THE VISION GLORIOUS
Part 1.....John the Divine
It is desirable to say something about the introduction to this book of Revelation. It is the Apocalypse, its correct title because it deals with the outstanding truth, that Jesus Christ is coming again and that every eye shall see him. This is the great event towards which the whole of mankind is moving. Reflect upon that fact and then consider the ignorance of the world concerning it, the corresponding indifference of Christendom and the crisis to which we are moving.
The means of revelation are first from God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ. (Not even the Son of Man) The Lord communicates it by His angel to John and John in turn testified "all things that he saw." In verse 3 "Blessed is he that readeth" (for the benefit of those who cannot?) and they that hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things that are written therein." Evidently therefore the book is not to be neglected by the believer, it can be understood in essence if not in detail (that may depend on temporal development).
John proceeds to tell us the environment of the vision. He was in Patmos. He was there as an exile probably on account of his witness as an apostle in Ephesus. He was "In the Spirit on the Lord's day" (by which he indicates that the Day of Resurrection has for him, superseded the Sabbath of the Jew). So far all is as usual. His worship was of this kind and he appeared to be debarred the fellowship of others when he heard behind him a great voice as of a trumpet saying , "What thou seest write in a book and send to the seven churches''. John turned towards the direction of the voice but his ear was unnecessary for the moment as he gazed upon a remarkable and perhaps a simple scene. There before him were seven golden lampstands and in the midst of them a Person "like unto the Son of Man".
Such a title links the thought with the prophecy of Daniel 7-13 and the apocalyptic writings in the Gospel of Mark , but we need not and indeed cannot now pursue the significance of the title for it is evident by chapter2:18 that the One here designated Son of Man is there entitled "Son of God." There can be no doubt that the One in the midst of the lampstands was our Lord. Isaiah saw the vision glorious in the temple, the spiritual home of the elect race, Daniel by the river Tigris, Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, and John suffering in Patmos for his witness and engaged in worship but in far different circumstances from Isaiah.
Isaiah the young man is offered experimental truth in the vision and he proceeds to offer himself in obedience. Daniel in advanced years, as old probably as John receives the revelation to lead him into deeper communion with God while men like Ezra and Nehemiah lead the people back from exile. Saul of Tarsus is smitten to the ground, to be humbled, to be taught by a despised Christian and so to step out as the apostle of the Christian redemption, the architect of the Gospel era. John, sublimely one with His Lord listens, sees and records the word that is to govern our thinking, hoping, discerning, acting and obedience in every generation until the Lord of Calvary in majesty places His foot on Mount Olivet.
The details of the revelation also are different. Isaiah saw "the Lord high and lifted up, His train filling the temple". He is attended by the seraphim, a mere name to us, but with what understanding they cry "Holy". Daniel saw the Man and in many respects his view corresponds with that of John. Saul, a man with great religious knowledge but bereft of spiritual light was told: "I am Jesus of Nazareth Whom thou persecutest!" What we notice with all these visions is the simple truth that they were bereft of the sentimental, the psychical or were "grottos" for religious pilgrims. In each case there was revelation, obedience and untold blessing to all who received the truth illumined in the vision. This was certainly the case in John's experience.
Surveying the disclosure of the Son of Man we shall find certain correspondences with previous visions but there are certain features added: "In His right hand there were seven stars". These we are to understand are the angels in oversight over the seven churches mentioned in verse 11 and individually addressed in chapters 2 & 3. "Out of His mouth went a sharp two edged sword". The next chapter at v. 16 indicates to the church at Pergamos with its doctrine of Balaam (mixing spiritual truth with the ideas of man in his sin) that He "will fight against them with the sword of My mouth." Evidently the man who leaned on the breast of Jesus now sees Him in the attitude of judgment. As to His countenance it was "as the sun shineth in its strength." Again the human confronted with such a revelation of the Lord of Glory, finds no place of exultation as if he has seen a wonder and wants to get the glory of it: "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead."
Whatever else we do this evening, let us contemplate that moment of prostration. So far as I am concerned it is true that since the closing of the Scriptures an experience of this kind, authenticated and fruitful has not been known. But I am bound to express the view that if we are truly taught, led and illuminated by the Spirit, every believer will come to a place where in spirit if not in body He is prostrate supine before Him. It has become the usual thing to talk about Jesus but I think we should call Him Lord. Christians have got too familiar with their own IMAGE of Jesus, the satanic conception of their imagination but where John was before the Lord is our place in spirit. How graciously the Lord reacted to John. Says the apostle: "And He laid His right hand upon me, saying Fear not". John is to know more about Him from His lips but for the moment "Fear not."
Young people are not likely to see John's point of view because it develops with age but is none the less true because of that. As life proceeds if one is going on with the Lord, you see ever more clearly one's mistakes, follies, sins, failings, neglected faults, things said, and things done that one regrets. What little attention to the Word, how little prayer, how little love, what striving after what the world calls big things, how the great things of God were missed and then one begins to fear. Then, how comforting to realise that as John fell prostrate before His Lord, he heard those gracious words: "Fear not." And there is the secret: those two words can never be heard with eternal rest and satisfaction of heart until we have so known Him in His majesty and glory as to know ourselves for what we are. Then and not till then can our ears receive those marvellous words: "Fear not." And now proceeds the unveiling of truth concerning Himself from the lips of our Lord:
THE VISION GLORIOUS
Part 2.....Saul of Tarsus
The experience of the apostle Paul is in circumstances altogether different from those we have considered and that of John. It is easy to assume that great spiritual experience can only be the privilege of exceptional saints but that is a serious delusion. If we are true believers, men and women in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, then there is no spiritual experience from which we are debarred. If we fail it will be entirely due to our lack of obedient faith. We must also remember that spiritual growth is a life long process. Once one is saved from his sin there should be a desire to progress day by day in the knowledge and the doing of the will of God. For that purpose the Holy Spirit is given and where His purpose is neglected He is grieved to our most serious disadvantage.
Saul of Tarsus is altogether different. His experience is illuminating and perhaps challenging and each of us should follow as closely as we may his extraordinary path. Here is a man of brilliant gifts with a mind closed to the truth because of prejudice. Whether Saul of Tarsus had ever met our Lord we do not know. If he had it is likely that he would have been deeply impressed by Him. Saul. however, was the sort of man that, if he had thought our Lord's crucifixion was wrong he might easily have made an appeal for him. Saul's difficulties arose out of our Lord's death and reputed resurrection and we may add possibly out of the events of the day of Pentecost. Peter's address on the day of Pentecost was the assertion that the Jesus so recently crucified was in fact the Messiah for Whom all Israel had waited. He had come unto His own and His own people had rejected Him.
When Saul first took hold of this charge he was stung to anger. It seemed to him that the religious leaders should have been so blind as to put to death the One for Whom they had so long waited. How was it to be supposed that a person of such religious conviction as Saul, should have in fact failed to recognise the Messiah when He came? And who were the people who professed to have received Him? They were people without standing in the religious world of Jewry. We must believe that Saul was sincere as undoubtedly he showed himself to be. But all of us must watch our sincerity. Prejudice and sincerity cannot dwell together. Somewhere experimentally they must part company. If we do not like people and therefore do not like what they stand for then our sincerity will ultimately bring us to a crisis within. If we are oppressive of others because of their views there is something wrong with us as believers. "Consider Him Who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself."
If we are really standing in the truth of God we shall do good to them that hate us and pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us. Saul had not yet thought that out, as many of us may not have done. Hence the first mention of him in Scripture is in connection with the death of Stephen. Here stood this man before the Council "and his face as the face of an angel". When Stephen was stoned to death Saul was there consenting thereto and encouraging those who assaulted him and he heard Stephen cry out: "Lord lay not this sin to their charge." The effect on Saul was catastrophic. He could not believe that it was possible for all the religious leaders of Jerusalem to fail in welcoming the Messiah but he could not escape the conviction of the quality of the life of Stephen. Was he right or was Stephen? If Saul was right how account for the witness of Stephen? And if Stephen were right what would the end of it all be for Saul?
It led Saul to renewed persecution: "he made havoc of the church, entering into house after house and dragging away men and women to prison." It would seem that Saul's persecution was effective for those who escaped his clutches. They cleared off where they could with the result that Philip went down to Samaria, an extraordinary thing to do, and blessing began to flow. With no more victims in Jerusalem, Saul asked the high priest for authority to proceed to Damascus to harry the disciples who were apparently there. The Scriptures declare: "He was yet breathing out threatening and slaughter" and it was in that mood that he left Jerusalem for Damascus. The distance was about 150 miles and involved travel for about 5 days. After all the excitement of persecution he now found time to think as he journeyed along. It is evident from our Lord's words to him that his cogitation was deep and far reaching. He was in fact kicking against the goads. He was like an ox persisting in going in one direction and finding himself forced to another. The tremendous excitement of harrying the apostate Jews as he regarded them, was followed by this quiet journey in which he had abundant opportunity to reflect. Were they right? Could it be possible that he was wrong ? He thought he might be and this intensified his cruelty.
Most Christians know something more or less of persecution in the world but those who persecute often do so, not because they think we are wrong but because much to their chagrin they think the Christian to be right. The man who left Jerusalem with all the high priestly credentials was in a somewhat different frame of mind as he neared Damascus. This brought him to the moment of revelation. The Syrian sun had not stayed Saul's progress; he was anxious to be in Damascus but the light that suddenly shone upon him was greater even than the brightness of the sun. Above the brightness of the sun he heard a voice and a question: "Saul, why persecutest thou Me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." In answer to the question of Saul the voice disclosed its identity: "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest." Here then was an issue. Jesus was identified with His disciples. Saul's persecution was not merely of His followers but of Him! The subtle interweaving of thought, decision, obstinacy and prejudice were all known to Jesus in heaven. It was indeed hard to kick against the pricks. The whole of his antagonism collapsed. He knew the truth about Jesus and the price of it was to know himself as he had never known before.
There was, you will observe, something peremptory in the Lord's dealings with Saul of Tarsus, such as is absent from others we are concerned with. Saul did not seem to have the spiritual capacity to receive much direct from heaven. Hence the instruction: "Go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do." One or two further observations may be helpful. In Saul's account of his experience as recorded by Luke in Acts 22:8 our Lord discloses himself as "Jesus of Nazareth." The earthly Jesus had been to Saul a great perplexity largely because of his prejudice but now he knows that the Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Lord of Glory and it is a revelation he will never for one moment forget. Paul in one of his accounts of his experience declared that the Lord spoke "in the Hebrew tongue". It was as if Saul was to know unmistakably and emphatically that all the equivocation of prejudice was over, the revelation was clear, the voice of command could not be misunderstood. Hence he was to be a witness "of those things in which thou hast seen Me and of those things in which I will appear unto thee." And the first instruction was to "go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do."
Let it be noted carefully that the revelation of the Lord is in His authority and glory. He is the historical Christ glorified and this is the truth at the very heart of all Paul's teaching. The second result of the revelation was a humbling as he was led into the city to listen to and to learn from one of these Galilean believers whom so recently he had planned to apprehend and take to Jerusalem. Ananias is the man chosen. He enjoyed the respect of all the Jews in Damascus. He had heard of the planned coming of Saul of Tarsus and the purpose of his coming. To him the Lord spoke in a vision. He needed something miraculous to persuade him that he was in the possession of a right mind when commanded to find Saul in the street called Strait. But it was clear and in due course he proceeded to call upon him. Ananias is quite unknown. He was a man of holy living and the Lord knew he was competent to give the first lessons in the faith to this man who was destined to be the supreme Interpreter of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who hold to the fallacy of the Petrine succession are completely nonplussed by the facts of this vision. One would have supposed if the theory were correct that the Lord would have appeared to Saul immediately after he stepped out from Jerusalem and sent him back to be instructed and ordained by Peter. If it were not so serious it would be laughable to think of Roman and Anglican priests claiming certain powers by their succession from Peter when the greatest of all the Apostles was never ordained or even instructed by Peter. No it is not to a man holding high ecclesiastical office, but to an ordinary man like Ananias who was walking in the light with the Lord. Hence he came to where Saul was: "Brother Saul!" What a word from this Christian brother to one renowned as a persecutor of Christians. "The Lord even Jesus Who appeared to thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." How lovingly Ananias must have opened up the truth concerning the Lord, how willingly, how humbly and meekly Saul of Tarsus listened, understood and believed as Ananias unfolded the truth to him. Finally came the irrevocable act of identification with the Lord and His redeemed people as Ananias led him down into the water and he was baptised. .
Then came the critical moment of action before the Jews and the world. "Straightaway" in the synagogues, he proclaimed Jesus "that He is the Son of God." The dreadful fact he had been so unwilling to embrace was now the centre of his being. In spite of the attitude of the Jews he confounded them "proving that this is the very Christ" From that moment he became the hunted Christian like his fellow believers. He only escaped from Damascus when the disciples let him down over the wall during the night, in a basket. When he arrived in Jerusalem the disciples were afraid of him and did not believe that he was a disciple. Possibly Peter was absent but if so it was not Peter who met his need but Barnabas who supported him. You may think there is something mystical about the experiences of Isaiah and Daniel but there can be no doubt about Saul of Tarsus. He was the one time exponent of a dead religion and then the Lord unveiled himself to him, commanded his obedience and sent him forth to be the greatest exponent of the Christina faith the world has ever known. This is the word of his testimony from beginning to end that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified at Calvary is the
LORD OF GLORY.