Sketch on Revelation: Part 1

Revelation  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 8
BEING led to reconsider the Apocalypse, so needful and so interesting to the Christian, I will, by the help of God, go through some of the third part of it, starting from a portion which I think has not only been mistaken from not having its importance granted to it, but from being wrongly divided. I would not however leave behind me the earlier part.
It might appear remarkable, considering it a form of vision and mystical representation of events, that there should be the exhortation to read and keep the sayings of this book. It is a warrant and call to study it. It is remarkable how much may be kept without unraveling what is difficult.
There are three parts as commonly recognized—things that are seen, things that are, and things after these. How can the sayings of the book concerning each of these be kept? I answer, the first by believing the character of judgment held by Christ here on earth over the Church; secondly, as to the things that are (i.e., by continuous application), they are kept by looking to that which constitutes the remnant in Christendom; and thirdly, the sayings as to the third are kept by the saint keeping himself separate from the principles of the world, which in their result come in the last times under the judgments of God, as necessary to keep himself united to God. We have God, and Christ, and the Spirit in the relationship of the book. Christ is the “faithful witness” of the ways of God (and this is the character He bears towards Laodicea); next, as the first-begotten from the dead, the proof given that He will judge the world in righteousness; and in right, now acknowledged by faith, as well as then in fact, Prince of the kings of the earth.
He made the elders a kingdom; that is, those who are in communion of the divine life as priests, therefore in the kingdom of the Father. But where John was, it was the kingdom (with affliction and patience) of Jesus Christ, a point much left out in theories of the Scripture and our relations to God in Jesus Christ. It is present in “patience” of the future.
Coming next to the lamps, (or so-called candlesticks,) Christ stood in the midst of them with the stars in His right hand. The stars are less apprehended than most of this part. It is likely the figure was taken from the angel of the synagogue, but here for Christian authority, representing in persons the application of the Lord's power and judgment. Angel and leader were His presence in authority in the wilderness and on the entry into the land. “My name is in him.” Gathered together unto His name—perhaps presence. (See 2 Chron. 20:99If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help. (2 Chronicles 20:9).) “I am in the midst.” They are seen in His right hand and so express His authority in responsibility in the churches.
The first thing to look for is the principle and source of the decay and the development of evil, in the assembly or church, of the age as it passes on."1 The defect towards God in the inward life of a Christian originates externally a corresponding evil in some certain thing; it is the defect in itself and the defect of result may be another evil, and so I believe it here. The defect in principle is purely so only in Ephesus. Want of life is want of love, and want of life is from neglect of life. “If ye live (have a life) in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit.” There could not be injection, but addressed to the capacity of fulfilling it under grace. Busy yourself with Jesus: we so look at God in a true mirror. To do so works resemblance, till it may be said, “Not I live, but Christ.” We must study all the development of life in the person of Christ. His loyalty to His Father—such should ours be to Him. The spirit of meekness and lowliness, the spirit of wisdom and quickness of understanding in the fear of the Lord and moral and divine grace as it was in Christ.
It does not appear that the works and labors of the church at Ephesus were less, but the root and principle whence they sprung was less than at the beginning. This is the same principle as found in the judgment of the dead. The books were opened. The dead were judged by their works, but the works judged by the life. Therefore, if not written in the book of life, &c. Now the reward of overcoming is in blessed and perfect accordance— “shall eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
In Smyrna it became manifest that the eye of the saints is not towards the world so long as God is counting the works true, but that it is towards God only. It profanes the heart of the saint to measure any works by the thought that the eye of the world is measuring them, or letting their own do so. If the works are still works, but with less divine life as their spring, as in Ephesus, the day is near at hand that the soul will boast of its success; and should the fall proceed, the world will begin to enter. The first part of this case was the case of Smyrna. The chastening hand of God was upon them to keep them to Himself, but the feature was evident, that they had something to show amidst it. They were lessened and brought low to death in this world, but to holding fast the crown of life in martyrdom was promised. “But thou art rich."2 It must have been some extension which gave it a measure in its own eyes. Pergamos comes next, and is addressed in much grace. Would not the thought of “angel” include that part which God expected should be true? We should remember that the assemblies are ecclesiastically considered, i.e. as bodies. If life decays, the vacancy is felt. What must it be filled by, but by superstition and dead works? The doctrine of the Nicolaitans and that of Balaam are next door to each other, and relate both to an evil in respect of ministry. As to the Nicolaitans, it always struck me that the charge against them (namely, holding the community of wives) was gratuitous. Such a perversion never could have occurred while Ephesus was the Ephesus of the Apocalypse. It is more likely to be a spiritual fault and more likely to grow connected with failure of life, perhaps a growth of authority which was not Christ's which is in divine life and power; and we find in Smyrna those that called themselves Jews, and it is a worse state of it in Philadelphia. Through Christ risen we believe on God, the God of life; and spiritual power is through faith in Christ ascended and at the right hand of God. In Ephesus, it was life to sustain good works; in Smyrna, life to exclude dead ones. With the growth of Christianity and the Judaizing tendency of the earliest Christians, as shown in the epistles of the apostle Paul, an accusation of failure in the truth of spiritual ministry, and general tendency to copy the Jewish institutions, was very likely to fall into a form of priesthood as it advances at present to apostasy. To the corruption of ministry is added saint worship, the sword keenly dividing between these evils and life and spiritual power.3 Is not Balak taught of Balaam the form of fornication in alliance with the world, and its advantages, to induce to preach other than what God teaches?
Rome, throughout time, in every condition, has been morally or actually the place of martyrdom. Satan dwells there. The hidden manna is instruction about Christ hidden in heaven, now become so needful and peculiarly adapted to saints in the midst of such a state. If manna were Christ, it would not corrupt and breed worms if kept and not used, which is just the case of instruction and the knowledge of truth. On the white stone a name written is peculiar and individual.
In Thyatira, the characteristics of Romanism are palpable. Jezebel, exercising the calling of prophetess. “Thy wife,” instead of “the woman,” (the best reading [? ED.]) in place of the one charged by God with the instruction of His own; thus connected with the angel it would be the Romish priesthood, or, as called by them “the church,” claiming the authority of the words of God. “Those that commit adultery with her” —This is a decided call for separation on the penalties named for herself. The usurpation of the prerogatives of Christ has to be confessed against, and to confess will give a share in the prerogatives of Christ when He comes. I will give such the expectation of My coming to sustain Him. Rome claims power over the nations. Keep clear of this claim, and I will give you with Myself what they falsely claim. Separation now begins. I have not yet seen perfectly the reason of the change of the place of the exhortation— “Let him that hath an ear,” &c. That the change of place occurring after the three first induces to separation, is not so clear, because in Laodicea it is promised to him that opens when Christ knocks, that Christ will come in and sup with him, and not he come out to sup with Christ. It may look more to individual action on the body; it is surely to overcome the evil of each separate church and of them all. The object of the addresses is to the body ecclesiastically throughout. Therefore, it is spoken to the angel.
Separation is certainly plain in the other part of the address where, “you, the rest in Thyatira,” distinctly indicates it. The address to the individual is separate in this and the following ones. The characters in which Christ judges Thyatira is the most searching and terrible of all the characters borne by Him.
As to Sardis, the return of Christ to His peculiar character, as judging the churches, is remarkable; for here a new feature enters. Sardis, after a state where even natural conscience had been trampled on by corruption, is worldly, orderly, and subject to the world; and therefore He that hath the seven spirits and the seven stars in His right hand deals with her. It is still, however, ecclesiastically. But, as the world, is exactly threatened with the same threat as the forgetful servants, “I will come as a thief,” the proper and natural sequel is the same judgment; for they are identified. Life, we see here, is the burden of God's requirement; and the fruit of the absence of life in Sardis and responsibility in life, is the entrance of the world, having escaped, by its means, the excesses of corruption and evil; for the world was tired of and disgusted with them. The things that remain relate to Sardis generally, The few that walk in white are the exceptions in the truth of life and obedience. White linen is the righteousness of the saints—works done in Christ; because they are His. “Thou hast weighed all our works in us” —clear of the world; because what is in it must be defiled with the age. And the character of Christ can only be fulfilled in the company of His, or towards the world in patience, and in peace so much as lies in the saint. Laodicea naturally would be the sequel to Sardis. The world is content with Sardis, and adopts and endows it, and it wants nothing; but Philadelphia intervenes in a little strength (which is weakness), not “denying Christ's name, and keeping his patience,” says the Lord in His patient grace. Brotherly kindness in the Church exists as general; not confession, as out of the world, except in those who are pillars. This state of Philadelphia is a general state, and there is promise to eminence in the faith; such as have it shall be pillars. There is also spiritual Judaism of a deep dye.4 They adopt it as their standard creed. The dwellers on earth, a characteristic expression of the Apocalypse, answering in some sort to Jer. 17:1313O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters. (Jeremiah 17:13), are the objects of judgments, while such as keep His word and do not deny His name will be taken away before the judgments come. It is not difficult to see that each is called on to hear what is said to all the Churches; so that we find a code of perfect confession under all the circumstances detailed in them.
They close with Laodicea—no violent apostasy, but ease in the world, and, because of it, having no sense of need when all was wanting, and lukewarnmess towards Christ as the result, and rejection on account of it. Christ seems to hide Himself behind the moral requirements of the stranger and pilgrim; gold, divine and heavenly; white garments as to personal righteousness; and a clear sight by which evil is perceived, that we may walk without the defilements of the age out of which Christ gave Himself, that we might be delivered according to the will of God and our Father. There may be comfort in religion, which would be sown in the weakness of Philadelphia, instead of confession of the Lord. Christ is the faithful Witness of the ways of God—the Chosen that cannot deny Himself—Head over every created thing—Great Angel over all.
The Lord will surely guide us when we meditate on the causes and substance and results of the failure in the assemblies. Nothing can be more salient than that lack of life and faith of life are at the bottom of it. But life to what end here? Life, not only in its internal character, but life in subjection to Himself and for Himself, whom we are to confess and serve according to power, which is promised to those who are subject and obey His rule5—who is not on earth, but at the right hand of God, till God has prepared His enemies as the footstool on which He shall trample, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe.
The phase of the religion of the world, as in many parts of it, is thoroughly favorable to such a state as is described in the Church of Laodicea. Civil and religious liberty against the ecclesiastical tyranny of Thyatira would afford such a condition, and it can at any time receive an indefinite extension. It is Sardis in the fullness of its fruits. There is no persecution to make confession bright. Its condition offers no exception in it to bring forth the praises of the Redeemer. If any one answers the knock given by the Lord the FAITHFUL WITNESS, it is all that is left out of the mass. It is a civil reign over the earth in independence of God, in conjunction with a ruined confession.6 What is to be done? We are heavenly, it is true—in heavenly places in Christ Jesus as our origin and present privilege before the Father; but we come under some of the earthly rights of Jesus, because we are in the place of them, and are on proof whether it is in Thyatira or Sardis or Laodicea we worship the Father. Blessed calling! Do we confess openly Jesus as Lord, as well as believe that God raised Him from the dead? “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; but with the mouth confession (of Him as Lord) is made unto salvation.” In fact, hear what the Spirit says to all the Churches; save yourselves from out the state of Laodicea; “touch not the unclean thing, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord God Almighty.”
(To be continued.)
1. The view of the churches is ecclesiastical. Disobedience and disorder entered into the whole house of God through the failure of that which was specially of God, that is, the church. I do not see that the assembly and house of God are the same thing, which many use so, I believe. I do not suppose that much confusion has arisen from the mistake, but I suppose the assembly to be of believers or those received as such. The house (i.e., those adopted by Christ as service to Himself, in the New Testament, Eph. 5 vi.; Col. 2) embraces all the relationships and duties of the persons of the assembly of God, which affect many that are not believers, and relationships and duties outside the assembly, but subject to the Master of God's house— the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. To an early thought this might have appeared as true riches against worldly poverty. If there were a succession of churches in the Apocalypse, this would leave Smyrna above Ephesus. But it is αλλα and not δε, as some copies read; alaa makes it exceptional.
3. Death belongs to this state. The general doctrine of most advanced Christians is to exclude being called to account for evil hereafter, (the elders are in heaven before it,) or here, being hurt (not destroyed,) of the second death. God's judgment is already passed; “condemned already” or accepted. The judgment seat of Christ is of those subject to Him. Purgatory touches the principle of life and of cleansing the heart by faith. The person is safe in the Son or there will be nothing. [Does not the judgment seat of Christ, in 2 Cor. 5, embrace all sinners as well as saints, though not at the same time nor for the same end, save thorough manifestation of everything done in the body?- ED.
4. Perhaps some foreshadowing of the works of antichrist at Jerusalem, but in Philadelphia it is those that cleave to the covenant of commandments and ordinances, —in fact, clericalism. It presses on me greatly that we are in Philadelphia now. The present spiritual movement is its character, and honors it. “I come quickly” is said as encouragement to keep true against commandments and ordinances, and as what may be looked for. And the honor is being saved out of the great tribulation. But little strength is weakness; therefore the saints have to study what is the Jachin and Boaz of such a condition. The heavenly calling and church association in the apprehension of the mystery and Jesus known as Lord in confession, are these —the rest will pass in time into Laodicea.
6. I would not put too much on the application of a namo, but it is Χαου δίκη, as νικώ (roc) \aov may indicate a former abuse and departure.