"He will wipe all tears from their eyes—and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain! These things of the past are gone forever! He who OVERCOMES will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. For the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Revelation 21:4, 7 17
The valley of tears and the valley of death have been both traversed—Time's curfew-bell has been tolled, proclaiming that earth's fires have been put out and the flocks eternally folded. The bleak herbage of the wilderness—the brookless channels—the falling snows—the angry tempests—the roar of the ravening wolves—are known no more. It is a glorious glimpse of unbroken sunshine—gleaming meadows—crystal clear waters—living fountains!
Note more specially this pastoral aspect of the vision which is now in the eye of the Apostle of Patmos. We have all the accessories of such a scene. First, in the words of contrast, where the picture of a flock is brought before us—bleating amid arid wastes—panting defenseless under the fierce rays of a burning sun—and turning often their languid eyes towards waterless courses—"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light upon them, nor any heat." And then observe his positive description of the bliss of the ransomed—those of all ages and from all ages—the sheep and the lambs—feeding on the heavenly meadows, and reclining by their perennial streams. They are "fed" on these abiding pastures—and "led" to "the living fountains of waters."
We look for the completion of the picture. We see the rejoicing flock browsing on the everlasting hills. But we gaze in vain for the great central Figure. We expect to behold the Glorified Shepherd seated on some sunny eminence overlooking "the multitude which no man can number." Jesus is there; we see Him. But, strange mixture of metaphor—it is not as a SHEPHERD, but as a LAMB He precedes His followers—feeding them and leading them! It is one of those singular, dreamlike transitions common in prophetic symbol—but which, when we come to examine them, are so significant and full of meaning.
We have in a previous apocalyptic vision (chap. 5.), a similar startling and remarkable figuration; startling from the same powerful (we had almost said violent) change of metaphor. The Apostle had been speaking of Christ as the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," breaking the seals of the prophetic roll, and unfolding the destinies of the Church and the world. In magnificent language, he further describes all heaven, redeemed and unredeemed—"ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands"—gathered in to do homage to this August Being who had "prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." When we gaze, amid the throng, for the object of this adoration—lo! we are arrested by the sight, not of a Lion, but of a LAMB! It is the same in this pastoral vision. We lose sight, for the moment, of the Shepherd—the Evangelist at all events describes Him under a different symbol. It is the name which he himself knew so well—that by which the Great Shepherd was first pointed out to him—he loves it still—"Behold the Lamb of God!"
You who have "folded lambs" above, think of that Shepherd's name! We shall not pursue the thought; but let it be suggestive to you of that all-comprehensive glorified human nature of Jesus in its relation to the 'early taken' from the lower pastures and valley. It is the same unaltered and unchanging humanity which of old made little children smile unafraid in His arms, while He declared that the kingdom of heaven is peopled with such. The tender command He gave to an under-shepherd on earth, may we not well believe He will continue to give to Angel-Shepherds above, as He recognizes the place of glorified little ones in the eternal fold—"Feed My lambs!"
(1.) The words suggest to us one among many thoughts—thatall the joys of the ransomed flock, old and young, will be associated with the love and companionship of their Shepherd. He feeds—He leads—He wipes away all tears from their eyes—and in a previous verse (15), under a different figure, it is said, "He who sits on the throne shall dwell among them." Heaven would be no heaven without Jesus. Take Him away!—it would be to blot out the sun from the celestial skies—every star, great and small, moons and satellites as well as planets, would hide their faces—the angel would disrobe himself of his shining attire, and stand in sackcloth before the vacant throne! Take Him away! let the Shepherd leave His ransomed sheep and lambs—and you might give them heaven's choicest pastures—you might sentinel the heavenly fold with archangels—it would be no compensation for the loss. The long-forgotten cry would ascend amid the fairest landscapes of Paradise Regained—"Tell me, O You whom my soul loves, where YOU feed, where YOU make Your flock to rest at noon!"
But He, the Shepherd-King, whose invitation on the throne of judgment was—"Come, you blessed,"—will be true to His word. As He was with you, His mourning people, "in all places where you were scattered in the cloudy and dark day"—so, in the bright and cloudless day of glory, in all places He will still be with you. We may take the words of a beautiful parallel passage of Old Testament, and give them a heavenly meaning—"Their pastures shall be in all high places; they shall not hunger nor thirst—neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for He who has mercy on them shall lead them—even by the springs of water shall HE guide them." "Leading" them, "feeding" them. What figurative language could express nearer, closer, more intimate fellowship and communion?—the full vision and fruition of a Savior-God! The song lisped here, often with trembling lips and stammering tongue, will rise triumphant from an ever-present experience of its bliss—"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" "In YOUR presence there is fullness of joy!"
(2.) This description would seem to denotean infinite progression in the joys and felicities of the ransomed flock. This we have enlarged upon in a recent meditation; but it is a thought ever fresh and elevating, and is here presented to us under a new figure. The Shepherd is seen leading them from pasture to pasture, from fountain to fountain, from eminence to eminence—higher and yet higher up the hills of glory. As the loftier we ascend a mountain, the wider is the landscape that is spread before us—so the higher the heavenly pilgrim mounts in his ever-upward ascent, the wider will be the horizon and circumference of his joys. He will be attaining ever-new views of God—new unfoldings, and revelations of the Divine purposes—new motives for the ceaseless activities of his holy being. And if that song were early stilled on earth, there will be no arrest of its harmonies in that long "forever!"
Such is the beautiful delineation here given by the Prophet of Patmos. The Lamb is represented first as "feeding" His flock. They lie down at His side, in restful repose, by the green pastures of His love. Next, He is represented as "leading" them. The rest is for the time over. He leads them farther and yet farther through these sunlit meadows, along these glorified valleys, to new living fountains of water—ever advancing, yet never reaching the plenitude of bliss—satisfied to the full, and yet always new satisfaction—pastures ever greener—waters ever clearer—the sun of their joy ever climbing the sky and never reaching the meridian.
(3.) The figurative language of the Evangelist once more indicates, thatthere will be an unfolding of the Shepherd's wisdom and faithfulness in His earthly dispensations. Not only is the Lamb to feed them with gracious views of the Divine dealings, and to lead them from fountain to fountain of wisdom, and goodness, and grace—but by a beautiful and most expressive symbol, God is represented as wiping away all tears from their eyes. As if, when they entered glory, some remaining tears were still there. As if the eye, suffused like yours, at the couch or grave of your early dead, had not recovered from the night of earthly weeping. But, before long, no trace or vestige of sorrow will be found. As in a forest, after a drenching thunder-shower, every bough, and blade, and leaf is dripping with rain; for a considerable time after the sun has shone out, and the sky is blue, and the birds of the grove are singing—the lingering drops gem the branches and sprinkle the sward.
But gradually, yet surely, his genial rays are drinking up the moisture—nature's tear-drops. One by one they evaporate, and the refreshed forest rejoices, and basks in the radiance of the great luminary. So with the Sun of Deity in heaven. One by one earth's remaining tears vanish before the radiance of that Sun of Wisdom and Love. Weeping can be no more—the fountain of weeping, the memory of weeping, are gone forever!
Do you wonder, bereaved parent, at your Shepherd's dealings? Are you apt, with misgiving heart, to ask—why that desolation of the earthly fold? why that angry hurricane—that harsh night-wind—that pelting rain which maddened into foaming torrent the calm still water—sweeping loved ones down the resistless flood? Yes! and you may carry these tearful eyes with you as you enter heaven. But there is a gracious Hand waiting there to wipe each one of them away. These surviving drops will be crystal lenses, through which, as you enter glory, you will see in vivid manifestation the loving-kindness and faithfulness of your Heavenly Father.
Are you wondering why these springs and rills of earthly happiness were withdrawn or dried in their channels? It was to lead you to feel and to exclaim, 'O God, all my well-springs are in You!' Do you wonder now why this lamb and that lamb of the flock was so soon taken? He emptied your home, and your heart, and your fold on earth, that He might lead you and your to the better fold above. Following the steps of the all-gracious Heavenly Shepherd, as these early lost ones will be revealed to your sight, one here, one there, reposing in the celestial pastures—when you see to what a blessed land you had early sent your children—how will the once tear-dimmed eye have its every tear wiped away—and at the contemplation of God's wisdom and love, in what appeared at the time the dark providences of earth—the ever-deepening song will ascend, "So we Your people and sheep (we may add lambs) of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever!"
Your little children, or your youths of promise are in Heaven! Possibly, as here indicated, there may be a variety and diversity in its joys suited to their capacities. Observe, it is not to one fountain to which the Lamb is said to lead; they are "living fountains of waters." Like the four-branched river in the first earthly Eden, there will be, from the one great river of Deity, streams—and among these, 'little rills'—"which make glad the city of God." In their own distinctive ways, "the children of Zion will be joyful in their King."
We delight to think of the Flock of Heaven—sheep and lambs—each member of it perfect in the full measure of its own bliss; but each, under the Shepherd's eye, thus following the pasture, or climbing the mountain-steep, or browsing by the streamlet, it most loves. Yet, all the Fold, in these separate and distinctive ways, combining to glorify their Savior God.
Meanwhile, let those who are yet out in the lower valley, overtaken by the cloud and the storm, rejoice in these hopes full of immortality. He has promised to give you "grace and glory." Grace—He will support and sustain you now in the midst of your trial. He will not leave you unsheltered to the sweep of the storm. "The Lamb in the midst of the throne" loves to stoop to weakness. The royal Shepherd of Bethlehem, who laid in the dust the giant of Philistia, could also weep tears of love and tenderness over a tiny, pining flower in his own palace.
So is it with the true David. He combines the might and majesty of Godhead with the tenderness of humanity. He who on earth loved children, knows the tenderness of your present sorrow. He may be leading you along the wilderness by a way that you know not, and by paths that you have not known. But trust Him—"He will feed and lead like a shepherd"—succouring the faint, carrying the weary, sustaining the burdened. This description of the people he led of old out of Egypt is still true of you, and of every member of His flock—"He found him also in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness—He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up her nest, fluttering over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings—so the Lord alone did lead him."
Make sure now of your personal and saving interest in His shepherd-love. Follow with unwavering eye His footsteps—repose on Him your burdens; confide to Him your misgivings and heart sorrows. Let life be a happy, peaceful reclining by His own green pastures and still waters. And then when the Valley of the Shadow of Death is reached, it will be like the Valley of Achor, spoken of in Hosea—"A door of hope." Achor was one of the entrance-ravines from the wilderness to the Promised Land. Death is the valley leading to that Promised Land, the true Heavenly Canaan. Let the anticipated valley-gloom be dispelled by a present and habitual leaning on the rod and staff of immutable promises—"And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory, that fades not away!"