For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The vision of John
Reading: Revelation 1:1-17, 4:1-11, Ezek. 1:1, 4, 10, 22, 26, 2:1.
The Lord has gathered us together at this time, for one purpose that we may go back to the world, and to receive an important and timely message from the Lord. The theme for this conference is 'the heavenly vision'. Now my responsibility is to try to reveal with the brothers and sisters, the heavenly vision which has been shown to the apostle John.
Now yesterday we mentioned that in the New Testament the Lord raised up three apostles and gave them special burdens and ministries. So we remember how the Lord raised up Peter and the ministry of Peter is to do with the birth of the church and the ministry of Paul with the growth of the church and the ministry of John with the recovery of the church.
These are all the heavenly vision but with a different emphasis. So thank the Lord that for the whole conference, if the Lord is merciful to us, we try to approach the heavenly vision form different angles. Now the burden for Peter was the temple of God, the church as the house of God and the dividing wall which has been torn down. So that's the vision that Peter received. But on the way to Damascus, we know that it is very clear how Paul received a heavenly vision. The bible says a light from heaven, brighter than the sun shone down, and because of that light, Paul became blind. He was very sharp with his natural eyes, but after he received that light, his outward eyes became blind. However his inner eyes were opened, so he was able to tell us that it pleased the Father to reveal his Son in him. Now that's the story on the way to Damascus; he not only saw the risen Lord he also saw the body of Christ still on earth.
Now that's really something to do with the growth of the church, but when we come to the heavenly vision received by John, here's something to do with the recovery of the church. Now this morning and tomorrow morning, even with such a limited time, I would like to share with you the heavenly visions given to John. Don't forget that this vision is also being given to us, just as the vision given to Paul also ought to be our vision. So when we say we dare not disobey the heavenly vision, we not only see what Paul has seen, we not only see what John has seen, we also see what Peter has seen. But this vision is not only for us to see; Paul reminds us that this vision has a demand, this vision demands our obedience. Let us be ready, if we want to receive more heavenly vision; it means that we have to surrender all. That surrender ought to be full surrender and that's the testimony of Paul.
Mending the nets
Now when we come to the heavenly vision given to John, again we have to review some background. We remember that when the apostle John met his Master, he was mending the nets. So after he followed the Lord he was given the ministry of mending the nets. So when he wrote the gospel of John, it was the last gospel. When he wrote his epistles, they were the last epistles and when he wrote Revelation, it was the last prophetic book. So when we consider John we always find something to do with the end. When we come to the end times, before the Lord returns, you discover this message is especially for you and me after 2000 years of church history and the church of God has gone through so many years.
Now brothers, before the Lord's return, there are important messages here; the message from John is very important for the end times. Here we have a call for overcomers, but don't forget that this is the last call. When you are at the airport and you have to board the airplane you sometimes hear the last call reminding you to board before it is too late. So this is the last call it's the same thing here brothers.
Now although Revelation, the gospels and the epistles were written in the first century, by the end of the first century you discover that the church condition was no longer the same as it was on the day of Pentecost. You don't have to wait for 2000 years for the church of God to get old; according to the word of God it only takes 70 years. It is very true with our natural life, just give us 70 years and you will find that our life is getting old. This was meant to be for natural life alone; not for the life of Christ: the life of Christ never gets old.
Now if the church is the body of Christ, full of the life of Christ, then how could you find wrinkles? How could you discover that the church is getting old? But brothers and sisters hear the message of John; now the net has been broken, even the net of the gospel. Gradually people became unclear about Christ as the Son of God. They know that He is the Son of Man, our Saviour. They know that He is the King, the Servant of God, but somehow, something was missing. After seventy years, something was lost. Brothers, you don't have to wait for 2000 years, just seventy years, then you will know if the church is getting old or not.
So brothers here we have the ministry of John, and that's why he wrote the gospel of John, the epistles of John and especially Revelation. Now he wants to show us an important heavenly vision, a door is opened in heaven and he saw something and his life was governed by that vision. The whole book of Revelation was governed by that vision; all the writings of John were governed by that vision. It was true of Paul, and it is also true of John. But the times of John were very different to the times of Paul. So God had to open heaven to John and with that heavenly vision, we are ready to meet our bridegroom when we approach the end days. After 2000 years, if you look around, if we have spiritual eyes and really know what happened among God's people, and compare our spiritual condition with that which is written in the bible then you will discover that the nets are broken. Who is going to mend the nets? That's why we need the heavenly vision; especially the portion given to John. So here we have this wonderful book of Revelation.
John the witness
But why this book? How are we going to understand this book? There is a very important background behind it. If you study this book carefully, you will find a very important description: cloud. Now you find cloud in many parts of the book of Revelation, but why? Now you have to remember that when John wrote his gospel, he was almost a hundred years old. By that time, his memory probably failed him, and perhaps could not remember what happened to him the day before, but somehow he could still remember occurrences from many years ago. That happens to many old people; they can't remember the day before but they remember those golden moments from their past very well. So their memory always takes them back to those moments; and that's how we know we are getting old because young people always look to the future.
The same thing happened to John in the gospel. John remembered those old days when he first met his Master. Even though his memory could fail him, he couldn't forget those golden days. So he put them down in writing and you find many places that were neglected by the other gospels. For example, Bethany that is beyond the Jordan was forgotten by Matthew and Peter; if Peter had remembered then he could have told Mark to write down in his gospel. But John remembered, so in his gospel you'll find twelve places that are never mentioned in the other gospels; he could never forget those places. He remembered when he first met his Master; it was four o'clock in the afternoon, in Bethany beyond the Jordan.
It was John who was described as being in the bosom of our Lord; the one whom Jesus loved, and the one who tells us that God is love. He was the only witness among the twelve of how our Lord suffered on the cross. When he saw that scene, he would never forget it. Even when he was getting old, he tried to explain that picture, but how can you find the words to describe that? Finally he found the words, and passed it on to us; God is love. How do you explain the picture of the cross? There is no other phrase but that "God is love". And so brothers and sisters, this happened in his life; the encounter with that Master changed his whole life.
He was a fisherman who worked beside the Sea of Galilee, but now he followed the Lord. You'll remember how when he heard his master John the Baptist say, "Behold the Lamb of God", then he followed the Lord. From that time on he became the follower of the Lamb. No wonder in Revelation he says, "These are they that follow the Lamb wherever he goes." John was the first follower of the Lamb and because of that we have the first Passover, second Passover and third Passover. If you read the gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is only one Passover, so according to the first three Passovers, you would not be able to know that the Lord was on the earth for thirty three years and a half. You would never know this detail. But because of John's gospel, you have the first Passover, second Passover and third Passover.
So because he was the follower of the Lamb, when he wrote his diary he measured his time according to the Lamb. So he was able to say, this was the first Passover, the second Passover, the third Passover, so he had followed the Lamb for three years. When he first saw the Lamb of God, he immediately followed Him, and his days were numbered and recorded according to the Lamb. Then we know that the Lord was on the earth for thirty three and a half years (because when our Lord came out to preach He was thirty) so now we know the Jesus of history in a much clearer way. Thank God for that.
During Passover in the times of Jesus, between twelve and three o'clock, the priest in the temple would slay all the Passover lambs, totaling approximately a quarter of a million of lambs. So you can imagine the statement: "Behold the Lamb." This is the Lamb. Now for you and me, this may not be very impressive, but for the remnants among the Jews, when they heard that word, the Lamb, they had a different understanding. You remember that Isaac asked his father a question, "where is the lamb?" This is the typical question in the Old Testament. Every devout Jew will ask that question. You will therefore ask, "Didn't they go to the temple? Then they would see the lambs and oxen." Why ask, "Where is the lamb?"
But let us be clear; even in the Old Testament times, when they took the animals to the temple and offered them as a sacrifice, especially on the Day of Atonement when the blood was shed, the problem of sin would be solved. But according to Hebrews, in the Old Testament times, despite offering all the sacrifices, the blood of the animals only covered their sins but never took them away. For the whole dispensation of the Old Testament the blood of animals had been shed, but that blood only covered sins. Because of that blood, God did not see those sins, but in reality, the sin was still there. After they offered those sacrifices, deep down in their hearts, there was emptiness inside them because they knew very well that those lambs were nothing but shadows; they were waiting for the reality to come.
Andrew and John were remnants waiting for the coming of the Messiah. They prayed that one day the Messiah would come and then everything would be alright. Then as they waited, here came a voice from their former master, John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Now remember the reality has come; not only are sins covered by the blood, but here comes the Saviour of the world, who takes away the sin of the world. No wonder they gave up everything and followed Him. From that time on, wherever the Lamb went, the disciples followed.
So John knew that our Lord was the Lamb. Now during the first and second Passover, they still went to the temple court to receive the Passover lamb (because only the priest could kill the lamb) and that happened on the fourteenth day, between twelve and three o'clock. That was the tradition for every Passover. But on the third Passover, brothers and sisters, according to John's testimony, on that very, very day, from twelve o'clock to three o'clock, the true Lamb was on the cross. And at that time He said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And by three o'clock, when He finished the work of redemption, He said, "It is finished," and committed His spirit to His Father. It was John who saw everything with his own eyes. This was no longer a shadow; John was a Jew and knew what it was like to live under shadows, but thank God he was so privileged to see Jesus die on the cross for him as the Lamb of God. So no wonder, when we come to Revelation, John mentions the Lamb twenty eight times. So when we read this book we have to remember that background.
Now it is very true that wherever the Lamb goes, he follows. But our Lord not only died for us on the cross, but was also risen up on the third day and then appeared to his disciples; to John, to Peter, and for forty days, once again, the disciples followed the Lord everywhere.
Hidden by the cloud
But then one day, on the day of ascension, the Lord led His disciples to Bethany and said farewell to them, and from there ascended to heaven. Now the Lord had already resurrected and was no longer limited by time or space; he often appeared and disappeared before the disciples' eyes, and could therefore have ascended within a second, but He made his ascension public. The disciples followed the Lord with their eyes as He ascended. Let's read the book of Acts, chapter 1 verse 9: "After he said this he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up to the sky as he was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Men of Galilee, they said, why do you stand there looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
So as the disciples looked up into the sky, having followed him for three years, now our Lord bid them farewell, and departed. He was leaving them. So when He ascended, He was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid Him from their sight. So somehow our Lord was taken away by a cloud. So John could follow the Lord with his eyes, but no further than the cloud.
The disciples knew that the Lord had ascended to heaven, and the Spirit would then testify to what had happened afterwards, and that's how Peter was able to tell us that God has exalted our Lord Jesus and anointed Him as Christ and Lord. This is a wonderful message given by the Holy Spirit. We believe John also received the same message. But now you can imagine, as they watched the Lord ascend to heaven, their eyes remained looking at the sky. Especially John, whom the Lord loved, as the apostle of love, must have been a very sensitive man, having such love for his Master, together for three and a half years, day and night, had to bear the sorrow of His departure. You can imagine that emotion. He could no longer follow the Lord physically. But he could follow the Lord with his eyes. Yet finally, a cloud covered everything; as if the cloud took our Lord away. And the Lord disappeared from their eyes.
When our Lord Jesus was with them, everything was so real. When they were hungry, the Lord fed them, when they were depressed, the Lord was always near. How wonderful to always be in the presence of the Lord. For three and a half years, twenty four hours day and night, these disciples were at the feet of our Lord Jesus. They want to follow Him, to go wherever He goes. Now when the Lord ascended to heaven, all they could do was follow the Lord with their eyes, but then unfortunately that cloud took away our Lord. From that time on, there was such emptiness deep down inside of John. He wanted to know what happened beyond the cloud. He knew everything this side of the cloud, that's why he wrote the gospel of John. The gospel of John is the revelation of Jesus Christ, so he knew well everything this side of the cloud but on the other side of the cloud he knew nothing. He wanted to know what happened to the Lord after He ascended to heaven. Of course the Holy Spirit would comfort Him. He was already Christ's, already our Lord's because the Holy Spirit had been poured down and on the day of Pentecost we find that Jesus our Lord was already the king.
Those disciples were just like Jacob. You remember the story of Jacob, how for many years he thought that his son Joseph had been slain by the animals. Joseph had already gone and he thought that he could only meet Joseph in dreams but he never thought that one day he was going to meet his son again. One day however, good news came, news that was so good he could hardly believe it: his sons told him that Joseph was still alive. Brothers and sisters, he just couldn't believe it and we are told that his heart was cold. He just couldn't believe it, but thought, 'that's truly impossible'. Then, when he saw the chariot from Egypt, the chariot sent by Joseph, then he was awakened and he knew that his son was on the throne.
The same thing happened to the disciples. How do you know that the Lord is on the throne? You can imagine what happened at the Lord's ascension, the emptiness and they must have felt. But now there's good news, almost too good, given by Peter: our God has received Him. Thank God, this news is so good but how do you know that He is already on the throne? It's because the Holy Spirit has been poured out. So thank God that by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, everything became true and real, and from the comfort of the Holy Spirit, John knew very well that His Lord was already in heaven.
Looking beyond the cloud
John loved our Lord so much; he really wanted to know what happened beyond the cloud and desired one day to be able to penetrate to the other side of that cloud. He waited and waited and waited. After almost seventy years, he was on the island of Patmos and by that time he was almost a hundred years old. He had been waiting for the Lord because he was expecting His return, so he was always looking to the heavens. Now when that cloud appears, it means that our Lord is coming back. If you are really waiting for the Lord's return you will be like John, who was impressed so deeply by that cloud.
Now when he was on the island of Patmos, it was Sunday, the Lord's Day and you would expect him to be meeting together with all the saints. Every Sunday, you can imagine how John was with the saints from the seven churches from Asia Minor. But now he was isolated on the island of Patmos, isolated from all His brothers and sisters. He especially remembered all those saints on the Lord's Day because on the one hand he was waiting for the Lord's return whilst on the other, before the Lord's return, he wanted to be faithful to all the churches he was serving. He knew their condition only too well.
When you read the second and third chapters of Revelation, you can see how the Lord cried out through John and spoke to the seven churches. But don't forget that the Lord used John as the instrument because not only did the Lord know their condition, but John also knew it very well. So the condition of the churches was on John's heart, he knew what happened to Ephesus, he knew what happened to Smyrna, how they suffered for the sake of Christ and how in Pergamos the brothers and sisters remained faithful to the Lord, but unfortunately followed the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Also when he thought about the condition of the church in Thyatira, and you know the letter to this church well.
John lived too long, if only his life could have been shorter, like Paul's. At the time when Paul was martyred the church in Ephesus was in its prime, in its maturity. What a comfort to the servant of God, when the church is in a glorious condition. But it pleased the Father to keep John on this earth to live a very long life - almost a century. He went a long way, passing through all the difficulties which we pass through, therefore he is the one who can really help us. He is able to tell us something which Paul was not able to tell us. Paul went to glory while the church in Ephesus was in its golden age, but after thirty years, when John was thinking about what happened in that church, can you imagine what it must have been like to preach the message of repentance to them. His heart must have been grieved when he thought about all the saints in Asia Minor.
Now how was John going to help the seven churches, when they had become full of wrinkles? What was the solution? What was the message for the churches in Asia? Actually this message was not just for the seven churches, but for all the churches. We know that from chapters two and three of Revelation and after two thousand years, this message has become much clearer. Remember that while John was on the island of Patmos, on the Lord's day even though he was unable to break the bread with his brothers and sisters, he would have been remembering the Lord and you can imagine how he would have been brought back to his first encounter with his Lord, and His crucifixion and ascension. Then he would have remembered how the cloud took his Lord away. Even seventy years later, he still wanted to know what happened beyond the cloud. At the same time, on his shoulders and in his bosom was the burden for the churches which were no longer in their golden age. The testimony was in ruins and the church condition was in declension.
With such a background then we find something happened. When he was thinking of the saints in the churches in Asia, you can imagine that his face was toward Asia. Today, on a nice day, you can still see Ephesus from Patmos. On that Lord's Day, his heart was full of these seven churches, which he loved so much, even though he was far from them and he would have prayed for them bringing them before the Lord. So you can imagine that he was looking toward those seven cities in Asia, and according to what he said, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet." We already mentioned that in the book of Revelation, a trumpet always refers to a voice from heaven with a very important message. So if he was facing toward Asia Minor, thinking of those churches, he heard behind him a loud voice like that of a trumpet. The message was this: "What thou seest, write in a book and send it to the seven churches." So he heard a heavenly voice. His tendency was to see the reality of the situation in each church, but brothers, on that day, there was a voice behind him, and the bible says: "And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks."
Brothers, what happened? There were seven churches, full of wrinkles, and pollution, but when he turned around, something surprised him: seven lampstands. Those seven lampstands are in heaven; the Holy Place in heaven. So he was able to see something beyond that cloud. Now he saw a heavenly vision. Not only did he see seven golden lampstands, but amid them, someone like that of a Son of Man. John recognized who He was: the Risen Lord and ascended Lord. Now he discovered that our Lord is already in heaven, beyond the cloud, in the Holy Place. All the lampstands on the earth are nothing but shadows, but the reality is in heaven. You have seven lampstands made of pure gold. Can you believe that? According to their earthly conditions, they are wrinkled, full of pollution. But what comfort there was here for John when he turned around to discover that there was a lampstand: there was a church in the city of Ephesus, but in heaven there was a lampstand there.
If you look at the earthly conditions, we don't know what to do, but if we really see the heavenly vision, when we turn around, we see a heavenly situation; a heavenly reality represented by seven golden lampstands. But most important of all is that the Risen Lord is in their midst. According to chapter 2, our Lord was walking in their midst. Now that is a great, great comfort. It was something beyond the cloud.
But when we come to chapter 4, there is a door open in heaven and there he heard another trumpet and John saw the throne. Finally, he saw that the Lamb is on the throne. So when our Lord died for us on the cross we saw the Lamb on the cross; our planet was like the outer porch of the temple. But after his resurrection and ascension, He entered into the Holy Place, and finally into the Holiest of Holies. So what is the book of Revelation? Verse 1: The Revelation of Jesus Christ; beyond the cloud. If you want to know anything about this side of the cloud, read the gospel of John. But if you want to know anything beyond the cloud, you need the book of Revelation. Now brothers, when you see the Lord in the Holy Place and in the Holiest of Holies, what vision is this? We were told that a door is open. In other words, John had seen a heavenly vision.
Now what is the answer to the church condition? According to this revelation, the solution to the way of the church is in the book of Revelation. The whole book of Revelation is to tell us what John had seen on the island of Patmos. Finally, he could penetrate behind the cloud. He loved the Lord so much that the Lord had to appear to him, just like to Mary Magdalene, who was the first one our risen Lord appeared to. Not to Peter, he denied the Lord three times, but to Mary Magdalene who had a heart for the Lord. When John and Peter left, she wept. They could go home, they had a place to go, but for Mary Magdalene, the whole world became blank, and her heart was the heart of a widow. When she wept and wanted to meet the Lord, He appeared to her. The same happened to John.
The vision is for those who love the Lord
Who could receive the heavenly vision? We can, if we love our Lord like John loved His Master. Are you waiting for the Lord's return? Whenever you think of clouds, do you think it's what took our Lord away?
What about the church condition today? If you love the Lord, you definitely love the ones our Lord loves; your brothers and sisters, not because they are lovely but because He loves them, so you too must love them. Now you discover the whole church today is in the condition of ruins and declension. What is the answer? The heavenly vision is the answer. When we see it, then we have the answer. That's how John had his vision; the vision is for those who love the Lord. So may the Lord create such a love in us that we may see what John saw.
International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision"