House, Not Made With Hands (1)
“For we know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
In the previous articles on the theme, “Without hands,” we have seen that the inward replaced the outward (circumcision) and that the permanent replaced the temporary (tabernacle). In this third article we shall see that the heavenly replaces the earthly (house).
What does the “house” mentioned in this verse refer to? Looking back over the previous chapter a lot is said about the body of the believer. It is described as an “earthen vessel(s)” (2 Cor. 4:7); “our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11); and “our outward man” (2 Cor. 4:16). These three expressions describe the character of the body. The first emphasises that it is fragile. Some have paraphrased this as a “body of fragile clay.” The second points to its being subject to death. In the third it is shown to be a body which is affected by pressures from without. When the apostle writes, “but though our outward man perish,” and also of “our light affliction,” he seems to have in mind the way his physical body was being worn out in his service for the Lord. Reading Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 11 it is not difficult to see why this was so.
Coming now to our chapter, the body is referred to as “our earthly house of this tabernacle.” Looking at this verse carefully certain contrasts are seen:
Made with hands Of God
Earthly In the heavens
The description of the body as a tabernacle-house suggests something temporary. It is not a fixed abode. No foundations are needed, only guy ropes and tent pegs. Furthermore, a tent is easily moved from one place to another. In contrast to this a building is permanent. It has foundations and it is meant to last.
One day the tent-house will be dissolved, for if the Lord has not come we shall die. But if this be the case we have a building of God, a house not made with hands. This refers to the resurrection body which we shall have at the time of the Lord's return. We do not receive it at the time of the dissolution of the tent-house, as will become clear as we proceed. The tent-house is also described as “earthly.” The writer of the epistle is not dealing with moral issues here, but with the body which we now have and which is earthly in the sense of being suitable for earthly conditions. The “building of God” is said to be “in the heavens.” It will be a heavenly body, suitable to conditions in heaven. In contrast to the tent-house which is subject to death, the new body is said to be “eternal.”
Going back to the beginning of the verse, comment must be made on the expression, “we know.” The particular word used for “know” indicates conscious knowledge. There is certainty about it which produces an inward impression. It is because of this that there is the groan, the feeling how contrary everything is here where we are in this tent-house. The word “groan” used here and in verse 4 is the same word used by the apostle in Romans 8:23. As being connected with a groaning creation he writes: “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” The truth embodied in this verse is very close in teaching to 2 Corinthians 5:2 and 4. However, in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul uses different terms. The earnest desire of the believer is “to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” The words “from heaven” mean not that our house comes down to us, but that it is “out of” as being heavenly in source and character.
There are three expressions in these early verses which call for explanation: “clothed upon;” “unclothed;” and “naked.” We will leave the third for the moment and turn our attention to the first two. The words “clothed upon” refer to the occasion when we shall receive our new body. This will be when the Lord comes for His saints. The second expression, “unclothed,” points to the intermediate condition of the saint between falling asleep and the Lord's coming. There is no thought of the saint receiving the new body at the time of falling asleep, for this awaits the rapture. In the light of this verse 4 gives us the true hope of the believer: “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” The hope of the believer is not the intermediate state. Later in this chapter more is said about this condition. It is described as being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” (v. 8). In other passages this state is said to be a happy one. I quote the familiar words of Philippians 1:23: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” These sentiments do not in any way clash with 2 Corinthians 5:4, because the theme is different from Philippians 1. The principal thought here is the desire and groaning to be clothed upon with the “house not made with hands.” The closing words of 2 Corinthians 5:4 underline what is being said: “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” In the unclothed condition the body returns to dust and corruption but when the Lord comes it will be raised.
“This corruptible must put on incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:53). This will be true of all who “sleep in Jesus.” But in our passage in 2 Corinthians 5 it says that, “not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” This is because the eye of the apostle is not set upon the unclothed state, but rather the clothed state, when at the Lord's coming we shall put on our house which is from heaven. This is in line with the second half of the verse quoted from 1 Corinthians 15:53, which says: “this mortal must put on immortality.”
It may be well to say here that while I have used the expression “new body,” it is new as to condition. The body sown (buried) is that which will be raised. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44).
Clothed, Yet Naked
“If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:3). The third of the expressions noted at the beginning of this article has given most difficulty in interpretation. It is a paradox. Looking at the two words in a natural way, they refer to two opposite conditions. The apostle had in mind those among the Corinthians who had only made a profession of faith. It is a very solemn warning. We must remember that all men must stand before God. The unconverted will appear before Him at the great white throne. This must necessitate their having bodies in which to appear. But spiritually they are “naked,” with no fitness for the presence of God eternally. All who appear at that awesome throne are cast into the lake of fire. As far as the believer is concerned, being “clothed upon” is to have a body like Christ's. Philippians 3:21 has taught us this: “Who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory” (J.N.D. Trans.).
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
Having Loved His Own Which Were In The World (2)
In the former verses of this chapter we have the love of the Lord expressed in care for His own. In the verses that follow we have the feelings of that love made known, for the love that bore with Judas also confided in His own.
Judas Iscariot was chosen to be one of the twelve (John 6:70-71) but clearly he was not one of “His own.” Not only did the Lord's love not possess his heart but there was no affection or true feeling for the Lord. He was ready to betray Him and only waited for the opportunity. The Lord knew all this and felt it intensely. Yet in love He bore with it, for He looked upon him at that moment as one of “the twelve.” The Scripture had spoken of him as the one who was near to the Lord, eating bread with Him, then lifting up his heel against Him. By this Scripture the Lord appealed to Judas, letting him know that He knew all this. Yet patient, suffering love did not reveal him to the rest of the disciples. The Lord did make known to them how deeply He felt Judas' betrayal, but did not reprove him openly. How perfect was the Lord's love! In bearing with him was there not an appeal to his heart and conscience? Was this not also seen in giving the sop to him after He had dipped it for him? Though unexposed to the other disciples, he received permission to go and do what his heart desired — to betray His Lord. He turned his back not only on His Lord, but upon the yearning love that bore with him, knowing fully what he was going to do. How terrible, how solemn the words: “and it was night.”
Yet if the Lord bore this in love, He also confided in His own, revealing His feelings so that they might feel with Him. Already He had made known a difference that there was among them: “and ye are clean, but not all.” He felt it keenly that there was one with Him who was also against Him, as foretold by the Scripture. He told His own, before the treachery of Judas was manifested, that they might have confidence in Him. Then He shared not only His foreknowledge but also the burden that lay upon His spirit because: “one of you shall betray Me.” This touched true hearts, for they were astonished that any one of them would do such a thing.
The love that would not openly denounce the traitor made him known to caring and enquiring hearts. To know the intimacy of love one must be near and the Lord revealed His burden that He might draw them near. Simon Peter's love for the Lord declared itself, for he could not rest till he knew who the traitor was. Coming by one nearer than himself he asked, “Lord, who is it?”
How wonderful a place this one had taken who was nearer than Peter. He lay on Jesus' bosom as one whom Jesus loved, satisfied to be there and to rest in what he was to Jesus and of His thoughts about him. To know such a place is to know an intimacy that gives simple boldness. He leaned upon His breast and asked, “Lord, who is it?” He enjoyed the intimacy that kept nothing back. How readily love answered him! The token given to Judas made the answer known only to the enquirer, while not revealing his name to all. The love that confided in His own was as perfect as the love that bore with Judas.
The going out of Judas lifted the cloud from the Lord's spirit. Longsuffering love had borne with Judas to perfection and the testimony to this world was now complete: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” Events would now take their course and the will, purpose and work of God would be brought to completion. Love would be perfected in His death and God would be glorified in Him. The One to whom God is indebted for glory, God Himself will glorify, and that without delay. Love, deep love to His God and Father, marked out His path which He was to tread alone.
He then makes known that He was to leave them and that at that time they could not go with Him. They will have one another, and their Lord, whom they dearly loved, gave them a commandment to love one another, “as I have loved you.” The character, the purity, the fulness and the way of the Lord's love to them was to be stamped upon their love for one another.
This was not sufficient for Peter. He asked, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” How strongly He was attached to His Lord! This was in response to the Lord's love to His own. Peter would not be separated from His Lord even for a moment. The question, “whither?” is followed by a “why?” How beautiful the desire: “I will lay down my life for Thy sake.” Though he knew not the weakness of his “I will” yet the Lord valued Peter's love, and in love to Peter would make him to know his weakness. The Lord's love would make Peter's failure known to him beforehand, that he might have an increased confidence in his Lord.
(The brother who has written
this series of articles wishes to remain anonymous)
Psalm 119 (15)
(Continued from page 160)
12. Lamed — AN OX-goad
The name of this letter has the same meaning as “Malmed” — a goad (e.g. ox-goad), and this is the form the letter has on the Phoenician monuments. It also has various other meanings when prefixed to other words. Then it means “to, towards, unto, even to, into, as to, with regard to, on account of, concerning, about, of, on behalf of, for,” etc., etc. It is a tremendously versatile letter indeed!
An ox-goad is a stick with a prick by which the ox is directed. All the above meanings I have given indicate “giving direction.” It is in teaching that the teacher gives direction to the pupil.
The Talmud, which is a book of Jewish traditional teaching, means “instruction.” Right in the centre of the word Talmud you can see two of the consonants of Lamed. The numerical value of Lamed is thirty. This letter has therefore the significance of “teaching us to go on to maturity.”
Verses 73-96. Spiritual Maturity through Daily Meditation
Section Twelve. Verses 89-96: “God's Word Helps Me Mature Spiritually”
We are sure of Him and His Word
Verse 89: LA-GOH-LAHM...“For ever, (O Jehovah, Thy word)”
In the first three verses we find words that indicate stability: “settled” (v. 89); “established” (v. 90); “continue” (v. 91). Growing in the knowledge of God and His will gives stability to our walk. We must go on to maturity in our spiritual lives and for this the Word is our daily food. “Thy word is settled...” and that Word settles the believer and makes him steadfast.
Today the Word of God is under attack and so is the Christian who believes it to be the absolute standard for his daily conduct. Are we convinced that the Bible is indeed the breathing of God, His inspired Word through which He is speaking to us? The Bible is an incomparable and unique Book. Dear friends, read it, study it, meditate upon it, memorise it, and your will grow in spiritual maturity.
Jesus never fails
Verse 90: LA-DOHR...“...to (every) generation...”
The writer is convinced of the certainty of God's Word from the endurance of the heavens in verse 89. Now he assures us of this from his consideration of the foundation of the earth.
The New Testament tells us concerning the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus Christ that He is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). The Lord Jesus has said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). This is the solid rock on which we stand, the right foundation for our spiritual maturity. Nothing can shake either the Person of the Lord or His precious Word. “Thou hast founded the earth and it stands still...” is the literal rendering from the Hebrew. What God does endures! Someone has said, “Every time you set your foot on the ground remember the stability of God's promises.” This is a nice way to continue on our pathway to maturity.
If all are His servants, why not me?
Verse 91: LA-MISH-PAHTAK...“...according to Thine ordinances they continue...”
The N.I.V. strangely says, “Your laws endure to this day...” But that is surely not the meaning. The “they” in our verse are no doubt the “word” in verse 89, and “the earth” in verse 90!! It is these: Word, heaven and earth, which are all His servants! If the Lord maintains and sustains these things, is He not able to sustain us?
But also if the earth, heaven, hail, rain, wind, snow and all the elements are His servants, then how much more should you and I be His servants, as redeemed and intelligent creatures! These elements function in their appointed place “according to Thine ordinances...” and are in this way an example to us all as members of the body of Christ. We also have a special place where God has set us in the body of Christ in order to function according to His will. Are we conscious of this and ready to fulfil our functions?
A crisis shows what we really are
Verse 92: LO-LEH-Y...“Except...”
He had experienced affliction and come through. He therefore speaks from experience and looks back with gratitude. It was the Word that had sustained him in those trying circumstances.
How different is the experience of the Psalmist from that case described by the Lord Jesus in the parable of the sower: “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14). Circumstances may show up our superficialities, or demonstrate that we are rooted and grounded in Him and His Word. Let us then daily delight in the reading and study of His Word.
Let us remember!
Verse 93: LA-GOH-LAHM...“Never (will I forget...)”
When once we have experienced the truth of the Word of God in a particular circumstance or trial, we never forget! It is also a very good resolution to make! Another thing he never forgot was that when he passed through his trial and was so conscious of his own weakness, that then the Lord had quickened him. It is through the Word of God that we get this quickening in our spirits. “To be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man...” (Eph. 3:16). His words are spirit and life (John 6:63), and His words are words of eternal life (John 6:68).
I am not my own but His!
Verse 94: LAKA-ATA...“I am Thine...”
He does not say, “Save me and I shall be Thine,” but he asserts that he belongs to the Lord and needs saving still! The Hebrew is emphatic here: “I AM Thine!” Perhaps you ask how we can keep on asking to be saved when we have already been saved? The Psalmist says, “I am Thine, save me: for I have sought Thy precepts.” Of course the Old Testament saint knew nothing of what has been revealed to New Testament believers concerning the redemption of our bodies. They knew about soul/spirit salvation but not about glorified bodies! Paul describes this “final” salvation in Romans chapter 8: “we... groan... waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (verse 23). Peter calls this the “salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). “Salvation” therefore is a term which has a large meaning. There is salvation from/out of circumstances and this is what Paul refers to in Philippians 2:12: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Peter contrasts temporal deliverances in their circumstances with the salvation of the soul, when he says, “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).
What can men do unto me?
Verse 95: LO-KAH-VAH...“For me waited (the wicked...)...”
Here we have a practical example of the salvation from circumstances we have been talking about in the previous verse! Here is the enemy: “The wicked have waited for me, to destroy me...” Certainly the Psalmist was looking to the Lord for salvation. But this had nothing to do with his soul's salvation.
Satan has a well-developed strategy which he has acquired over thousands of years. He is an active adversary and tempter of the saints. He and his servants the demons often have to withdraw temporarily from their victim but will renew their attack at a more strategic moment: “have waited for me, to destroy me...” Let us not be deceived! If for the moment we have some respite from his attack this is only a temporary lull in the battle, to make us relax.
How do we overcome the powers of darkness? “I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one... I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13, 14). These verses give us the secret; we can only overcome the enemy through the Word of God and when that Word is living in us and we live by it every day. If this is true of you and me then we can boldly say in the words of Hebrews 13:6, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man (or devil, or demon) shall do unto me.”
O, the wideness of God's mercy!
Verse 96: LA-KOHL...“To all (perfection I have seen...)”
To everything here on earth there is a limit, an end! Even the best of men are still sinners. Even the most perfect in this world still fall far short of God's perfection. That is why the Psalmist has to say, “I have seen an end of all perfection...”
But as to our knowing Him, there is no end! He is Infinite, we are finite. Paul had this desire to know Him: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death...” (Phil. 3:10). The apostle John writes to the fathers, “ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” He repeats this statement twice because there really is no end to knowing Him. But they had grown from little children, to young men and now they were fathers. Here was indeed a growing into spiritual maturity.
“Thy commandment is exceeding broad,” continues the writer. It is the same when we climb a high mountain. The higher we get the more the view increases. On the top the panorama is breath-taking! So it is with the Word of God. It is an inexhaustible ocean of grace and wonders, a mine of jewels. There is no limit to the amount of confidence we can put in the Lord Jesus and His precious Word! “Let us go on unto perfection...” (Heb. 6:1), and unto spiritual maturity.
Crucial Occasions in the Book of Acts
The four Gospels give a varied yet united testimony to the wonderful Person and history of the Lord Jesus Christ, His unique sacrifice at Calvary, and His resurrection and ascension back to heaven. This necessarily involves tremendous changes in God's dispensational ways. Therefore Acts is a book of transition, showing the dispensation of law to be gradually and decisively replaced by the marvellous “dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2). We may well expect then climactic occasions to arise that have vital significance as regards the times in which we live. Here we consider some of the more outstanding of these.
(1) The Coming of the Spirit of God (Acts 2)
It was impossible that the Spirit of God could come to dwell complacently in any people who were under the law, “For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). The Spirit could not come until Christ had died, been raised and glorified, as John 7:39 makes clear. But on the day of Pentecost, the disciples being together in one place, the sound as of a rushing mighty wind filled the house, accompanied by divided tongues as of fire sitting on each of them (v. 1-3). At the same time another miracle took place. Being filled with the Spirit of God the disciples began to speak in various languages. They were given by God the ability to speak their own thoughts of “the wonderful works of God” (v. 11) in a language previously unknown to them. Of course they knew what they were saying, for they were bearing witness to the resurrection of Christ. Many present were from foreign nations and at least 16 different languages were spoken by the various disciples (v. 8-11).
The significance of this wonderful sign gift was to impress on people that God was now working to bring about an understanding between those previously foreign to each other. Jews were to be no longer the one nation with whom God was working, for the grace of God was now to go out to every nation under heaven, and to bring people from every nation together in a vital, living unity.
(2) Hypocrisy Among Disciples Judged (Acts 5:1-11)
By grace, large numbers were brought at this time to trust the Lord Jesus and their faith and love was beautifully seen. Spontaneously they brought their own wealth to share it together, some selling land for this purpose, so that there was great joy among the disciples. However, one couple agreed together to sell land and give part of the price while saying they were giving all (v. 2). This action was challenged immediately when Peter exposed their hypocrisy and both of them died by the chastening hand of God. So at the very outset of Christianity grace is seen to be a principle of serious holiness: grace will not tolerate falsehood. This is seen to be therefore a crucial matter.
(3) Selfishness Among Believers Met (Acts 6:1-7)
This was not so serious a matter as that of Chapter 5, yet it was something that might develop most dangerously and the Spirit of God deals with it as an issue that cannot be ignored. Hellenists (Grecian Jews) complained that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration which was evidently supervised by local Jewish believers. How easily factions may arise among believers because of such complaints, that may or may not have a clear basis in fact.
Yet this matter is beautifully settled. The apostles asked the disciples to select seven men of good reputation to take care of this distribution. How good it is to see that the Jews in Jerusalem were willing to have Grecian Jews appointed for this service, for their names evidently indicate that all were Hellenists! Those of Jerusalem were virtually saying, “If you don't think you can trust us, we shall be glad to trust you.” This is a beautiful effect of known and enjoyed grace. Results are seen immediately too: “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied... greatly” (v. 7).
(4) Israel's Rejection of the Spirit's Witness (Acts 7)
Stephen, one of the seven chosen, was moved by the Spirit of God in clearest testimony to the Lord Jesus. The Jewish leaders were bitterly antagonistic to him and finally arrested him, bringing him before their court. When he was accused he responded in a marvellous address that they were powerless to stop, for God was in it. He showed the Jews that in all their history they had always consistently refused the many overtures of God toward them and now had culminated this in their rejection of the Messiah of Israel, the Lord Jesus. But his faithful testimony had only the effect of embittering them more greatly against him, taking him out and stoning him to death. Yet no shadow of fear is seen in his death, but rather a faith and love that must have impressed itself on everyone who saw it when he prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (v. 60).
This was another crucial turning point in the book of Acts. Christ had been rejected while on earth and now He is rejected by Israel when speaking from heaven by the Spirit of God. The witness of the Spirit of God to Him is thus also rejected. From this time Israel is seen as definitely set aside by God and the church takes Israel's place as the vessel of public testimony. But Christ being rejected thus, the church is identified with Him in this same rejection. Still, this is no reason for discouragement, for we may have the same exultant joy as did Stephen even in his martyrdom for the Name of the Lord Jesus.
(5) Samaritans Received in the Church (Acts 8:5-17)
Philip, another of the seven, went to Samaria to preach Christ, with great blessing resulting. Generally the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9), but the Lord Jesus had spoken to a Samaritan woman about the gift of the water of life and Philip was following His kind example. When the apostles heard of this work of grace, both Peter and John went down to Samaria and through the laying on of their hands the Spirit of God was given to the disciples there. This was another crucial change in God's dealings and Samaritans were welcomed into the same fellowship as Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
(6) A Special Jewish Witness to the Gentiles
Saul of Tarsus was an enemy of the Lord Jesus, determined to blot out Christianity from the earth by the persecution and death of believers. But God had purposed that this man was to be the most zealous of all men in proclaiming the gospel of Christ. When he was on his way to Damascus to take Christians captive, the Lord Jesus stopped him and he was brought down “trembling and astonished,” to realise that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. What a transformation took place in that man's soul!
Yet God did not send him to his own people, Israel, rather he was sent to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:2, 8-9). This was another matter of crucial importance in God's present dealings. We may think it better that one preaches to one's own nation, but it is not always so. It was true for Peter but not for Paul. For Paul was given a special ministry to the church of God, in which it is insisted that “There is one body” consisting of all believers, both Jewish and Gentile. It was important that a Jewish apostle should press this truth upon Gentile believers, so as to bring both together in the unity of the Spirit to bear witness to God's love toward all.
(7) Gentiles Received into the Church of God
Paul was not the first apostle sent to Gentiles. Peter was given this honour, though he was specially the apostle to Jews. But God wanted him to realise that believing Gentiles were to be considered fully on the same level as Jewish believers in God's church. Both Cornelius and Peter were given visions indicating that they were to be brought together and that Peter was to give Cornelius the message of the grace of God in Christ. He did so, and while he was speaking the Spirit of God fell on the listeners (v. 44). How clear a proof this was to Peter that God accepted Gentiles also into the fellowship of the church of God.
(8) The Threat of Legal Bondage Faced (Acts 15)
Another crucial situation now faced the newly established church of God. God had wrought at Antioch to bring many Gentiles to the Lord Jesus and Paul had been a great help to them. There then came some Jewish men from Judea who taught the Gentile disciples that they must be circumcised as Jews were in order to be saved. Paul and others with him therefore went up to Jerusalem to face this most serious issue. There they came together with other apostles and elders and also found some who declared that Gentile converts must be circumcised and commanded to keep the law of Moses (v. 5).
Elsewhere Paul speaks of certain of these men as “false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal. 2:4). Paul required a clear pronouncement from the apostles and elders of Jerusalem to settle this matter. The Lord answered clearly by the ministry of Peter, then of Barnabas and Paul, and finally by the pronouncement of James, that God had Himself settled the matter that the Gentiles should not be brought under such bondage. They should not be asked to be circumcised nor told to keep the law, but only reminded to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication” (v. 29). Thus the grace of God was left in all its pure reality and blessing. When the Gentile believers heard this they rejoiced over its encouragement.
Thus God, in His unfailing grace, has established the truth of the church of God in purity and faithfulness. Today we are to value every one of these cases of special significance and maintain them in godly integrity and faith.
L. M. Grant
The next part in the series on the “Sermon on the Mount” will appear in the May/June issue, if the Lord will.
Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (3)
(Continued from page 148)
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot” (Rev. 3:15)
The Lord Jesus is the beginning (Chief) of the new creation and believers today belong to that creation. God desires in and by them to have a testimony concerning His coming new world, in the very world where things are organised for the glory of man and satan. The question therefore arises whether we are really representing God's new creation, or promoting self and things that belong to the old creation, connected with failure and breakdown?
The Lord Jesus is not only the Head of God's creation, being God Himself, but He also speaks as the perfect Judge. He is omniscient (Rom. 9:5) and knows everything about us, even the number of the hairs of our head. He is walking among the lampstands or candlesticks (Rev. 1-3). Is He not also that true light which the lampstands are supposed to give? He searches all in order to see how faithfully and effectively they are acquitting themselves of their tasks. Here He pronounces a terrible and condemning verdict. When we follow the course of church history in the seven epistles in Revelation 2 and 3, we understand that with Laodicea we have come to the very end of God's present testimony on earth. Although in our day Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea continue to exist contemporaneously, historically, as to the point in time when they started, they followed one after another. In Philadelphia there was a collective testimony to the blessedness of the Lord Jesus. However, in Laodicea we see what followed this. Instead of true satisfaction with the wonderful Christ, those bearing His Name become more and more satisfied with themselves. The apostle Paul describes this process in the beginning of 2 Timothy 3. A special feature he mentions there is that people will be lovers of self, more than lovers of God.1 Replacing zeal for the Beloved who is all, the Laodiceans lost their zeal for Him and became lukewarm and indifferent to the Bridegroom. What is our attitude to Him?
1It is remarkable that the concept of self-love, self-realisation, etc.,
has been developed in our generation.
“I would thou wert cold or hot”
Perhaps in days past the Lord had used meetings for edification through the Word to address this issue, but to no avail (1 Cor. 14:3). He had also sent His labourers,2 or other servants. If John's ministry has no effect on believers then they have reached a terrible condition. The Lord would rather see the believers in Laodicea like cold water, which is refreshing, or like hot water, which was used for medicinal purposes. In both cases others would benefit and the Lord would be pleased as well. Alas, this was not so in the assembly in Laodicea.
“So then because thou art lukewarm”
As the Beloved the Lord Jesus was (and is today) waiting for a response, but in Laodicea He doesn't find any. Perhaps they bring sacrifices of praise and sing spiritual songs or wonderful hymns, possibly with great emphasis on instrumental music and outward appeal, but they are like hollow forms. There is nothing that satisfies His longing heart. The Lord compares Himself here with somebody who would drink of the famous stream of healing waters in the area of Laodicea, but He has to spue it out.3
A parallel thought is found in the Old Testament when the Israelites had corrupted themselves with idolatry. The land spued them out, as it had done the Canaanites before them. There was no fruit for God, although He had been waiting for so long (Lev. 18:28; 20:22; compare also Job 20:15b). We may try to cover-up the real situation with all kinds of things but we cannot deceive the Lord (Gal. 6:7).
Because of the great emphasis on self-pleasing, self-advancement (see later), and pleasing one another, as the Pharisees used to do (John 12:43), there was a lack of zeal in Laodicea, as well as a tendency to compromise. This condition caused the Lord to say:
2I believe John, before his exile on Patmos, used to visit the assemblies around Ephesus when he stayed there.
3A six mile long aqueduct brought Laodicea its supply of water from the south; the water came either from hot springs and was cooled to lukewarm or came from a cooler source and warmed up in the aqueduct on the way.
“I will spue thee out of My mouth”
The Lord's message to Laodicea is urgent: I am about to spue you out. “I will” means that it is going to happen quickly and surely.
The Lord Jesus speaks as the great Lover who does not find anything in Laodicea that can satisfy Him. Could we not conclude from this:
(1) that in Laodicea there were outward forms linked with Christianity but no real love for the Lord and
(2) therefore He gives them up, because there is no evidence that any remedy will work.
Thus our Lord also speaks as the Judge and how solemn this is! The book of Revelation presents Him as the Judge (Rev. 1), even over the whole universe (Rev. 20) but first of all over the house of God (Rev. 1-3; cp. 1 Peter 4:17). Furthermore He speaks as a Physician.4 The condition in Laodicea is acute and the patient is about to die. The words “I will” (meaning “I am about to”) may also be indicative of His soon coming and imply a last warning.
4God acts as a Physician with regard to the sinner in Romans 3:19f, and so does the Lord here with this assembly.
We will see more details about the Lord's qualities and the remedy He puts forward, but let us pause here for a moment. Even when there was apparently no response to the Lord, He presents Himself in His greatness (as Lover, Physician, Judge, etc.). Does this not suggest that the Lord was and is still waiting for a response? He will get it from a remnant, be it ever so small. The idea of a remnant is found many times in Scripture. Where the whole people of God fail, God continues in His sovereign grace with a remnant. This is true for Israel (e.g. Isa. 6:8-13; Isa. 10:21; Isa. 11:11; Haggai 1:12; Rom. 9-11) and it is true for the church. A remnant is not merely what is leftover, but represents what the whole people should have been and constitutes a link with what God gave originally.
Finally, I refer to Psalm 19:4-6. I suggest that the sun is a type of our Lord Jesus (cp. Mal. 4:2). In contrast to the lack of heat in the assembly at Laodicea the Lord Himself keeps His warmth and zeal. He is now glorified in heaven (God has placed Him there), and we may contemplate Him there in all His splendour (cp. the whole circuit the sun makes, Ps. 19:5ff). He really wants us to do just that, in order that we may receive light and warmth and be(come) zealous. A Christian with real love for the Lord “up there” in the glory, is a Christian with spiritual energy “down here.” Furthermore, nothing is hidden from His searching eyes, not even in Laodicea with its nice cover-ups. The Lord does not allow any compromise either. If there is one lesson to learn from this verse (Rev. 3:16) it is this: the Lord will not allow us to be His witnesses on our own terms; we have to be with Him on His terms.
What a contrast the Lord's mouth presents when compared with what the Laodiceans produced! From His mouth flow all sorts of blessings, for “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life” (Prov. 10:11). He cannot allow that we offer Him something that is not in agreement with that which comes from His mouth.
As a dependent Man He relied on God's mouth, the Giver and Sustainer of life (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). In His earthly ministry the Lord opened His mouth to teach and bless (Matt. 5:2ff). And as the Revealer of secrets He opened His mouth as foretold by the prophet (Matt. 13:35). Compare also the reference to Levi's mouth in Malachi 2:6ff as a type of Christ. In Luke 4:22 words of grace proceeded out of His mouth, revealing God in grace. Presently our Lord is crowned with glory and honour, and Ananias confirmed to Paul that he had been chosen to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice out of His mouth (Acts 22:14). How Paul drank in His voice and then dispensed from what he had received! In this he is a model for us, following at the same time the footsteps of the great Model.
However, from the same mouth proceeds judgment. He will execute Antichrist with the breath of His mouth (2 Thess. 2:8). In Revelation 1:16 John has a vision of the Lord as Judge and out of His mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword (v. 16). The Lord uses this first in relation to His church, in moral power against the opponents (Rev. 2:16), but also to smite the nations (Rev. 19:15). How it behoves us to be deeply impressed by His authority, in submitting ourselves to His claims. The introduction of Christ, at the very beginning of the book of Revelation, underlines the ongoing activities of the Holy Spirit on this earth, till the end of the dispensation, namely to glorify Christ (John 16:14).
A. E. Bouter.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
From Our Archive
The Revelation of the Father (5)
(Continued from page 174)
I want to come to the story in John chapter 20, hoping that we shall see in it a culmination of what I have said before in this series of addresses. The first great feature of this story is the simple, burning, quality of the love for the Lord Jesus that moved Mary Magdalene. What will keep us right? What will take our steps in the right direction? What will bring us to the right place in the end? It is love to the Lord Jesus Christ which will do this and make us obey Him.
It is not easy to reconcile the opening words of this chapter in John with the resurrection chapters in the other three Gospels. All we can say is that Mary Magdalene was on the scene first, so great was her personal affection for the Lord Jesus. Before it was light and before, possibly, she came with the others, she was at the place. And when she came and found that His body was gone, she went back to tell the other disciples. “They have taken away my Lord,” she said, and they came urgently enough, for they ran. But when they saw the evidence before their eyes that the body of the Lord Jesus wasn't there, they said, “He is risen from the dead.” They were satisfied and went home. Health and home satisfied them, but not Mary. Her heart was wrapped up in one object only and that was Himself. So she lingered at the scene where last He was visible and she was looking into the tomb when she heard the message from the angels, and then the Lord Jesus Himself spoke to her. She thought it was the gardener. Her whole heart was occupied with one Person. She didn't trouble to describe to the gardener who it was that she was concerned about. She simply said, “they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” She didn't stop to think she would be quite unable to carry the body of a dead man. She said, “You tell me where He is and I'll take Him away.” These were the simple marks of a most ardent and concentrated attention upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Then eventually we read that although she did not know Him, He said to her, “Mary.” He called His own sheep by name and she breathed out the reply, which isn't simply “My Master,” but “My own Master.” She simply breathed out the fact that she had found Him whom her soul loved and then and only then was her quest satisfied.
Now be assured that a love to the Lord Jesus Christ like this, that makes us all ashamed of ourselves when we read about it, is the one thing that will keep us right. It is the one thing that will make us linger day by day and year by year over His words so that we treasure them in our hearts. And if we treasure and keep His words, then we shall indeed live with Him and the Father whom He came to declare. I often think about the case of Elijah and Elisha. When the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “Do you realise that your master will be taken up from your presence today,” he declared his intention of following Elijah. Even Elijah tried to discourage him but he said, “as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.” The one thing that kept him going to the place where a double portion of Elijah's spirit fell upon him was this simple principle of keeping near to Elijah. And it is that love to the Lord Jesus Christ that keeps us cleaving closely to Him and to His Word which will bring us safe home to the desired haven in the end. Well, when this revelation of His identity was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, He gave Mary Magdalene a message for the disciples. This is rather astonishing considering He knew very well He was going to meet with them that same day. It must have been that this message would brook no delay: “go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” “Touch Me not,” He said, for He was going to ascend into heaven where He would be with His Father and Mary would be in a very new way bound up with Him there. I read into this the very culmination of the wonderful sequence of details regarding the revelation of the Father by the only begotten Son. He ever dwelt in the Father's bosom and came to make that love known. I have often reflected upon the difference between the Lord Jesus Christ saying, “the Father” and, “My Father.” When the Lord Jesus Christ says, “the Father,” He is referring not to the Father's relationship with us but to the only true God, the One who dwelt in all eternity as the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit. But when the Lord Jesus Christ says, “My Father,” in the original language it is “the Father of Me.” In other words it is not really a departure from the Lord Jesus saying, “the Father,” but He is drawing special attention to the fact that He Himself is the Son of the Father. In this particular place He is saying to them, “the Father who is Mine is now your Father.” He is saying that you and the disciples and all those who afterwards should believe in Me, are going to be wrapped up in the same bundle of life with the Father and the Son. What a culmination to all He had said to them! It takes us back to words uttered by Abigail at the end of the first book of Samuel, when she was dissuading David from the violence that would have been the deserts of Nabal. She said, “the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God.” Although such wonderful revelations had been made, there never was imagined such nearness to God as was contained in this message which the Lord Jesus gave to Mary. It is no longer the Father only but “My Father is your Father and My God is your God” and we are all wrapped up in the same bundle of life together. We have read how the Father's Name has been made known and has forever superseded, as the sun outshines the stars, the previous Names of Jehovah and El Shaddai. Is it possible that the majority of Christians never get a thought as to these details about the revelation by the Son of the Father? O yes, it is said in the Creed, “I believe in one God the Father.” But the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ has come to make known to us the secrets of that divine home of love; the fact that He has wrapped us up in the same bundle of life with the Father and the Son as a consequence of the work that He has done, this is a closed book to so many. O how privileged we are that these things have indeed been made known to us.
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to them of the Father's house. It was the place whereof the everlasting and unchanging benediction was the peace and the joy and the love that must ever surround Him, the Father. The Lord Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He had prepared them by His precious blood but He was going to heaven to prepare a place for them in the Father's house.
Now what did that message do? It assembled the disciples together. If you look back again at the story in verse 18 it says, “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things unto her. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” That message assembled them and in a certain and important aspect of the matter it created the assembly. Now, I wonder to what extent when we come together on the first day of the week in the Scripture pattern, it is something infinitely more than this, arising out of this fact that we are wrapped up in the same bundle of life with the Father and the Son. We have received that message and it has assembled us together and with the Lord in the midst we respond to Him. It is a very wonderful truth that we are reading here the fulfilment of the words in Psalm 22, when we come to the moment when the sorrow and the sob are over and the song of triumph begins. After those words of the Psalm which represent the resurrection cry, the Lord Jesus said, “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren.” I suggest that that promise, quoted in Hebrews, is fulfilled in this message sent by Mary Magdalene. He declared His Name unto His brethren, to those who were coming to share the life that belonged to that circle and who only on the resurrection side were made His brethren. It is in these words that the Lord's promise of the Psalm was fulfilled and then following that, “in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.”
In the pattern that John gives us, their mission to the world began immediately out of that gathering when they were assembled together by this message. He had shown them His hands and His side and there was in that the evidence of the identity of the Person who was there, with the Person who had suffered on the cross. I love to think of the loaf and the cup, of the Lord's Supper, being for us the marks in His hands and in His side. He showed them His hands and His side and their hearts were moved to respond to Him, and it was out of that gathering on the first day of the week that He said to them, “Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Overlooking for the moment the special nature of this remission that is spoken of, we can say very generally that out of their standing in peace there arises the mission to go out into all the world. We must never separate the wonderful disclosures we have been considering, and the real joy for the heart that basks in the love of the Father, from the fact that these men were soon to be found out on the mountains of this world with the gospel of peace. They were soon to be found turning the world upside down. They knew from John chapter 16 that there was at last a power in them and with them adequate to press the claims and to bring conviction to men and women of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only with our hearts set like this that we really are in the spirit of the gospel mission that has been committed to us and how we all pray that we might be more and more awakened to it. It is contained in the following extract which puts the thing very well: “The Father, eternal and infinite fountain of love, had sent the Son who abode in that love, who was the Witness of that love and of the peace which He, the Father, shed around Himself, where sin had no existence. Rejected in His mission, Jesus, for a world where sin did exist, made peace for all by His blood, and now sent His disciples from the bosom of that peace into which He had brought them by the remission of sins through His death, to preach it in the world, and He gave the Holy Spirit to this end.”
Now I would like to make a reference to an important feature of the things we are speaking about and that is that it is almost certain that many young Christians will say, “All this is perhaps all very well but it is beyond us.” Now I would like to say that there is a terrible danger here. I think that no one who knows me would accuse me of lack of sympathy with work amongst young people and seeking to instruct them in the things of God and reach them. But there is a terrible danger, not only in the meetings but everywhere, that young people are being encouraged to grow up with the idea that they can live their own fellowship and their own Christianity and that there is a special kind for them. Consequently, they churn over things at their own level and never get outside it, and they never will realise what lies ahead unless that outlook is replaced. By all means, let the young people gather together but let them never forget how the disciples continued with one accord, steadfastly, in all the functions of the assembly! You can add what you like to that but never let anyone think that the real functions of the assembly, the teaching of the apostles, as well as the breaking of bread and prayers, can be displaced. All the children of God of whatever age group should meet together like this and then bit by bit they will grow up into what really does lie ahead in growth in the Christian life, whereas if they spend all their time churning over together they will never get outside their own level. At the same time, of course, we who are older should do all that we possibly can to consider them and to help them and to speak in ways that they can all understand. Above all we should present them the humility and the meekness and the longsuffering with which we are enjoined to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit.
J. S. Blackburn.
This article concludes the series. Cassette recordings of the addresses are available from Mr. B. Wolfe, 2 Grafton Bank, Yetholm, Kelso, Roxburghshire, TD5 BS8, at a charge of £1 per tape plus postage.
Studies in the Book of Revelation (1)
(The Plumstead Conference, April 1995)
By way of an introductory remark it can be said that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). It is impossible rightly to take up any Scripture without having in mind the relationship of that Scripture to very many other Scriptures. For example, it is impossible to understand the section we shall be looking at without some knowledge of Daniel's prophecies, particularly the prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24-27), and other passages like Matthew 24.
The Lord has come once as the Saviour, almost two thousand years ago. He was crucified, accomplished the work of redemption, but is now in heaven. He shall return, for He has promised it. His second coming will have two phases. The first is the rapture, the parousia, when He will take His own into heaven. It will not be seen by the world and the world will not realise it happens. This takes place between Revelation 3 and Revelation 4 of Revelation. It is not directly mentioned because the approach the Spirit of God takes to events is different in Revelation. Then there will be a second stage of the Lord's second coming which is the epiphaneia, when the Lord comes back to earth with His saints. The first time He comes for His saints, the second time He comes with His saints in glory. In between those two stages of the Lord's second coming there will happen a series of events which essentially will take place in about seven years, though we don't know the precise time scale, and should not try to breach that secret. The seventh of the seven weeks — weeks of years — which will take place, is divided into two half-weeks, each of three and a half years. The distinction between the first three and a half years and the second three and a half years can be linked to that war in heaven referred to in Rev. 12:7 to 12. Michael the archangel and his angels will be warring against Satan and the fallen angels, and that will result in Satan being vanquished and thrown down to the earth and he will be furious. He knows that his days are numbered. This opens the last phases of the judgments. There will be another thing which happens at the same time. The image of the Roman beast will be set up in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, and this is the abomination which causes the desolation. The Jewish sacrifices and holy priestly service will be caused to cease. Those two events mark the beginning of the second half-week of Daniel (Dan. 9:27). I would think that the seals and the first trumpets take place in the first half-week of Daniel while the last part of the judgments, essentially the vials, will take place in the second half-week. I think the parenthesis of Revelation 7 takes place at least after the seals, but I would venture to say that the great tribulation is more in the second half-week of Daniel. And the second part of chapter 7 takes place after the tribulation because those saints have gone through the great tribulation and have been saved as the remnant of God. Chronologically it's very difficult to say.
I think it is important in these studies to leave room for differences of opinion and not to be too hard on one another if we do sometimes differ slightly in detail. Let's trust that the Lord will give us patience and that the Spirit will presently lead us into the position where we understand the Scripture a little better. For myself I think that the six seals are connected with the first half of Daniel's seventieth week and now we're coming to the more direct judgments which may possibly be connected with the introduction of the second half of that week.
Last night reference was made to the “beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:8) as covering the first three and a half years of the last remaining week, and the setting up of the abomination of desolation as characterising the second half of that last week. I agree that here we are perhaps towards the end of the first half of Daniel's remaining week.
We might ask why the Holy Spirit did not put these things in a different way in the book of Revelation so that we can be sure how they will happen. But then our hearts would be occupied with events and not with a Person. In the paintings by Rembrandt you can see in the centre a very clear picture but away from the centre it is much darker and less clear. This was done with a purpose because Rembrandt wanted to fix our eyes on the centre of the picture. We have the same principle in the book of Revelation. The Holy Spirit wants to fix our hearts on the spiritual centre of the book of Revelation because it is the testimony of Jesus.
I think that the purpose of this book is also to teach us the thoughts of God, how He is governing the earth and people, how He is acting with His saints, and all these things have a moral basis. When we say that we are not to be harsh on one another about the chronology of events it is because God is not so much interested in chronology and history, but He has to educate our minds and spirits according to the Word of God and this is very important. We have to focus on the Lord, but also to consider more generally His ways and thoughts and acts. There are things that we ought not to be harsh about, such as this question of the two half-weeks, but there are other things that we ought to hold to. I mean for example the distinction between the rapture and the appearing. It is clear that in the religious world, even the evangelical world, there is a strong tendency to refuse this distinction. Yet this distinction is very important because first of all it is the basis of the hope we have in waiting for the Lord. At the same time it shows that the world is bad and going on to judgment. There is hope for us but not for the world. This is based upon the distinction between the two parts of the Lord's second coming. This distinction also implies the fact that the flesh, the old nature, is definitely bad and cannot be improved. That is why the world is going to the judgment and is growing worse and worse because no improvement of the flesh is possible. The religious world cannot admit this so they prefer to think that the world probably will be improved in some way and that we are to contribute to this improvement. But having our hope in the heavens and not in an earthly improvement then we are not going to contribute to the policy of the world.
In dealing with these chapters in Revelation we also need sound dispensational teaching and the heart of that is that there is a distinction between the church and Israel.
It is very important to make that distinction. Not only because of the doctrine itself but because if we don't make the distinction the expectation of the imminent coming of the Lord Jesus will be lost. Some teach that the coming of the Lord for His church is after other events, such as the tribulation or other things. But if we keep this distinction clearly before us then our hearts will be warmed up by the realisation that the Lord Jesus can come today.
There is an absolute distinction which is marked clearly between Revelation 3 and the following chapters. At this moment there is only one body of Christ comprising all redeemed ones from the nations and from Israel, as God's heavenly people. The double reference to Israel's national position as presently under judgment is, “not My people” and “no mercy.” But God will begin His relationship with Israel again, through the tribulation, through sorrows, through sufferings, and finally introduce Israel into blessing. That is another part of God's dealings, but not a present part of them.
The apostle says in Romans 11 that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved.” At this point in the book of Revelation “the fulness of the Gentiles” has come in. When the Lord takes the assembly away that will be the end of the fulness of the Gentiles and God will begin to work again with His people Israel.
Up to Revelation 3 we are seeing the church on earth carrying God's testimony. In Revelation 4 and 5 we are caught up to heaven and we enter upon a heavenly scene. In Revelation 7 we come back to events on earth. We see saints, having God's life and in relation with God's throne, but they are on earth, not in heaven. The distinction is extremely important.
Our Lord will come for His church and we shall be with Him for ever. The parenthesis of chapter 7 shows us that afterwards there will be people who have not heard the gospel of grace but who will hear the gospel of the kingdom. We see numbers of persons here after the rapture of the church who will obtain the salvation which belongs to our God. However, those professors of the Christian faith who have perhaps often heard the gospel but have never really believed will no longer have the opportunity to do so.
“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11-12). Those people who have refused to accept the truth no longer have the opportunity to do so. It is not those people who are referred to in chapter 7 of Revelation, but in chapters 6 and 7 the Spirit of God teaches us about several different companies of believers. In Revelation 6, in connection with the fifth seal, we find those souls under the altar who are the first post-Christian martyrs. They are counselled to have patience until they are joined by those who will know martyrdom during the great tribulation, and they form the second company of believers. Then there will be the sealed ones in the beginning of chapter 7. Then the multitude from amongst the nations in the second half of chapter 7, the fourth company.
A fifth company is also found in Revelation 14: the hundred and forty four thousand from Judah and Benjamin on mount Zion. So we have five companies of believers connected with the earth who have the Lord Jesus as their Saviour and eternal life.
One of the outstanding encouragements in reading the book of Revelation is to find that God has many other companies apart from the church. The church may have the chief place, the near place, but it isn't everything, and if we go through this book there are various companies God picks for Himself, for His own joy and heart.
It is a very important principle that God always secures what is for Himself before judgment falls. This is exemplified right from the beginning. For example, Noah is taken into the ark before the flood comes and Lot is taken out of Sodom and Gomorrah before the cities are destroyed. The firstborn in Egypt are covered by the blood before the avenging angel goes through the land. Israel is taken through the Red Sea before the Egyptians perish. In New Testament times a remnant according to grace is saved: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation,” before the judgment falls with Titus in AD 70. Sometimes, in our contacts with Christians, we find those who are in doubt as to whether the church will go through the tribulation. There should be no question about this for He will save us from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole habitable world. That is in accord with God's principle at all times that He secures what is for Himself before the judgment falls, and we are going to find this again in this chapter. From among the Jews first and then the Gentiles, God secures for Himself that which is for His own pleasure.
We can summarise this principle from Habakkuk 3 verse 2, “in wrath” He “remember(s) mercy.” We find a similar situation in Ezekiel 9. “And the Lord said to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry, for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (Ezek. 9:4). We have the same thing here in our chapter in Revelation 7. Before the devilish power (“the... winds,” — Rev. 7:1) has been loosed upon the earth there is a company which is sealed. In Revelation 9 verse 4 we read that “it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” So we may conclude that with the seal we have here the idea of the property, the ownership, of God, and it has also the meaning of security. If God has put His seal upon a man and it is clear for everybody, it is in their foreheads, then even these devilish powers will not touch them. We have the same thing in our times in 2 Timothy 2:19, “The Lord knoweth them that are His,” and we are sealed, not by external things, but with the Holy Spirit, which He has given unto us (Eph. 1; 2 Cor. 1:22).
When the Lord comes the believers of the church period will be raptured. We will leave the earth and the Spirit will come with us. His presence on earth is one of the two points mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2 as to why the wave of evil is restrained. So the seal or mark after the church period is not exactly the same as the Holy Spirit but it is something which constitutes God's mark. Ezekiel 9 shows that it is exactly the opposite of the mark of the beast. People will accept the mark of the beast to survive and that is the opposite of faith. This has a very important bearing for us now. Are we going to accept any touch of the world at this moment? No, we should not, regardless of the price we have to pay.
In Revelation 14 the seal is collectively the Name of the Lamb and the Name of the Father.
Notice it is “the Name of His Father” (J. N. D. Trans.). This earthly company hasn't got the same relationship that we enjoy in the assembly today.
It is also in keeping with the fact that the saints are regarded as servants in this book. John is a servant, and even the place that the Lord takes is a subject place in the book of Revelation. Therefore you don't get anything said about “Our Father” as you have, say, in John 20. In verse 2 there is a reference to the angel ascending from the east. In the New Translation it is from “the sunrising.” Does that show that before we start to think about these terrible judgments, God has the end in view? We are familiar with the words in Malachi 4:2, “the Sun of righteousness (shall) arise with healing in His wings.” Victory is assured. Is it not blessed to see that the end is sure and certain? “He (shall) bring forth judgment unto victory” (Matt. 12:20).
The very first mention of the east is in Genesis chapter 2 where we read that Eden was planted “eastward.” It would seem that when man was placed on the earth God still had another world in view. And there is One in power, the Sun of righteousness, who is going to accomplish all that was in God's mind from the beginning.
In Mark's Gospel it says that the women came to the tomb and it was the sunrising. There was a new day beginning on the other side of death. John says (1 John 2:8), “because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” Here in Revelation 7 we are nearing the fulness of the rising of the sun.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
News from the Field
The State of St Lucia
This is a Caribbean island between Martinique and St Vincent:
Area 619 sq. km
Capital Castries, Urbanisation 60%
Language The official language is English but a French “Patois” and Creole are widely used.
Until 1803 this island was French. Towards the end of the last century carpenters from Barbados preached the gospel and an assembly was formed at Castries.
Visits of brethren from elsewhere have helped in the establishment of the few brothers and sisters. In 1948 a fearful fire destroyed four-fifths of the town, but the meeting room was spared. Several brothers who were unemployed found work as carpenters. Brethren from other islands continue to visit this little witness amidst a predominantly Catholic population. The brethren are active in assembly meetings, evangelism, Sunday school work, literature distribution and run a bookstore.
On 13th September 1995 we received a letter from Albert Sandy, who works for the Lord on the island, giving us some welcome news:
“Greetings in the exalted Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, for whom we wait from heaven. It cannot be too long before the Great God, our Saviour, comes to rapture His waiting bride away. What a glorious day that will be!
Thanks, brother, for your letter regarding the books you posted to me for use among the saints here. The post was rather quick. One box was received on the 22nd of August, one day before I proceeded to the Bible Camp in Trinidad. I attempted to respond to your correspondence then, but realised that all the books you mailed had not yet arrived. I'll be checking the Post Office in that respect. The booklet on the Sonship of Christ (by W.R. Dronsfield) deals with a current subject here, also on the Trinity, so that will be most timely. I'll let you know the outcome. The books received were distributed freely to the local saints. May the Lord enlighten and encourage the readers.
The assembly at Castries is growing by God's grace. In the past 3 months eight took their place at the Lord's table and break bread. About four were baptised. Outreach work has its yield, some six steadfast young people, five of whom have been to Barbados and St. Vincent for Bible camp this summer. We value your prayers for preservation of the momentum at present, that we may be ever watchful and standing against all the enemy's attacks and wiles, in submission to God and all peacefulness among saints. Please do pray. While in Trinidad I spent some time with brother Mornix. He is doing fine but the meetings there need much prayer. Some young promising believers are being nurtured, but the business of Satan is evident. They need much prayer.
I have recently been looking for CHM's book on evangelization (letters to a friend of his, sharing his concern regarding attitudes of the Lord's people on the subject). How blessed to look and live for Him who will soon come and take His rightful place in this ungodly world. Even so come Lord Jesus.”
On 3rd October we received a second letter:
“...... another 3 boxes have arrived and were cleared with the balance of the books. Books received are Bibles, “The Son of God,” “The Church Infiltrated” and many others. Thanks again, dear brother, we greatly appreciate this. We will make the books available to the beloved saints. Some of these titles may also be used in our outreach in the countryside.
We pray that through the help of these books and ministry, lives will continue to be enhanced. Do pray for the work here continually. Convey our love and greetings to the beloved saints of frequent contact with you.”
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Area 389 sq. km
Capital Kingston, Urbanisation 35%
The gospel was brought to this island by brethren from Barbados and by brother William Glover, who arrived from Guyana about 1862 to set up in business. In 1896 a brother from England, Mr. E. B. Dolamore, a good friend of William Kelly, settled at Kingstown to serve the Lord and remained for 15 years. In 1930 brother W. H. Sewell from England and brother A. C. Pilgrim from Barbados devoted several weeks to visiting the assemblies. By God's grace and the visits of brethren from the adjoining islands and elsewhere, the assemblies have been strengthened. At present they number 10. The brethren are active in assembly meetings, conferences, Bible camps, evangelism, children's and youth work outreach, literature distribution and they also run a bookstore.
On 8th September 1995 we received a brief letter from brother Pieter Boom, working for the Lord on this island:
“Thank you very much for the parcel with literature and Bibles. They are very welcome here for distribution. Everything arrived in good order. We thank the Lord for the service Chapter Two provides and trust that He will use His Word for the building up of our 10 assemblies here (some are very small and weak). Please ask the brethren to pray for the assemblies here and for us, that the Word may prosper.”