The Church's Position and Power in the Heavenlies

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Pathway of the Overcomer to the Throne

Reading: Revelation 3:7-22.

We have a word before us again in Revelation 3 and 12, taking up as the key Revelation 12:11: "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life even unto the death."

Just one preliminary word before we go further. While we have been much occupied with the book of the Revelation, its great themes, truths and realities, we are all conscious of being in a realm of many difficulties; not one of us would claim to be able to interpret this book at every point; there are always many questions. I do want to say at this point that it is not at all in my mind to continue very far with the book of the Revelation as such, that might only land us into a realm of conflicting interpretation and instruction that would keep us in the main, in a sphere of teaching, of doctrine. It might be quite good, quite right, but what is on my heart very much altogether is that the Lord desires us to come right down onto practical matters. He wants to bring us to the things which are working propositions, so we shall not be much longer in the realm of the book of the Revelation as just the book of the Revelation, but as soon as possible get right down to practical issues. I wanted to say that because it is possible for us to have an atmosphere full of questions and an atmosphere of that kind is not helpful at all. We want to get together and not be so many units with big questions hanging over us, sort of detached, we want to get right back, as the Lord would enable. And I ask you to seek to come into real spiritual fellowship along that line. And I may add this word, that it matters little to me - and perhaps it is a wrong thing to say - it matters little to me what the interpretation of the book may be, provided that we get to the end that the Lord has in view! You get to the Lord's end. And the Lord has been dealing with me in a very deep way of late and I trust it is going to mean something.

We are occupied with the matter of the overcomers and the end time. We said Revelation 12 is the key to the book of the Revelation, and that this man-child, called, "they", a son (with the Greek word that is nowhere in the New Testament used concerning the Lord Jesus, but very frequently concerning believers) the man child, the corporate "they", is the overcomer company at the end time and that with the rapture of this "they", great changes take place in heaven and in earth. There is no longer any place found in heaven for the devil and his angels. God has reached the climax of His eternal intention. "Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ" (Rev. 12:10). And changes also take place in the earth, "for the devil is gone down having great wrath knowing that he has but a little time" (Rev. 12:12). And then antichrist almost immediately comes in, as you see in the next chapter: the beast and the false prophet, representing the two sides of antichrist, the beast representing the civil power and the false prophet the religious power, under the control of the dragon. That is beyond our present scope of consideration; we are occupied with this overcomer company. We said that there is a link between the earlier chapters 2 and 3, and chapter 12; and we showed certain links between these chapters. Now for a few minutes we shall follow that before we get right to the primary foundational thing for overcoming.

We go back then from Revelation 12 and these central phrases to chapter 3 where we have the messages to the church at Philadelphia and at Laodicea. You will probably have noticed that with the last four messages to the churches, the last four of the seven, the Lord's coming is introduced. That is not in the others, but in the last four letters, the coming is introduced in each of those; reference is made to His coming, which has, I think, this significance or implication, if not direct meaning, that these last four do not displace one another, but they link on with one another and each takes up the features of its predecessor and carries that on to the end. You see in the earlier ones there is a condition set up and with the next that condition is past and a new condition comes in; that condition is past and a new condition comes in. The second supplants or displaces the first, and then with the coming in of the third, the others have past and a new condition comes in, and this third supplants the second, and they are detached. They are separate, and one rules out the other, but when you come to the last four there is no displacement and ruling out but a taking up. And the link between the whole four: the Lord's coming is introduced and therefore that is carried right on to the end. The Lord's coming... and it is striking that when you get to Philadelphia it has advanced to this point, "I come quickly", getting very near the end. "I come." "I will come." "I come quickly", and when you get to the last, Laodicea, you get to Revelation 12: the throne, "Shall sit with Me in My throne".

The Throne

Caught up to the throne. You have got the end. The common feature between the issue of the Laodicean, which is the last period, last state and chapter 12, is the throne. That is the issue of the whole thing and there is your link. And, as with the other, it is the overcomer. The last word about overcoming is to the throne, and chapter 12, the last word about overcoming is the throne; the rapture to the throne.

Now, seeing then that that is so, we want to look at Philadelphia and Laodicea as the last phase of things. We are only going to review it; the last phase of things, because as these four take up each other and carry on each other's features to the end, Laodicea and Philadelphia peculiarly do that. There is a peculiar link between Philadelphia and Laodicea because you are coming right to the end.

Now then, we see here presented the conditions at the end - what we may expect to find at the end, and here they are. In chapter 3, the first feature of this Philadelphia end time is that there is almost universal antagonism to real spiritual service in the gospel. "How do you reach that", do you say, "Where does it say that?" Well, it does not say it in exactly those words, but what it does say is that only the Lord will be able to open doors and keep them open for the gospel. For true spiritual ministry in the gospel the Lord alone will be able to open doors and keep them open. "I have set before you an open door that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth", and that means that unless the Lord does it, there will be no open door.

I have laid the emphasis upon true spiritual ministry in the gospel. I am not talking about all the organised activities of Christianity. And was it ever more true than it is today, that for what is a hundred percent spiritual, of God, with no admixture of what is of man or of the world in the work of the Lord, there is very little opening today. There is more and more a closing down to that. You can get openings if you will mix in worldly methods, human enterprises and ambitions, but strip it of the flesh, the world, and man, and come to that essential heavenly ministry where man has no place for it is all of God, and your scope will be very limited. Your sphere will be a straitened one, many doors will be closed to you, and not only so, you will meet spiritual antagonism for which there is no accounting on human ground at all. You will find that unfounded and ungrounded prejudices and suspicions abound. You discuss them and find there is no truth in them - but a barrier is set up and blocks the way to ministry and testimony. Of course, that has always been so, but I feel that is so more than ever today, and growingly so. And those who are going all the way with the Lord in a Holy Spirit thing will find that God has to open doors and they will never be opened unless He does. But blessed be God, He does; and no man can shut a door that God opens.

And it is as well that, on the other hand, the Lord also shuts doors. We might get into a good many places that would be our undoing if the Lord did not shut them. But here is a feature of the end time, that there is almost universal antagonism to what is essentially, intrinsically of God, true spiritual ministry in the gospel and unto the nations for a full hundred percent testimony to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. That is the word of their testimony. The Lord will have to open doors; only the Lord can open them. Well, that is not straining the interpretation here surely.

Next, "Thou hast a little strength" that needs very little comment. This is not the day of great power among the Lord's people. This is not a day when Pauline energy is very conspicuous. Comparatively with the beginning, there is much spiritual weakness among the Lord's people, a little strength, and comparatively with the great forces being encountered, indeed a little strength. But I do not think the Lord here meant to point out the weakness, so much as to say "thou hast a little strength" - encouragement. And blessed be God, the people of God are not altogether bereft of spiritual strength today though it may be small. They have some, and yet, we are conscious are we not, that it is so small. Well, that is all that needs to be said there, and, "thou hast not denied My Name". I am struck with this.

The Lord is not pointing out the great exploits, the great public movements that characterise this part of the age. He has nothing to say about the great sweep of success and the wonderful achievements of His children, but He puts His finger upon this, and says almost by implication, this is not a day when the world is startled by the tremendous exploits and accomplishments of the Lord's people, but the one feature is the loyalty of this company to His Name. That is the triumph of this time. Is it not true? Where is the test today? It is not in works, it is in endurance; not in the amount we are accomplishing, but in our standing true to the Lord; and that is the testimony. At the end time the one thing that the Lord will take account of, and of which perhaps He will only be able to take account because of the absence of great public accomplishments and worldwide themes that everybody can see, is that inner steadfastness that is just about as much as we can do in days like this. You see what the Lord looks for and takes account of: "Thou hast not denied My Name." In a day of pressure, in a day of suffering, testing in every way, testing and trying of faith, "thou hast been faithful to My Name and hast not denied it".

Next, a day of unreality and falsehood in religious profession and claims. Those who are "of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not". That is a feature: pronounced unreality and falsehood in religious profession and claims. We are familiar with that today. The foundational claims and the proud professions of many who assert that they are the Lord's and they are not; there is much profession and unreality that cannot pass before the Lord.

Fifthly, the pre-eminent feature of the last time, "Thou hast kept the word of My patience". Now I ask you beloved, where is the supreme test in your life? And I think if everybody put it down on a piece of paper we might be surprised at the number of people who would say it was in the realm of patience. Yes, patience with God, for that is what the Word here means: waiting for God, the God who, at present, has not avenged His elect who cry unto Him day and night. They cry unto Him day and night, and He has not avenged them. We know the delays of God, the apparent slowness of the Lord, the allowing of things to go on by the Lord. You remember in Revelation 1:9 there is reference made to the patience of Jesus, "I am your fellow in the patience of Jesus". What is the patience of the Lord Jesus? He waited for God while men did practically as they liked apparently, and God did not interfere - where the thing ran its course and hell seemed to have its own way; where God stood back and hid His face, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and yet through it all believing, trusting; the patience of Jesus while here, but beyond that, waiting until His enemies be made the footstool of His feet. Waiting... all these years.

We have thought that our few years of Christian experience, Christian life are a long time, but He has been going through centuries of this. And the supreme test of faith is along the line of waiting for God, in the realm of patience; the supreme feature of the end time is the patience of the overcomers. No, do not think that the overcomer is pre-eminently marked by the wonderful amount of work they do, by the big programme they have on hand, by the great themes of which they can speak. No, nothing like that. The overcomer at the end is marked by the patience of Christ. Can we overcome in that realm? It is so easy to overcome in many other realms. I confess to you that this is where I am found out. Why does the Lord take so long in doing some things which so obviously ought to be done long ago, that cry for His immediate intervention; why doesn't He intervene? We know something about that. He is developing the ascendancy of a mighty patience, the patience of His Son.

The enemy can wear out, but the Lord can wear out. The enemy tries to wear out the saints, but the Lord can wear him out in the saints, and one of the enemy's tactics is very often to get you impatient, to precipitate things, to drive you to get things done, to see them through, to get you under a drive; and you may be sure the Lord is not in it. The enemy will harass you into precipitant actions and courses. That is not the Lord. That gets us into terrible confusion. These are but remarks in noticing these features at the end time and there will be a greater call than ever for patience at the time of the end; not failing to keep the word of His patience, waiting for God.

Then there is the inward assurance given by the Lord of being kept out of the hour of great trial. There are two things that do not go together: an awful worrying that you are going into the tribulation on the one hand, and on the other hand a deep blessed sense that the Lord is coming soon. Those two things cannot go together. If you have got the joy of the witness of the near coming of the Lord, you will not be harassed and worried about going into the great tribulation. The tribulation will be a great one such as there never was, and need not be for you or for me. Revelation 12 sees this overcomer caught up before the beast and antichrist come in. Philadelphia says "I will keep him out of...", the great tribulation comes in with the antichrist, beast and false prophet; it follows on their heels and is the result of their work. That need not be for us. "O joy, O delight should we go without dying" - have you got that prospect? Have you got it in your heart? You may have it; the Lord gives this word, "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience I also will keep thee from the hour of trial (out of the hour of trial) that shall come upon the whole world to try them that dwell on the earth" (Rev. 3:10). Then what is in view? Verse 11, "I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown." "No one take thy crown". Then the crown, the prize is at stake! I wonder if Paul sees this? I wonder if this is the prize of the upward calling of Philippians 3? I wonder if this is the out-resurrection, the rapture? I put it that way to exercise you about it. The prize is in view, but the prize is at stake - "that no one take thy crown". If that were not a possibility, it would not be here. The Holy Spirit does not put up prospects which are not real and impossible. What is the prize? If you can gather up all that is spiritually embodied in what follows you may be getting somewhere near understanding of the prize. "To him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the house of My God" (v. 12).

Now, this all had a local colouring to those to whom it was originally written. Philadelphia suffered from a terrific earthquake which shook the city and brought it to ruins. So terrible was it that the inhabitants all left the city and lived outside in tents. They would not come back into the city and build anything stable at all. For a long time so terrific was the fear of something else happening like that, that their lives were simply kept for many years in a state of restless fear, afraid lest today, tonight, perhaps something else like this might happen. Now you see the word with its local colouring, "I will make him a pillar in the house of My God." What the Lord is saying is this: "I will make him something unshakeable, something immoveable, that earthquakes cannot remove, and put him in a place where he will be settled forever". I suggest they are spiritual qualifications: ascendancy over fear, unrest and fret - a settled place in God. That is an overcomer coming to that.

A pillar is something that is not moved and does not go out for fear of what may happen; kept always in that state of foreboding. If you are distraught and torn and driven by forebodings, apprehensions, fears of what is going to happen, if you are in that state you are out of the way of an overcomer.

Some children of God have their lives perpetually harassed by the strain of things which may happen, which are going to happen, and they never happen and never will happen. The unknown tomorrow. That is the work of the devil to rob you of coming to the place of the overcomer, to the throne. You will never get to the throne if your life is one of continual worry and fear, if you have not come to a settled rest in God. "I will make him a pillar in the house of My God." "I will write on him the name of My God." Oh, wonderful fulness of what is in that word - it wants very many more words - the expression of all that God is as revealed in Christ. The Name is the embodiment of the Person. And written, it is expressed in the overcomer. There is the expression of all that God is in Christ put upon the believer. That of course wants a lot of breaking up and following out.

It is a wonderfully rich truth that, "I will write on him the Name of My God." We know the Name means the character, the Name is what the person is, and to have that, what God is in Christ put on us, is no small thing. That is for the overcomer. "I will write on him the name of the City of My God", what is that? The display of God's glory in the church in Her glorified condition: the Bride. The vessel of the glory of God, having the glory of God. "I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem coming down having the glory of God, her light like unto a stone most precious, clear as crystal... a jasper stone. That is a vessel indwelt by the glory of God, and I will put that upon the overcomer" - the display of God's glory in the church in her glorified condition; put that on us - there is something in that to think about, "And My new Name". That is His personal, glorified condition as Man at the right hand of God; not His merely earthly title as known to men of this earth, but the name which He bears as glorified Man at the right hand of God, a new Name in virtue of all that He has accomplished by His cross. Philippians 2:9. "Wherefore (because of His having been obedient unto death) God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name...". Are we going too far? "I will put upon him My new Name". Are we coming into the expression of what Christ is as the glorified Man in the throne of God? There is something here in the issue of the overcomer, "Shall sit with Me in My throne even as I also overcame and am with My Father in His throne". There is something in the spiritual relationship coming into what Christ is in the glory. "My own new Name". Is that the prize? If that were all, it is something not to lose, not to be allowed to be taken from us, "that no man take thy crown".

Now we ought to proceed from there to go on with Laodicea. This is just the last phase of the last time, the end of the end, and in Laodicea you have almost universal lukewarmness, mediocrity; neither one thing nor the other, neither hot or cold. Can we test the times by that? Is it true? How far-reaching is that state today. How widespread is that condition which is not altogether outside of the Lord's interests, but not absolutely in; being not out-and-out and as we say, "red hot" and going all the way with God; you do not find much of that today. There is that condition that is called "worldly Christianity" and much more.

We recognise this worldwide universal lukewarmness among Christians and this state of things which is called misery, poverty, blindness and nakedness, and the blindness is so that the misery, poverty and nakedness are not recognised, but on the other hand there is a belief that they know everything and they are quite alright. And the Lord looks upon that which thinks it is quite full and rich and has everything and sees, from the standpoint of what is really spiritual; a miserable state of things. And there is blindness as to what really could be, and there is nakedness, and if you want to know exactly what all that means, look at the content. "I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich." What are the riches that the Lord wants? Gold refined in the fire. Pure gold, all gold: that which is purely of God in His people. That is the wealth of the Lord's people - that which is wholly of Him, and no dross, no admixture - the thing which is the Lord Himself in His people. That is wealth. "I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire that thou mayest become rich, and eye salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see."

What is this that the Lord looks for and desires of His people? Spiritual vision and spiritual revelation. How few of the Lord's people have got genuine spiritual revelation - there is any amount of true doctrine, knowledge of the Scriptures, but what is the value of it? What is the working value of it? What is the value of it when you come up against the forces of hell and you encounter the devil? How much of the doctrine stands then to cleave a way through?

Truth is only of value as it brings the power of God to bear upon spiritual situations. We can use phraseology, we can take up our formulas from the word of God and try and hurl them at the head of the enemy, but it makes no difference. Only that counts as spiritual power which has come to us by revelation of the Holy Spirit. When you have got there, you are in a strong position. Your eyes are opened. Satan loses his power over anyone's life in proportion to the measure of spiritual revelation which they have. The Lord said to Saul of Tarsus in the hour of his conversion, "to whom I now send thee to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light". The opening of eyes had that issue: that Satan lost his power. Now we can test our knowledge by that.

It is not truth that is mentally apprehended which delivers us; it is the truth as spiritually revealed and apprehended that is the power. We find - I grieve to say it - those with a wonderful grasp of doctrine, a tremendous amount of spiritual knowledge, but for real co-operation in prayer, in fellowship, in spirit with the Lord's people and with the Lord Himself against these spiritual conditions, and coming in and registering something, there is so very little of it. You can go into a gathering and you have a wonderful knowledge of the Bible and you may be there and be listening to the message and be detached and isolated in a gathering, whereas if your knowledge had come to you by revelation, if you were standing in a true spiritual apprehension, you would be a factor in that gathering to co-operate with that which is going on for the Lord's end; coming in in spiritual power to work towards God's end in that time and in that place. That should be so. "Anoint thine eyes that thou mayest see..." - spiritual perception.

"And fine white raiment". We may have the most gorgeous, elaborate, ecclesiastical robes which all speak of formal religion, and the Lord may look at us and say, "Poor naked creatures; they have not got a rag to stand up in". What the Lord looks for is not our ecclesiastical vestments or our religious garbs, He looks for that white linen - embodied and imparted righteousness - that we stand robed in what Christ is for us and we do not appear before God naked. And to appear before God in any other religious garb than what the Lord Jesus is for us, is to appear naked, and the Lord's words are, "that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear". There is the shame of nakedness. Not any other dressing up, but the enrobing of the righteousness of Christ and we do not want to be ashamed at His coming.

There is a chastening of the true believers to get rid of these things, "Those whom I love I chasten", that this state of things should be brought about: the gold refined, the white linen, the open eye. And we come really to see things as the Lord Jesus chastens us. All that we see and all that we know is of very little value unless it is chastened knowledge, unless we have been through the mill, unless it has stood us in stead in the fire, and then we know, we have come to a place. And so the Lord chastens those He loves to bring them to the true place out of this false Laodicea state of things. The one thing in view: "to sit with Me in My throne".

Now, are these conditions manifest today? That is the point. Is this the state of things on the one hand, and on the other hand is this what the Lord is seeking to do? Is the Lord chastening His own today? You can answer that in your own heart. Is the Lord taking up a line with His own people of specific concern for their spiritual state? You may judge whether I am right or wrong but I have a very strong feeling that the Lord at this time is far more concerned with the spiritual state of His people than the amount of work they do. We may put the emphasis of importance on being busy for the Lord, and the Lord seems to me to be very much less concerned about that than with the spiritual state of His own, so much so that He is quite prepared to suffer the loss of a great deal of activity in calling His children out of so much business in order to deal with them in chastening, to secure a state that is more wholly according to His own mind. And that course seems to be pursued by the Lord now more than ever.

If what we have been saying is true, then it is the thing we should expect at the end; that in a Laodicean era the Lord will take His own people in hand to deliver them from Laodicean conditions to get that which is worthy of His throne. What is the Lord doing with us? Why is the Lord dealing with us like this? That is our cry often: why? The answer is: to get us to the throne, to be overcomers. And He knows and we know very well that there is ample opportunity to be overcomers today. So much so, that we sometimes wonder if ever we shall overcome. The Lord is dealing with us with that in view and we seek the grace to be steadfast and to be faithful to endure, to keep the word of His patience. He will get us through, He will bring us there, and we shall find our place in the throne and we will be in the rapture.

Now, I have said this and carried it so far. If the Lord comes tonight the thing will be settled. Do you say in your heart, "Even so come Lord Jesus"?

May the Lord bear witness to His word in our hearts and bring us to the place where we see how much is at stake and ask that in us He will do of His good pleasure.

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