|Vol. 12, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1983
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of
the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.
" Revelation 12:11
IT would be a bold person who could claim to be able to give a full interpretation
of every detail described in Revelation 12. It is a symbolic chapter in a
book full of symbols. Two figures are, however, perfectly clearly distinguished:
they are the Lamb and the dragon. The chapter highlights the spiritual conflict
between their two kingdoms and announces the complete victory of the holy
We must note that the victory is referred to in the plural: "They
overcame him ...". While, therefore, it calls our attention to the cross,
it seems to point on to the final realisation of the victory of Calvary through
the overcoming Church of Christ, though we may rightly claim that they
only became overcomers through Him who is the great Overcomer.
Three reasons are provided as explanations of this cosmic victory --
The Appropriation of the cross ("the blood of the Lamb"); the Proclamation
of the cross ("the word of their testimony") and the Experience of the cross
("they loved not their life even unto death").
I suggest, then, that the original readers of these verses as well as
we who now consider them, have our attention drawn to the supreme issue of
the victory of the cross, being reminded that what the Lord Jesus there accomplished
for us, must now be worked out in and through us.
If the Church is called to the throne and to "rule all nations with a rod
of iron", as it certainly is (Revelation 2:27 and 3:21), then we need to
make our calling and election sure by making the cross central to our lives.
Christians know that they only have eternal life by appropriating for
themselves the redeeming work of the cross. They must know also that their
message to the world around them is their testimony that God's blessing only
comes to men through the cross. The third point, however, is also important,
namely that they are expected to bear their cross so that Christ's full victory
may be demonstrated in their lives.
Sensing perhaps that the cross would spell defeat to his kingdom, Satan
made every endeavour to divert Jesus from it. From the wilderness to the
cross he kept posing this question, "If thou be the Son of God", and used
the words in the cruel mocking of the senseless mob as they howled to the
dying Saviour that He should come down from the cross.
If any other had been in that position, the calls would have been nothing
more than cruel mockery, for no crucified man could release himself. Jesus,
however, was different. He could have saved Himself; He could have descended
from the cross and walked away. He who had recently withered a tree at a
word could easily have caused that the rough "tree" on which He was crucified
should disintegrate and release Him. He who that very morning had healed Malchus's
ear could have had no difficulty in freeing and healing Himself. But He chose
the way of the cross. He stayed there. He faced it all. And He faced it alone.
There was a sense, then, that when "the great dragon was cast down, the
old serpent ..." and when the "accuser of the brethren" had been overcome,
it was Christ alone who won the cosmic victory. Yet we would be unfaithful
to Scripture if we did not note the record that "they overcame him".
Quite clearly the total victory of the cross had yet to be consummated in
a redeemed people. The story of the first days of the Church tell both of
the fierce conflict and of the triumph of those who were wholly identified
with the Crucified.
I have suggested that the peak of Satan's attack on the Lord Jesus was
when he tried to dissuade Him from bearing His cross. Certainly this is
true in our case. If Satan knows that we cannot be plucked from God's hand,
why does he expend so much time and energy in being our accuser? The only
reasonable answer that I can offer to that question is that he seeks to
delay the final implementation of that total defeat by nullifying the full
power of the cross in our lives. We are told that he knows that his time
is short, but that will not prevent him from doing his utmost to lengthen
Thank God that the end is sure. "The Lamb shall overcome them, for he
is Lord of lords and King of kings" (Revelation 17:14). However we must not
divorce this from the rest of the verse, [81/82]
"... and they that are with him, called and chosen and faithful". Those who
are "with Him" are to share the victory.
We who belong to Christ know that we are among those who are called and
chosen. We dare not assert that we are faithful. Only time -- or rather eternity
-- will prove that. If we are found to be so, it will only be because the
cross has been a working reality in our lives. We may not be sure about identifying
the overcomers of Revelation 12:11, but we can be certain that it was the
cross which gave them the victory. There is no other way.
MARK'S VISION OF THE KING
(Four messages from Mark 10 to 16)
J. Alec Motyer
4. THE SON OF GOD WITH POWER (Mark 14:53 - 16:8)
OUR rather long passage falls into three clear divisions. In the first
(14:53 - 15:20) we read how the Lord Jesus came to His death. In the second
(15:21-47) we read what the Lord Jesus accomplished by His death. The third
division (16:1-8) describes how the Lord Jesus triumphed over death. This,
then, is how our passage divides: it is long, but it comes to us in well-defined
sections, each bringing to us a well-defined area of truth. As we seek to
give to each section a little more detailed consideration, we will give
them different headings, namely, The Power of His Life, The Power of His
Death, and The Power of His Resurrection.
The Power of His Life (14:53 - 15:20)
The central theme of this section is: the Just in the place of the Unjust.
We think of the power of the Lord's life, and the purpose for which He exercised
it. The passage tells us of how Jesus was brought before two courts. He stood
first (14:53) before the church court of His day, and then He was brought
before the state court (15:1). He came before the church court and the state
court, the Jewish court and the Gentile court; in principle the whole world
arraigned Jesus on trial and condemned Him. Before both courts He manifested
His power in the same way.
1. The power to keep silent
"He held his peace and answered nothing" (14:61). He proved that He had
the power to keep silent. It was exactly the same when He came to the state
court presided over by Pontius Pilate: "Pilate again asked him, saying, Answerest
thou me nothing? behold how many things they accuse thee of. But Jesus no
more answered anything; insomuch that Pilate marvelled" (15:4-5). The Lord
Jesus had the power to keep silent.
2. The power to affirm the truth
"Jesus said, I am. And you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right
hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven" (14:62). What a glorious,
firm and -- if we can use the word, and I think we can use it more of Jesus
than of anybody else -- manly, declaration of the truth! When Pilate asked
Him "Art thou the king of the Jews?", His dignified answer was "Thou sayest"
(15:2). He had power to affirm the truth.
3. The power to suffer
You must have noticed how reticent the Bible is about the actual sufferings
of Jesus, and it is not for us to embroider what the Bible only states. But
how He suffered! In the church court He suffered at the hands of falsehood.
These were men who prided themselves that they were the only people in the
world who possessed divine truth, yet we are told, "The chief priests and
the whole council kept seeking witness against Jesus and were not finding
it, for many kept bearing false witness" (14:55). The people of the truth
used the weapon of falsehood. At their hands Jesus suffered falsehood and
made no reply, accepting what they wished to do to Him. Before Pilate's court
Jesus stood before the people who prided themselves on giving the world
Roman law; and at the hands of Roman law Jesus suffered illegality and accepted
it in silence. In each court they proved [82/83]
that at the point where they prided themselves, their pride was hollow and
they condemned the Son of God.
Likewise in each court the Lord suffered gratuitous cruelty. In the court
of the high priest they spat on Him and, covering His face, invited Him to
prophesy; and the menial court officials received Him from one to the other
with blows. He was made to suffer a mindless stupidity; they covered His
face and invited Him to prophesy because of their absurd misunderstanding
of Scripture. In Isaiah 11, it says that when the Messianic King comes, He
will not judge by the seeing of His eyes. "By what will he judge, then?" asked
the Jewish pundits. "If he cannot judge by seeing, He must judge by smell."
So they covered His face to test if He were the Messiah or not. Such was
the stupidity of those who possessed the truth, but would not listen to it!
In the state court, the Lord was condemned with total illegality. He
was subjected to scourging, that refinement of torture. He had to endure
mockery, the crown of thorns and cruel torture, which is the final breakdown
of every human legal system. The Lord Jesus had power to suffer.
4. The power to endure to the end
Dear old Peter who, tradition tells us, was the authority behind Mark's
Gospel, never says anything to his own credit, but never conceals anything
that was to his own detriment. In his honesty he made Mark write down the
full story of his betrayal of Jesus without any extenuation. Yet really he
did very well. He did begin to follow the Lord again, though he followed
Him afar off. He went right into the house of the high priest, even though
he was the only one of the disciples against whom a separate charge could
have been levelled -- the slicing off of the ear of the high priest's servant.
Yes, he went into the place where he could have been recognised and charged.
He did well. At the crunch moment, however, he didn't do well enough. Yet
the Lord Jesus, under infinitely greater provocation, carried right through
to the end with an endurance which knew no limitations. The difference between
them lay in the fact that in Gethsemane Jesus prayed, whereas Peter slept.
Jesus said, "If you do not pray, you cannot but enter into temptation."
5. The power to obey
The power of Jesus was the power to obey. He was led as a sheep to the
slaughter, but for His part, the prophet says, "He humbled himself and opened
not his mouth". Even more than that, though, the prophet tells us that "He
was numbered among the transgressors". The choice was placed before the
leaders and the people: Do you want Jesus? Do you want Barabbas? I have
discovered that nine separate times in the Gospels the innocence and guiltlessness
of Jesus is affirmed. "Do you want this Man who is nine times over the innocent
one, or do you want the proven insurrectionist, robber and murderer? Which
will you have?" And they chose Barabbas, so that Jesus carried the cross
which Barabbas should have carried. The guilty went free and the innocent
was put in his place.
So Mark's account of the road which Jesus took to the cross climaxes
at this point. Jesus took His obedience to this climactic end, being content
to be numbered with the transgressors and to die in the place of the unjust.
The Lord had the power to obey even unto the death of the cross.
The Power of His Death (15:21-47)
In his Gospel, John tells us in a very striking phrase that Jesus "went
forth bearing the cross for himself" (19:17). When Mark therefore tells us
of Simon of Cyrene (15:21), he is not telling us of something which was essential
for Jesus. So far as He was concerned, it was not necessary. He did not
need anyone else to carry that cross; He went out carrying it Himself, in
the strong manhood of the Son of God. Simon represents a totally unnecessary
piece of Roman aggravation, to show their domination over a subject people.
The Lord Jesus continued in vigour, from the moment He went forth bearing
the cross to the moment recorded when He died as He "uttered a loud voice"
(15:37). What vigour there was in that final triumphant shout from the cross!
Jesus did not die from the usual effects of crucifixion -- starvation, exhaustion
or suffocation -- He died because He had completed the work that the Father
gave Him to do. The Son of God laid down His life for Himself.
We now consider what He achieved by that death. As He finally breathed
out His last, the Lord Jesus was surrounded in His dying by voices and events.
There were three cries of mockery (verses 29, 31 and 32) and then
[83/84] in rather a dramatic way the scene changed and while the
external voices were hushed, there were three further circumstances attending
the cross, namely, the darkness (v.33), the Lord's own cry: "My God, My
God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (v.34) and finally -- most dramatic of
all -- "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom"
(v.38). These six items will indicate what Jesus was doing as He died on
1. The temple
Out of all that happened Mark selects three cries of mockery, because
in mockery of what they saw as failure, these people were really, though
quite ignorantly, proclaiming what Jesus was accomplishing by His cross.
The taunts expressed the truth.
First of all, He achieved the true temple. The cry of mockery went up,
"Ha! thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days" (v.29).
What the Lord Jesus had said about the temple had rankled in people's minds.
He had said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up"
(John 2:19) and they were astonished and affronted. John adds his careful
comment: "He spake of the temple of his body."
What is a temple? It is a place where God lives, where He welcomes His
accepted people into His presence and keeps them secure by the blood of
sacrifice. On His cross the Lord Jesus was creating the true temple of God,
not a temple of bricks and mortar but the temple of His own precious body.
Here is where God resides, where He is to be found and approached in His
Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the shrine into which the redeemed come,
through the precious blood, and where they are ever secure in the presence
of God. He has accomplished the true temple, for the Scripture says: "We
were quickened together with Christ, and raised up with Him, and made to
sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:5). By His
cross, the Lord Jesus secured the true temple of God.
2. Substitutionary salvation
They also cried out about salvation: "He saved others, He cannot save
Himself" (v.31). How truly they remembered that Jesus had said that He had
come to seek and save that which was lost, so they took up the true claim
and made it a taunt and a mockery. "You can't even save yourself!" How truly
they spoke! If others are to be saved, then He cannot be saved. There is a
necessity about it. If salvation is to be accomplished there is no other way;
He must die, He must endure the cross, He must retain the fastening of the
nails. "One died for all" says the Scripture, "therefore all died." There
is such a correspondence between the death that He died and the death which
I ought to have died, that when He died, I died.
The full penalty with which I was obligated before the throne of heaven
was discharged. This is the blessed reality of substitutionary salvation
which was implicit in their words of mockery. Christ so fully and effectually
identified with those for whom He died, that when He died, they died. Their
whole penalty and pain of death was discharged, for the Son of God died in
3. The kingdom of Israel
By His cross the Lord Jesus achieved that kingdom. "Let the Christ, the
king of Israel, come down" they cried (v.32). Pilate had mocked and scourged
Him as "the king of the Jews" (v.26) and these people around the cross were,
in their ignorance, going right back to the reality implied by that name
of Israel. How blessedly Jesus is the King of Israel, for out of the cross
of the Lord Jesus Christ there sprang there and then the kingdom of David,
His father and the kingdom of God, His Father, and for all eternity there
was established the people of God, the fullness of covenant reality. The great
accomplishment of the cross is seen in the temple, the substitutionary salvation
and the people of God. But that was not the end. When the silence fell, there
was darkness, and when all other voices were hushed, there was a great cry
of loneliness from the Lord and nearby, the veil of the temple was torn in
4. The darkness
What does your memory tell you of the darkness? It was the last of the
plagues of Egypt -- the moment of climax of sinful rebellion and resistance
to the Word of God. As darkness reigned, Pharaoh broke off diplomatic relationships
and discussions with Moses. He severed the conversation, saying, "Go, see
my face no more." It was the end of probation, and the finalisation of sin
over the world. Shrouded in that darkness [84/85]
were the whole people of the Gentiles, represented by the Egyptians, and
the whole people of God, represented by the Israelites. Nothing then remained
but a dreadful expectation of judgment -- and judgment fell. The Word of God
is one Book, and it says the same throughout. The darkness was followed by
the judgment of God.
5. The cry from the cross
But the Lamb of God came into that darkness, in Egypt and at Calvary.
And out of that darkness there came that one and only cry from the cross
which Mark records. Others will tell us of other things -- of whispers from
the cross and speaking from the cross -- but here there is a great shout
from the cross (v.34).
It was the strong voice of the crucified Lamb of God which cried, "My
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This was the strength of His anguish
as the pit opened before Him, as He knew in Himself the full reality and weight
of the sinner's plight and judgment, as He received upon His holy body the
full outpouring of the sinner's penalty. The Scripture says, "I have never
seen the righteous forsaken" but He, the Righteous One, endured that forsaking,
when God made Him who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf.
6. The rent veil
"The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom."
Josephus tells us that it was woven to the thickness of one inch. It was
more like a luxurious carpet, hanging down -- all sixty feet of it -- from
the ceiling to the floor. The veil was rent! The last and greatest barrier,
the inevitable barrier between a holy God and a race of sinners, no longer
There were three veils in the temple. There was the veil that hung off
the gate of the court, the veil that hung at the entrance to the tent, and
the veil that hung over the Holy of Holies. Then, as now, there was a way
back to God, and it was marked by three gates. They were all the same; the
curtains were of blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen. As we
look back through the magnifying glass of our Lord Jesus, the Lamb and the
Son of God, we see that the blue is His heavenly origin and divine nature;
the purple is His kingly status and glory; and the scarlet is the blood
of His cross. The fine twined linen is the moral glory of a perfect humanity.
When all that is rent on the cross, then we enter in through the veil --
that is to say, His flesh -- and move freely into the holiest of all.
The cross provided the revelation of the Lord Jesus. As the centurion
stood there, he was near enough not only to see but to hear the great cry
(v.37) and also the whispered prayer with which the Lord Jesus breathed His
last, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit", and as he heard, he
believed. "Truly," he said, "this man was the Son of God." (v.39).
The Power of His Resurrection (16:1-8)
We turn straight away to the statement which lies at the heart of Mark's
story (verses 6 and 7). The resurrection is not a deceit. The same Jesus
who died was the one who rose again. "You seek Jesus the Nazarene; He is risen"
(v.6). There is no deceit: it was the same Jesus who had been crucified. The
resurrection was no mistake: it was the same tomb: "Behold, the place where
they laid him". The tomb really was empty.
The resurrection is a revelation! As for the fact, they saw the empty
tomb, but as for the revelation of God, the explanation of that empty tomb
was that He was risen. Hence the statement, "He is not here". The resurrection
is also a seal from God, for Mark's Greek says "He has been raised". Of course
He is risen; but behind that there is an act of somebody else. He has been
raised. The resurrection was something that had been done to Him by somebody
else. Yes, it was the Father, so delighting in what Jesus had done upon the
cross and so approving of and glorying in Him, that He said, "I will let
the world know what I think about this. I will raise Him from the dead!"
The tomb was opened, and the stone was rolled away, not to let Jesus
out, but to let us in, so that we might know that the Father sealed and
approved the work of Calvary. The resurrection is a seal. It is a commission
-- "Go and tell". It is a promise of fellowship -- "Go to Galilee, you will
see Him there". It is an endorsement of His words and person -- "as he said
In and through all this, there is one central theme which is the focal
point of Mark's testimony to the risen Lord. Each Gospel has its distinctive
testimony, and Mark brings his testimony to the risen Lord to one focal
point and issue. Note that the women were there all the
[85/86] time (15:40). They were there and they saw Him die (15:47).
They were there and they saw Him buried (16:1).
They had expectations in accordance with what they had seen. They had
seen a death, a burial, a body. They said, "Let us perform the last possible
act of love, however gruesome it may be. Let us go and anoint the body".
Those expectations were in accordance with the facts; they were right. "Pilate
marvelled if he were dead; and calling to him the centurion, he asked him
whether he had been any time dead, and when he had learned it of the centurion,
he granted the corpse ..." (15:44-45). In other words, he demanded a death
certificate from the specialists, and he got it. So what the women saw was
true. We are confronted by the irreversible reality and finality of death.
Yet they came to an empty tomb, and with trembling and astonishment they
heard of a risen Jesus. That is what Mark wants us to know. "Jesus the Nazarene"
-- that is, the Lord Jesus in the full reality of His human nature. "Jesus,
the crucified" -- the one who endured the torment and the mutilation of the
cross. "Jesus, the entombed" -- left and sealed in the darkness, because
death had had its way with Him. That Jesus! Jesus in the full reality of His
person, in the full experience of His sufferings, in the full finality and
meaning of His death -- that Jesus is risen!
"The Son of God, with power, through the resurrection from the dead."
IS THERE ANY WORD FROM THE LORD?
5. THE WORD AND THE SPIRIT
"Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and
cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that
believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow
rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit ..." John 7:37-39
IT was not given to Jeremiah to give any direct word concerning the Holy
Spirit. It may surprise us to discover that the Third Person of the Trinity
is never once mentioned in the whole book. A simple explanation of this may
be that since the people would not accept the word of the cross there could
be no promise of the Spirit for them. In the instructions concerning the
anointing of Aaron and his sons, specific command was given that the oil
must only be placed where first the blood had been, with the final order,
"Upon the flesh of man shall it not be poured" (Exodus 30:32). In the passage
quoted above, if we read on we would find John's comment that the promise
of the Spirit could not be fulfilled until the Lord Jesus had been glorified
in His death, resurrection and ascension. In fact Jeremiah's prophecy concerning
the New Covenant could only be implemented by the Spirit who would write
the law in men's hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) but this is not actually stated.
Jeremiah was certainly a man of the Spirit, anointed for his task as is implied
by the assurance, "I am with thee, saith the Lord" (1:19). Nevertheless it
is a remarkable fact that nowhere in all the book is the Holy Spirit mentioned.
The reply, then, as to whether there is any word from the Lord in this
connection, must come from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself, and John
records that on the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles the Lord
made a public announcement that there is such a word -- The Word about the
But in doing this, Jesus referred us back to the Old Testament -- "as
the scripture hath said". The Bible student may search the Old Testament
for this particular Scripture, but he will search in vain. Well, the actual
verse may be hard to find, but it is typical of the Lord Jesus and His dealings
with us, that He makes us see things in the Bible which we did not know were
there. The promise had been given all the time, but it needed Christ
[86/87] to make the truth explicit to us. It is also typical of
spiritual interpretations that they bring into prominence not just isolated
statements but basic principles embodied in the Word of God. In this case
the actual verse may be hard to find, but there are not lacking indications
of the spiritual truth expressed by the Lord Jesus on that occasion.
The River of the Spirit
Surely what the Lord Jesus meant was that it is one of the great messages
of the Word of God that whenever a man is in vital touch with heaven, rivers
of life flow out from him. All the Scriptures agree that this is so. A few
outstanding examples will perhaps make the matter clearer. Think of Joseph.
He was in touch with heaven, even in the pit and the dungeon, and he became
a remarkable minister of life on a grand scale. Think of Isaiah, the man
who saw the Lord high and lifted up. What streams of life have flowed and
are still flowing from his prophetic work. Today, more than ever, Isaiah's
words bring refreshment and reviving to parched and stricken hearts all over
the world. It would be easy to multiply such instances from the Old Testament;
may they all pale beside the glorious example of Christ Himself.
He was the great embodiment of this truth. He implied that the principle
could be verified in His own case, when He prefaced His words with the invitation,
"If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink" (John 7:37). The Scriptures
had said that it would be so, and He was able to demonstrate the reality
of which they spoke. The Lord Jesus was in touch with the Father in heaven,
and so the rivers flowed. The occasion was the Feast of Tabernacles, the joyful
celebration of heavenly fullness, and it was on the last day, when special
emphasis was being given to the pouring out of the water from a golden pitcher
at the Temple altar, that the Lord "stood and cried". Alas, there were no
life streams pouring from that temple. The festival had become dead and powerless,
an empty mockery of the spiritual truths which it was meant to represent.
One of the striking features of John's Gospel is the way in which he
contrasts the various Jewish festival and religious occasions with the reality
of the Son of God. The thirsty man could find no inner satisfaction from
the Temple with its empty ritual, so the Lord Jesus drew attention to Himself
as the true fulfilment of God's Word. Thirsty men would find their deepest
needs met if only they turned to Him, and the outcome would be that they
themselves would become channels of blessing.
The next chapter (John 8) demonstrates this truth in action. The woman
was sinful but she was a very needy and thirsty soul. She was dragged to
the Lord unwillingly and made an object of shame, but in the end it proved
that in Christ she had found the source of living water. Out of the heart
of the Saviour there flowed a satisfying river of life. When every man had
gone to his own house, the Lord Jesus had been alone with the Father on the
mount of Olives (John 7:53), so His touch with heaven made Him a fountain
of refreshing waters to a parched and sin-sick soul.
The Lord announced that after His ascension, this same truth would function
in the believer. We are all to be sources of life to others. The Lord is
now exalted in heaven; by maintaining vital contact with Him we can not only
find our own thirst quenched but become those through whom the rivers of living
water may flow out to others.
Ezekiel's Vision of the River
"Is there any word from the Lord?" So far as the Holy Spirit is concerned,
Jeremiah had nothing to say but his colleague and contemporary, Ezekiel,
had very much to say about the Spirit and indeed it may well be that the Lord
Jesus was referring more directly to Ezekiel's prophecies than to other parts
of the Old Testament, for Ezekiel received a remarkable revelation based
on the life-giving powers of God's river.
Ezekiel was a man of visions. He saw many heavenly wonders. Perhaps one
of the most remarkable was the vision described in Chapter 47. He had already
described in detail his visions of a new Temple as we can read in Chapter
40 and onwards. He then went on to relate, "He brought me back unto the door
of the house; and behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of
the house eastward ... on the south of the altar" (47:1).
The waters "trickled out" (47:2 m.) and then proceeded to flow down in
a miraculous way, not being fed by any tributaries and yet rapidly deepening
at every thousand cubits. What a river! It was so amazing that the prophet
could hardly [87/88] believe his own eyes. No wonder
the angel asked him, "Hast thou seen this?" (v.6). In his youth Ezekiel had
lived in Judea, and presumably knew well the region which he was now called
upon to describe. The road from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea was harsh
and barren in all conscience, but now it was presented to him as the scene
of freshness and fertility. From the heart of the House of God there was
such a flow of life-giving water that the whole landscape was transformed
in a way which reminds the Bible student of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10).
He was led along its banks as in a dream, measuring the depth first by
his ankles, then by his knees, then by his loins, until "it was a river
that I could not pass through; for the waters were risen, waters to swim
in ..." (v.5). Was this the Scripture to which the Lord Jesus referred:
"... out of his inner being shall flow rivers of living water"?
The prophet goes on to describe how he was led to a further contemplation
of this miracle river in order to note the signs of freshness and fertility
which everywhere abounded as this great and holy stream rushed down from
the House of God. The language seems to suggest something of Ezekiel's amazement
at it all. The abundant life on the banks of the river! The teeming life
in the waters! The trees with their ever-fresh foliage and their luscious
fruit. The men, spreading their nets in a fisherman's paradise! The whole
atmosphere seemed to throb with a sense of triumphant life. Death was being
swallowed up, the very waters were being healed (v.8) and the explanation,
so simple and yet so profound, was that "the waters thereof issue out of the
Was the Temple which Ezekiel saw only a vision? I believe that it may
well have been. In that case, was this river only a visionary one? Well,
if it was, it remains the vision of a great spiritual reality. Where there
is the throne of God and the altar of the cross of Christ, then the way is
opened for God's river, which is full of water, to flow out to the dying
and thirsty world around.
What may have surprised Ezekiel most of all was to be shown the objective
of this divine river. The luxuriance and the fruit-bearing, all the signs
of abundant life were, in a sense, only incidental. They show just what happened
on the way. On the way to what? Why to the Dead Sea, that concentrated essence
of death which defied, and still does defy, every attempt to sweeten it.
"Into the sea shall the waters go which were made to issue forth; and the
waters shall be healed" (v.8). It was as though this river was set on coming
to grips with all that death and to swallow it up in an overwhelming tide
This is something which no human energy can accomplish. The best that
the modem Israelis can do is to extract some of the salts. It would be a
long and impossible process, to cure the Dead Sea by taking out its death.
God's method is quicker and much more effective: He pours in life. We are
given a picture of prevailing death being drowned in a torrent of life from
the Throne. What a river!
We need not only to be visionary but to be practical. Most of us may
have a Dead Sea situation which seems to defy all our efforts to deal with
it. We may have worked long and hard to extract the death element in our
life or in our church; we may have prayed much that the Lord would remove
it; but the process seems long and hopeless. The Lord's answer is a positive
one -- the bringing in of His own triumphant life. He who believes on the
Lord Jesus, even though he be surrounded by a Dead Sea, can know the spiritual
reality of having rivers of living water flowing from his inner man. The
Scripture says so. Jesus confirmed it. There is enough life in the heavenly
Christ to swallow up all that death element.
The Lord Jesus laid down a basic condition: "If any man thirst, let him
come unto me". This may come to a sinner as the first invitation to find
salvation in Christ, but the Lord Jesus made more of it than that. He said
that such a man, if he finds and maintains vital contact with the Saviour,
will become a source of overflowing life to others. He said that a church
-- any church -- can be such a place of the altar and the throne that the
life of the Spirit may flow out in saving blessing to the dead circumstances
all around. "He said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this?" (v.6). You
ask if there is any word from the Lord. Well, perhaps this is it. Those who
are where the Lord wants them to be and under His full government, can lay
claim to the promise that from their midst there may gush rivers of living
The River Through Jeremiah
This series has been concerned with the life and times of Jeremiah, so
it is only right that [88/89] we should try to see
how this principle fits him. As I have said, the Holy Spirit is not actually
mentioned in his prophecies, but he was truly a man through whom the river
flowed. The Lord's promise is by no means limited only to preachers but the
offer is to "any man". His adversaries could silence Jeremiah's preaching,
but they could never stem the flow of God's river through him. The superficial
reader may question if this were so. We therefore need to look again at
At the actual place from which the water proceeded there was a very small
flow indeed, a mere trickle (Ezekiel 47:2). What mattered, however, was not
the immediate and obvious amount of water which came from under the threshold
of the house, but the eventual flood in its full development. We must not
judge by the immediate: we may well not be aware of what is happening in
our own case. No doubt it could be said that there was not any sensational
sign of the flowing river from this man of God, but we should ask Baruch,
his friend and helper, if life was not ministered to him through Jeremiah.
We might ask even Zedekiah, the king who was afraid to obey the prophet's
injunctions, and he would admit that in Jeremiah he recognised a man who
was in touch with God. Even in his rejection and suffering, he was a believer
from whom flowed God's river.
The spiritual power may not have seemed much at the beginning but, just
like Ezekiel's river, it increased in depth and power as it went on. Take
Ezekiel himself. Is it not reasonable to suppose that humanly speaking he
owed much to Jeremiah? We know that while the younger man was with the captives
in Babylon, Jeremiah sent letters to God's faithful people there, encouraging
them to stand true to the Lord. We must take the two men together. It would
be wrong to contrast them, considering Jeremiah as the man of judgment, with
a dismal and depressing ministry and thinking of Ezekiel as the cheerful
messenger of hope. No, they worked together, even though they lived so far
apart. In point of fact the bright and positive period of Ezekiel's ministry
only commenced after news had been received of the fall of Jerusalem
(Ezekiel 33:21-22). When judgment had fallen, then the Lord could reveal hope
of the Spirit's working.
Then we must consider Daniel and his friends, who were also in Babylon.
Through all the long years of captivity, in spite of the Dead Sea of worldliness,
human glory and powerless religion all around them, these men were kept in
abundant spiritual vitality. The river flowed through them. Spiritually it
was the same river which emerged from Jeremiah's ministry, and it certainly
had the same end in view.
The captivity was over. Amid scenes of enthusiastic rejoicing, the remnant
prepared to return to the land. The river of life was flowing on, deepening
now and growing wider and fuller. God was turning the captivity as the streams
in the South. The mountains broke forth into singing, the trees of the field
clapped their hands, the thorns turned into fir trees and the briars were
changed into myrtles. What a majestic movement of life flowed on through
those desert regions, bringing hope of recovery to the desolated land. And
it all happened "that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might
be accomplished" (Ezra 1:1). This, then, was the same river which had seemed
to trickle so pathetically from Jeremiah which had now broadened out into
a mighty stream.
And the river flows ever on. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews
was at an advanced point; for him there was a river to swim in. When he
sat down to communicate to the believers of his day (and ours) the wonder
and glory of the New Covenant, he had to rely on Jeremiah's prophecies to
convey his message. So Jeremiah's river had not dried up! Not at all. The
whole Church has been enriched by his ministry. His secret is that he was
a thirsty man who went to the fountain of living waters for his own soul's
needs and found that the rivers went flowing out, even as the Lord Jesus
said they would. The secret remains the same -- "because the waters thereof
issue out of the sanctuary".
The River and the Altar
This brings us to the great difference between the rivers that flowed
from Eden and this river of Ezekiel's. The narrative of Genesis 2 describes
the time before sin had entered in, the time when the garden was the place
of unclouded fellowship between God and man. From such a garden of communion,
blessing could flow freely out to the four corners of the earth. Ezekiel's
ministry, however, was concerned with a people whose fellowship with God
had been marred by disobedience and sin, so that the place of communion was
not simply a garden but a temple with an altar. Ezekiel tells us in his vision
that the [89/90] waters flowed from beside the altar
(Ezekiel 47:1) which just means that in spiritual experience, the Holy Spirit
is closely associated with the cross of Christ.
A study of Ezekiel's altar will reveal that its dimensions were very
great and its position most significant. It stood at the very entrance to
the house and must not be by-passed. "When the people of the land shall
come before the Lord in the appointed feasts, he that entereth by the way
of the north gate to worship shall go forth by the way of the south gate;
and he that entereth by the south gate shall go forth by the way of the north
gate: he shall not return by the gate whereby he came in, but shall go straight
before him " (Ezekiel 46:9). There must be no turning back at the altar,
no avoiding of its challenge and cost. If only the cross of Christ is allowed
to do its full work of ruling out all self-righteousness and all self-sufficiency,
then the promise is sure that the rivers of living fullness will flow out.
Is there any word from the Lord about the Spirit's fullness? Indeed,
there is and it may well be that Christ's promise to the thirsty believer
was based on this vision of Ezekiel. It was certainly based on the Scriptures.
It is surely a timely message. It is still needed. And it is still gloriously
ABIDING SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES
(Some lessons from the life of Solomon)
1. THE ACCESSION OF SOLOMON. 1 Chronicles 28 & 29
THE author of the books of Chronicles took what might well appear the
dry facts of history and did his best, under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit, to make them come alive to his readership. His work consisted of
turning history into preaching. One of the key words for the understanding
of the books of Chronicles is the word 'principles'.
These two books are not just history. They are a sermon, and at the centre
of the sermon stands David the king. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles
lead up to him. The rest of that book is all about him. The first nine chapters
of 2 Chronicles describe the reign of his son and successor, Solomon. The
rest of 2 Chronicles describes the consequences and the continuing line of
David upon the throne in Jerusalem, not simply while that throne continued
there but beyond to the exile and what came after.
We ask ourselves what is the nature of this message? Is it simply an
attempt to recreate the past in a spirit of nostalgia? I don't think that
it is that. Nor do I think that it is merely to depict this great figure
of the past as an example for the present, as if you took the David of Chronicles
as a real living man of God and tried to pattern your own service for God
on that model. This may be true in many cases in the Old Testament, but it
is not the approach of this chronicler. Nor does it seem to me that he treats
David as a kind of apocalyptic character, comforting us with the thought that
although things are not now as they were then, one day David will return in
all his glory, so we can make this our expectation and hope. This is often
the theme of the Old Testament, but I do not think that this was the purpose
of the chronicler's message.
No, this was rather a message for the times. He lived and wrote in what
Zechariah called "a day of small things" when so much of what he was going
to write about belonged to the remote past and might have seemed to have
little to do with the affairs of the present. Some things continued, it is
true, but other things were very different. There was still a people of Israel,
but it had been greatly reduced and was now only a tribe or two. There was
still a holy city, with a temple of sorts in it, but honestly those who had
seen the first temple grieved that this one was not a patch on it. There
was still a house of David in existence, but it was there by the courtesy
of the kings of Persia, and the sons of David were no longer called kings.
There may have been enough continuity for people to admit some sort of
tenuous link between the past and their own day, but the changes were
[90/91] enormous. 'The circumstances are so different now,' they
would have said, 'so we rather doubt whether we can learn anything from
those dusty old tales of David and his kingdom.' In other words, the original
readers of the books of the Chronicles were, in many respects, in the same
position as we are in today. We are perfectly conscious of the continuity
between Bible times and our own times; we know that they are part of the
same history, but it may seem remote and somewhat irrelevant. We understand
in theory that God is the same God, that His house is still in existence,
but it seems so far away that it may appear to have little or nothing to
do with us.
It is to those days "of small things", that the chronicler wrote his
message. He described the glories of King David for an age when there was
no more a king, to press the question of what we can learn from them and
what spiritual principles we can draw from sacred history to be applied
to modern day life. I think that one of the key words for understanding
the books of the Chronicles is the word 'principles', and another key word
would be the word 'continuity'. We are to understand what still holds good
when many things are so different.
Our study of abiding principles from the life of Solomon must begin in
1 Chronicles 28 which describes his accession to the throne. In a sense
he is something of a cipher in these two chapters, since the main figure
is King David. He was the one who set up the whole affair of his son's accession
to kingly power, and the passage is of great interest to us because it pinpoints
the transfer of power. The writer takes us to the very point where David
was to stand down, directing our thoughts to what continued right into Solomon's
day. By the same token, the chronicler asked his readers what it was that
had continued into their day, the 5th century or whenever it was, and invites
us to extend the same thing and, as we read these chapters, to ask ourselves
what it is that continues into our day.
1. The Lord is to be Recognised. 28:1-8
David called the responsible men and the seasoned warriors in order to
crown his son Solomon and announced that after he himself had gone from
the scene, the Lord would still be there to be recognised. The section tells
us that he was very concerned about the Temple, but found that it was not
to be his job but was to be built by Solomon. Some commentators would say
that the Temple was the real continuity throughout the Chronicles. In the
building of the Temple and its worship, they find the connecting thread of
the narrative. In a sense that may be true, but I want you to notice that
before David set about giving Solomon the plan for this great work of the
building of the Temple, he had much to say about the Lord Himself. Behind
the visible things stands the God of Israel.
The Lord is a God who disposes (v.3). David had it in his heart to build
a house of rest for the Ark of the covenant, but God vetoed this. Man proposes,
but God disposes, and when He does so it is always because He has something
even better in mind. The Lord is a God who elects (v.4). "The Lord, the God
of Israel, chose me," said David. He chose Judah out of all the tribes of
Israel, He chose David's father's house out of all the houses of Judah, He
chose David out of all his father's sons, and then He chose Solomon to be
We notice that when David said that God had chosen Solomon, the chronicler
ignores all the palace intrigues that surrounded that choice (1 Kings 1)
as well as the unsavoury story that preceded the birth of Solomon (2 Samuel
12). This was not because he did not know or believe what had happened but
to stress the sovereignty of God. His readers knew all about those stories,
for they had all read the books of Samuel and Kings, but the Holy Spirit wishes
to remind them that behind everything else there is a God who elects those
whom He wishes to serve Him, and that it was His choice which made Solomon
king. David stated that the Lord had given him many sons, but insisted that
out of them it was the Lord who chose Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:5). In this
same verse we note that, although it was to be the throne of David, it is
called "the throne of the kingdom of the Lord".
For all David's own greatness, he was perfectly willing to acknowledge
that there was One far greater than he. Behind all the human failures and
intrigues, behind all the doings of men, behind the greatness of David and
the wealth of Solomon, stands the majestic Lord of all. David himself confessed:
"Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me" (Psalm
139:5). He knew that the Lord had been before him and would continue after
him. When he died, Solomon would have the throne, but after Solomon had
died, the Lord would still be on His throne. When all the line of David
seemed to [91/92] have run away into the sand, the
Lord would still be there. When Israel had been conquered by the Romans,
the Lord would remain, for His throne is an abiding principle. Even in the
day of small things, the Lord must always be recognised.
2. His Plan is to be Followed. 28:9-21
Solomon was to serve the Lord with a perfect heart and with a willing
mind, knowing that the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan
and fault, so that the plans of men are brought face to face with the plan
of God. (v.11). While it was David who gave Solomon the detailed plan of the
Temple that was to be built, we take this as an example of the fact that God
has a plan for every aspect of the life of His servants.
I want you to notice the detail into which he went. There was the plan
for the buildings (vv.11-12), the plan for the service of the Temple (v.13),
the plan for every little metal vessel that was to be used in that service
(vv.11-17) and, to crown all, the plan for the altar and the Ark (v.18) which
was right at the centre of the worship of God. God's plan is the one into
which all our plans have to be brought.
In embryo the plan was given to David, though he was debarred from fulfilling
it, so it was still there when Solomon came to the throne. Solomon received
the plan and followed it in great detail. When it was stated that the Lord
understands all the imaginations of the thoughts (v.9), we ask ourselves
whose plans and thoughts are they that the Lord understands. Was it the thoughts
and plans of Solomon, than whom there was none greater in Old Testament history
in the matter of wisdom? There was no wiser, cleverer, more learned, more
erudite man than he, yet the Lord insisted that Solomon's plans had to be
brought into line with His. It was as though He said: 'I have a plan for
your life, Solomon, and your happiness and the welfare of your people consist
in following My plan.'
David had it first, but even after David had died, the plan was still
there to be followed, and even after Solomon had gone, the plan would still
be there to be followed. To follow the plan of God is no slavish obedience;
it is the recipe for success. It is not misery; it is joyful confidence. When
we read David's exhortation to Solomon: "Be strong and of good courage, and
do it; fear not, nor be dismayed; for the Lord God, even my God, is with thee;
he will not fail thee nor forsake thee" (v.20) we remember that these are
similar words to those in Deuteronomy 31:6-7 and also in Joshua 1:6-9. Again
they can be found in Hebrews 13:5, and in every case they concern those who
are called to follow out the plan of God. It is on the basis of obedience
to His divine plan that the Lord promises His presence, promises freedom
from fear and dismay and encourages men to be strong. The promises apply to
us as we adhere to God's plan.
3. The Challenge is to be Answered. 29:1-9
For us too there is a challenge to be answered. It came from David to
the whole assembly when he said, "Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen,
is yet young and tender, and the work is great; for the palace is not for
man, but for the Lord God." The implication was that it required their best.
David himself answered the challenge by stating how he had provided for the
house of God so far as he was able. "Gold for the things of gold, silver for
the things of silver ..." and so on. What was more, he had a treasure of
his own, and he proposed to prove his devotion to the house of his God by
giving that also. "Now," he said, "I have answered the challenge; what about
The following verses report that the leaders all responded. They gave
a tremendous amount (v.7). The currency quoted, darics, was not known in
David's day, in fact not until some hundreds of years later. In this way,
however, the chronicler updated the facts of David's time into what was current
in his day, as if putting it in the terms of his readers so that they would
appreciate that the challenge was still there to be answered. There was still
a house of God and there was still a plan to be fulfilled; he put the old
story into more modern terms to inspire Israelites of his own day to think
in a topical way. Indeed, as we read the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai,
Zechariah and Malachi, we see that from time to time God's people were so
slow to respond to the challenge that they needed to be roused to action.
They had to be told that if they were really wholehearted in their service
to God, this meant that in very practical terms they must show it by the
contributions which they were prepared to give.
The challenge is still put to us. Much has changed, we live in a very
different world either from the kingdom of David and Solomon or from the
day of small things of which the chronicler [92/93]
wrote, but the principles continue and it is as though David still said
to us: "Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?"
(v.5). The literal translation of the words 'to consecrate' is to fill one's
hands. Who will come to the Lord with his hands full and say, 'Lord it is
all Yours'? Behind the action of the hands was the attitude of the heart;
the important point is that the people rejoiced because they had given willingly,
with a ready heart (v.9).
3. The Joy is Still to be Expressed. 29:10-19
The offerings were very numerous, the sacrifices abundant, and they ate
and drank before the Lord on that day with great gladness. "All things come
of Thee and of Thine own have we given Thee" (v.14). These are the very words
which we use today in our worship of the same great and glorious Lord. David
spoke in a day which was so different and the chronicler stressed his words
in another day which was different, but they are just as appropriate in
our day for the principles are the same and, although we express it in different
ways, our joy is still the same.
"O Lord our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee an
house for thy holy name cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own" (v.16).
But it was not just the gold and silver that came from the Lord but "all
that is in heaven and in the earth" (v.11). David could look right back to
the days of Abraham, and Isaac, and Israel (v.18) and was so happy to know
that the God who gave them grounds for joy in their day was still filling
His people's hearts with joy in the Tenth Century B.C. and prayed that His
people might ever find their joy in God, so that when he was dead and Solomon's
kingdom had crumbled into dust, the same joy would still be expressed. A
joy in the hearts of the people of God, which they cannot keep to themselves
but must express in whatever form is appropriate to their culture and age,
should characterise them in every moment of time.
4. The King is Still to be Enthroned. 29:22-30
All these continuing principles come to a climax in the truth that when
all the days of David and of the chronicler have become remote history, when
the Lord is recognised, His plan followed, the challenge answered and the
joy expressed, there is still the King to be enthroned. If we compare these
two chapters with the corresponding passages in 1 Kings we find an enormous
number of differences, not the least of which was what actually happened
when David handed over the kingdom to Solomon. It is a sorry tale of sordid
intrigue and palace conspiracies, with David a weak, ineffectual and bed-ridden
The chronicler knew that story and knew that his readers knew it too,
but he was not concerned to repeat what other historians had written but
only to lift out of that story the one thing which was central to his message,
namely that kingship continued in Israel. From verse 26 and on we are told
that the kingship continued in all its glory so that David the son of Jesse
reigned for forty years and died in a good old age, full of days and riches
and honour, and then Solomon his son reigned in his stead. The chronicler
was not manipulating history but simply selecting what suited his own purpose
of bringing out the continuity of the kingship.
David went, but there was still a king to be enthroned -- "Thine is the
kingdom, O Lord" (v.11). The kingdom never failed even when David died and
when Solomon died and when his successors perished. When Zerubbabel, now
only a prince, came back from captivity and after him the line seemed to die
out altogether, the divine kingdom continued. That is why the chronicler,
even in his day of small things, even when there was no king, stressed the
glory of the kingdom.
Psalm 72 which is headed "A Psalm of Solomon" speaks of eternal verities
and not just pious platitudes when its verses tell of the eternal and universal
dominion of the king of Israel. God's righteousness is to be given to the
Royal Son (v.1), who will continue as long as the sun endures and as long
as the moon, throughout all generations (v.5). He will have dominion from
sea to sea, and from the River unto the ends of the earth (v.8). He will
live ... and men shall pray for him continually (v.15). Blessings will be
invoked for him all the day. His name will endure for ever, as long as the
sun; and men shall be blessed in him; and all nations shall call him happy
(v.17). This is not merely oriental flattery but the veriest eternal truth.
The king is still here to be enthroned amid His people so that through all
those discouraging days in which the chronicler lived and wrote, even when
there [93/94] was no throne left in Jerusalem, he
could still affirm that the throne is the Lord's.
Let us take to heart the lesson. Even when Israel was downtrodden and
depressed, the Lord still reigned. Even when the kingdom of David and Solomon
had just become an old tale in the old book of the Chronicles, the King,
the true Son of David, is still here to be enthroned. We rejoice in Him and
hope to find that Solomon has yet many more lessons to tell us of His greatness
and glory. God is still on the throne!
(To be continued)
THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD (5)
THE GLORY OF ETERNITY
Reading: Romans 8:18-25
EVERY moment a great sigh goes up to God the Creator from a creation
which has been subjected to the vanity of death and destruction. We know
this, for we also groan within ourselves, and if we had not the firm promise
of future glory, we would echo the words of the Preacher: "Vanity of vanities,
all is vanity. One generation goeth, and another generation cometh; and the
earth abideth for ever."
Apart from the bright hope of the gospel everything would be meaningless.
All the time, dying people are going the way of all flesh; natural calamities
are constantly occurring and the threatening clouds of nuclear warfare are
never far from mankind. Think of the problems of physical sickness and, even
more, of mental illness in our own lands. Far abroad we are told of millions
who are starving, millions who are refugees, and we know that in some lands
many suffer cruelty and torture under inhuman conditions.
Is the whole world mad? Well, in one sense it is, and more so than most
of us realise.
The Whole World in the Evil One
The Bible does not tell us about the origin of sin and rebellion against
the Creator. To say that evil comes from the Devil is only to provoke the
further question of the origin of the angel of light and God's reason for
allowing him to fall. No, in this present age we have no final answer to
questions about the origin of evil. The Bible presents us with the fact of
the Fall, and informs us that the whole world lies in the evil one.
Man denies this. Indeed it is part of the Fall that men persist in asserting
that at bottom man is good and desires what is good. Blindness to facts is
the terrible characteristic of fallen man. He sees, and yet he does not see;
he hears, and yet he is deaf. From this stem all the misery and evil that
are so common to humanity. It is man who leads the way into all kinds of
evils which have no counterpart in the lower creation.
The whole world lies in the evil one. So it is that one man's gain comes
from another man's loss. Those who want to get on have to elbow their way
and thrust others back and down. The nations are wild beasts which throughout
history have trodden down the weak. There is no form of government which
can change this. However much a community is organised, it is still a play-thing
of Satan. Over and above all, it is man himself who lies in the evil one,
and he cannot be set free from his slavery to sin and death by means of changes
in his outward circumstances.
Peace movements, women's movements, social reforms, education improvements,
international agreements on disarmament, co-operation on monetary matters
and on human rights, do not alter one iota the terrible fact that the whole
world lies in the lap of Satan.
The whole creation groans because of this. It applies to the animals,
so that is why they kill one another. The curse works with them also, life
being sustained in one by the death of another and so preying and violence
rule in the animal kingdom. It seems to apply even to plant life, for even
there the fight for existence goes on, twining plants growing around trees
and strangling them, weeds choking the life of fruitful or flowering plants.
The power of the evil one does not stop with the animal and vegetable
world; it penetrates right into the sphere of atoms and unseen microscopic
life. Right at the heart of creation a merciless fight is going on, so that
disintegration and corruption are so rife that we might almost use the word
self-destruction. Not that any created thing meets this without resistance.
Everything resists death and reacts against it as the last and worst enemy.
All fear death. Mankind fears it; the animals fear it; even the smallest insect
fights against it. This is the final consequence of sin's corruption.
We humans sigh most deeply, for we bear the responsibility both for causing
it and also for finding a way out of it. Ours is a responsibility which the
rest of the creation does not share. It was by a man that sin came
into the world, and death resulted from that sin (Romans 5:12) and it is
still the sin of mankind which keeps all the creation in its rebellion against
God and so in its situation of despair. Man's sin is the calamity of creation,
for in effect it affirms that God is not Lord but man is. No wonder the
human verdict given by the Preacher is that all is vanity.
With all the creation's wonderful beauty, with the radiance of its morning
joys, with the great beauty of the purest music, with the most worthy expressions
of lofty ideals, nothing can rid the race of a sadness which cannot be shaken
off. The sigh is universal, for the whole creation is not free but in a bondage
which is quite beyond endurance.
Liberation by Redemption
Having said all this, we still have not faced the deepest horror of all,
which is spiritual darkness and death. We are not able to measure the aggregated
might of spiritual evil, and we have not stood where the grave of an appalling
depth of darkness opens for the soul. We could not stand there without being
sucked down into that abyss, for we have no power to resist the evil and
darkness of satanic power.
But there is One who has stood there! He faced it and He conquered. His
spirit was pure, giving no point of contact at all with the kingdom of darkness.
He met the concentrated might of Satan's kingdom without any kind of yielding
or compromise. His fight concerned the headship over all God's creation,
a headship which could only be taken away from him if one who was stronger
than he could go into His house and take his prey from him. Strength in this
connection does not mean physical might, but something entirely different.
The question was, had Jesus strength to bear the sin of the world without
Himself sinning; had He strength to atone for the sin of the world by enduring
the punishment of the wrath of God in all its horror; had He strength enough
to remain obedient unto God right into the deepest darkness? In a word, of
His own free will, had He strength enough to die in the place of sinners?
Thank God, He had! His spirit experienced the deepest horrors, the diabolical
might of darkness and evil. He stood at the brink of the dizzy abyss of death,
while the waves of God's wrath passed over His soul and His body was martyred
on the tree of the cross. But in all this, He opened not His mouth; in all
this He did not shrink back for a moment from the path of obedience; in
all this He did not give way to the temptation to bitterness of spirit,
but suffered and suffered and suffered, as the true Lamb of God.
Not a single soul can follow Him nor begin to understand what He suffered.
All that we can say in comment or appreciation is so pitifully feeble that
perhaps we would do better not to try to say anything, but just to worship
. What we do know is that His victory is so complete that all power that
Satan had in heaven or on earth has been taken from him and given to the
Son of Man who gloriously triumphed in that awful hour of darkness. His victory
was confirmed and attested by the Father, who raised Him from the dead and
set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies, far above all authority
and every name that can be named.
Jesus is Lord! You have not made Him Lord: the Father has done that and
so for ever He remains Lord of all. We are told that in His victory over
the strong (man), He took all his goods (or property) from him (Matthew 12:29).
The whole creation is included in this description of what Satan held in
possession. He who had the power of death and corruption has been totally
vanquished. Since this is true, then there is hope for the whole creation
to be set free from the bondage of corruption. So the new prospect for creation
has become certain with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the
Restoration must begin with the responsible creature, that is, man. It
is he who must be saved [95/96] from sin and guilt
so that he can be re-instated as lord over the lower creation. He could
not save himself; only the crucified and risen Christ could save him, and
so it is that in this age, the sovereign Lord is taking out from all peoples,
nations, tribes and tongues, a people who know the experience of full salvation
by faith in Him. This people is called the first fruits of all creation. Already
they are true children of God, and yet they are not yet able to rule over
the creation, for their bodies are not redeemed from corruption. For the
time being it is not evident that they are children of God and reigning as
kings and priests on the earth, but the day is coming when this will be openly
seen, for then their bodies will be changed into the likeness of the Lord's
resurrection body. This will happen when the Lord Jesus comes again visibly.
The whole creation is waiting for that day with a deep longing. Sometimes
the longing is almost intolerable. When the true Lord of creation comes,
then through the fully restored lords of creation, men, the rest of the creation
will enjoy the blessings of restoration.
The Rebirth of the World
Scripture uses various expressions for that full restoration. The Lord
spoke of "the renewal of all things" (Matthew 19:28); Peter spoke of "the
times of restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21) and John in the Revelation
described what Peter called "a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth
righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13). This is something which no eye has ever seen
nor any ear heard, something which no heart of man has conceived and which
could only be indicated in picture language in the Holy Scriptures. We include
it all in the comprehensive word "glory", but it is a glory which passes
human conception. Paul said that the sufferings of this present time are
not worthy to be compared with it (Romans 8:18) though he suffered as few
others have done.
This glory is described negatively as a sphere where "death shall be
no more" (Revelation 21:4). We are told that death is to be cast into the
lake of fire, struck by the eternal wrath of God, as though by this means,
on behalf of His redeemed creation, God will take revenge upon corruption
for all the hurt and pain, all the sorrow and despair it has caused. The
great refrain of those glorious verses in Revelation is "no more".
No more sea, no more death, no more pain or mourning or crying, no more curse
and no more night. And there will no longer be any possibility of temptation
or sin, for sin will have been done away with and the tempter cast into the
lake of fire. God will be all in all.
Then we who have a part in this glory will become like our Lord, for
we will have been clothed with resurrection bodies, that is to say, bodies
of glory like His body after the resurrection. I do not venture to say much
about these, for it is yet a mystery, but we are told that they will be bodies
entirely governed by and permeated with the Spirit of God, and will therefore
be gloriously vital and incorruptible. We cannot understand that further dimension
of life, but we must be content faintly to see a little, earnestly to long
for more and patiently to wait for the full realisation.
What knitting severed friendships up,
Where partings are no more!
It will indeed be glory to gather up again in unfading joy with those
loved ones who have gone before. It is hard to lose our dear ones; it is
painful to miss them; it hurts as we long for them -- it is all one great
passionate sigh: "Come, Lord Jesus, Come quickly." And the Lord does not
ignore that sigh; He has promised not to delay the promise: "Yet a little
while, and He that cometh will come, and will not tarry." Then we will receive
so much more than we have ever prayed and longed for, no more remembering
our toil but seeing His face and walking in the light of His face with one
We will still be human beings, each with our own special characteristics,
but without any bad features. We will love and serve and worship, and surely
we shall always be learning. The lower creation will be wholly restored,
thriving with us in the blessedness of God's love. When we are told that He
knows every single creature, not a sparrow falling without His will and all
the beasts of the forest being His (Psalm 50:10-11), we realise that this
means more than His knowing about them; it means that they are important to
This wonderful eternal day, when all creation will praise God together,
is described in several places in the Bible: "Every created thing which is
in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and
all things that are in them, heard I saying, Unto him that sitteth on the
throne and unto the Lamb, be the blessing and the honour, and the glory and
the dominion, [96/97] for ever and ever" (Revelation
5:13). Yes, indeed "Worthy are thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the
glory ... for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they
were, and were created" (Revelation 4:11).
You may still have objections and ask me whether I have not forgotten
all the pests. No I have not, and I am sure that God has not forgotten them
either. What we need to remember is that resurrection involves the transformation
of man, who might be described as the greatest of all pests. For him, resurrection
involves the putting off of the old man with all his sinfulness, and since
it involves such an entire change for the sinner, man, it is not difficult
to believe that it will involve a transformation in the realm of nature.
Animals of prey will prey no longer; set free from the curse, serpents will
no more seek to strike, and every creature, even the least, will take up its
place in God's glorified creation, the beauty and harmony of which exceeds
all our powers of imagination.
The Living Hope
All this and much more is being kept for us as an incorruptible and undefiled
inheritance that fades not away. It is to this hope that we are saved. It
is a living hope as opposed to all human hopes, for He who raised
us up to this hope by His resurrection from the dead lives throughout all
eternity. It is He who has so triumphed as to obtain all the glory of God
We go on hoping though as yet we do not see. With the eyes of faith,
however, we should see all the unseen things and be affected by them, while
the seen things should lose their dominating significance in our lives.
Every day we should be saying: "Lord Jesus, come soon!" Such hope should
make us pray with new love and warmth of heart, making us ready to be all
things to all men in order to save some. We must not cling to our own things
but be happy to give and to serve. Especially we ought to seek to be helpful
to those who are suffering trials, helping to bear their burdens and make
the way lighter for them, by the grace of God. They, like us, may look forward
eagerly to the goal of our salvation, even the soon coming of our beloved
Lord and Saviour.
Here is a translation of a glorious hymn, written by Grundtvig, a famous
Danish hymn writer. I have not been able to preserve the beauty of the poetry,
but here it is:
You give to our hearts what the world does not know;
What we vaguely see, while our eyes are still blue,
Yet lives within us, we feel it so true:
My land, says the Lord, is heaven and earth,
Where love ever dwells.
Oh happy thing!
To live where death has for aye lost its sting,
Where all that has faded blooms up fresh, anew,
Where all that was jaded springs up to the view,
Where love ever grows as the days in the Spring,
With roses in ring!
Oh happy land!
Where no hourglass runs out nor with weeping nor sand,
Where flowers never wither, where birds never die,
Where happiness shines clearly, and ne'er is a lie,
Where the price is not paid in sorrow and care
For snow white hair.
"FOR LOVE'S SAKE"
(Paul's letter to Philemon)
RIGHT in the middle of the spiritual history of the Israelites, there
is a small personal story which contains not national implications but a
tale of love which warms our hearts as we read of those concerned. I refer
to the book of Ruth which lies between Judges and 1 Samuel. In the New Testament
we have a similar phenomenon. Right in between great epistles full of deep
doctrines, we have a simple affectionate note from an old man to his personal
friend. Philemon lies between Paul's apostolic letters and the doctrinal
treatise of Hebrews. It teaches no [97/98] special
doctrine; it is just a homely note from the prisoner Paul to his old friend,
Philemon, but the little missive warms our hearts as we read it.
In these days of telephonic communication, letter writing is becoming
more unusual or formal, but we should never forget that great spiritual blessing
as well as soul comfort can be communicated in a letter. Special importance
is usually attached to Paul's prison epistles. This little personal letter
must take its place among them, for it has been preserved by the Holy Spirit
to have its place with the rest of inspired Scripture. It must have a valuable
message for us all.
In a sense, it is a kind of parable, setting forth the true meaning and
worth of divine love. Nothing could be more timely in our day. Faith faces
constant and intense assaults which can only to be combated and overcome
by love. It is therefore important for us to be reminded of how greatly we
are loved. This seems to be the message of the Letter to Philemon.
A Love Born of Suffering
The bearer of the letter, Onesimus, is presented to his former master
as one whom Paul greatly loves. "That is my very heart," writes the apostle.
Now Paul had a large number of people converted through his ministry and
no doubt loved them all. On this occasion, however, he spoke in such emphatic
terms of his tender affection for this particular one that we may well ask
the reason for such strong love. Why was Onesimus so precious to him? The
answer to that question seems to lie in the circumstances of the man's conversion
-- "whom I have begotten in my bonds" or "who became my son while I was in
Others were begotten through Paul's preaching, through his labours, through
his journeyings: this one was begotten in his chains. The new birth of Onesimus
was the direct result of Paul's prison trials and afflictions. There is a
peculiar preciousness (and Christlikeness) associated with the fruit of suffering.
Love is most strong and tender when it has borne sorrow and pain on behalf
of the one loved.
Centuries before Christ, near Bethlehem, a boy was born in circumstances
of what might rightly be called tragedy. After great suffering, his mother
gave him birth, but at the cost of her own life; and with her dying breath
she pronounced his name -- Ben-oni -- son of my sorrow (Genesis 35:18). The
father, however, for whom it must have seemed like the end of the world,
changed that name to Benjamin -- "The son of my right hand". The very suffering
and loss associated with his birth made that boy most precious ever after.
Jacob's youngest son was born in deep sorrow, and consequently was always
specially beloved of his father.
So it is with every true believer. Christ has given us new birth as the
fruit of His bitter sufferings on the cross. He will therefore always regard
us with a peculiar love. At one and the same time we are sons of His sorrow
and yet His beloved Benjamin. "And you ..." exclaims Paul to the Ephesians
(2:1) following up that exclamation with a reminder of their shameful and
worthless past and associating himself with them in it. "We were by nature
the children of wrath" he admits, but then follows immediately with another
exclamation: "But God ..." and goes on to speak of God's great love wherewith
He loved us (Ephesians 2:4). We may be worthless in ourselves but we have
been redeemed at very great cost.
In the course of his journey from Rome to Colossae, Onesimus might well
often have felt discouraged or apprehensive. If so, a reference to the letter
which he carried would completely reassure him. The one who sent him was
more than a passing benefactor and regarded him with a more than ordinary
affection; His was the burning intensity of love which had been kindled in
the fires of affliction. 'He loves me like that' the ex-slave could rightly
repeat to himself in his hours of despondency. We, too, on life's dusty journey
have more than just one letter, for we have a whole Book which assures us
that in Christ we are loved with Calvary love. Dare we believe it? We are
"His very heart!"
Love Pays the Debt
One of Onesimus's chief problems was how to repay his debt to Philemon.
He had greatly wronged his master by running away from him, and it is generally
considered likely that he had actually robbed Philemon. Paul states the case
very mildly when he writes: "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought"
(v.18). If he had taken himself from Philemon's possession and had also
misappropriated his master's money, he was doubly guilty. There can be little
doubt about it; Onesimus owed his master more than he could ever repay.
Love is not careless or indulgent. Paul did not counsel his friend to
forget it. What he did, though, was not to ignore or depreciate the indebtedness
but undertake personally to accept full responsibility. What a comfort it
must have been to Onesimus to read and re-read those noble words, "... put
that to my account: I, Paul, write it with my own hand, I will repay it."
Even between close friends, Paul could not leave this important matter to
a general understanding but made the formal declaration: "I, Paul, write
it with my own hand."
But if Onesimus's debt was great, who can measure the enormous debt which
the sinner owes to God? How grievously have we wronged Him, cheating Him
of what was rightly His, and misappropriating it for our own selfish use.
"If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought ...". There is no "if" in our
case. Every sincere penitent is aware of the great debt of his sin against
God, a debt which he cannot begin to repay. Let him then listen to the gracious
words of the Lover of his soul: "Put that to my account!" This is the very
heart of "the gospel. Christ has paid sin's debt in full. It is a pierced
Hand which writes our guarantee of pardon: "I will repay it".
What a tragedy it would have been if Onesimus, swayed by a false shame,
had decided to delay his return until he himself could have earned the necessary
sum to discharge his debt! He could not have done it. He never would have
returned. Nor shall we, if we postpone our return to God until we feel that
we can offer some ground of righteousness in ourselves. Saint and sinner
alike must turn for comfort to the cross, and anew hear the Saviour speak
love's words: "Put that to my account". "He himself bare all our sins in his
own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).
A further request seems almost too good to be true: "Receive him as myself"
or "Welcome him as you would welcome me" (v.17). It is not difficult to imagine
the kind of reception Onesimus could expect from the man whom he had so
greatly wronged. There is a knock at the door. A servant brings word as
to the new arrival. It is Onesimus, the runaway! Philemon would hardly have
been human if he had not felt hot resentment at the presence of the miserable
wastrel who had done him so much injury. If, however, as a Christian he
sought to be patient; if he set aside all thoughts of revenge or punishment;
even if he refrained from reproaches, Philemon could surely feel little pleasure
at the transgressor's return but rather let the meeting be marked by coldness
Supposing, however, that the servant had announced not Onesimus but the
apostle Paul himself! What a warmth of welcome there would be! How the house
would resound with the joyful news that the most beloved Paul had suddenly
arrived! What embraces, what congratulations, what glad rejoicings there
would be! No-one knew better than Paul the kind of welcome that he would receive
from his dear friend, and yet he actually requested that Onesimus should
be welcomed in the same way. "Receive him as myself -- welcome him as you
would welcome me".
Whether or not Philemon was able to obey the apostle's injunction and
welcome Onesimus in this way we do not know. But we do know that this is
God's manner of receiving us. Not as we are, in all our shame, but as if
we were Christ, sweeping triumphantly through the everlasting doors of glory.
Not in our own name, but in His dear Son Jesus Christ. We are "accepted in
Here is the glorious result of redemption. So sublime is the reconciliation
made between God and man by the cross, that the Father does not contemplate
us in our natural state of rebels and debtors but receives us on the basis
of the perfect righteousness of Christ. "Receive him" says the Lord Jesus,
"not as an undeserving sinner but as Myself, the well-beloved Son." We may
have our doubts about Philemon but there can be no doubt at all that God
does receive us thus, if we come "in the name of the Lord Jesus". Let us never
for one moment harbour any questions about the welcome of love which meets
us every time we turn to God in that name.
Love's Transforming Power
It would have been most natural if Philemon had questioned the wisdom
of such a cordial reception. Supposing he showered his favours upon Onesimus,
only to find that the latter only proved once again to be a worthless ingrate!
Having once been disillusioned, how could he ever trust Onesimus again? The
name Onesimus means 'helpful' or 'useful', but he had belied his name. Who
could say that he would not do so once again?
Paul's letter was designed to deal with this very matter. He freely admitted
the shame of the past [99/100] but made a solemn promise
that it would be different now. "He was aforetime unprofitable to thee,
but now ..." (v.11). The promise was not only given by Onesimus himself,
in fact he was not asked to give it, but the firm guarantee that a radical
change had taken place was written down by the same hand which said that
full repayment would be made. The hitherto useless would now be useful and
indeed had already proved to be so by the writer himself. New birth by the
Spirit of God had meant that there was an entirely new power in his life
-- the power of divine love.
Nowadays many claim to be Christians and even the phrase 'born again'
seems sometimes to have lost its real significance, for the honourable name
is often contradicted by the life. To be a Christian means more than to be
penitent or devout; it means to be a Christ's man, guaranteed by the power
of redeeming love to walk worthily of that name. "If any man is in Christ,
there is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). God's love is not a mere emotion;
it is a transforming power.
Are we, perhaps, a contradiction of our name? If so we need a fresh experience
of the love of Christ. "Aforetime unprofitable!" God knows, we were. "But
now profitable ..." to Him and to others. This must be true if grace
has really taken charge of our lives. "But thanks be to God that, whereas
you were servants of sin, you became obedient from the heart ..." (Romans
6:17). It has become a heart matter. Philemon had more than the penitent's
avowal that he would now try to be true to his name; he had the authoritative
guarantee of the beloved intercessor.
In the same chapter in which Paul makes the contrast: "And you ... but
God", he follows up with a further contrast: "Aforetime ... but now" (Ephesians
2:11 and 13). For them, for Onesimus, and for us, divine love not only blots
out the sins of the past but provides for an altogether new way of life.
This is not a matter of our personal resolves or efforts; it is the transforming
power of the grace of God. Redeeming love provides us with the new energy
of Christ's own life.
Onesimus had a tremendous incentive to make good in the fact that Paul
concluded this little letter with the announcement that he himself might
be expected to arrive at any moment: "Prepare me also a lodging; for I hope
that through your prayers I shall be granted unto you" (v.22).
When the first flush of enthusiasm had passed -- as pass it must -- the
humdrum monotony of daily life might provide many temptations for Onesimus
to lapse into his old ways. Against that temptation, however, he had the
promise of Paul's imminent coming. Perhaps Paul wasn't so far away after all;
perhaps he was journeying to Colossae; perhaps he was quite near; perhaps
he would arrive today! With such a heart-warming prospect in view, how could
Onesimus do anything less than extend himself to the uttermost in devoted
service? Was the apostle's and Philemon's hope ever realised? We do not know,
but we cannot doubt that every effort was made to prepare a lodging for him
as he had suggested.
That coming may not have proved a fulfilled hope, but our hope will most
certainly be realised, and the imminence of the Loved One should prove our
greatest incentive to daily faithfulness. Does Christ seem so far away, and
faithfulness of little importance? Perhaps He is much nearer than we think.
Perhaps today! Ah, what a day that would be, that last one before His Coming,
if only we knew its date! Every day should be such a day. Divine love is
no abstract theory; it is a Living Person, as we so well know. What we are
sometimes inclined to forget, however, is that this Person has said that
He will arrive at such a time as we think not (Matthew 24:44). It is not
only that we do not know when He will come but that just when we think that
we can be sure it will not be today, we will be proved wrong. We must be
What modest satisfaction for Onesimus if Paul's unexpected arrival had
found him fully living up to his name! He was probably still a servant,
though now also a dear brother. What mattered was that he should prove himself
a profitable servant. We should note that this is the same issue which will
confront us all at the Coming of Christ. He promised that to such His commendation
would be: "Well done, good and faithful servant" ... Not "good and
faithful leader" nor "good and faithful official" but "good and faithful
servant". And all for love's sake! That is how we began, so we must finish
with John's declaration: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (5)
"(I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you the word
of the Lord; for ye were afraid because of the fire, and went not up into
the mount)" Deuteronomy 5:5
THIS parenthesis by Moses reminded the Israelites of their need of a
mediator when they entered into covenant relationship with the holy God.
Sinai was an awe-inspiring experience, and the consuming fire of God's presence
struck fear into their hearts. They could not bear to have a direct confrontation
with the One whose voice spoke out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud,
and of the thick darkness (v.22).
IT was God Himself who commanded that the people should keep their distance
and ordained that Moses should act as a mediator between Himself and them,
but the people were equally positive in requesting that they might be spared
a face-to-face meeting with God (Exodus 20:19). When they realised the awesome
situation in which they were found, with thunderings and lightnings, the
sound of God's trumpet and the smoking of the mountain to which He had descended,
"they trembled, and stood afar off". They well knew that an encounter with
the everlasting burnings of God's presence would overwhelm them, so they
were only too thankful to have Moses to stand between their God and themselves.
WE, however, are encouraged to draw near to God. Not that we are any
more fit to do so than they, but because God has mercifully provided us
with the mediatorial work of His Son, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
Apart from Him, the only thing we would know about God would be that He is
a consuming fire.
FAR from regretting the people's cry for a mediator, the Lord expressed
His pleasure in the matter. "They have well spoken unto thee," He said to
Moses. How right we are when we appreciate our need of Christ as our Mediator!
How could we know God as our Father if it were not for the Lord Jesus? How
could we benefit from the New Covenant if it were not sealed by His blood?
FOR Moses the task was so daunting that he confessed that in the presence
of the holy God, "I exceedingly fear and quake" (Hebrews 12:21). After all,
he himself was also a sinner! In the case of the Lord Jesus, however, there
was no such fear. His hands were so clean and His heart so pure that He was
quite at home with the everlasting burnings. But although He did not quake
like Moses, His soul was "exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew
26:38). The task of mediation was only fulfilled by the shedding of His
AND His work is a lasting one. Moses stated that he acted, "at that time".
For us it is not just for one occasion but for all time. There is never a
moment when we do not need Him to be our Mediator. It is our comfort to know
that He constantly stands in the blinding light of glory on our behalf, ever
living to fulfil this labour of love which makes it possible for us boldly
to draw near instead of having to remain distant from God.
A GLORIOUS THRONE, SET ON HIGH FROM THE
BEGINNING, IS THE PLACE OF OUR SANCTUARY.
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