THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 41
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. Then he said to me, These words are faithful and true. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." (Revelation 22:1-9, NKJV)
The language that is used obtains its power to those engaged in the good fight of faith. Think of the words that will be accentuated: "life," "healing," "no more curse," "serve Him," "see His face," "no night there," and "reign forever." All of these expressions presume we are engaged in a fierce conflict in which liabilities in these areas exist. They also emphasize that our present experience does not allow the fulness of these things that we desire, for which we long. They are held out to us to ensure our hearts our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Through the Spirit, and by means of our faith, we are developing a hearty appetite for the very things now held before us. This is not a mere academic exercise-something to be outlined, placed in prioritized order, and codified. At least two things are accentuated by this text. First, what is ahead for the saints is an enlargement of the very experiences faith has brought to us now. Second, the Holy Spirit is culturing within our hearts a yearning for these very things.
It should be apparent to you that none of these things are of value to the institutional mind-the frame of spirit that associates every aspect of spiritual life with a religious institution or mind-set. Too, they deal with lofty experience-life in heavenly places. They lift us above mere human associations into spiritual ones. The common denominator that gives great value to them is not domestic life, institutional involvements, or other aspects of social life in this world. In fact, unless the individual is living by faith, all of these glorious affirmations appear irrelevant. They are more "pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by," having little to do with "where the rubber hits the road," so to speak.
God's people must not allow their religion to take them where any affirmation of the Spirit becomes pointless! Who is not aware that countless religious gatherings never assist those attending to come within the perimeter of Divine influence. They are more soulish than spiritual, and do not prepare the heart for deep involvements with Deity. Those so ensnared will find no lasting value in the text before us. They have been robbed by their religion--a tragic condition.
The things to which we will now be exposed cannot be concluded by logical thinking. Rather, they are matters that must be revealed: i.e., "He showed me . . . " The glorified state is so marvelous it exceeds all human abilities to imagine or think. Yet, they are altogether true and comforting. Yea, they are essential for the believer.
THE PURE RIVER OF WATER OF LIFE
A MATTER OF REVELATION
"He showed me." It is no wonder this book is called "the Revelation" (1:1). It is not the result of human conclusion or contemplation, but of Divine disclosure. What follows could never have been deduced by mortals-regardless of the amount of revelation given to them. At the very outset of the book, John is told, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1). Following the exhortation to the churches, the aged Apostle was told, "I will show thee things which must be hereafter" (4:1). After John had been exposed to the alarming corruption of false religion, he was told, "I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore . . . " (17:1). Before closing this marvelous vision, John was again told, "the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly be done" (22:6).
John is twice shown something in this section of the Revelation. (1) "And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (21:10). (2) "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (22:1).
Although considerable revelation had already been given to the sons of men, the Apostle John was still SHOWN aspects of glory. At least three things may be seen in this. First, there are things that cannot be concluded, even though extensive revelation has been given. Second, the greatness of glory requires extensive unveiling. Third, there is a need for believers to have their minds stretched, so to speak, regarding their future.
From an academic point of view, the word "show" comes from e;deixe,n, and means "show, point out, reveal, explain, or prove" (Barclay-Newman Greek Dictionary). The word "show" underscores that it is hidden. The word "point out" means it is not apparent. "Reveal" means Divine initiative is required for it to be seen. "Explain" indicates that even the vision requires some Divine interpretation. "Prove" emphasizes how the Lord brings the matter to the attention of John, confirming the reality of the thing being made known.
Once again, the Spirit makes clear that "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation" (2 Pet 1:20). What we have before us is NOT John's commentary on what he saw, but what he saw-and there is a vast difference. When it comes to faith, God will allow no man, regardless of his appointed position in the Kingdom, to simply give us a private exposition of the truth to which he was exposed. Truth revealed is not a series of building blocks to be assembled by mere mortals. Nor indeed, can the soul be saved, strengthened, or comforted, by an interpretation originating by men. If the things of God are not "shown," there is no way for them to be known.
A PURE RIVER
"A pure river of water of life." From the earthly perspective, the very expression "pure river" is a contradiction of terms. In this world, a river is a watercourse-a flow of water that passes through varied terrains. Because of their movement, rivers pick up all manner of contamination. Ordinarily, because of this condition, one does not drink directly from a river.
Contending with Contamination
Often, in this world, the water of life is offered in contaminated cups of men's creation. Denominational containers present the truth of God in the setting of sectarian dogma, thereby neutralizing the influence of the truth upon the soul. Several examples will suffice to confirm this unfortunate circumstance.
New Testament church, believer's baptism, unconditional love, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, total depravity, plan of salvation, authority of the elders . . . etc. I have highlighted the human addition to Scriptural terms. Those additions, however innocent or sound they may appear, represent bodies of theological dogma that have been developed by men. They present inspired terms from a human point of view instead of from a heavenly one.
In this world, we must contend with this form of contamination, testing everything we hear. As it is written, "Prove (test) all things" (1 Thess 5:21). This circumstance proves to be a thorn in our side. Those who live by faith look forward to the time when we will drink freely from a "pure river."
This expression-"a pure river of water of life"--denotes ABUNDANCE- the abundance of life. Jesus, you will remember, affirmed, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). While that abundance begins now, in this world, it will not reach its apex until we are liberated from the bondage of corruption. Here, there are times when truth seems to rise to flood-stage in our hearts. However, that condition does not last. Soon, the desert times are upon us again and we cry out, "my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is" (Psa 63:1). But it will not be so in the world to come, praise the Lord!
The Water of LIFE
The FIRST thing John beholds is preeminent-LIFE. He is not shown what we will do, but the source of sustenance and delight: "a pure river of water of life." This is doubtless the river of which David sang. "There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High" (Psa 46:4). It is a source of joy and gladness, satisfaction and gratification. Life is not depicted as a boisterous ocean, but a smoothly flowing river, following a tranquil course without any commotion or turbulence.
In ancient times, the flow of water into the city was critical. If the enemy could cut off the water supply, the city could be easily conquered. If the supply of water could be maintained, the city could stand during the fiercest assaults. Our text speaks of a joyful condition that will never be interrupted. The abundant supply of life will never be cut off, diminished, or run dry. How marvelous is the picture!
There will no more sense of distance between the individual and spiritual life. No more environment or circumstance in which spiritual life and response are reduced or placed under limitation. Our awareness of God will never wane, nor a sense of profound satisfaction ever diminish.
"Clear as crystal." This is an aspect of glory that can scarcely be imagined while in this world. Alas, even in our best times, "we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror" (1 Cor 13:12 NIV). Even after we are given profound glimpses of the truth, we must stand back and shout, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom 11:33). With David we acknowledge, "Your thoughts are very deep" (Psa 92:5 NKJV). Even when the "riches of Christ" are brought within our grasp, where they can be enjoyed and contemplated, we acknowledge they are "unsearchable" (Eph 3:8). This circumstance provokes a lifetime of inquiry, seeking, and pressing toward the mark. As long as we are in the body, a profound sense of mystery surrounds the truth of God. It is our "earthen vessels," and not the truth itself, that produces this situation.
However, this will not be the case in the world to come. There, the flow of life-giving truth will be marked by perfect and undiminished clarity. The "river of water of life" is not only abundant and pure, it is also comprehensible. This is another way of saying, "but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Cor 13:12). The far-reaching implications of truth will be apparent to us. The significance of Divine utterance will be obvious to us as we no longer peer into a hazy mirror. The truth itself is pure (Psa 119:140; Prov 30:5). However, the "vile body" (Phil 3:20-21) in which we presently reside, emits a sort of spiritual fog that removes much of the apparency of the truth. This condition is a source of great grief to those living by faith. They are quite content to live without comprehending life in this world, but they are not content with the lack of perfect clarity in the things of God. How blessed, therefore, to read of a "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal."
"Proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb." The flow of sustaining life will come directly from the Lord, without secondary means. In this world, revelation comes through appointed means. Even the book of Revelation was given by God through Jesus, through and angel, through John (1:1). Everyone brought to faith is given a "minister," some individual through whom the knowledge of the truth came. As it is written, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?" (1 Cor 3:5). Those who think they can ignore these ministers and still be ready to meet the Lord have been sorely deceived.
God has also appointed the Scriptures as a means to sustain spiritual life. As it is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4). And again, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom 15:4). Any notion that we can adequately prepare for glory independently of the Scriptures is nothing less than an imagination, to be cast down with our spiritual weaponry.
The saints themselves are a rich source of benefit to one another. It is through them that Jesus ministers, bringing life-sustaining supplies to His people. As it is written, "the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow" (Col 2:19 NIV). The various members of the body are essential for spiritual growth. They have been placed in the body precisely where God wants them, and endued with a measure of faith that enables them to effectively minister to one another (1 Cor 12:18,22-27; Rom 12:3-6). If you are ever tempted to think you can make it to glory by ignoring kindred saints God has placed in your path, you have simply been seduced by the devil. Nothing God gives can be treated as unnecessary.Thus, in this world, we are provided access to the truth through indirect means, as well as directly between our spirits and the Holy Spirit. The reason for this provision can be traced to the impact of sin upon our persons. Thus, ministers of truth, the Scriptures, and the body of Christ have been given to assist us in laying hold on the truth.
This will not be the case in glory. We will have direct access to the truth, with no need for it to pass through another before it comes to us. The abundant things of God will all be within our reach
Thus John's first exposure to the blessed state of the redeemed finds them in a state of Divine abundance. What they have tasted in this world will be expanded in the world to come. The appetite created and sustained by grace through faith will be satisfied. It will all be accomplished in an intensely personal environment with no restrictions or limitation. Everything will be within reach.
Ezekiel's Vision of the Waters
This is the ultimate fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision of the healing waters. The language used in this text is that of Ezekiel (Ezek 47:1-23). As Ezekiel's waters swelled, they are said to become "a RIVER that could not be passed over" (47:5). When the prophet stood on the brink of those waters, it is written he was caused to "return to the brink of the river" (47:6). There were also "very many trees on the one side and on the other" (47:7). The fruit of those marvelous trees is described in this manner. "And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine" (47:12).
The prophet Ezekiel, therefore, prepared us for this vision. It was through him that the Holy Spirit developed the vocabulary of our text. To put it another way, when John wrote, he did so in words "which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor 2:13 NKJV). This is the manner in which the Lord delivers truth to His people. Those who couch the Word of God in the language of the street, or in words that man's wisdom teaches, are in direct conflict with the manner of the Holy Spirit. With remarkable consistency, when the Holy Spirit reveals the things prepared for those who love the Lord, He does so in the language of the prophets.
THE TREE OF LIFE, ITS FRUITS AND LEAVES
Now, the Spirit will emphasize the completeness of the glorified state. There will be no appetite developed by grace that will not be gratified, and no thirst created by faith that is not assuaged. Our text assumes a longing for the condition described. Grace is preparing those who live by faith for the fulfillment of these promises. Any approach to religion that does not make these texts inestimable is suspicious, to say the least, and should be avoided.
Additionally, there will be no effects of sin that will not be throughly remedied. Not a single vestige of the curse or its impact will remain. There will not be one longing that is not abundantly satisfied!
THE TREE OF LIFE
Our first exposure to "the tree of life" is in Genesis 2:9. You may recall it was a single tree in an isolated place, "the midst of the garden" of Eden. It was not accessible from every place in the garden. It also competed with another tree, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
With the entrance of sin, humanity was barred from "the tree of life." After Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden by the God who placed there, the "tree of life" became totally inaccessible. As it is written, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen 3:22-24).
Thus, the Lord placed a cap, so to speak, on what men could know and experience. With sin, humanity entered into the realm of restriction-severe limitation The primary stricture related to access to God, Divine knowledge, and spiritual growth. As long as we are in the flesh, these circumscriptions remain. They are in much larger measure than we dare to imagine, even though grace allows us to touch the fringe of truth and handle what we do not fully comprehend.
Our limitations are so extensive the Spirit must speak to us in the language of our text. The "tree of life" is "in the middle of the street." Any place and everyplace we can be found, "the tree of life" will be accessible, i.e., access to the life of God will be absolutely unhindered and free. As if that did not suffice, the tree of life, like a giant forest, is "in the midst of the street and on either side of the river" that flows like a mighty torrent from the throne. Absolutely no communication of any sort will move us beyond the source of life.
In this world we receive "grace for grace," one blessing piled, as it were, upon another (John 1:16). The loving favor of God meets us in the pit as well as upon the mountain. We taste of it when we are suffering need or when we abound. It teaches us content in diverse conditions. Grace not only brings the things of God to us, it enables us to recover from the debilitating environment of this world, and the "vile body" in which we are temporarily housed.
But in the world to come, life itself will be exponential, as we leap from one degree of life to another. Our responses and expressions will swell and grow without restriction, together with our insights and delights. There will be nothing that makes for death, and everything that makes for joyful life. What a picture is given here!
THE FRUITS OF THE TREE
" . . . which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month." In sharp contrast with the cyclical nature of life in the flesh, a continual spiritual crop will be yielded. There will be no famine or reduction of benefits-ever, or in any sense.
The fruit is diverse. The KJV reads, "twelve manner of fruits." The NKJV says, "twelve fruits." The NASB and NRSV read, "twelve kinds of fruits," and the NIV reads, "twelve crops of fruit." Ezekiel's vision spoke in precisely the same manner. "Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river . . . Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them" (Ezek 47:12). The words "twelve manner" is equivalent to "all kinds" of Ezekiel's vision. It speaks of thoroughness, with nothing lacking at any time.
The bearing of fruit "every month" signifies the absence of seasons. As in nature, so it is in grace. There are seasons-times when spiritual fruit flourishes, and times when it does not. God's people must learn to "abound AND to suffer need" (Phil 4:12). That is the nature of spiritual life in this world. But it will not be so in the world to come. There will be no fall, when the leaf begins to wither, and life begins to wane. Nor, indeed, will there be winter, when deadness returns.
In glory, life will be experientially and discerningly sustained. In this world, our blessed Lord sustains our lives according to His promise: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb 13:5). However, this is not always apparent. Sometimes the most spiritual of all live on the very border of despair (2 Cor 1:8; Phil 2:27). During such times, the sensitive soul cries out to God, "Show Thyself!' (Psa 94:1). But in the world to come, no such cry will ever be heard! There will be obvious and accessible provision, with no season of scarcity. Praise the Lord for such marvelous promises!
THE LEAVES OF THE TREE
" . . . and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations 2b." Ezekiel spoke similarly of the trees growing by the healing waters: "and their leaves for medicine" (47:12). Everything speaks of full recovery and abundant life.
The "nations" are "the nations of those who are saved" mentioned earlier (21:24). Throughout the world, the redeemed experienced varied effects of the transgression. Some were deprived of the normal amenities of life, living in poverty, sickness, and squalor. Others had little opportunity to culture their minds in the Lord. Still others lived in places and times characterized by fierce and bloody persecution. Make no mistake about it, sin has yielded great devastation to our race!
How sorely healing is needed. When we read, "and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24), we bring great reproach upon Jesus by confining that healing to temporary relief from bodily infirmities. Just as our sores went deeper than the flesh, so our healing extends infinitely further than our present bodies. There are effects of sin that must be remedied!
Will the impact sin has had upon our minds, memories, abilities, and desires ever be healed? "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Will the lamentation and grief that we experience because of sin ever be remedied?"The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." What about the sorrow for sins committed, personal failures, and wasted time? Will we ever be finished with those things? "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." How about the grief that attends separation, trials, and the hardships of life? Will the scars left upon us by these things ever be removed? "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Will Peter have forever blotted from his mind that awful night when he denied Jesus three times? Will Paul ever forget consenting to the death of Stephen? Will your mind ever be freed from the recollection of foolish words and deeds you would to God you never said and did?
Indeed, all such things will be removed for those who overcome. "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." There will be full recovery for every effect of sin-every single one! The hurtful things that occurred to us during our sojourn in the flesh will "not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Isa 65:17). On eagles wing, we will soar high above debilitating and sorrowful memories. With agility of spirit, soul, and body, we will walk upon those high hills of eternal involvement without a twinge of conscience, or moroseness of thought. "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
I ask you, is that not worth fighting the good fight of faith? Does not the recollection of these things bring strength to resist the devil, remaining steadfast in the faith? You have every reason to be faithful until death! Full provision has been made for you in your glorious inheritance! The Spirit does not exaggerate what is prepared for you. The inheritance is great in every sense of the word, and worthy of your best effort.
NO MORE CURSE! NO MORE CURSE!
After killing Abel, Cain was "cursed from the earth" by the Lord (Gen 4:11). Eleven hundred years after the fall, when Noah was born, Lamech remembered "the ground which the LORD hath cursed" (Gen 5:29). In the flood, God again cursed the ground "for man's sake" (Gen 8:21). After the flood, Canaan was cursed because of the sin of his father, Ham (Gen 9:25). When the Law was read to Israel, its curses were sounded from Mount Ebal (Deut 27:13-26). With thunderous tones, even the Apostolic writings say, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them" (Gal 3:10).
The curse of the Almighty is all about us. The ground is cursed. Flesh is cursed. Even the whole creation has been cursed for the sake of man, groaning under the weight of its own mortality. One of the functions of salvation is to make us aware of this situation, and cause us to long for the time when there will be "no more curse."
Something that is "cursed" is delivered over to Divine wrath-a most dreadful consideration. While we are in this world, the Spirit reminds us that the people who are unresponsive to Divine overtures are like unprofitable ground that is "nigh unto cursing" (Heb 6:8). Jesus affirmed the unbeliever is walking about with the wrath of God abiding upon him (John 3:36). Peter spoke of persons who sat among the people of God who are "cursed children" (2 Pet 2:12). Indeed, the time has not yet come when there "is no more curse."
However, there is coming a time when, for the saints of God, "there is no more curse." Dare we to imagine what that means? It means there will be no more disobedience, temptation, hatred, or lack of response to God. There will be no more murder, crime, jealousy, or evil imaginations of the heart. There will be "no more curse" because there will be nothing to provoke Divine cursing. Never again will effort be met with resistence, as when the ground brings forth thorns and thistles to those who cultivate it. That "other law" that wages relentless war against us when we would do good, will no longer be present (Rom 7:23).
Here we live with a mixture of curse and blessing. Our spirit is blessed and our flesh is cursed. We are seated in the blessed heavenlies, while living in a cursed realm below. But all of that will be behind us when we are "ever with the Lord." No more warnings will be required. There will be no need to exhort those who need to awake from spiritual slumber. There will be "no more curse." Mortuaries, hospitals, and prisons are evidences of the curse. But none of them will be in glory. There will be "no more curse."
Saint of God, the time of which we are reading is worthy of your investment. Preparations for eternity without cursing is time well spent. There will be "no more curse." In the world to come, there will not be "anything accursed" (RSV). That means there will be no flesh, no sin, no wayward thought, no recalcitrant nature. For a while, we must live in a cursed body and a cursed realm. But we will yet be delivered from both, and brought into a state of glory where there "is no more curse." Only Divine approval and blessing will forever surround us. There will be nothing, absolutely nothing, that will evidence God's disapproval. Having removed all things that offend, the love of God shall be lavished upon us in unprecedented ways. There is no way to now comprehend the effects "no more curse." Our hearts, however, can long for that time, and in that longing, find strength for the day.
AND HIS SERVANTS SHALL SERVE HIM
An Exalted Position
So far as we are concerned, this is the highest position in God's Kingdom. As it is written, "And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant . . . But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt 20:27; 23:11). Servanthood, in this case, involves the willing abandonment of self interests in order to minister to the Lord, doing His bidding and profiting His people.
Being a servant is the appointed prelude to reigning with Christ. As it is written, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt 25:21). Those who will be condemned are described as "wicked and slothful servants," and "unprofitable servants" (Matt 25:26,30).
There is no more elevated position than that of employment in Divine service. Our Lord's work is the highest work, and those involved in it are the uppermost people. The greatest liberty is enjoyed in the Lord's service, and the grandest rewards are offered there. It is here that our hearts are most fully satisfied, our peace is most extensive, and our joy brought to its zenith. What soul is there who is engaged in serving the Lord that has not found this to be so?
Thus, when we read "His servants shall serve Him," we are reading of the consummate blessing.
When we read "HIS servants shall serve Him," reference is made to the effectiveness of our Lord's great salvation. Those who serve the Lord there, are the ones who served Him here. They became "His servants" while yet in this world. Their reception of Jesus (John 1:12) and reconciliation to God (Col 1:21) is what constituted them "servants." Those who do not serve the Lord here, will surely not serve Him there! Let it be clear, being addicted to self interests in this world excludes one from being forever with the Lord. Knowing the condition of the contemporary church, this is an alarming consideration. Yet, it does need to be said. In a most solemn injunction, the Spirit admonishes, "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men" (1 Cor 7:23). Again we are reminded, "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor 6:20, NKJV).
However, this is not a matter to be bound upon men with the chords of Law. Rather, it is to be mentioned within the context of glory. The people of God must have this held before them: "His servants shall serve Him!" If there is joy in serving Him now, who can imagine the magnitude of the joy to be experienced then! If satisfaction is found in Divine service here, in the war zone, what will our involvement in that world bring!
It is to be understood that when "His servants shall serve Him," it will be without the encumbrances of this life. In this world, Paul served the Lord in prison, and John on the Isle of Patmos (2 Tim 1:16; Rev 1:Rev 1:9). Stephen served the Lord while religious men hurled stones at him, and the early church served Him when they were "scattered abroad" (Acts 7:58; 8:4) Epaphroditus served the Lord when he was sick, and Paul did so with a "thorn in the flesh" (Phil 2:27; 2 Cor 12:7). Abraham served the Lord while a stranger in the very land he was promised (Heb 11:9). Isaiah, at one time, served the Lord "naked and barefoot three years" (Isa 20:2). Yet all of them were prepared by that very service for the time to come, when "His servants shall serve Him."
In this world, our service involves having a treasure in an earthen vessel (2 Cor 4:7). While we serve the Law, we experience "another law in our members, warring against the law of our mind" (Rom 7:23). Sometimes, we must confess with the ancients that we are "pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired of life" (2 Cor 1:8). Not only do we experience the wonderful response of heaven, we also endure the disheartening responses of earth. We serve the Lord in a dichotomy of experience. As it is written, "As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor 6:9-10).
But in the world to come, this will not be the case. We will happily serve the Lord without distraction. We will see nothing that competes with our service. No foreign thought will invade our minds. No enemy will be found in the land. We will not need to have a sword in our hand as well as a trowel, as those working with Nehemiah (Neh 4:18). I can scarcely imagine what it will be like to serve the Lord in this manner-without any distraction. But it is a most joyful contemplation. All glory to God for telling us of this blessing!
THEY SHALL SEE HIS FACE
"They shall see His face . . . " (Verse 4A) Who are
"they"? These are the Lord's "servants"- those who willingly embraced the
Lord's revealed purpose when they were "in the body."
THE TEST OF A SERVANT
The test of a servant is whether of not he will serve the Master when He is absent. The Kingdom of heaven is likened to "a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods" (Matt 25:14). Each servant was given something to do. The charge was in strict accord with each person's abilities. There was no option about whether the work was to be done or not. Each servant received something from the master. They all knew the master would return to bring them into account for their faithfulness. You will remember that even though all of the servants received something, not all of them were faithful. In particular, one servant did not serve his master's interest. He buried what was given to him, and straightway forgot about it. But the day of reckoning did come. Just as the unfaithfulness of that servant excluded him from the presence of the master, so the faithfulness of the other stewards became the occasion of blessing (Matt 25:15-30).
In this parable, the Lord accentuated His absence from the arena of service. "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them" (Matt 25:19). That delay is what revealed the hearts of the servants! Time is the great tester of discipleship. Those who serve the Lord by fits and starts, not being reliable or consistent, are walking among fiery serpents and scorpions. Unless their hearts are made stable, and their service made more consistent, they have little hope of being forever with the Lord.
THEY SHALL SEE HIS FACE
This is the same as seeing "face to face" (1 Cor 13:12). It involves the removal of both veil and mirror, or dark glass. It is seeing the Lord without obscurity, comprehending His presence without the necessity of faith, as we now know it. It is seeing Him "as He is," in all of His resplendent glory and majesty (1 John 3:2).
A Synonym for His Person
The "face" of the Lord is a synonym for His Person. When Moses asked the Lord to show him His glory, the Lord responded, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live" (Ex 33:20). Notice the parallel between "My face" and "Me." When the Lord spoke of seeking His Person, He said, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face . . . " (2 Chron 7:14). Thus, when we read "they shall see His face," the promise of seeing "HIM," Whom we presently "see not," is being given (1 Pet 1:8; 1 John 3:2).
Psalm 105:4 gives this admonition: "Seek the LORD, and His strength: seek His face evermore." Hosea also spoke in this manner. "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early" (Hos 5:15). Again, note how the Lord's Person and His face are used synonymously.
The Servants Longed for This
While in this world, the servants of God long to see the Lord-to behold His "face." If this were not the case, the promise would mean little or nothing to us. It assumes a fervent longing for this very thing on the part of the saints. David spoke of a special generation of people who sought the face of the Lord (Psa 24:6). We know from Scripture that this is what the Lord desires-for His face to be sought. As it is written, "When You said, 'Seek My face' My heart said to You, 'Your face, LORD, I will seek'" (Psa 27:8, NKJV).
Two wonderful things are seen here. First, the Lord wants to be seen, and calls upon men to seek His face-His Person and blessing. Second, tender hearts can respond to the Lord's request with joyful expectation.
Our text assumes the face of the Lord, or His Person, is now being sought by the saints. That is what gives weight to this promise.
SEEN IN FULNESS
Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt 5:8). Our text is addressing the fulfillment of that glorious promise. It assumes that salvation has created a deep and profound longing to see the Lord "as He is." Such longing can only be found in "the pure of heart," who refuse to allow the defilements of this world to clutter their perception and affection.
This promise is also the fulfillment of Hebrews 11:6. " . . . he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb 11:6, NKJV). The reward for those seeking "Him" is the Lord Himself! As the Lord said to our father Abraham, "I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward" (Gen 15:1). David confessed he too had embraced this longing. "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup" (Psa 16:5).
Seeing His face involves more than simply looking at Him-although that is surely the heart of the vision. Even in this world, when men go to see celebrities, they do not simply want to look at them. They want to behold what they do-the thing that makes them worldly celebrities. Even so, beholding the grace of our Lord involves seeing His works in a clear and uncluttered way. Seeing His face involves discerning His judgments and ways, which are obscured in this world, and "past finding out" (Rom 11:33). But the saints are not content with this circumstance. Their faith has caused their hearts to long for a fuller vision, a more comprehensive look at their marvelous Lord.
Indeed, their longing will be satisfied. When they see "His face" it will no more be said, "Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known" (Psa 77:19). Everything God does is for a reason. As it is written, "and you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it, says the LORD GOD" (Ezek 14:23). Those causes, however, are not apparent to us while we sojourn in this world. But then-when we see "His face"-there will be no yoke, no burden, no veiling, and no secrets. We will behold His Person, understand His ways, and comprehend His workings. Glory to God!
In the meantime, while we wait to see His face, let us culture an appetite for the coming vision. In all of its aspects, salvation contributes to the development of such an yearning. Conversely, all Satanic influence seeks to either dull or remove that anticipating longing. Understanding this will deliver us from many religious involvements that are not driven by the Holy Spirit. Any association or teaching that pushes our inheritance from us is most dangerous.
HIS NAME SHALL BE ON THEIR FOREHEADS
Jesus promised this very thing to the church in Philadelphia. They had not denied His name, but had heartily embraced Him in this world. They were opposed by the "synagogue of Satan" because they were unashamed to take hold on the Savior and His promises. To them Jesus said, "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (3:12).
Overcomers, whether from Philadelphia in the first century, or Joplin in the twentieth century, will enjoy the fulfillment of this promise. They will be conspicuously and thoroughly related to the Living God. They will have His nature, His disposition, and His character: the "name of My God" will be upon them. They will fit into the completed temple and city of God. They will belong where they are, and it will be evident to the redeemed of all ages, and the angelic hosts as well: the "name of the city of My God" will be upon them. And there, identity with the Lord Jesus will be noticeable and clear. They will be seen as His "brethren," whom He has faithfully brought to God (Heb 2:10-12). They will share the throne with Him (Rev 3:21), and be "joints heirs" together with Him (Rom 8:17). Indeed, Jesus will write upon them His own "new name."
In this world, we must deal with not being accepted-with being out of place, so to speak. It is difficult enough to endure the status of "outcast" among the obviously unsaved: those with whom we live and work. But., alas, the status of "stranger and foreigner" is not limited to that alienated segment of humanity. Too often, we feel out of place in the professed church, and around those who wear the name of the Lord.
A Personal Testimony
My greatest social grief is sensing I do not really belong among my religious peers. Perhaps sharing some of my own perceptions on this point will bring some encouragement to others who have shared this experience. For a long time now, I have sensed a gulf forming between myself and the institutional church. This is not what I desired to happen, and is not my preference.
This expanding chasm is largely owing to a quest for the things of God. I make no claim of being unique in this pursuit. In fact, it is an aspect of faith that all believers possess to some degree. I find that as the things of God become clearer to me, kindred spirits become correspondingly more precious. Conversely, those lacking an appetite for these things grow more distant, and can more easily do without my company.
The things that qualify us for fellowship with God too often disqualify us for a place in the modern church. Familiarity with the good Word of God, which I so dearly treasure, is not a requirement for leadership or ministry in the nominal church. A strong desire for a fellowship based upon and around the Word of God is not a requisite either. In fact, such things are viewed as strange, actually making those possessing them peculiar to the average churchman. The general church or religious institution has its own standards and credential requirements. Oblivious of the absurdity of their self-conceived requirements, they are blissfully unaware those very prerequisites exclude Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, the Apostles, Luke, James, and Jude, from playing a role in their institutions. Thus, many of us who are at home in the presence of the Lord are actually ill-at-ease among them.
All of this should surprise no one. In all ages, those who were used of God experienced exactly the same thing. It was the Scribes, Pharisees, Lawyers, and Jewish Council that rejected John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, and Paul. Do not think for one moment that all of this had no affect upon those being rejected. Jesus wept over rejecting Jerusalem (Lk 19:41-43). Paul had heaviness of heart over Israel (Rom 9:2). Stephen prayed for the very ones who stoned him (Acts 7:60). Religious rejection is the bitter herbs at the Passover feast.
A Place at Last
All of this highlights the glories of the world to come. No more will God's people be "the filth of the world, and . . . the offscouring of all things" (1 Cor 4:13). Indeed, the name of their God will be upon "their forehead." In this world, it was their hearts that were "circumcised" and made new. That operation was only apparent to those who had experienced the same thing. Then, we will be citizens of the city, and obviously so. No one will ask us if we are really citizens, or question our presence in the glory. It will be apparent we belong there. Our association with God will be evident. Our connection with Jesus will be noticeable and unquestionable. There will be nothing about us that will lead to any other conclusion: we belong in glory. "His name shall be on their foreheads." Hallelujah! How the hearts of believers long for that time!
NO NIGHT THERE
NO NIGHT THERE
Who is capable of comprehending the magnitude of this promise! "There shall be NO night there!" Among other things, life in this world is accompanied by night-both in nature and in spirit. In fact, our entire sojourn in this world is likened to time in the night. That is why we are told, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Rom 13;12). We are not "of the night," but we are presently occupying the realm of night.
When Jesus comes, He will interrupt the affairs of this world like a "thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10). Until that time, we live amidst uncertainties. We do not even know what a day will bring forth, to say nothing of next year. We have a perfect parallel in nature. The light that rules the night is called a "lesser light" (Gen 1:16). In eternity, we will find the glow of grace was greatly diminished in the realm where faith was perfected. However, while it cannot be said of this world in ANY sense, it is true in EVERY sense, in the world to come: "There shall be NO night there."
The Tragedy of the Night
The "night" does not speak of good things. It is a time of doubt and question, when watchmen must take their position on the walls of life (Isa 21:11). Jesus spoke of it the coming night "when no one can work" (John 9:4). Night, in this sense, is something with which the children of God cannot blend. As it is written, "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness" (1 Thess 5:5). It is true that we ourselves were "once darkness," but in Jesus that is no longer the case (Eph 5:8). The ignorance and depravity belonging to darkness are now contrary to our natures, and we can blend no longer with them.
Glory consists of the ABSENCE of some things, as well as the presence of others. The "night" speaks of everything contrary to us, and against which our faith struggles. To accentuate this, allow me to remind you of common experiences associated with nighttime. Because there is "no night there," none of these things will be there either.
CRYING. "And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night." "O my God, I cry . . . in the night season." "She weeps bitterly in the night" (1 Sam 15:11; Psa 22:2; Lam 1:2). What child of God does not know what this is about? Console your heart, child of God. "There shall be no night there!"
Time does not allow extensive comments on this subject-the night. In bitterness of soul, the Psalmist's sore ran in the night (Psa 77:2). Jacob spoke of being consumed by frost at night (Gen 31:40). Job spoke of "wearisome nights" (Job 7:3). There is a terror associated with the night (Psa 91:5), and strong spiritual desires that surface in the night (Isa 26:9). All of this is part and parcel of living in the body and in the world. But it is only a temporary situation. "There is no night there."
Consider the difficulties associated with the darkness. Presently we wrestle against "the rulers of the darkness of this world" and the "power of darkness" (Eph 6:12; Col 1:13). But all of that will soon be behind us forever. "There is no night there."
NO LAMP AND NO LIGHT
"They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light." The "lamp" is for the night, and "the sun" is for the day. We need them both because of the temporal nature of life, and because of its cycles. They allow us to adapt to a changing environment.
To put it another way, the fulness of Divine glory is not presently with us. His Word is "a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psa 119:105). It allows us to navigate through difficult spiritual terrain.
But in the world to come, there will be no need for any adaptation as we presently know it. The "Lord God" Himself will shed light on everything. Nothing will be vague or mysterious. There will be no dark corners, so to speak, where we must navigate by faith. In this world, because we do not fully see the Lord, we cannot fully see life. In fact, both truth and life are only seen correctly to the degree we behold the Lord correctly. No wonder it is written, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Cor 13:12).
Clarity of vision has more to do with WHERE we are than what we know. Being in the body and in the world produces a blurred condition. Further, while we are surrounded by the temporal order, God Himself cannot dwell fully with us. All of that, praise the Lord, will be fully corrected in the world to come. With the temporal removed, and our enemies in the lake of fire, the Lord Himself will be able to fully dwell with us. His Presence, or Person, will cause everything to become clear to us. There will be no further need for "lesser lights," whether lamps or the moon.
In a sense, believers can tell how close they are to God by what they are able to comprehend or understand. Where a fundamental ignorance of God and the things of the Spirit of God exist, there is a vast chasm between the individual and God. Too, as the things of God become clearer to us, we are coming closer to the Lord, drawing near to Him in faith.
Conversely, the clarity of understanding we will have when we are in glory will confirm God Himself is with us. The illumination we possess will be given to us by His Presence, not by secondary means, as it is now received. All of this assumes there is a longing for this illumination within the saints-and, indeed, there is. Salvation brings this longing to the soul. Wherever the Lord Jesus is received, there comes an increasing appetite and yearning for the truth of God. Where that is missing, death is prevalent. The pulse of spiritual life is directly proportionate to the dominance of hope. Where hope is nourished and maintained, strong yearnings for glory are found.
THEY SHALL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER
Herein is a marvelous thing. Earlier in Revelation it is said of Jesus, "and He shall reign for ever and ever" (11:15). Now, it is said of the saints, "and THEY shall reign forever and ever." This will be a just reign for which no apology will be offered. Then the saying will be fulfilled, "The LORD will make you the head, not the tail . . . you will always be at the top, never at the bottom" (Deut 28:13, NIV). In this world, that promise was conditional: "If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them." There, it will be unconditional, for we will be delivered from every restraining and competing influence.
Here and there, the Lord has revealed this reign. One of the most extensive prophecies came through Daniel. He thrice referred to this very reign. "But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come . . . and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom . . . Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him" (Dan 7:18,22,27).
Is this not a staggering promise? And yet it is held out to every child of God. Jesus spoke of inheriting "the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt 25:34). Here we grapple with the enemy of our souls. There, we will not. What God has planned on the trestle board of eternity can scarcely be imagined-even after extensive revelation.
The thought of ALWAYS dominating is too large to be grasped at this present time. But we must allow our faith to stretch toward that goal, for that is where we are headed. The people of God do need to hear these things. It will strengthen the sinews of the faith, and brace up their feeble knees. We must hear about more than our weaknesses. We need a message that affirms that for which we have been apprehended!
FAITHFUL AND TRUE WORDS
An academic perspective is extremely limited. There are several things it does NOT take into account. First, we are in the flesh, which is everywhere declared to be a handicap. Second, we are in a cursed world which constitutes it a distraction to the soul. Third, we are opposed by a shrewd enemy who is aggressive against us. Fourth, we are living by faith and not by sight. The realities we have embraced are not evident, and vanish from our understanding like smoke unless they are believed. In view of these circumstances, placing confidence in scholastic and formalistic approaches is foolish and absurd. Expertise in language gives you no advantage in the good fight of faith. Historical proficiency can not clear up eternal matters. An extremely logical mind can be as great a handicap as it can an advantage. Throughout the ages, the Spirit thunders, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom" (Jer 9:23, NIV). This is not empty oratory, but a solemn reality!
When it comes to the apprehension of Himself and His salvation, God has discarded the whole of worldly wisdom. As it is written, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20). If you want to know the things of God, a worldly-wise man will do you no good. If you desire for the things of God to find residence in your soul, you do not call for a "scholar," or scribe. The philosopher is impotent when it comes to "the things of the Spirit of God." That is simply the way it is. The reluctance of many to acknowledge this truth has no bearing whatsoever upon it.
It is because of this circumstance that Divine iteration is employed. "These words are faithful and true." They are true because they have been said. They are not true because they are logical, but are spiritually logical because they are true. The ONLY reason to believe them is because the Lord has declared them-but that is reason enough for faith.
The biggest part of edification is AFFIRMATION, not explanation. The more men attempt to explain the truth of God, the more the power of the truth is neutralized. At some point the truthfulness of the promise must be affirmed. Again, its absolute faithfulness is to be declared. You can trust what the Lord has said, building your entire life upon it. It will hold you up during the battle, in the valley, and upon the mountain. With God, there "is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). If you cannot prove the truth of His promises, they are still "faithful and true." If they do not conform to historical patterns of through, they remain "faithful and true." If someone finds some Dead Sea scrolls that omit them, they are still "faithful and true."
At once, the sophist will suspect us of speaking reproachfully of his cherished wisdom. Let such men acknowledge their thoughts are NOT the thoughts of God, neither are their ways His. And what is a person to do when such a circumstance is encountered? The answer is clear, " Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (Isa 55:7). See, all of that is involved in the words, "These words are faithful and true!" If you will embrace them by faith, you will find it to be so.
GOD IS SHOWING HIS SERVANTS
" The Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show unto His servants." See the Divine initiative. It is glorious! The "holy prophets," rejected by those who heard them, were preparing the world for what we are reading. They wrote of "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow"-and this is "the glory" of which we are reading (1 Pet 1:11). Now God stands behind the prophets and declares they belong to Him and spoke the truth.
God does not send an angel to confirm the words of Socrates or Plato! He does not buttress the words of Josephus. Regardless of their professed worth and advancement in learning, God has never confirmed the message of a philosopher, linguist, economist, or politician. He has never been known as the Lord God of the philosophers, or the God of the politician. Never has He represented Himself as the Sender of economists, or the Revealer of language expertise. While all valid knowledge is traceable to God alone, He has chosen to align Himself with the holy prophets. That means their message is superior to all of their peers and of all history.
There is such a vast gulf between the dwelling place of God and the abode of men, the message must be brought by an angel to John. No man could rise into heaven to obtain it and bring it down. The wisest and most gifted among men could not conclude it from the starry heavens or other facets of creation. The scientist, philosopher, and astronomer all stand before the mighty God of heaven with their hands over their mouths. It was a holy angel that brought the truth within the grasp of the man of God.
Shown to His Servants
And who are the intended recipients of this truth? Is it a mass message for the multitudes? Indeed, it is not! It is for "His servants" -those employed by God in His work. If a person is NOT serving the Lord, this message is NOT for them! If a person IS serving the Lord, the message IS for them! It is really just that simple.
See how mindful the Lord is of those who live and have their being in Him! He wants them to know what is ahead-what has been determined for them. He will not leave them to walk in the darkness, but will shed some light on their path, making it more tolerable and enjoyable. Because "we are saved by hope" (Rom 8:24), our Lord will speak to hope, nurturing and strengthening it.
THINGS THAT MUST SHORTLY TAKE PLACE
"To show unto his servants the things which must shortly take place." This is the second time the Lord has made this point. The first verse of chapter one affirmed, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass . . . " Again, note the use of the word "servants." That is a term that is by no means confined to a specific area of the world or period of time.
At this point, men rush into the arena of thought, bringing their language expertise and lifeless theology. Fastening upon the expression "shortly take place," they conclude God is speaking with the language of time. Thus they teach the destruction of Jerusalem is the point of time in reference, and that Jesus is speaking of things to occur during the latter part of the first century-in the lifetime of the first readers of the Revelation.
By so teaching, these people have robbed the saints of God, depriving them of food for hope and sustenance for the soul. If some imagine such people are sincere, we emphatically deny this to be the case. Their doctrine has betrayed the corruption that is in their hearts. They are neither honest nor good that teach the saints the glorious things we have just read have already taken place. Lest I appear to be speaking too strongly on this matter, allow me to refresh your mind about the magnitude of what has been revealed. Because of the sheer magnitude of the Revelation, I will limit myself to the section covered in 21:10-22:6.
There are FORTY marvelous things attributed to happening "shortly." What soul is there foolish enough to try and wrest these from the hands of the people of God? Who is ignorant enough to say these all occurred in the first century? To attempt such things requires a prodigious imagination, a deceived mind, and a hard heart. We will not give such people the benefit of being honest, good, or sincere. If Hymaneus and Philetus overthrew the faith of some by saying the resurrection was past already (2 Tim 2:18), what can be said of those who teach these FORTY things have passed?
I have taken the time to briefly elucidate on this heretical view because of the gravity of our text. These words were sent by God through an angel to "show His servants the things which must shortly be done." In all of those promises, nothing was held out that could possibly be limited by time or geography. They were all universal promises that spanned the ages. This is not provincial language, and must not be treated as such.
Not Confined to Time
The word "shortly" is not confined to time, although it is used in that sense. However, in every Apostolic use where time is the obvious point, doctrine is NOT the point. Always, it was a matter of personal desire or preference (1 Cor 4:19; Phil 2:19,24; 1 Tim 3:14; 2 Tim 4:19; Heb 13:23; 3 John 14). Peter used the word "shortly" when referring to a special revelation concerning his death (2 Pet 1:14).
The Language of Faith
The Spirit witnessed to us, "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen" (Rom 16:20). This bruising would have the same characteristics of our Lord's bruising of the wicked one. Once bruised, the Lord was troubled no more by the devil. So it will be with the saints. When Satan is bruised under their feet, they will have done with him once and for all. The word "shortly" does not mean this was going to happen within the lifetime of the brethren in Rome. Rather, it is the language of faith. It is speaking of things that "are not as though they were," or declaring the "end from the beginning" (Rom 4:17; Isa 46:10).
From this perspective, the coming of the Lord is set forth as about to occur. "For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb 10:37). Not being burdened with the incidentals of life, the Lord leaps ahead to the next significant event, saying it will take place in a "little while."
By using the phrase "shortly come to pass," the Spirit is teaching us to live with the promised future in mind. We are not to become burdened down with the abrasiveness of life in the flesh. This is precisely the point being made in reference to our afflictions. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor 4:17, NIV). From the standpoint of time, our afflictions are neither light nor momentary. However, from the viewpoint of faith, they are-praise the Lord!
Because "the just shall live by faith" (Heb 10:38), the Spirit appeals to our faith, not our intellect. As you know, faith has to do primarily with the heart, the very citadel of our person. As it is written, "shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe . . . slow of heart to believe . . . Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me . . . If thou believest with all thine heart . . . believe in thine heart . . . For with the heart man believeth . . . a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Mk 11:23; Lk 24:25; John 14:1; Acts 8:37; Rom 10:10; Heb 10:22).
Hope is not an intellectual thing, bounded by human logic. It is something that thrives upon Divine commitment, spanning time and looking at the end of all things. That is why the Spirit speaks as He does-He is speaking to faith. What consolation would be brought to suffering saints by saying, "these things will come to pass in one hundred years . . . five hundred years . . . a thousand years"?
Let your faith take hold on the message as it stands. Your battle will not be long! What you are yearning for will be here. Once, when referring to the seventy year long Babylonian captivity, the Lord said, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer" (Isa 54:7-8). From the standpoint of time, that forsaking certainly did not seem like a "moment." The judgment poured out upon them did not appear as "a little wrath," or "for a moment." The expert in language and the meaning of original words could certainly not have brought much comfort to believers by an etymological analysis of the Divine utterance.
Nor, indeed, can those who traffic on the roads of language bring delight to our hearts by telling us what they imagine "shortly" to mean. So far as faith is concerned, the next meaningful thing on the Divine agenda is "the end." Be strong in hope and fight the good fight of faith. It will soon be over! The Lord "will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Rom 9:28). Your faith can take hold of that, and your hope can look forward to it.
I AM COMING QUICKLY
It is as though the Lord is saying, Do not settle down in this world-I am coming quickly! Do not allow your thoughts to fasten on the transitory-I am coming quickly. Look toward heaven, lifting up your eyes-I am coming quickly. How we need these blessed words!
THE PRONOUNCED BLESSING
This is the second time this very blessing has been given. "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (1:3).
What does "keeps the words of the prophecy of this book" mean? The word "keep" literally means to guard (from loss or injury) . . . to maintain . . . hold fast. Keeping these words involves hiding them in our hearts-keeping them close so we can ponder them. It is maintaining them within the range of our recollection, refusing to allow anything to wash them from our hearts and minds. To "keep" the words of the prophecy of this book is to recognize their value and relevance to the good fight of faith.
The fact that individuals retaining the words of this book are blessed, confirms its importance to the believer. This is not a novel book. Rather, it is rich with blessing.
The expression "prophecy of this book" places it in the profitable category. Elsewhere the Spirit affirms, "But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation" (1 Cor 14:3). This message, therefore, like all prophecy, is for us-"men." It contains something we need, and will yield indispensable spiritual benefits. These benefits are all objective and intentional. They do not simply occur. "Edification" is the process whereby the child of God is built up, strengthened, and brought to maturity in Christ. "Exhortation" is a means whereby the soul is stirred, and the believer prompted to conduct his life in strict harmony with the truth. It moves the child of God to do something with the truth. "Consolation" or "comfort" is the process through which the heart is calmed and the abrasiveness of life dulled. In consolation hope is aroused and the will is strengthened for spiritual action.
I want to underscore the importance that is ascribed to this book. It is called "prophecy" five times. "The words of this prophecy" (1:3). "The prophecy of this book" (22:7,10,18). "The book of this prophecy" (22:19). It differs from most prophecy because it is a vision. Thirty-five times in Revelation John says, "I SAW" (1:12,17; 4:4; 5:1,2; 6:1,2,9; 7:1,2; 8:2; 9:1,17; 10:1,5; 13:2,3; 14:6; 15:1,2; 16:13; 17:3,6; 18:1; 19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11,12; 21:1,22). This book is a sort of animated prophecy in which the truth is painted in active colors. By doing this, the truth is more hidden to those possessing no appetite for it. It is an like a Kingdom parable, filled with life, yet obscure to those in the flesh.
The character of both good and evil are emphasized in Revelation. Satan, for example, is a "serpent," "a king," "Abaddon," "Apollyn," "a great dragon," and "the devil." In each of these depictions vivid pictures are painted of his activity, and the nature of his objectives. Triumphant believers are referred to as "kings," "priests," "the servants of our God," " the woman," "the bride the Lamb's wife," and "they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
A Particular Kind of Prophecy
This book is "prophecy" like the visions of Daniel and Ezekiel. It portrays the truth in picture form. Remember, Daniel spoke of the triumph of the Kingdom of God as a small stone, hewn out of mountain without hands, crushing a gigantic statue, and eventually becoming a mountain that filled the whole earth (Dan 2:31-45). Ezekiel saw the awakening of Israel as a valley of very dry and scattered bones, brought together by a powerful word, and made a living army by the Spirit of God (Ezek 37). He also spoke of the healing virtues of the Gospel as a flow of life-giving water issuing from the heavenly altar, and eventually becoming a great river no man could cross (Ezek 47).
Other examples of this type of prophecy include Joseph's dreams concerning his appointed superiority. In the first Joseph and his brothers as twelve sheaves of grain, with the brother's sheaves bowing down to Joseph's. The second pictured personalities as heavenly bodies, with the sun, moon, and eleven stars making obeisance to Joseph (Gen 37:7,9). Another prophecy of famine, and the means to sustain life during it, was given to Joseph. In it, seven years of plenty were portrayed as seven "fatfleshed and well favored" cows. Seven years of famine were seen as "poor and very ill favored and leanfleshed" cows that consumed the fat ones (Gen 41:2-27).
This, then, is not a strange type of message. These few examples confirm God uses this method to communicate vital and relevant truth-prophecy. When men spend time haranguing about whether the figures are literal or spiritual, they rob the book of its power. One might as well argue about the cows of Joseph's dream or the waters of Ezekiel's vision. Let every soul be encouraged to take hold on "the prophecy of this book." If you keep it, the Lord will see to it that you are edified, exhorted, and comforted. You take care to retain the message, God will see to its effectiveness.
A HASTY RESPONSE TO AN OVERWHELMING VISION
He Saw and Heard
Notice how John describes the message. It is what he "saw and heard." Among other things, this confirms the message got through to John. He was not acting as a mere robot. He had eaten the book of Divine destiny that was in the hands of the Lamb (Rev 10:9-10). He ingested the message and saw its implications. While salvation brings great and marvelous benefits, it also initiates a fierce war. Those who embrace the truth will be opposed by the devil and his hosts. There will be suffering, hardship, and times when the truth appears nearly extinct. Satan will be "loosed" as well as "bound," and God's witnesses will be slain as well as come to life. There will be martyrs, whose blood is shed because they are God's witnesses. Saints will be driven into isolation, yet be nourished from the face of the serpent. There is the sound of resounding hope even in trouble.
In all of this, the conquering Lamb will maintain strict control, governing His Kingdom with His people in mind. Believers will triumph, and all of their enemies will be thoroughly defeated. At last those who embraced the Savior will reign with Him, world without end. For them, conflict will be forever ended, and the effects and recollection of their warfare forgotten.
That is the resounding message of this book, and John "saw and heard" it. He was not only exposed to the message, he perceived it.
John Falls Down Before the Angel
This is the second time John so reacted to a heavenly messenger. Both occasions are during the crescendo of the message. The first was when a blessing was pronounced upon those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:10). The second is when a blessing is pronounced upon those keeping "the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (22:8-9). Both times John "fell to worship" the messenger. Both times the heavenly messenger responded, "See thou do it not," refusing to receive homage from the ages Apostle. How careful the holy angels are to keep the focus upon the Living God!
This is not a novice falling down before the angel of the Lord. Nor, indeed, is it some weak and thoughtless believer. John knew the worship of angels is strictly forbidden by the Lord (Col 2:18). Never are we allowed to worship the creation, whether it be heavenly bodies or heavenly personalities (Rom 1:25). How is it, then, that John attempts to worship at the feet of this angel?
It is more the greatness of the vision than the weakness of the Apostle that caused this reaction. There are revelations so grand and glorious that they cause unusual reactions. Upon hearing of the contamination of God's people, Ezra tore his cloths, pulled hair out of his head and beard, and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3). On one occasion, Daniel received a revelation that caused him to "faint," be "sick for days," and be "astonished" (Dan 8:27). Upon seeing Peter, whom an angel, of the Lord had directed him to call, Cornelius "fell down at his feet and worshiped him" (Acts 10:25). Unlike the Pope and other imposters, Peter refused to allow such a response.
Such revelations bring men to the border of human capacity and ability. Were it not for the grace of God, they would cause men to be undone altogether. The message delivered to John was like a mighty tidal wave that swept over his soul. It put everything together, and provided a grand overview of eternal purpose. It held the future glory before John himself, who was being oppressed because of the Word of God. The glory of it all burst upon his soul, and his flesh fell at the feet of the angel. It was an overwhelming vision.
"Do It Not!"
There is a gentleness in the voice of this holy angel that is worthy of note. He does not strike John down like Herod was stricken for improper conduct (Acts 12:22-23). He does not take away John's speech, like the angel did to Zachariah, father of John the Baptist (Lk 1:19-20). Instead, he simply reminds him of the facts in the case.
"I am thy fellowservant." What a word is this! He does not say John is his fellowservant, but that he is John's fellowservant. In do doing, the angel acknowledged the supremacy of salvation. He confesses that angelic intrigue is caused by what men have been given in Christ Jesus (1 Pet 1:12). Holy angels are, indeed, serving God. They are also "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:14). While uninformed men are intrigued with angels, holy angels are intrigued with the salvation wrought for men, desiring to look into the Gospel.
Angels are involved in the same program as the saints of God. They are "fellowservants." From the standpoint of time, we have come into their fellowship (Heb 12:22). The angels know this, and we do well to also know it.
"Your Brethren, the Prophets"
We have glimpses here and there of angelic activity in behalf of the holy prophets. Elijah was visited by an angel (2 Kgs 1:15). The mighty angel Gabriel unveiled things to Daniel (Dan 8:16-19). An angel "talked" with Zechariah (Zech 1:9,11). Such prophets were "brethren" with John in Divine purpose. Like John, they also labored in isolation and were persecuted. Their message drove a wedge between them and their peers.
The holy prophets are consistently lauded in Scripture. With great sternness the Lord warns, "Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm" (1 Chron 16:22; Psa 105:15, NKJV). Since the "world began," we are apprized, God has spoken "by the mouth of His holy prophets" (Lk 1:70; Acts 3:21). Peter admonishes us to "be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets" (2 Pet 3:2). If ever there was an unappreciated segment of humanity, it is the holy prophets! The holy angel remembered them, and we do well to do so also.
The point to be seen here is this: the message given to John is in strict harmony with the message of the Prophets. It does not represent a new agenda, or a different Divine initiative. The book of the Revelation deals with the same Kingdom announced by the Prophets, demonstrated by Jesus, and expounded by the Apostles.
Them Which Keep the Sayings
What a marvelous reality is here unveiled! Not only is the angel linked to the Prophets and to the Apostles, he also identifies himself with all who "keep the sayings of this book." Think of it! The holy Prophets were given glimpses of the great salvation we enjoy, and foretold it. The truth was expanded and interpreted to the holy Apostles, and they declared it. Now those who receive that word are brought into the fellowship, being joined to angels, Prophets, and Apostles. Those who keep the sayings can certainly boast of no startling revelation like those given to Prophets and Apostles. They can, however, enjoy fellowship with them both, as well as the holy angels.
All of this, of course, is secondary. The angel charges John to "worship God" because it is His purpose, and both angels and men are His servants.
The book of Revelation confirms that Jesus is presently evaluating the churches. It boldly announces that He holds the destiny of all things in His hand. The devil and his wicked horde are under His control, as well as all of the saved. At his word Satan can be bound or loosed, saints can die or live, truth can flourish or be withdrawn. We do not live in an ungoverned world, nor are the events occurring in our time mere happenings of chance. Faith can take hold on this.
The Lamb is reigning, Satan is losing, and the saints are winning! That is the way it is, and we do well to keep those sayings in our hearts. The sound of this consistent message may appear to contradict both logic and appearance, but it is still true. Faith can see it, and hope can rejoice in it.
Remember, "we are saved by hope" (Rom 8:24-25). Where hope is weak, Christ's yoke is difficult and the burden heavy. The commandments become grievous, and the world presses hard upon us. It is no wonder the average church member possesses so little confidence, appetite, or spiritual stamina. Hope is being starved by an emphasis on problem resolution and a focus on earthly involvements. Instead of a stream of living water issuing from many pulpits, there is a cloud of life-stifling, suffocating, dust. When the Holy Spirit holds before us the affairs of this world, He filters the vision through the purpose of God. Faithfully, the He unveils the outcome of all things to us, also confirming everything is being thoughtfully governed by the very One who saved us. Satan is shown to be aggressive and powerful, but not invincible or omnipotent. His purpose will be frustrated, and his ministers cast into the lake of fire with him.
As these things are clarified to the soul, the ability to fight a good fight of faith and finish the course set before us is granted. The clearer heaven is in our eye, the less dominant the world becomes. The more we hear about our inheritance, the less we want to hear about this present evil world. How glorious to have a book that feeds these longings, confirming to our hearts the blessedness of being in Christ Jesus. We can endure Satan's rage if given to behold the glories of the world to come. Tell us of the things close to the heart of our Lord, and we will renew our strength.