Lectures on Revelation 21: Part 2

Revelation 21-22
Certain things were yet reserved in Old Testament times. Look at Deuteronomy (chap. xxix 29). “The secret things,” says Moses there, “belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children forever, that we may do all the works of this law.” Revealed things here have to do with the law and its consequences, for the purpose of enforcing obedience. But the secret things, which then belonged to God, are themselves now revealed-the resources of grace, when all was ruin under the law. And this is what the Apostle Paul lays such stress on, while he tells us how that, by revelation, God made known to him the mystery or secret, “whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ; which, in other ages, was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” And so Col. 1:2626Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: (Colossians 1:26). The Holy Ghost had brought out what had been a secret thing in the days of old. The mystery is revealed. This full revelation of truth appears to be called the foundation of the apostles and prophets on which the Church is built. Therefore it is said, in 1 Tim. 3:1313For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:13), that the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” The truth has come out, and God has, as it were, no secrets now. All that He chose to reveal, all that would be of service to the creature, and to the glory of His own Son, God has brought out; so that, in this sense and in every other, it may be said, that “the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth” So then, upon this broad and deep foundation-where not merely the dealings of God with individuals, or a people connected with His promises or His government are shown out; but where all that can be known of God by the creature has been revealed in His Son- upon this foundation the Church is built. And this is now made manifest to His saints, which was hidden but is now revealed. “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” They were the instruments of this revelation.
“And he that talked with me had a golden reed as a measure, that he might measure the city, and the gates thereof; and the wall thereof. And the city lieth quadrangular, and the length is as great as the breadth.... The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” (Ver. 15, 17.) It was the image of the perfection of a city “whose builder and maker is God.” I do not mean that this description is to be taken as if it were of a literal city. I conceive that it is a purely symbolical picture as to certain relations of the bride, the Lamb's wife. The Scripture itself most positively says that it is (not the dwelling-place of the redeemed, but) the bride herself described as a city. Just as the apostate church, the vast idolatrous ecclesiastical system so often spoken of in this book, was symbolized as the great city, Babylon; so here the glorified Church is characterized as the bride, the Lamb's wife, in contrast with the great harlot, and as the holy city descending out of heaven from God, in contrast with the great city which rules over the rulers of the earth. When we read, then, of the city forming a quadrangle, of equal length, breadth, and height, it is simply to be understood as figurative of its perfectness. At the same time these symbols must not be run into one another. For immediately after it is said, “he measured the wall thereof; of an hundred and forty-four cubits,-a man's measure, that is, of an angel.” (Ver. 17.) Now the city's height was previously given as equal to the length and breadth, i.e., twelve thousand furlongs. This of course is enormously greater than 144 cubits, which is expressly made to refer to the height of the wall. First, we have the general idea of a city which is every way square, a cube, in fact; then, when we come to the details of the wall, a height is given, which shows that we are not to look for mere literal consistency as if it were a portrait. The number twelve keeps up the idea of a perfection in reference to man.
“And the building of its wall was of jasper; and the city [was] pure gold, like clear glass.” (Ver. 18.) We have already found the meaning of these two figures, the gold and the glass, in an earlier part of the book. The Lord counseled the Laodicean church in its fallen state to buy of Him “gold tried in the fire.” It is invariably the figure of divine righteousness-of righteousness that can stand the searching fire of God's judgment. Human righteousness could not bear it, and so is never represented by gold, but rather by white linen. God could cleanse this and leave it without spot or stain. But fire would be destruction to it; whereas, with regard to the gold, it would only bring out its perfection. Accordingly this city is of pure gold, “like clear glass.” Holiness, now fixed and without flaw, also marks the city. With regard to our need of holiness, the means of it are represented under the figure of water, because it is a question of cleansing from defilement in a practical way. In the Revelation this is not the case; for from the fourth chapter the saints who are put in connection with holiness are risen saints, and consequently are beyond the means of cleansing. They are therefore represented, as also in the case of that body of saints mentioned in chap, xv., as on a sea of glass, because it is purity that now is in a fixed unalterable condition. Their state is no longer that which might need to be cleansed. It is holiness that repels everything defiling. So here the city is of pure gold, like unto clear glass. In Rev. 15 it is remarkable that the sea of glass is said to be mingled with fire, which was not the case in Rev. 4; and this because the saints, spoken of here, had not only gone through this complete purging, and were now in a state of unalterable purity, but they had gone through the last terrible tribulation, of which the fire there is a figure. From this tribulation the raptured saints of Rev. 4 had been exempt. Thus, then, we have the city of pure gold, like clear glass; that is, divine righteousness has its full way now, and holiness that nothing can touch.
“And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones: the first foundation jasper, &c. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one severally of the gates was out of one pearl1, and the street of the city was pure gold, as transparent glass.” (Ver. 19-21.) Without pretending to give the spiritual meaning of the various precious stones, we may learn thence that in every variety of beauty will God array His people in that day of glory. There will be different rays of His glory reflected through them, set forth by these different precious stones. In God's own case it is not so. His essential glory is not described after this fashion. It is full concentrated light. It is not what is broken up into a variety of hues, if we may so say, as in the case of the glory He confers on the church. God is light, and He dwells in light which no man can approach unto. The rainbow of many colors was the sign by which God showed His covenant with creation and His various ways with poor man. But when it is the luster of the saints in heavenly glory, and the way in which God will display the beauty of His people,—for He does see beauty in them,—these precious stones are the emblems employed.
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one severally of the gates was of one pearl.” Such they appeared to men outside: something quite beyond nature. It is a description that alludes to the earthly Jerusalem; but in the latter city, what is really found existing in nature will be brought to adorn it. Here the beauty of the church is set forth by a supernatural imagery: each one of the gates was made out of one pearl. They are symbols which set forth the perfect and divine beauty that God will put upon His people. This is already true of them in Christ, but actually and personally will they thus shine in that day. Each gate being of one pearl would show, I suppose, the special likeness of Christ and fellowship with Christ, which God will grant to His people—to the church. In Matt. 13 we have, as I conceive, the Lord Jesus as a merchantman in quest of goodly pearls; who, when He had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that He had and bought it. It is the beauty of the church, as viewed in God's mind, which, if one may say it, fascinated the Lord Jesus, so that He parted with all His earthly glory to get that pearl: a strong expression indeed, but not too strong to convey His appreciation of the church. But we know that, if the Lord saw any beauty in the church, it was all derived from Himself. He saw the church as she was in the mind and purpose of God, and sells all, that He might purchase this pearl of great price, which after all is but the reflection of His own beauty. So here, the spotless pearl, the perfection of moral beauty, that had been so precious in the eyes of Christ, is the figure of what, even at the entrance, will appear in the eyes of men and angels.
“And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God, the Almighty, is its temple, and the Lamb.” (Ver. 22.) This is very important. For perhaps some one may say, What has all this to do with the saint now? I answer, The world must wait for the day of glory to see the beauty of the church. And we, like the world, are so often unbelieving, that we are apt to see only the dark painful circumstances of the church, if we escape the delusive dream of an improving Christendom. Which of us carries habitually constantly, in our hearts the delight of the Lord Jesus in opening out what the church is going to be—nay, what it is in His eye and to His heart? Our unbelief as to this is one main secret source of our murmuring and rebellious spirit. I do not say that we ought not to feel the failure of God's church, as things are on earth: God forbid such a thought! But we might feel it More lovingly and more keenly too, had we a deeper sense of its nearness to Christ and the glory it is soon to shine in. A good deal of what we feel, when evil is seen in the children of God, is because self is touched, We are all inclined to deal hardly enough with a person's vanity, pride, or things of the kind. Why? Is it not too frequently because it wounds us? We have possibly not had the share of respect and importance to which we fancied ourselves entitled, and we are readily sore about it. But this is not according to Christ. Not that we should be insensible to the ways of the flesh and the world, but we should feel all with Christ and not for ourselves. What can enable us'? Nothing but the heart filled with Christ and the exceedingly blessed place in which He puts us. We are called to exhibit the Lord Jesus now. It is not merely that we are to be members of His flesh, and of His bones, but that so we are now; and therefore love and desire for God's glory would lead us to seek ways answering to this in the Church and before men. What God will show to the whole universe by and by, He would have us to look for in His people now.
When that day comes, there will be no hindrances; but the action of the Holy Ghost is to make good in us what will be perfectly manifest then, and what is true in principle now. If there is a spot upon another who is to shine along with Christ then, this stirs up our affections that the evil may be removed in God's way and for His glory. And this it is which so increases our sense of shame, that such blots should be upon ourselves. It is evident to me that the Holy Ghost reveals the description of the divine glory that is to be in. the church, in order to act with great practical power on our souls now, the word being mixed with faith in them that hear it. The real reason why it so little profits us is that we are such unbelieving believers. We are believers; but is it not humiliating that we can pass over such precious fruits of Christ's love, such bright visions of assured glory, as if we did not need them now, or as if they were not the faithful and true words of God? We shall be in glory by and by and know as we are known; but it is revealed to those who are not in it yet, that their souls may be full of the joy of it now, and that the effects of it may be manifest even to the world that despises them. The Holy Spirit is the earnest of the inheritance, as well as the seal of redemption.
But this is true not of the beauty only in which the church is to shine then: there is another thing, which ought to have a mighty influence upon us now. There is an immediate relation to God in the way of worship: and what then? The symbol here used is of a city, and therefore we are not described as priests. If we were spoken of as persons, we should be described as brought near to God, that is, as priests; and so we are in chap. xx. 6. But here it is a city—and a city in which there is no temple: not because there was no special seat of the presence of God there, but because His presence filled it all and equally. The access to God is immediate. But this also is a truth applicable now. (Heb. 10) Here below there is no temple, nor priests now between us and God. Undoubtedly we have above the great and faithful High Priest—a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. But there will be below, during the future kingdom, for those on earth that need Him, when “He shall sit as a Priest upon his throne.” Thus, to the Christian, there is neither temple nor priest on earth now. We stand, as to our faith, in the immediate presence of God, with His perfect favor shining on us. If persons do not feel this, it is because they do not believe it. We must always believe a thing on God's word first; and the more simply we believe, the more shall we enjoy the comfort, strength, and fruits of the truth.
“And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God, the Almighty, is the temple, and the Lamb. And the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon; that they should shine on it.” No earthly nor even heavenly lights of the old creation are wanted there. “For the glory of God lightened it, and the light [literally, lamp] thereof is the Lamb” (Ver. 23.) How wonderfully all this description falls in with a few words in John 17, to which I must refer before going farther.
In His astonishing prayer (if we can call that a, prayer, which is more like the Son unbosoming Himself to the Father) the Lord says, “The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them.” It was divine, but not His Godhead glory, for this never can be given, belonging to God, and none else. The Lord Jesus had Godhead glory, but not given to Him, because He had it essentially; He had it in His own right, as being God, from all eternity. But what the Father gave to Him as man, He gave to His disciples: “that they may be one even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” Now this exactly corresponds with what we have in the Revelation, for the holy city is seen there, descending out of heaven, from God: and the Lamb is in it, and the Lord God makes Himself known, so to speak, specially in Him; for the Lamb is not merely the light, but the vessel of it, or light-bearer. We may consider the light diffused, as it is said, “the glory of God had lightened it;” but if we want to see the light concentrated, where are we to look? The Lamb is that light. Thus does God make Himself to shine through all the glorious city: the Lamb is the great concentrating object, diffusing light over the whole scene. This, then, is the order of it— “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: and that the world may know,"2 &c. The Lamb makes God known to them, as they make Him known to all others. This is what appears in the Revelation. “The nations shall walk by means of its light,” not in the light of the Lamb immediately, but by means of the light of the heavenly city: precisely what we find in John 17 (“that they may be made perfect in one, that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and has loved them as thou hast loved me”). There is, I apprehend, what answers to the nations walking by means of the light of the city. Through these nations the church had passed in the days of her pilgrimage, and been despised because of her fellowship with Christ. (1 John 1) For, as He had been there and unknown, “therefore the world knoweth us not.” But now, when the bright day shines, when Jesus, long absent and rejected, the blessed and exalted man, the Lord from heaven, comes in His glory, Himself the faithful witness and accomplishment of the glory of God, as indeed He is the brightness of it, He will not be seen apart from His bride.
“We shall appear with Him in glory;” and the nations shall walk by means of the light of the glorified whom they had so long cast out. Even their kings bring their glory to it.3 It is necessary to state this, lest persons should imagine that there was a communication of a direct kind between the inhabitants of the earth and the heavenly city. But though the city was seen to come down from heaven, it is not here said to come down to the earth, so as to be with men, as it does when the new heaven and earth are come. Here its glory is over the earth; accordingly the kings and the nations bring their glory and honor unto it, in the way of homage, I suppose, to Him who dwells there. “And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; for there shall be no night there.” No danger threatens the city; on the contrary, “They shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations to it.” Of course, it is in the same sense as in verse 24. “And there shall in nowise enter into it anything unclean, or one that works abomination and a lie: but those that are written in the Lamb's book of life.” Thus, the fullest scope is given to the holiness of God, and the impure and abominable and false excluded from His presence, as indeed they are morally and altogether unfit for it; but withal His sovereignty is maintained intact. None enter there, except those enrolled in the book of life of the Lamb.
It has been already remarked that the first five verses of chap. xxii. are necessary to complete the vision: but I think it better to reserve them for my next lecture, when the conclusion of the book will also be shown in due order.
(Continued from page 342.)