Fragment on Revelation 4

Revelation 4  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The fourth and fifth chapters of this book help us to understand the present heavenly character and position of the saints, being descriptive of their actual position during the time of the judgments being poured out. The church is not actually seen as such, until she appears as the bride at the close of the book.
The proper subject of this book is not grace, but judgment; though, no doubt, the patience of God in executing judgment is grace. But the book is one of judgment, even as regards the churches; for the Son of man is seen walking among them, taking notice of their conduct. Having gone through the professing body, judging its ways and its works (while those who overcome have their portion in blessing) He spues its last state out of His mouth; and then He enters on the judgments which befall the world. Before entering on the detail of these judgments, He gives a preliminary view of the position of the saints, as we have it in this and the next chapters.
There are three subjects distinctly marked in the first chapter as comprised in this book. First, the glory and the manifestation of Christ Himself, the things seen; second, the churches, " The things which are "; third, the things hereafter, or " after these," that is, the things which do not belong to the position of the church in its testimony down here as a corporate body, but after it is as such spued out of Christ's mouth.
First, then, what is seen is the glory of Christ; secondly, " The things which are." The only question that can arise is as to the force and bearing of the expression " things which are." They are looked at as the condition of the church as a whole (not merely local churches). Thyatira was told to " hold fast till I come "; and to Philadelphia He says, " I will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world "; clearly showing it was not any mere local body that was addressed. We get in these instances the clearest intimation of its being the general aspect of the whole church looked at in the character of judgment, from the time of its leaving its first love, until it is entirely given up. The thing Christ is dealing with is the church, until an entirely new dispensation commences.
Another characteristic there is, as connected with " the things which are," the church is a witness for God. In the first church we see this ceased to be the case; and at the close of all, when it has entirely lost its character as such, Christ Himself, in the fullest and completest sense, presents Himself to take the inheritance, and takes up the character which it should have maintained, namely, the " Amen, the faithful and true witness." Then, as having taken up this character, He assumes the government of this world again; and that is quite a different thing from His walking amongst the churches in His judicial character upon earth, passing judgment upon those things that should have been a faithful witness of Him. Then the prophet sees Him in heaven, having done with the church upon the earth. He is not seen there as the Head of the body, but as the " Lamb that has been slain ": the One rejected upon earth is upon the throne in heaven, from whence the judgments are to proceed. This is a most solemn moment. We see how the world is all going on under God's eye, and with what patience He has been bearing with it.
In regard to God's dealings with man, as man, after his fall, there have been, to speak generally, three great epochs: first, the period before Christ came; secondly, the present interval; thirdly, after He comes again. In one sense there were many epochs during the time He was trying man with constant and unwearied patience, to see if good could be got from him, before Christ was rejected. He knew full well what would be the result, but He was putting man to the test. He planted a vineyard: it brought forth wild grapes, the hedge was broken down, and a wild boar out of the forest devoured it; and at last He said, " I have yet one Son, they will reverence Him; but they said, This is the heir, come let us kill him." Then the world was in a certain sense judged-not the judgment executed, but probation was ended. Satan, the prince of this world, is cast out. This took place when the true and rightful Prince, the Son of Him who owned the vineyard, was rejected. The world was then judged as to its character and ways. It is under condemnation, and therefore we are exhorted not to be conformed to this world. The plainest testimony is thus given against it morally. " The fashion of this world passeth away." " If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." " The friendship of this world is enmity with God." Having rejected His Son, the sentence of rejection is passed on it by God. The Son leaves it, and it would see Him no more. Satan is proved to be the prince of it. The Holy Ghost comes to convict it of sin, because of unbelief; of righteousness, because Christ had left it to go to the Father; of judgment, because the testimony of judgment on the prince of this world is passed. The world is convicted of righteousness by these two things-the Son of God being rejected and ascended to the right hand of the Father, and the world seeing Him no more. And the Holy Ghost is given to the church, the vessel to contain the witness of the glorified Man till His coming again. The saints are gathered by the Holy Ghost, out of the world, to go forth to meet the Bridegroom.
What peace there is to our souls in seeing Christ's power over all creation, in connection with Satan's power being all broken! In the new age this will be fully manifested; and the working of miracles by the disciples was a sign of that energy and power of the Son of man which will be known in the world yet to come. " Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
The earth then was set aside when the rejected Man took His place in heaven. The Jews were the immediate instruments of His rejection; but man, the first Adam, was utterly set aside through this act; and the Jew was to be brought to see that in the flesh dwelleth no good thing, and that heavenly grace was entirely in connection with the new Man. He is gone into heaven, that " He might fill all things." He came down in grace as the last Adam, that He might bring in glory; and thus when the church is being formed, we get this double character: the heavenly Man taking His proper place in heaven, the earthly man judged. It is henceforth all new. " If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." We know not Christ any more " after the flesh." It is as Head of the new creation that we are united to Him. " The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man, the Lord from heaven." The second Man has ascended; " but in that he ascended, he descended first into the lower parts of the earth." He has ascended as the second Man to take His glory with the Father. As the result of all this, the church is looked upon as dead and risen with Christ-" sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The new character for those who thus belong to Him is to manifest this heavenly Man by the power of the Holy Ghost down here; and thus the church becomes the living witness of Christ's rejection on earth and acceptance in heaven.
The church being set in this place, the Lord goes on with it, so long as He could in any way regard it as His witness on the earth.
Having disposed of " things that are," we now see that in order to be associated with God's thoughts and God's ways, the prophet has to be taken up to heaven. " A door was opened in heaven," and he sees the Lamb upon the throne, and those who had been faithful upon earth are with Him there. See the character of the throne itself: it is a throne that is going to vindicate the rejected Lamb, and the judgment to be executed. " A voice said unto me, Come up hither... and immediately I was in the Spirit "; but being in the Spirit, it was not to look round on things on earth, but go up into heaven.
In connection with the throne we see a display of power and majesty. It was so at Sinai, where there was judgment attending the giving of the law. The mount was to be guarded. " Whosoever toucheth the mountain shall be surely put to death." Then in Jerusalem His throne was established again; and there was the manifestation of His glory, as sitting between the cherubim over the mercy-seat. Through the mediation of Moses (after the golden calf was set up), we see God forgiving sins, though not clearing the guilty. He said, " I will make all my goodness pass before thee." It was always the terms of God's government with an earthly people. There is another throne now-the throne of grace. This is not our highest place, which is to be sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; but it is a great mercy to have boldness to come to this throne, " that we may obtain mercy," etc., while walking down here in weakness, trial, infirmity, and perplexity; it is from this throne of grace that we find the power of God available for all we need to guide and help.
Here the throne in heaven is neither of these, but a new thing, a throne set in heaven and executing judgment. It has nothing to do with a throne of grace, and is not the object of supplication. In one sense they are all alike, because God's throne; but that is all. So thoroughly is this different from the throne of grace, that the effect of prayer was judgment. See chapter 8, where, when the prayers of the saints were offered, and the incense ascended, fire and judgment came down upon the earth. " There were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes." With us we get by prayer cc grace to help in every time of need." Here the censer being thrown on the earth brings down judgment.
But it is not the Lamb executing judgment; nor is it the word of God either. But we see the throne before He comes out. It is the interval between His having done with the churches on earth (for there is nothing left in the church to judge), and His coming to the earth again as the Faithful and True Witness.
The throne is set up for the introduction of the "Only-begotten into the world " in judgment. We have in this chapter God's relationship with creation set forth. God comes out in the character of Creator. If He is coming in judgment, everything must be set right before Him. It is not God enabling man to go against the stream which is wrong, but the stream itself must be set right. He must have creation itself brought into order. Every kind of glory belongs to Christ. As to Israel, He is King of Israel. When He is born into the world, it is as Jehovah-Jesus, " for he shall save his people from their sins"; Hoshea meaning Savior, Jah Jehovah-Jesus meaning Jah-Hoshea, Jehovah the Savior. He is Lord over all creation. " All things were created by him," etc., and He is Lord over the Gentiles too.
As Son of David, then, He has Israel; as Son of man, He has the world-everything; as Son of God, He has His own title to all glory as Creator and Head over all to the body, which two things we get in Colossians. The sign God gave of His covenant with creation was the rainbow, the token of God's faithfulness; and when these judgments are coining on the earth, there is the sign at once of His covenant faithfulness in relation to creation.
Verse 4. " Seated on thrones." The symbols here represent the saints in their heavenly condition, but not as the church, Christ's body. They are " kings and priests." In this chapter we see them as kings; in the next as priests. The one is their kingly office, the other is their priestly character as worshippers. The moment God is going to deal with creation, the saints are seen sitting on the throne with Him. What a wonderful place is given to us! We are a " royal priesthood," etc. We do not belong to this creation, but are a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. The glory and profit is all His, though the blessing is ours. We have a special place of glory, " heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ "; but that is not all, we must be His bride. In Colossians we have both First-born of every creature as the heir of God's estate, and beside that, He is first-begotten from the dead. He is Head of the new creation. He has come up from among the dead in the power of that life which could not be holden of death. In Ephesians there is another thing: " He gave him to be head over all things to the church." All things are His, and He is Head over them to the body. Not Head over the body (though He does judge it), and therefore it is added that the church is the " fullness of him that filleth all in all." The head without the body would be incomplete, and the church makes up His completeness. We are completely associated with Him. We are not of the old creation, but of the new. It is true we are still in the body, and have to carry it about with us in the bondage of corruption. We are part of the new creation as being one with Him who filleth all in all; while, looked at individually, we have the character of " kings and priests." Here we see all the saints who will be raised, sitting round the throne of God; round the very place from whence proceed the thunderings, etc.
" The Spirits of God." The imagery is taken from the temple. What a place for us to be in! " Know ye not that ye shall judge angels? " Do not think that these things are too high for you: they are not the highest. You must bring the heavenly character of them down to every-day practice. When Jesus was on earth, the lowly Man here below as " sent into the world," He brought down the principles of the heavenly spirit in all His ways and words-" the Son of man which is in heaven." And He says to His disciples, " Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." This sweeps away every principle of conduct which cannot connect us with Him whom the world has rejected. The world hates what is heavenly in it. It cannot bear the testimony of what it has done. We are called to be nothing in the world. We must be contented to be despised; and find Christ in such a way our heavenly portion, as to have no ambition to be anything where He was nothing. " How can ye believe who receive honor one of another? " Our calling is to manifest the spirit and temper of the heavenly Christ.
" Seven lamps of fire." All this is judgment—sevenfold perfection, but sevenfold judgment. It is not here, as in Zechariah, the " eyes of the Lord, running to and fro in the earth," but consuming everything that does not suit the presence of this heavenly throne. It is a solemn thing, this judgment from heaven. " The leaves of the tree shall be for the healing of the nations." Our whole relationship with God is founded on grace. We dwell in Him and He in us. The revelations of the Spirit of God to us are about Him as our God, and heaven as our home. " The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, looking up to heaven saw the throne, and Jesus on the right hand of God; but the character is very different here, not all that makes delight and blessing, but the Spirit itself is as " lamps of fire." What will the earth do when heaven has this character of judgment, when there is neither throne of grace, nor patience, but all is judgment?
Verse 6, etc. Now we come to another part of the scene altogether: " Four living creatures full of eyes before and behind." They are symbolical as heads of the judicial power of God. He may use angels, or He may use the saints as His instruments. We often find cherubim mentioned in scripture. The first time is when they were placed in the garden of Eden to keep the way of the tree of life. In Ezekiel they are connected with judgment. In chapter 9, when the glory of the Lord is gone up from the cherubim, there is the execution of judgment upon all those who had not the mark. Then again, within the veil, was to be seen the symbol of God's judicial power, for the cherubim looked down upon the ark, the throne of God's power. He was governing Israel. God was using this power in the midst of creation around. When the temple of Solomon was built, the cherubim were not looking down into the ark, but their wings reached from wall to wall, and they looked outward. This is a figure of the Solomon reign of Christ, when all His judicial power will look out to bless. In Psa. 72 we see His reign extending over all the earth, yet over Israel especially. " By me kings reign, and princes decree justice." In the four living creatures we see the four classes of creation which we have in Genesis: the first creature like a lion, the type of wild beasts; the second like a calf, the beasts of the field; the third, the face of a man, human beings; the fourth, the flying eagle, the fowls of the air. So that here we have the symbols of God's power and judgment in connection with the creation on the earth, whatever the instrument may be- Nebuchadnezzar, the angels, or the saints.
" They were full of eyes before and behind." The figure is very intelligent; it means secret intuitive intelligence-seeing all before and behind. Nothing escapes the eye of God and the power of God. Where man cannot see, He sees. All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. " They had each of them six wings," as in Ezekiel, and this signifies rapidity of execution of God's counsels and purposes; alacrity in the service on which they were sent. They cry, " Holy, holy, holy." This is something distinct from worship. The four creatures are found worshipping in chapter 19; but it is not so here. God is celebrated here in power and glory. The elders, whose hearts' affections are drawn out in the appreciation of the Lord, fall down and worship; but there is the celebration of power besides-the public celebration of it. All creation will be the perpetual celebration of the holiness, and wisdom, and power of the Lord God Almighty.
Everything the rainbow encompasses in heaven and in earth owns the creative power of God. The sun and stars will tell of His power and glory. " Every creature on the earth and under the earth," etc. All the mute creation will have a voice in perpetually celebrating His eternal power and glory. " There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard." When God brings in His reign of power in the Lord Jesus, creation being delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God, we shall see that His government, as well as His grace, proves that He is the holy God. Sin will not be known there. Defilement will not be known there. On the day of atonement, both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry had to be sprinkled with blood. In this chapter we have what is anticipative of that which will be, and which we get in redemption in the succeeding chapter. The one being a picture of the power of God in creation, the other in redemption, both are shown out before the revelation of the judgments which will bring in the glory.
We find nothing of the Father here. It is the Old Testament titles of God, as Almighty, and Lord as revealed to Israel: Jehovah, " which is, and was, and is to come," the Almighty as revealed to Abraham. The character of Father with the children is not brought out at all, nor Jesus as Head with the members, but God as publicly celebrated. When we speak of the Father, it is mansions we have got, not thrones; we are at home with the Father, we delight in the Father. " I go to prepare a place for you, and... I will come again and receive you unto myself." But here it is the majesty of God; the voice of creation and providence celebrating through eternity Him " which is, and was, and is to come." We get two facts connected with the heavenly saints. When the throne is set, they are sitting in the very midst of judgment, in calm, quiet repose. The thunderings and lightnings neither shake the crowns upon their heads, nor their hearts within. It is all perfect peace with them. Blessed testimony this, of our place! The Lord grant us to enter into it, to get our hearts up to the height of God's thoughts about us. We should be amazed at the wonderful grace of His ways towards us, when we think of the perfect peace which grace has given us to enjoy above, even in the presence of the tokens of divine judgment, and the redemptive power which has given us a capacity to be there.
The second point is, that when God Himself in His majesty is brought out, it does not excite fear. There they are in His holiness, set in the light, not in spirit merely, but in fact. They are made " partakers of his holiness "; and when they hear the living creatures, which rest not day and night, saying, " Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty," worship is excited, not fear. " Glory, and honor, and thanks unto him that sat upon the throne," does not leave them seated on their thrones; and they " fall down and worship him that liveth forever and ever." Such a sense they had of the glory of Him who sits upon the throne, that it took them out of their own personal glory, and they used it only to celebrate that glory which they have to acknowledge.
The saint in glory is glad there should be something above himself there. He can strip himself of glory that the Lord should have it all. What a contrast to the spirit of infidelity in the heart which does not like this! The pride of the heart cannot bear that something should be above it; but the saint in light is glad that Christ should have all the glory. The saint can delight in the character and honor of God. The heart delights in His being glorious, and in His intrinsic glory. " Thou art worthy, O Lord." What a sense is here of His worthiness to be exalted! This is the first instinct of their life, however weak and feeble it be. See the thief on the cross; he had got the secret of God about His character: " This man hath done nothing amiss." And what was the consequence of this capacity to see His glory? He wanted to share it, and Jesus said, " To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Here were the first workings of life in his soul; but immediately we find that instead of the desire to pull Him down whom God would exalt, there was joy to find something above himself. Shall we not be glad to see Christ's glory? Glad of the excellence of heaven? Shall not I be glad to see Paul in a higher place than I? It is the character of the spirit and temper of heaven. Man is entirely changed here, for he would pull down God Himself if He did not suit him, according to the natural impulse and bent of his mind. All this celebration of God's power brings out worship: " They cast their crowns before the thrones," etc.
Another thing to remark here is, that in connection with this spirit of worship there is an intelligent understanding about it. " Thou art worthy; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created." Look at the expression in Hebrews: " It became him," etc. What an astonishing thing to be able to say it became God to treat His Son in this way. The first two chapters are full of the glory of Christ. How at home the apostle is in the things that became God; and then again, " Such an High Priest became us," etc. We belong to a heavenly people in connection with Him who is made higher than the heavens, and we want a priest there. When a soul is emptied of itself, it begins to know and love the glory of God; it is not as a dull, senseless thing, but there is understanding and knowledge, and this is life. You will find this intelligence in the next chapter, likewise, " Thou art worthy; for thou hast redeemed," etc.
Mark two things: the entire prostration of heart before God, and the blessed intelligence of the titles of God. How it does take the poorest of this world out of the miserable tinsel of its corruption, when God reveals Himself thus to the heart and understanding! The selfishness of man would shut him up into narrowness of spirit, instead of being taken up with God. Are we not glad to have crowns to lay at His feet? " For thy pleasure they are, and were created." It is God's delight, and God's good pleasure that is the spring of everything. If I am right with God, I say, Let Him have His way. If I am away, I shall not like Him to have His good pleasure; but to let Him have it is the only spring of blessing. The Lord give us to know Him in this way; and we can say that in Jesus and by Jesus, we do now know His love; and, through the good pleasure of His will, we have been made His children, adopted unto Himself. When the Lord Jesus was born, He became the link between God and poor sinners, for He was the gift of God's love in " good will to men "; in Him, dead and risen, we are through the Spirit brought to God. The Lord give us rightly to estimate Jesus! With Him in our hearts, all will be simple, all will be peace, all will be love.