The Time Is At Hand!
Jun 2, 2010 2601
—Dr Desmond Ford*
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand. Revelation 1:3, KJV
READ REVELATION Revelation 1-3
All of us have experienced sin as a burden upon us, a tyrant over us, and a traitor within us. Justification deals with the first, sanctification the second, and glorification the third.
In the Book of Revelation, it is promised that our old nature, which was legally crucified at the Cross and subdued in sanctification, is finally to be eradicated. Sinful propensities which afflict us here, causing us to cry out, ‘O wretched man that I am’, will soon be no more. Hereafter there shall be no cruel gap between intention and achievement, between the ideal and the real (Revelation 22:2-4; 20:6; 21:4 and 14:5). No wonder Revelation is full of songs and doxologies. In the very first chapter we are reminded of the One who has loved us and loosed us from the captivity of sin by his sacrifice. Surely this joyous verse is a guide to what we should expect in all that follows.
Attempting to interpret this book is like trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon. To change the figure, Revelation is full of glorious manna, full and pressed down and overflowing in abundant measure. While Genesis is the seed plot. Revelation is the flowerbed. As Genesis spoke of creation, the marriage of the first Adam, the beginning of life, service, marriage, the Sabbath, sin, sorrow, death, Satan, Israel, and the covenant, so here in the Apocalypse we witness the new creation, the marriage of the second Adam, the glorification of life and service, the true fellowship of souls and union with God—symbolized by marriage and the eternal Sabbath rest. As the third chapter of Scripture introduced evil, so the third last chapter bids it farewell. Revelation 20 forecasts the destruction of Satan, sin, sorrow, and death. God’s Israel will enter upon all that the everlasting covenant promised of glory and joy. It is as though we have been travelling on a golden ring and returned to where we started. But it is the return of the octave at a higher, sweeter pitch.
The first section of Revelation has the same relationship to the rest of the book as Genesis does to the whole Bible. Everything to come is present in seed form in these first chapters. If we do our work well here, the way will be paved to understand all the rest. Sadly, the first chain, the letters to the seven churches, reveals a dimming of the gospel flame— an indication of the chief obstacle (sin) hindering the proclamation of the gospel.
What then are the themes of Revelation 1-3? Christ, his nature and glory, his work, his salvation, his covenant, his kingdom, his coming, his people— these are the themes of this introductory section. Therefore, let us not look here, nor in the chapters which follow, for that which God has not promised. We shall find nothing here about calendrical dates, or secular powers (see Acts 1:7). There is no allusion to modern inventions or to anything belonging to our materialistic culture.
The opening chapter alludes to the Olivet Discourse, which was given to the miniature Church— the disciples (for example, compare 1:7 with Matthew 24:30). That discourse was a commentary on Daniel 9:24-27, the great Old Testament prediction about Messiah the Prince, his coming, his being ‘cut off’; his city, his people, his covenant and his great antagonist, Antichrist. Daniel 9:24-27 itself is an explanation of the climactic verse of Daniel 8:1-14. Following that symbolism, all that is given to the seer of Babylon, is interpretation (Daniel 10 to 12).
This grand prophecy (Daniel 8 and 9) had foretold the undoing of sin, transgression, iniquity, and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, fulfilling all prophetic vision, in order that God might return to tabernacle once more with his people. This prophecy had promised all that the ancient Day of Atonement prefigured—judgement and abolition of sin and sinners, reconciliation between God and man with all sorrow past. The Sanctuary, as a symbol of the kingdom of God, mirrored in its history the state of the covenant people. Christ, intimating his messianic task, cleansed the Sanctuary at the beginning and end of his ministry. He himself was the new Temple, and because his people are one with him, they too throughout the New Testament are called the Temple of God. With all this in mind, Revelation 1:12-20 and Revelation 21 and 22 should be studied as the symbolic expression of the consummation of the Sanctuary’s covenant promises. The whole earth cleansed and renewed becomes the everlasting Temple of God and the Lamb. Even the New Jerusalem is pictured as having the proportions of the Holy of Holies.
In Revelation, the same Christ who came to Daniel in captivity, comes to John in exile in the new Babylonian empire—that of Rome. This first chapter describes him even as he appeared when he visited the writer of the Old Testament apocalypse. See Daniel 10. Now he comes as the Prophet, Priest, and King of that Sanctuary spoken of in Daniel 8 and 9. He is the true Guardian of the temple courts, the Judge as well as the Saviour of all who walk therein. He trims the church lamps, and punishes with the sword of his mouth. He is preparing his people for glory, and those who will not be cleansed must be removed from their place. Judgement begins at the house of God, and this book of judgement upon the world begins with judgement upon the Church. Daniel 2 and 3 find our Priest and kingly Judge examining the professions and walk of his people and proclaiming his verdict. All the promises made to the members of the seven churches are elaborations of the promises of Daniel 8:14 and 9:24. They have to do with the end of sin and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness.
Revelation chapters one to three remind us that trials and trouble are our lot here below. As the Church lets her light shine, opposition automatically results. Christ’s witnesses are called to be faithful unto death; they, like the Messiah, are to be ‘cut off’. Wherever the church is true to its commission, martyrdom ensues and the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the blossoming community until the whole earth is filled with God’s glory. John, in this book (like Daniel in his) is the pattern for all believers. He has been faithful to the Word of God—the testimony of Jesus. At the grand old age of nearly a century, we find the beloved apostle on the barren, rocky isle that was one of the prisons of ancient Rome. But he is not alone; the Christ whom he loves and serves arrives in glory to visit, strengthen, inform and commission him.
Let us not ignore the challenge found in this record. Wherever the Church sits at ease it has ceased to witness. Wherever the Church fulfils her commission, blood will flow. This entire book repeats that lesson repeatedly. A sinful world needs whistleblowers. Let us not ignore that, as though true Christians could be comfortable in this world.
The visit of Christ takes place on the Sabbath—the Lord’s Day. That day symbolizes the rest of Eden, the rest in Christ through dependence on his finished work. It is particularly appropriate that in this context the Sabbath should be mentioned. Over and over, we find reference to the Exodus in these verses, and the Sabbath was the sign of the Sinaitic as well as the Edenic covenant. The Old Testament, like the New, recognizes only one divine everlasting covenant, and the Prince who confirmed it on Calvary, is the giver of the Patmos revelation.
These early verses teach that the New Testament Church is the new Israel, and therefore, any endeavour to read the experience of modern Jewry in this book is misplaced. Modern Jewry is still beloved for their father’s sake, but they are Gentiles, strangers from the covenant of promise and need to be grafted in again to the tree of spiritual Israel, as all other Gentiles must. As a nation, the Jews have no special destiny. This was revoked when they cried, ‘We have no king but Caesar’. Their Messiah previously had warned them, ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a people bringing forth the fruit thereof’—the Christian Church.
The covenant allusions found in chapter one are repeated and multiplied throughout the rest of the book. We shall read of the Ark of the Covenant and its testimony—the Decalogue. The rainbow of the covenant will shine, offering encouragement to those who must live through storm and tempest. The covenant curses of war, famine, pestilence, wild-beasts and death, are the key to the seals. The trumpets, the plagues, and the blessings of life—fruitfulness, joy and rest—will be traced in their fulfilment before we lay the book down. See Deuteronomy 28, 29 and Leviticus 26.
From the opening verses of this book, and repeatedly afterwards, we find legal words such as ‘testimony’. All Christians echo the testimony of their Lord, the truths he testified before men and devils in Galilee, Jerusalem’s streets, the courts of Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod. Christ witnessed a good confession, and it is the Church’s continual task to re-echo that. The proclamation of the gospel, the fulfilling of the Great Commission, is nothing other than telling the story of the Cross (1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 6:14). This task fulfilled brings the Second Advent. Through the proclamation and pilgrimage of the Church, God makes manifest to principalities and powers his manifold wisdom and power (Ephesians 3:9,10). We are now a theatre to the universe, to angels and to men. See 1 Corinthians 4:9 (original).
The Church’s message now is, ‘The hour of his judgement is come.’ The gospel itself, rightly proclaimed, is judgement (compare Revelation 18:10). In the opening chapter of this book we find the word of God symbolized by a two-edged sword proceeding from the mouth of Christ. He promised that his word would judge all men at the last great day (John 12:48). Similarly, his Cross is the judgement of the world (John 12:31). On Calvary he separated the penitent from the impenitent. The word of the Cross does likewise. Men are judged by their response to the sacrificial love of God, and the last great day will declare it. Today is the day of salvation; today is the appointed time for acceptance. Today, if we hear his voice let us not harden our heart, for the hearing of the gospel itself brings judgement. Not so much the sin question, but the Son question, is the issue. What have we done with him?
Those at peace with God do not fear the coming of that Judge who has already absolved them with his gift of the ultimate verdict. Thus there is no need for panic theology such as is found in the work of Hal Lindsey. Believers see the Second Coming only through the lens of the First. When Christ is known as Saviour, his relation as Judge brings no fear. Twenty-eight times in this book our Lord is set forth as the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.
It is a very profitable study to consider the seven major sections of Scripture that exalt the Lamb of God. In Genesis 3:21 the Lamb is typified; in 22:13,14 the Lamb prophesied; in Exodus 12:13 the Lamb’s blood is applied; in Isaiah 53 the Lamb is personified; in John 1:29 the Lamb is identified; in Revelation 5:6-12 the Lamb is magnified; in Revelation 21 and 22 the Lamb is glorified. And inasmuch as the blood of the Lamb is so prominent in Revelation (1:5; 7:14; 12:11), we should also consider the first seven passages in the Bible where blood is specially emphasized. In Genesis 4:10 the blood cries; in 9:5,6 the blood is sacred; in 37:32,33 the blood is presented to the Father; in 42:22 there is a reckoning for the blood; in 49:11 we have the washing of garments by the blood; in Exodus 4:9 blood is the sign of the wrath of God; and in Exodus 12:13 blood is the only covering in the Judgement.
Before each prophetic chain the eye is made to rest upon Christ, our great High Priest. Only looking unto Jesus steadies us for considering what is to come upon the world. See Hebrews 12:2 and 3:1, Matthew 17:8 and Luke 4:20.
Revelation 1:7 is a key verse in the opening chapter of the book of the Second Coming, for it is this event which brings the end to sin, sorrow, pain and death. The theme of 1:7 will meet us repeatedly throughout the book. To the churches Christ says: ‘If you will not watch, I will come on you as a thief’; ‘Behold, I come quickly.’ The seals climax in the great day of his coming and the question is asked, ‘Who shall be able to stand?’ The trumpets picture the preliminary judgements upon the world, and close with the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdom of Christ at his coming. In the final chapter of our book, our Lord assures us that he is ‘coming soon’. Contrast the admonition given to John not to seal the book, with that given to Daniel, which was the opposite (see Daniel 8:26 and Revelation 22:10). John is not to seal his book because the Coming is at hand.
If there is no final victory of good over evil, the Kingdom of God becomes an empty dream (T.W. Manson). In the Christianity of preceding centuries, thanatology (the study of death) replaced eschatology. This error the New Testament never makes. It is not death that is ‘the blessed hope’ of the believer. Over three hundred times the New Testament speaks of the Second Coming, and that refrain now reaches a hallelujah chorus in Revelation. The New Testament generation believed they were in the Last Days and that Christ was about to appear. Had Judaism repented and the infant Church done its work, it would have been even so.
Following the prologue of the book, which repeatedly refers to Christ and his two advents, we have the initial vision. This vision is the key to the whole book. As Ariadne supplied Theseus with a thread at the very entrance of the cavern he had to penetrate, so here John places a torch in the hand of the reader at the beginning of his search. The centre and circumference of this vision has to do with light.
We see Christ clothed with the sun, every part of him beaming with celestial glory, he walks among the light holders (lampstands) and holds luminaries (stars) in his hand. The vision, therefore, speaks of the coming of light to displace the darkness—and this is the theme of the entire book. Christ is the Light of the World. He shines through his Church as it proclaims the gospel, which alone can illumine the darkened soul. All that follows in this book will speak of the experience of the light-bearers, their progress, their opposition and their ultimate triumph. The victory of the Light will be imaged by symbols of conquest, such as the white glistening horse. The sacrificial sword will portray the war of darkness against it. Light and darkness will alternate throughout the visions until we come to the city of light where there is no night, and where the Lamb is the eternal Sun.
All the warnings and promises of this book are conditional. The very timing of the Second Advent, viewed from one standpoint, is conditional. ‘Whosoever will may come.’ ‘Whoever is athirst may partake of the water of life freely.’ Christ stands at the door and knocks, but there is something for us to do. As Philippians 2:12,13 tells us, our salvation has been accomplished, but we must work it out. God does everything by way of holiness within our hearts, but we must work. Our destiny is assured if we continue to trust, but we are to fear and tremble lest we be seduced from him by our own carnality. There is no ‘once saved, always saved’ in this book, nor anywhere else in Scripture.
Only acceptance and cherishing of the gospel will bring all things needed, including Christ’s coming. Faith, penitence, righteousness, strength, missionary motivation and skill—all these are his gifts to those who see themselves as wretched, poor, blind and naked, and therefore cry, ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus, come to this troubled heart today’. And he does.
* This article is the first chapter of Dr. Ford’s new book, The Time is at Hand: An Introduction to the Book of Revelation; available from Good News Unlimited.