"THE UNVEILING OF JESUS CHRIST" - such is the divine title to this scroll. And a divine title it surely is, for it suggests both the contents and character of the prophecy which it commences. This is not a revelation merely of things to come, but it is an unveiling of a person. And the title of this person - Christ - is the key to the method by which this unveiling proceeds. Indeed, the scroll is but an expansion and an unfolding of its opening words.
If we compare this with the man-made title, "The Revelation of St. John, the Divine," how weak and foolish the human addition seems! It undoubtedly was revealed through the beloved disciple, but John never sanctioned such an epithet as "Divine" after his name. "T'were better to call him "Boanerges," a Son of Thunder, in this connection, if we must presume to add to this book in spite of the solemn curse on the one who does it. Let us brush this all aside. It is not merely a revelation through John, it is an unveiling of Jesus Christ.
The title, Christ, is the key to the understanding of this prophecy. With this as a clue the book is transformed from a rambling record of unrelated events to a clear and comprehensive account on His unveiling. Its characters no longer move in a mist of uncertainty; its occurrences are no longer a series of confused happenings, but each scene keeps its appointed position, each character its proper place in the program, according to God's purpose.
We are accustomed to restrict this title to our Lord. Our versions never apply it to any other person. But it is well for us to apprehend that this is not a proper name, which belongs to Him alone, but a title which He shares with others, even though He, in this, as in all else, has the preeminence. Just as there are many masters, but He is the Master, or Lord, so, too, there were many Christs, or anointed ones, though He is the Anointed One, called, in Hebrew, the Messiah, in Greek, the Christ, in English the Anointed. Hence it is that we read of Him (Psa.45:6,7; Heb.1: 8,9):
|"Thy throne, O God, is for the eon of the eon: |
And a scepter of rectitude is the scepter of Thy kingdom.
Thou lovest righteousness and hatest injustice;
Therefore Thou are anointed by God, Thy God,
with the oil of exultation beyond Thy partners."
When Yahweh first planted His tabernacle in the midst of His people Israel He gave directions for the compounding of the holy anointing oil (Ex.30:23). It was composed of olive oil with myrrh and cinnamon, calamus and cassia, fit symbol of the spirit of Yahweh which supplied the qualifications needed to fill the office of priest, or king, or prophet. It was freely used in sanctifying the tabernacle and Aaron and his sons and all the priests who came after them. With it Samuel anointed Saul to be the leader in Israel and David to be their king. Indeed, David was thrice anointed, first in the hidden obscurity of his home in Bethlehem (1 Sam.16:13), then by the men of Judah in Hebron (2 Sam.2:4), and, seven years and six months later, over all Israel (2 Sam.5:3). In this he is a perfect picture of his greater Son, who was anointed by God long before His people acknowledge His claim to the throne.
The only prophet of whose anointing we have any record is Elisha, who received a double portion of Elijah's spirit when he was parted from him in a chariot of fire.
Before entering on His earthly ministry, the proclamation of the Kingdom of the Heavens, our Lord was anointed as He came out from John's baptism, by the spirit of God descending, not in symbolic oil, but in the likeness of a dove (Matt.3:17), and by the declaration of the Father: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I delight." Doubtless He refers to this when He commences His ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth. He opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and read the passage (Isa.61:1), where it is written:
|"The spirit of the Lord is on Me, |
On account of which He anoints Me
to bring the evangel to the poor.
He has commissioned Me
to heal the crushed heart,
To herald to captives a pardon,
And to the blind the receiving of sight;
To dispatch the oppressed with a pardon.
To herald an acceptable year of the Lord..."
Here we have His anointing to the office of Prophet. Like the men of God of the ancient time, He goes about among the apostate nation to bring them to repentance. Here, too, He is anointed King, yet, like David, He would not press His claim to the throne until the people wanted Him. Instead, they stirred up Herod and Pilate against Him (Acts 4:27). Yet, like David in the cave of Adullam, a few, such as Peter, are led to acknowledge, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." After His resurrection many more acknowledge His anointing, fulfilling the type of David's exaltation to the throne of Judah. But, like David, seven years must still elapse before He is crowned King of all Israel. These seven years are fully detailed in this unveiling.
Of old, three classes were anointed with the holy anointing oil - prophets, and kings, and priests. Christ was anointed with holy spirit and power (Acts 10:38) and fulfills all these functions. He is the prophet like Moses. He is the promised Son of David. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
In this prophecy Christ is unveiled in these three characters in succession. First, He is presented as Prophet to the ecclesias in the synagogue, then He is seen in the center of the throne, preparing to assert His regal claims, then the temple is in view and His priestly prerogatives are pressed. Then comes the climax, or turning point, of the prophecy, when the new creation is ushered upon the scene. Then He appears in the same characters again, but in reverse order. Priesthood is first. No temple, indeed, is seen, but He Himself is the Temple of the New Jerusalem. Then the throne appears and His reign extends to the limit of the eonian times. Finally He is a Prophet once again, in the midst of the ecclesias, as we saw Him at the beginning of the scroll.
This beautiful method of unfolding truth is often employed in the Scriptures. The epistle to the Ephesians is a perfect example of this plan, which is called, in Greek, an epanodos, or, in English, a reversion.
Let us note how beautifully this method is carried out in the introduction and conclusion of this book. We begin with the swift unveiling of Jesus Christ and end with His swift coming. Is this not most impressive? How better could the Divine Author force upon us the most important point of all? That is, the great truth that God has not deserted this earth to itself as most people think, but that when the right time comes the Lord will come swiftly and Christ will be unveiled speedily.
Notice, now, the point of second importance, the blessing and the curse, one at the opening and the other at the close. In the light of this how dare any one tamper with this prophecy? How can anyone insist that there is no blessing in it? It is our happy portion to repudiate everything that man has sought to add to it (especially the false title), and to claim the happy lot of those who read or hear this scroll and endeavor to conform our ways to the truth it unfolds.
In this unveiling two separate sections of the prophecy are devoted to each of His glories, one in the day of Yahweh and one in the day of God. He appears first in the character of a Prophet to His own people in the synagogues. Here we see no throne, nor does He perform any act of worship. He is God's spokesman to the apostate people of His choice. Neither rule nor ritual, but righteousness is His theme. He exposes and rebukes and exhorts and promises. These are not the functions of a priest; nor are they the commands of a king. It is of more importance than we dream to know the character in which He presents Himself in this and succeeding sections. How much stress He lays upon the manner of His manifestation may be seen when, in each of the letters to the seven ecclesias, He repeats some appropriate part of His appearance to meet their special need. The fact that He moves among the lampstands somewhat after the manner of the priests in the tabernacle is no reason for making Him a priest in this section, for Moses, the prophet, had access into the holy place, as well as his brother, Aaron, and his sons.
The body of the book, as is shown in the literary framework is filled by the Throne and Temple sections. The first is political in its scope. The latter is religious. Such a division as this may often be noted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Kings and Chronicles, so-called, treat of much the same matter, but one from the human, the other from the divine side. The Minor Prophets are, half of them, political in aim, and half are religious in their object. So that such a division is nothing new, but well known and the natural sequence of God's previous method of revelation.
In the first section, as the Prophet like Moses, He speaks to His own people, Israel. Now, however, He associates them with Himself in the kingdom and temple service. Not only is He a royal Priest, but they are a regal priesthood.
Let us go back to the birth of the nation and see what part Yahweh wished them to play in the earth's affairs. They were rid of the bondage of Egypt. They camped beside Mount Sinai. And Moses went up unto God and Yahweh called unto him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel: `Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bear you on vulture's wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now, therefore, if you will obey My voice, indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation'" (Ex.19:3-6).
This is God's program for the people He had redeemed and brought to Himself. Not for their own sakes merely had He broken the bonds and brought them back to Him. He wished to have all His creatures blessed and they were the chosen channel. He needed a mediatorial nation to bridge the gulf between Him and mankind. The two aspects of this mediation are presented in the two characters which they were to fill. As kings they were to rule the other nations for God: as priests they were to bring them to God. As kings they execute God's will; as priests they lead in His worship. God's primal purpose for them has never been fulfilled. They did not obey, hence they never yet have been a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. As the scroll before us unfolds, we will find that He has ways and means to prepare them for these great functions. After the judgments have purged them, then they are ready to fulfill the purpose for which they were originally called. As priests, they live and reign with Christ the thousand years.
The political section opens with the most magnificent scene which has ever been opened to mortal gaze. The throne of the divine majesty is seen, upon the cherubim. Surrounding it are twenty-four thrones filled by the highest dignitaries of the celestial realms. About all these are thousands upon thousands of messengers. And, in its ever widening reach, the vision includes the entire creation. The grandeur of the scene fades before the momentous question brought before them. The action is sublime in its simplicity. A scaled scroll, symbol of a lost allotment, lies upon the hand of the Enthroned. The redemption of earth's sovereignty from the hands of God's enemies is involved in the opening of the scroll with its seven seals. The lists are open to all. The cry goes forth: "Who is able to open the scroll?" And no one was found in all the universe who was able to break the seals!
Today the world is full of those who think themselves able to redeem mankind. The peace conference, which is about to convene as this is being written, is hailed as the great opportunity of the ages to redeem the world from autocracy. Democracy is to be the great deliverer. Give the nations the right to rule themselves and no other redemption will be needed! Form a League of Nations and war will cease from the earth! But alas! for all these schemes! They all ignore the fact that no one is able. No man, no ruler, no messenger, not even the enthroned elders, are able to so much as look at the scroll. How then is the great task to be accomplished? Amidst all the vast concourse there is One who is the subject of this unveiling. And is He not unveiled here? In the center of the messengers and of the seniors and of the very throne itself appears a little Lamb as though slain. His weakness and death has made Him able! As the lion of Judah's tribe, He will open the seals and redeem by power what He has already redeemed by blood.
The storm of earth's political redemption is unfolded as each successive seal is snapped. Providential judgments, war, famine, pestilence, follow each other in quick succession. The seventh seal is expanded into seven trumpets when the providential judgments give place to direct inflictions. The seventh trumpet carries the section to its climax. The kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ and it will last for the eons of the eons. Amen!
Referring to the framework, it will be seen that there is a threefold action in this section. There are three preparatory visions. The first prepares for the seals. The second for the trumpets. The third is followed by the seven thunders. Before the war - trumpets sound the alarm Yahweh takes steps to shield His own from the fury of His indignation. The one hundred and forty-four thousand and the vast crowd, both from the nation of His choice, both candidates for the coming kingdom, are preserved from the terrible visitations of the trumpets.
The temple section covers the same period of time and engages us with the same characters as the political section, but they are viewed from an entirely different angle. The one hundred and forty-four thousand are seen once more. The great conqueror reappears under the figure of a horn of the wild beast.
But the temple section, far more than the preceding one, engages us with the nation of Israel, both faithful and apostate. The action is twofold. First, when the temple is opened, the ark of the covenant is in view, which demands the redemption of Israel. Later, after this has been accomplished, the law is exposed, which demands the destruction of the apostates. This is accomplished by the pouring out of the seven bowls.
It will be of great help to us, when we come to study the closing chapters of this scroll, to consider them under the same subjects at the preceding part. The temple and the throne come before us again. It is especially profitable to note that the standpoint of the apostle in his closing message to the ecclesias is not that of the distant future on the new earth, but the same as obtains in the earlier section of the scroll.
When once the mind grasps the three great themes of the book connected with the synagogues, with the throne, and with the temple, it is easy to get a grasp of the whole prophecy and its various parts. Once this is learned the way is open to enter and enjoy the further unfolding with profit and pleasure.
And let us lay this on our hearts: The subject is Christ, and His threefold glories as the Messiah, God's Anointed - Prophet, King, and Priest. All of its action is directed toward one goal - to reveal Him in His glories, and, as a necessary sequel, bless the human race and glorify His God and Father. Unless we see the vital relation of all to Him and His Unveiling, the book will remain sealed to our hearts and hidden from our heads. But with this key we will be enabled to unlock its secrets. The mysteries will no longer be mysterious. The terrors will no longer terrify. It will no longer be a dim and dismal portent of the future, but a clear and comforting revelation of the official glories of God's Anointed Prophet, Potentate, and Priest.