The Throne in Heaven

(Rev. iv 1-3.)
 
We come, then, to our theme, the book of Revelation. Our glance at prophecy has been for the purpose of putting this last and fullest of all in connection with the earlier ones, that we might not make it of "private interpretation." And when we come so to connect it, we find unmistakable evidence that a large part of the book is occupied with that predicted last week of Daniel, the events of which we have been considering. That the last "beast" of Daniel appears again in Rev. xiii. and xvii. is acknowledged, and must be, by all. But there is noticed as to it here, what history has made plain to us, that it was not to continue without interruption from its first commencement to its overthrow. It was to have its period of non-existence, and then come up again in greatly altered character as "from the bottomless pit." This is the blasphemous form in which we have seen it to end at the coming of the Lord; and the exact time of its prevalence in this way is given us as in Daniel - "forty and two months," or three years and a half (chap. xiii. 5). And again and again this period confronts us. In the eleventh chapter, we find it as the time of sackcloth testimony of the two witnesses; in the twelfth chapter, stated as in Daniel, as "time, times, and a half," and again as "a thousand, two hundred, and threescore days," as that of the woman's nourishment in the wilderness from the face of the serpent. Much before this also we hear of an immense company of Gentiles as "come out of the great tribulation" (chap. vii. i2, R. V.) - quite evidently that spoken of in Daniel and in Matthew, the only one that could be, in view of what is said there, announced as "the great" one. Thus from the seventh to the seventeenth chapters the last of the seventy weeks is clearly before us. But this implies, as we have seen, much. It shows that when this large portion of Revelation shall be fulfilled, the Christian Dispensation will have passed away, Christians will be forever with the Lord, and the earthly people will be again those owned of Him, whatever the sorrows they may have yet to pass through, before their full blessing comes.

The appearing of the Lord in the clouds of heaven we find only in the nineteenth chapter, but then (as the apostle says,) "we shall appear with Him in glory" (Col. iii. 4). Our removal from the earth will therefore necessarily have taken place before: and thus he writes to the Thessalonians, that "the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord" (1 Thess. iv. 16,17).

Here it is plain how "those that sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him." There is no promiscuous resurrection of the dead; there is no picking out by judgment of sheep from goats, such as the twenty-fifth of Matthew very plainly teaches will take place when the Son of Man comes in His glory and be sitting on the throne of His glory. Here, on the contrary, we find but one company of raised and glorified saints caught up to meet and be with Him. Scripture is clear as to this blessed fact, which in itself affirms and emphasizes the gospel assurance that those who have Christ's word, and believe on Him who sent Him, shall not come into judgment. (Jno. v. 24, R. V.) This is, by such a text, made clear and certain enough.

But from this no one would understand that between this gathering up of the saints to meet the Lord and His appearing in glory with them there should be an interval of months and years of earthly history. Nor can one be blamed, therefore, for being slow to assent to such a statement as this. Yet it is the truth ; and one which can be perfectly well established from Scripture, although there is no single text which states it. And here is the place to give this some final consideration.

We have seen elsewhere that as the Old Testament ends with the promise of the "Sun of Righteousness," so the New Testament ends with that of the "Morning Star." Christ Himself is both, and in both His coming is inti­mated, but, as is plain, in very different connections. The sun brings the day, flooding the earth with light, and this is in suited connection with the blessing of an earthly people, whose the Old Testament promises are (Rom.ix.4). The morning-star heralds the day, but does not bring it: it rises when the earth is still dark, shining as it were for heaven alone. And this to us speaks of our being with Christ before the blessing for the earth comes.

In the promise to Philadelphia also we find the assurance, "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I will also keep thee out of the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." Here, out of a universal hour of trial some saints at least are to be kept. How simply explicable this in their being taken out of the world to be with their Lord before the hour commences! how difficult to understand in any other way!

Accordingly, in those pictures of the world's trial which we have had before us, we have had no trace of the pres­ence of Christians. All, as we have seen, speaks of Jews and Judaism as once more recognized, - a thing inconsistent with the existence of Christians and Christianity at the same time. As long as the present gospel goes out, "they are enemies for your sakes." (RonI. xi. 28.)

So also the antichristian snare, in the form it assumes, shows the same thing. Christ is looked for in the desert, or in the secret chambers, as appearing not from heaven, but in the midst of the people; and the false Christ, when he comes, sits with divine honours in the temple of God. Explicitly is it stated also in Isa. lx., that when the Lord arises upon Israel, and His glory is seen upon them, "darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples," a thing impossible if Christianity existed at the same time, yet perfectly plain in what we have been looking at. Indeed, the difficulty with these passages has been to realize the fact of such darkness as succeeding the present day of gospel light.

Again, the important scene in Matt. xxv. so misconceived by most interpreters even now, and for centuries taken as a picture of the general judgment, becomes thus perfectly intelligible, as it is only consistent with this view. It is the judgment of the living upon earth, after the Lord has come and set up His throne here; and the passage in Thessalonians, cited but a while ago, makes it absolutely certain that Christians will not be among the nations upon earth then. The dead are not in question either. There is no hint of resurrection, and they have their separate judgment, at the end of the thousand years of blessing, when the earth and heaven flee away from before the face of Him that sits upon the throne (Rev. xx. 12).

But if the Lord called up the saints to meet Him in the air, and then immediately came on to the judgment of the earth, there could be no "sheep" to put upon His right hand. Universal judgment alone could follow. The fact of an interval between these two, such as we have been considering, at once clears the whole difficulty.

But the most convincing proofs of such an interval we find in the chapters that are now to engage our attention. Coming as they do between the history of the dispensation with which the addresses to the churches have already made us familiar, and the prophecies of the last week of Daniel, which follow so promptly and occupy so much space in the latter portion of the book. All through the later addresses the announcement of the Lord's coming sounds with more and more urgency. In Thyatira, for the first time, they are exhorted, "Hold fast till I come." In Sardis, He is coming upon them as a thief, and they shall not know what hour He comes upon them. In Philadelphia, it is now, "I come quickly." And finally, Laodicea is ready to be spued out of His mouth, the last individual appeal being given, when the church as a whole has now rejected Him. In the fourth chapter, the "things that shall be after these" begin, and the apostle is at once caught up to heaven. But we are now to proceed more leisurely. In so precious and wonderful a communication of divine grace we would gladly ponder every word, and allow nothing to escape us. But we are absolutely dependent upon the Spirit of God for aid, lest, after all, the very essence of them be lost. The various and contradictory interpretations that they have received may well teach us self-distrust, but not shake our confidence, that in proportion to our real simplicity and real desire to be taught of God, His truth will be discovered to us. He that seeks shall find. He will not for bread give us a stone, nor for a fish a serpent.

The "things that are" have come to an end. The voice that spake on earth is silent, but presently resumes from heaven. "After these things, I saw, and, behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard, as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must come to pass after these.'

Both the Common and the Revised Version have "hereafter." But this is vague. It would allow the prophecy that follows to be, after all, contemporaneous in its fulfillment with that of the addresses just completed. But the words are definite, and allow of no such idea. In the first chapter, the apostle had been bidden to "write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which shall be after thea;" and now he is reminded that he is come to this distinct division of his prophecy - "the things which must come to pass after these." The prophecy is orderly and successive, at least thus far. Looking at the addresses to the churches, therefore, as depicting the phases of the professing church during the present dispensation, the meaning of the words would be, "The things which must come to pass after the history of the Church is ended." If, then, such an interpretation of the two previous chapters is correct, the time we have reached is clearly enough defined. And how significant, at this point, the translation of the seer from earth to heaven! The voice with its trumpet-call is the first voice which he had heard - the voice of Jesus. No longer occupied with His lamps of testimony upon earth, He calls His servant up to Himself above. And "immediately," he says, "I became in the Spirit." The distinctness of the new beginning is evident. Just so had he been, rapt in this ecstatic state, when he had had the former vision. It had not continued throughout, but now began afresh, his whole being absorbed in that which the Spirit of God communicated. He is, as it were, not in the body, as another apostle says of visions that he had received, that whether he was in the body or out of the body, he. could not tell. (2 Cor. xii. 2): the Spirit & God was, so to speak, eyes and ears and all else to him. And now by the Spirit he is rapt into heaven, - a new thing for a prophet, and as such, exceptional to John alone. Doubtless the heavens had opened before, even in Old-Testament times, though with reserve, and never to invite an entrance. Enoch, and afterward Elijah, had been taken there indeed, and comfort and blessing it was to know this. Still this was not an opening of it to men on earth. Heavenly visitants had appeared too among men, but they had no disclosures to make of the unseen sanc­tuary from which they came. Even in Job one might read also how the "sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them." And Micaiah at a much later day could say, "I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him, on His right hand and on His left." Ezekiel, moreover, after this, that "the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." All this betokened, indeed, heaven's interest in earth, but it only serves to make evident the contrast with what we find here - a witness taken into heaven to bear testimony of what he found there.

The opening of the heavens is characteristic of New-Testament times. At the outset, the heavens are indeed, in the truest sense, opened when the Son of God lies in the manger of Bethlehem. And as He who reveals the Father is revealed, we are brought into communion with what spiritually constitutes heaven - with the Father and the Son. At the Lord's death, the vail of the sanctuary is rent asunder for us, and when He has ascended up, our Representative and Forerunner, the Holy Ghost sent down becomes in us the witness and earnest of heavenly things. But the earnest shows that we have not yet possession, which John anticipatively brings us into. Paul also had been caught up into the third heaven - into paradise - and heard unspeakable things, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Cor. xii. 4.) But John finds utterance: he carries his writer's inkhorn into heaven, and reports what it was he saw there. He is bidden "Write," lest in his entrancement he should forget it. And how has the power of these communications been felt by those who have become heirs since to what has been thus written! Even those that have known least, have they not felt much? And how much more, then, should flow from deeper knowledge!

But then the character of this prophecy before us, in the very charm of its face-to-face vision, may assure us of what it speaks of and anticipates. It is our own call home this call of the prophet up to heaven, and how well it may thrill our hearts and gladden them as we listen to it!

Enter, then! Heaven is before us. Enter! It is the sanctuary. Not speculation do we seek, but enjoyment - holy and hallowing enjoyment. Not a thing here forbidden to us, and not a thing upon which the lusts of the flesh can fasten! To breathe this pure air, is to live indeed. To abide here is to make all the world can proffer an unmeaning emptiness, to brighten the dullest heart into glory, and make the tongue of the dumb to sing for joy.

Heaven! And the first thing the apostle sees is "a throne," and "One sitting on the throne." It is the first necessity for all blessing, for, all stability, for all rest of heart. It is the assurance of order, of peace, of concord, of congruity: over all, a real, personal, living, and sovereign God. Not a democracy, but an absolutism; not laws which execute themselves, but the will of the All-wise, All-holy: fixed rule in free hands. It is this that sin would have overturned, and which has proved itself impossible to be overturned; whose eternity alone insures the absolute security of all else. Well may all crowns be cast before this throne, by which all are sustained and served. The sovereignty of God is surely the joy and triumph of every redeemed soul.

He who sits upon the throne is not and cannot be pictured, and the jasper and sardine stone to which He is compared have as yet yielded but little to the interpreter. As jewels, like those of the high-priest's breastplate, they represent, no doubt, the "Lights and Perfections" (Urim and Thummim) of God, unchanging, but seen, not in the inapproachable light itself, but in manifestations such as can be given to His creatures, and which display to them a various beauty they could not otherwise enjoy. "God is light," and the "Father of Lights." The one colourless beam, broken up into the various coloured prismatic rays, clothes the whole earth with its beauty. And the precious stones enshrine and crystallize these various rays.

If the "jasper" here be rather the diamond, as many believe, then there does seem to be in it a most appropriate thought, and one it is hard to give up after having received it. The diamond is the brightest of gems, the nearest to the pure ray of light in its lustre, the most indestructible in character, - eminently fitted (as one might think) to be a symbol of the glory of Deity. But these are not its chief points of significance after all. The diamond is, as every one knows, but crystallized carbon, which we find in a pure form as graphite, the black-lead of our pencils. Carbon exists in these so opposite conditions, the symbol of divine glory (as it might be) on the one hand might on the other be that of evil and ruin and sin. And has not divine grace wrought in the transformation of our ruined humanity into the brightest display of divine glory? And could there be any thing of which we could be more fitly reminded here?

God has forever displayed Himself in Christ, His perfect and glorious manifestation. He is "the effulgence of His glory, the express image of His substance." (Heb. i. 3.) It is not meant by that, what some have argued from it, that we shall see the Father only in Him. Scripture speaks of those who "in heaven always behold the face of the Father who is in heaven." (Matt. xviii. io.) But the cross will not on that account lose its significance, nor the glory of the incarnate Son be the less needful for us.

And when we look on to the end of the book, and see the "city which hath foundations" in her eternal beauty, not only do we find the jasper as the first of these foundations, but the light - the lustre - of the city also is "like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal." (xxi. ii.)

This is at least all perfectly consistent. Its consistency and beauty may well plead for its acceptance by us, until, at least, something that more commends itself can be produced. Carbon is also the element characteristic of all organic products; so that organic chemistry has been called "the chemistry of the carbon com­pounds." It is thus connected with living forms, whether vegetable or animal. And I add, though this be a distinct thought, that crystallization Is, as It were, the organization of the mineral.

The "sardine stone," or rather "sardius," is our came­han, a stone much prized by the lapidary, and especially in the east, its most valued form being an unmixed bright red. The association with the jasper or diamond would suggest an association of thought; the diamond flashing with the red hues of the carnelian would necessitate almost the idea of the cross. Incarnation and redemp­tion unite to make known the sovereign God.

It is not an objection, I believe, that in the next chapter we find explicitly the Lamb slain. The connection there is different, and God is never weary of Christ. Here it is the One upon the throne who is declared; and apart from Christ He could not be declared to us. The full radiance of divine glory are thus in the jasper and the sardine stone, or, as we have taken them to be, the diamond and the carnelian. The connection of the two throws light upon each, and the truth of its interpretation must rest on its verisimilitude.

Thus the One who sits upon the throne is declared to us. It is the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ," perfectly known and alone revealed in Him. The throne is His throne; the supreme will and power are His: and this is what makes us delight in that supremacy. Absolute in power and control, there is no mere arbitrary will in Him. Omnipotence never acts but with omniscient wisdom, perfect righteousness, holiness, and love. His pleasure is good pleasure: "Worthy art Thou, O Lord," is the adoring cry of the hosts of heaven.

The One who sits upon the throne is disclosed and characterized for our hearts before the throne is. And when we come now to the throne itself, we find as the first thing, what is addressed to our hearts no less, "a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." The natural and historical associations here are full of precious suggestions. The bow we all know as the token of God's covenant with the earth, and with every creature in it. The flood had just passed over the earth and desolated it, and now the sun was shining out in the retreating storm of judgment. God declares He will no more destroy, as He had destroyed. If He bring a cloud, it shall be for purification and blessing, not any more "a flood to destroy all flesh." Where we see it now, the bow is used symbolically, of course, and therefore with a wider, deeper meaning. It is still of the earth it speaks, where alone storms are purificatory and for blessing; but these are no longer merely natural. It is not limited to this or that divine act, but characterizes the throne in its general action. Blessing for men, and rest of which the emerald speaks, with the suggestion of the springing grass after the rain, are to be accomplished; even the judgment maybe the necessary means of their accomplishment. And in this, too, God will manifest Himself in the glory of the light which He is, as the prismatic colours of the bow symbolically display it.

To those who realize the character of the period which follows the present one, nothing could be plainer than the language of this bow-encircled throne. God is now calling out for heaven the objects of His grace. And while He is doing this, the fulfillment of His promises as to the earth is suspended; the earthly people are set aside: it might seem as if He had forgotten that which fills the pages of the Old-Testament prophets. So much so, that as if in despair of their accomplishment, men would turn them all into figures of other things. The knowledge of dispensational truth, so little regarded even yet by most Christians, relieves the whole difficulty, and puts every thing into its own place. Ours is a heavenly calling; ours are "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." When we are, according to His promise, gathered up to Him, then the Old-Testament promises will be fulfilled to Israel, to whom they belong (Rom. ix. 4), and the predicted time will come when the "earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Heb. ii. 14.) For this the "sons of God," now in suffering and sorrow, must be revealed in glory when Christ our life shall appear, and we shall appear with Him in glory. "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation should itself also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God."

(Rom. Viii. 19 - 21, R.V.) The bow of promise for creation, girdling the throne of God in heaven, speaks, then, of God's covenant with the earth remembered in a way which goes far beyond the letter of it. He is going now to bring it into perpetuity of blessing through another judgment, in which His glory will be displayed in a peculiar way. It will soon be said among the nations that the Lord reigneth, and the world be established that it cannot be moved. "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field exult, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord: for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth; He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth." (Ps. xcvi. 10 - 13.)