Believing God's Goodness
WHENEVER in history the Church is faithful to its calling and bears testimony concerning the truth, tribulation is bound to follow. Apart even from this fact, the Church is in the world. Accordingly it suffers along with the world. Children of God do not escape the horrors of war, famine, and pestilence. The Church needs these tribulations. It needs both the direct antagonism of the world and participation in the common woes that pertain to this earthly life as a result of sin. The Church, too, is sinful. It is in constant need of purification and sanctification.
These tribulations, therefore, are employed by our Lord as an instrument for our own spiritual advancement. We see God’s footstool. Let us not forget His throne! To be sure, we say that to them that love God all things work together for good; but do we really believe it? Sometimes we speak and act as if the control of events and the destiny of the world rested in the hands of men instead of in the hands of God. Chapters 4 and 5, however, supply the needed correction and bring us a vision of the throne which rules the universe.
In the midst of trial and tribulation may our gaze be towards the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1967), 81.
Encouraging God's People
Why, then, is God’s continued preservation of “all things” in creation mentioned before his act of first beginning to create them, since the reverse order would be more logical? It is done as it is to emphasize preservation because the pastoral intention throughout the book is to encourage God’s people to recognize that everything that happens to them throughout history is part of God’s creation purposes. The hymn from Dan. 4:35–37 is alluded to because it emphasizes not merely God’s sovereignty over creation but that all things have been created to serve his purposes and especially that he unswervingly accomplishes his will through all history without any possibility of being thwarted in the process. His people must trust in this fact so that, even when they experience suffering, they can rest assured that it has a redemptive purpose and is in accordance with his will. But how does God carry out his plan on behalf of his people? Ch. 5 explains how: through Christ’s death and resurrection and that Spirit which God gives to his followers.
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 335–336.
A purpose of the weekly church meeting
As in chs. 1–3, the church is pictured in angelic guise to remind its members that already a dimension of their existence is heavenly, that their real home is not with the unbelieving “earth-dwellers,” and that they have heavenly help and protection in their struggle to obtain their reward and not be conformed to their pagan environment. One of the purposes of the church meeting on earth in its weekly gatherings (as in 1:3, 9) is to be reminded of its heavenly existence and identity by modeling its worship and liturgy on the angels’ and the heavenly church’s worship of the exalted lamb, as vividly portrayed in chs. 4–5. This is why scenes of heavenly liturgy are woven throughout the Apocalypse (see further on 1:20).
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 323.
Three Sights of Comfort
Especially upon this ground, that when we look upon Christ, and God in Christ, we see ourselves there in the love of Christ, and in the love of God; and thereupon we are moved to be changed to Christ, not by seeing Christ alone, or by seeing God in Christ alone, but by seeing God’s love in Christ to us, and Christ’s love to us. For the Spirit of faith, which is given together with the gospel, it sees Christ giving himself for me, and sees God the Father’s love in† me in Christ, and giving me to Christ. When the Spirit of faith with this appropriation seeth God, mine in Christ, and seeth Christ mine, and sees myself in the love of God, and in the love of Christ, hereupon the soul is stirred up from a holy desire to be like Christ Jesus, that loved me so much, and to be conformable to God all I can. For if the person be great and glorious, and our friend too, there is a natural desire to be like such, to imitate them, and express them all we can. Now when we see ourselves in the love of God and Christ, out of the nature of the thing itself, it will stir us up to be like so sweet, and gracious, and loving a Saviour.
There are three sights that hath a wondrous efficacy, and they go together.
God sees us in Christ, and therefore loves us as we are in Christ.
Christ sees us in the love of his Father, and therefore loves us as he sees us in his Father’s love.
We see ourselves in Christ, and see the love of God to us in Christ.
These three sights are the foundation of all comfort. God gives us to Christ, and sees us as given to him in his election. Christ sees us as given of the Father, as you have it John 17:12; and loves us as we are loved of the Father, and then sees us as his own members. And we by a Spirit of faith see Christ, and see ourselves in Christ, and given to Christ by the Father. Hereupon comes a desire of imitation and expression of Jesus Christ. When we see ourselves in Christ God looks upon us in Christ, and we look upon ourselves in Christ; and when we look upon the mercy of God in Christ, it kindleth love, and love kindleth love, as fire kindleth fire. Fire hath that quality, that it turns all to itself. Now the meditation of the glorious love of God in Christ it works love, and love is an affection of changing; love transforms as fire doth. The love of God warms us, and we are fit for all impressions, as things that are warm. Iron is a dull and heavy thing, yet when it is warm it is bright and pliable, and hath as much as may be of the nature of fire imprinted upon it. So our dead, and dull, and inflexible, and unyielding souls become malleable and flexible by the love of Christ shining upon them. His love transforms them and kindles them. So here is the way how the glory of God’s love in Christ transforms us, because the discovery of the bowels of mercy in God towards us kindles love to him; and that being kindled it works likeness, for love to greatness transforms us. It works a desire to be like those that are great. Where there is dependence there is a desire to be like, even among men. Much more considering that God so loves our nature in Christ, and that our nature is so full of grace in Christ as it is, the love of God in Christ, that hath done so much for us, it breeds a desire to be like Christ in our disposition, all we can.
By looking to the glory of God in Christ we see Christ as our husband, and that breeds a disposition in us to have the affections of a spouse. We see Christ as our head, and that breeds a disposition in us to be members like him.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 4 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 270–271.
Nothing can change us but the gospel.
We see this change is wrought by beholding. The beholding of the glory of God in the gospel, it is a powerful beholding; for, saith he, ‘we are changed, by beholding,’ to the image of Christ. Sight works upon the imaginations in brute creatures; as Laban’s sheep, when they saw the parti-coloured rods, it wrought upon their imaginations, and they had lambs suitable.* Will sight work upon imagination, and imagination work a real change in nature? And shall not the glorious sight of God’s mercy and love in Christ work a change in our soul? Is not the eye of faith more strong to alter and change than imagination natural? Certainly the eye of faith, apprehending God’s love and mercy in Christ, it hath a power to change. The gospel itself, together with the Spirit, hath a power to change. We partake by it of the divine nature.
This glass of the gospel hath an excellency and an eminency above all other glasses. It is a glass that changeth us. When we see ourselves and our corruptions in the glass of the law, there we see ourselves dead. The law finds us dead, and leaves us dead. It cannot give us any life. But when we look into the gospel and see the glory of God, the mercy of God, the gracious promises of the gospel, we are changed into the likeness of Christ whom we see in the gospel. It is an excellent glass, therefore, that hath a transforming power to make beautiful. Such a glass would be much prized in this proud world; such a glass is the gospel.
Therefore let us be in love with this glass above all other glasses whatsoever. Nothing can change us but the gospel. The gospel hath a changing power, as you have it Isa. 11:6, seq.: there the lion shall feed with the lamb,’ &c. ‘For the whole earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,’ ver. 9. The knowledge of Christ Jesus is a changing knowledge, that changeth a man even from an untractable, fierce creature, to be tractable, sweet, and familiar. So that the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, you see, it is a transforming knowledge, and changeth us into the image of Christ, to the likeness of Christ.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 4 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 269–270.