but glorious and celestial.
(3) Of blessing—It will proclaim blessing—it will be a name of blessing—a blessed name.
(4) A name of wonder—It will astonish the possessor, and everyone who hears it; no one shall know it or guess it until it comes out. As Christ's new name is one which no one knows but Himself (Revelation 19:12), so with the conqueror. It will be a name of glad astonishment.
(5) Given by Christ—'I will give.' As He gave names to Abram, Jacob, Peter, John—so will He give this new name, superseding our old earthly appellation.
(6) A name most suitable and characteristic—It will in itself condense and summarize our past history and character, or perhaps our eternal prospects, as seen by God Himself. It will be a name full of divine meaning—interpretative, perhaps, of God's dealings with us, and indicative of His love.
(7) A name contained in a white stone—The white stone is the stone of acquittal. In that stone of acquittal the new name is inscribed by Christ. It is as an acquitted man, a conqueror, one to whom the Master says, 'Well done,' that we get the name. It is the everlasting seal of forgiving love.
They shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads. The Father's name is there (Revelation 3:12, Revelation 14:1). But this new name is something more. What manner of love is this!
The Conqueror's Reward And The Coward's Doom.
The speaker here is 'He who sat upon the throne.' He is the author of the new creation—'Behold, I make all things new.' He declares the truth and certainty of what has been, and what is to be spoken in this book—'These words are true and faithful.' For His name is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. He calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending—the all-possessing, all-comprehending, all-communicating One—whose fullness is from eternity.
He was the babe of Bethlehem; he is now the risen and glorified Son of God! He spoke on earth the words of grace; He speaks the same from heaven. There is no change in His heart. As it did not require ages to make Him the gracious One, so the lapse of ages and the glory of heaven cannot make Him less gracious or alter the feelings of pity with which He yearns over a rebellious world—even as He wept over impenitent Jerusalem when He saw her doom approaching.
For these words refer to the crisis of earth's history—'He said unto me, It is done;' just as He said on the cross, 'It is finished.' The fullness of the times has come; the prophetic word has been fulfilled; the seals are opened; the trumpets are blown; the vials are poured out; the battle of the great day of God Almighty has been fought; Babylon has fallen; Satan is about to be bound; creation about to be delivered from the bondage of corruption; the saints to be raised; the great kingdom to begin! It is just at the crisis; just when the consummation is about to take place; just when the last vengeance is about to descend, and the gate to be closed—that the Lord sends out this last and most urgent summons of grace. Come! Enter! In another hour you will be too late! The door will be shut!
I. The fountain for the sons of men.Each word here deserves special notice.
1. The thirsty—These are those who are seeking rest but finding none; going after pleasure, yet obtaining no happiness; hewing out the ever-breaking cisterns; 'spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which does not satisfy.' They are not those thirsting after righteousness, but after pleasure, saying 'Who will show us any good?' They are the weary, worn-out, empty, sorrowful, broken-hearted sons of sin.
2. The water—That which refreshes, satisfies, fills, makes happy. 'This He spoke of the Spirit' (John 7:39). Frequent are the allusions to this water both in the Old Testament and the New. It is called 'living water,' 'water of life'—it is that which quickens and revives, which fills the soul with heavenly gladness. This Jordan is better than Abana and Pharpar—though the world slights and shuns it. All joy is in it. The life of heaven is in it.
3. The Giver—It is He who gave Himself—Jesus the Christ, who not only has all fullness, but gives it. The Son is the gift of the Father, and the Spirit is the gift of the Son. He is the great Giver of all blessing to a poor and empty world. He gives from the Father's throne. He gives according to His love. He gives of the water of life—no, of its fountain—freely. Undeserved and unpurchased He gives! The wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3) are His, and He lets down His bucket and draws for us—not merely the surface water, but its depths—'creating in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.'
Thirsty spirit, take the living water! Drink and be happy. Deal with Jesus about it. Deal with Him alone, and face to face. Deal with Him as One who desires sincerely that you should drink and be refreshed.
II. The conqueror and his reward.The designation 'he who overcomes' carries us back to the seven epistles, in each of which the expression occurs. As believers we are saved; as conquerors we get the recompense. Seven kinds of reward for seven kinds of victory; and here is the eighth! It says, Fight, for the great Captain leads you on. Fight, for the reward is as great as it is sure. The reward here is threefold:
1. The inheritance of all things—We are heirs of God; joint-heirs with Christ.As such the universe becomes our possession; heaven and earth, and the wide regions of farthest space; all that God possesses, all that Christ has become heir to—all is the portion of the conqueror. A kingdom wide as widest space, large as God's possessions, endless as the eternal ages—such is the overcomer's heritage, the conqueror's recompense!
2. The divine portion—'I will be his God'—a repetition of Abraham's blessing (Genesis 17:7). Jehovah is our God! Does not this include everything? If God be not my God, I have nothing. If God be my God, I lack nothing; nor should I be poor though stripped of everything, and though not an atom of the universe were mine (1 Corinthians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 3:23).
3. The divine adoption—The conqueror becomes a son, and all that is contained in sonship is his—all the paternal love—all the divine patrimony—all the endless glory. He our Father, we His sons (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). Noble paternity, blessed sonship! 'Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called sons of God!' (1Jo 3:1). This glory, this new and peculiar relation to Godhead, we shall owe entirely to the free love of Him who gave His Son for us!
III. The coward's doom(verse 8)—Though the 'fearful' or coward is specially singled out here, yet there are others associated with him in his awful doom. The 'coward' is the first in the roll; but the whole roll is dark. They are all of earth, sons of Adam, men—not devils. Let us take them as they are set down here.
1. The fearful—This does not mean those who are full of fears—timid, doubting Christians—those 'who are of a fearful heart' (Isaiah 35:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). It means the cowards who refused to come out from the world and join Christ, though their consciences urged them; who shrunk from confessing Christ; who, through fear of men, of the world, of their good name, of earthly honor and gain, either kept their religion to themselves or threw it away. Of this class was the young man in the Gospel and Demas; those who 'drew back,' in Hebrews 10:38—the opposite of the 'overcomers.'
Of this class are those who tell you they keep their religion to themselves, and would not in company name the name of Christ; would blush if caught upon their knees, and apologize if a Bible were seen upon their tables. They are those whom our Lord denounces—'Whoever shall refuse to confess me before men.' Beware of cowardice in the things of God, of being ashamed of Christ!
2. The unbelieving—These are the rejecters of Christ. The fearful do not actually go so far, though virtually they do. The (the fearful) shrink from owning Christ—but the unbeliever refuses Him. It is this disowning of the cross, this rejection of the testimony, this turning the back on Christ, that is here condemned. It is 'the evil heart of unbelief' which is held up to view as fit only for 'the second death'. 'He who believes not shall be damned.' Oh the hatefulness of unbelief! For there is no place but the ever burning alike for it! What must it be to refuse God's testimony to His Son! To refuse that Son Himself!
3. The abominable—Those who were partakers of the abominations and filthiness mentioned before (Revelation 17:4)—revelings, banquetings, riots, blasphemies. These are open sinners, swearers, lewd talkers, gluttons, drunkards, and the like—fetid, ill-odored, emitting the stench of hell. They do 'the abominable thing' which God hates.
4. Murderers—Whose hands are red with blood; whose heart is full of angry passions, envy, malice, revenge, grudging; whose lips give vent to irritating and angry words; all who either in heart or by hand defy the sixth commandment—'You shall not kill.'
5. Immoral—All who give way to their lusts, who live in uncleanness; those whose eyes are full of adultery, and who cannot cease from this sin. What a warning to our young men and women, who make light of this abomination, and forget the doom of the immoral!
6. Sorcerers—Those who have taken part in Babylon's sorceries and witchcrafts; who consult with the evil one; all spiritists and allies of the evil one, and workers of the lying wonders of the last days.
7. Idolaters—Not only the heathen worshipers of engraved images—but all who have chosen another god—who love the creature more than the creator—who bow before crosses or crucifixes—who worship mammon, pleasure, art, splendor, or gold, for 'covetousness is idolatry.'
8. All liars—All who speak falsely in any way—who practice dishonesty—who care not for truth. Not Cretans only, who were pre-eminently liars, but every false tongue, every dishonest lip—hypocrites, pretenders, formalists; all the untrue and unreal; who vow to serve Christ at His table—but give the lie to their vow every day of their life; who vow at baptism to teach and pray for their children—yet never do; who come to the sanctuary—yet go away and serve the world; who are at the prayer meeting one day—and at the ball the next. These are the liars! How much of lying is there in the life of every man! How little of the real, the open, the sincere, the true!
The doom of all these is sure! They cannot deceive God! He will not be mocked. He will bear long—but not always. Hell is waiting. Its gates are open. Its fires are kindled. Its tormentors are ready. The sentence is coming—'Depart, you cursed ones,' for their judgment lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not.
Yet remember the apostle's words to Corinthian sinners, 'And such were some of you—but you are washed!' O man of earth—come and be washed! Fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable—come! Murderers, immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, liars—come! Come, let us reason together, says the Lord—your scarlet sins shall be as white as snow—your crimson sins as white as wool!
The Glorious Bride.
These are two names for the church of God, the redeemed from among men. They are not the same in meaning, though both referring to the Church's peculiar relationship to Christ. They point out her two successive states, her present and her future, in the former of which she is the bride, in the latter the wife. First she is the bride—then the wife. The 'bride'up until the day of the Bridegroom's return—after that the 'wife'—the 'Lamb's wife.'
She is represented here as the new Jerusalem; but this is in a figure, just as God speaks of the old Jerusalem as His wife—meaning thereby the people, the dwellers in that city, His chosen Israel, whom He had betrothed to Himself by an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 54:5-10). In the wilderness, Israel was the bride or betrothed one (Jeremiah 2:2); in Jerusalem, she was the 'married wife' (Isaiah 54:1, 62:5)—so is it with the Church. In this, her wilderness state, she is the bride; in her coming city-state, or Jerusalem-state of glory, she shall be the wife—the days of betrothment being ended, and the marriage come. Hence, it is that the bride addressing the Bridegroom says, 'Come!' and the Spirit, who had been preparing and adorning her for the marriage day, joins her in desiring its arrival—'The Spirit and the bride say, Come' (Revelation 22:17).
Regarding this 'bride' or 'wife'—for we consider her as both in what follows. We inquire—
I. Who and what she was before she became the bride.She had no high descent to boast of. Her lineage was not royal, but low and base. Of the old Jerusalem it was said, 'Your father was an Amorite, and your mother an Hittite' (Ezekiel 16:2, 3); all this, and much more may be said of the Church. She was an outcast, utterly poor and unknown—no, defiled and hateful. Without goodness, without beauty; without personal or family recommendation; unloving and unlovable; an alien, a captive, a rebel. She lacked everything that could make her lovely in the eyes of one seeking a bride; she possessed everything that could forbid and repel. Such were you once, O saint; such are you still, O sinner!
II. How and why she was fixed upon.The Father chose her; that is all that we can say. 'Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.' In the good pleasure of His goodness, and according to the exceeding riches of His grace, He fixed on her—the unlikeliest of all—to be the bride of His Son. Of the 'how' and the 'why' of this sovereign purpose, what can we say but this—that in one so unlovable and worthless it found opportunity and scope for the outflow and display of free love, such as could be found in no other? She is the object of the Father's eternal choice, as Rebekah was the choice of Abraham for his son. She is also the object of the Son's choice and love, as Rachel was Jacob's choice, and as Pharaoh's daughter was Solomon's. It was the Father's free choice, and the Son's free choice, that made her what she is now—the bride, and what she is through eternity to be—'the Lamb's wife.'
III. How she was obtained.She is a captive, and must be set free. This the Bridegroom undertakes to do; for her sake becoming a captive. She is a criminal, under wrath, and must be delivered from condemnation and death. This also the Bridegroom undertakes; for her sake submitting to condemnation and death, that so her pardon may be secured, her fetters broken, and life made hers forever. Thus she is plucked from the dungeon and the curse and the wrath—which were her portion.
IV. How she was betrothed.The Bridegroom Himself came down in lowly guise to woo and win her for Himself. But now He is carrying on His suite in absence, through the intervention of others, as Isaac's proposals to Rebekah were carried on through the faithful Eleazar of Damascus. It was with this suit that Paul felt himself charged, when he went about 'preaching Christ'; for, speaking to the Corinthians, he says—'I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ' (2 Corinthians 11:2). So it is with this suit that ministers are charged—no, all friends of the Bridegroom. We come to sinners as did Eleazar to Rebekah. We tell of our Isaac's noble lineage, His riches, His honors, His worth. We tell of all that He has done to win your love, and set before you the glory of His person, that you may see how worthy He is of all this love—how blessed, how honorable it would be for you to be the bride of such a bridegroom—and we say, 'Will you go with the man?'
V. How she is prepared and adorned.It is through the Holy Spirit that this is carried out. This Spirit having overcome her unwillingness, and persuaded her to consent to the glorious betrothment—immediately commences His work of preparation. He strips her of her rags—and puts on royal apparel. He cleanses her from her filthiness—and makes her whiter than the snow. Having taken her out of the horrible pit and the miry clay—having drawn her with the cords of love and the bands of a man—He proceeds to divest her of everything that made her unlovable—and to bestow on her everything that could make her lovely and attractive in the eyes of the Bridegroom.
Part of the preparation is now in this present world—but much is reserved for the future, and especially for the day of the first resurrection. White robes are given her—not purple, or scarlet, or glittering jewels, such as the harlot Church is decked with—but the fine linen, which is the righteousness of the saints. For her a throne is prepared; a beautiful crown set upon her head; a royal banquet is made ready; and all this in the Bridegroom's own glorious city, the new Jerusalem!
Of this wondrous future we know but little now. It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. To that day when the marriage shall take place, and the long-waiting bride shall become the Lamb's wife, Scripture has bidden us look forward as our hope. And it is a blessed hope. For then shall the long absence cease, and we shall see Him face to face, whom not having seen we loved. Then shall the day break and the shadows flee away. Then shall the everlasting festival begin in the great palace hall of the new Jerusalem. Then shall the Bridegroom rejoice over the bride. 'He shall rest in His love, He shall joy over her with singing.' Then shall the Song of Songs be sung and understood, in a way such as it could not be sung or understood before; and we shall hear the Bridegroom call his bride the 'fairest among women,' 'His love, His dove, His undefiled;' and we shall hear her call Him 'the Chief among ten thousand!'.
Such then is the honor in store for the redeemed—to be 'the bride, the Lamb's wife!' As such He writes upon her the name of His God, and the name of the city of His God, and His own 'new name;' so that after the marriage is completed, the bride loses her own and takes her Husband's name; the Lamb and the Lamb's wife becoming more indissolubly one—one in name, and nature, and glory, and honor, and dominion—forever! To get the tree of life and the hidden manna—to get the white stone, and white clothing, and the morning star—all that is much. But to be the bride, the Lamb's wife, and as such to be partaker of His love, and blessedness, and glory—this is surely more—how much more only the day of the Bridegroom's coming will reveal!
Such is the love of God. It is the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father chooses in His own sovereignty; the Son washes in His own blood; the Spirit purifies and prepares by His mighty power. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us! It is free love! Sovereign love! Eternal love!; Unchanging love! Boundless love! Love which not merely delivers from wrath—but which makes the delivered one an heir of God, more—the bride, the Lamb's wife!
This is the day when the proposals are made to the sons of men; when, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we urge the blessed entreaty upon sinners, that they may be partakers of this infinite honor. We set before you all the worth, and the glory, and the love of this divine Bridegroom—and ask you to accept the proposal and ally yourself to this glorious One. Among men, to be offered the prince's hand in marriage is counted no small honor; what then must be the offered hand of the King of Kings?
O men, accept the glory! Listen to the proposals made to you in the name of the Son of God. We describe His excellency and beauty. We tell you also of the honor for which the church is destined. We say, 'Come here, and I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife!' We point you to the resplendent glory of that city, which is after all but part of her dowry, part of her adorning; and we invite you to a share in its glory! We make known the Father's testimony concerning His own free love, and concerning the blood and righteousness of His Son. We demand your present acceptance of that testimony, that in the belief of it you may become a sharer of the glory and the kingdom!
The Holy City.
This city is not earthly, but heavenly, and is among the heavenly things said by the apostle to be purified by the 'better sacrifices' (Hebrews 4:23). Why did such a city need 'purifying?' Not because unclean, but because sinners were to dwell in it; and they would have defiled it, had it not been for the great sacrifice. For the blood does two things—it makes the unclean clean, and it keeps the clean from being defiled. Its use in the holy of holies was not to cleanse that place, but to prevent its being defiled by the entrance of the sinner. Our possession of this heavenly city, then, we owe to the blood of the Lamb; and hence He stands on Mount Zion, and sits on the throne, as the Lamb slain (Revelation 5:6, Revelation 14:1).
The earthly Jerusalem is to be cleansed from its impurity by the blood of the Lamb; and the heavenly Jerusalem is to be preserved from impurity by the same blood. The inhabitants of both will find that they owe all to this blood. It is the blood which opens the entrance—and it is the blood which secures the everlasting possession for sinners. This double efficacy of the blood we see also in the case of the elect angels. It is this that keeps them from falling, just as it is this that raises man out of his fall. Let us prize that blood which works such wonders. It is 'precious blood.' O man, do not trample on it!
But let us mediate on the city as described in these two chapters. It contains in it everything that is excellent and lovely, perfect and enduring.
1. It is a great city.'That great city,' said John, gazing on it. Its province is vast, beyond Babylon, or Nineveh, or Paris, or London. That 'mighty city,' says John, speaking of Babylon the Great (Revelation 18:10); but this is mightier far. There has been no city like it. It is the city, the one city—the great metropolis of the mighty universe—the mighty city of the mighty God.
2. It is a well-built city.Its builder and maker is God. Its foundations are eternal; its walls are jasper; it gates pearls; its streets paved with gold. It is 'compactly built together,' a perfect cube, and complete in all its parts, without a break or flaw, or weakness or deformity.
3. It is a well-lighted city.Something brighter than sun and moon is given to fill its heaven. The glory of God lights it; the Lamb is its 'light' or 'lamp,' so that it needs no candle, no sunlight. There is no night there.
4. It is a well-watered city.A pure river of the water of life flows through its streets, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb. What must its waters be! What must be the rivers of pleasure there! Who in it can ever thirst? Its inhabitants shall thirst no more.
5. It is a well-provisioned city.The tree of life is there, with its twelve variety of fruits and its health-giving leaves. It has more than Eden had. It is paradise restored; Paradise and Jerusalem in one; Jerusalem in Paradise, and Paradise in Jerusalem.
6. It is a well-guarded city.Not only has it gates, and walls, and towers, which no enemy could scale or force; but at the gates are twelve angels, keeping perpetual watch.
7. It is a well-governed city.Its king is the Son of God, the King of kings, Immanuel, the King eternal, whose scepter is righteousness who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. No misrule is there, no disorder, no lawlessness, no rebellion.
8. It is a well-peopled city.It has gathered within its walls all generations of the redeemed. Its population is as the sands or the stars; the multitude that no man can number; the millions of the risen and glorified.
9. It is a holy city.Its origin is heavenly, and it is perfect as its builder. Nothing that defiles shall enter; no spot or speck or shadow of evil. All is perfection there, divine perfection.
10. It is a glorious city.The glory that fills it, and encircles it, is the glory of God. All precious stones are there; no marble nor granite such as we boast of now—all of it is gold, and pearls, and gems. Everything resplendent is there. It shines like the sun.
11. It is a blessed city.It is truly 'the joyous city.' It is the throne of the blessed One, and all in it is like Him. Its name is Jerusalem—the city of peace. Its King's name is Solomon—the Prince of peace. There is no enemy there; no sickness, no curse, no death, no weeping, no pain, no sorrow, no change forever. Those who dwell in it shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more (Revelation 7:16-17).
Blessed city! City of peace, and love, and song! Fit accompaniment of the new heavens! Fit metropolis of the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness! How eagerly should we look for it! How worthy of it should we live! It has not yet arrived. Eye has not seen it. But God points to it above, and assures us that it shall come. The right of citizenship is to be had now; and those who are to dwell in it are not angels, but men; not the unfallen, but the fallen. It is as such that we apply for the 'freedom of the city.' He who is its Builder and Maker gives it freely. He who is its Prince, whose blood has bought and opened it, gives it freely. He waits to receive applications—no, He entreats men to apply. He announces that whoever will only take Him at His word, and trust Him for entrance into it, shall have it. He specially proclaims to us His own sacrifice, His infinite propitiation, His divine blood-shedding on the cross, and gives us to know that whoever will receive the testimony to this great work of atonement shall enter in through the gates into the city. It is the blood that brings us to the mercy seat—it is the blood that brings us into the city. It will be a joy to enter that joyous city. By this joy we beseech you now to make sure of your citizenship, by making sure of your connection with the King. He who has the King—has the city.
It will be a sorrow to be shut out. By that sorrow we entreat you to make sure. Believing the good news, become citizens of this great and holy city. Then all shall be well with you forever!
The Light of the New Jerusalem.
It is the 'new Jerusalem' that these words are written; the city of glory and blessing; the city of the saints and home of the redeemed; the metropolis of creation; the city of God and of the Lamb; the habitation of the bride, the Lamb's wife; the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
The passage might more truly be rendered, 'the Lamb is the lamp thereof,' or 'its lamp is the Lamb;' for lamp, not light, is the correct translation. The two clauses in this verse are meant to give us the complete idea of the illumination of the city. 'The glory of God did light it—and the Lamb is its lamp.' All that sunlight-splendor is to a city—the 'glory of God' or Shekinah is. And all that lamps are to a city, publicly or privately—the Lamb is. As with us now there is the alteration of the lights of day and night, so then and in that city there is to be the alternation of the glory of God and the Lamb. There shall be no night there; and they 'need no candle (no earthly "lamp"), neither light of the sun,' for they have that which is better than both; not created nor borrowed light, but uncreated, unreflected light from the divine and eternal fountainhead. That which is written of the earthly Jerusalem is much more true of the heavenly, for the one is the image or counterpart of the other.
'No longer will you need the sun or moon to give you light, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and he will be your glory. Your sun will never set; your moon will not go down. For the Lord will be your everlasting light. Your days of mourning will come to an end!' (Isaiah 60:19-20).
The figure here carries us back to the temple and the lamp in the holy place—the seven-branched lamp of gold which burned day and night in the sanctuary. As the Shekinah, which rested between the cherubim, enlightened 'the most holy place,' and the seven-branched lamp 'the holy place,' so in that coming day, when both these places shall be one—the veil no longer existing—the type shall be fulfilled, when that shall come to pass which is written, 'The glory of God did light it, and the Lamb is the light (lamp) thereof.'
But the figure of our text is wider than this, and refers not to a temple merely, or a chamber in a temple; but to a city, and to every house and chamber of that city. It gives us the idea of a resplendent lamp hung in some vast hall or palace, shedding a mild and tempered light down upon some festal assembly, such as that in the father's house upon the prodigal's return, when the household were gathered together to eat and make merry. But it does more than this. It shows us a wondrous lamp, of infinite luster, suspended above a whole city, as was the pillar-cloud above the camp of Israel in the desert. This is the picture presented in these words—'Its lamp was the Lamb.' Christ the light of the heavenly city; the crucified One the lamp—a lamp at once human and divine. The Lamb in the midst of the throne is the lamp of the new Jerusalem. All is concentrated in Him—all excellency, and power, and perfection, and beauty, and glory. Now at last He gets the praise, the love, the admiration that are His due.
I. It is a SPECIAL light.There is none like it. Fed by no earthly oil, its blaze is not earthly. Yet it is truly light for men. It is divine, but it is also human. All created and all uncreated brilliance is concentrated in it. The man Christ Jesus is there. God over all is there. The Word made flesh, and that flesh truly ours—that flesh broken and given for the life of the world—this is the essence of the light. Christ Jesus filled with the Spirit—the Lamb to whom pertain the seven lamps of fire—Christ Jesus, the Lamb slain—it is He as such, that is the lamp of the holy city, possessing and giving forth all the light the city needs, yet that light softened and mellowed by His cross and grave. It is not so much as God, or as the Christ, that He is the lamp of the city, but as the Lamb.
II. It is UNCHANGING light.He from whom it emanates is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Here there is no rising nor setting; no clouding nor eclipsing. It is one calm, full, clear light, from which nothing can be taken, and to which there can be nothing added; without variableness or shadow of turning. It terminates and supersedes all other lights, and itself remains forever, like the lamp of the temple which went not out by night nor by day. The lamps of the virgins who went forth to meet the Bridegroom are no more needed now; and He who in the dark ages of His own absence from earth walked in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, has now become so fully the light of His saints and of their city, that they shall fear no darkness. He Himself has become their everlasting light, and that in a larger and completer sense than when He announced Himself as the light of the world.
The foolish virgins might say 'our lamps are gone out;' but of this eternal lamp there shall be no quenching, no going out. The wise virgins would find that when they entered into the marriage-hall of that Bridegroom whom they had gone forth to meet, there was no more need of their lamps; for the Bridegroom Himself would be their light forever; a lamp that would never burn low or wax dim, but retain its brightness for evermore.
III. It is FESTAL light.The feast is spread; the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' The light of this great feast—the lamp of this hall and of this city—is the Lamb. This feast-day has not yet come; the Bridegroom is absent, and His friends are fasting, not feasting; and not only fasting, but passing through this land of deserts with just enough of light to show them the way. But when they enter the festal hall and sit down at the marriage supper, then shall they not only feed on the royal dainties, but enjoy the light of that lamp which is to gladden their festival with its soft rays—rays which shall be altogether in harmony with the bridal feast, the bridal dress, and the bridal song.
IV. It is ALL-PERVADING light.It is not confined to a few favored dwellings; to a palace, or a temple, or one region of the city. The whole city shall be full of light. It shall enter every house, and room, and chamber, until each corner and crevice is illuminated, and every face made to shine with the gracious splendor, as was the face of Moses when he conversed with God, or the faces of the disciples on the transfiguration mount. The light is all pervading. It penetrates everywhere; it fills all things; it can be excluded by no hindrances; no, the very walls, which here on earth shut out the light, there help to convey it and to enhance its brightness. Christ is all and in all, spiritually and materially, for soul and for body!
As our earthly atmosphere finds its way everywhere, unbidden and unsought, so shall it be with this heavenly light. We shall not need to go in search of it. It shall be in every place, night and day, round the whole year. Its walls are Christ; its foundations are Christ; its cornerstone is Christ; its joy is Christ; its glory is Christ; its light is Christ.
V. It is the light of LIFE.It is living light, life-giving light; not dead and inert like that of our sun, and moon, and stars, but living; instinct with life, and health, and immortality. It fills the whole man with life—body, soul, and spirit. Where it is, death cannot enter, and the curse cannot exist. It diffuses blessing as it shines—the blessing of undecaying health and an endless life. When enjoying 'summer's sunshine' here, we feel as if there were health in it, life in it; much more shall we find of the true health and life in this more glorious light. The Sun of righteousness has healing in His wings, and He who is the Sun of righteousness is the lamp of the new Jerusalem.
VI. It is the light of LOVE.For that name, 'the Lamb,' contains within it the revelation of the love of God. Where the Lamb is there is love, the love of God—the love of the Son in coming, and the love of the Father in sending. That lamp, which is the Lamb, then must be love; its light must be the light of redeeming love. It pours its radiance through transparencies, which all speak of the cross and the blood, of Gethsemane and Golgotha, flooding the golden streets of the jasper city with an effulgence that shall speak throughout eternity of the broken body and shed blood of the Lord. Every ray shall carry us back to the cross; and the light which shall be cast by it on every object in the happy city shall partake of that crimson tinge, which shall not merely remind us of the 'Word made flesh,' but of the great propitiation, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. From the lamp of the new Jerusalem there shall shine forth the eternal song, 'Unto Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and dominion forever!'
We have then a city for our residence hereafter; a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Yes, God is not ashamed to be called our God, for He has prepared for us a city. The proprietor of it is the Lamb; and as the Lamb, He gives it to us for an everlasting possession. As the Lamb, He is its king and priest; and He makes us partakers of His royal priesthood in this city of the great Melchizedek. As the Lamb, its honorsare His, and He shares them with us; its gloriesare His, and He shares them with us; its joys are His, and He shares them with us; its richesare His, and He shares them with us; its festivalsare His, and He shares them with us; its lightis His, and He gives it to us; its treesare His, and He gives us their shade and their fruit; its hallsare His, and He brings us unto His banqueting house, where His banner over us is love; its living watersare His, and the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of water, and God Himself shall wipe away all tears from our eyes!
We are heirs of God, as His sons; but this is not all. We are not heirs in some inferior sense or degree, nor do we come in for some little fragment of the family estate. We are 'joint heirs with Christ,' sharing along with him all that He possesses as Son and as heir of all things; for not only do we read, 'He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son,' but, 'to him who overcomes will I give to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.' This city of the living God, of which we have been speaking, this new Jerusalem, with all its splendor, He shares with us. It is our city as well as His; ours, because His; the center and capital of our kingdom, because the center and capital of His. There Christ is all. He is not only its King—the Son for whom the Father built the city—but He is its joy, its glory, its lamp and light. All that makes it bright and blessed is from him. All that gladdens its citizens is from Him. Its foundationsspeak of Him. Its gatesproclaim Him. Its golden streetsreflect Him. Its river glows with Him. Its treestell of Him. Its dwellingsare His; its palaceis His; its throneis His; its beautyis His; its festivals. are His; its songsand hallelujahs are His.
The Lamb is everywhere. He is on the throne; He is at the head of His redeemed, leading them to living fountains of waters; He is in every dwelling and in every chamber; He is the glory over all; Prince, Shepherd, Bridegroom, lamp and sun; alpha and omega, beginning and ending, first and last. He meets you at every step; He is seen in every object; He is heard in every sound; His name is the theme of every melody; and the chorus of each Psalm and hymn is, 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive blessing, and glory, and honor.'
What are the attractions of that city to us?Are they the gold and gems that make up its everlasting splendor? And when we read, or hear, or sing of its glory, is it the external brilliance that dazzles? Is it its exemption from sorrow, and change, and death, and night, and darkness, and the curse? Or is it the presence, the universal presence, of the Lamb? Sentimentalism can feast itself upon the former—but only faith and love upon the latter.
The question—What think you of the new Jerusalem? Is intimately connected with the more searching one—What think you of Christ? What is He to you? What is His cross to you? To be engrossed with the splendor of the new Jerusalem, while yet you have not tasted that the Lord is gracious, nor been begotten again unto a living hope—will profit nothing. Your imagination is kindled or soothed with the picture of our text, 'Its lamp is the Lamb;' but what do you say to His own words on earth, 'I am the light of the world?' Has that light which has enlightened millions enlightened you? He is the light of life, the true light that enlightens every man that comes into the world, and all light is darkness, but that which radiates from Him. What has that light been to you, or done for you? It is this present light on earth, filling the soul, that is the preparation for enjoying the light of the city; and he who walks in darkness here, shall walk in darkness forever.
We bid you look away from every other light and turn to this. It is the light of the cross! For the cross is light and not darkness. It is the light of love. It sheds its rays of pardon, and reconciliation, and joy into the darkest soul. These rays go out with each proclamation of the gospel; for our gospel is the gospel of the light, the gospel of the risen Sun. He who receives that gospel receives the light; and he who holds fast that gospel abides in the light, being a child of the light and of the day. He who receives it not, is a child of darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not where he goes, because the darkness has blinded his eyes!
The Life River.
In the first Paradise, and in connection with the first creation, we find a river—'a river went out of Eden to water the garden' (Genesis 2:10); and in connection with the second Paradise and the new creation, we find a river also—a river without a name—but simply designated 'a river of life.' The earthly and the heavenly thus run parallel with each other, though the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
In connection, not merely with earthly fruitfulness and beauty, but with spiritual blessings, we have many allusions to rivers. 'The river of Your pleasures' (Psalm 36:8); 'there is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God' (Psalm 46:4); 'you enrich it with the river of God, which is full of water' (Psalm 65:9); 'peace as a river' (Isaiah 48:18); 'the Lord shall be to us a place of broad rivers and streams' (Isaiah 33:21).
The earthlyriver beautifies, fertilizes, refreshes, gives life, quenches thirst. All these and much more does the heavenlyriver do for us. In this life-river is the reality of those things of which the earthly river is the shadow. What would the first Adam's Paradise have been without the river? What would the second Adam's Paradise and city be without the river of life?
But let us gaze a little on this life-river which John describes, and see its qualities and glories. Of it we may say, 'It is good for drink, and pleasant to the eyes, and a river to be desired;' for no river on earth, Nile or Jordan, can be compared with it. It contains all that a soul needs; and it is not for angels—but for men.
I. It is a river of HEAVEN.These two concluding chapters speak of no earthly city, no earthly Paradise, no earthly tree of life, and no earthly river. It is a stream fed from heavenly sources, filled with heavenly water, and resplendent with heavenly beauty. Everything pertaining to its origin, and course, and nature, partakes of heaven. It is the river of God, conveying on its pure water all that heaven contains of blessedness. Those who drink of it must drink immortality and love. 'It is the river of God.' To gaze on it, to wander by its banks, to bathe in its pure flood, to drink of its waters—this is heaven itself!
II. It is a river of GRACE.It flows from the throne of the Lamb; and everything that has connection with the Lamb is necessarily of grace. The Lamb is, of all the names of Christ, that which most explicitly expresses grace, and the channel through which that grace flows to us. Name but the Lamb, and you proclaim God's love to sinners, His riches of grace towards the most worthless of human creaturehood. The Lamb is the name by which Christ is most commonly spoken of in this book; and this seems to be done, in order that we may, in the midst of the terrors and the glories of which it is full, be made to feel the grace of God as it pours itself out over the dwellers in this poor earth. And this grace goes on through eternity; there is grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is the grace of earth, there is the grace of heaven. There is the grace of the first coming, there is the grace of the second.
III. It is a river of POWER.It comes from the throne—the throne of God; and therefore possessing the properties of that throne. It communicates, it infuses power into the soul of every one that drinks, or even that walks along its banks. The power and authority of God are in it; for it issues from the fountainhead of universal owner. O mighty river of God! How mighty do they become who betake themselves to you! Mighty river! The symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37), proceeding from the Father and the Son, from God and the Lamb—what infusion of power may we not receive from you here; how much more hereafter! In this wilderness much; in the glorious city, more.
IV. A river of PURITY.'A pure river of water of life!' The word pure almost invariably refers to priestly or sacrificial cleansing. This river then owes its purity to the same blood which makes the garments of the redeemed white; and just as the gold of the city is called pure gold, like unto clear glass—so the river gets the like designation. A pure river! Like the Lamb from whose throne it comes, who is without blemish, and without spot! A pure river! Like the city through which it flows, into which nothing that defiles shall enter! As it pours its heavenly waters on us now, it purifies, it cleanses; and hereafter it will preserve in us eternally that purity which it began in time, as the tree of life will preserve forever the immortal life which it created here in us. Think often of this river, you who feel the impurity of your soul; wander by faith along its banks even now; refresh yourself with its transparent waters; for is it not promised, I will give to him who is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely? The pledge of this we get just now; but the full accomplishment is reserved for the day when 'the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of waters' (Revelation 8:7).
V. A river of LIFE.Wherever the river comes it quickens; just as of Ezekiel's river it is said, 'the waters shall be healed, and everything shall live where the river comes' (Ezekiel 47:9). Each drop is life giving; it contains everlasting life, for the Spirit of life is in that river. And He from whom it comes is the Lamb, even He who said, 'I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish;' 'because I live, you shall live also.'
VI. A river of BRIGHTNESS.The words 'clear as crystal' should be 'bright as crystal'—the same word as in verse 16, 'the bright and morning star.' It is a river of splendor, divine and heavenly splendor. No earthly river, shone upon by the brightest earthly sun, can equal this. It is radiant all over, and it communicates its radiance to those who dwell upon its banks. It makes them shine as the sun. It is a river of glory—God lights it, and the Lamb is the fountain of its splendor! O river of brightness, will you not cast down on us here some of the radiance of your pure water? River of glory and holiness, will you not gladden and purify us, by causing us to behold your beauty in some measure here, that we may be prepared for beholding that splendor in fuller measure hereafter, when the days of our shame, and sin, and mourning are ended?
The Tree with its Twelve Harvests.
Faith looks into the unseen past, hope into the unseen future. The 'things hoped for' are very glorious. Eye has not seen them, nor ear heard them; but 'God has revealed (the name of this book is the "Revelation") them unto us by His Spirit.' That Spirit has given us (1) eyes to see; (2) objectsto look upon; and (3) lightto see them with.
It is the glory of the new creation, and specially of the new Jerusalem, that is here described. It is no longer, as at first, Paradise alone without a city, and with only our first parents to inhabit it; nor is it Jerusalem alone without Paradise, and without a river, and without a tree of life. It is Paradise, and Jerusalem together. The city is in the garden, and the garden in the city; the tree of life springing up in fruit-bearing beauty, and the bright river flowing through the street and under the shade of the trees. Nor is this Paradise without its 'Adam,' nor this city without its Solomon. The second Adam is here, the Lord from heaven. The throne of God and of the Lamb is here. All is heavenly, yet all is earthly too; all is divine, yet all is human. There is perfection everywhere—there is glory over all. It is the perfection of the material and visible, as well as of the spiritual and invisible. Creation has reached its summit—the eternally predestined height from which it cannot fall.
Into the regions of this glory we would seek to enter now. Time is fleeting. The world passes away. Our life is but a vapor. This present world is a waste, howling wilderness. Darkness and clouds are here. The ice and frost, the blast, the storm, the earthquake are here. Night, and death, and the curse, and the grave are here. We eagerly look beyond these, and anticipate the promised perfection and blessedness of the new creation.
I. The STREET of the city.The word refers to the main or broad street of the city. A wide central street, in the midst of which the river flowed, is the picture here. It is the great street of a well-built city—the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The city is the 'heavenly Jerusalem,' the 'holy city,' of which we become citizens even now in believing, so that 'our citizenship is in heaven,' and we, 'are come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God,' realizing ourselves as already in the city, and the city as already here. That glorious city is to be the eternal center of the universe, the seat of government, and the center of social life and blessed being. We need not try to sketch the city and its street, nor to answer the question, Is all this to be real and material, or is it only spiritual? Spiritual certainly, in the sense in which our resurrection bodies are to be (1 Corinthians 15:44), but still real and material; for the gold and gems, the walls, and foundations, and gates, are evidently given to indicate something material, corresponding to all these, and which could only be represented to us by these. This 'street,' or great thoroughfare of the celestial city, suggests to us all that a similar street in any of our great cities now calls up to view. It is the place of concourse; the place of fellowship; the place of splendor; the head and heart of the city—that city which is to be the metropolis of the universe, as the lower Jerusalem is the metropolis of earth.
II. The RIVER of the city.This is described in the previous verse. It is like, and yet unlike, all earthly streams. Its source is divine; its waters are bright; its flow is endless. Jordan, and Nile, and Euphrates cannot be compared to it. This magnificent river flows right through the center of the street, which is in the center of the city, dividing it into two, so that the whole city equally gets the benefit of its waters. It distributes on both sides its heavenly blessing as it pours along, carrying on its fair bosom refreshment, and gladness, and beauty. 'Well-watered' is this city; and with provisions for every beneficent purpose. It is 'the river, the streams of which make glad the city of our God' (Psalm 46:4); it is the river of peace, for on it 'shall go no war ship, neither shall mighty ship pass thereby' (Isaiah 33:21). It contains in it all physical blessings which a river can contain, and it is the symbol of all spiritual blessings. 'You shall make them drink of the river of Your pleasures' (Psalm 36:8). Not from any earthly source does this river flow; not even from the rock of the desert; not from the sanctuary (Ezekiel 47:1); not from the eternal hills—but from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
III. The tree of life.This carries us back to Paradise, with its unfallen glory. It is the 'tree of righteousness' (Isaiah 61:3); the 'plant of renown' (Ezekiel 34:29); the tree of the old creation, and the tree of the new; the living and life-giving tree. There is the earthly tree and the heavenly tree, just as there is the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem; the tree of the lower Paradise, and the tree of the upper Paradise; but the glory of the terrestrial is one, and the glory of the celestial is another. Here we have the celestial; and yet, when we read this chapter in connection with the forty-eighth of Ezekiel, we see that the two are connected the one with the other—like the upper and the nether springs; like the higher and the lower stories of the great palace; like the outer and the inner courts of the great temple. This tree of life lines the river of life; extending like a fringe along its margin on both sides, between it and the street; shooting up like a long avenue of palms in the midst of the broad street, through the center of which the river flowed. A wondrous tree; or rather a forest of wondrous trees pleasant to the eye, good for fruit, and excellent for shade and fragrance, under whose shadow we shall sit down with great delight, in the day when the tabernacle of God is with men.
IV. The FRUIT of the tree. It is 'good for fruit.' Take it either physically or spiritually, it is so. Take it in both ways—referring to both body and soul—the food of our risen life, the sustenance of our risen bodies and perfected souls, it is 'good'—it is 'very good.' It nourishes and cherishes. It imparts and sustains the incorruptible life. It communicates its celestial properties to the whole being of the redeemed—body, soul, and spirit. It bears twelve kinds of fruits, or rather 'twelve fruits'—that is, harvests or crops. Like the orange tree among us now, it is always blossoming, and always bearing. The revolving year is one perpetual harvest, every month producing new fruit. The description of the 'celestial' is very like that of the 'terrestrial' in Ezekiel, which runs thus—'many trees were now growing on both sides of the river! All kinds of fruit trees will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, without fail! For they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing.' (Ezekiel 47:7, Ezekiel 47:12). Here then is the food of the redeemed—eternal nourishment, suited to their redeemed being! Here is perpetual spring, perpetual summer, perpetual autumn—no winter, no withering, no famine, no decay! Life for eternity, sustained by the fruit of the live-giving tree, which shall nourish all the parts and powers, mental and material, of our everlasting and incorruptible nature!
V. The LEAVES of the tree.These are for health. As the fruit is for food to the celestial dwellers, so the leaves are for healing. It may be also that these leaves are needful for the preservation of health. In any case, we see the meaning of the words, 'The leaves of the tree are for the healing (or health) of the nations.
All this is beyond doubt connected with the Lord Jesus Christ—'the Lamb as it had been slain;' for as every infliction of the curse here or hereafter is connected with Him as such, so every part of present and future blessing is linked with Him. We might in this aspect say, Jesus is the river, He is the tree, He is the fruit, He is the healing leaf. But perhaps it is more correct to say, He is the fountainhead of all blessing in heaven and earth, in this world and in that which is to come; and these material things are the channels through which He pours out His fullness.
(1.) The bright and refreshing river.Weary man of earth, come here. There are waters for you, enough and to spare. All free and all accessible. 'Come to the waters;' 'let him who is athirst come;' 'I will give to him who is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely;' not merely of the 'water' or of the 'river,' but of the 'fountain,' 'the spring shut up, the fountain sealed.'
(2.) The plenteous and life-giving fruit.It is the 'bread of life;' it is better than angels' food. It is the hidden manna; the fruit of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Eat, for it is the nourishment you need; eat, for it is free and within your reach; eat, for it is living and life-giving food. You will find it sweet to your taste. It confers immortality on the eater. He who eats of this fruit shall live forever.
(3.)The healing leaf.We cannot say of this tree, 'Nothing but leaves;' still there are leaves in abundance, and each leaf is precious. It is like the hem of Christ's garment, through which healing came to all who touched it. It is like 'the handkerchiefs and aprons' from Paul's body that healed the sick (Acts 19:12); or like 'the shadow of Peter passing-by' (Acts 5:15) that 'over shadowed' and healed the sick of Jerusalem. These were healings for the body. In like manner there come healings for the soul. Christ is the healer of a sick world. The simplest touch in any part heals. Will you be made whole? Take a leaf from the healing tree. Are you sick again? Take another and another. Take them every hour!
The Curse Cancelled, and the Kingdom Begun.
Here we are carried back to the third chapter of Genesis—for here we have the undoing of the evil which the first Adam and the first sin wrought on man and man's earth. Here is blessing and dominion; nearness to God, and deliverance from all evil; the kingdom of light, and the endless reign of His saints. How bright the picture! What a contrast with the scene of the sentence and the expulsion from Paradise! What a contrast with the present evil state of earth, and the present tribulation of the Church! Here is the glory to be revealed in us; the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; the ending of all the woes and wickedness that have been depicted in this book. No more room for Satan and his demons. No more place for Antichrist; or for the beast, and false prophet. No more tolerance for evil and error. No more scope for misrule and disorder; no more conflict, and darkness, and tempest. All is perfection—the perfection of God and of the Lamb; not simply a perfect and glorious heaven, but a perfect and glorious earth.
I. The removal of the curse.Many are the curses that have lighted upon earth—the original curse, with all the many curses that have flowed out of the first sin. It is true that there is no curse pronounced against the man, or the woman, or their race. That would have been inconsistent with the revelation of divine grace. It would have rendered unintelligible the love of God just announced. The curse is on the ground, and on the serpent; and this, though not directly aimed at man, affects man and his whole race. The curse has come in like a pestilence upon earth; and man must breathe the poisoned air.
All this is now reversed; the sentence is cancelled; the curse is exchanged for blessing. The cursed one is cast out of air and earth, into the bottomless pit. The atmosphere is purged. The sun scorches not by day, nor the moon by night. Thorns and thistles disappear. Fertility is restored to earth. The wolf lies down with the lamb, and the leopard with the lamb; and there is nothing found to hurt nor to destroy in the holy mountain of the Lord. There is the new earth wherein dwells righteousness.
II. The eternal throne.Here is the setting up of the throne. In the King's absence all things have fallen into disorder; while the presence of a hostile claimant or usurper has intensified the evil and increased the confusion. But now the usurper has been dethroned, and the true monarch comes in. 'The throne of God and of the Lamb are in it.' The new Jerusalem has come down out of heaven from God. The great kingdom has come. It is not only the kingdom of God, but of the Lamb. He is King forever. He is the center of the universe; head of all things in heaven and earth; the second Adam, who with His redeemed bride the Church is to reign forever and ever. This earth shall be honored in being made the seat of His eternal throne. It is no longer to be said, 'Earth is His footstool;' but the throne is to be in it; and its rulers are to be those who claim kindred with its once cursed soil. O matchless honor conferred on earth and on it sons! O exceeding riches of grace! Where sin has abounded, grace much more abounds!
III. The eternal service.'His servants shall serve Him.' They serve him day and night in His temple' (Revelation 7:15). The words 'shall serve' are here used in reference to religious service, the worship of God (Matthew 5:10; Philippians 3:3; Hebrews 9:14). There the throne and the temple are one; those who serve in the kingdom, serve in the temple too. They are kings and priests unto God. It is priestly royal service to which they are called. And as the throne and the temple are one, so are 'God and the Lamb,' whether this means 'the Father and the Son,' or 'He who is both God and the Lamb.' It is not 'their servants shall serve them;' but His servants shall serve Him. It is to this high service that the redeemed are called—eternal service, in the city and palace and temple of God and the Lamb!
IV. The eternal vision.'They shall see His face.' Those who 'saw the king's face' (Esther 1:14) were 'the first in the kingdom;' the nobles of the nobility, who stood nearest the king. It was blessedness, it was pre-eminence, it was honor. 'Blessed are the pure in heart—for they shall see God' (Matthew 5:8). 'I will behold Your face in righteousness' (Psalm 17:15). Not in a glass darkly, but face to face; not afar off, but near; not with cloud or veil between, but unclouded and unveiled—they shall see the face that is most glorious to behold. 'Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty' (Isaiah 33:17). They shall be employed in that worship and service which is the most honorable of all. They shall occupy the innermost circle of the universe; for they are the redeemed from among men. And then shall that word 'brought near through the blood of Christ' be no figure, but an eternal and glorious reality. 'You set me before Your face forever (Psalm 41:12).
V. The eternal inscription.'His name shall be in their foreheads.' The one name of God and the Lamb shall be engraved—not on their 'vesture or thigh,' not on the palms of their hands, but on the forehead—visible, conspicuous, glorious, never to be erased; engraved by no earthly Bezalel, upon earthly gold or gems—but upon foreheads which have been washed in blood, and smoothed from every wrinkle and stain by the hand of Him who redeemed them for Himself. Jehovah's name, written by Himself, on our foreheads—how great the honor and the blessedness! (Revelation 3:12).
VI. The eternal day.This is stated 'negatively'—no night, no need of lamp nor of the sun! (Isaiah 60:19). Here on earth, night alternates with day; here we must either have lamp or sunlight because of the darkness. Not so there. All is day—day without night; light without darkness. No night! nor any of the things that make night so dreaded and dreary—no pain, nor sickness, nor weariness, nor tossing to and fro, nor danger, nor enemy, nor storm. All these have passed away with the night, out of whose bosom they came. Everlasting day! Everlasting light! Everlasting spring!
VII. The eternal Sun.'The Lord God gives them light.' The Lord God is a Sun even here. He is in every sense to be our Sun hereafter, superseding all other suns and lights. 'The Lord shall be their everlasting light.' 'The Lamb is the lamp thereof.' The light of heaven and earth, of all things material, and all things spiritual—is to come from the face of Jehovah Himself—the one sun of the universe, the one sun of the soul! Then shall we know, as we have never done before, the meaning of the words, 'I am the Light of the world.' 'The day shall break, and the shadows flee away.' All that we have hitherto known of light, outward or inward, material or immaterial—shall be as nothing to the effulgence of that eternal day.
VIII. The eternal reign.'They shall reign forever and ever!' It is not merely everlasting life, but an everlasting kingdom, that is in store for us. It is dominion, and glory, and honor, such as that which belongs to Him who has redeemed us by His blood, and made us God's kings and priests. From the lowest depths we are taken to the highest heights; from the degradation of bondage to the liberty of the sons of God—the inheritance of the saints in light. And of this kingdom there shall be no end. Christ does not deliver up the kingdom in the sense of parting with it, but in the sense of presenting it complete and glorious (1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22). Our reign is like Christ's—an eternal reign.
A bright future is this for everyone who has received the testimony of the Father to His beloved Son; for on our reception of that testimony does our right to that kingdom depend. That future is meant to impact upon our present—and that in many ways. It is so lovely a prospect that it cannot fail to influence us now.
(1.) It purifies us—For all in it is pure and perfect. We gaze into its glorious vista, and take on its perfection and purity. Like light, it transforms each object on which it rests into a brilliance like itself.
(2.) It invigorates—The prospect of an inheritance like this nerves us for conflict, and makes us invincible. It rouses us when called to the great battle of life with Satan and the world. It enlivens mightily.
(3.) It cheers—A hope like this lifts us out of depression, and bids us be of good cheer. The light will soon swallow up the darkness. The time is short. The glory will be enough to make up for all!
(4.) It comforts—We need more than cheering; for sorrow sometimes covers us with so thick a cloud that we cannot see through. It crushes us, and breaks us to pieces. It smites us to the dust. Then we get a glimpse of the glory beyond—and are comforted. After all, ours is 'light affliction,' and 'but for a moment.' It will soon be swallowed up in the eternal joy!
Our title to all this surpassing and eternal glory is simple the blood of the Lamb. He has bought it for His Church; and it is hers forever. The nightless day, the unsetting sun, the incorruptible life, the undefiled inheritance, the new name, the heavenly city, the everlasting kingdom—all are hers; hers through 'the blood of the everlasting covenant.' She is to walk worthy of it here—worthy of such a crown, such a heritage, such a city, such a Bridegroom, such a joy. 'Be holy;' 'be perfect;' 'walk worthy of the Lord.'
The entrance stands ever open, and each one is invited to go in. 'All things are ready.' You dwellers in the highways and hedges—go in. There is the marriage hall, and the marriage feast, and the loving welcome of the Master—go in.
'He who believes' enters in. We go in when we credit the divine record concerning the Son of God, and concerning the eternal life that there is in Him, for the dead in sin. It is not working, nor buying, nor waiting—but believing—which secures this eternal kingdom. Believe, and enter! Believe, and be blessed!
The Vision of God.
It is the new Jerusalem that John is describing—the city of glory; the home of light; the metropolis of the universe; the palace of Jehovah, where is the throne of God and of the Lamb. No sin there; no curse; no night; no death; no tears; no sorrow. There is the tree of life; the river of the water of life; the never-closed gates; the never-fading beauty; the never-setting sun. But of all the happiness and honor that fill that city of glory, this is the sum, and the center, and the overflow—'They shall see His face.' Let us ask—
I. Whose face?It is the face of God; and that face is Jesus, the Word made flesh; the brightness of His glory, and express image of His person—for we know that the light of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ. On the transfiguration 'His face did shine as the sun!' (Matthew 17:2). And that face is at once the face of the Son of man and the face of the Son of God; fairer than the children of men; the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. It is the face of majesty, yet the face of love; the face of a king—no, the face of the King of kings! There is no other face like it in earth or heaven—in all the vast universe of God—so bright, so lovely, so perfect, so glorious, so divine.
II. Who shall see it?His servants. 'This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.' 'Blessed are the pure in heart—for they shall see God.' 'Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty.' They of whom it is written, 'If any man serves me, let him follow me;' and 'where I am, there shall also my servant be;' 'if any man serves me, him will my Father honor.' It is only those who are admitted within the resplendent walls of that holy city, who shall see His face. From all who are shut out, that face is forever hidden. They are called 'servants' here, yet are they sons, kings, joint-heirs with Christ! As He is a servant, so are they; servants, yet sons and friends; and the name of servant is one of honor and dignity.
III. What is it to see His face?This is explained by Psalm 41:12, 'You set me before Your face forever;' and by Esther 1:14, 'The seven princes which saw the king's face, and which sat first in the kingdom;' and by 2 Kings 25:19, 'Five men of them which were in the king's presence,' lit. 'which saw the king's face.' In this, then, there is implied:
(1.) Nearness—These servants form the inner, no the innermost, circle of heaven. They stand nearest to God, 'always beholding the face of their Father in heaven.' There is no nearness like this; even that of angels is distance when compared with it.
(2.) Blessedness—The nearest of the disciples was the most blessed, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The nearest to Him in heaven will the most blessed. For nearness is blessedness; and seeing Him face to face is the perfection of joy.
(3.) Honor—To see the king's face was the great earthly honor; so is it the greatest heavenly honor. Those who see it nearest and most often are the most honored; they are those whom the King delights to honor—His nobles, His princes, His sons, more—His bride. Theirs is the place of honor.
(4.) Power—Those who see the King's face are His counselors, His vice-regents, the doers of His will. They are invested with His authority, and go forth to exercise His dominion. 'Power over the nations' (Revelation 2:26); 'Dominion over ten cities' (Luke 19:17). This power belongs to the redeemed. Christ's throne is theirs; His crown, His scepter, His kingdom—all these universal—for 'he who overcomes shall inherit all things.'
This seeing of the face of God and His Christ will be:
(1.) Eternal—It cannot end. It is an everlasting vision; and therefore an everlasting nearness, blessedness, honor, and power. No lapse of ages can cloud the vision, or dim the eye that sees it. The vision and the joy are alike forever.
(2.) Unchangeable—No interruption; no eclipse; no cloud; no darkness; no setting; no dimness of eye; no unbelief; no distance! The glory cannot change. No intervention for the world; no faintness on our part; no veil drawn by Satan; no old age or failing faculties; no distraction from other objects; no discomposure from cares or sorrows; no unsteadiness of sight; none for these can diminish the vision. It is as perpetual as it is perfect and divine.
Learn from this hope such lessons as these:
(1.) Live a joyful life—May not a prospect such as this make a man joyful? Should not the very hope of it make his countenance to shine?
(2.) Be strong for toil—Let this hope nerve us for labor, and animate our zeal. Let it rouse us out of sloth, and make us grudge nothing, either of labor or sacrifice. Toil on; fight on; spend and be spent.
(3.) Be comforted under trial—The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The vision of the face of God will more than make up for all.
And it may be soon! He will not tarry. The Lord is at hand. The new Jerusalem is coming. The glory will soon be revealed. The time is short. A few years, perhaps less, and we shall see His face—and share His glory!
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;
That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.
And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.
And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.