The Lord from Heaven - 9 - THE TESTIMONY OF THE REVELATION

 

To the man of the world the Bible may seem to be merely a chance collection of religious writings, but the spiritual Christian finds abundant proofs of its "hidden harmony" and organic unity. The book of Genesis is, as it were, its opening chapter; and in the Book of the Revelation it reaches its legitimate conclusion. Genesis introduces us to the dramatis persona of the sacred volume, and gives us an insight into its plot and purpose. There we have the record of the Creation and the Fall, the judgment of the Flood, the apostasy and scattering of the descendants of Noah, the call of Abraham, and the origin of the chosen people. And in the promise of "the seed of the woman," and in the typology of the book we have the prophecy and pledge of Redemption. And here in the Revelation all the dropped threads of history and type and prophecy and promise, that lie scattered throughout the earlier Scriptures, are taken up and traced to their appointed consummation. Even in the opening sections of the book the successive promises to "him that overcometh" make cryptic reference to all the past. In Ephesus the "overcomer" shares with unfallen Adam the right to "the tree of life which is in the paradise of God." In Smyrna he shares with Noah immunity from "the second death "- the judgment which brought the first "dispensation" to a close. In Pergamos he partakes with Moses of the hidden manna; and in Thyatira he exercises kingly rule with David. And Sardis speaks of the fellowship of the prophets, and the reward for those who witness a good confession in days of apostasy.
"The law and the prophets" were until John, whose mission it was to herald the coming of the Son of God. Then was ushered in a "dispensation" which, though brief as measured upon human calendars, was momentous beyond comparison - a transitional "dispensation" which, though Christian, was yet Jewish, and which ended with the destruction of all the externals of Judaism. In Philadelphia, therefore, the "overcomer" is called to share in the heavenly realities of which the temple that was the place of earthly worship, and the city which was the centre of earthly blessing, were but shadows. In Laodicea, which represents the "dispensation" now drawing to a close, there is no reference to the past, no trace of Jewish symbolism or terminology; and the "overcomer" is a follower of Him who, as "the faithful and true Witness," has reached the throne by the path which led Him to the cross.
All Scripture is prophetic, because it is divine; but with special emphasis the Revelation is declared to be a prophecy. And as the main stream of prophecy always relates to Christ, the book fitly opens with a vision of His glory, and ends with a promise of His return. But by the majority of Christians both the vision and the promise are neglected or ignored. For His redeeming work is done and past, and therefore unspiritual men no longer need Him. And as the glory of His presence would put to shame the spiritual poverty and nakedness of those who profess to be His disciples, the thought of His return is embarrassing and unwelcome.
We are reminded of the Apostle's words, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no longer." Not that the Christian gives up one jot or tittle of the record of the Saviour's earthly life, but that his faith rests upon his risen and glorified and coming Lord, and he reaches back from the Christ of the glory to the Christ of the humiliation. But "the Christian religion" is founded upon "Christ after the flesh"; and this influence governs the thoughts and the language even of spiritual Christians. Its deplorable effect upon our religious literature is apparent everywhere. Too many of our standard theological treatises, indeed, and of our popular "books of piety," would seem almost unchristian if read in the light of the visions of glory vouchsafed to the Apostle John, or of the great doctrinal revelations entrusted to the Apostle Paul. And as these Scriptures would thus disturb habits of thought and speech "received by tradition from our fathers," we ignore them, and cling to our "Christ after the flesh" religion. One result is that the old "Evangelicalism" gives way before the inroads of Rationalism and superstition. Under the pressure of aggressive scepticism many find rest by taking a deeper plunge into a false religion. Orthodoxy may thus be maintained by blindly obeying "the voice of the Church"; but orthodoxy is not faith, nor is the voice of the Church the Word of God. With the young, however, the lapse is usually toward "modernism," and the sceptical movement which masquerades as "the Higher Criticism."
The men who - in this country at least - champion that crusade are not chargeable with intentional disloyalty to Christ, for they fail to understand its true character and ultimate aim. The imagery of the last chapter of Ephesians is borrowed from the battle-field; and one way in which military genius shows itself is in a capacity to detect the real objective of an enemy's advance. The attack on Holy Scripture is but a feint, and these men are blindly fulfilling their part in a strategic movement which is directed against Christ. For it is only through the written Word that we can reach the Living Word; and if we give up the one, we lose both.
But, it is said, how can the rejection of such a book as Daniel, for instance, affect our faith in Christ? If Daniel be jettisoned, the Revelation goes overboard along with it, and a signally important testimony to the Deity of Christ is lost to us. But more than this, if "Moses and the prophets" be discredited, we are confronted by the fact that the Lord identified Himself with their writings; and we are forced to conclude, either that the records of His teaching are unreliable, or else that He was Himself the dupe of false and superstitious beliefs. If the one alternative be accepted, the "rock of Holy Scripture" proves to be but a quicksand. Or if, as the critics boast, the other alternative is "an assured result" of the new enlightenment, no one who is not hypnotised by superstition will cling to the dogma of His Deity. Such passages as the first chapter of Colossians must be dismissed as the rhapsody of an enthusiast, and the visions of the Apocalypse as the day-dreams of a brilliant mystic.
But the theme of these pages is not the divine authority of Scripture, but the Deity of Christ; and what specially concerns us here is the testimony to that truth which the Apocalypse affords.
In the preface to the book the whole is described as "the prophecy"; and while some expositors would exclude the Epistles to the Churches from that category, it is universally admitted that all which follows falls within it. And no careful reader can fail to see that if "the Lamb" of these visions be not God, He has everywhere supplanted God. From the fourth chapter to the end "the Father" is never named but once; and then it is not in contrast with "the Lamb," but in closest union with Him. It occurs in the vision of the fourteenth chapter, where the Seer beholds the Lamb standing on Mount Sion, "and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father's name written in their foreheads."
And so also in the later visions. The 19th chapter opens with the heavenly anthem, "Hallelujah, salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are His judgments." It is the doom of the apostate church on earth that evokes this burst of praise in heaven. And then, in response to a voice from the throne, the further anthem rises "as the voice of mighty thunders," "Hallelujah; for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth." And, from an opened heaven there comes forth One whom now we know as the Saviour, but who is here revealed as the Avenger. "His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems. . . . And He is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood, and His name is called the Word of God." It is not "the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel," but the blood of Isaiah's prophecy of vengeance. For now Isaiah's words are about to be fullfilled: "The day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come."
And the Seer adds: "He hath on His garment and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." This is the public title of Him whose mystery name is "the Word of God." His identity is thus made clear. And let us keep steadily in view that the God of the Bible is ONE; and that He is manifested in Christ, and revealed by the Holy Spirit.
More plainly still does this appear in the final vision of the heavenly City. there is no temple in the New Jerusalem, for "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof." No need for sun or moon to shine on it, "for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." "And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads."
One throne, one temple, one light - God and the Lamb, inseparably ONE. So absolute the unity that "laws of thought" and "rules of grammar" are ignored; and though God and the Lamb are the burden of the vision, it is His name the redeemed are said to bear, and His face it is that they shall see.
To drag these visions down to the level of religious controversy would be deplorable. Let us ponder them until our minds are saturated with the very words in which they are revealed, and all doubt will be dispelled as to the God-hood of the Christ who died for us. Or if the shadow of a doubt still lingers, the sequel may suffice to banish it. For when the Apostle prostrates himself in worship at the feet of the glorious being who has been his guide and teacher in these heavenly visions, he is peremptorily checked. "See thou do it not," the angel exclaims; "I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book: worship God." The highest of created beings is a fellow-servant with the humblest saint. And if Christ be not God, even He must stand on this same level, and all worship rendered to Him is idolatrous and sinful.
And now, with this inexorable alternative in view, we turn again to the opening chapter. "The revelation of Jesus Christ" is the divinely given title of the book, and it governs the whole contents of it. In this light, then, we read the words, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." Certain it is that "the Alpha and the Omega" is a title which belongs to God alone; and if any should doubt whether it here refers to the Lord Jesus, the fact remains that it is claimed by Him expressly in the concluding message of the book: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. . . . I, Jesus, have sent Mine angel to testify these things unto you for the Churches." That same voice it was that summoned the Seer to behold the opening vision of the book. Here is the record of it :-
"I saw seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in His strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death."
"The simple and natural conclusion is that Jesus was the child of Joseph and Mary, and had an uneventful childhood." Such is the alternative belief which the infidel offers us in exchange for the faith of Christ. And my apology for quoting words which cannot fail to outrage Christian feeling is that, in these days of levity and superficial thought, many who would resent a charge of apostasy are in danger of drifting away from the faith of Christ; and therefore it is well to make them realise the peril which threatens them. For to deny the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is to bring Him down to the level of mere humanity; and the foundations of Christianity being thus destroyed, the whole superstructure falls to pieces. The doctrine of an atoning death is gone. "Indeed the very suggestion is absurd," the writer above quoted tells us. And Gethsemane and Calvary will thus find many a parallel, not only in the story of the martyrs, but in the sufferings of common men. For, he adds, "many a British soldier has died as brave a death as Jesus "; and "an immense amount of pious nonsense has been spoken and written about our Lord's agony in Gethsemane. .your agony would be just as great as that of Jesus."
The natural refinement and courtesy of writers such as the distinguished Rationalist quoted on the opening page of this volume lead them to conceal the legitimate deductions from their misbelief, lest the statement of them should shock or wound Christian sentiment. But the writer above quoted is unrestrained by any considerations of the kind. And his words may do good if, just by reason of their wanton profanity and coarseness, they lead the trifler and the waverer to realise the nature of the abyss to which apostasy from Christ will lead them.