The Cherubim in Relation to Life and Service
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Church and the Living Ones

Reading: Revelation 4 and 5.

We come now to the final presentation which is the consummation of the truth concerning the cherubim. Here in the book of the Revelation the cherubim, under the title of the 'living ones', appear in connection with four and twenty elders. They are so closely related that they move together; their activities are one, their utterances are one, and their position is one. We bear that in mind, and leave it for the moment.

The great shout, the great proclamation, in connection with the elders and the living ones is that through the great redemptive work of the Lamb as slain in the midst of the throne, they have been constituted a kingdom and priests unto God. They are united in this great proclamation, this declaration, this statement of what they are, redeemed unto God out of every nation, and made a kingdom and priests.

Now go back to the Old Testament, and if you read in the two books of the Chronicles (1 Chron. 23, 24 and 2 Chron. 5) you have the type of this. There you find that under David and Solomon the sons of Aaron, the priests, were divided into twenty-four courses. They were divided by lot, which means that they were not selected by preference or by special favour. It was not selecting because of certain things which made them more favourable for their position than others. They were selected by lot; they all stood the same chance of coming into this position. Over them were placed twenty-four elders, twenty-four courses of priests, and twenty-four elders placed over them, an elder to a course. Then the Levites also were divided into twenty-four courses. These priests were arrayed in white raiment.

Taking that as a very brief Old Testament background of typology and illustration, they represent twenty-four rulers in the House of God. They were twenty-four priestly rulers, elders, arrayed in white garments. They are priests, and they are elders, or rulers. It is very easy to see from the type the meaning of the antitype in heaven in the book of the Revelation. They are in governmental position in heaven and, as a mark of their authority and kingliness, they are wearing a crown of gold upon their heads.

The Throne

Going back to the book of Chronicles, these priests brought the ark into the oracle, the most holy place, and placed it under the cherubim in the very presence of God, typically in the very heavenlies itself, for the most holy place is a type of the heavenlies. We know that the veil (which was Christ's flesh) being rent, opened a way right into the presence of God, right into heavenly union and fellowship with God. The cherubim are associated with this movement of the priests who bring in the ark of the Testimony. It is the throne where the cherubim are. It is a throne of grace to the Lord's people under the precious blood and its protection. It is a throne of awful judgment to those who are not under the protection of that blood. It is a throne! God rules there! And the priests come into the presence of the throne!

Coming to the Revelation and the antitype, here are four and twenty elders, priests and kings, and associated as one with them are the living ones, the cherubim. What does all this mean? It is highly symbolical. What does it represent? I think, and as far as I can see from the Word, it means this: The living ones represent the church in general; the elders crowned represent the church in its governmental position in heaven, and the end of God which was His design for His church, the place of the throne, the place of government.

Swiftly run your eye right back to the beginning in Genesis 3. Hebrews 2 says, "Thou crownedst him (man) with glory and honour... thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet." But man failed, he broke down, he lost his dominion. Through sin, through unbelief, through disobedience, he forfeited the great place of government in fellowship with God, and that man never attained to God's purpose for him. He died; he became a dead one. All in Adam die and are spiritually dead. All outside of Christ are dead in trespasses and sins. From the standpoint of God's thought about life, none live outside of Christ, all in Adam have died. That divine, eternal, incorruptible and indestructible Life is shut off from sinful man. He can only know it on the ground of the work of the Lamb slain.

Pass your eye right down the ages to Revelation, to the consummation, and what do you have? The Lamb slain, in the throne, and living ones representative of the whole church; and then God's thought and intention expressed in the elders (dominion, kingship, a kingdom and priests). What Adam lost is at last realised in the church, living ones, alive with the very Life of God, His gift of eternal Life. But what is the ultimate expression and outworking and issue of that Life? It is the throne; it is dominion. The elders and the living ones moving together declare that it is in virtue of that shed blood, "For thou wast slain, and hast purchased unto God by thy blood, out of every nation..." It is because of that blood, the blood of the Lamb, that they have come to the end which God eternally intended. This is salvation. There is something in this which is more than just escaping hell and being saved from sin. God's thought was more than that man should live a sinless life. God's thought was that men should come to that fulness in fellowship with Himself where they reign with Him for ever and ever.

Death Abolished

This book of the Revelation is prophetic. Notice how chapter 4 is introduced: "Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter." It is looking on to the end, the consummation. It brings into view a time which is not time - for time shall be no more - when all death shall have been abolished. That is not just dying in your body and going from this world. Death, the last enemy, the enemy of God's eternal purpose in man, the death in which all outside of Christ abide, though multitudes of them do not know or realise, that death shall have been abolished. There shall be no more death nor curse any more, but a universe of living ones. But, more than that, a throne in view for living ones. Is it not striking that chapter 3 closes with, "He that overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne..." and chapter 4 goes straight on with the throne, and the living ones, and the four and twenty elders, leading right up to chapter 12, "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb." God's full thought is represented in the overcomer who comes to the throne to reign. God's provision for that is the power of an all-conquering Life, a Life conquering death, conquering hell, conquering the dragon, and rising to the very throne.

This is not all fiction. While much is symbolism and the typology associated with it, inside of that there are great heavenly and spiritual laws. And when you strip these laws, these principles of symbolism and typology, you come to the great central realities of God's creating and redeeming purpose: that man should live by the power of an endless Life, and that that Life and the power of that Life should eventually bring him to a place of dominion in God's creation. Over against the fact that God has intended that, and in His Son, by the blood of the Lamb, has provided the power of that indestructible Life, there are multitudes still dead, and multitudes who are not living in the power of that Life, and multitudes even of the Lord's people who have the Life but who are not rising to overcome in virtue of that Life.

The appeal of the great consummation to our hearts is this, that God has intended this and nothing less, and everybody stands the same chance, and is in the way of it. There are no favourites, for there is nothing in us by nature qualifying us for this; there is nothing which gives us an advantage over others. All are called, all are in the running for a throne, all are on the same footing of the precious blood and the risen Life of Christ. God's thought is not that we should just escape hell, not even just become possessors of eternal Life. God's thought is dominion in His coming Kingdom, the Kingdom of His Son. We hear the apostle calling to us, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10).

The Greatness of the Gospel

There is little more to say. The end has been brought before us. The Spirit of God must move in relation to God's great thought, but surely this is a tremendous appeal. In the first place it magnifies the work of the Lord Jesus, what His Cross means, what the shedding of His blood means; God's end against which all hell set itself; God's end which seemed to be involved in disaster, failure, and a state which made it appear utterly impossible of realisation, spread over ages of sinfulness. God's end nevertheless, in spite of all that earth and hell do, realised in the blood of the Lamb. It magnifies the work of the Lord Jesus, and surely it presents to us the greatness of salvation. Oh, ours is not a little Gospel. Ours is not a small salvation. It is a mighty thing; it ends in the throne of this universe, to be occupied by living ones! It makes salvation appear what it really is, a great thing. "So great salvation", says the apostle.

It is surely a challenge and an appeal, firstly to those who are not saved, who are definitely not living ones, not having been born again. Surely this so great salvation, this matchless purpose of God in salvation, in redemption, ought to lift us off the mere level of trifling, of dilly-dallying, and oh, it must mean that we cannot control this salvation, cannot govern it. No one can say, "Well, I am waiting! I do not say that I never will be saved, but I am not ready yet! I am watching! Perhaps some day!" You cannot control or govern a thing like this. God has not put it within our power to say when we will be saved. God says, "Now is the accepted time" (2 Cor. 6:2). You cannot say that you will be saved tomorrow, or next week. God says, Now! Now! and it may be now or never! But what a loss! What a loss to have missed all that God intended and provided for through the sacrifice of His Son! It is too big a thing to trifle with, to try and bring within the compass of our holding and governing, saying when we will have it and when we will not have it. If we are not saved it must lift us off a level like that, and show us that this is not something small enough for us to hold for ourselves, to handle, to manipulate. It is not as though it were a cheap thing, and if we are inclined we will have it but if we are not inclined we will not. Let us look at it in these dimensions, its magnificence, its majesty, its costliness, what it cost God, what it cost God's Son, what the end of it all is, the immensity of this salvation, and say: As for me, God have mercy upon me if I do not capitulate to this! You can understand why they sing, and why they fall down before Him that is on the throne, and cast their crowns down. Why?

It means this, Oh! Wonder of all wonders in the universe, that ever we should have been privileged to have any part in this salvation! That is a different attitude from, "Well, I may or I may not!" It is the marvel of our having been allowed to come into God's salvation in Christ. Those who really do know Christ and redemption always marvel at the grace of God. They know that they have found something which is priceless.

The Crown as Reward

For those who are in Christ surely this is an appeal, as this very book presents: "Let no man take thy crown." It is an appeal to go on to the full end. That is God's thought, reigning together with Him, but there is always an 'if" connected. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." "To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne." That would not be said if everybody was automatically an overcomer. It is the appeal to go on to God's full end, and not to fall short. This is the encouragement in suffering, the encouragement in adversity. Salvation is not a reward. Salvation is the gift of God's grace to those who have no merit, no worthiness. The throne is a reward; the crown is a reward. For what? For suffering, enduring, going on in spite of all the opposing odds, the result of letting go all for the Lord, the issue of that Life of His energising us, bringing us to the throne.

The question arises: Are you a living one? That is where we begin. Have you commenced with the possession of eternal Life in Jesus Christ? Are you a living one to begin with? After that the question is, how much are you a living one? Not only, do you have Life, but, how much are you living by that Life? The whole question from Genesis to Revelation is Life; Life as the basis, and Life as the energy unto God's full end. So the apostle says, "When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall we be manifested with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4). The issue of Christ our Life is manifestation in glory with Him. We are called "unto His eternal glory" (1 Peter 5:10). That glory is the shining out of His Life in fulness.

We have to answer the challenge and the appeal. Are we living ones? Are we going on in the Life? Is the Life having a free, full course in us? Are we checking it, arresting it, hindering it, or are we wholly, utterly capitulated to that Life, to let that Life have its full, free course in us, obedient to its laws? It will bring us to the throne if that is so, and we shall be the fulfilment of this promise, the four and twenty elders, that is, the church represented in government in the throne. The Life is manifested in its fulness in the elders, and it is all by reason of the blood of the Lamb that has been slain.

Let the symbolism go if you cannot understand the whole thing, if it mystifies you. I confess that the cherubim represent far too much for me to grasp. I am only giving you the things which are clear. There are a good many things that are beyond our understanding yet. But if you will strip it all of symbolism, the types, the figures, and view the clear-cut principles, it is simply this: God, from eternity, meant man to be in the place of dominion. He created him with that object. Adam lost the power by which man would have been energised unto that had he not sinned, and that to which he would have come as the result of that energy. Another Adam came and recovered by His own blood. We are called into the fellowship of God's Son through faith in Him and His redeeming work by the Cross, and are given eternal Life, and are set, by the possession of that Life, on the highway to the throne. All the potentialities of government in the Kingdom of God's Son which is yet to be are in the Life which we possess through faith. It is for us to live according to the dictates of that Life, to learn how to live on the basis of divine Life, to be obedient to its laws and faithful to all its energising within us. It is a great thing to have eternal Life within, constant energy to bring us at last to full victory, and to reign with Him for ever and ever.

The Lord convey His own message to our hearts, and lead us into a fuller abandonment to Him and His purpose.

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