by T. Austin-Sparks
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty... And when I saw Him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages" (Rev. 1:8,17-18).
"These things saith the first and the last, which became dead, and is alive" (Rev. 2:8).
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 22:13).
"And He showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein: and His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:1-5).
That phrase and designation, "The first and the last, the beginning and the end", is the thing that will govern our meditation for a little while. We shall seek to see something, maybe but little, of what it means. "I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end." The end of this passage at the commencement of chapter 22 is a great help in this particular connection, for here, as we near the end of this wonderful, remarkable book, we are coming to a summary of everything in it. As you notice, after this point things become fairly general by way of application, warning, exhortation, but in these verses, Revelation 22:1-5, we have the explanation and the consummation of all things. They take us back to the beginning and they carry us right on to the end. They set before us what was the Divine thought from the beginning and they show us that Divine thought realised at the end. It is a wonderfully comprehensive passage.
In a few sentences we have all the ages explained. We are allowed to enter into what God has had in His mind from the beginning, and to see that God will achieve what He has had in His mind from the beginning and have it as a glorious realisation at the end. When you come to think about it in the light of the whole book, you find that it is all gathered up in the Lord Jesus, and in that way He is the beginning and the end, the first and the last. All that took its rise in the thought of God at the beginning is centred in and realised through His Son, and all at the end is gathered up into that Son. One Person dominates the book of the Revelation, and the book of the Revelation is the whole history from Genesis 1:1 to the end of the ages of time, the beginning of the ages of the ages. I wonder if you have realised that the book of the Revelation compasses all history from Genesis onwards. We may see by hints as we go along how that is so.
The Throne of God as Creator
Here you have some statements, some clear-cut phrases: "The throne of God and of the Lamb". That is, in a word, God's full and final place of honour in His universe. Well, that is an eternal thought. It is not that God is God supreme, almighty; He has ever been that. Nothing can make any difference to that; history has no effect upon that, but it is now as it was intended to be in the beginning - God in the place of full and final honour in the heart of His universe, in the acknowledgment, in the delight and ascription of honour from His universe. The whole universe agrees to that, accepts that, delights in that, glories in that. You find, as you move through the book, again and again that comes up: worship, universal worship, to God. It is not just His isolated Being of eternal and almighty sovereignty, but He is now the centre of the worship of His universe. The throne of God - that comes out at the end; that was from the beginning.
But the completion of the sentence is "and of the Lamb", and that carries you back to chapters 4 and 5. As you remember, in those passages you have two great ascriptions of praise. "And when the living creatures shall give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sitteth on the throne, to Him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders" (you remember the four and twenty elders are representative of the whole in all dispensations) "shall fall down before Him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power: for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they were, and were created" (Rev. 4:9-11).
Here you have the throne of God as Creator, creating all things according to the good pleasure of His will, now at length the centre of that creation and of that creation's worship, extolling His honour.
But then the other half of the sentence in Revelation 22 has to come in, and you have that in chapter 5, as you notice. "And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them, heard I saying, Unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever. And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped" (Rev. 5:11-14).
The Throne of the Lamb as Redeemer
Now you want to know what the particular significance is. Well, it is here, in the earlier part of the chapter, "Thou art worthy." Why? "Thou wast slain, Thou hast overcome, Thou hast redeemed by Thy blood." The throne of God and of the Lamb! God created, the Lamb redeemed. God gets His place and rights by reason of the blood of the Lamb. That is the whole story in a few words. The throne of God and of the Lamb! So that it is the triumph of God's thought from eternity by way of the blood of the Lamb, and the Lamb is there alongside of the Almighty as one with Him in the securing of that great end upon which His heart was set from all eternity. That is inclusive and comprehensive. In that sense, He is the first and the last. The throne is first and the throne is last, and He is with the throne at the first because by His blood He has secured all that that throne of honour means. We come into the application of this presently to ourselves; it is not just objective contemplation. Let us look at one or two other things here as we go on.
A River of Water of Life Proceeding out of the Throne
"He showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal". In that symbolism we are plainly, clearly told that the prevailing feature when God reaches His end and when God has things as He ever intended to have them, will be incorruptible Life. Throughout His universe the characteristic will be Life, crystal clear, incorruptible Life, and again, that is an eternal thought. That was what God had in mind for His universe in creation, and was lost or missed by man, but, "As by a man came death, so by a Man came the resurrection of the dead, so by a Man came life". "I am the beginning", God's thought from the beginning; "and the end" - here is the thing realised. It is through the Lord Jesus, through His blood, that this incorruptible Life, bright as crystal, will fill God's universe at the end. The symbolism is very close to the truth you notice: "Proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb". The incorruptible Life of God now released for the universe because of the Lamb and the blood of the Lamb; the incorruptible Life of God's Son. "I am the beginning and the end, the first and the last!"
It is a mighty victory. This throne is no mere passive thing. This throne throughout this book is a mighty thing; the symbol of a mighty conquest, a governing thing. When all other antagonisms in God's universe have been put down, that throne stands as a symbol of a mighty triumph, and the triumph is through the blood of the Lamb. That is what runs through the book of the Revelation. "They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb." It is Life released, incorruptible Life, and I am quite sure our hearts today go out in a new way to the Lord to hasten that day when this universe will be flooded with incorruptible Life, for never was God's universe more nauseated by the corruption of this fallen creation than today. Oh, the corruption! Every day brings us fresh revelations of the corruption, and even ungodly men revolt in the presence of the manifestation, the dragging out, the pouring forth of the corruption, the corrupt life, of this creation. Blessed be God, the Lamb has overcome! "I am He that liveth; I was dead but I am alive unto the ages of the ages." "I am the beginning and the end." Our hearts go up in prayer, 'Lord, hasten the day when incorruptible Life shall fill this creation!' The Lamb's victory shall be universally displayed in that river of the water of Life.
The Tree of Life
"And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." The only thing we need say about that is that it stands, as you notice, over against the curse. "And there shall be no curse any more" - literally, "there shall be no more cursed thing". We have only got to look back and see we are starting at Genesis with the whole history of creation. The Tree of Life from which the leaves and fruit were never taken, which man had never enjoyed until Christ came. The curse came in, and what is its mark? Well, we know through the Bible by illustrations of it, as well as by the whole manifestation of it, that the curse always speaks of barrenness, loss, disappointment through death. Everything is blighted by death; everything is cut short by death; all hopes are disappointed by death. Death is that cold hand which comes upon the fruit before it is ripe, before it has reached perfection, and snatches it away. Death as the curse causes the fruit to fall from the trees before it is ripe, nothing reaching the full purpose of its being, of its creation.
Over against that, here is the Tree of Life, which Tree is the Lord Jesus Himself, and here is abundant fruitfulness, and not only abundance, but continuance. The suggestion of the symbol here is that, not only do you get a rich full crop, but no sooner do you have one, than there is another coming on, and we know the significance of the number twelve - fulness of government. Here is a continuous reign of fruitfulness by life without any trace of the curse whatever. The Tree of Life, the beginning and the end, just God's thought for His creation. It will not do us any harm to contemplate this today. It might inspire us in a day like this. Oh, in a word, it is full, complete satisfaction when the curse is for ever removed! But the removal of the curse, remember, is because of the Lamb. The water of Life comes from the throne of God and of the Lamb and that water is the life of this tree. This tree yields its fruit by reason of that water. We are taken back to Ezekiel 47. A great river of life and the trees on the banks whose leaves and fruit never fail. And here it is the Lord Jesus as that.
His Servants Serving and Reigning
And one more fragment here - "His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face; and His name shall be on their foreheads... and they shall reign unto the ages of the ages." Reign unto the ages of the ages! I don't want to make mental pictures of the meaning of that. I am quite sure it is not of great interest to us that that should be a literal thing. We shall find our hearts very much more responsive and ravished by drawing in that little phrase of Paul's, "they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ". Here it is: "They shall reign for ever." Reigning in life; Life regnant, Life triumphant. Well, this is the prospect, this is what is set before us in Him who is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
The Eternal Purpose
If we take these five verses from Revelation 22 and put them right at the beginning of the whole book of the Revelation, we shall have our key to the book. Now, I suggest that you do that. Take this little section of five verses and put it at the beginning of the book of the Revelation, and you have got your key to the whole book. I am not saying that you have answered all the questions of the students of prophecy as to when this happens and when that happens, and where we must place this and that and the other thing. Less and less am I concerned with that because I do not feel Life coming along that line.
There is a good deal of confusion and very often the old creation begins to manifest itself when you get to the thousand and one interpretations as to the book of the Revelation. If this book should mean one thing to us more than any other, it ought to mean Life, because that is the thing that runs right through from the first chapter - "I am He that liveth." It is the whole question of Life gaining the mastery, triumphing, overcoming through the blood of the Lamb and issuing in this glorious thing at the end - Life everywhere and death no more. "There shall be no more death."
So, if we want to have a living time in the book of the Revelation and not be afraid of it, this is the way to come to it. Put this paragraph forward and let it govern all that follows in the book. Of course, you can go further back than that if you like, as I have suggested. You can put it back at Genesis 1 because the book of the Revelation is the history from Genesis 1 onwards. I mean that it touches the whole course of sin, antagonism to God, the work of Satan, the going wrong of the nations. It gathers all that up in the last dispensation. It looks right back to the beginning so that this fragment is the key to everything in the Bible. It is a key to this book. It tells us quite clearly what God ever had in view from the creation. If you want to know what it is all about when you take up your Bible or when you take up your book of the Revelation, the one question that should be in your mind is this, "What is it all about?" If you have never taken that position, you will find that a very helpful one. When you pick up your Bible and read in it anywhere - it does not matter [where]- ask yourself this question, What is it all about? And you can resolve your Bible as a whole or any part of your Bible into one answer to that question. It is all about God's intention that Life should triumph in His universe. You can put that in different ways if you like, but that is the issue, that Life and not death should prevail throughout God's universe - incorruptible Life. Now, every part of the Bible bears upon that.
All the dealings of God with you and with me in our own personal lives and histories with Him are about that, but we have got to recognise that it is not something that is going to be ushered in at a certain point or date in the history of this universe. It is something which God is doing in us now. What is God doing in you and in me? What is the object of His dealings with us? Why is He allowing all these fiery trials to come our way? Why is He allowing the enemy to have so much liberty with us? Why the history of the saints? To teach them the meaning of the blood of the Lamb. In other words, to bring them into the good of the Lamb's victory, which good is Life triumphant now; not to wait for the coming new heaven and new earth, but you and I are now being taught to live by another Life, a Life which is not the life of this old creation, but it is the Life which is the Life of the Son of God - "that life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
All this has a present application. It is important that we recognise that before we go any further. That very Life is in us because that Tree of Life is in us, or, in other words, because that Christ who has overcome is in us. We have to learn to live more and more by the glorious fact that there is a Life in us which is not that old creation life but the new creation Life. There is a life in us which is incorruptible Life and we have to learn to reign by that Life. That is why it is not long before you come in this book of the Revelation to the overcomer.
I have suggested that we take this paragraph and place it at the beginning of the book of the Revelation and let it govern all and we will see what God is working towards. Bring the end forward, and what is it all about? It is all about the throne of God and of the Lamb, the river of water of Life bright as crystal, the Tree of Life, and His servants reigning for ever. That is what God has ever had in mind. Let us bring that forward and view everything in the light of that.
The Light of the Eternal Purpose Applied to the Church
What are the seven messages to the seven churches all about? They are all about that. You can break it up, if you like, into its specific application to each, but when you come to the final issue it is that. Something has happened to corrupt, and the testimony of triumphant Life is therefore nullified. That is the trouble. The inclusive and comprehensive message to the churches is, "Back to the position of triumphant Life! Get rid of this corruption! Overcome!"
How do you overcome? What is an overcomer? Firstly an overcomer is one in whom the incorruptible Life stands supreme, holds on its way, and overcomes that continuous effort of the adversary to bring in corruption. I do want you to realise that this is what God is dealing with. We bring His end forward and we see this. God is dealing with everything on the basis of His end, His intention, and judgment must begin at the house of God. Therefore it is for the churches, for you, for me, for all the Lord's people to be faced with the significance of the blood of the Lamb, and what is that significance? The blood of that Lamb without spot, without blemish, is the incorruptible Life of Christ which is released and given to us. "Except ye drink the blood of the Son of Man ye have no life in you." It is to that that we testify every time we come to the Lord's table. When we take the cup we are testifying to the fact that we are recipients of His Life and that is incorruptible Life and that is a Life which is distinct from all other forms of life. It is a unique perfect Life. It is not just a form, it is a testimony, and the church and the churches, the people of God, are called upon to maintain that as their testimony.
The lampstands with a living sevenfold flame. Instead of having one central lampstand as in the Old Testament, you have seven complete lampstands - seven sevens. You have not just taken one branch of the lampstand and put it at Ephesus and another branch somewhere else until you have seven branches distributed. No, it is seven in every place. It is the completeness of spiritual testimony as a living flame and what flame is it, what life? It is this triumphant Life of the Lamb. It is He who lives, became dead but is alive unto the ages of the ages, who moves in the midst of the lampstands. It is the testimony to His triumph over death. That is what the churches were brought into being for. That is what all believers exist for - the testimony to the completeness of His Life as triumphant.
Oh, this is what brings in the battle for the overcomer! Truly it is a battle for Life and of Life, an intense battle. One thing the enemy has in view is to bring death among the Lord's people. The one thing which is the hallmark of the Lamb's presence is Life, the victory of His blood.
Well, here we see what God is working towards, and I just close by pointing out that here we have the great things of the scripture explained. You have, first of all, the throne of God, a phrase which signifies all that we mean by the kingdom of God. It is this that is meant when we are told to pray, "Thy kingdom come". It is this that is in view when the declaration is made (in spite of the Revisers dropping it out and putting it in the margin), "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever." The proof that that ought to have been left in the text is Revelation 12:10: "Now is come... the kingdom of our God and... of His Christ." The throne of God! This corresponds to Matthew, the kingdom of God.
When the kingdom comes, what will it be like, what will be its supreme characteristic? Life, triumphant Life everywhere. This explains for us those terms, "the Lamb" and "the blood". What do we mean by the Lamb? What is meant by the blood? Well, go back to Genesis and onwards, and all the way through you will find that the Lamb and the blood speak of a mighty testimony against death.
Take the sprinkled blood of the lamb in Egypt. When they took the blood of the Passover and sprinkled it upon the doorposts and lintel, having slain it on the threshold, making a complete circle of blood, there is no passage for death through there. That is circumcision, the circling of the Cross cutting off the whole body of the flesh - there is Life. The testimony of the blood of the Lamb is Life, mighty Life against death. Why? Not as some 'thing' called the blood, but because of the nature of the One whose blood it is - sinless. "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me". The infinite power of an incorruptible nature! Praise God that that is given to us as an earnest now and our whole being will be governed eventually by the principle of incorruptible Life. "This mortal shall put on immortality; this corruption shall put on incorruption. Then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:54); the testimony of the blood of the Lamb all unto this glorious Life.
Then you have here also the explanation of the words "church" and "the churches". The same thing governs them. What is the church, speaking of the whole church, the whole Body of Christ, the universal spiritual church which is His Body? It is the vessel of the testimony that Jesus has conquered death and all that that means. The church does not come in until He is resurrected, until the Spirit of His resurrection, His triumph, has come from heaven and sets it on its course of testimony. The church is the vessel of the fact that Jesus lives and He lives in the power of an incorruptible, deathless, triumphant life. The church exists for that testimony. The churches are microcosms of the church, to be in every place a testimony to that universal fact. That is explained here by this passage in Revelation 22.
Finally, it gives us an explanation of the overcomer. Again, what is an overcomer? Who are the overcomers? Not people who have a special kind of teaching; not people who are always talking about the overcomer as something to be talked about. Overcomers are just those among the Lord's people who are living in the good of His resurrection. (That cannot be said of all the Lord's people.) Those who come into their midst know that it is true; Jesus is alive, He is here. The overcomers are such and so the overcomer is a necessity to the Lord and very important to the Lord. The Lord can never be satisfied, as this book makes perfectly clear, with having a lot of people who believe on Him, who acknowledge Him. The Lord's satisfaction can only come when He has a people who livingly express Him in the power of His risen life. That is speaking in general.
Revelation 22:1-5 is the governing thing throughout the whole Bible and throughout this book. When you have done with the churches, then you begin with the nations and the judgment of the nations is on the same principle - corruption and death to be met, judged and abolished. That is the issue of the rest of the book of the Revelation - "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." I do not mean that as universalism. The literal word there is "for the health of the nations", the nations that shall be saved, the nations that shall walk in the light of the City. It is another aspect of things, but their glorious condition will be based upon this same principle: the Life of the risen and reigning Lord. The leaves of heaven for their life. This does not mean that they will have to take medicine to prevent sickness or to heal sickness. It means that they will be in a condition of health because of this Life triumphant.
May we know more and more what it means to live by the Life of our risen and victorious Lord!