For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Those that Follow the Lamb
Who are those that follow the Lamb? Those that have spent long vigils of the night sighing for the Groom.
Reading: Revelation 14:1-5; 14-16.
Dear brothers and sisters, today I didn't want to attempt an escatological interpretation of the book of Revelation, but simply to take from it some principles that are valid for the church in any time and circumstance, but especially in our time. I believe that we are living in a time that is approaching the end of all things. But I also believe that that end is not something automatic, nor mechanic; something that comes simply in a chronological way as a date marked in red on the calendar of God, but rather that it is connected deeply, intimately, and - to put it another way-organically to the work and the service of the church, and above all things, to its growth and maturity on the earth.
I wanted to speak about this today: that God has to have a company of his children that express his will, so that he can develop and bring his purpose for the present dispensation to an absolute completion. This dispensation is the time that began when the Lord ascended to the heavens, and will conclude when he returns for his heavenly bride, the church.
A matter of love
In fact, I intend to speak of the intimate relationship that exists between the coming of the Lord and the maturity of His church. As you know, the message of Revelation is impregnated with the persistent announcement of the Lord that he is coming soon. Every so often throughout the book, the Lord interrupts the narration, as if to say: "I am coming soon." And this was written two thousand years ago. But the Lord was not thinking about an amount of chronological time, but about what is required on behalf of the church so that he might come, so that we live with that hope and expectation in the heart.
I am reminded of sister Barber. It was she who moulded brother Watchman Nee when he was young. And she constantly lived with the hope of the coming of the Lord and passed over that hope to brother Nee. There is a poem of his called "Bethany." It is a very beautiful poem where he expresses his desire for the Lord to come. It begins in this way: "Lord, why has so much time passed, and you haven't come?." It is not a question of date, of escatology: it is a question of love. The coming of the Lord is something that should be forged in the heart of the church, because it is a question of love. It is the Groom's coming for the bride!
Sister Barber, it is told, was walking down the street one day, very sad, when brother Nee found her, and said to her: "Sister, why are you so sad?." And she told him: "why do you think that one more year has passed and the Lord has not come? Do you think that He will come this year?." You might say: "This sister is simple-minded, she doesn't know prophecy, she doesn't know that first the Jews have to come to Jerusalem, the apostasy has to come, the antichrist, the temple has to be rebuilt... this sister doesn't know anything." But no, dear brothers and sisters, it is not a question of prophecies, but of love.
Oh that each one of us could say every day of our lives, with a sigh of love from the heart: "Lord, why has another day passed, and you haven't come?!" Or are we so attached to certain companies, to certain things that we have to do in the world, certain tasks that we have still not completed? "I still have to raise my children, I still have to finish university, let me first set up my business, let me first finish my ministry, we have to fulfill the gospel." But, brothers and sisters, none of that is comparable to his coming. That is the desire of the bride's heart, it is what distinguishes the bride, and it is the mark of the bride.
Do you want to know where the bride is? Look over there to those who shout, yearn, and sigh and say: "Lord, why has yet another day passed, and you haven't come?."
When we begin to read Revelation 14, we find a picture of contrasts. In chapter 13 you see the saints who are persecuted and destroyed by the beast. The beast is the human instrument that Satan raises up to destroy to the church. It could be by any means that he has used throughout history which surely, in the end, will have a more complete and definitive manifestation. But anyway, any instrument that the evil one has raised up throughout history - whether it be a political or human instrument -to persecute the saints and destroy them, can be partly identified with this beast.
Then, we have two perspectives. From an earthly perspective, the church is suffering, the saints are being persecuted, they are being given over to death, to the sword, and it seems that there is no power to defend them, and no force to protect them against the merciless power of this beast. A beast that seems invincible. The inhabitants of the earth will be astonished at seeing the beast, and will say: "Who is the beast, and who will be able to fight against her?" Such is the power, the majesty, the force that this beast has in the flesh, in its human nature, and in the power that Satan has given him.
That is on the earth. Here, the saints appear persecuted, and even conquered. Because it says: "... it was given him to make war against the saints and to conquer them." But it is only an appearance of victory. Chapter 14 shows us the reality. "After this I looked, and behold the Lamb was standing on mount Zion." The mount of Zion represents the testimony of God. The origin of Jerusalem was the mount of Zion. There the city of David was built and for that reason it was called the city of the great King. Zion is the origin of Jerusalem, the heart and the essence of Jerusalem.
In Revelation, Zion represents the testimony of God, the heart of God's purpose, which is maintained by the saints and carried in front of them, amid all the adversity, persecution and darkness that surrounds them. We see the Lamb standing on mount Zion, the city of the great King, the mount of victory. The Lamb is standing, the first of all the overcomers... He conquered Satan. The first one to conquer death, all the forces of sin, of death and of the powers of darkness. They were all defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ. He faced the cross, death, adversity, and He conquered! Blessed be His name!
He is the Lamb that was slain that poured out His blood, but now lives, and lives in victory. "I have conquered", says the Lord. He has not only conquered, but it also says: "... he was standing on mount Zion, and with him 144.000 that had his name and that of his Father written on their forehead."
The testimony of the Church
Brothers and sisters, let us read 1 John 5:11-12: "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life; and this life is in his Son. The one that has the Son, has the life; the one that doesn't have the Son of God doesn't have the life." Hallelujah, that is the testimony of Jesus Christ's church! For that testimony, brothers and sisters, the church suffers, for that testimony the church is persecuted, and appears to be conquered.
The Lord has given us a testimony: "God has given us eternal life; and that life is in its Son." The life that God has given us is inseparable from Christ. It is not that God gave us a life apart from Christ. The life that God gave us is a life that is united with Christ. We have life because we are in Him, we have life because we are His members, and because He has life, we also have life.
But whats more, brothers and sisters, if God gave us eternal life in His Son, He did it for a purpose. The reason for which He gave us eternal life in His Son is not simply immortality. It is much deeper than that. It is related to His purpose: That His Son's life should grow, develop and mature in us, just as the branch is joined to the vine to mature and to produce fruit.
What use is a branch on the vine if it doesn't mature and doesn't produce fruit? The vine is Christ, we are the vine branches. The vine is always giving its life to the vine branch; all the life of the vine is flowing constantly toward the vine branch. The vine branch doesn't have to make any special effort; it is the vine that is in charge of its branches. If you are in Christ, he is imparting to you His life so that you mature, grow, and take fruit.
The testimony of God is not simply a confession of the lips that says: "I have life, because I have Christ", but the expression of that life in us. What God is looking for above all things is a people who will be the expression of His Son; His character and holiness. A people who bear the image of His Son. And that is not something merely external, but something worked deeply in our interior by the Holy Spirit, to develop Christ's nature in us, so that we may be like Him.
Now then, this company of people that appears next to Christ, who are they? It says: "... they have their Father's name and that of the Lamb written in their foreheads." That means that all their life is governed by Christ. They don't belong to the beast, they belong to Christ! They don't belong to the world, they belong to Christ. For that reason they are persecuted, because their whole life belongs to Christ, just as the vine branch belongs to the vine. They are part of Christ, they are members of Christ, they are a single unit with Christ.
But whats more: "and I heard a voice from the sky like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of great thunder; and the voice that I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne, and before the four living beings, and the elders; and nobody could learn the song except the a hundred and forty four thousand who had been purchased from among those on earth" (Rev. 14:2-3).
Brothers and sisters, why could nobody learn their song? Because this is a song that can't be learnt except through living and following Christ. You cannot sing of the cross if you have not lived the cross. You cannot sing of the glory of suffering for Christ if you have never suffered for Christ. You cannot sing of the glory that means to have followed the Lamb wherever He goes if you have never followed the Lamb everywhere that He goes.
Why do they sing this song? Dear Brothers and Sisters, the book of Revelation was written at a time of decadence. And the voice of the Spirit says: "To the one that overcomes...." And that is the call: "To the one that overcomes...." It is a whole book written for the overcomers.
And, who are the overcomers? They are not special people, they are not outstanding people according to the standards of the world. They are not well known people, but before God yes they are well known. Why? Because they have followed Christ everywhere He goes! Because in the time of darkness and apostasy, when everyone else compromised, shrank back, avoided the cross, and smothered the testimony, they lifted up the fire brand of Christ on high and they said: "Christ is still the Lord, Christ is still the life of the church, Christ still reigns in the church!."
When all turned back, they continued ahead; when all stopped, they carried on; when the cross scared and frightened many, they marched onwards. For that reason they are overcomers with Christ. And even more, they have the heart of the bride of Christ. They have loved Christ, they have wept for Christ, they have suffered for Christ. And because they have suffered, and wept, and groaned for Christ, they will also reign with Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters, God doesn't need people who are only saved. We have a mistaken idea. We believe that what God is looking for is to save a great quantity of people and nothing else. Of course, he wants to save everyone, because He loves everyone, and wants all men to come to repentance. However, what He is looking for, the deepest purpose in His heart, is not the salvation of men.
And the overcomers, this company that have conquered, are those that have understood the heart of God.There are many who are saved. But, how many have advanced with him? How many have moved on with him? How many have matured with him? How many have suffered with him? Throughout history, perhaps the minority.
Verse 4: "These are those that have not defiled themselves with women, but are virgins." I don't think that this refers to all who are male, because then all the sisters would be excluded from this company of overcomers. It refers to the fact that they have not been defiled with another love, they have not loved another bridegroom. They have loved, suffered, cried and spent long vigils of the night sighing for the Bridegroom. And because of them, He will return for His bride. These, brothers and sisters, are those that have the heart of the bride.
Then it says: "These are those that follow the Lamb wherever He goes." The Lamb sometimes goes through valleys of darkness. Sometimes, it is the cross. But they have followed the Lamb because they cannot live without him. They think: "If he goes over there, I go over there. Nothing else matters to me, I love Him and I will obey! If he goes across the stones, through the dark valleys, through the shady, narrow canyons, what other choice do I have, if I love him? If I lose him from my sight, I die! I cannot live without him. I have to go."
Dear brothers and sisters, this is Christ's life matured in the church. For that reason they are the firstfruits. The firstfruits speak of maturity. Not all wheat matures at the same time; there is always a batch that matures first. Those that first mature are the sign that soon everything will be mature. In the Old Testament, when the firstfruits of the fields, the golden fruits of wheat, were prepared, the peasants cut them and brought them to the house of God and they dedicated them to the Lord. All the firstfruits belonged to the Lord.
"I looked, and behold there was a white cloud; and on the cloud sat one like a Son of Man who had on His head a crown of gold, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And out from the temple came another angel, crying out in a great voice to the one seated on the cloud: put in your sickle, and reap; because the hour of reaping has come, since the harvest of the earth is mature. And the one that was seated on the cloud swung His sickle in the earth, and the earth was reaped" (Rev. 14:14-16).
Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord is coming for a mature crop. He isn't coming to reap green wheat. If the church is green, he won't come. But if it is mature, he will come looking for His church. And, how will the church mature? By means of these firstfruits. Because they bring to the church Christ's life, Christ's maturity and Christ's victory.
I wanted to give some examples. Have you heard of Madame Guyon? She was one of those numerous grains of wheat that the Lord prematurely harvested as a firstfruit. She remained in the horrible prison of La Bastille during seven years, imprisoned for her faith. And she matured; bearing long years of suffering. She never complained, but rather considered that each one of her pains was a beautiful pearl that she could offer to her Lover. According to the world, she was not worth anything, but for God she was a mature grain of wheat.
Have you heard of Watchman Nee? Have you ever heard of a brother who was so greatly used by God in the last century as him? And did you know that the last twenty years of his life were wasted away in a prison and that he never left there? But when he came out, it was to be with the Lord. He was a mature grain of wheat.
And because of him, and her, and so many others like them, who matured, today we can have more life. We would not have it if they had not followed Christ as they did. These are those who follow the Lamb; men and women of God. And He needs those men and women.
Synthesis of an oral message.