THE ACCESSORIES OF THE VISION
We pass from the Vision of the Lord Jesus, to a brief
consideration of its accompaniments or accessories. These are threefold—The
seven Golden Candlesticks: the Stars He holds in His right Hand: and the
Keys of Hell (Hades) and of Death.
THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICKS. This is the first of the
many golden emblems we shall meet with in this Book. It
unquestionably denotes the Church of Christ. The purest and rarest of the
precious metals is taken to symbolize that, whose preciousness can best be
estimated by the price paid for its redemption—"Christ also loved the
Church, and gave Himself for it." The figure takes us at once back in
thought, to the sacred furniture of a now waning, or rather,
abrogated dispensation—to the one candlestick, with its branches or
lamps, in the Tabernacle of the wilderness and the Holy place of the
Temple—reminding us also of the similar beautiful and suggestive
vision of the Prophet Zechariah, when he saw the candlestick "all of gold,"
with its seven lamps fed from the upper bowl (or reservoir) of olive oil.
There is a remarkable and most notable difference,
however, in this vision of John, from these Old Testament figurations. It is
not the one candlestick, the solid central shaft of gold, with its
six dependent lamps, which is here represented; but it is among seven
distinct and separate candlesticks, the Divine Personage is seen walking.
Who can fail to discern and appreciate the beauty and appropriateness of the
distinction? The Jewish Tabernacle and Temple-lamp which rose before the
Prophet's eye, were symbolic of the Church of God in its relation to the
kingdom and economy of Israel. That ancient Church for ages stood
alone in the earth as the Divine 'light giver.' But no sooner did the
Jewish dispensation cease, than the Temple-lamps were separated.
The Christian Church, though one in essence and
spirit, is no longer one in outward or visible unity, but constituted of
many parts; these, it may be, widely removed from each other. Jesus Himself,
the alone Illuminator, is represented as moving in their midst, their common
bond of union. It is no longer one planet, but a system, of which He is the
glorious sun and center. John had in his opening Gospel, declared, "In Him
was life, and the Life was the light of men." No candlestick, no
church shines of its own light—from Him its light emanates. And the
Church in Heaven, as already noted, is in this respect only the grander
complement and counterpart of the Church on earth. In her magnificent
Temple, the same Divine Illumination is perpetuated through eternal ages,
"The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the light thereof."
But as no church can live by its own light—by
sparks of its own kindling, so neither can it maintain its existence
if it fails to scatter and diffuse its derived glory all around. Woe to any
such, which professes to walk in the light of its Divine Head, and yet
absorbs the God given rays—keeps with niggard hand that which was given it
to disperse and radiate to earth's circumference. The parable which condemns
the faithless servant who hid his master's money, condemns also by
implication the traitor-church which refuses to be evangelistic—caring only
for its own well-being, not for others. The absorber of spiritual light
becomes in its turn the receptacle of darkness, and serves itself heir to
the most solemn warning its rejected Lord ever uttered—"If, therefore, the
light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
But, further, the Christ of Patmos is seen in the vision
having SEVEN STARS in His right hand: ''And He had in His right hand
seven stars"—holding them, as has been supposed, as a wreath or garland.
These stars are the emblems of ecclesiastical and civil rulers.
Christ holding these, and holding them in His right hand—the seat of power
and strength—the hand which grasps the reins of empire, tells far more
powerfully than words, that all the subsequent actors in this prophetic
scroll are under His supervision and control—as much so as the stars and
planets in the material heavens. In a spiritual and figurative sense it may
be said, that He "binds the sweet influences of the Pleiades, looses the
bands of Orion, and guides Arcturus with his sons."
Walking among the candlesticks and having the stars in
His hand, together assure us that no church faithful to Him need fear
destruction—no lamp can be extinguished, nor star plucked from that gemmed
garland, which has the hand of Omnipotence to protect it. If one unfaithful
star falls from its setting, He will have another ready to take its place.
Seven—"the number of mystical completeness"—can suffer no diminution.
Individual churches may cease to shine and cease to be; but the
Church itself is imperishable. God's Old Testament promise to His
spiritual Zion is a motto for all time—"Behold, I have engraved you on the
palms of my hands, and your walls are continually before me."
The next accompanying symbols are THE KEYS OF HELL
(or rather of Hades) AND DEATH, suspended by His side. Christ having
Himself endured the sharpness of death, not only has opened the kingdom of
heaven to all believers; but as that kingdom is entered through the dark
gateway (with its gloomy portal) of dissolution and the grave, He is
described here as the Keeper of these also. The whole region of Hades and
the invisible spirit-land is under His sway. That 'undiscovered country'
many a traveler has entered. Since our different lives began, millions on
millions have passed through the mysterious shadows into darkness, and not
so much as a single person of these has come back to throw one ray of light
on the silent regions. No warrior, like David's three men of might, has
burst through the interposing barriers and returned to tell the wished-for
But the Lord of life has stormed the domain and citadel
of Death—the 'Stronger than the strong' has assailed the otherwise
impregnable ramparts—plucked the crown from the King of Terrors—taken from
him the Keys—the badges of possession and power—and converted that
somber portico into an arch of triumph, bearing the inscription, "Who has
abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light!"
The Apostle, overwhelmed with the magnificence and glory
of the Divine vision, had fallen at the feet of his Lord 'as though dead.'
Yes! despite of all his old confidential communion and favored familiarity,
he cowers like a terror-stricken child, beneath the unveiled majesty of the
great Heart-Searcher—just as the loftiest archangel is said to feel
profoundest humility, because permitted to be nearest the glorious Being
before whom he casts his crown. But John listens to the brief reassuring
words, "Fear not!"—words which may have recalled other occasions besides the
Mount of Transfiguration and the night on the Sea of Tiberias.
And on what grounds is he told to dismiss his
fears? Is the exhortation, 'Fear not: for you are in the presence of the
same Lord who called you at Bethsaida—who sat by you at the Last Supper—who
confided to you the sacred charge from the cross—who met you at early morn
on the lake shore, and left you with hands extended in blessing?' No! He
quiets His servant's misgivings by a double revelation of Himself, as
the Conqueror of Death, and as a living, Life-giving Redeemer: "I am the
Living One; I was dead." "I am living" (as the words may be rendered) "unto
the ages of the ages!" It is enough—the Apostle asks no more. Moreover,
feeling the touch of the magnificent Personage (for He laid His right
hand upon him), he rises from his posture of prostration and crouching awe.
Death is divested of its fearfulness. The vision and its great words have
nerved him for the task that is now to be assigned to him, of transcribing
what is about to be unfolded. He seems to say, "I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord!"
"Write," says the Divine voice to His now reassured
servant, "write what you have now seen," as well as "the things that are,
and the things that shall be." For behalf of my Church universal, record
that which has now passed before your eyes, that all men may have some
feeble apprehension of the glories of my Divine Person within the veil:
what I have done—and what I am still doing, as the Great High Priest, the
Vanquisher of death, the Ruler of the invisible world. "Write," not for
yourself, but for the ages. Unknown to you, you will thereby soothe many a
sorrow and dry many a tear!
The Reader cannot fail to observe the peculiar
appropriateness and adaptation of the vision with its
accompaniments, for the time at which it was given. John, as we have already
noted, was now the sole remaining representative of the Apostolic Church. He
alone had lived to see on the political horizon, wrathful storms brooding
against the Christian name; and if he himself were soon to be permitted to
close his eyes in death, and thank God that he was taken from the evil to
come, well he knew that those on whom his mantle and spirit were to fall,
would have a legacy of suffering bequeathed to them—that they would
be called upon to bear, in its heaviest severity, the martyr's cross,
before they obtained the martyr's crown!
If, then, the Apocalyptic Roll about to be unfolded to
him, like that of Ezekiel, was to be written in characters of 'lamentation
and mourning and woe,' what more comforting vision could be given, than the
Church's King and Head appearing in the midst of the Church itself, which
was to be the theater of suffering—in the midst of the seven golden
candlesticks and with the stars in His right hand; wearing the garb of
glorified humanity; and yet with all the symbols of regal might—the avenger
of His saints, the conqueror of their foes?
The Vision speaks to us! The Lord has the same motto
and watchword to give His Church too, in her collective capacity, in
fighting her battles, as He had just given His servant personally. It is
that HE IS HER LIVING REDEEMER! "Fear not; I am He that lives! Behold! I am
alive forevermore!" The Children of Zion may well be joyful in their King:
the thunders may awake the fury of the ungodly, the vials may descend, the
tempests may sweep—for she can listen to the living voice of her living
Head—"I am He that lives!" And because He lives, she shall
live also. Yes, beautiful vision! Christ with the "stars in His right
hand"—Christ with His ministers! Christ with His earthly potentates! Christ
King of Zion! Yes, Christ King of nations! Christ retaining faithful
watchmen on the Church's battlements, who, in times of deepest rebuke, and
apostasy, and blasphemy, will not hold their peace day nor night! Christ
declaring that the shields of the earth are His alone!—controlling the
schemes of other haughty potentates, alike for the chastisement and
prosperity of His people! And then, when they have done their work,
scattering them as chaff before the whirlwind!
Oh! when John had the first startling intimation of this
Divine apparition in Patmos—when he heard the trumpet heralding his Lord's
approach, saw the bright blaze of glory projected from His path, and
listened to the announcement in whose presence he was—"I am Alpha and Omega,
the first and the last,"—he might have expected, on turning around, to gaze
on some dazzling throne gleaming with the coruscations of Truth, and
Holiness, and Righteousness; with tiers of attendant angels and burning
seraphim lining the celestial pathway! But more comforting far is it to the
exiled Prophet, and to the Church of Christ to the end of time, to behold a
simpler and less imposing vision—the Lord holding merely a cluster of stars
in His hand, and encircled with seven golden candlesticks, proclaiming the
perpetuity of His mediatorial sway. "Fear not! I am He that lives."
"God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; the Lord shall help
her, and that right early."
Church of the living God! how wondrous your privileges!
In a succeeding chapter, we have a sublime glimpse given us of Heaven, where
Christ is represented in the midst of His redeemed, summoning forth, as 'the
Lamb that was slain'—a loud anthem from ten thousand times ten thousand, and
thousands of thousands. But here we have Him in gracious love, moving
in the midst of the Church-militant—feeding each candlestick with the oil of
His grace and keeping every star in its sphere in the firmament.
And the beauty of the vision is, that it is not Christ
dealing only with His Church universal—keeping the oil from decaying,
and the gold from tarnishing, and the stars from abandoning their orbits and
drifting uncontrollably into outer darkness—but we have in this
exquisitely tender dealing with John, an assurance of what He is, and is
willing to be, to every individual believer—the poorest, the
humblest, the lowest, the most obscure—though his heart be a Patmos—lonely
and desolate; and his home be a desert rock, or a dungeon of captivity, or a
hut of poverty, or a chamber of disease, or a bed of death—there He is, to
lay His right hand of love on the trembling one, and say, "FEAR NOT."
Fear not! poor sinner, trembling under the load of your
guilt: 'I am He who was dead;' My death is your life, My blood your plea,
My cross the passport to your crown! Fear not! you weak and
fainthearted, borne down under your corruptions, the strength of your
temptations, the weakness of your graces, the lukewarmness of your love—'I
am alive for evermore!' My grace will be sufficient for you. Fear not!
suffering one—you are contending with a great fight of afflictions—trial
after trial, like wave after wave, rolling in upon you—your house has been
swept, ties have been broken, graves opened, the tear scarcely dry
when made to flow again. Fear not! 'I have the keys of the grave and of
death.' Not one deathbed has been ordered, not one grave dug, not one
tear permitted, without My bidding.
Are you not satisfied when a Living Redeemer has the Keys
of Death suspended from His sash? in whose keeping could they be better than
in His? Are you afraid to die? Is the thought of death, of your coming
dissolution, fearful to you? 'Fear not! I was dead!' I have
sanctified that grave and that dark valley, by traversing it all before
you—I am the abolisher of Death, and to all My people I have made the
gate of Death and the gate of Heaven one!
Reader, do you know this ever-living, never-dying Savior?
With the triumphant faith of a saint who lived thousands of years antecedent
to the Apostle of Patmos, can you say—"I know that my Redeemer lives?" Jesus
lives! then perish every desponding thought. Jesus lives! then though heart
and flesh faint and fail, He will be the strength of my heart and my portion
forever. Jesus lives! the Living among the dead—Faithful among the
faithless—Changeless among the changeable—the only unfailing, unvarying
Friend in a failing, varying world! Jesus lives! then when Christ who is our
life shall appear, we shall also appear with Him in glory! Like John, we
will fall down at His feet and exclaim, "this God shall be our God
forever and ever!"