For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Church and the Glory of God
Reading: Revelation 1:9-10, 12-13; 4:1-2.
By now I think that you all know that the theme of this conference is "heavenly vision." My part is to share with you the heavenly vision given to the apostle John. The vision that he has seen is recorded in Revelation. Normally when we study the first five chapters of Revelation, we tend to put the first three chapters together, then chapter four is a new beginning. But if we really want to know the heavenly vision given to John we have to remember that these are one unit together. Sometimes we have the impression that John saw the risen Lord in the first chapter, how He was amidst the seven lampstands and we say that this is the vision number one. Then when we come to chapter four we say that this is the second vision because it was there that the apostle John saw vision of the throne. So our tendency is to separate these two as if there were two visions involved; but actually they are just one.
The experience of John
We explained yesterday how John was in the bosom of our Lord while He was on the earth. So when his memory went back to the early days, he remembered his first encounter with his Master, and he remembered how his former master John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God." Now because of that testimony, John became the follower of the Lamb. Wherever the Lamb went, he also went. So we discover how John became the follower of the Lamb during those three and a half years. Then one day with his own eyes John saw the Lamb of God on the cross. Before that, all he had seen was the shadow of that Lamb. Every year when they celebrated the feast of the Passover, they all saw the shadow. But the last Passover, with his own eyes, John saw the Lamb of God crucified for him, for you and for everyone. Now he was able to say, "Behold the Lamb of God."
Now John had a first hand revelation about the Lamb. After three days, our Lord was risen. And for forty days our Lord was with the disciples and again John followed the Lamb. But then one day, on the Mount of Olives our Lord ascended to heaven, and in the process of ascending into heaven, these disciples tried to look up into heaven. That's how their Master said farewell to them. And you can imagine the one who had been in the bosom of our Lord watched his Lord go back to the Father. So John wanted to follow the Lamb, but he couldn't. He could only follow the Lamb with his eyes. But then he found a cloud covered our Lord. So our Lord disappeared into the cloud. So that cloud took his Lord away from John; all the way to heaven.
From that time on, John enjoyed the presence of God through the Holy Spirit, and continued following the Lamb who was now in the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit was in him; he still took up his cross and followed the Lord for another 70 years, and now John was almost a hundred years old, but he still remembered that it was that cloud that took his Lord away from him. He did not know what happened to the Lord, but he was waiting for Him to return; he was waiting for the cloud to bring his Lord back. So for that reason he said: "Behold, he is coming with the cloud."
Because of this, we know that John was always waiting for the Lord's return. But deep down in his heart, there was a riddle that he never understood. He wanted to know what happened beyond the cloud. He knew everything that had happened on this side of the cloud, and that's why he was able to write the gospel of John. When the Word became flesh, in those days, John was able to write it down. This was written about the things on this side of the cloud. But what happened beyond the cloud? He wanted to know what happened to the Lord, because he loved the Lord so much. Just as the Lord wanted to reveal Himself to Mary Magdalene, now our Lord wanted to reveal Himself to John.
So you remember John was on the island of Patmos, on the Lord's day; and the Lord's day is when the children of God come together, and they would be sitting at the Lord's table, and breaking the bread they do it in remembrance of the Lord. So you can imagine on that day that John's heart really went out to the Lord in remembrance of how Jesus had been crucified, but also how one day He would come back again. On the one hand it is the Lord's supper, but also, at the same time, it is the Lord's table. The Lord's supper means we do this in remembrance of the Lord, but the table of the Lord means that we are at the Lord's banquet, and though we are many, we are one. So it is a time of sharing Christ with all those who know Christ.
But on that day John was not able to be with the saints. Because he was on the island of Patmos, far from the saints. He wanted to be at the table and share Christ with them, and to remember the Lord's love for them together. So when John thought of our Lord; he remembered how our He had still not come back. John had waited, not just for ten or twenty years; in the beginning his hair had color, but now seventy years had passed and here was an old man with white hair, who had waited from his youth to old age. Heaven had still not moved. He was waiting to see the cloud. If he saw the cloud, he knew it meant the Lord was coming back.
So on the Lord's day, remembering the Lord, it was so clear, that something was still missing for the Lord's return. Even though he could enjoy the presence of the Lord, nothing could satisfy him; he was still waiting for the Lord's return, for the cloud to bring Him back. So you can imagine that that's what happened on the island of Patmos.
But his heart also went out to all the saints in Asia Minor. He was supposed to be with them breaking bread. But now he had been exiled to the island. When he thought of all the brethren, and all the churches he had served in Asia Minor, he remembered the glorious days of those churches. But he also knew the present condition of those churches. He could remember what had happened to Ephesus, in Thyatira, he knew everything about the church in Laodicea. John served them for many years, and he loved them. He knew them all so well, and when he was in the presence of God as a servant of the Lord; he was just like a high priest. You remember how the high priest, when he went before God would have the twelve names of Israel upon his shoulders, and the precious stones with the names upon them, in his bosom. You can imagine that on that day, when John was before the Lord, upon his shoulders and in his bosom, he had the names of all the churches in Asia Minor. He knew all these churches well, but he was not longer with them; they were on the other side of the Asian sea.
So while he was on the Lord's day, he was thinking of these churches, of their glory and shame, their heights and lows. He was moved by the Holy Spirit. That means he was in the presence of the Lord. So then he told us, I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet saying, and then told us, when I turned around So you can imagine John was facing Asia Minor, thinking of those churches, but the Lord wanted to comfort him. The Lord knew what was in his heart. The pain of the apostle John was also the pain of our Lord Jesus. So the Lord wanted to comfort him, and had a message for him. After seventy years, John had seen how the Church was born in those glorious days but because he lived for so long (unlike Paul or Peter who only saw the glorious days), by the sovereignty of God, he loved for long enough to see the declension of the church: only seventy years later.
You can imagine how heavy apostle John's heart was. He still remembered their good sides, how mature the church in Ephesus had been. But it is not the beginning of a race that counts in the running-course; you have to wait until the last second. Seventy years is a great test, and that was what it took for John to see the Church getting old. Now you can see why on that Lord's day when he was moved in the Spirit, while thinking of the conditions of the church, now the Lord wanted him to turn around. He ought to hear the message from the heaven trumpet. So when he turned around, he was already in heaven because he was already in the Holy Place; he was already in the heavenly places. Here you find seven lampstands and in their midst he saw the Risen Lord; he saw someone like the Son of Man. The Lord was already in glory. This is a heavenly vision.
Seventy year wait
For seventy years he wanted to know what had happened on the other side of the cloud. But the door of heaven was always shut. Yet now it pleased the Father to reveal His Son to John as well. That's why the book of revelations says, the revelation of Jesus Christ. What happened on the other side of the cloud? John needed to receive revelation. John had seen with his own eyes and experienced what had happened on this side of the cloud; the Lamb on the cross. He had first hand revelation. He also saw the Lord's tomb was empty; Jesus was raised from the dead. John was a witness and became the witness who wrote down his records, and now you have the gospel of John. But for seventy years he wanted details of what happened on the other side of the cloud, yet the door remained closed. Somehow that door held our Lord there. For seventy years, it must have been John's prayer that heaven would no longer hold our Lord there. Then our Lord would come again, with the clouds. Isn't that what his beloved Lord had said; that He would come with the cloud?
So for that reason, he was waiting for the appearance of that cloud. He was waiting for the coming of our Lord. But something was always in his heart; that mystery, which had never been revealed to him, until that day when it pleased the Father to open that door. So then we discover in chapters 2 and 3, we see the risen Lord in the Holy Place, but in chapter 4, we find the risen Lord in the Holiest of Holies. Every Jew knew that the glory of God and the throne of God is in the Holiest of Holies, and when the door of heaven was opened, John saw the vision of that throne.
So, remember, we tend to divide these chapters into two visions, but it is just one. There is a heavenly sanctuary; the Holy Place and the Holiest of Holies. In the heavenly sanctuary, there is no veil between these two places, because our Lord already died on the cross. The earthly temple is nothing but a shadow of the real one. Even though we discover our Lord in the Holy place in chapters 2 and 3, this is one with the Holiest of Holies in chapter 4.
So what John saw was a heavenly vision. Not just a vision from heaven, but about heaven itself. Before that, John knew something about heaven, but now heaven was really opened to him. We have to recognize, John knew everything about heaven, about what happened around the throne of God. So it takes the whole book of Revelation to explain this vision. So, when we talk about the heavenly vision given to John we are speaking of that vision of the Holy Place and the Holiest of Holies. So for our sake, when we see heaven, chapter 1 to 3 clearly shows the risen Lord in the Holy Place, but in the Holiest of Holies, we see that the Lamb is on the throne. This is the heavenly vision that John had seen. And this vision will govern the whole book of Revelation.
Today people cannot understand the book of Revelation, because they have lost that key. If you throw that key away, there is no way to understand it. We will never understand the seven seals, the seven trumpets or seven bowls but according to the book of Revelation, there is an explanation there; it is from heaven. If you look around for an answer you won't get it, nor if you look to today's political situation, at Bin Laden, at President Bush, you won't get it. All the answers are from heaven. That's why it is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Now I feel it is very difficult to share this with you brothers. But that is just because of my limitations. In order to explain this vision, strictly speaking, we need to understand the whole book of Revelation. And more than that; another book in the Old Testament. So my problem is this: in one hour, I must cover two whole books of the bible. Now when John saw that vision, remember that God had prepared that vision for seventy years. During that whole time, John followed the Lamb, he abided in Christ and Christ in Him.
Remember, in the gospel of John, our Lord said, "If you abide in me, my word will abide in you." The word used here is Rhema, which means the word of life. Logos means the word of truth; the fundamentals, the foundation of revelation. But now the Holy Spirit who lives in us will anoint the Word of God and remind us of what God has said in His Word, and make it living. That is the Word of life, a living word. So what is the secret for having the living word? Abiding in Christ; to let the logos of Christ dwell in us richly. That's what happened during those seventy years of John's life. Whilst he abided in Christ, the rhema abided in him.
This is what the Lord was doing during those seventy years. We don't know what was happening in that time until we read the book of Revelation, which strictly speaking is all about this heavenly vision. So now we ask, how did John receive that revelation? Oh yes, you will say, "on the Lord's day, he was moved by the Holy Spirit and he saw the vision." But brothers, we are over-simplifying things. For seventy years, God was preparing to give that vision to John; it takes seventy years to abide in Christ and receive the Word of God, to let the logos of Christ dwell in us richly, and while we abide in Christ, this word of truth turns into life. When that moment comes, and heaven lifts that veil; when John received revelation, he received the Word. How did God speak to him again? Through the Word that God has already spoken through the Old Testament.
We don't know what happened during those seventy years but we do know the result. After seventy years we have the book of Revelation. Now what is the characteristic of the book of Revelation? If you analyze it, very interestingly, you'll find it is very different from Paul's epistles. Paul knew the bible so accurately, that when he wrote Romans, he had to prove that we were all sinners, and no-one is righteous, he could quote the Old Testament in an exact way. In other words, he really let the Word of the Old Testament dwell in him richly. So then the Holy Spirit spoke to him once again.
For example, when he studied Genesis, especially the story of Abraham, as a Rabbi, as a student at the feet of Gamaliel, he knew the Old Testament, the book of Genesis and the story of Abraham so well but now when God spoke to him once again, then he remembered the story of Abraham and Paul saw justification by faith. So how did he see this wonderful truth? Can you see the principle here? God spoke to Paul once again and everything was opened up. Thank God, that was Paul's ministry and writing. But the way Paul studied the Word was to memorize everything by heart so he could do it very accurately. So when Paul quoted the Old Testament, it was always the exact citation, word by word.
But when you come to the book of Revelation, you'll find the Old Testament everywhere; two hundred and fifty references or hints of the Old Testament. Behind John there was the whole picture of the Old Testament. But somehow John was not able to cite a single verse. In fact, the maximum was half a verse. So some will probably say John just had a poor memory. But that's not true because if you study his gospel, he also quoted from the Old Testament. Why then is revelation so different? Because it is about a heavenly vision.
When John saw the vision, it means that somehow the living Word came upon him. Whenever this happens, it is always based upon the Word of truth; the Word that God has already spoken. So now you can understand that when John saw the vision, God had used seventy years to prepare him - because during that time, the whole Old Testament was in John. He was abiding in Christ and meditating on the Word of God, and then the Word of rhema abided in him. So when the book of Daniel for example, dwelt in him, on the one hand, he abided in Christ and allowed that Word to dwell in him, and according to the promise of the Lord, the rhema came to him. So through all those Old Testament passages, the Holy Spirit could speak to John once again.
So, in this book of Revelation, when you see the whole vision, there are no exact quotations. Everything is a general impression. When you touch the book of Daniel, there was a general impression. When you touch Exodus, there is just a general impression; you have locusts in Exodus and in Revelation, beasts in Daniel and in Revelation, cherubim in Ezekiel and in Revelation. Do you see brothers?
Now because John abided in Christ and let the Word of God dwell in him richly for seventy years this Word now became rhema. So he got the general impression of the Word that God had spoken in the Old Testament. Finally, after seventy years, John was ready, and on the Lord's day, heaven opened with a message from heaven. This means that God has spoken to us through the book of Daniel, the book of Exodus, the book of Ezekiel and so on and so forth. Now God spoke to John once again through the Holy Spirit and everything opened up.
So why do people say they do not understand much from the book of Revelation? Because you need the whole Old Testament to understand it. Are you ready for that brothers and sisters? So this is very important. That's why it is so difficult to cover.
The history of the church in the vision of John
But when we come to this heavenly vision in chapters 1 to 5, you see something in heaven that controls the whole book of Revelation and will also give an answer to the present day condition of the Church. While John embraced the seven churches in Asia Minor in his bosom, he presented them before the Lord, and meditated about their condition and worried for them. Sometimes he felt pain when he saw the declension of the Church. He was one who abided in Christ and Christ in him; the living Word abided in him, and there must have been a solution. How was the Church to go on? Peter and Paul were no longer present. The Church was in a desperate situation. There must be a response from heaven.
So when John presented this before the Lord, then the Lord spoke from heaven. So then we have the seven letters to the seven churches. When we study these seven churches, of course they belonged to the churches in the second century, but we have more here, because the last four churches all mention the second coming of our Lord, either directly or indirectly. In other words, these four churches will remain until the Lord's return. Our Lord hasn't returned yet, so that means the church of Thyatira is definitely here, the church of Sardis is definitely here, the church of Philadelphia is here, the church of Laodicea is here. There is a promise to the church of Philadelphia: the promise of rapture. They will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. Now in the first century the Lord had not come yet. So what does that mean? These four churches will remain all the way up to the Lord's return.
So in other words, the Lord tried to teach John: you can only see these seventy years. It takes seventy years for the church to decline, and to your eyes it is almost unbearable. John still remembered the day of Pentecost, the presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and John also witnessed the maturity of the church in Ephesus; how it grew, but brothers, after seventy years it was no longer the same. Now John had to preach the message of repentance. This was a message for unbelievers. Now why would you preach repentance to the church? You know the situation.
John knew those seven churches; he knew them so well. They represented the churches in all of Asia Minor. John knew their glories and shames, strengths and weaknesses. If you asked John, are they perfect? John had the answer. Who had experienced church life longer than John? Thank God for Peter who experienced those golden days of Pentecost and witnessed the growth of the church. The same is true of Paul, but now they were in glory, whilst John was still on the earth. So who knew better than John, or had more experience or knew more practical aspects of the church than John? The church was still on earth, as the body of Christ, the house of God, the lampstand for Christ and this was still true. That was the end of the first century. But when heaven speaks, it always enlarges our capacity. John knew the present condition too well, so he was qualified to be used by the Holy Spirit to write these seven epistles.
So the risen Lord could speak through John. So then you have the seven churches and the Lord mentioned their strengths and their weaknesses. But John only knew those seventy years. It more than Paul or Peter, from the Church's birth to its height, and from there to its declension, but what was the solution? When the Lord spoke, He really enlarged John's capacity, and now we understand that these seven churches are not just the churches in the first century; the last four churches will remain until the Lord's coming. So these last four churches represent the condition of the Church throughout its history.
John only knew seventy years, but the Lord can foresee more than two thousand years. Brothers and sisters, when you study the church history, you know the condition of the church today. If you compare the church condition today with those seven churches you'll understand there must be some message. For that reason, this heavenly vision is not just something abstract. As our brother Stephen mentioned; the Church is glorious in origin and spiritual in nature but the church always touches the earth and that means that many problems happen. So what is the solution? There must be some message.
So for that reason we have the church in Thyatira; the Church in the Dark Age, then you have the church in Sardis which reminds us of the sixteenth century, and how God used Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli to bring people out of Babylon and come back to Jerusalem, so Sardis means remnants. Now in that time the church was in the Dark Age. How do we know? Because the promise to the church in Thyatira was to receive the morning star. What does that mean? When we see it, it means we are in the darkest period in which you almost can't see your own hand, but when you see the morning star, it means that daybreak is not far off, soon the heaven will dawn. So Thyatira represents the Church in the Dark Age; for more than 1,000 years the Church was captured to Babylon. How do we know? Chapter 17 of Revelation, the mystery of Babylon which speaks of religious Babylon, which was fulfilled in Church history.
John only saw seventy years, but our Lord has waited for over two thousand years. The church was captured into Babylon, but thank God, through Luther and Calvin we were brought back into Jerusalem. So we know the church of Sardis will remain all the way to the Lord's coming. Now before then, we will have the church in Laodicea - you know its condition - neither cold nor warm. The Lord's presence should be with them, but unfortunately the Lord was shut outside. He knocked at the door. Not at the door of sinners but at the church door.
Isn't this a sad story? You have the name of a church, yet Christ is outside of the church, and the Lord has to knock and call them to repent, "Open the door, let me in, I should be in your midst, you only have the name of church, so why am I outside? It is too crowded." There is no space for Christ there; we are too important, we decide everything, we say, "This is the church," but the Lord is outside knocking at the door. That's the church condition before the Lord returns.
But between Sardis and Laodicea, no doubt, we have the church in Philadelphia. Now who is Philadelphia? It is definitely here in Church history before the Lord returns. So before then, you will find a church in Thyatira, in Sardis, in Philadelphia and in Laodicea, but among these, you definitely want to be in Philadelphia. Because it is always praised by the Lord. Among the seven churches, this is one of the two which the Lord never rebukes. And the Lord said to Philadelphia, "I have already loved you." And only the church in Philadelphia among the seven has a crown. What does that mean? It is an overcoming church; it is an overcomer. In the church in Thyatira, the Lord is calling for individual overcomers but in Philadelphia you find a corporate overcomer; the whole church has the crown.
So, now our Lord wants to reveal His mind and His vision; to us to show us the way of the Church. Now the way of the Church is the way of Philadelphia. But remember, Philadelphia is only the way, never our label. When you put Philadelphia as your label, you are no longer Philadelphia; you have already become Laodicea. What did Laodicea say? "I am rich." Now the condition of the church in Philadelphia is rich; the door is open. What door was that? In the palace of David, the treasury would be put in different rooms, and when the door is open, and the keys belong to David to open the door, it means all the treasury of David is open to them. This is the condition of the church in Philadelphia; the unsearchable riches of Christ will be given to them. They will enjoy all the riches of Christ. But if you make that your label, if you say "I am rich," then the Lord says, "You are poor. You are already Laodicea."
So when the Lord spoke these words, He showed us a very important way. Don't try to criticize others; the important thing is this: are you walking in the way of Philadelphia? This means brotherly love. It means obeying the Word of God and never denying His name. You are very weak, but the Lord will give you an open door. This is the way of the Church. So brothers, if you really see this vision, we will find a way. Thank God for that. You'll discover overcomers are the way. That's why God calls overcomers; no matter what condition you are in, you may be an overcomer. But of course the Lord's desire is not just to have individual overcomers, but also corporate overcomers. So thank God.
Do you see how the Lord enlarged John's heart? "All you can worry for is seventy years, but Oh I have to worry for more than two thousand years. If seventy years gives you so much pain, you can imagine how much it causes me." This is the message given from heaven. So thank God, the solution is the overcomer, no matter what the Church condition. When the Church in general falls below the horizon, then the overcomers stand on the horizon. They are not special, but when everyone else falls below the horizon, they remain standing. It is very clear; this is the message from heaven.
But if you only see this much, you still do not have the whole solution. You'll then be the preacher on the restoration of the Church. You'll consider yourself as a reformer. When you study the history of the church, you know Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were reformers and you admire them. Now many young people in the United States, when they study the history of the church want to become reformers. They have ambitions. "Oh, how Luther reformed the church; I want to do the same." But that phrase was already used, so they begin to talk about "restoration." They want to restore church order. But if you only see these two chapters and you only see the overcomers, you don't know in what context they are overcomers. You won't have the solution. You may even learn some techniques.
You remember the famous book by Watchman Nee, "The Normal Christian Church Life." Now in the Chinese edition, when he was writing a preface, he said, "I know this book will invite attacks and opposition. I am not afraid of that. I am afraid of something much greater than that." Not that of the enemy, but that fear was from his friends. When they love this book, they use it as model. They want to form a New Testament church, and begin to practice based upon this book. Do you understand? People who talk about restoration often only talk about this much.
History tells us that there are many reformers; they are old now, but when they were in college, they dreamed of being reformers. Unfortunately, some of them were for the Lord's recovery but they ended up going back to Greek Orthodox. This is the lesson we have to learn from the Church history. It's much easier to learn some techniques; it's much easier when you use some book as a charter of the Church. But remember that that is the reason why the Church is in decline. Why? Because they only see this much. They forgot that chapters 1,2 and 3 are connected with chapters 4 and 5. That vision is one piece of vision so you cannot separate them. Only one section gives the Holy Place, and there you'll find lampstands, but then the Holiest of Holies, you'll find cherubim and the throne. So this is the heavenly vision. It's of heaven itself. What is heaven? Heaven is Heaven because God is there, and hell is hell because God is not there. Now, when you really see the heavenly vision, you ought to know what heaven is, and there you'll see the throne of God. And John saw it!
But what's more, he remembered seventy years before, when he was standing beside the cross and with his own eyes he saw the Lamb die for his sins and ours. The Lamb was slain, just like in the temple. But in that heavenly vision, John saw the Lamb is in the throne. And what were we told? The Lamb was just slain; that is to say, recently, newly slain. So when John saw that picture, it meant Jesus had just ascended to heaven. Remember that cloud that took Christ to heaven; it was exactly that which John wanted to know - what happened on the other side of that cloud.
Now he got the answer. On this side of the cloud: the Lamb on the cross, the Lamb was slain, but in that vision, as the Lamb ascended to heaven, it is a glorified Christ, a risen Christ, an ascended Christ, Christ in glory. It is the one who saw the Lamb on the cross who was used to tell us about the Lamb on the throne. From the cross to the throne, from the thorns to the crown. Who had that witness? Not Peter; Peter was not there when Jesus was crucified, nor Paul, but if there was anyone on this earth who saw this story from the manger all the way to the throne; from the manger to the cross, and from the cross to the throne. Strictly speaking, that heavenly vision has two parts: one part is in John's gospel, "Behold the Lamb. The Lamb on the cross." Then beyond the cloud we find the same Lamb who is now in glory, and He is in the throne. This is the vision.
Correspondence to the vision of Ezekiel
Now why did God have to prepare John for seventy years to receive that vision? If you read the first five chapters, it reminds us of the book of Ezekiel. I have no time to go through the vision of Ezekiel and the vision of John. But I will quickly mention, in Ezekiel we were told that the heavens were opened. Ezekiel was the only prophet in the Old Testament for whom heaven opened. Then in Revelation, a door opened in heaven. Then in the first chapter of Ezekiel, at the beginning he said, "I" but he never explained who I was. When you read the following verse you know that it is Ezekiel. Then when we come to the first chapter of Revelation, what did John say? "I, John." This is a very important word. This reminds us of the Old Testament. I, Daniel. Daniel saw a vision. John also saw a vision, as did Ezekiel.
Then in the first chapter of Ezekiel, he was exiled to the Chebar River. Then in Revelation, John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Then in the chapter we are told that when Ezekiel received the vision he was thirty years old. As a priest, he was supposed to enter into the temple and serve the Lord. But he was captured. He was a priest without a temple, a man without a country. That's Ezekiel, and the same happens to John. We are told on the Lord's day, when he would have been thinking of the seven churches in Asia, and so he was a shepherd without a flock. He was separated from the flock, far, far away. Ezekiel was among the exiles; at that time the people were captured into Babylon, and you remember how John said, "I John companion in the suffering ." You suffered for Christ's sake, but we all shared that suffering.
So brothers, do you see the one to one correspondence here? Then in the first chapter of Ezekiel, on the throne there was one with a figure like that of a man. Now in Revelation chapter 1, among the lampstands there was one like the Son of Man. For seventy years, the book of Ezekiel dwelt in John and when he abided in Christ and let the Word dwell in him, he now had a very genuine impression of Ezekiel. So here you can see how that vision was formed.
Then under the throne there were four living creatures, and in Revelation around the throne there were four living creatures. And we have the expanse over the head of the cherubim - so we find cherubim in both books, and above them, according to Ezekiel 10, their entire body was full of eyes; just like in Revelation chapter 4. In Ezekiel, the four living creatures were a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle and the same in Revelation it is the same. In Ezekiel, each cherubim had four wings, but in Revelation each one had six wings. There is no contradiction here because it depends on the angle from which you see the whole thing. From one angle you see four wings, and from another, six wings. Then we have an expanse sparkling like ice. In Revelation you have a sea of glass as clear as crystal.
Then in Ezekiel we see a throne that looks like sapphire, and then in Revelation you have jasper and sardius. Then you have a flash lightning and so on and so forth; the same thing in Revelation. Now in the presence of the throne we were told there were torches, and in Revelation we are told the seven lamps were blazing. And you will find in Ezekiel it speaks about wherever the Spirit would go, and in Revelation you have the seven spirits of God. Then in Ezekiel you have the appearance of a rainbow, and in Revelation, a rainbow round the throne. Ezekiel said, when he saw it, that he fell face down, and when John saw the vision, he fell as dead.
So brothers, if you do a detailed study about the beginning chapters of Ezekiel and Revelation, now you understand for John to describe his vision in a much clearer way, he had the whole book of Ezekiel behind him. In other words, you need the book of Ezekiel to explain the book of Revelation, but vise-versa is also true. According to Jewish Rabbis today, the vision given in the book of Ezekiel is too holy, and people dare not even interpret it, or even try not to read it. So the book of Ezekiel is a closed book to all the Jews, even among intellectual circles. But thank God, through the book of Revelation, you discover that Ezekiel is explained.
Now in the beginning what Ezekiel actually saw is the glory of God. Among Rabbinic schools, the most difficult thing to explain in the Old Testament, is the glory of God. For that reason the Holy Spirit used the whole book of Ezekiel to explain it. There you see how Ezekiel saw a vision, something coming form the north and when he took a closer look and he saw living creatures then another look and we find wheels beside the creatures. You have the four cherubim and the four wheels.
Then above the four creatures a very close look and you find the firmaments. Firmament means heaven. Think about it, this is heaven on earth, not heaven in heaven. You have a wheel, and the wheel is touching the ground, so this is heaven on earth. Above the heaven, we find the throne of God and someone like a Son of Man sitting there. Now brothers, we have the glory and brightness just like a rainbow. What is a rainbow? It is light and God is light. No one can see the light today but when you see a rainbow, it means that God has transformed what is invisible into something visible. Some parts are green other parts are red and that produces the rainbow. God is light but then no one can see God Himself. But thank God through the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, we are able to see God. But what you see is not the light itself, what you see is the rainbow.
The rainbow means that the rain has passed, and the light shines on the raindrops, which represent sufferings, tribulations then finally we can relax with the beautiful view of the rainbow. Every time when you see a rainbow, you know that the storm is over. Our Lord said, 'it is finished', because He has died for us on the cross. There was a thunderstorm on Golgotha, but thank God that because He has died for us on the cross, now we can see Him through His only begotten Son. From the cross, you see the rainbow. So now you can see very clearly, that this is the vision of Ezekiel.
Now how did Ezekiel explain that? He didn't explain that. Later in chapter ten, when Ezekiel was brought to the temple of God, there you discover the glory again. That glory came out from the Holy of Holies, and now we look at the living creatures, because Ezekiel was a priest. He knew only too well about everything that happened in the holiest of Holies. He knew that in the Holy of Holies you find the Ark and there you find cherubim over the Ark. Everybody knows that the Shekinah glory of God is over the Ark. Now that's well known by all the Jewish priests. So when he compared the living creature and the cherubim over the Ark, he tells us that these four creatures are four cherubim. So the glory that He saw in Babylon, should be the same as the one in the Holy of Holies. Everybody knows that the throne of God was upon the Ark, because according to psalm eighty it says, 'and our God will sit over cherubim'. That means that this is where God has put His throne. When you enter into the Holy of Holies, there you will see the throne of God and you will also see the glory of God. This should only be seen in the Holy of Holies.
Now Ezekiel knew this part very well, and everybody knows that the throne of God on the one hand is in heaven, and on the other is in the Holy of Holies. There you find the glory of God. Every year, the High Priest had to enter into the Holy of Holies with the blood. That's very clear. But that's only half the answer. If you study one Chronicles, when the bible tried to describe something above the Ark, and talks about the plan of the chariot; that's a very important word. But this word is unknown, how could there be a chariot above the throne? Because they don't know the nature of the throne of God. When we think about the throne of God, either in heaven or in the Holy of Holies, it is stationary, not moving at all. So even the word chariot is there and no one understands what the word chariot is doing there, they just don't understand what this chariot is. But now Ezekiel understands, when he sees not only the chariot but also the wheels. Now what does that mean? This means that the throne is a throne-chariot of God.
We know hardly anything about the throne of God, but the throne of God is actually a throne-chariot. It's a compound word of 'throne' and 'chariot', on the one hand a throne, and on the other, a chariot. Now we know what a chariot is, for example we talk about a chariot with four horses which are running, driving the chariot forward. But what Ezekiel saw was a chariot with four cherubim. A chariot of four horses can only go in one direction, depending on the way the horses are facing; if the horse is facing north the chariot will go northwards. But this isn't true with the chariot of God. The chariot of God goes in four directions. That's why each cherubim has four faces. If you look at the chariot from the East, facing west, what do you see? You only see four men. But now if you face north, you see lions, and if you face east, you see a chariot of four eagles, and toward the south, a chariot of oxen.
So what does that mean? The throne of God does not remain in heaven. When the people of God are suffering, especially in Babylon, to Ezekiel's surprise; he never dreamed that he would see the glory of God - if you want to see the glory of God, you either have to go to heaven or to Jerusalem; so who would expect to see the glory of God in Babylon? This was a great surprise. This throne is a mobile throne; in motion. And when the cherubim and wheels move, they carry heaven with them, and carry the throne with them. Because of their wings, heaven can come down from heaven, or ascend back up. That's the glory of God. But my brothers, how can you understand it?
Ezekiel discovered that before Babylon entered into the city, something happened. The glory of God withdrew from the temple. In the beginning it was only in the threshold, and then it went to the East gate, and gradually flew up. It should immediately go up into heaven, but it stopped on the Mount of Olives and took a last look and ascended to heaven, and the glory of God withdrew from the temple back to heaven. This is the tragedy. When the glory is no longer in the temple, it becomes like any other building. Finally, no stone was left upon another stone, and then the people of God were taken captive.
That's the explanation as to why the Church has been taken captive into Babylon; the glory of God has departed. The glory of God should be in the Holiest of Holies; among His people, but when the glory departed, then the temple is just like any other building. When the glory of God departed, you could call these people the Church, but they are really just like any other group in society. So my brothers, in order to see the full vision, this is the message from Ezekiel.
But this book has another wonderful message; the glory of God will comeback. It came back. If you study chapter 43, you'll see how the glory of God came back. During the the second temple period, even though they rebuilt it, the Holiest of Holies was empty, no ark, no shekiniah, no cherubim. Why? Because the glory of God had already departed. No wonder that in 63 BC a Roman General called Pompey conquered the city and took over the temple and walked all the way into the Holy of Holies. He was not slain to death, so what does that mean? The glory of God had already departed. Now when did the glory of God come back?
Thank God that John has the answer. On this side of the cloud, when John wrote his gospel, what did he say? "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Now dwelt means "tabernacled" among us, "and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." So, the Word became flesh, and was just like a tabernacle. He tabernacled upon us. So in the tabernacle, if you go to the Holy of Holies, you will find glory. And what does John say? "We beheld his glory." This is one of the most wonderful phrases in the whole bible. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father. What does that mean? The glory of God came back through Jesus Christ. He is the only begotten Son. Do you see brothers? That's why the Holiest of Holies was always empty until Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Now when John saw our Lord Jesus, he says, "We beheld his glory."
Jesus Christ is that throne in motion. When he came down to earth, he brought heaven to earth, when he visited Jerusalem or Galilee, he brought heaven to earth there; he brought the throne of god there. When he went to the Cana wedding, he brought the glory of God there changing the water to wine. This is the explanation of the glory of God. No wonder Paul said, "We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." When you see the face of Christ, you see the glory of God.
So this was wonderfully fulfilled. This is the gospel of John, so what happened on the other side of the cloud? Thank God, here you will find the throne. John saw the throne. Why? Because Jesus ascended to heaven. That throne in motion went back to heaven. So thank God, that's what you see there. But remember, even though our Lord is in heaven, sitting on the throne, if you study the vision of Ezekiel, you will find something very interesting: even though the wheels and the cherubim never connected, they move in unison. And more than that, there is a voice from the throne and that voice governs the whole movement. Those wheels on earth were governed by the voice from the throne. So my brothers, when our Lord ascended to the throne, he poured out the Holy Spirit. And remember that those living beings are really living creatures created according to God's original will. So there is always a living being according to His will. That's why we were redeemed. We would be represented by that living creature. So, after the Church was redeemed, we became new creations, and we become the support of heaven, so the Church is still on earth, so wherever the Church goes or is, it brings the throne of heaven everywhere.
When our Lord opened the scrolls, there were seven seals then seven trumpets then seven bowls, and when you have seven seals it means four horses will come out and many earthly events will happen until the Lord's return. Remember that the seven seals are based upon the opening of the scroll. They were governed by the throne. Now all these horses and events are just like those wheels. On the one hand, through the Church, on the other hand, God moves the whole universe and then come the horses and beasts and so on and so forth. But brothers, our God is still in control.
Sometimes we don't understand Bin Laden, or George Bush, but remember that everything that happens is according to the throne because our Lord Jesus has already ascended to heaven and when he opens the scroll then everything moves. So by this way, the will of God will be fulfilled. So the whole book of Revelation is about the throne of God in motion; the seven seals, trumpets and bowls, simply tell us that the four wheels are running. But thank God, it is all for one purpose; so that finally Jerusalem will come down from heaven. The throne is in heaven today but one day it will come down to this earth. Then there will be heaven on earth; the throne in motion. Finally when you see the New Jerusalem it will be the glory of God. Everything will be transparent with precious stones, and now you know what glory is. If you want to see glory, it's the New Jerusalem. So thank God, this is the heavenly vision given to John. May the Lord speak to our hearts from the book of Revelation.
International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision".