Ten Visions of Christ Triumphant
Part 1 The Ascension
The ten visions of Christ triumphant are contained within the scope of that mystic allegory penned by John the Apostle under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and entitled the "Apokalupsis"—the unveiling or the Revelation. The Book as a whole depicts the conflict between good and evil, between the powers of Heaven and the powers of this world, between Christ the Lord and Satan the Adversary, commencing from the time of our Lord’s First Advent and culminating at the end of the Millennial Age when evil has been forever banished and "every thing that hath breath (shall) praise the LORD." (Psa.150:6) Within this whole assemblage of vivid pictures and highly coloured scenes there shine out like jewels these ten tableaux, each delineating the characteristics of one or another aspect of our Lord’s office and work during this period. Five of the pictures relate to the results of his First Advent and five to those of his Second. Between them all they afford an absorbing presentation of what happened, is happening, and will happen in the unseen world after Christ had risen from the dead and ascended into the presence of the Father, throughout this present Age, and until his promised return is fully accomplished and He is the acknowledged King and Shepherd of our terrestrial creation for the purpose of reconciling all, of all generations, who can be reconciled, to the Father, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor.15:28)
The writer to the Hebrews was inspired to a rare level of insight when he penned the immortal words "We see Jesus." (Heb.2:9) He was not talking of the physical. The disciples before him had seen Jesus physically for three and a half years, and standing on Olivet they saw him still, ascending visibly before their eyes until the cloud received him out of their sight and they saw him no more. They never set eyes upon him again; yet they continued to see him to the end of their days. We who live now, who have never seen him in the flesh, see him by the eye of the mind, and we see him, not so much in manlike form as was his appearance in the towns and villages of Judea and Galilee, but in the guise of his activities and his work, his ministration, and execution of the Father’s purposes, as they are revealed to us in the Scriptures. "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more." (2 Cor.5:16 ASV) And therefore these pictures in the Book of Revelation reveal to us Christ, not as He was, but as He is, and as He will be.
So we come to Vision One, which starts at the beginning and tells of the death and resurrection of Christ. But not as those momentous events were seen by man. That aspect had already been recorded by men who were there at the time, set down as sober history in plain, unvarnished words. When we read those narratives we do so against the scenery and background of this material world and we can visualise the scenes very much as they would appear before our own natural eyes were we also witnesses. Here in the Revelation the story is related from the viewpoint of an observer on the other side of the vail, and for that reason has to be described in the guise of symbol and allegory so that we can understand.
"There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." (Rev.12:1) A woman, standing resplendent in the full radiance of the sun behind and around her, her feet resting upon the moon, and twelve stars of heaven woven together to form a scintillating crown set upon her head. Here is fulfilment of prophecy and a clear exposition of Scripture doctrine. The promise to Eve in Eden was that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. Here in Rev.12 we have the opening scene of the enthralling drama the culmination of which is the achievement of that promise. Here are the Woman, the Seed, and the Serpent.
This twelfth chapter is set at the time of the First Advent. The Woman is Israel; not the hard‑hearted, unbelieving apostate generation which was inhabiting Judea and Galilee when Jesus lived on earth, but the ideal Israel of which the prophets had spoken, the faithful "remnant" which God had promised to preserve throughout the generations until Christ should come. That remnant was represented in Jesus’ day by all those "that looked for redemption (deliverance) in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38), and it was of this "remnant," the true Israel, that the seed which is Christ (Gal.3:16), the Messiah, came. So, in Rev.12, the Woman, the true Israel, in the fulness of time gave birth to the Man‑child who is destined, in his Millennial reign, to rule all nations with a "rod of iron" (literally, to shepherd all nations with a shepherding club; the Eastern shepherd carried a shebet, an iron club with which to beat a way for the flock through undergrowth and to defend the sheep from the attacks of wild beasts).
But the serpent was waiting. The great red dragon stood before the Woman to devour her child as soon as it was born. The serpent‑dragon is a symbol of Satan, the archenemy of God and man. (It should be noted that in mediaeval English of the time that the A.V. was produced "serpent" and "dragon" were synonymous words and either in the A.V. has the same meaning.) The idea of the dragon as the embodiment of the prince of evil goes back to very ancient times—even to the story of the Garden of Eden. The pagan temple of Marduk in Babylon was guarded by eight gigantic sirussu, dragons made of burnished copper (the ruddy colour of which gives rise to the "red" dragon here). The power of Satan at the time of our Lord’s birth was manifested through the force of paganism, for Rome ruled the world and Rome was wedded to paganism, the worship of false gods. All the enemies of the man‑child were pagan or supporters of pagan Rome—Pilate, the priests, Herod—they all served Caesar and Caesar was the embodiment and representative of paganism. It was this pagan power which accomplished the death of the "then Christ Jesus."
But the seed was not destroyed! "The dragon stood before the woman...to devour her child as soon as it was born...and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne." (Rev.12:4‑5) How much there is in Scripture to tell us of that great truth! Peter, speaking on the Day of Pentecost, boldly declared "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36) The fundamental requirement of God’s redemptive Plan had been satisfied—the seed of the Woman according to Edenic promise, the seed of Abraham according to promise, the scion (heir) of the house of David according to promise, the Lion of the tribe of Judah according to promise, all have been fulfilled in the person and in the triumphant resurrection of the Lord Christ. The dragon had been frustrated and henceforth, though still active, his ultimate destiny was sealed. Christ had ascended to the right hand of God, there to wait, as the writer to the Hebrews says, until the time comes for his enemies to be made his footstool.
From this point the vision of Rev.12 goes on to speak of other things, of the efforts put forth by the Dragon to retain his power and inflict grievous harm upon those who in after days would become servants of and followers of the man‑child. Not until the end of the Book of Revelation is the Dragon finally disposed of and by that time the whole of the Ten Visions have appeared and given their testimony and run their course.
Vision Two shows something of what happened after the man‑child had been caught up unto the throne of God. It reveals the scene in Heaven itself when the triumphant Redeemer returned to the heavenly sphere after his sojourn on earth. "It became him" says the writer to the Hebrews in Heb.2:10 "to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." That is the basis of the heavenly acclamation which greeted the Lord of glory on his entry into his spiritual home. "Thou art worthy" they sang "thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." (Rev.5:9) The whole of Revelation chapters 4 to 6 enshrines what is known as the Throne scene, in which the Almighty himself is depicted holding high court in Heaven to receive and applaud the victorious Christ returning from earth, having triumphed over death and the grave. And because of this triumph he is pronounced worthy to open the book of the future and break the seven seals which kept closed its pages, that He might become the Executor of the Divine Plan and go forth to set in motion and control those forces which are to influence and direct the events of the ensuing world‑age. "The Lion of the Tribe of Juda, the Root of David," one of the elders sang "hath prevailed, to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." (Rev.5:5) And angels to the number of millions of myriads answered back "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." (Rev.5:12)
So the triumphant Lord took the Book of the Future out of the hand of the Almighty seated upon the Throne, and began to break the seals, one after another. That book was the prophetic record of the Gospel Age, then about to open, an advance written history of events which had not yet taken place. Herein was depicted all those things—wars, famines, pestilences; evangelism, martyrdom and finally world judgment—which the Lord had mercifully hidden from the minds of his disciples during that memorable conversation on the Mount of Olives when they had asked him for the signs of his return. "Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars" He had said, "and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes...but the end is not yet." (Matt.24:6‑7) Long years afterward when John, sitting on the rocky shore of Patmos, beheld this vision, he may have understood more clearly what those words portended. Here in Rev.5, at any rate, we have a clear picture of the triumphant Lord taking the book and breaking the seals in succession, revealing the hidden pictures inside, pictures delineating things which must surely come to pass during that long term of years which in the wisdom of God must elapse before the Lord could return to earth to complete the work of world conversion and reconciliation.
Do we see in this vision of the progressively opening book with all its varied scenes a kind of heavenly conference in which all that was destined to come to pass was as it were laid out in detail and discussed, and the time scale determined, that the Lord might know exactly what was to intervene before He must leave the celestial realm for the second time to come to earth. Jesus did plainly tell his disciples just before his death that "of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels…in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." (Mark 13:32) Was it at this supreme heavenly session that the secret was imparted to our Lord and that with this book in his hand, He knew, at last, both the day and the hour?
The opening of the book was at least a revelation to the bystander, for John, beholding the vision, was also able to see what was in the book and what he saw is recorded in his sixth chapter. The events and the order of the events followed very closely, albeit perhaps in greater detail, the outline Jesus gave his disciples when giving them the signs betokening his Advent, prior to his death. First came the rider on the white horse with crown and bow, the primitive evangelism of the infant church going out in the power of its commission to teach all nations, and its conquest of paganism three centuries later; then the red horse of war, followed by the black horse of famine and the ghastly horse of pestilence—war, famine, pestilence, the three devastating forces of the Age predicted by Jesus. After that the cries of the martyrs, suffering for their faithfulness to the cause of Christ, and finally the great earthquake and universal confusion of the cataclysmic conclusion to the Age when the rule of man utterly collapses and the way is open for the Son of Man to appear and take the Kingdom. All that, and perhaps more, was shown in the pictures revealed by the opening of the sealed book and perhaps it was from the time of this heavenly session at which such momentous happenings were foreseen that it can be said the history of the Gospel Age actually began.
What does this vision teach us? Does it not make plain that the events of this Gospel Age are under the control of the Son of Man himself? "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." (John 5:22) "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matt.28:18) The work of the Lord is with the development of his Church during this Age. We know that. The Age is set aside for the calling out and the perfecting of this "people for God’s Name" (Acts 15:14) and until that work is finished the Lord’s work on behalf of mankind in general cannot commence. We know that also, and since all this is in the hands of the Son, and He is our High Priest and our Shepherd, it would seem from this chapter that He has control over the course of the Age and the events of the Age and all that has to do with the Age, that He might bend all things in this Age and in this world to serve the one great purpose of this Age—the development and perfecting of the Church. That seems to be the spiritual meaning behind this vision of the sealed book. The Lord controls the sending out of the white horse of evangelism, the red horse of war, the black horse of famine, and the ghastly horse of pestilence. He watches over the souls of the martyrs and holds them safely in the sleep of death until the time for their resurrection, and He so overrules earth’s political and social affairs that the time of judgment that is to conclude the Age comes to its climax neither too soon nor too late, but just at the time fore‑ordained by God. No wonder the angels sang "Worthy is the Lamb...to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." (Rev.5:12)
This then is the scene in heaven, enduring through the Gospel Age as the Lamb breaks one seal after another, revealing to angels and men alike what is to come next. To the extent that these mystic happenings can be related to mankind’s ideas of time all this has to be placed during the ten days intervening between the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, for at that latter time the next vision in sequence takes the stage, the office of our Lord as High Priest, Counsellor, Shepherd, Guide and Helper to the Church from beyond the vail. The third vision, that of our Lord among the lampstands, recorded in Revelation chapters 1 to 3 and picturing his Age‑enduring care for his Church, pictures this.
To be continued