The Unveiling of Jesus Christ # 4
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Revelation 1:1).
Yes, we are in the Book of the Revelation, the most controversial book in the Bible. This book has set up more schools of interpretation than any other. It would not be profitable even to name these schools. Of them all, no two are in agreement, and each one is uncertain of the rightness of the others. The only safe and profitable way is to find what is certain. This is the Bible's way of solving and answering its problems and questions. That is, interpretation and application by spiritual principles. In passing, we do point this out as a really valuable and satisfying method of approach. Apply it to the first chapters of Genesis and there will e a very great deal of rest from the weariness of mental wrestling with questions and problems there. The same is even more true with Revelation. This is what we shall do in this message. We begin with reference to:
The Apocalyptic Method
It is essential to accept the fact that, whatever actuality and literalness there is behind the record here (and of course there is such; it is not a book of myths) it is all presented to us in symbols, figures, resemblances, similitudes, and representations, and not in real and actual things. Dragons, and Beasts, and Bowls, and A Lamb, etc., are not actually such. We ask: why this method?
Well, at least part of the answer relates to the time and condition of the writing. It was a time of terrible and fierce persecution of the Christian Church. The focal point of that persecution was the Christian testimony to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; what the book calls "The testimony of Jesus." That testimony came into direct and immediate collision with Roman Emperor-worship. Caesar took the title of God, and claimed worship as such. The Christians both refused to acknowledge this, and preached Jesus Christ as Lord.
This set up a situation in which it was dangerous to speak in plain terms, names, and definitions. So, in writing to the Church and Christians for their instruction, counsel, comfort, correction, and warning, their spiritual discernment and perception was called into use, and they had to - as we say - 'read between the lines.' No Caesar's name is mentioned, but a representation of him is there. No system is named explicitly, but its character is delineated; and so on.
But the method applies to much more than the immediate historic background or the prophetic horizon: it is applied to almost everything in the book. That has to do with the nature of the book. Now we proceed to the question - Why the book? In another place we were occupied with the last chapters of this book. Here it is with the first chapters, and mainly with chapter one. In this part we are met with:
A Challenge to Christians
Asia is the venue of the vari-sided message, or - if you like - the seven messages. Asia was representative of first century Christianity: that is, Asia had received all the primary and essential apostolic teaching. Paul called it "the whole counsel of God." But some thirty or more years had passed since Paul wrote his great circular letter to Asia and so soon after completed his ministry. In that period - only about thirty years - serious decline had set in in the majority of the churches. The character had changed. Divergence had taken place. The standard had lowered. Measure had been forfeited. The churches were living on a past. The fine gold had become dim. Form had taken the place of life, and works went on without the primary love. It is painful to have to accept the fact that, in even the fullness of the apostolic times, such a change could take place in a comparatively short time. It surely says that, to have had so much is no guarantee of final consistency. This is an age-long peril; the peril besetting the path of anything which had a great and wonderful beginning under the hand of God! It is not difficult to find all over the world the dead shells of what once was a mighty testimony to the sovereign movement of God; a "candlestick of pure gold." We do not dwell on this aspect for the moment, but move on with the positive method of the Lord to meet it.
So we are brought back to the introduction: "The unveiling of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to shew unto His servants". While the whole statement as to the 'shewing' is immediately related to 'the things which must shortly come to pass,' it is essential to note that this whole unveiling is based upon, and issues from, an unveiling and presentation of the Person of God's Son, Jesus Christ. All that follows in the whole book is intimately connected with the personal presentation. The phrase: "to shew unto His servants" comes to relate - at least in the first place - to the churches in Asia, and, of course, to John. This full-length presentation of Jesus Christ will occupy us in this present consideration - is so closely linked with the churches as to 'hold them in His right hand' (1:16, 20), and also "walketh in the midst ..." (2:1).
The point here is:
The Intimate Association of Christ with Conditions
It is not a contradiction or confusion to see Christ in Heaven and at the right hand of God, as Paul and Stephen speak of Him, and then to hear John say that He is imminent and immediate in the churches on earth. And this is shown to be so ever when the churches - the true churches - are in a poor and bad condition. It may come to be that because of certain conditions, as in the case of Laodicea, where Christ is represented as on the outside of the door; nevertheless, He has not deserted and abandoned. We shall see that the real force of this first section is the deep and pained concern for His Church in her state of declension.
(continued with # 5)