Brethren Archive

The Great Priest.

by Henry Elson

    Notes of an address on Rev. 1, 2, & 3.

IN verse 11 of chapter 1, John is directed to write the Revelation, which charge is repeated in verse 19, but this time, in terms which distinctly divide the Revelation into three portions—(1) "The things which thou hast seen"; (2) "The things which are"; and (3) "The things which shall be hereafter"—past, present, and future.
"The things which thou hast seen" refers to the vision of chapter 1.
"The things which are" evidently points to the existing state of the assemblies as unveiled in detail in chapters 2 and 3; while "The things which shall be hereafter" (literally, after these things—i.e., after the things which are before us in chapters 2 and 3.) evidently points to things belonging to the prophetic future, which things are detailed from chapter 4 to chapter 22.
It is of first importance in reading the book of Revelation, to have this threefold arrangement of its contents distinctly before our minds; indeed, apart therefrom, I seriously doubt whether it is possible to read the book with understanding.  If we grasp this Divine arrangement, we will be able to understand the things with which it deals in their Divine order, at any rate as regards their broad outline.
In looking at chapter 1, which, it is almost needless to say, together with chapters 2 and 3, deal with the dispensation in which we ourselves live, we observe that the first thing which John saw (ver. 12) was "seven golden lampstands." He had been instructed to write what he saw in a book, which book—one book—was to be sent to the seven assemblies mentioned in verse 11.  And in these seven golden lampstands, the Lord lets John into the secret of His thoughts about the seven assemblies to which the book was to be sent—His thoughts both as to their constitution and their use.
Three things strike me in regard to this vision.  First, the number of the lampstands, which symbolize the assemblies—the number seven. Seven is the well-known number symbolic of completeness or perfection.  Second, the material of which these lampstands were made—seven golden lampstands: gold being the symbol of that which is Divine in its origin. Divine in its character—points to the Divine constitution and character of the assemblies symbolized by the lampstands.  They are not merely assemblies, but they are assemblies of God; they are not merely lampstands, they are golden lampstands.  Thirdly, the use of the lampstand—viz., that of lamp-holding, of light-bearing. Here we get the thought of what God's intention is in the assembly in regard to its use.
The golden lampstands, therefore, tell us of the vessels for collective testimony which God wills to have on earth, and which He creates according to His will.
Now, in verse 13, John sees in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, One like unto a son of man.  This expression arrests our attention because it is as Son of Man that the Lord Jesus Christ is given authority to execute judgment (see John 5. 27).  If we think of the different connections of that title, Son of Man, we will find that it is a title connected with judgment.  The One like unto a son of man is then described in completeness, a full-length portrait, so to speak, is given of Him.  He is clothed with a garment down to the foot: the priestly garment evidently, and one, therefore, which points to His office of Great Priest over the House of God.  I need not dwell upon the difference between the High Priesthood and the Great Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ; that would be a little irrelevant to what is before us.  Suffice it to say, the whole connection distinctly points to Him here as Great Priest in connection with God's House, not as High Priest for God's people individually.
"Clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt at the breasts with a golden girdle."  The girdle, the symbol of service; the golden girdle telling us of a service exercised in Divine righteousness and faithfulness, as it is written of Him,  "Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins."  That which He does as Great Priest is strictly according to Divine righteousness and Divine faithfulness.
"His head and His hair white like wool, as white as snow."  The symbols of wisdom, that perfect wisdom according to which He administers the affairs of the House over which He is set as Great Priest.
"His eyes as a flame of fire."  Penetrating discernment, complete intelligence, according to that which God is in Himself, for our God is a consuming fire.
"His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace." Judgment characterizing His ways; His feet swift to execute that which His eyes discern.
"His voice as the sound of many waters."  His Word in its authority, its power, and its majesty.
"And in His right hand seven stars."  The seven stars being symbolic, as we are told at the close of the chapter, of the angels or messengers of the assemblies, speaking of the ministry.  As Great Priest over God's House, He has full control of the ministry.  He holds the seven stars in His right hand, which is full of Divine ability.
"And out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword."  The application of His Word in the judgment of evil.
"And His countenance as the sun shineth in his strength."  The expression of supreme glory.
Such is the portrait of God's Great Priest over His House, which when John discerned, he fell at His feet as dead.  I think, beloved, if we were only to enter into what the Lord Jesus Christ is in this character in connection with God's House, we should be down at His feet too.
In our learning to know the Lord Jesus in the many ways in which He is set forth in God's Word, do not let us overlook seeking to have a better acquaintance with Him, as set forth in these verses in connection with the circle which is here in view.  These things ought to interest and concern us very deeply, seeing that all we get here is in connection with a department of Divine truth, which, in our efforts to express practically, has cost us more than a little.  As we understand the teaching of the seven golden lampstands in connection with the One Who appears in the midst thereof; as we come to know Who and what He is in His administration of God's House, it will keep us at His feet, we shall be held fast by the truth as that truth radiates around the person and character of the Great Priest.  May we understand it increasingly; may we be held by the truth, and discern more and more what God's mind is in regard to assembly position—for that is what we get here.  We get the assemblies of a province (what more nearly than anything else answers to a province in these days is a country, such as England) in their completeness, in their perfection as a Divine creation, planted by God Himself, and linked together in a Divine unity, which has for its centre, the One in the midst, Who is both the glory in the midst and the Great Priest over the House to govern it.
Here let us think of those words, “In the midst” (of the lampstands), in connection—shall I say in a certain sense in contrast?—with the same expression in Matthew 18: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
He, in the midst in Matthew 18, is the Divine centre for the unit as it may exist in a single town or city, which we may correctly describe as, the assembly of God in such a place.  But in Revelation 1, what we get is not One in the midst of two or three disciples gathered into His name; it is One in the midst of the assemblies of a whole province in their completeness.  And He who is the centre of the Divine unity, the collective thing of God and for God in the city, is also the centre of the Divine unity of the province; or if we look the wide world over (for it is only an extension of the same principle) the thought will extend as far as the fellowship of God's Son may reach. Happy for us as we remember that the Lord Jesus is the centre in whatever circle He may be.
Our attention has been directed of late years to these things.  We have viewed associations in which we were in relation thereto, and we have found those associations to differ—to essentially differ from God's standard, from God's pattern given us here.  We have not only thought of whom we were in fellowship with—that is, the persons in the particular place—but we have thought of what we were in fellowship with, and our eyes have scanned the wider circle, that which answers to the province in apostolic days.  We have looked over the country at large, and we have not seen golden lampstands linked together into a Divine unity around the One Who exercised the office of Great Priest over God's House.  We have seen something very different; and because of that, the conviction of the truth has led us to step outside that which differed, which was contrary, which was even antagonistic to the Divine pattern.  Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
Let us now turn to God's purpose in having His saints together in a position according to His Own Word.  "What are we together for?  What purpose are we to serve?  What is His intention, His design?
"We are to be lamp-holders.  He would have us to be those through whom instrumentally, the light of Divine truth, the lamp of His Word, is to be diffused.  If the golden lampstand is not holding up the lamp, of what use is it—that is, in its man-ward aspect and relation?
One thing is absolutely essential to the fulfilling of God's purpose in this respect—namely, that our condition, our state, should be answerable to His mind as given in chapters 2 and 3.  Now notice the connection between the second division of this book and the first.  In chapter 1, we get a perfect picture of the position which is according to God, and the use which God intends to make of His saints in such a position.  In chapters 2 and 3, we find the Lord dealing with the assemblies in such a way as to bring their state up to the position in which they had been set.  And so we find in the words of the Great Priest to the seven assemblies in chapters 2 and 3, words of reproof, of warning, of encouragement, as were needed, to the end that the state of the assemblies might correspond with their position.  We know the Lord's word to Ephesus: He commends much, but he also speaks (ver. 4) of that which His eyes, like a flame of fire, discerned as existing in that assembly, which, if permitted to continue, if not rectified, would inevitably lead to the complete extinction of its testimony.
Here, to my mind, the force of the title of the book comes in: the Revelation (that is, the lifting off of a veil, or unveiling).  The words of the Lord Jesus here in regard to assembly state and assembly failure go to the root of the matter.  And what is the root of the matter?  It is a question of the heart, the affections.  "Thou hast left thy first love"; a fallen assembly!  "Remember from whence thou art fallen.”  Then comes the most solemn, yet gracious word, "Repent."  And so He calls back to that which characterized it originally, "Repent, and do the first works."  Thus does He deal with the heart; and may we respond, and return in some small degree His love, which is so perfect and so full.  
"Needed Truth" V.8 1896


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