For this reason, 'They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
I. WHO ARE IN HEAVEN. St. John tells us that:
1. They are a multitude. Heaven is no unpeopled place. It is the answer given by the Lord to the question his disciples asked him when he was on earth, "Are there few that be saved?" Then he did not see fit to answer it plainly, but here there can be no question as to the reply. For:
2. They are "a great multitude," one that "no man can number." How could it be otherwise? Would God have created and perpetuated the race of mankind knowing for how could he not know the issue of his own work, "Known unto God are all his works? " - that sin and Satan would win the most of them? How, in such case, could our Lord be said to have "destroyed the works of the devil"? Without doubt sin doth abound, but grace doth much more abound. If, at the time St. John was made glad through this vision, as we are through him, already there were in heaven this mighty multitude, what must they be now? and what will they be when the end cometh, and our blessed Lord hath delivered up the kingdom to the Father? They had already "begun to be merry" (Luke 15.). What must the holy mirth be now? and what shall it not be?
3. A miscellaneous multitude. "Out of every kindred and nation," etc. How greatly, then, do they err who think and teach that only those nations who here on earth have heard the joyful sound of Christ's holy gospel can furnish contingents to that redeemed throng upon whom St. John delightedly gazed! What did our Lord go to "the spirits in prison" for, as St. Peter tells us he did, if not to bring them there the joyful tidings which here on earth they had not heard? How little we yet comprehend of "the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the love of Christ! Surely this vision should help us to a larger understanding of that infinite love.
4. To them all life had been full of trouble. They had all of them "come out of great tribulation." Whilst we may not omit the final tribulation of which our Lord tells in Matthew 24., and to which the opening of the sixth seal refers, we cannot limit it to that. "Man is born to trouble;" he is "of few days, and full of misery." "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." To how few would life be worth living were it not for he hope of a better one! But we are placed here as at a school, and the trials of life are the appointed methods of instruction whereby we unlearn evil and learn good. The poor often envy the rich; but if all were known, the lot in life, or rather ere eternal life be gained, of us all is much alike. "The rich and the poor meet together," and share in their common inheritance of trouble. But from all this they have now "come out," and are "before the throne of God and the Lamb."
5. They had all been lost but for Christ. For they had all sinned. None of them had kept their garments undefiled. But he who came "to seek and to save them that were lost" found them; by his Spirit drew them to himself; by his blood washed their sin-stained robes, and made them white; and now, all of them, not one excepted, are in heaven full of adoring gratitude to him who redeemed and saved them by his own blood. None are there on any other ground, nor can any ever be. On what, then, are we relying for the hope we all cherish of one day being where they are?
II. WHAT THEY DO THERE,
1. They celebrate the heavenly harvest home. They carry "palms in their hands," branches of the palm. No reference is here to heathen uses of the palm as symbol of victory and the like. But far sweeter and holier reminiscence is awakened. The scene before us is the antitype of the most joyous and inspiriting of all the observances of Israel - that of the Feast of Tabernacles. It was held at the close of the year's outdoor labours; with it the season of rest began. "All was safely gathered in." It commemorated God's care of them in the old wilderness days, and afterwards his continual care of them by the gifts of his providence. The feast was a most joyous one. The Jews said that he did not know joy who knew not the Feast of Tabernacles. One chief feature of the feast was the universal carrying of palm branches (cf. Nehemiah 8:14-17). Such is the scene from which the imagery of St. John here is drawn. It told of the troubles of the wilderness ended; the harvest home of the Church come. It speaks of everlasting joy.
2. They serve. Day and night in God's temple is this service rendered. But in another place St. John says, "I saw no temple therein;" and hence we must understand by the temple all heaven and earth, for all, as was the ancient temple, are to be filled with his glory. And as to the service, who can describe, who can limit, who can sufficiently set forth, its beneficence, its joy, its glory?
3. They show forth the praises of God and the Lamb. (Ver. 10.) Festal joy, service, worship, the worship which consists in heartfelt praise, - such are the occupations of heaven.
III. THEIR EXCEEDING BLESSEDNESS.
1. They want not. They neither hunger nor thirst.
2. They weary not, as in the travel and toil of the wilderness they had done, when the fierce heat of the sun smote them; and as in the hard toil of life.
3. They weep not. The poet Burns used to say he could never read this without tears. And when we think of what life is now - a place of tears - and that there there shall be none, one's heart may well rejoice. But there are also the unspeakable joys that come from:
4. The realized presence and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He shall be as a Tent to cover them, as a Shepherd to feed them, as a Guide to lead them to fountains of living water.
CONCLUSION. Have we those we love in heaven? Rejoice concerning them. Are we on the way there ourselves? - S.C.
Therefore are they before the throne of God.I. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THAT WORSHIP WHICH IS OFFERED TO THE LORD IN HIS HOLY TEMPLE IN HEAVEN? We may obtain an imperfect answer to this inquiry by contrasting the services of its priests with the polluted offerings of the servants of God below.
1. In contrasting the worship of these two worlds we may observe, first, that the worship of heaven is uninterrupted, constant. They who worship there never need repose. There is no weariness to put a stop to their service, nor any cares and anxieties to distract and pollute it.
2. The worship of the heavenly world is also pure. All who are engaged in it are holy worshippers. Their number is immense; they form a great multitude; but not one formalist, not one deceiver, not one hypocrite can be found amongst them. And not only are all the worshippers pure, their worship itself is free from all mixture of imperfection and sin. There is no blemish either in the priest or in the sacrifice; all is "holiness to the Lord."
3. Their worship, too, is fervent. No coldness of feeling, no deadness of love distresses their souls.
4. Hence the worship they offer is a delightful worship. All the difficulties of our service will have passed away, and every act of worship will be elevating to the spirit, and bring with it an unspeakable and glorious joy.
5. The service of heaven is also a united service. They worship in the same temple, and are all engaged in the same work; the same spirit lives in every soul, and the same song is heard from every mouth.
6. The worship of heaven is humble. In the midst of all their glory the redeemed saints appear in the heavenly temple in the character of creatures and of sinners. We see no presumption or self-exaltation in their worship, no unholy familiarity.
II. THE PRIVILEGES WHICH THESE HEAVENLY WORSHIPPERS ENJOY.
1. The dignity of their station in this temple.(1) To be before the throne of God implies that they are admitted to the enjoyment of close communion with Him; that they are brought into His immediate presence, and have an intimate, enlarged, and continual intercourse with Him; that they talk with Jehovah as a man talks with his friend. To stand before the throne of God implies also a participation of His glory and happiness, an entering into His blessedness.
2. The text tells us also of the rich provision which is made for all the wants of the heavenly worshippers. As the priests in the Jewish temple not only dwelt in the house of the Lord, but partook of the sacrifices which were offered therein, so the priests in Jehovah's temple above find in it all the spiritual provision their souls can desire. Their happiness consists in having all their spiritual desires kept in unceasing exercise, and in having them fully gratified. They still thirst after the water of life, and it is supplied to them largely from those rivers of pleasure which flow around the throne of Jehovah.(1) The happiness which results from this provision made for their souls is uninterrupted and unmixed. Nothing can enter their habitation to disturb or mar it.(2) Their happiness, too, is everlasting. They are not supplied out of a cistern which may be broken or exhausted, but from a fountain which can never fail. Lessons:
1. No man can be happy in heaven who has not first learned to delight in the worship of God. Death will make no material alteration in our tastes and desires. What we love in time we shall love in eternity. What is hateful to us now, will be hateful to us then. We must have a relish for the happiness of angels now, or we shall be utterly incapable of enjoying it hereafter.
2. The great importance and blessedness of the worship of God here on earth.
3. How desirable is death to the spiritual and heavenly-minded worshipper of God.
(V. Bradley, M. A.)I. OUR SPIRITUAL HEAVEN. Its great and representative idea is worship, in which we reach at one bound the highest conception of our nature — humanity perfected, humanity in its highest conclusion, and humanity in its highest act.
1. The condition or character of the worshippers is described. Christ, in the sanctifying influences of His sacrificial work, was the reason of their heaven. The condition of their spiritual heaven, therefore, was the perfection of the spiritual part of their nature. It was not the locality merely — not the mere presence of God — not the employment, the robe, the palm, the harp, the worship: it was the perfect moral sympathy of their spirits with holiness, the holiness of God.
2. Their moral victory. "They came out of great tribulation."(1) Remark how strikingly the two affirmations are brought into conjunction. Their position before the throne is in the same sentence ascribed to the blood of the Lamb, and to the moral results of their tribulation, that is, to the meritorious cause, and to the efficacious instrument. In our ordinary logic we are apt to deem one agency exclusive of another. "It is God who works in us," therefore, we conclude we need not work. The logic of Scripture is "Therefore let us work."(2) The natural and uniform tendency of affliction to produce tenderness and sanctity of heart. In the light of human experience we feel no surprise at this sequence of "tribulations and glory," of "light afflictions," and an "exceeding great and eternal weight of glory." And the beatitude that is described here — exemption from hunger and thirst, and all the evils of which they stand as the representatives — is quite congruous to our thoughts and feelings, with the tribulation that preceded.
3. Their worship itself. In heaven they only praise, they sing a new song; the old song of lamentation, the wail of sorrow, the misery of sin is forgotten.(1) Their worship is immediate. The worship of "faith is lost in sight," the worship of symbols in the thing signified; they "see the King in His beauty."(2) It is united and catholic. There is but one robe, one palm, one song, one Father's house, one glorious Model to which all are to be conformed.(3) The constancy of heavenly worship. "They serve Him day and night." "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty." God's work hinders not His rest, neither does the service and worship of the glorified. Their praise is but the utterance of their love; and the constant utterance of love is its rest and joy.(4) The fervour of their worship. Oh I how unlike our cold and formal service here — our words, our acts of mechanical conformity, of unspiritual temper, of unloving prompting.(5) Its purity and joy. They who ascribe the heavenly sanctus, themselves are holy. They "see God," because they are "pure in heart." There is no blemish in their sacrifice, no drawback in their joy; they have "come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sadness have fled away."(6) Its perfect satisfaction. "The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters." As on earth, so in heaven, their dependence is on Him; "they live, yet not they, it is Christ who liveth in them."
II. Such is the spiritual heaven of our spiritual humanity. Of THE MATERIAL HEAVEN of our material humanity we can say but little, and that only in negations. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." No painful want, no painful infliction, finds its way into that kingdom of blessedness. As it realises all the good that we can crave, it excludes all the evil that we can deprecate. The condition and necessity of probation, and therefore of discipline will be ended; the effects of sin will be destroyed; character will be perfected; reward will be realised; our heavenly Father's hand will wipe every tear from the eye, and pluck every thorn from the heart. Such is the glorious heaven for humanity, both soul and body, which the seer beheld, such the multitude before the throne.
(H. Allon, D. D.)I. IT IS PARTLY CONSTITUTED BY AN EXEMPTION FROM ALL THOSE PAINS AND SORROWS WHICH EMBITTER AND POISON THE CUP OF EARTHLY FELICITY.
1. It is exempted from error, and consequently from suffering upon this account.
2. It is exempted from sin, and all its attendant train of evils.
3. It is exempted from the snares to which we are exposed in this world, and the sufferings to which we are subjected by falling into them.
4. It is exempted from temptations, and all their attendant dangers and mischiefs.
5. It is exempted from the disappointments to which mankind are exposed in this life.
6. It is exempted from the real and unavoidable calamities to which mankind are subjected in this world, and which constitute a large proportion of human misery.
II. IT IS COMPLETED BY THE UNION OF ALL THOSE INGREDIENTS WHICH CAN IMPROVE OR SECURE THE BLISS OF THE HEAVENLY INHABITANTS.
1. The vision and enjoyment of God, and the resemblance and conformity of our nature to the Divine.
2. The enlargement of our faculties, and the employment of these upon objects suitable to and worthy of them.
3. A progressive improvement in knowledge and goodness.
4. The society of angels, and of the spirits of the just made perfect, and especially of those virtuous persons with whom we were, in this world, connected by the ties of reciprocal love and friendship.
(W. Duff, M. A.)
Homilist.I. The redeemed in heaven occupy THE MOST ELEVATED POSITION. They are "before the throne." A throne is the emblem of regal authority. In heaven there is —
1. A permanent consciousness of the supreme rule.
2. An exalted consciousness of the supreme rule.
II. The redeemed in heaven ARE ENGAGED IN THE GRANDEST SERVICE. "And serve Him day and night." They serve Him in every department of action.
III. The redeemed in heaven are BLESSED WITH THE LOFTIEST COMPANIONSHIP. "He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell amongst them." What will it be to have God — the source of all wisdom, purity, and blessedness — as our constant companion?
(Homilist.)I. THE HAPPINESS OF THE SAINTS IN PERPETUAL COMMUNION WITH GOD IN HIS TEMPLE ABOVE.
1. Let us consider the happiness of the saints in that part of their celestial worship which is internal and spiritual; and in general we must frequently recall to our minds the imperfection of our present discoveries, and remember that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what the Lord hath laid up for them that love Him." There may, for anything we know, be discoveries, and by consequence, acts of worship, and dispositions of mind corresponding to them, totally different in kind from anything we are now capable of, as well as higher in degree. Of these we must be absolutely silent. Whatever acts of worship we have now any experience of shall then be performed to far greater perfection, and with infinitely greater joy.(1) Acts of adoration. By these I understand the immediate contemplation of the glorious excellence of the Divine nature, and the exercise of those affections of soul which correspond to it.(2) Acts of gratitude and praise.(3) Acts of desire. There is much of this in the disposition of the people of God on earth; they say with the prophet (Isaiah 26:8). And as every agreeable object is the more desired the more it is known, so the clear discovery that is made in heaven of the glory and excellence of God, and the delightful communications of His love, must still increase our desire of further and further degrees of it; and there is a fulness, both in the Divine nature and benignity, that can never be exhausted.(4) Acts of trust and subjection.
2. Let us now consider the worship of the saints in heaven, as it is external and sensible. This is the temple of God in which His servants shall serve Him, in which we may suppose the general assembly of the Church of the first-born meet together for the joint celebration of their Creator and Redeemer's praise. And surely if in this lower world and that part of the creation which is at present subjected to our view, there is so much order and beauty, so much splendour and magnificence, though it be the abode of guilty creatures under manifest tokens of Divine displeasure, what must be the unclouded lustre and perfect beauty of that place where the glory of Almighty God is peculiarly displayed, and which was prepared for the reception of the objects of His special love before the foundation of the world? But the external circumstance which, in my apprehension, will contribute most to the delight and happiness of the saints in their heavenly worship, will be their union and society in it.
(J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
I. THAT THEIR SUBMISSION TO A SACRIFICIAL LIFE HAS ITS REWARD IN BESTOWAL OF DIVINE POWER. He that sitteth upon the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them." It is paradoxical that a sacrifice is the way to a throne and strength. It would be peculiar in any sphere but one. The heart, however, only gains power as it ceases to be free. We must be imprisoned by the mighty power of love before we can be free. How is it refined ladies as hospital nurses can go through scenes which would make men blush? Because they are bound in the fetters of an intense love of humanity.
II. THEIR TEMPORARY CRUSHING OF WILL WAS REWARDED BY ITS BEING MADE CHROMIC AND HABITUAL. "Came out of great tribulation," therefore "Serve Him day and night in His temple." The popular idea that calamities of life are sent to prepare us for heaven by way of contrast is pre-eminently false. They are rather sent to prepare us for the life of heaven by resemblance. Heaven is veritably service. A little girl of my acquaintance was the subject of protracted suffering, and, questioned as to her conception of its purpose, surprised me by replying, not in the direction of contrast, but in that of resemblance. "Don't you know," said she, "I am preparing to be a ministering spirit?" It is coming out of great tribulation which fits us for service. I am much impressed by the fact that the Children of Israel never journeyed when the cloud rested over the tabernacle. Nor should we; but rather rest until the cloud be lifted.
III. THEIR SACRIFICIAL LIFE WAS REWARDED BY THEIR RECEIVING A NEW ORGAN OF VISION, viz., a sacrificially pure heart. "They have washed their robes," and have a front pew; "Therefore are they before the throne." If our spirits be bathed in suffering, we shall ever after regard it not as accidental, but as habitual. Sacrifice is the type after which the world is climbing, as illustrated in Abraham on Moriah, Jacob at Bethel, and Moses in Midian. We go to Christ through Egypt and the wilderness of Sinai. We do not expect — or should not — to get new robes, but washed robes. Creation now waits for the seventh morning, which will come when men have "washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb."
(G. Matheson, D. D.)
And serve Him day and night
I. The highest life is A LIFE OF PERPETUAL SERVICE. The reward which God confers upon His faithful ones is ability and permission to serve, and when He calls them from the lower to the higher places, the higher honour is that they are enabled and privileged to serve more. In God's view rank is determined by the measure of service. It is strange how the world has reversed this principle in its conceptions of rank and dignity. We speak of service with a sort of disdain, and of servants as inferior persons. You would find thousands of people ashamed to be seen with soiled hands, where you would find one ashamed of living an utterly profitless life. And we often pay the greatest respect to men and women who are of so little good to the world that almost the best service they could render would be to remove themselves out of it as speedily as possible. What a curious spectacle this must present to those who look down upon the earthly life from above. In days to come, when Christ shall truly rule in the hearts of men, they will find it hard to believe that there was ever a time when hats were doffed and knees were bowed to selfish and unserviceable lives. And even now if we look with Christ's eyes, we shall think the most ignorant ploughman who earns his daily bread a far nobler being, and of more exalted rank than the cultured voluptuary who neither uses hands nor brain to serve his fellows and make the world a little better than he found it. We shall honour the meanest workman more than the noblest of society's indolent darlings. We shall be as much ashamed of living unserviceable lives as of being detected in some glaring felony. The homes on earth which most resemble heaven are those in which from the father down to the youngest child, every loved and loving one is serving and being served by each and all; where love is always giving, yet receiving more than it gives; where all are servants, and because servants, masters; where all are happy because all are ministering to the joy of others.
II. The highest life is a LIFE OF SERVICE IN THE TEMPLE, or rather of temple service. There is no temple, because it is all temple. And all the service, of whatever kind it is, all the work, all the ministry of love there is emphatically temple service, not necessarily singing, praising, preaching, or anything of that kind, but temple service, because the atmosphere, the thought, the motives, the emotions are sacred, holy, and divine; because everything is done in view of Him who sits upon the throne. There is the very spirit of the sanctuary in it all. There is the gladness and the praisefulness of the sanctuary in it all. And here again we find the model for our lives below. The highest life on earth is a life made up entirely of temple service — a life in which we do all things from the least to the greatest in the same spirit in which we sing hymns and offer prayers honestly, reverently, and purely, as in the sight of God and our Master Jesus Christ.
III. The highest life is a LIFE OF WORK INSPIRED BY LOVE, by love and not by necessity. They hunger no more, neither thirst any more. For the Lamb doth feed them and lead them to living fountains of water. We regard labour as a curse because it is a necessity. There is no choice where need drives. It is the hunger and thirst that make us bondsmen. We must toil to satisfy want. But in the highest life they work not to get their needs supplied, but because those needs have been supplied; not to secure wages, but because the wages have been sweetly and abundantly paid; not to make their robes white and clean, but because Christ has washed them until they shine like lustrous snow. In a word their service is inspired by gratitude, devotion, love; and that service never tires. Day and night they serve Him in His temple. Much of our earthly service may be made of this kind — nay, all of it in a certain sense. In all that we do there may be the willing, thankful, rejoicing spirit, a feeling of infinite indebtedness to God for His great gifts and His great love, which gives, as it were, wings to the feet that are engaged in common labour.
(J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among themI. HEAVEN IS THE PLACE OF GOD'S SPECIAL PRESENCE. It is the beginning of our happiness to have His presence with us here, and it will be the consummation of it to be for ever with Him in the world to come. The Psalmist took this view of it, for he said, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee?" It is further called "appearing in God's presence"; "standing before Him"; "bowing before His throne"; "abiding in His tabernacle"; "dwelling in His house for ever"; "beholding His face"; "being for ever with the Lord"; "seeing the King in His beauty"; "sitting with Christ on His throne."
II. THE NATURE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE IN HEAVEN. On earth the believer enjoys, in a certain sense, the presence of his God. Not only His essential presence, not only His presence in nature, where His wisdom, power, and goodness are clearly displayed; not only His presence in providence in overruling the unbridled passions of men, in improving the framework of society; not only His presence in the appointed means of grace, but a special presence; a presence which he can feel and enjoy, but which he cannot fully explain; a presence which though secret and invisible, is real, influential, and blessed. The presence referred to in the text is more than His essential presence. His essential presence is as really on earth, and in hell, as it is in heaven; for it fills heaven and earth, nor can the heaven of heavens contain it. It is also more than His special gracious presence by His Spirit, for though the saints have this on earth, they are said to be absent from the Lord. The presence of God in the text means —
1. A wonderful display of His natural and moral perfections — His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and mercy, with all other attributes which constitute Him such a glorious being. Now in consequence of the weakness of our powers, and the obscurity of providence and other mediums through which they are contemplated, these perfections are but dimly seen and inadequately appreciated in the present state.
2. A wonderful display of His regal glory. He is to dwell among them sitting upon His throne; that is, surrounded with the ensigns of regal glory.(1) It sets forth the absolute sovereignty of God and His dominion over all in heaven, and hence Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon His throne, high and lifted up. His sovereignty is seen there in greater perfection and grandeur than anywhere else.(2) It sets forth His peculiar glory and majesty, which are manifested in heaven more luminously than anywhere besides.(3) It sets forth further, that there the deepest homage and respect is paid unto Him.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS PRESENCE IS MANIFESTED.
1. Here we have His presence in creatures, providences, and ordinances; but in heaven He will be seen immediately without the intervention of means. The mind will there be perfectly free from everything which here dims and interrupts its visions of the glory of God. There is no sin there to weaken and becloud its powers, nor any temptation to draw off the affections. There the light of glory has burst in upon the soul, and the perfection of its holiness secures its devout and unceasing contemplation of spiritual realities. The body, too, will then be fashioned like unto the glorified body of Christ; and instead of hindering and beclouding the spirit as it does now, it will greatly aid the soul in her Divine contemplations. And then shadows will be exchanged for realities.
2. He that sitteth upon the throne shall dwell among them, or, as in another place, in the midst of them; so that He is equally accessible to all, and His glory, as from a centre, diffuses its splendours over the whole assembly of heaven. Here some believers live in the sunshine and some in the shade; but it is a most delightful thought that the immediate and distinct vision of God in heaven is not the special privilege of the few, but is common to all that people the realms of bliss, both angels and men.
3. The presence of God in heaven is a fixed and abiding presence, for He shall dwell among them. Not as He frequently does now, like a wayfaring man who only turns aside for the night, but He will be always in our eye, for we shall be ever with the Lord, and shall always behold the face of our Father in heaven.
IV. THE INFLUENCE OF THIS DIVINE PRESENCE UPON THE ETERNAL STATE OF THE REDEEMED. As the presence of the sun warms, enlightens, fructifies, and blesses the earth; so, only in a far higher and more important sense, does the presence of God shed the most delightful influences upon the whole region and family of heaven.
1. It will advance their moral perfection.
2. It will secure and promote their eternal happiness.. The visible and immediate presence of God will banish all that is inconsistent with the progressive happiness of the redeemed, just as the presence of the sun banishes darkness, coldness, and gloom. Then this immediate presence of God not only banishes all that is opposed to the happiness of the saints, but it is productive of positive happiness. It is the presence of His approving smile that makes heaven, for there He rejoices over His people with joy: He rests in His love, He joys over them with singing. Oh, what bliss to live in the smile of a reconciled God!
(Wm. Gregory.)John 1:14; Revelation 21:8): — The word rendered "dwelt," in these three passages is a peculiar one. It literally means "to dwell in a tent," or, if we may use such a word, "to tabernacle," and there is no doubt a reference to the tabernacle in which the Divine presence abode in the wilderness and in the land of Israel before the erection of the temple.
I. First, then, we have to think for a moment of THAT TABERNACLE FOR EARTH. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt, as in a tent, amongst us." The human nature, the visible, material body of Jesus Christ, in which there enshrined itself the everlasting Word, which from the beginning was the Agent of all Divine revelation, that is the true temple of God. We have to be content with a recognition that the manner is beyond our fathoming, and to accept the fact, pressed upon our faith that our hearts may grasp it and be at peace. God hath dwelt in humanity. The everlasting Word, who is the forthcoming of all the fulness of Deity into the realm of finite creatures, was made flesh and dwelt among us. But the tabernacle was not only the dwelling place of God, it was also and, therefore, the place of revelation of God. So, in our text, there follows: "we beheld His glory." And how did that glory make itself known to us? By miracle? Yes! But, blessed be His name, miracle is not the highest manifestation of Christ's glory and of God's. The uniqueness of the revelation of Christ's glory in God does not depend upon the deeds which He wrought. For, as the context goes on to tell, the Word which tabernacled among us was "full of grace and truth," and therein is the glory most gloriously revealed. Still further, the tabernacle was the place of sacrifice. So in the tabernacle of His flesh He offered up the one sacrifice for sins for ever. In the offering up of His human life in continuous obedience, and in the offering up of His body and blood in the bitter passion of the Cross, He brought men nigh unto God. Therefore, because of all these things, because the tabernacle is the dwelling-place of God, the place of revelation, and the place of sacrifice, therefore, finally is it the meeting place betwixt God and man. In Christ, who by His Incarnation lays His hand upon both, God touches man and man touches God. We who are afar off are made nigh, and in that true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man we meet God and are glad. The temple for earth is "the temple of His body."
II. We have THE TABERNACLE FOR THE HEAVENS. In the context we have a vision of the great multitude redeemed out of all nations, and kindreds, "standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands." The palms in their hands give important help towards understanding the vision. We are not to think of the Roman palm of victory, but of the Jewish palm which was borne at the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the Feast of Tabernacles? A festival established on purpose to recall to the minds and to the gratitude of the Jews settled in their own land the days of their wandering in the wilderness. Part of the ritual of it was that during its celebration they builded for themselves booths, or tabernacles of leaves and boughs of trees under which they dwelt, thus reminding themselves of their nomad condition. Now what beauty and power it gives to the words of my text, if we take in this allusion to the Jewish festival. The great multitude bearing the palms are "keeping the feast," memorial of past wilderness wanderings; and "He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle above them"; as the word might be here rendered. That is to say, He Himself shall build and be the tent in which they dwell; He Himself shall dwell with them in it. He Himself, in closer union than can be conceived of here, shall keep them company during that feast.
III. Look at that final vision which we have in these texts, which we may call THE TABERNACLE FOR THE RENEWED EARTH. "Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them." The climax and the goal of all the Divine working, and the long processes of God's love for and discipline of the world, are to be this, that He and men shall abide together in unity and concord. That is God's wish from the beginning. We read in one of the profound utterances of the Book of Proverbs how from the beginning the "delights" of the Incarnate Wisdom which foreshadowed the Incarnate Word "were with the sons of men." And, at the close of all things, when the vision of this final chapter shall be fulfilled, God will say, settling Himself in the midst of a redeemed humanity, "Lo! here will I dwell, for I have desired it. This is My rest for ever." He will tabernacle with men, and men with Him. We know not, and never shall know until experience strips the bandages from our eyes, what new methods of participation of the Divine nature, and new possibilities of intimacy and intercourse with Him may be ours when the veils of flesh and sense and time have all dropped away. New windows may be opened in our spirits, from which we shall perceive new aspects of the Divine character. New doors may be opened in our souls from out of which we may pass to touch parts of His nature, all impalpable and inconceivable to us now. And when all the veils of a discordant moral nature are taken away, and we are pure, then we shall see, then we shall draw nigh to God.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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