For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Last Call to the Churches
The call to overcome.
Reading: Revelation 3:21.
My burden for this time is the last call to the churches. It is a call to overcome. We find it in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. Seven times our risen Lord calls for overcomers in the church.
We know that when we were yet sinners, a first call came to us. The Lord said, "Come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." And thank God we heard that call. We labored and were heavy laden and we came to Him and He gave us rest. Thank God for that. Then following that call to the sinners, we heard the call to the believers. He said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest to your souls." It is a call to discipleship. The Lord calls us to follow Him, to learn of Him, to be His disciples, to be like Him, and thank God, many have responded to that call.
Now these calls are rather personal, but then we find God's calling is more than personal. He calls us together, corporately. He calls us to be the body of Christ. We are called in one body, and we are called to be members one of another.
What is the last call that God gives to His people? So far as I can see from the word of God, it seems that the last call to the church is the call to overcome; and it is to that call we must respond. So this is the burden in my heart: What will help us to respond to that last call? It is the last, it is the present, it is the urgent; it is the most important call that we can ever hear. How can we be helped to respond to this call?
I think there are two visions in the book of Revelation that are given us to help us respond to that call. King Solomon said, "Where there is no vision the people cast off restraint." In some versions it says, "Where there is no vision the people perish." or "the people just disintegrate, the people just scatter." We need vision and it is heavenly vision that strengthens us, that gives us the purpose, the strength, the endurance, the direction, the cohesion to go on with the Lord. So I feel that the call to overcome is a call to every one of us today. There is much to overcome and we are called to overcome. But how can we overcome? Oftentimes we find we are overwhelmed. I believe these two visions will give us the strength to overcome.
The Vision in Revelation 5
The first vision is in Revelation 5. There is One who sits on the throne and we know it is God Himself. In His hand there is a book sealed with seven seals. Then a strong angel proclaimed: "Who is worthy to take the book and to open the seals?" His voice was so strong that it could be heard in heaven, on earth, and even underneath the earth. In other words, it is a cry to be heard by every being in the universe, whether they are angelic or human or demonic. And the voice said, "Who is worthy to take the book from the hand of the One who sits upon the throne and to open the seals and to regard it?" But there was none-no one in heaven, nor on earth, nor underneath the earth; no angels, no man, no devils, none. And when John saw that, he wept much. Brothers and sisters, this must be of tremendous importance.
What is that book in the hand of God? We believe it is the title deed of our universe. God created the heavens and the earth. He is the owner of the universe and He has the ownership in His own hand. He never gives up His ownership. He dedicated the dominion of the earth to man, but Satan cheated man and he got that dominion out of the hand of man. In other words, he became a usurper of the universe that God had committed to man to govern, but he did not have the ownership. God never gives up His ownership.
Now we find that God was going to claim the universe back to Himself. He was going to reclaim it, but He needed someone who was able, who was worthy to execute His right. But unfortunately, there was none. And when John realized it, he wept much because he realized if there was no one to execute the will of God, then it was finished. There was no hope. Satan would continue to usurp the earth. Man would continue to be under his dominion and the whole universe would continue in corruption and emptiness. God's will could not be done. Because of this he wept much. But one of the elders comforted him and said, "Weep not; behold the Lion of Judah, the root of David, He has overcome and He is able to take the book and to regard it." It is a matter of worthiness. It is a matter of who overcomes. Only the One who has overcome Satan, only the One who has overcome is worthy to execute God's will concerning our universe.
Then John lifted up his eyes. He saw in the midst of the throne, in the midst of the four living creatures, in the midst of the twenty-four elders, a Lamb. He was expecting a lion, but he saw a Lamb; not only a Lamb, but a Lamb newly slain. When a lamb is slain it lies down, but this Lamb who was newly slain is standing. It speaks of resurrection. He came forward and took from the hand of the One who sits upon the throne that book and He began to open its seals. So here you find the elders and the living creatures sing a new song: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain."
We see a picture here. It is actually a replay of the ascension of our Lord Jesus. Sometimes people may wonder whether our Lord Jesus has really reached heaven because the disciples on the Mount of Olives saw Him go up but then a cloud took Him.
They could not see Him anymore. So how do they know that our Lord has reached heaven? Here you find proof, a replay of that scene. God replayed that scene to John and shows us that at the ascension of our Lord Jesus, the Lamb newly slain but resurrected has ascended up to heaven. And according to Psalm 2, He received from the Father the authority of the world. He has overcome. That is the fact; that is the principle. And because He has overcome, therefore He is worthy.
The Secret of Overcoming
But the question is how does He overcome? We would think it would be as a lion. Now of course, as a lion, being the king of the beasts, he would be able to overcome; but John saw a lamb.
In Revelation 12, you find Satan described as a dragon and you find a battle between the dragon and the Lamb. Now humanly speaking, a dragon will swallow up a lamb, but spiritually, you find God's ways are always higher than ours. His thoughts are always higher than ours. It is not the dragon that swallows up the Lamb; it is the Lamb that overcomes the dragon. So our Lord Jesus overcomes as the Lamb, meek and lowly; not only as the Lamb, but our Lord overcomes as the Lamb slain.
We would think that being slain is a defeat. When our Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross, the world thought: "Now, You are finished." Satan would laugh and say, "Now, You are undone." But instead, you find that by being slain our Lord overcomes everything. On the cross He overcomes sin, the power of sin; He overcomes death; He overcomes the one who holds the power of death; He overcomes Satan. He overcomes everything, and He redeems and reconciles the world back to God.
So brothers and sisters, here we see the secret of overcoming. It is so different from our human understanding. Our Lord Jesus overcomes as the Lamb; He overcomes as the Lamb slain. And on that basis He is worthy to receive the book and to open its seals.
"The Lamb standing, as one slain, with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits that are being sent to the world." We know that eyes in the Scripture always stand for spiritual understanding, spiritual perception, insight. And here our Lord Jesus has the fullness of spiritual understanding. He knows everything. He has the insight into everything. His judgment is true. Horns in the Scripture always stand for power, for strength. So our Lord Jesus not only has the spiritual insight, He also is all-powerful. His power is beyond limit. And the seven spirits are sent to the whole world. What are they to do? I believe that understanding and power are sent out to bring in those who will share the victory with the Lamb, to recreate us, as it were, to be like Him, meek and lowly, even bearing the cross that we too may enter into that victory.
So the victory of our Lord Jesus over everything is the foundation of our overcoming. We cannot overcome if we lose sight of our overcoming Lord. Oftentimes, the reason we are downcast, we are pressed down, and we are disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmed by the things that happen is because we have lost sight of our overcoming Lord, the Lamb upon the throne. If we keep our eyes fixed on the Lamb upon the throne, we shall overcome. There is nothing that we cannot overcome. We will rise above all and not be under any.
This is what the Lord has promised to the church. You remember in Ephesians 1:22-23 it says, "God has made Him, Christ, Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all and in all."
So keep always before you the conquering King, the Lamb upon the throne. Never lose sight of that. Never let anything distract you from seeing Him, and if you see Him you shall prevail.
The Vision in Revelation 14
Then we find another vision, which is recorded in Revelation 14. John saw. He saw the Lamb. Our Lord Jesus is always the Lamb. Even before the foundation of the world He was the Lamb. That is His character. And from the foundation of the world He was the Lamb slain. That is the work that He is going to accomplish. While He was on earth He was the Lamb, meek and lowly. On the cross, He was the Lamb slain. In resurrection He was the slain Lamb standing. On the throne He is still the Lamb. And in eternity He is still the Lamb. That is the character of our Lord Jesus.
In this vision you will find the Lamb, none other than the Lord Himself, standing on Mount Zion. The Mount Zion here is not the Mount Zion on earth; it is the Mount Zion in heaven. In other words, Zion in the Scripture is where David has his throne. Standing on Mount Zion means that the Lamb is on the throne-on the throne of David. But He is not there alone on Mount Zion. With Him are a hundred and forty-four thousand who have His name and His Father's name upon their foreheads. We believe that the hundred and forty-four thousand is not a fixed number. Only a hundred and forty-four thousand? No; we believe it is a number of fullness.
The Bible always speaks of fullness-the fullness of time, the fullness of the number. It is a multiple of twelve because twelve is a perfect number. And a hundred and forty-four thousand is a multiple of twelve. In other words, in the purpose of God there will be a fullness of number. There will be a number of people who will have His name and the name of His Father written upon their foreheads. I believe these are the overcomers of the ages. They represent the overcomers of the church throughout the ages. Why? It is because they have the name of the Lord and His Father's name written upon their foreheads. When you have something written on your forehead, it is a declaration. Everybody will know; everybody can read it. And if you have that name there, it means that you belong to that name. Here you find these hundred and forty-four thousand have the name written there.
When we come to the Lord Jesus, thank God our names are written in the book of life. But does it also mean that the names of our Lord Jesus and of His Father have been written upon our foreheads? I personally feel there is a difference there. Thank God that our names are written in the book of life, eternal life. That is for sure.
But brothers and sisters, if we deny His name He will deny us before the Father and before the holy angels at His coming. It does not mean you will be unsaved, but it means you will lose the kingdom. But if we do not deny His name, if we really put ourselves under the authority of His name, if we honor His name in our lives, if we do not bring disgrace to that name, if we do not do things contradictory to that holy name, I believe the Lord will write His name and His Father's name upon our foreheads. If we really put ourselves under that name - where two or three are gathered together unto His name and He is in the midst of them - if we really honor that name, if we really put ourselves under the kingship of Christ, the lordship of Christ, then He will recognize us. Everybody will see it. It will be seen in the unseen world.
In the book of Revelation, chapter 3, you find the church in Philadelphia. One reason they are commended by the Lord is that they have not denied His name. It is more than just saying it; it is a matter of our life, whether our life honors His name or whether our life denies His name. And to those who do not deny His name, upon their foreheads are written the name of the Lord and of His Father. They are seen by the unseen world. Therefore, I believe these are the overcomers of the church.
A New Song
Then John heard a mighty voice, like the voice of many waters and of mighty thunders. This is the description used in the Scripture to tell us of the voice of God. The voice of God is like the voice of many waters, like the voice of mighty thunders. You remember in John 12, one day when our Lord Jesus was saying, "Father, I come for that this purpose," there was a voice from heaven, and people said it thundered. That is the description of the voice of God. But here you find the same description. What is that voice that comes from heaven? It is a voice that comes from the hundred forty-four thousand. They were singing; they were harp singers. They played the harps and they sang a new song.
The harp is the music of the heart. When you play a harp it is as if you embrace it to your bosom and you touch the spring of the heart. So, they sing a new song out of their heart springs. There is a majestic, royal tone in it and it is a song that nobody can learn, not even the angels. Only those hundred forty-four thousand learned that song in their lives. They compose it; they sing it, and they sing it unto God, unto the Lord. Brothers and sisters, how did the hundred forty-four thousand come to know that song? How did they learn that song? They learned that song through sufferings, through tribulations, through afflictions, through all kinds of trials, just like David.
You remember David was the sweet singer of Israel. He wrote many songs. How did he compose them? It was out of all the trials that he had gone through. In his family he was neglected by his father, despised by his brothers; in the court he was persecuted without cause by Saul. How he suffered! How he wandered, hid in the caves! And out of all these sufferings he became a harp player and he sang a new song to the glory of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, do you think our Christian life is smooth sailing? Some people say we will be carried on a flowery sedan chair into heaven. When we were first saved, we always had that kind of wrong impression, thinking that now all the troubles are over; now we will have straight sailing into heaven. Not so! The Lord Himself tells us: "In the world you shall have tribulations, but do not be afraid for I have overcome the world." How our Lord Jesus suffered when He was on earth!
Of course, there is a suffering of our Lord that we cannot have fellowship with-His vicarious suffering, His atoning suffering. When He was crucified on the cross as a substitute for our sins, from 12:00 to 3:00 o'clock the sun hid its face, the world was in darkness. And our Lord cried out: "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?" In other words, there He suffered to atone for the sin of the world. He tread the winepress alone. No one can share that with Him.
But there is another kind of His suffering that we are called into fellowship with, the fellowship of His sufferings. He suffered for righteousness' sake. He suffered for love. He suffered for sympathy. He suffered for cares. He suffered for the will of the Father. He suffered the opposition of the world. He suffered the attacks of the enemy. He suffered misunderstanding; even His disciples could not understand Him. He suffered much, but He suffered willingly, voluntarily, patiently, and faithfully.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to have fellowship with His sufferings. God allows tribulation, trials, sufferings, misunderstanding, pressure, all kinds of pains to come upon His people. Why does He permit this? It is never God's will for man to suffer. But suffer we must because sin is in the world, and it is only through suffering we are able to be cleansed, delivered, sanctified, and transformed.
It is out of their much suffering that the hundred forty-four thousand were able to sing that new song. That new song is not a song of themselves: "Oh how we suffer, how we are misunderstood, how we are under pressure, how we are overwhelmed." No, no. They sing of the faithfulness of God. They sing of the loving kindness and tender mercies of God. They sing to the glory of God. Out of all the sufferings God proves to us His grace is sufficient. They sing the song of hope, of faith, of love-a new song. And that is a song that none can learn. It is not a matter of technical skills; it is a matter of life experience. You go through and you find He goes through with you. Through water, through fire, He goes with you and He brings you out into victory.
Dear brothers and sisters, are we singing that new song? Are we crying? Yes, we may sing with tears, but there is joy in our heart. Those who overcome overcome not as a dragon or lion; they overcome as sheep, following the Lamb of God. They overcome by meekness and lowliness. They overcome by being slain, slandered, stepped on. Many times they are knocked down, but they are never knocked out. They rebound. Paul said, "We know the sympathy, the encouragement of God because when sufferings abound, encouragement also abounds."
That is the way they learned that new song. May we be able to sing that new song, sing unto the Lord a new song: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."
Espoused as Virgins
Now who are the hundred and forty-four thousand? They are virgins. Paul says in II Corinthians 11: "I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God because I have espoused you as chaste virgins to one Man, even Christ, and I am fearful lest as the serpent has deceived Eve that you may be led astray from the simplicity which is in Christ."
We who are cleansed by the precious blood of the Lamb are virgins in the sight of God. We have been betrothed to our Lord Jesus and we are here waiting for our Bridegroom to be reunited with us. While we are on earth we need to keep ourselves from the defilement of the world. Our whole thought, our whole love, our whole being should be occupied with the One who is absent but is yet coming.
How easily we may be drawn away from thinking of our Bridegroom. We think of ourselves, of other people, of things other than the Lord Himself; and when we are doing that we are defiled. May the Lord keep us pure. We become so complicated. The world is a confusion. That is how Satan made the world to be. It is a confusion and we allow confusion to enter into our lives. Modern life is complicated and we allow ourselves to be complicated.
We have lost the simplicity toward Christ. If our eyes, our thoughts, our whole being are occupied with the coming One, we will not be disturbed by anything. Nothing can distract us. Nothing can touch us. It will be like water on the back of the duck: it won't stay. Yet we find that many things do stay and defile us. Oh, that we keep a virgin heart towards our Lord.
Followers of the Lamb
Who are these hundred forty-four thousand? They are those who follow the Lamb wheresoever He goes. They are the followers of the Lamb; not the followers of man, not the followers of a teaching, a doctrine, a system, a form. They follow the Lamb. Their eyes are upon the Lamb. They do not choose their way; they just follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
Where does the Lamb go? The Lamb goes to the manger, to Bethlehem. He who was equal with God, and did not consider it something to be grasped, He who has the form of God, emptied Himself and took up the form of a bond slave. He was born in a manger; reared in Nazareth, a place despised; worked in Galilee; was rejected; agonized in Gethsemane; and was crucified on Calvary. That is the way of the Lamb. That is where He goes. Lower and lower He goes. But thank God, God raised Him up higher and higher. God gave Him a name that is above every name and to that name every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is the cross that leads to the throne. That is where the Lamb goes. And here you find the hundred forty-four thousand follow the Lamb wheresoever He goes. If He goes to the manger, they go. If He goes to Nazareth, they go. If He goes to Galilee, they go. If He goes to Gethsemane, they go. If He goes to Calvary, they go. Because of that, when He goes to the throne, they go too. The way of the cross is the way of the Lamb. The Spirit of the Lamb should be our spirit, but often our spirit is like the spirit of a lion, even of a dragon-terrible, fearful; not meek and lowly, not willing to suffer.
First Fruits to the Lamb
Who are these people, these hundred forty-four thousand? They are bought from the world as first fruits to the Lamb and to God. First fruits are always the best fruit. In a field, when the first fruit of the wheat ripened, the children of Israel would have to take it and present it to God. First fruits are the best; they are for God. And if you have the first fruits, it guarantees the harvest. If you do not have the first fruits you will not have the harvest. In other words, the first fruit guarantees the harvest.
Now spiritually speaking, we who are the Lord's are all wheat, but there will be some who are first fruits. Why are they first? Because they receive the sun and receive all these things, they are ripened first. They are dried first, and they are always the best. Brothers and sisters, what the Lord is looking for is the first fruits. That is the call to overcome. The overcomers are the first fruits. In other words, they are dried first, dried from this earth, ready to be presented to the Lord Himself.
But the overcomers are the overcomers of the church. In other words, they become overcomers not as a separate group; they become overcomers in the church for the church.
The Seven Calls to Overcome
There are seven calls to overcome in Revelation 2 and 3: "He that overcomes…" Who is the he that overcomes?
Look at the church in Ephesus. It has lost its first love but God still recognized the church as His, as His lampstand. The light is dimmed, the first love is lost. God does not call the people there to come out, to leave, to separate, to purify themselves. No; the call is: "You, in the church in Ephesus, repent and restore that first love. In the environment of losing first love, you retain, maintain first love." Now that is overcoming. To overcome means that you overcome something. If you have nothing to overcome, you cannot be an overcomer. In the midst of the loss of first love, you repent and you are filled with first love. You will not allow the loss of first love around you to cause you to lose your first love. If you do you are defeated. But in spite of the coldness, your heart is burning for the Lord in the church. And as you do that you guarantee the harvest. People will be helped and they will also be ripened before God.
To the church in Smyrna, a suffering church, the call is to be faithful, even unto death. Just because you suffer a little bit do not say, "That's too much. I will find a place where I do not need to suffer." Suffer. Love suffers long and is kind. To the church in Pergamos, the call is to be separated. When the church and the world have merged together and you cannot even find where the church is and where the world is, when people get worldly, set yourself apart for the Lord. Stand for the Lord, for the testimony of Jesus. That is an overcomer.
To the church in Thyatira, the call is to keep the simplicity in Christ. There is all the complicity, all the mystery there, the mystery of Satan there, but do not allow all these things to affect you. Stand with simplicity towards the Lord. To the church in Sardis, which is dead, the call is to be living. Do not allow the deadness to affect you, to make you dead too. But you be living, alive to the Lord, and your aliveness will maintain the testimony there.
To the church in Philadelphia, do not allow anyone to take away your crown. Continue to the very end. And to the church in Laodicea, proud, arrogant, unreal, the call is to be humble, meek and lowly, and real before God. These are the overcomers.
Dear brothers and sisters, the call to us today is to overcome. Do not allow anything to overcome us, but we shall overcome because HE has overcome.
No Lie in Their Mouth; for They are Blameless
Who are these people? They are those in whose mouth are no lies. In other words, they are truthful. They keep the word of God and they deny not His name. It is not because they are perfect, but because they are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. They are being perfected.
And finally, they are blameless. This is the purpose of God for His church. We are called, we are predestinated to be holy and blameless unto Him. He sanctified us by the washing of the water with the word that He may sanctify us to be a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any such sort, wholly without blame, ready for the Bridegroom. These are the overcomers. So the call is out. He that overcomes, he that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.