Ten Visions of Christ Triumphant
Part 2. Vision 3 — "I am with you"
The first part of this exposition showed chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as picturing the birth of Jesus, the "Man‑child" who ascended into Heaven and the presence of the Father despite the enmity of the Devil, followed by the vision of chapters 4 and 5 in which the risen Christ opens the Book of the future and reveals what is to happen during the Age which interposes between his First and Second Advents. Now the story passes on to the third vision.
This third vision is of such surpassing interest and importance, that it is given the honour of first place in the Book of Revelation. From the 10th verse of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 3 the majestic picture unfolds, the picture of the spiritual presence of the Church’s High Priest in the midst of the successive generations of his Church. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Age)" was his promise. (Matt.28:20) On the eve of his death He assured his disciples that his presence would be with them in the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16‑18 and 16:7‑16) "I will not leave you orphans" He said; "I will come to you." (John 14:18 margin) Here in Rev.1 to 3 is the symbolic tableau depicting that coming and that presence. The wonderful manner in which so many different symbols are assembled together to inculcate the lesson of our Lord’s constant watchcare over the members of his Church has been a comfort and strength to Christians in all ages.
The presentation here is one of Christ, resurrected and glorified but still bearing the indications of past humiliation and suffering, ministering to the needs of all those who in every century of this Age have become his faithful followers. Says John, alerted by the Divine Voice from heaven (Rev.1:10‑11) "I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the seven lampstands one like unto the Son of man." (vv.12‑13 margin) John had known Jesus in the flesh as the Son of Man, and he also knew of the prophetic Son of Man seen by Daniel in the vision of the Last Judgment, a majestic king coming in the clouds of heaven into the presence of God to receive his Kingdom. This was the same Son of Man, but the setting was different. This was not Jesus as the Man of Nazareth, neither was he the victorious king of Daniel. The Son of Man in the vision which appeared to John was arrayed as a Priest, and He is shown in the act of ministering as a Priest. That is evident, for He stands within a circle of lampstands, indicative of Temple and Tabernacle ritual, and only a Priest could enter the sacred apartment in which the seven‑branched lampstand gave its light, and only the Priest might tend those lamps that they continue to give their light to all in that apartment—and in Levitical ritual only the under‑priests could enter that apartment and those under‑priests are representative of the Church of this Age, no one else. So in this vision the resurrected Lord stands ready to minister Divine light and life, Divine favour and blessing, to those who are consecrated with him and to him in the service of God. When John saw that awesome yet radiantly splendid figure he knew that he was witnessing the fulfilment of words he had heard while Jesus was still with them "I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you."
But He was no priest of the Aaronic order. The garments in which He was arrayed were not those with which John was familiar in connection with Aaron, and the characteristics of glory, power and wisdom which are evident are not characteristic of the sacrificing and dying priesthood of Aaron. The writer to the Hebrews gives a clue to the understanding of this vision. "They" (the Aaronic priests) "truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:" (each priest died at length and had to be succeeded by another) "but this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood." (Heb.7:23‑24) The Priest we see in the first chapter of Revelation is one who continues to all eternity, the minister of a Priesthood which will never pass away, unlike that of Aaron which did come to an end when the time for sacrifice and offering had ended. This Priest is one like unto Melchisedek, the royal priest of the days of Abraham, a Priest upon his throne, ruling and ministering Divine favour eternally. Because of that He is able to minister in power to his faithful ones and execute judgment upon the unfaithful. Therefore this One who claims "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (ch.1:18) has the white hair of maturity, the flaming eyes of penetrating insight, the voice of many waters in its oversweeping gentleness reaching into the recesses of every heart. His feet, like brilliant molten metal in the furnace, are burning with zeal to set out on the great work amongst mankind for which He suffered and died. The two‑edged sword issuing from his mouth is one of piercing truth, the truth of God, illuminating the minds of his own, and one of swift and unerring judgment upon his adversaries. His countenance, like unto the sun shining at meridian day, brings to mind the prediction of Malachi, who promised that the Sun of righteousness would arise with healing in his wings—the sunbeams of the rising sun. (Mal.4:2) The full glory of the Divine presence is now spiritually manifest to all whose minds are receptive to the influence of the Holy Spirit. All these things are characteristic of the present manifestation of our risen Lord to his Church.
This great High Priest is our shepherd. In all the affairs of daily life He is at our side, ministering and helping, sustaining and strengthening, exhorting and encouraging; and when it is necessary reproving and chastening. That is one of the great lessons of these celebrated messages to the seven churches in Asia. It is usually and rightfully held that this long passage in chapters 2 and 3 with its seven‑fold exhortation is intended primarily to picture the condition of the Church in this world throughout the entire Christian Age, a compendium of seven successive periods of church history, each period manifesting its own particular characteristics, its own virtues and failings, and our Lord’s particular commendation or reproof for each. But in a quite distinct and separate field of thought, it is undeniable that these messages also contain valuable instruction applicable to the believers in any and every generation from Pentecost onwards, to the end. All of these messages are for each and every one of us and contain valuable counsel and encouragement, coming to us as such from our Lord himself.
So John, listening to the majestic voice of his exalted visitant, represents the entire Church upon earth, of all generations, in communion with the One who had promised to be with us always to the end of the Age, receiving that spiritual guidance and instruction which only our risen Lord can give. This is the background of the vision and the messages to the seven churches are for our acceptance and our benefit.
The first message is that to the church at Ephesus, not much more than twenty years old when these words were uttered. "Repent, and do the first works." (Rev.2:5) Repentance is the first stage in our progress towards God. It is a continuing demand too. We need first to repent and come to God in loyal submission, accepting Jesus the Saviour in our hearts and lives, being justified by faith in him and in his redemptive work. Only after this can we take the further step of consecration and dedication of life to God which alone can give us entry into the communion and community of the Church on earth. Appropriately enough, therefore, repentance is the first exhortation. But here in Revelation 2 the Ephesians were already disciples and had already passed that first stage. The repentance to which they were exhorted was a repentance for short‑comings and failures in their Christian lives. That is necessary for Christians of later times also. The fact that "if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1), does not remove the necessity for sincere repentance for failings and shortcomings, once one’s eyes have been opened to them. This Ephesian message is timely for all.
The second message is equally certainly the second step of the Christian life, that of consecration. This is where the outcome of a consecrated life maintained to the end is simply stated. "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Rev.2:11) which, taken in conjunction with the Divine principle that death is the inevitable end of the irrevocably unregenerate, is just another way of saying that the overcomer will achieve immortality. The primary exhortation comes in Rom.12:1‑2 "I beseech you therefore, brethren...that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice (offering)…your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind..." This is the commencement of a Christian life which may involve hardship, persecution, or suffering according to the conjunction of outward circumstances in the individual case; but even if so, the message comes as it did to the early church at Smyrna, "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer...be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (ch.2:10) That phrase has become a kind of watchword to Christians of every period in history; it stands as the epitome of the course and consequence of a consecrated life pursued consistently and unflinchingly to the end. This is an encouragement and a promise of the outcome of consecration faithfully maintained. As such, it is a message to all at any time in the Church’s history.
Logically one would expect the third message, that to the Church at Pergamos, to dwell upon the conditions of the consecrated life, the process of sanctification. That word means "to make holy" and it implies the whole continuing process in life whereby the believer is being "made…meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col.1:12) Turning aside from the rather theological tone of the expression and its supporting texts, sanctification really means being made like Christ and this is the purpose and aim of the Christian life. That implies a turning away from much of the aims and ideals and interests of this world in preference for the things of the Spirit, and this, it would seem, is where many in the Church at Pergamos had failed. They held the doctrine of Balaam, who minded earthly things, and were not completely separated and cleansed from those things of this world which are deleterious and antagonistic to Christian progress. So there was the call to
repent of these things, and reform, or judgment—the two‑edged sword—would come. But some there were who had held fast and not denied the name of Christ, and these were approved. It is a solemn thought that the preference for the things of this world over the things of God is a denial of Christ’s Name, but so it is. The one who takes to himself the Name of Christ does so in full knowledge of the dictum "as he is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17) and must needs pursue the same course and live the same life and be devoted to the same ends. Jesus was no ascetic, but he was completely and utterly devoted to the Will of his Father. Whatsoever He did was done to the glory of God. Those who assume the name of Christ must lead the same life and manifest the same standards. This is the essence of the Christian calling.
The fourth message is a warning against false teachers. Thyatira was not and is not the only Church to suffer from that scourge. We suffer from it still in our own days. It has always been true that grievous wolves enter in among the Lord’s sheep, not sparing the flock. The pity of it all is that the position is so often tolerated. They did in Thyatira. "Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants." (Rev.2:20) One would have thought that if the splendour of the vision of the Lord in the midst of the lampstands, ministering to his Church, was properly appreciated, false teachers would be quickly recognised and rejected. It is not so; perhaps it is because the spiritual things are seen dimly at best and the earthly and carnal things so much more plainly by contrast. It is always difficult to divorce Christian standards from everyday worldly ethics, as witness the problem so many sincere Christians have in accepting Jesus’ exhortation to love one’s enemies, or the enthusiasm with which a converted military officer or film star or noted athlete is hailed and prominently featured just because of the outward appeal of the military rank or the screen or sporting world fame. These things have to be faced as facts and we all do well to learn that erroneous doctrinal teaching is not the only kind of false teaching in our midst and may not even be the most dangerous.
In the (fifth) message to Sardis there is the pitiable spectacle of a Christian community which has so far lost its first love that it is spiritually dead. It still retains the name of Christian, but that is all of Christianity that it has left. There is little that even the Lord can do. He can only exhort to awakening, to repentance, to a revival of their early enthusiasm, to a fresh attempt to attain true unity with himself. The Lord does not seem very sanguine; "if therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." (ch.3:3) That sounds suspiciously like the unhappy and hopeless situation of unheeding man in the days of the ending of the Age. "As it was in the days of Noah, they knew not, until the Flood came and took them all away, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man." (Matt.24:37‑39[Author’s translation]) The same fault, the same ending. The message of Sardis is one that calls us to be watchful and hold fast that which we have. "I will come on thee as a thief," (Rev.3:3) silently, unobtrusively, and yet surely and with a terrible finality. The same words are applied very definitely to the time of our Lord’s Second Advent and come with redoubled force to those who believe they are living in that period; "ye know neither the day nor the hour—therefore be ye also ready." (Matt.25:13; 24:44) The life of sanctification, of setting apart to the purposes of God, is one that demands continual watchfulness lest at any time the believer lets slip the things that he has seen and heard.
One of the most vital factors in Christian fellowship is stressed in the next message, that to Philadelphia. That factor is brotherly love. The word Philadelphia means "brotherly love" and it is significant that the Church in this city is the one to which the Lord gave his greatest commendation. Christians are members one of another, and all are members of Christ. "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience" He says "I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation." (ch.3:10) Is it because we learn well this lesson, our fellow‑membership in the Divine family, that we are immune in the hour of trial? Not because God interposes in some miraculous manner, but simply because those who live their lives in the fellowship and love of their brethren, always ready to "lay down their lives for the brethren," (1 John 3:16) have thereby developed a character and an outlook that is proof against the destroying influences of time, of disappointment, of disillusionment? "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." (1 John 3:14) That is no empty phrase. Entrance into this family relationship in Christ infuses a vitality that has power to withstand much that would otherwise corrupt and destroy. The sure knowledge that we love the brethren and are loved by them yields a grace and strength which is of inestimable value in the life, leading to breadth of vision and a tolerance of the weaknesses of others, making each one more and more a child of the Father in heaven and more fitted for the Church’s future work of service for all mankind.
So to the final word, that to Laodicea. As might be expected, this is a personal word to each one. Many have fallen by the wayside; their love has grown cold. Others are in that indeterminate position, neither hot nor cold. None of these are of any use to the Lord in the purpose He has for the Church. That august body must be composed of sincere, true‑hearted ones who have remained faithful through all the vicissitudes of life and at life’s end are found ready, "called, and chosen, and faithful." (Rev.17:14) The rest He must reject; whatever station in the eternal state they may attain hereafter, they are manifestly unfitted for the High Calling of the Christian Church. But for those who have maintained their loyalty the position is vastly different. All the long progress from repentance through consecration and the sanctification of Christian life, all the experiences with false teachers and holding fast to the faith, leading up to the heights of brotherly love with those who are the true‑hearted disciples of Jesus, bring us at the end to the position where we recognise the knocking of Jesus at the door of our hearts and with rejoicing we open the door and let him in. Like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, we learn to walk with Jesus and then to sup with him "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Rev.3:20)
The climax of our understanding of this vision of the Son of Man in the midst of the lampstands is reached when we appreciate that in this Age He is working within our hearts. He wants to come in, and make of each one of us a new creation, all glorious and perfect within, that He may at the end present us faultless before the glory of the Father’s presence with exceeding joy.
To be continued
Vision 1 ‑ Rev.12:1‑6
Vision 2 ‑ Rev.5:5‑14
Vision 3 ‑ Rev.1:10‑3:22
Vision 4 ‑ Rev.8
Vision 5 ‑ Rev.14