RMB I thought we might speak together as to the exaltation of Christ. We know that God has put the Lord Jesus in the very highest place. That is a wonderful thing for our souls to take in. We need to understand, too, that God has a moral reason for everything that He does. I thought it might help us to consider why it is that God has given that place to Jesus. In other words, why is it that He has given that place to one blessed Man and to no-one else? I thought this chapter might help us on that line. The chapter begins with this question, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to break its seals?”, but it concludes with glory being given to God - He is the One “that sits upon the throne” - “and to the Lamb”. So by the end of the chapter we see that the whole universe is brought to recognise, on the one hand, the place that God has given to Christ, but also the rightness of what God has done in giving Him that place; thus there is glory to God as well. I thought that if we worked our way through the chapter we might perhaps cover some of the exercises that are important for us in order that our souls may be established in the moral reason why it is that the Lord Jesus, and He alone, is worthy and able to take this place.
FSP In His ways God does not have a succession of people taking over the throne. It has been given to one Man for good.
RMB That is what is arrived at in the first place. John says in verse 4, “I wept much because no one had been found worthy” - “no one”. It was not that there was more than one person to choose from. There is no-one else. I suggest that the search that is initiated in the opening verses corresponds to an exercise that we all have to go through, a searching exercise, whereby we come to it in the experience of our souls that there is no-one else.
FSP I was wondering why John, who had these visions, was upset, and why he wanted to know what was in the book.
RMB That is an important question because let us not forget that John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, John 21: 20. None of the disciples, in that sense, was nearer to the Lord than he was. Yet when it came to this question he did not have the answer. It caused him distress to think that there was no-one. It brings to mind how easily we may get our eye off Christ. All of us here, I suppose, would accept that God has given Jesus the highest place; but God not only wants us to accept it as a matter of doctrine, He wants us to reach the rightness of it in the experience of our souls. What we often find is that we have had other men, even ourselves, before us, and that has led to disappointment. God would bring us to see that there is only one blessed Man who is worthy and able, and the reason for that.
DAB It is interesting that we have been spending the last few readings here talking about Joseph. I wonder if we see two sides in Joseph. I would be glad if you would say how they come together in your mind. Joseph was loved and distinguished at the beginning of the account. He had the coat of many colours and he meant something to the father, in the same way as the Lord Jesus answered to the Man of God’s purpose; but by the end of the account there are additional moral reasons which lie behind his exaltation, and the blessing of the family depended on those. It was not just the father’s appreciation being recognised, but those moral reasons also being acknowledged.
RMB I think there is a parallel, because it was made clear to Joseph at the beginning through his dreams that he was going to be put into a place of supremacy. So we can say that, according to God’s eternal purpose, it was always in His mind that one blessed Man should occupy the highest place, Eph 1: 9-10. Then, as the sequel with Joseph shows in figure, the Lord reached that place by a suffering pathway. And it was in that suffering pathway that He demonstrated His moral qualification for the place that God had in mind that He should occupy.
DAB There are many references in the New Testament to the Lord Jesus as “the Christ”, which seems to perhaps relate to what He is as the Man of God’s purpose, as, for example, in Ephesians 1: 10. But in this chapter He is referred to as the “Lamb”, which brings out what He has been through to display the moral basis of God’s choice.
RMB Yes, indeed.
PMW He is introduced initially as “the lion which is of the tribe of Juda”, and then as “a Lamb”: two very contrasting thoughts. What would you say as to their order?
RMB Well, if I could repeat something that has been said before: He was as a lion in relation to everything that related to God, but He was a lamb in regard of everything that affected Himself. In relation to the will of God the Lord Jesus was just like “the lion … which turneth not away for any”, Prov 30: 30. He was unflinching in the pathway of the will of God, and could not be diverted from it. But in regard of what was directed at Him personally, He bore the sufferings that were heaped upon Him as a lamb.
FSP Would you say strength and meekness are the two things?
PMW Yes; I think they would be the two outstanding characteristics of the symbols that are used. The Lord, as is being said, had the strength of purpose, strength of committal, to carry through everything that was there in God’s will. But He subjected Himself in order that the Lord’s own meekness might be displayed.
RMB The Lord Jesus is distinctive. He is an incomparable Person. But in this regard He is an example for us. There should be no compromise when it comes to the rights of God, and we need to seek strength to maintain that in practice. But then, what about the lamb-like side? Are we ready to forgo everything that touches us personally? Are we prepared to suffer what may be directed at us personally, content to leave it with God?
PMW Both these sides are testing in our day-to-day lives: to be able to stand for the truth when we need to, but to do it in a spirit that gives a good testimony; but also, as you say, we set aside things that might be for our advantage here in the interests of what is right for the truth.
RMB Mr Darby points out, in note ‘h’ (to Revelation 5: 6), that the word used for “lamb” is a distinctive one. It only appears in the book of Revelation, and once in the gospel of John. A different Greek word is used elsewhere. As he indicates, the word that is used here is a diminutive: it could be ‘a little lamb’. It brings out what the Lord Jesus was as, for example, liable to persecution. Persons were very ready to do things against Him when He was here, but He suffered it. How patient He was in suffering!
AAC The word used here, “worthy”, is at the heart of your exercise, is it not? Attention has been drawn to Joseph, where we have been reading. He says to the house of Pharaoh, when he was going to bury his father, “If now I have found favour in your eyes”, Gen 50: 4. You wonder at the request, given the favour that Pharaoh had towards him. You think of the greatness of all that Joseph had accomplished in those years. You may say it was almost a strange question to ask, because Pharaoh would have been so pleased with all that Joseph had done. I just wonder whether you could help us as to this word “worthy”. It is not often used in everyday language. There are a lot of young ones here. Help us to have some view of the Father’s appreciation of this.
RMB Well, there are two words that are brought together, “worthy” and “able”. The question was raised initially, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to break its seals?”. Then it says, “And no one was able in the heaven, or upon the earth, or underneath the earth, to open the book, or to regard it”. We speak of moral qualification, and what we mean is that honour in God’s world depends on moral worth. A high place in this world is often accompanied by moral corruption. Sadly we have seen that increasingly in recent years. We have to speak respectfully of men in high places because of the offices they occupy, but often they have shown that they are not morally equal to exercising their office. Here we have the complete contrast, where greatness in God’s world goes with moral worth.
AAC Can we consider this without holiness? Is this not right at the heart of it, moral perfection?
RMB I think holiness is one of the chief aspects of it.
AAC And that is an absolute term, is it not?
RMB It is when applied to Christ. But tell us what it is.
AAC I struggle to think of it as a question of grades. The Lord Jesus was holy. He was perfect in every respect.
RMB One of the things that has been said about holiness is that it is a perfect shrinking from evil and a delighting in what is good.
What do the brethren say about this book that is referred to?
DAB What is in it? What is it about?
RMB I suggest that it includes the title deeds to the earth. It was always in God’s mind that man should have dominion. It was not His mind, for example, to give that to angels. The question is: who is great enough to take possession of the earth for God? God committed dominion to Adam: he disqualified himself. He gave government to Noah: he disqualified himself. And so it has been down through the centuries. We are left with the question: who is great enough to answer to God’s thought and take possession of the earth for Him?
DAB I am glad of that. I was going to give a different answer, but the Lord has laid claim to everything. It is His, and His kingdom is universal. Corrupt things have come into His kingdom, but you could not say the kingdom itself is corrupted. More than that, as we see through this book, and as we see also in Matthew 13, the Lord has the power and the right to remove the corruption from His kingdom; and that is because it is all His.
RMB The rest of the Revelation shows how He is going to do that. He has title to the earth, but things have come in, and things have been set up, which are contrary to His mind. Before He can take possession of it according to His mind, He must clear it in judgment.
DAB It has been pointed out that the parable which is called the parable of the darnel (Matt 13: 24-30, 36-43) is really a foreshadowing of this book. A man owned the field; that is the Lord. He had the title deeds, as you say. He planted a crop in it for His own pleasure, and then wicked men came and planted something else to choke what He had planted. The bondmen ask if they should try to do something about this, and He says they cannot. We see in that parable and in this book that He employs angels to cleanse the kingdom so that He can come into it in glory. Is that right? It is helpful to see, as John found, and as the Lord teaches in that parable, that these things are beyond men to do. The cleansing of the kingdom and the establishment of His title and His rights have to be entirely from Him and from heaven. Is that right?
GHH Why do you emphasise the dominion over the earth?
RMB Do you think that is right?
GHH I think so. I am just interested in it. There is “spiritual power of wickedness in the heavenlies” (Eph 6: 12), for instance, but could you say why you are specifically referring to earth?
RMB I think it is the earth that is especially in mind in the book of The Revelation. The Revelation shows us how there is going to be a great unravelling of the tremendous chaos that evil has brought in. And the universal dominion of the Son of man will be displayed on the earth. God has in mind to subject the habitable world to a Man. That is the first thing to understand. You might say that angels would have been very efficient. But He had in mind that dominion should be committed into the hands of a Man, and the question is, ’Who is worthy and able to take that place?’. My point is this: God does not simply put Christ in that place by an arbitrary decree, but He wants to bring us to see the rightness of it. In other words, the first lesson is that no one else can occupy that place. This great search is made. You think of some of the outstanding men there have been in the history of time: why was it that none of them could have been chosen?
PFE You spoke about “worthy” and “able”; it also says, “or to regard it”.
RMB Well, that brings up another point. What came out in the garden of Eden is that man cannot touch these questions of good and evil without being defiled by them. He cannot even regard it.
PFE I was just thinking of that. It is not that you can even look at it from afar off. There is nothing you can do. It just shows the weakness of the creature.
RMB We all accept, as a matter of teaching, that every other man has been removed in the death of Christ; but it seems to me that it is a great thing actually to arrive at that through experience. To illustrate, we might come across a man who has a very able mind naturally, and we say, ’That is just what we need’. We might come across a man who is a very powerful speaker and say, ’If only he were preaching the gospel’. What is it that we are admiring? It is the first man. We have to arrive at the character of man that God would exalt. There have been some very great men, some outstanding men, but “no one had been found”. What is the character of the man that God would exalt, and have I reached that in the experience of my soul?
PFE That is why we have a Lamb here.
RMB That is the point, “a Lamb standing, as slain”. Outwardly it was a picture of weakness and defeat. But the very thing which appeared to be such a defeat to the world was what qualified Christ to take the highest place in the sight of God.
RMF So in Matthew 11 the Lord invites people to Himself and presents Himself as “meek and lowly in heart”, v 29. Is that really what we find attractive as having judged the first order of man in ourselves?
RMB Naturally we do not find it attractive. Men would not appoint a meek person to a high position, would they, whether it be in government or business? A meek person is not the kind of man they would choose. I think the process that John goes through in this chapter is to bring us to see what true moral worth is in the sight of God, and to value it.
DAB Would it be right to say that all God’s ways are applied to vindicating the choice He made of Christ? It is a huge plan when you think of God’s ways and the complexity and immensity of them, but He has taken the greatest pleasure in the way that their unfolding has vindicated the choice He made.
RMB Now, it seems to me, that God is not content simply with having Christ in that place, but He wants to bring us to own the rightness of it.
DAB This may relate to an alternative view of this book. You say that this book includes the title deeds of the earth, but we also all have a story, and there are problems in our own lives that we cannot settle. There are fields in various parts of our lives that we would not know how to deal with. How many of us have tried to deal with them and, in the search for someone to solve the problems, we have not looked beyond ourselves. We have to acknowledge that, just as He alone is able for this immense unravelling you referred to, so He alone, at God’s appointment on moral grounds, is able for the challenges in my own soul and my own life.
RMB Well, may that lay hold of our souls more!
JSH I was going to ask, especially thinking of our younger ones here today, whether you could say something as to the “Lamb standing, as slain”.
RMB The fact that He is “standing, as slain” shows that He is viewed with His death as accomplished. But the point here is that it was through His precious sufferings and death that Jesus has demonstrated beyond doubt that He is worthy to take this place.
JSH That is very helpful. I was contemplating it and thinking that, naturally, we might wonder at this expression. It shows the victory that He has won, and how worthy He now is to be there as the One who can open this book.
RMB Verse 6 would exercise us to seek to see things from God’s point of view because outwardly it was a picture of defeat. Outwardly it seemed as though the world had got rid of Christ. But the very thing that appeared to be such a defeat was what qualified Him to take the place of God’s appointment. That shows us - and I say this especially for the benefit of our younger brethren - that things are not as they appear in the world. We need God’s help (and He is ready to give it to us) to bring us round to see things as He sees them, and to value what He values.
PMW Reflecting on the seals, I wondered if you could say something about them. Seals are not used very much nowadays, but in the day that this writing took place, the seal could only be opened either by the sealer, or by the addressee who was authorised to open the seal. Here we have One who is permitted to open the seal. What would you say as to the sealing, and why are there seven, not just one, on the book?
RMB Well, the only thought I had was that it shows that the contents of the book were completely hidden. That it was sealed with seven seals shows that there was no way, apart from this, that the contents of the book could be disclosed.
PMW If the book had had only one seal it could have been broken and everything would have been opened up, but it is done in a sequence here with a distinct separation between each of the revelations of what is contained within the seals.
RMB There are open books in the Bible. There are things which God opens, which He brings out for all to see. But until this point the contents of this book were hidden.
RMF Can you say something as to “the prayers of the saints” coming in at this point, in verse 8?
RMB What were you thinking about them?
RMF I was just thinking that it would indicate, at least, that our prayers are not forgotten, are they?
RMB That is true, although it is important to understand that the saints that are referred to here are those who will be on the earth between the rapture and the appearing. We shall be with the Lord. The saints of the assembly are included within the twenty-four elders. The twenty-four elders represent all the heavenly saints, who include, but are not limited to, the assembly. It is a very touching suggestion that, in some way, we shall handle those prayers. It speaks of “golden bowls, full of incenses, which are the prayers of the saints”. It does not say that the twenty-four elders offer the prayers, but they have them in these golden bowls. I think it suggests that the heavenly saints are to enter sympathetically into what the people of God on earth will be passing through during that period.
RMF I think that is helpful. I was going to ask too about the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, but what you have said has helped in relation to that as well.
RMB One thing I could perhaps add, as to this reference to “the prayers of the saints”, is that I wonder whether we think as much as we ought to of what those who will be coming after us in the testimony, after the assembly has gone, will be called upon to pass through. It is one of our privileges as belonging to the assembly, not only to be able to look back, but also to look forward. And I think we need to enter in feelingly to what the beloved people of God are going to suffer during that period.
DAB At the same time there is nothing in this book that does not have a present moral bearing. I wondered, in relation to our brother’s question, if we maybe need some instruction about how we pray, and the sense of support there was amongst the twenty-four elders for what individuals are passing through. It links the prayer meeting to the private exercises of people who may be in the company or may not even be there. But then also it seems that to have in our spirits that the answer to every prayer is the exaltation of Christ, would help to direct our hearts, as Paul says, into the love of God, 2 Thess. 3: 5.
RMB Well, this verse suggests that heavenly saints have the capacity for that. Those who have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit should have the capacity to enter feelingly into the exercises of others. The prayers are described as “incenses” here. Heavenly saints have the ability to appreciate what may be offered to God in the way of prayer. It may be something that is difficult to express because of what is carried in a person’s spirit, but heavenly saints recognise that it is incense.
DAB May I go back to what you said about the twenty-four elders? The Lord will claim all that are “the Christ’s” at what we call the rapture, 1 Cor 15: 23. The centre-piece of that gathering is the church, but it is not limited to the church. It encompasses every blood-bought saint back to Abel, and they all enter into a heavenly position. The twenty-four elders cover the diversity of those people. So, for example, going back to what you were saying, Abraham prayed for his brother Lot, and that is this kind of character of things. He had access to the presence of God as we will, but he was able to pray for someone who had a position in the world under judgment.
RMB It requires spirituality to look beyond one’s own needs and to enter into the needs and exercises of others. Intercession is not in view in this scripture, but to be an intercessor is a very great thing.
DAB It is not as if, as we were saying, we have the answers, because John did not have the answers, did he? He could still hold one of these bowls. He could still associate himself with the prayer that only Christ can answer.
RMB The Lord is referred to in verse 6 as “having seven horns”, which we understand refers to His perfect power, “and seven eyes”, which is perfect discernment. Nothing escapes His eye. That is another thing that we need constantly to bear in mind.
FSP We could not see what is in the book, but it does say in verse 1, “on the back”, so perhaps that bit was visible. I was wondering what it might have said. I also thought the point was good that man could not even look at the book, let alone open it.
RMB The opening of the seals commences with the next chapter. One by one the seals are opened, and the judgments are unfolded. That begins the process by which the Lamb will, to put it simply, sort everything out in the earth with a view to establishing His wonderful reign over it, which will be manifested in the world to come.
FSP We referred to the ‘new song’ this morning and we have here, in verse 9, “And they sing a new song”, and I just noted it is very close to talking about their prayers.
RMB This song is celebrating the work of redemption. One of the chief things which makes the Lord Jesus qualified for the place that God has given to Him is that He is the one who has accomplished redemption. He is the only one who could. Perhaps we should ask some of our younger brothers what redemption means. I remember Mr Eddy Walkinshaw making a very simple distinction. He said that redemption means being bought back; reconciliation means being brought back. We belonged to God in the first place because He is our Creator; but we became lost to Him through sin. Redemption means that a price had to be paid in order that we might be bought back to God. We have reference to the price in verse 9: “Thou . . . hast redeemed to God, by thy blood”.
DAB It is important that it does not just mean ‘put back’. It is not as if we are all restored to the condition in which Adam was in the garden of Eden, are we? Having been bought with precious blood, we can now be put on the ground of God’s purpose, can we not? You might say that was only possible because this price had been paid.
RMB One of the things I think we are to be impressed with in verses 9 and 10 is the scope of redemption. It is not we who are specifically in mind here. They sing, “thou hast been slain, and hast redeemed to God, by thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them” - not us - “to our God kings and priests”. They are celebrating the scope of what has been accomplished through redemption. You think, dear brethren, of the greatness of one blessed Man whose precious blood is sufficient to redeem to God “out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation”. The blood of one blessed Man was sufficient as the redemption price to buy back to God millions and millions of precious souls.
DAB It stands in contrast to Exodus 19. The people of Israel had been redeemed by the blood of the passover lamb and God said, “Ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests”, v 6. That was just one nation, Israel; but the work of Christ embraces “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation”, and they are actually brought into something much better even than Israel was going into then. It shows that Israel was just a foretaste of the magnificent fulness of what the work of Christ was going to accomplish.
FSP So when we sing hymn 156 on the Lord’s day morning, we are exalting the Lord, because it includes what does not only apply to us.
DAB I think that is good. It is helpful to see all our blessings as an occasion to glorify the Lord.
RMF Do you think too, that the other side of redemption, which perhaps we sometimes miss out, is that having been bought back, we are therefore divine property? That puts the responsibility on us because we are not free to do as we would do otherwise.
RMB In verses 9 and 10 it is not exactly our blessing that is in mind but what has been secured for God. “Redeemed to God”, it says in verse 9, and then “made them to our God kings and priests”, v 10. What would you say about being “made . . . kings and priests”?
RMF It is interesting the way it is put, as you have pointed out. It is “to our God”. As natural men we would like to think this puts us on some kind of pedestal, but that is not the point. This is really God’s side. We have been talking about prayers, and I have been impressed recently as to whether we pray for our own benefit or from God’s perspective. We might want things differently, but how is God seeing things? Is that not important? But help us more as to these “kings and priests”.
RMB I think we get some impression of the saints as “kings” in the previous chapter, verse 4: “And round the throne twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones twenty-four elders sitting, clothed with white garments; and on their heads golden crowns”. It is remarkable, is it not? There it is the twenty-four elders. This is wider. But I think it conveys to us the place that the saints will have as reigning with Christ.
RMF I have just noticed that note ‘I’ (to Revelation 5: 10) links it to the first chapter of this book, “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father: to him be the glory and the might to the ages of ages. Amen”, v 6.
RMB That was what God had in mind. It is what He had in mind even in regard to the children of Israel. Exodus 19: 6 says, “and ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation”. But that never worked out in practice because, as we know from the history, due to the failure of the people, only one family within one particular tribe from among them became the priests. But what God had in mind was a kingdom where everyone in it was a priest. Is that right?
DAB As I understand it, yes. And that is God’s plan. The unravelling of the ways of the world is one thing, but the successful achievement of God’s purpose is another; and the worthy One is the only Person able to accomplish either.
RMB So, if “kings” refers to the special place the saints have as reigning with Christ; “priests”, do you think, brings out the special privilege that they have to draw near to God?
DAB Yes, and as chapter 1, which was referred to, brings out, that access and that title are blood-based.
RMB It links with what you said before, that redemption is not to put things back to where they were because God had never had this before. You might say, ’How could He take lost and guilty sinners that were deserving only of death and judgment, and make them fit to share in Christ’s government and have the special privilege of drawing near to God?’.
DAB To put it simply, Adam was not a king or priest in the garden - he was a gardener; but what he did made it morally impossible to promote him to such a status. It is only the intervention of God in Christ that has allowed God to go on with that thought.
AAC Those that sing a new song do so “because thou hast been slain”. This is why He is able to open the seals, because He has “been slain”. Just to go back to verse 5, the elder says, “the lion which is of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, has overcome so as to open the book, and its seven seals”. Can you say something about that, please?
RMB Well, I think it is a precious allusion to the sufferings of Christ. In spite of all that was ranged against Him by Satan, and the way that he worked on the hearts and minds of men, the Lord Jesus overcame everything.
AAC That helps. I was thinking of the holy strength that there was in the Lord Jesus. He was able for all that was set against Him. And it was done, in a sense, in quietness, and yet all overcome.
RMB How patient He was in suffering, and how meekly He went to the cross!
PMW If you think of the earlier references to overcoming in the addresses to the assemblies, would this draw together all of those into this single Person? We overcome through Him and what He has overcome.
AAC Is He not a wonderful example to us in that, as in everything? We may have little to overcome; and yet what He has accomplished, in that spirit which we have been speaking of, is very wonderful.
RMB At the end of John 16 the Lord Jesus says: “In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world”, v 33.
DAB We know from the way the band fell back (John 18: 6) that the Lord could have so addressed the opposition that it would have melted away, but He allowed it to range itself all together against Him: sin, man, death, judgment, God’s wrath, all those things came together, and He overcame.
RMB Well, I trust that we can begin to see why it is that God has so exalted Him. This song is especially the song of the redeemed. No-one can sing like the redeemed. The redeemed are sweet singers. They have much to sing about. But we see from verse 11 onwards that every creature is brought into this great response, to recognise Christ and the place that God has given to Him.
DAB The redeemed do not wait to sing until all the problems have been solved, do they? The singing is not at the end of this book. But there is enough for a song in identifying the One who can resolve them, and is worthy to do so.
RMB When we take account of what Christ has accomplished, and of the place that God has given to Him, we can say that these things are as good as settled. Of course, it will take time to work out in practice, but there is no question that these things are going to be settled to the satisfaction of God. In verse 12 it is, “Worthy is the Lamb”. They are ready to declare the worthiness of the Lamb personally. But in verse 13, it says, “To him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb”. So it is not only a matter of giving glory to the Lamb, but glory is also given to God. I think that involves the recognition, by the whole universe, of how right it is that God should have exalted Christ as He did.
11th March 2012