THE SEVEN LETTERS
THE DIVINE INTRODUCTION.
Let us, then, in self-distrust, and yet in confidence in the goodness of our Saviour-God address ourselves to our book. The introductory verses read very literally: "Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to His bondmen what things must take place shortly, and he signified it by sending His angel, to His bondrnan John, who testified the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ; whatsoever things he saw. Blessed he that reads, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things written in it; for the time is near."
Note carefully the first words. The book is not simple inspired, as is all Scripture, but it is a direct Revelation. This is a most important distinction - "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;" but all Scripture is not a revelation from God. When poor Job moans his awful perplexities, we get no word of revelation; quite the contrary, we see how sad is mans case until a gracious God does intervene. So when the wisest man that ever lived, utters his groan of "Vanity," he expresses the utter inadequacy of the highest unaided wisdom apart from revelation. But all is inspired. All is under the control of the Spirit of God. And he is dull indeed who does not adore the tender, thoughtful love that has permitted man in his best, and in his wisest, to tell out fearlessly those profound questions to which God alone can ever provide an - answer. Inspiration here shows the need of Revelation. We are now to listen to Revelation itself. God telling us what could be known in no other way. But mark it is a "Revelation of Jesus Christ," that is a revelation belonging to Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus is not here the object of the revelation; but the owner of it, for God has given it to Him. Wonderful, startling words! Let earlier Scriptures throw their light tipon them.
Did He not say, when once before in a smaller sphere He was about to judge: "Shall I hide from Abraham that which I do?" (Gen. xviii :7.) If not from His "friend," how much less from His Son? And again, "Surely, the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth it to His servants, the prophets." So surely now to this one perfect "Servant, the Prophet," Jesus, God is going to reveal what He is about to do.
Oh, that we knew Him better. For beautiful is He in whatever light we see Him, whether with veiled face and unshod foot, we adoringly bow before His incomprehensible Divinity; or whether we draw closer to Him, in the loving reverential intimacv of His holy Humanity with its self-assumed limitations. And it is most clearly in this latter aspect that He is seen here; and the light of another Scripture must again throw its holy ray on these words that we may enter into their significance a little, for here is the first key of the book.
You remember that strange word in that Gospel of the perfect Servant (Mark xiii :32): "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, NEITHER THE SON, but the Father." Do we not then see here something on which this perfect Servant (for in this character is He presented to us in this gospel) needed a revelation? What was this? It was the hour of the Fathers counsels as to the earth being brought into effect and its rule being put into His own hands.
Perfect, perfect man! He will put away from Himself here all divine prescience, and in absolute submission, and self-imposed limitation, await in patience Gods time for receiving that kingdom His own have denied Him - on this He now receives a revelation.
This is so important a point that I desire to emphasize it a little by repetition, especially as I am not aware of its having been made use of by commentators generally. It is well for us thankfully to recognize that, as with every book in the Bible, our gracious God hangs up the key to all its treasure-rooms at its very entrance, so to speak, in the first few verses; and this should save us from some very common mistakes. For instance, in view of these words, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him," we may be quite sure that THE CHURCH is not the main subject of the book. This "mystery" had, at this time, been made known by revelation (Eph. iii :3) many years before to another servant, Paul, who, in proclaiming it, had "filled full the word of God," by which I understand that there is nothing of the "exceeding riches of His grace," and of the "manifold wisdom of God" that is - not fully told out by that wondrous mystery: the Church. And yet Gods ways in time needed further light thrown on them. Pauls ministry left much as to the government of the earth unrevealed; and as to this, the scroll of Gods counsels had yet to be opened, and His purposes brought into effect; and this could not be, as long as He was calling out a people to share His beloved Sons place in the heavens. It is quite true, too, that we may expect to see the Church, as having the very closest place to her Lord in the wide sphere of His government; and, as being His House, in responsibility on the earth, to find that government first exercised there in the earlier chapters (cf. i Pet. iv :17) ; whilst, at the close, our eyes may be cheered by a sight of the Bride, The Lambs Wife, still clothed with all the fresh beauties of her bridal attractions; and so, as the unfaded and unfading object of Divine delight, entering Eternity. It is a blessed and precious final view of her. But whilst the Spouse of the King has a place in the Kingdom, and a most important and exalted one, we must not confound that place with the Kingdom itself. Our book gives a revelation as to this larger sphere.
It is the Kingdom, then, that we have before us; the government of God over this earth that has revolted from Him; and which here we shall see brought back. It is a theme that, in some circles of saints, hardly has its due place. They are so entranced with the beauties of grace to themselves; so delighted with their own place and portion that they fail to take a wider view and enter into the thoughts of God. There is, however, a sublime Drama of the Ages being played out (if I may be permitted an expression that may seem unworthy) with its good and evil forces in awful strife; and this book sees and reveals the last comprehensive Acts in this Drama, and closes with a new creation - earth and heaven so close together as to be one, and that one tied with chords of willing subjection and devotion to the Throne of a well-known, and, we may say, blessed be His name, a well-loved God.
Jesus, as the Servant of God, is alone the Mediator through whom this can be. God will now tell his Servant what He is about to do through Him; and He, the blessed Lover of our race, will not keep the revelation to Himself; but at once send it to His servants, by the hand of His servant John (note how everything is on the lower level of service, instead of sonship) in order that they may serve with clear intelligence as to the future; with no baseless hopes on the one hand, and with no baseless depression on the other. So that whilst they may see the storm clouds of judgment rapidly gathering, they may not be discouraged, but look beyond to a day of a thousand years of "clear shining after rain" (i Sam. xxiii :21). And if this blessed millennial day, too, closes again in still more furious storms, and more awful judgments, still further may the servants eye pierce, to that still brighter day, that is never to be darkened with cloud, nor even shadowed by any falling twilight, but is the Eternal Sabbath of God.
We must not pass by any characteristic word unnoticed, and there is one in this first verse that calls for this. He signified it by His angel. This is very striking. We have not been accustomed to anything like this in the New Testament scriptures, where all communications between the Lord Jesus and His people have been direct, and with personal intimacy. It is, however, exactly in accord with His ways in government, as told us in the scriptures of the Old Testament. There, constantly, does "the Angel of the Lord" appear to His servants; yet before this Angel departs, is the eye often opened, and we hear a startled cry of poor nature uttering its alarm at the discovery of the Lord Himself in that Angel (Judges Xlii :22).
So here we too may see with John, when he turned, no inferior angel, but the Lord Himself; only in a majesty that demands reverent adoration, rather than the holy and blessed familiarity of old. It is the same Person, but we are in other scenes, and find Him in another aspect and character, in conformity therewith. He is here the divinely accredited representative of Gods government; and, as such, His claims begin instantly with those nearest to Him - with you and me, dear reader, and the recognition of this must precede true profit from this Book. We shall find every word in perfect conformity with this, nor shall we be left in the least in doubt as to the claims of the Book on Conscience or on the Heart. Note how quickly it lays title to being "The Word of God." Of no other complete book has such a formal claim been made. As already said, all have been inspired, but not all have been pure revelation. Paul did not preface all he wrote with "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord" (i Thess. iv), and this must necessarily give another character to what immediately follows, putting it on the same level as the "Thus saith the Lord" of the prophets of old. All here is thus "The Word of God."
But it is also "the Testimony of Jesus." Will not this appeal to our hearts affections, and bid us listen? Here is our Lord Himself testifying; shall we need more inducement than to know that we are about to listen to Him? And yet we have something more than a promised special blessing to him that even reads, but a gracious hand is beckoning to us to advance still further, and to "hear," that is, to meditate, to let the word enter deeply into our beings, and not resting satisfied with merely an external acquaintance with the - letter; but to understand it, as this word "hear" ever implies. B-ut still further on this pathway is there a blessing for them that "keep," that is, who obey, and govern their lives practically by it. Nor must we dissever these three. That "reading" only is blessed which leads to "hearing," and this to practical "keeping." Only it is to encourage us to begin with reading, even though we may not at first be able to hear, or understand, at all. Let us only be willing to put into practice all we do learn, and all shall eventually become clear.
But this brings us to what with many will be the first difficulty: "for the time is at hands." Nearly 2,000 weary years have passed, and yet all the words of the prophecy have certainly not been fulfilled. Nor is the difficulty lessened by noting that the same form of words exactly occurs at the very end, "Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book - the time is at hand"; but this at once turns our minds to the strongly contrasted command to the other beloved man who wrote a similar word of prophecy in the Old Testament. "But thou, 0 Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end." In the one case the book is to be left open; "the time near"; in the other sealed up, for the time was still afar. Clearly in the former case the thread of time on which, as it were, the events that are here seen strung begins to unwind at once, and we shall surely see this. There is nothing to come between in the former - much in the latter. Nor do the words we are considering at all necessitate the immediate fulfilment of all the words. They do, however (what the Lord ever seeks) put us in the attitude of immediate and constant expectancy and watchfulness. Oh, look at time with God; "long" will not be long then; any more than it will be when we do actually look back at it from eternity.
END OF CHAPTER TWO - Divine Introduction
GO TO CHAPTER THREE
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