Brief Thoughts on Revelation 1-6

Revelation 1‑6  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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THE book is prophetic; it does not deal with the Church in respect of itself, as in relationship with God, save incidentally in the preface (chap, i. 5,6), and conclusion (chap. xxii. 16,17.) it is the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The address, though of grace and peace, is governmental. Thus it is from Him which is, and which was, and which is come, (not from the Father as such) and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth, i.e. not mere Messianic glory, yet connected with earth, in life, resurrection, and rule. The mention of Him draws out, by the way, the Church's or Christian's own consciousness and feeling as to Christ. This is followed by the testimony of what He is to the world, and to the Jews, at His coming in judgment. Then we have the personal seal of the eternal glory. And so the whole book, in its relationships and results. The word of God and testimony of Jesus applies both to prophecy and to Christianity, though not properly to the Church; for scripture looks at testimony continuously, as in Heb. 1; 2 or separately from what went before, as in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Next, we have the vision of Christ, revealed in the midst of the churches, governing them. There are two parts in the description—what is personal and what is relative; the former, in verses 13-15, the latter, in verse 16. Personally, He is a Son of man, not now a servant at His work; His garment is the long flowing robe, and not tucked up: His girdle is divine righteousness as such. Verse 14 marks Him as Ancient of days. His eyes search, His eyelids try the children of men in the power of judgment. His feet, as seen here, represent judgment, not abstractedly divine in the sanctuary, but applied down here to the ways and dealings of men—to sin, in government, and his with a peculiar character. Ezek. 1:77And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass. (Ezekiel 1:7), and Dan. 10:66His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude. (Daniel 10:6), (different in the English version,) are the same; but we have here πεπυρωμενοι passed through the fire. I apprehend it means here that the application of righteousness in judgment to man was according to the full absolute trial of the fire of God, i. e. judgment allowing no evil. Governmental judgment has not this character exactly. Brass is not used for immediate divine righteousness—i.e. intrinsic divine righteousness as such, remaining immutable in itself; to be met and satisfied, no doubt, by what is suited to it, but not exercised. This last is in power and ways. But in Christ, this last had all the perfectness which that fire, which consumes all dross, has or can have. In time relative characteristics, we have maintenance, by his power, of all the subordinate administrative power of the churches; judgment, according to and by the power of the word, of what had possessed that word, and the manifestation of supreme sovereign power as regards the whole world.
Human nature fails before this, but while the first and the last, God Himself, Jehovah, He was also the Living One—not the power of death for His servants: He had gone through death and destroyed it, and was alive for evermore. Life was His, and not only so, but life after death and resurrection, after His going through that which man was subject to; and He has thus the keys of power over death and Hades. Christ was to be revealed in this way, then the present existing things, and the things after them.
In Ephesus, we have the great principle of His government in, and survey of, the professing Church. He has the seven stars and walks among the candlesticks. The principle of departure from first standing is taken as the general ground; the result of faithfulness is also individual—he eats of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of the God of Jesus, (read, “my God,” in verse 7,) while the general fact of judgment is threatened the candlestick removed. It is in every respect the great general principles of departure and judgment, though there was still much good.
The second state is clear. Christ, who was before all, and will be after all, and, in this present world, has overcome death, sustains faith in the midst of needed persecution, and promises the crown of life. It is the title by which he met the withering of fleshly life in the apostle before His glory. Note, the profession of hereditary religion accompanies persecution—the trial was external, and the blessing here is general; they were to hold good their faith among the polluted.
Next, in Pergamos, we have the searching judgment by the word, where corruption was allowed, So the blessing is distinctive also. Next we have—not trial by God's word, revealed truth—but the Lord's searching of all that is within the heart: His eyes as a flaming fire; and the governmental judgment. And this closes the public history of the Church in general. And the morning star, and the coming, and Christ's kingdom, are brought in as the object of hope. Nor is there here invitation to repent. the first there was. In the persecuted Church there is encouragement. In the third there was. In this fourth, the bad had space to repent, and did not. “Behold, I will cast,” and “I will kill,” is absolute.
The Church of Sardis clearly begins afresh. Christ has the seven stars. They are His; but He does not say He holds them in His right hand. And he has the seven Spirits—a point not noticed yet, but which marks that whatever the state of the Church, He has the full supply of gift—the Spirit in all competency to act and glorify God. But I think it looks out beyond the formed Church. It is irregular, but a competency above order, and a competency proper to Him personally. Hence it will be found, as each characteristic of Christ in the three last Churches, to reach over into the coming scene, i.e., the characteristic itself. They are none of them mentioned in the description of the Son of man. They are new objects and grounds of faith; not the regularized characteristics for ecclesiastical dealing, or of that revealed use.
Hence, if not faithful, Sardis is not judged as the Church, like Thyatira, but treated as the world. The overcomers have the general result of righteousness, not being out of the book of life, and being confessed individually before the Father, as they had confessed Christ before the world. [n Philadelphia, all ecclesiastical pretension is against them. But Christ's personal sovereign title to shut and open is for them. They have to keep the word of His patience. All this is unecclesiastical. Christ waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. In this respect he continues even His life on earth. So do the Saints. They walk in the midst of a corrupt closing dispensation, keeping Christ's word. Hence the word “my.” Laodicea goes further. For Christ takes up the witness in the new creation instead of the Church, which He rejects. Divine righteousness must be had—saints' righteousnesses, according to God's purity, and true discernment from God, known only through Christ. He has not ceased to love the Church, and looks for zeal and repentance. The kingdom is all that is here promised. The different place of the warning in the three last has been noticed.
As to the sequel, I do not see how it can he questioned that we enter on a different sphere of prophecy in chap. 4. I do not mean merely that it is, the third division, as often remarked; but that chap. 2. 3. were the judgment of the Church on earth, and this is not. The world is dealt with from the throne, not on earth either, but in heaven. When this is the case, the saints are seen there. It is not merely that the blessing is anticipated before the judgments come, through which the blessed have to pass; but the body of saints is seen enthroned, encircling the great throne of God before any history of judgment begins at all. And the sources of all are revealed in this place. They are associated with the throne in its then place and character. It is not Christ's throne on which they sit. They are enthroned and crowned priests and kings before the government revealed in the book begins. And it is not the revelation of any place acquired or reached through them, as may be said in chaps. 7. and 15. Before the Lamb has taken the book to bring about circumstances to go through, they are associated with the throne. The throne itself is very clearly the throne of divine government and providence; and that set in majesty of judgment, but connected with the first creation. The rainbow is round, it. It is not a throne approached with blood—the golden throne, and the living creatures, though in the midst of the throne, can be apart from it. But it is a heavenly throne. Jehovah Elohim Shaddai is celebrated.
The Elders worship Him as Creator and Sovereign. It is His throne of government (in the first creation) and they can sit on thrones, but in heaven. They are in rest as to judgment, and active in worship. Though the living creatures were in and around the throne, next it thus, the elders as to place are first mentioned as morally associated with the throne. On their own thrones they were part of the scene. The creatures are only part of the character of the throne. Reasons for praise are here with the elders only. The creatures' part is the unceasing celebration of what He is.
Chap. 5. We have now competent power to act on the unfolding of divine purpose. In the center of all God's ways of power and providence was the Lamb as slain. He could open the purpose of God's right hand of power. Other saints are here with prayers yet to go up. The creatures and elders fall down before the Lamb. I should leave out ημας and naturally read αυτους, as Tish., &c., unless perhaps βασιλευουσιν. Here if connected with ζωα, these give reasons for worship also, the angels do not. Then note the ζωα put their amen to this ascription of power and glory. The twenty-four elders worship; I a little doubt the worshipping, &c., (ver. 8.) of the ζωα but in xix. 4, they do—In v. 14, “him that liveth,” &c., is to be left out. The ζωα the creatures join with Amen. The elders worship. All may own the Lamb by falling down. It is all most due and right, but the intelligent song is morally, I think, with the elders: αδουσιν they sing, (not “they sung.") It is in the main, (besides the Lamb's glory, having perfect power and the eyes of the Lord which run through the earth,) the interest of the heavenly saints in, and their connection with the earthly ones, and the same place as to the kingdom. In what follows to the end of the 11Th we get the general history, and in the earlier part of it, in parenthesis, the special, final history of the beast, so as to get its place in the series. Remark, we have not yet the offspring of David. Only the Lamb is Lion of the tribe of Judah; but it is redemption out of all nations which gives a title to take the book and open the seals. But I suspect there is something more as to creatures and elders. It is not till the Lamb has taken the book that the creatures get their place with the elders. Now it has been long remarked that the creatures are the symbols of providential power, (attributes in exercise,) and that the instruments may be angels as in this world and saints in the world to come. Now it will be remarked that before the lamb appears on the scene and takes the book, there are no angels who praise, and the creatures, while celebrating the character of God, expressing it. are not associated with intelligent praise and worship. Now this is always their proper office and character, but when the saints take this office, they are also the intelligent worshippers, though remaining another aspect of them. Hence, before the Lamb is in the scene and has taken the book, they are completely distinct, and no angels are spoken of. When He has, they are connected, and the angels are distinct. Still the creatures say Amen to creature-praise, and the elders worship. In point of fact, after Christ has risen up and taken the Church up, the angels expel the dragon from heaven; but in power connected with the Lamb, here held up to view, the saints must be associated. When, in xix., the Lord is coming out the elders have the first place, for that is the first heavenly part and place, the governmental attributes relating to the inheritance and the earth. So they have in vii. 11.
A question arises out of the change of reading in v. 9, 10, whether the redeemed are a distinct set, or the redeemed in general. The saints, whose prayers are offered, are earthly; that is clear. But I have been rather disposed to think 9, 10, are general. The Lamb has wrought this work. But “to our God” is a difficulty in this view, and the prayers of others must be considered.
Then after the general history of public judgments, after conquest, &c., we have the souls under the altar,—martyrs in general, I conceive, though this is a very important point, as to the structure of the book. They are owned, (for there is a break in God's ways here,) but must wait for judgment; but all is broken up in the order of existing powers, so that a way is made to the accomplishing their prayers.