THE SEVEN LETTERS
THE GREETING AND RESPONSE.
Contrast with the greetings in the epistlesThe
divine Name hereShaddai, Jehovah, FatherThe seven Spirits: why
seven?Is. xiHidden beauties"from Jesus Christ"
three-fold beauty, awakening a corresponding three-f oIc~ responseWho
sings this: the Jew or the Church ?The Enoch-warning, "He cometh
!"This our testimony to the world; not the raptureThe divine
(V. 4-6). "The Greeting," which reads literally:
"John to the seven assemblies which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Who Is, and Who Was and Who [is] to Come; and from the seven Spirits which [are] before His Throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the First-born from among the dead, and the ruler of the Kings of the earth.
"To Him Who loves us, and washed us from our sins in His blood, and made us a Kingdom, priests to God and His Father: to Him the glory and the might to the ages of the ages. Amen."
How full of significance is this greeting in its strong contrast to that in all the epistles we have hitherto read. In the first place we note that it is neither to one specific assembly, nor to the assembly as a whole scattered all over the earth. It picks out just seven assemblies, all of which are in Asia. But the number seven has in itself the idea of unity, inasmuch as it is the well-known number of completeness or perfection. Surely, then, this number is selected to give us, in some sort, a picture or view of the Church as a whole. There are other assemblies or churches, in Asia, that are here omitted, as Colosse. Clearly, then, there was a divine intent in selecting seven; and not only are we justified in recognizing this, but are really compelled to do so. Every one, who has read the bock at all, must have noted how strangely it has everywhere marked on it this number of completeness. It is everywhere; and the closer ones study of it, the more this fact is discerned. Not only is it prominent on seals, trumpets, vials, etc., but even certain words again and again occur in it exactly seven times in a way that can only be accounted for by design. Is it not to tell us that Gods written revelation to man is completed by this Book? That, in it, He has completed all that He has to say to us in this way, till we are at Home with Himself? The seven churches then will give us a complete view of the One Church in seven different conditions.
Asia is of course not the continent we know by that name, nor even Asia-Minor; but only a province in the extreme west of this, bordering on the Aegean Sea. We have the old familiar greeting of grace and peace; but no longer are these from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ; but from Him Who Is, Who Was, Who is to Come - and this is too significant to pass without attention. We not be satisfied with reading. We must seek to hear.
When Moses was sent to the captive Israelites, he desired to know what to say to those who should ask who sent him. The answer was, "I am that I am." "I am," "the ever existing One," hath sent thee. And again in Ex. vi we get, "I am Jehovah. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the Name of God-Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them." But does not this look like a contradiction? Not known by the name Jehovah to Abraham! Did not Abraham repeatedly build an altar to Jehovah (Gen. xii :8), and call upon the name of Jehovah (Gen. xii:8)? So Isaac (Gen. xxvi :2 and Jacob (Gen. xxxii :9), and yet God was not known to them by His Name Jehovah! How can this be accounted for? It is a difficulty, and infidelity seizes on it with delight. But Wisdoms children ever justify her, and they wait, confident not merely of an explanation, but of a profound truth and blessing in that explanation. We only truly know what we use, and we only use what meets our present need. Abraham in one sense clearly knew God as Jehovah, and built altars to Him, yet he entered not into what that Name meant for him. He did not walk with, rest upon Him, revealed in the character expressed by the name Jehovah. It was but an external acquaintance with the Name; not a knowledge with power. But God had revealed Himself to him as El Shaddai. The One able to do anything and everything, and Abraham thus "walked with God," and God tried him, to see how he had learned this first lesson, that He was teaching man. Abraham had learned It by heart, for he counted that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead. He knew God as El Shaddai.
But Israel in Egypt needs to learn another lessons They are the children of the patriarchs, and yet are they in bondage. Does God live? Is He, and Is He faithful to His promises? The Name "Jehovah" answers this, and it is under this Name Israel shall finally be saved and brought into blessing, and she shall sing, "For His mercy endureth forever" when at last she has learned that Name by heart, as she shall in a day soon to come; for it is in this character God meets her need; and let us repeat we only truly know what meets felt need. Is it not ever so? Surely nothing can be in one sense more simple than the gospel of our salvation.
Yet none understand it, but those who, since it is adapted to their felt needs, take it in, and use it. They that received the seed on good ground alone understands the word, as Matt. Xiii :23 tells us.
For the poor believer now, with no external deliverance; no literally divided sea, or stricken rock; no. constant evidence to the very senses, of His care, in clothes never wearing old and foot never weary - what does he need? To know Him in a closer, sweeter character than ever. To cry no shadow of doubt or show of distance: "Father," and that is how we learn Him now by the Sons gracious teaching (Matt. xi). But of Father you will not find so used in this Book from beginning to end. How can this possibly be accounted for, except that it has a different character altogether?
Evidently, then nothing can be more profoundly and suggestive than this Name coming Who Is, Who was, Who Is to Come." Will it not catch the ear of Israel on earth? At least will it not suggest even to us this further truth that is, as the earth with its government is the primary theme of the book, the children of the fathers, to whom were the promises, will be the medium by which that government is to be displayed ? Surely this is harmonious with all preceding Scripture. God tells out His grace by the church in heaven ; His government by Israel on the earth. Thus, when that book, written within and without, that tells of God's purposes as to the earth to he brought into effect, is to be opened, how does the Only Worthy One present Himself? As "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; the Root of David."
But not here do we so see Him; for the greeting goes on "from the Seven Spirits which are before the Throne.We know perfectly well that this language must not be taken literally as though there were actually Seven Persons; for the Third Person of the Trinity is One ; yet just as the seven churches express the seven characters of the one church, so the seven Spirits are the seven complete characters of the One Spirit, and this strongly confirms our view of the unity of the seven churches. You remember that we get something very like this in Is. xi :2, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom, and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and of fear of the Lord." Here, as in the One Lampsland with its seven lamps, we get first the main shaft in "the Spirit of the Lord," and then the three pairs of branches on either side, in the various characters. It is no longer Unity that is the prominent idea, as it is today, when "by One Spirit are we all baptised into one body"- "and have been all made to drink into One Spirit," i Cor. xii :ii but the activities of the Spirit in sevenfold, or complete, energy.
By looking a little closer at that lovely antitype of the Lampstand, we shall only see, as always the case with His work, finished beauties. There are clearly three pairs, but each pair has its own peculiar sphere in harmony with the threefold relationship of man by his tripartite being. We may call them personal or self-ward, earthward, Godward.
The first pair, 'Wisdom and understanding"- the personal qualities of the Lord. What He ever is in Himself irrespective of any other relationship.
The second pair, "Counsel and might." Evidently, from the first word, this pair has others in the same sphere as Himself, in view, whilst the second word suggests power to carry out what He knows of right in this scene. It is the earth to which men are in relationship by the soul.
Third, "Knowledge and the fear if Jehovah" clearly speaks of a relationship with Him who is above, the word of knowledge being that always used for the knowledge of God. It is the relationship of the Spirit with God. Body, soul and spirit all absolutely controlled by the Spirit of Jehovah.
But now comes another greeting "from Jesus Christ" in threefold beauty. First as the "Faithful Witness ;" so shall we see Him later in His letter to Laodicea. Next as "the first born of the dead." And finally as "The prince of the Kings of the earth."
It tells out the whole blessed story. He was here as the one only faithful witness amid the lapsed testimony of Israel. Aye, but in this devil-ruled world, the witness is only the martyr, and, as such, He was slain. But all carries out God's counsels. He is the first of the dead to be raised, and He shall yet have the crown of all the earth.
What wonder if such a sight awakens a responsive song? What wonder if immediately we have, as if from some unseen chorus that cannot keep silence, a joyous doxology: "To Him that loves was not this love one of His manifold perfections that made Him the faithful witness? "And washed us from our sins in His own blood."
Was it not to this that God turned that death to be for us? And did He not raise Him from the dead, as evidence of its perfect sufficiency and effectiveness? Aye, no angels are singing here, but it is all who know His name Jesus Christ.
"And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father." So that Love works on. And if He is to be King, as He surely is, not alone will He reign, but the objects of His love shall be with Him; for 'tis
"Love that gives not as the world, but shares
All it possesses with its loved co-heirs."
Do you not see, dear reader, with me, that each form in which this Blessed One presents Himself is met by its corresponding cry of responsive delight? And do not you and I too want to add our little "Amen" to the ascription of "glory and dominion to Him for ever and ever?"
There can surely be no possible uncertainty as to the company that is here singing. Who in all the wide creation can thus boldly declare that the Lord Jesus Christ loves them? You may answer that all the elect, whether angels or men, know this. Granted; but who could add, "and washed us from our sins in His own blood ?" Angels are quite silent now, and must leave this sweetest melody to the redeemed from among men, and of these, the church alone could so sing; for no Israelite ever knew thus surely the infinite blessing of a redemption accomplished. No blood of any sacrifice he ever offered could thus make him perfect. And this saves us from the more modern error of taking the whole book away from the Lord's people of this dispensation, and giving it exclusively to the Jew, or Israel. It is simply impossible to think of any Jew in unbelief in the present day, or any pious remnant of the future, when in the gloom of that tribulation in which they suffer the "terrors of God," raising this joyous song. They greatly err who exclude the church from her part in the book. For how strong, how sure, how clear is the joy - there is no question and no veil. Sin has been a barrier, but is so no longer - this company like Enoch is walking with God; and a joyous happy walk that ever is.
But not only did Enoch walk with God; he lifted up, in his day, a prophetic voice to the evil about him. To him, in that holy walk of separation, God told the secrets of coming judgment, and Enoch prophesied, saying: "Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment."
Surely it is another Enoch that now again utters exactly the same prophetic warning, only now it is not a single person, but a company, yet with but one testimony, one voice, since indwelt by One Spirit. "Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they which pierced Him, and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him."
Yes, one may enjoy the comfort of this thought; that every single one who can share in the song can share in the prophetic warning. We differ to our shame amongst ourselves in details, but there is not one, no matter what the differences, who has been "washed from his sins in His blood," but knows surely that "He is coming with clouds ;" we are "of one heart, of one mouth here." But may we not go a little further thus hand in hand? Can there be the slightest question as to point of time that is here in view? It is the revelation in power and glory of the earth-rejected Jesus. The world saw Him last with every mark of its hatred on His holy Body: His Head, still bearing the marks of thorny crown, was bowed in death; His hands and feet were still nailed to the shameful cross with a dead thief on either side; His side was pierced with the spear; and there it looked on Him, as it went its way that Friday evening so long ago. It has never, from that hour, seen Him since; for then Love and Faith alone were permitted to wait upon Him, and only to His Own dear people did He show Himself alive after His resurrection.
But how sharp the contrast! Once more as of old "He maketh the clouds His chariot ;" and, in a majesty that is no less than divine, every eye beholds Him. No saint or angel are here noticed, although He shall not lack such attendance. He must have the unrivalled place, the undivided gaze of every eye, and when that is the case there is little room for controversy. "They also that pierced Him"- not the one hired soldier whose spear proved that He was dead - but all the hatred and unbelief that lay focussed, as it were behind that spear; all fleshly enmity that is on earth at that time (for it is the earth that is in view) shall clearly see Him then. Is there one element of joy for them that dwell on the earth in this revelation? Not one, for wails resound as the kindreds of the earth who rejected its King, see Him coming in a power they can no longer resist, to claim His own.
Who would or could confound such a scene of solemn judgment with that joyful morning when we are caught up in the same chariot, the clouds, to meet Him in the air? Then there is nothing but grace, now there is nothing but judgment. Then there is nothing but song, now only wails are heard. Oh, no, Enoch had gone long before the judgment - flood poured over the earth; and the church, that is here heard, both singing and prophesying, shall too have been translated to her home long before - God be thanked! Yet should we learn that the burden of our testimony to the world today is not one syllable of that rapture which should ever be held strictly a family secret, not to be spoken of to the world to which we should ever faithfully witness alone of the return in glory and power of the One it rejected.
A still more solemn voice is now heard confirming the prophecy with "Yea, amen" (which words belong to verse 8 not 7, as in our A.V.). I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
A reference to the other places where a similar declaration is made leaves no doubt as to the Speaker. It is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Jesus of the New. He who is "The Word," begins and ends all speech. His voice spoke all creation into being in the beginning; and He alone shall be heard at last, in that same creation, saying "It is done." For who, or what, can resist Him. He is The Almighty.
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