by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Rev. 12
The Assault upon the Church's Life
We are concerned with the "overcomer", and in our previous meditation we were mainly taken up with one of the three aspects of the overcomer, namely, the state which is basic to the whole matter of overcoming, the state of righteousness which is through faith in Jesus Christ. If that state is so important and means so much to the overthrow of the whole kingdom and power of Satan, the great red dragon of Rev. 12, then his objective will always be to corrupt. We spoke of overcoming him by, or because of, the Blood, which signifies the incorruptible life of the Lord Jesus which is ours through faith. The enemy therefore will seek to destroy our faith relationship to that incorruptible life of which the Blood speaks, and to do this he will endeavour to bring about a condition which is corrupt, thereby to smite us and have ground, judicial, rightful ground before God of accusing us.
Now, we must recognize one thing which it is very difficult to understand and more difficult to explain, that the Word of God does make it perfectly clear that in some way Satan has access to God in relation to His people. That is the significance of the word in Rev. 12 - and, mark you, it has a close connection with the overcomer - "who accuseth them before our God day and night". The Old Testament touches upon that, as we know, in the case of Job and also in that of the high priest, Joshua, where Satan is seen standing at his right hand to be his adversary, his accuser. There are other similar touches, and here right at the end in the Revelation, where the climax of things is being reached, Satan is called the accuser of the brethren which accuseth them day and night. Somehow he has access to God.
That demands two things, as we were seeing in our previous meditation; firstly and primarily, that faith position with regard to the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ; and secondly, that we see to it that the position is not contradicted by our conduct: otherwise Satan has power to strike a blow at the value, the effectiveness, of our position. I do not say that he can destroy the position itself, that is, that he can destroy our acceptance as justified by faith, but he can destroy the effectiveness of it. He can destroy, in other words, the testimony to it; and you must always remember that the testimony is a tremendously important thing. That, of course, is our third aspect, which we shall not reach in this meditation. Thus we have first a state, then a position, and then a testimony. Satan is after the testimony. The testimony comes from the position, and the position comes from the state. Now, Satan is after the state in the first place, and therefore his object is to corrupt. Thus you find that, in the case of each of the churches in the first chapters of Revelation, "to him that overcometh" is the word that is spoken in relation to this particular activity of Satan to corrupt. If you have any doubt about it, look and see for yourself.
"But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Rev. 2:6). Here is Satan's desire to get in something hated of God. His object is to corrupt by introducing something that God hates; and, mark you, if there is something in the Church that God hates, Satan's power is established, and God's hand is paralysed. That is what Satan is after.
"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication" (Rev. 2:14). To corrupt! You remember the story. Balaam, who could not bring about a state of condemnation by direct cursing, went round to the back door and taught corruption. If Satan cannot come in and succeed at the front door, he will go round the other way. The end is to corrupt, so that God cannot stand by and behold, and in order that Israel may be robbed of his place as a prince with God. a princely nation to rule.
"So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner" (Rev. 2:15). That very thing to which we have referred in verse 6 is found here. This pernicious doctrine or principle is now within this church at Pergamum and Satan has got the thing hated of God in there, corrupting in that way.
"But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Rev. 2:20). We must take these, of course, as symbolical names, not literal people; something there in principle after the nature and working of Jezebel of old, a link between the people of God and that which is opposed to God in its very nature. Here it is, and Satan has got corruption in. "But thou hast a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments..." (Rev. 3:4). You see what it is here. Again and again, it is defilement, corruption. The enemy is seeking to insinuate it in order to get at the position of the Church, so that the testimony of the Church is destroyed. I think we can best point that out by going on with our next aspect of the overcomer, namely, the overcomer's position.
The Church's Position
We have said that the state of righteousness through faith and righteousness of conduct in accordance with the state lead to the Church's position. What is the Church's position as the result of that state through faith? Well, it is not without significance that, in dealing with the churches, Ephesus comes first. There is a sense in which Ephesus is inclusive and basic. All these churches in Asia came into being through Paul. You look at Acts 19. In the first place it says, in verse 10, "all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord". This was as out from Ephesus. Paul is at Ephesus in Acts 19. In verse 26, Demetrius says that not only in Ephesus but in all Asia this man Paul has turned many away. All Asia! Here you have seven churches in Asia. Now, Ephesus is the key, the heart, to the whole thing.
(a) In the Heavenlies in Christ
What then is the Church's place, centrally and supremely? It is what you have in the letter to the Ephesians (so-called), which was an encyclical letter to the churches including that of Ephesus. Well, the Church's place is there seen to be in the heavenlies in Christ. That is the ringing note throughout the letter to the Ephesians. First of all, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ; then seated with Him in the heavenlies; then ministry in the heavenlies - "that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies..." So you go on to the end, the warfare in the heavenlies: our wrestling is in the heavenlies. In virtue of a state of righteousness through faith, the Church is represented as having a spiritual position above. Let us beware of the danger of a too geographical and literal idea here, and so of being occupied with glorified and aerified nothings. This whole thing is a matter, in the first instance, of a spiritual position, and of spiritual ascendancy, and that is a matter for almost every moment of everyday life. I mean, this whole question of being in the heavenlies comes down very often to such a matter as washing dishes. You can be up in the heavenlies while you are washing dishes, or it can be very much otherwise with you; it depends on the spirit in which you do it. Begin to complain and grumble, This is too menial a work for a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven; fancy me having to do this! and you are not in the heavens. But, let your attitude be this: Well this is a very menial job indeed, but let us do all things to the glory of God! and you are in the heavenlies. It is a spiritual matter, a moral matter, a matter of moral power in a spiritual sense. That is the meaning of the heavenlies. It touches every moment of our lives, wherever we are. Do not think you have to escape this mortal body and get on a cloud and fly somewhere away up there! That is not being in the heavenlies.
(b) Ascendancy in Christ over the Power of the Devil
Well now, position: it is a matter of ascendancy over the power of the dragon, the serpent, "he that is called the Devil and Satan", the accuser of the brethren, the deceiver of the whole earth, a matter of spiritual "aboveness"; that is the position of the Church. You can never be there if you are under a spirit of condemnation. If you are under a spirit of accusation, if you are occupied with your own miserable self, you are very much other than in the heavenlies. So that this righteousness which is of faith means a spiritual position of ascendancy over the enemy. This is what it is "to be in the heavenlies".
Now let us get right back with that behind everything. God's thought - and we saw in our previous meditation that the overcomer is the one or the company standing for God's full thought in a day when that full thought has been lost - God's thought concerning His people from before their creation was, and has ever so remained, that they should be a heavenly people.
Everything in the visible creation of God is a representation of some heavenly thought. Remember that. It is not something in itself.
It was never meant to be something in itself. Everything that God has made of a material and visible kind is a symbol, a representation of some spiritual and heavenly thought. Oh, if I were to start on that, we could go on for a very long time, but I will just briefly touch upon it to indicate what I mean.
You find two scriptures, linking Genesis right at its beginning with the advanced revelation of the heart of God in the letter to the Ephesians. The letter to the Ephesians is the fullest revelation that we have of God's eternal thoughts, His counsels. In that letter there comes out in a fuller way than anywhere else in the Scriptures what was in the mind of God before the world was. And then you find that from the second chapter of Genesis a passage is taken up and quoted in Ephesians 5.
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:31-32). You have to take Ephesians 5 right back to Genesis 2, and beyond, to see a Divine thought, and this oneness of man and wife is said to be but a symbol, a representation of a Divine thought from all eternity, namely, of Christ and the Church; and Paul says that is a mystery hidden from all ages and generations. It was back in the Divine mind, but it has now been made known. So that human relationships, such as those of husband and wife, are a representation of something in the thought of God, a heavenly something. I only select that as an illustration of what I mean. Anywhere in God's visible creation, you will find the same principle holds good. It is a representation of a spiritual thought, a Divine idea.
Now then, God has created man, not just to have this earth peopled, populated, occupied, but with a spiritual idea, a heavenly thought, to be a heavenly being, to be a heavenly people right at the centre of their being. Heavenliness is the great governing thing in all God's creation and especially in man. Now this is where, if the Lord would give us revelation, it would make such a tremendous difference to us. Oh, this is what Paul meant when he prayed, as we too ought to pray for ourselves and for one another, that He would give a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that we might know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. This is the heavenly thing - His inheritance in the saints!
The End of Heavenliness - the Manifestation of God's Glory in the Church
In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, the Apostle uses words like these:
"As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:48). "As is the heavenly" - that is something established. Something is established as heavenly. Then we have the latter part of the sentence: "so also are they that are heavenly". That speaks of conformity to something that is heavenly. Well, this inheritance, this heavenliness, again what is it? What is God's object in creating His universe and especially in creating man? It is no less a thing than the shining forth of His own glory as in His own nature. The shining forth of His nature in its essential glory, the glory of the nature of God, is something before which sinful man must fall helpless, prostrate, broken, impotent. It is God in what He is, His essential nature manifesting itself. He made man for His glory, and he was so made that eventually when God should have perfected him, not only as a physical being but as a moral being through testing, man should be a vehicle through which the moral glory of God should be manifested, and God should have a whole universe manifesting God in what He essentially is in His moral nature. That is glory, unspeakable glory, and all that is brought now to us along the line of redemption in His Son. God has "shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". Oh, get rid of the physical idea again! The face simply means the presentation; it is the man, the representation, and the glory of God has come in Jesus Christ representatively. Christ moreover is in our hearts, and Christ in us is the hope of glory. What glory? That eventually that people whom God has secured and conformed to the image of His Son should be in the centre of this universe what the sun is in the heavens now, the very centre and fulness of the radiation of God's moral glory. Think of a universe like that! and that too as over against the world in which we are living now. That is what the end is to be. "Unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever." That is the heavenly thought of God, that is the heavenly people of God, that is the heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus.
What a marvellous thing this heavenliness is as a power, as a principle, as a nature! And there are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises whereby we may become partakers of the Divine nature. It is just there of course that Satan has jumped in with all the errors that he has ever propagated, just to turn that thing. The errors of Satan have always borne upon this very matter of the revelation, the manifestation of the nature of God in man. On the one hand, the person of the Lord Jesus Himself has been taken hold of by the errors of Satan and the Divine Sonship has been made something other than it is, less than it is. On the other hand, the companion error is that man is inherently Divine: the end of the evolution is the deification of humanity, the Divine in man. Oh, poor philosophy today! However, let us leave that. You see all the errors that Satan has introduced touching upon this very thing, and I am steering clear of these errors when I speak about the nature of God being manifested in man. It will be in Jesus Christ in man. It will be as we are conformed to the image of God's Son. It will be moral glory, not the glory of Godhead. We are never going to be God, never going to be deified. No, Deity will remain something in itself, Godhead will ever be infinitely apart from the creation, but the moral glory, the moral nature of God in Christ is going to shine forth in the Church throughout all ages, world without end.
Now that is heavenliness, and that is the position to which we are brought morally and spiritually, through a right and adequate apprehension of the righteousness of God through faith. It is a position, a tremendous position, and Satan knows that the end of that means God's end when reached is a universe absolutely purged of all Satan's corruption, and therefore of all his power, and a universe shining through and through with the glory of God.
Satan's Objective - the Nullification of the Church's Position and Warfare through Corruption
What then is ever Satan's objective? To corrupt, and thereby to pull down the Church from its spiritual position. Hence we have such a word as this: "Consider from whence thou art fallen". That is said to the church at Ephesus. "Thou hast left thy first love." Go back to Acts 19 and note that first love. Paul comes to Ephesus, and what happens through his presentation of Christ there? Why, many of them brought their valuable and perhaps priceless books of magic arts and made a great fire of them, and the sum is taken of their value, an immense sum; and it all went up in flames! In a city like Ephesus where Demetrius is so concerned about the profits of trade, where capitalism is such a big factor, where money means a lot, an immense fortune is thus sacrificed. Why? Because they turned to the Lord with all their heart. The testimony of Jesus is accepted and established. What a thing! You remember Paul's talk to the Ephesian elders. What a wonderful disclosure, what a relationship in spiritual things! Well might he, through the enablement of the Holy Spirit, write that letter, which had Ephesus as its base, to go round all the churches in Asia, a letter of heavenly unveilings. What a revelation, what a position! And now to Ephesus in Rev. 2 "Thou hast left thy first love"! You do not value Christ, you do not value the inheritance, you do not value heavenly things as you once did: "consider from whence thou art fallen". Fallen! Here we have spiritual collapse, the work of Satan in bringing down from an Ephesian position. Thus the overcomer is the one or the company that stands for God's full revelation, and God's full revelation is a heavenly people in whom there can be a growing and ultimately full, perfect manifestation of the moral glory of God in this universe. That is the city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, having the glory of God, her light like unto a lamp most precious. That is the end to which God is working.
Now, beloved, remember that the rulership of this world and this universe is centred in the heavenlies. Let us not forget that. In this age there are the world rulers of this darkness in the heavenlies. In those heavenlies just now the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness, are operating, and they are doing their work thoroughly. Oh yes, never was a day such as this. The manifestation of the evil work of Satan in the nations, the moral degradation in the nations, is coming out, it is being manifested. The rulership is there in the heavenlies, so far as this world is concerned outside of Christ. I am leaving room for the sovereignty of God over all that, but we are talking about the judicial and rightful government of man, and Satan has it outside of Christ because of man's consent; and man still does consent. The very people who even here in this country deplore the iniquitous procedure that is going on in the world, and who would most loudly and vehemently decry the wickedness of what is going on, if you speak to them along these lines of enthroning Jesus Christ, they would not listen to you. Giving God His place? - that is pious talk! They are going to deal with it in other ways. Satan has such a grip that even those who deplore iniquity do not give God and His righteousness a place. However, that by the way.
Now, the rulership, the moral rulership, is vested in or seated in the heavenlies. The evil hierarchy that is seen there as yet is to yield its grasp, and the destiny of the Church is to take the place of the principalities and powers and world rulers of this darkness, to occupy the heavenlies. So in Rev. 12 as we have seen, we have the "overcomers", the "man-child", caught up to the throne of God, and then no more place is found for the red dragon and his hosts in the heavens.
Thus at present there is a spiritual warfare between the Church and the principalities going on in the heavenlies - yes, down in your kitchen! I must say this in order to keep you from becoming nebulous and abstract. Amidst irritating daily work, that is where the battle in the heavenlies is going on. You have not got to reach some geographical point to have a battle in the heavens. It is spiritual and moral. The Church is fighting that battle in daily life.
Then the issue - Satan knows the issue is a very great one. It is his place of rulership over the inhabited earth, the deceiving of the nations, the holding of them bound, the directing of them contrary to God, the opposing of God's end in His own, that is at stake. The Church is fighting that battle spiritually now. The battle is going to be fought and fought and fought within our own spirits. It is a question of whether we in spirit are going to overcome or Satan. It is the position that is in question; government, dominion, rulership.
What then is Satan's objective? In the first place it is to corrupt in order to pull down. It will then be the displacement of believers from their heavenly position, the displacement of the Church... Ours is not some position to which we have to rise, to attain. The letter to the Ephesians does not put it in that way at all. It presents it as an accomplished fact: "hath seated us." Beloved, do grasp this, that if really by faith in Jesus Christ you have, with both hands, apprehended the righteousness of God as yours, you are in the heavenlies, you are above Satan morally. Your business is to hold your position. Satan is not out to keep us down, he is out to hurl us down. We are there. This is a position we have to hold to by faith. So that to dislodge, to displace, will be his object. But oh, just as his ways for corrupting or bringing accusation and condemnation are countless and always beyond our power to anticipate, so are his ways to bring us down, to bring God's people down spiritually and morally from their heavenly position.
The Prophecy of Balaam
What are his schemes, his devices, his cunning? I referred to Balaam. Let us go back to Balaam. When Balaam was hired by Balak to curse Israel, Balaam came and climbed the hill and got to an eminence which overlooked the plain, and there was Israel spread throughout the plain. Balaam wanted to curse Israel in order to paralyse Israel. The hand of God came upon Balaam and under that hand Balaam opened his mouth and began to speak. We will note two things in particular that were said. "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." Well then, no curse can operate here. "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." Why? Because there was no iniquity in Jacob? Not at all! There was plenty of unrighteousness in Jacob. Why did He not behold it? Because there was a tabernacle, an altar, a sacrifice and precious blood, a high priest, a Holy of holies and a mercy seat at the centre of their life. They were gathered round that. "He hath not beheld iniquity." Here we are looking upon the figure. Carried over into the New Testament, it is the righteousness of God which is ours by faith in Christ Jesus: not ours inherently, but which we receive in Christ. Well, the curse is nullified as we abide on that ground.
Now the next thing Balaam said was this: "It is a people that dwelleth alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations". Not reckoned among the nations. Oh, that is glorious! That puts Israel not only apart from the nations, but on top of the nations. Now, if there has been one thing which Satan has ever tried to do with the people of God in all ages, it has been to get them reckoned among the nations. I speak solemnly and carefully. Right at the very heart of Christendom as we have it today is the desire to be recognized. Recognition! Everything that organized Christianity does is to gain recognition. What are all these churches? I mean, in this instance, all these elaborate and imposing buildings. They are to gain recognition. They are in order to be reckoned something. To what end is all the procedure, the advertisement, and the much else besides? It is in order to get recognition, to be accredited here on this earth, to be reckoned. Yes, that is Satan's triumph. That is where spiritual power has gone out. That is where the Church has ceased to be something to be reckoned with up there. It has, in spirit, come down here, to be reckoned among the nations. If only Satan can get the people of God into a position where they are taken up by this world, written up by this world, made something of by this world, he has triumphed and pulled the Church down out of its heavenly place and made it an earthly thing. That is the principle right through the Old Testament. That too is seen to be the trouble in the Revelation. God will not have it. Satan's success is along that line. He has pulled the Church out of the heavens. Somewhere he has made it touch earth, form a link in some way with earth.
All this has behind it this object, to take from the glory of God by involving the Church in that to which God cannot commit Himself, from which God must stand back. Thus to some of these churches the Lord has to say, "I will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent: I cannot let you go on unless you put this right. You have got down there, you have got mixed up with this other thing which in principle is not Myself, is not My moral glory. You must wholly forsake that and come up and come out of it, or else I must remove your vessel of testimony out of its place. There is no justification for your going on. You are here in this world to be a vessel of the heavenly testimony of the glory of God." That is the object of the Church.
What we have just said does touch us in so many ways, yes, in countless things, this question of being reckoned among the nations in principle, this coming down from the heavenly position. The Lord never meant His Church on this earth to be something that would be taken up by this world, to be something that would be reckoned among the things of this world, recognized and accredited by this world. What He meant, and what obtained when things were right, was that the world itself could not bear the presence of the Church, did not want it. That is the power of the Church to testify against the world.
The whole question runs right through the Scriptures. You see it in Noah, who we are told was "a preacher of righteousness", and of whom it is further said that "being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, (he) prepared an ark to the saving of his house: through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." The presence of the righteous in this world is not with a view to their becoming "au fait" with the world but to condemn it. Oh that the Church had that power today! What will the world do with these? It will do with them just what it did with those of whom mention is made in the book of Revelation. That is what makes them overcomers. "They loved not their life even unto death." That is the cost of being an overcomer. I am not going to attempt to apply this all the way round. You must ask the Lord to show you where the principle applies, how it applies, this heavenliness of the people of God. Listen again to these warnings and exhortations: "Consider from whence thou art fallen"; "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith"; "To him that overcometh..." In piecing the fragments together, this is what is said in effect: Those who preserve and maintain their heavenly position against all the down-drag, enticement, force and fury of the enemy, the adversary, shall come to the throne and reign where the adversary now reigns. That is the issue; a tremendous thing. And then, if it costs everything to be an overcomer, let us remember that they that suffer with Him shall reign with Him, shall be glorified together with Him.
Well, perhaps you have glimpsed a little of the heavenly thought of God and seen what God is working at and toward, what His thought is - a heavenly people. Oh, this is where the Church needs vision! It does indeed need vision. If the Church saw this, what a different Church it would be! The overcomer is that one, or that company, which has vision, which the majority have lost. Ask the Lord to give you vision for the sake of all His Church; for the overcomer - let me say it again - is not someone or something apart, but related to the whole, God's link between His full thought and those who have lost it. That is the overcomer. If the Lord would open our eyes, open the eyes of a number of His people, it would be to the value of the whole Church. Let us ask Him then to answer Paul's prayer for us, "The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints"! "Now unto him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all ages for ever and ever."