|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Lamb on The Throne|
|Text||Revelation ch.4 v.1-ch.5 v.14|
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Let us turn to Revelation 4 and 5. These two chapters belong together as a section of the Book of Revelation, and they refer to the vision which is given to the apostle John who, as you know, was in exile on the island of Patmos for his faith in Christ. He was given this supernatural vision of the things of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is a perfect revelation. God has not given us too much, and He has not given us too little. The length of the Bible and the content of the Bible are apportioned and selected by His divine wisdom. The Bible is of course a book only for this life. When the Lord's people come to glory the Bible will be out of date for them because they will know far more there than the Bible tells us here. But the Bible is perfect in that it tells us just as much as we need to know. It shows us, for instance, how the world began. That is extremely important. Even a little child will ask its mother, "How did the world get here, mother?" The answer is given in Genesis 1: God in six days created the world. We have no reason to believe that those six days were long geological periods of time amounting to millions of years because it was a week in which God completed his task of creation, and He rested on the last day of that week, so that gives us to suppose that we are intended to believe that the other six days - just like the Sabbath day - were ordinary days. If there is a God of infinite power there is not the slightest bit of difficulty in believing that He made all things out of nothing in the space of six days. Then we need to know what is going to happen at the end of history because the Bible deals with the process and progress of history, and we need to know that at the end of history it will occur that the Lord Jesus Christ will come back as the Lord who is to judge all things. So that is the context in which our life is lived. And this Bible that is given to us is to be taken most seriously.
The next thing I want to say is: that the way the Bible has set the world that God has created before us, is to show us it is in three parts. There is heaven above us, and there is earth after that, and then there is hell beneath this earth. That is the way in which God has seen fit to reveal reality to us. Heaven above, and hell beneath - like a three-storey house. There is reason I think to believe that when the end of the world comes the three-storey house will be changed somewhat by God into a two-storey house. It seems to me that heaven and earth, after the end of the world, will be joined together into one place. My reason for thinking that is that there'll be no need for the three-storeys once Christ returns. This present earth at the present time is a place of trial, a place of probation. Here all mankind are on trial. But once the judgment day is over there is no more need for trial, obviously. So, it seems to me, that when the Bible talks of new heavens and new earth it means that these two - heaven and earth - will come together, they will coalesce, as we say, they will be made into one. In eternity to come, after the judgment day, there will be the two places - heaven and earth as one, and hell beneath as the other - and these will be the eternal state.
I say these things by way of preface because in Revelation 4 and 5, and some other passages of this wonderful Book of Revelation - we have some visions of the glory of heaven. Of course we could never know what heaven is like if God had not given us a revelation of it. So I want to take this double chapter as my text this evening, and to look at it under three headings.
First of all, I want to show you here we have a vision of heaven; then second I want to show you here we have a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ; and then third I want to show you we have a vision of the happy ending which believers are to have. I think, in looking at it in that way, we should catch at least some of the spirit of these two chapters, 4 and 5, in the Book of Revelation. It is first of all a revelation of God and of heaven, and then second it's a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, and thirdly there's a revelation of the happy ending which believers are to have when all their earthly trials and tribulations have come to an end.
So, first of all, a vision of heaven, and this is to be found in chapter 4, which I shall not again read, but it tells us here at the beginning that John said: "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me..." That door is a symbolical way of describing that John, the apostle, had an experience. The experience was that, not in his body evidently but in his soul or spirit, he was caught up into the third heaven, just as the apostle Paul tells us he was caught up into the third heaven. It is referred to as the third heaven, no doubt, because the first heaven refers to the clouds which are above our heads; then the second heaven no doubt refers to the stars and the Milky Way, and the sun and moon and these other planets and so forth; and then the third heaven is the one where God is to be seen. We don't see God in this world, nor do we see Him in the clouds, nor do we see Him among the stars - no, no - heaven is the 'third heaven' and that is where the glory of God is to be seen visibly, and John hears this voice, like a trumpet. No doubt it is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ because in Revelation 1 Jesus speaks to him again, and it is as with the voice of a trumpet.
John in his soul is lifted up and, at the end of verse 1, Jesus says "I will shew thee things which must be hereafter." So the Book of Revelation is a prophetic book. It deals not with the history of the church but of the future of the church - things which were to come, things which are still to come, although some of the things in the Book of Revelation have been happening of course since John lived and died, all those years ago. We see in the Book of Revelation the rise of terrible antichristian powers, persecuting powers, and manifestations of error and heresy and blasphemy, and of the Antichrist, and evil forces of that kind. So it is things that are to come.
But the wonderful fact is, my dear friend, that as Christians we are one day to enter into this wonderful world above. I want to give the emphasis to that thought. There's only a few days, and weeks, and months, and years at best, between our being here in this world, as Christians, and our being away from this world in the glory with God and with Christ. Many of the people we have known in this world are there already. Indeed, there was a funeral down in Ayr - my old congregation - this very day, and the lady who had been the session clerk's wife, a lady called Mrs Jenny Russell, this day her funeral was held and we believe that she, like her dear husband before her, and many others, from that congregation - as from this - are now away... Mr MacDonald, my beloved predecessor, Mr MacLeod, my predecessor Mr Callum Madison - these men have gone - and we believe without a doubt that they have gone into this world above. You and I are soon to be there, by the rich grace of God.
So this is now a panoramic view of heaven. What do we see in heaven? Well, the first thing is a throne, and that throne of course is the throne of God Almighty which is positioned in the very centre of heaven. There is a throne in the midst of heaven, and everything else is round about the throne. These other things are round about it, but in the centre of the throne and in the centre of heaven on the throne is God Almighty, the Father - God the Father. Dear friends, that is the way the Bible portrays God: He is in the centre of all things in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth. Nothing happens without the Heavenly Father's surveillance, and control, and sovereignty. That is given for information to us as a strong consolation for the many evils that give us unhappiness in this world. God is in control.
The next thing we're told about is that round about the throne there are twenty-four seats. What are these? I do not think we have to spend long before we come to a clear understanding of the twenty-four seats - there were twelve tribes in the Old Testament and there are twelve apostles of the Lamb in the New Testament. These twenty-four seats are for the representatives of the Old Testament church and also of the New Testament church. These are the representatives of the entire church of God in this world - Old Testament and New - it's one church, one people. Israel was the Old Testament church, and the New Testament church comprises Israel, plus believers of all nations - as we are told, out of every tribe and nation and kingdom and people and so on. These twenty-four seat are occupied by elders - that is to say they are representative of you and me; that's the work of a representative elder, it is to stand for you and stand for me - and they're wearing, we're told, white robes and crowns of gold. Isn't that a comforting thought? They're there because you are to be there also. Jesus said to his twelve apostles that in the restitution of all things and the regeneration of heaven and earth, "You will sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel".
That is the condition which you are going to be brought to, my very beloved and precious friends: here in this life, you are to be brought to sit with Christ upon His throne, wearing crowns of gold. In the light of that it makes the money-grubbing, filthy lucre-loving world in which we live look like a sordid and miserable place. It reminds us of that wonderful picture in John Bunyan where there was a man with a muck-rake who was scraping bits of dust and sticks together, but in front of him - though he didn't see it - was a shining figure holding a crown above his head. You as a believer see this. My friend, that crown will be put upon the head of every one who perseveres to the end doing the good things which Christians are called on to do in this world. So, we are to be of good cheer. These men are our representatives and what happens to them is what will happen to us.
Then we are told there are four beasts round about the throne. First there is the central throne; and then there are the twenty-four round about it; and then there are the four beasts. A better word than 'beasts' would be 'living beings'. The word 'beasts' occurs many times in Revelation, and there are two different words: one word is the word here; it means a living being, and it refers to, in all probability - nobody can be dogmatic about the Book of Revelation - but as we can see, it refers to the cherubim, these immensely powerful angels which are in heaven - cherubim and seraphim and thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, the archangel - there are ranks and orders of angels, of which we know very little now, but we shall know more in a better place. These four seem to be the cherubim, and they give glory and honour to God. They never rest day or night. Day and night they give glory, and honour, and they say 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come", and they punctuate eternal glories by referring to the holiness of God.
Then we see the behaviour of all these beings that are in heaven, that they are engaged in worship. Periodically, we are told, these elders fall down and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever. At a certain point, regularly, they fall down on their faces before God, and they adore the uncreated majesty of God. Dear friends, this is the picture we have here of heaven, and it's a picture we need to know, and a picture we need to see. It reminds us how transient our present life is, and how little anything matters here compared with getting to that place. Oh, my friends, make this your great ambition! Make sure that, whatever you do, you get to that heavenly place! The most important thing about this world is getting out of it safely, to that other world; getting from the middle storey of the house, as it were, climbing the stairs to the top storey - that's what matters. Nothing matters like that.
So then, there we have this wonderful vision. What reverence there is! How different earth is from heaven! How different this present world is from the world which is to come. Everything there is honour to God, glory to God - worship, praise, thanksgiving. What a mad world we live in. A lot of people in this city and other places would think that you and I are wasting time in a room like this, offering prayers to God and singing a few bits of psalms, as they would regard them, and things of that sort, and talking about the subject which is before our attention. They would say what really matters is what's on the television at nine o'clock, and you're going to waste the opportunity of seeing it - and poor things, they're living for this fading world. You and I, by grace, understand that this vision of heaven, this is the lasting world, that's the eternal world above. Oh, what a vision! Oh what a revelation! This revelation should change our mind about everything. How can we be worldly minded in the light of this? How can we go back into the world and forget that God is on the throne of glory? He controls all things, down to the number of hairs on your head, down to the number of grains of sand on the seashore. God is in absolute, total, omnipotent, omniscient control of all things. What stupidity therefore, not to acknowledge Him and worship Him, love Him, and give your whole life and your heart to Him!
Let me come to the second of these visions, the vision of Christ. This is found in Revelation 5, 6: "And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." He's described in verse 5 - the Lion, and also we discover He's a Lamb. He's a lion and a lamb. He's a lion because He is God, and He is a lamb in that He is a man who was slain in meekness, and who went as a lamb to the slaughter - "and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" - the blessed and holy Son of God in divine nature and also in human nature.
You notice at the beginning of chapter 5 there is reference to this book which is written on the front and back and all over, sealed with seven seals, and it's in the hand of God the Father. The question goes up, "Who can open this book?" and it was discovered that there was nobody in heaven or earth or under the earth worthy to open that book. When John hears this he begins to cry. He is comforted by one of the elders, "Weep not. Behold," he says, "the Lion of the tribe of Juda hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof". What is this book? Well, I believe the best explanation of this book is that it is the book of God's purposes as He has eternally foreordained and predestinated them. In order that His eternal purposes should be fully carried out in this world, something had to happen, namely that our blessed Saviour had to give His life as a propitiation for His people's sins, and, having done so, to rise to glory and sit on the throne of God, where we see him in chapter 5 here.
The picture is this: the book then, which is so full of writing, contains all the purposes of God, as the world is to have them revealed to it; and all the purposes of God, as they are to be unfolded in the course of time. It's not of course a literal book; it's not as though God has to have libraries on His shelf as we do. He knows everything in His mind and memory - of course you understand that this is a figure of speech or an illustration. But we need pictures, don't we, because we are but children in these things. So the book represents the purposes of God, and Jesus Christ has authority - the only one in heaven or earth or under the earth who has authority - to now open the seals on the book so that the purpose of God may run smoothly on to the end of time. Of course the principal part of that book and its purposes is the salvation of the souls of an innumerable multitude in this world.
You and I look back for 2000 years and we can happily see how it has been so largely fulfilled. But remember when John was on Patmos, there was just really a small number of Christians in the Mediterranean world. And lo and behold, you and I see because these things were written in the books of God. Africa has opened up enormously to the gospel - there are millions of Christians in Africa; and so in China - millions; and, we believe, in South Korea - thousands, possibly more than thousands; America; South America - Brazil; Australia; all over. And this glorious gospel of the blessed God is succeeding to bring home those for whom Christ did His work.
Understand that when it is said that Christ is worthy, it's a reference here to the fact that He was absolutely and totally obedient to His heavenly Father's will. This is referring to His completion of His work and ministry, when He cried out "It is finished!" and that sealed His obedience to God. When He was raised on the third day, and forty days later ascended up to glory, He sat at the right hand of God. He is the Lamb in the midst of the throne, and we understand that to mean that He has now received His coronation. He is a King over the universe. As Rabbi Duncan used to say, "The dust of earth sits on the throne of heaven." I hope we all understand this: that Christ has a twofold Kingship - He is Prophet, Priest and King over the church, that's true; but He is also universal King - this we refer to as His 'mediatorial Kingship'; He is Lord over everything. All authority in heaven and earth is His. He is King of Scotland, as our Covenanters used to say; King of England; King of Russia; King of everywhere; King over angels; King over devils - and they know it - the devils know it better than most sinners do. They used to say to Jesus in His lifetime, "Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God" (Luke 4, 34). So the devils know very well He is Lord of heaven and earth. God the Father has committed into the hands of Christ, as the God-Man, all authority, to rule the universe and every particle of it, until the last of His blood-bought children are brought into salvation. When the end comes, Jesus Christ our Lord will give back the kingdom to His Father, so that God may be all in all.
That is the way in which these things are taught in scripture. We are thankful now to know, dear friends, that it is not bad governments in London, or bad governments in Iraq and Iran, and bad governments in some other country, who really are making a mess of everything. They are making a mess of it, that's true - but over and above them all there is a sovereign hand. They don't recognise it, but Jesus Christ is slowly, steadily, bringing all things to their consummation and to their final end, and not one of the elect for whom He died will be missing. You mark it - not one will be missing in the great day, not a hoof of them will be left behind. Every one for whom He shed His blood will come in because He is absolutely in total command of everything. He sends His missionaries here, and His ministers there, and His servants to some other place. They go to the High Street, they give out tracts, they are faithfully knocking on doors, they preach to the people passing by - it all seems like madness. You think, "What good's going to come out of this? Most of the things that we give to people are thrown away and not regarded." Ah yes, but - the elect will see, and the elect will hear, and the elect will come.
So then, a Saviour who loved us and died for us, dear Christian friends, is sitting upon the throne. That means we are never to be anxious for the church, or the cause of God. It's a stupid phrase that somebody has invented, that we are living in a 'post Christian age'. My friends, there's no such thing as a 'post Christian age', nor ever will be. Oh yes, the kingdom of God has its setbacks, but you watch. If you and I had eyes to see into tomorrow, we would see that in this country of Scotland, and England again, and in Israel among the Jews again, and amongst all nations, there will come forth a mighty seed who will do service to God. He will not lack His worshippers, believe me.
Which gives me just a moment in which to speak of the happy ending for believers. You notice as we read these two chapters that there is a veritable symphony of praise to God. Half the words in these chapters are praise to God: "And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (5, 8-9); "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (v./12); "The four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever" (v.14). Oh, my dear friends, the plan of salvation will succeed, and all the enemies of God in the end will be made to look fools.
As I close, I want to say this to you: all kings, emperors and mighty men, just like us commoners who are nothing, they will all have to bow the knee to Jesus Christ in the end of time, whether they will or not. The wise amongst kings and queens, they know that.
There's quite a touching story that you may know in the life of Queen Victoria - whether she was a true Christian I couldn't tell you, but she did something which was good. You may know there's a very famous piece of music called Handel's Messiah, music singing about the praises of the Messiah - words of scripture set to music - and there's a chorus in it called the Hallelujah Chorus. It's very serious music, there's no flippancy about it; it was intended as serious music, and it is serious music: music which treats the Bible in a reverential way. In the Hallelujah Chorus, in Victorian times, Queen Victoria was sitting in her royal box listening, as all the others were listening, to this magnificent music. The choir and so on were making their wonderful sounds of praise to God - at least the words were words of scripture; let me put it better like that. As the singing went on, suddenly, the audience of hundreds of people were all aware that, Queen Victoria had stood up to the Hallelujah Chorus. She was acknowledging: "He is King of kings and Lord of lords". Of course, what else could all the audience do? They all stood up. This has been a tradition in every concert, I think in the world, ever since, that whenever the Hallelujah Chorus is sung - and King of Kings and Lord of Lords is referred to - everybody stands up. That is right, because He is King of kings, and Lord of lords!
So therefore, dear friends, let us go on serving Him as well as we can, until we see His blessed face. Amen.
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