by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Revelation 22:1-5.
"And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the lampstands one like unto a son of man" (Rev. 1:12-15).
"And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev. 4:5).
"And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev. 5:6).
"The lamp thereof is the Lamb" (Rev. 21:23).
The Background of the Book of Revelation
We will try to see what it was that led to the book of the Revelation. There were one or two things that brought the book of the Revelation into being. First of all, there was the radiant morn of the church. We go back to the book of the Acts and in the first chapters of that book we see that radiant morn of the church. Jesus is risen, Jesus has ascended, Jesus is exalted, enthroned, glorified, and crowned with glory and honour! The Son is in the heavens and it is like a new day. In the light of what that meant to the believers at that time, everything is radiant and catches something of that glory; everything is marked by the light of a new day; everything about these believers is full of throbbing vitality. The glory of the Son has lighted upon them. They are rejoicing in the realisation of Him as risen and on high. Their gathering together from house to house is just full of that glory. Their testimony to the world, everything in themselves and out from themselves, is a radiant morn. It is just an all-too-brief but very real and wonderful taste of the incorruptible Life in expression, a beautiful going forth of the river of the water of Life. The Lord is on the throne and the river is flowing from beneath that throne, just a foretaste of this that we have in Revelation 22; a radiant morn!
But this is too good for the enemy; this anticipates his downfall; this represents the end for him! This implies far too much for the great adversary and so there is his reaction, a mighty uprising of hell, and that with the intention to spoil this testimony, to mar this vessel, to corrupt this fair virgin and he moves to do it along two lines - from without and from within.
From without there was terrible persecution. The enemy set that in motion, so the later chapters of Acts find persecution and opposition developing from without along every line: enemies all around in the world, in the religious realm, moving right on to those terrible days in which Paul and Peter died - to destroy this testimony, to break this vessel. But that is not enough.
He also moves in another way, from the inside, to corrupt it. Balaam tried the outside way and it did not succeed. He tried the inside way and it did succeed. Satan quite clearly saw that the outside way was not succeeding: "And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad... They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:1,4). You see, the outside way did not succeed and so he turned to the other way of Balaam. You find Balaam in the churches in Revelation. Balaam on the inside corrupting with error, false doctrine, evil practices, insinuating the world, corrupting from the inside.
Well then, as the result of this twofold onslaught of the enemy from without and from within, you have all the letters that were written by the apostles to meet those two situations. Some of the letters are written especially to comfort, to encourage, to cherish the saints in their trials. Peter wrote his letters especially for that. "Concerning the fiery trial", he says, "which is come upon you". The apostles wrote some of their letters particularly to encourage the persecuted. The letters to the Thessalonians were especially for such a purpose - wonderful letters of encouragement, encouragement which took its strength from the coming of the Lord. Others of the letters were written especially to deal with the internal corruption, the errors, the false teaching and the conduct and behaviour of the saints one towards another, as at Corinth. So we have a full quota of the Lord to meet both situations, to help in both cases: to encourage and comfort and strengthen to go on; to correct, to rebuke, to admonish, to instruct, so that Satan should be defeated from the inside. You see, the need was twofold.
Firstly, it was the need or assurance regarding how all this onslaught from the outside would end. The saints were suffering and no doubt the question was often in their hearts, "How will all this end? Shall we be swamped, shall we be submerged? Will there be anything left?" It was the question of what the issue would be in light of the ravages of Nero and such-like against the church.
And the other side was the dealing with the errors and wrongs on the inside. On that side of things, the stuff of Satan to divide the church had to be judged by the church and put out. He had something on the inside, he had introduced things, and the church or the churches were called upon to judge that in order that Satan might be defeated from within. Then as the judgement was carried out, they would see that, so far as the outside work of Satan was concerned, the end of that would be its utter destruction; that Satan and all his power in the world against the people of God would go down into the abyss. But in order that there might be outward triumph, there must be inward judgment and inward purity. That is the book of the Revelation from the beginning to the end. That is why it was brought in by the Lord; on the one hand, to show the church the secret of victory on the inside, and then on the other hand to show the church the fact of ultimate triumph on the outside. The whole book of Revelation is filled with those two things.
Now, we can take all the encouragement and the comfort that we need from the fact made clear in this book that, so far as Satan's work in the world against the church is concerned, it is doomed and he is doomed. You cannot find anywhere, any worse pictures than those which you have in the book of the Revelation of the work of Satan against the people of God. In that book you see him making war upon the saints, making war upon the Lamb, and some terrible things happen. There is great tribulation, there is suffering, the enemy does for a time get the upper hand and prevails. The saints do know intense suffering. It is all written in that book. You cannot have more terrible pictures of the sufferings of the saints than you have in the book of the Revelation, "I saw under the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held" (Rev. 6:9). You have it all there, but then the glorious issue is revealed. They are in the glory, they are around the throne, they are worshipping, rejoicing, victorious, they do overcome to the last, they do follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes. They are with Him in His glory and all that other has been blotted out and destroyed.
That is perhaps a word needed by many of the Lord's people today in some parts of the world, a very much needed word. It may be needed by us as we go on. We know, whether or not in those forms of persecution through which the church has passed and in some parts is passing now, something of the onslaught of the devil. We know what his malice means. We know we are up against a terrible enemy. We know what his attitude towards us is. Well, let us remind ourselves of what is here. The Lord has given us, in view of it all, the verdict, the end, how it is going to finish, and may our hearts be strengthened by that today!
But then there is this other side, and it is this side with which we must be really concerned: the inside, that is, the condition within which secures Satan's overthrow. We must remember that Satan's overthrow will not be only or merely by sovereign acts of God. There is nothing in the Word to prove that. It is not just going to be that the Lord on His own and of Himself, is coming out to smite the adversary with blows and cast him down. Everything in the Word of God points to the fact that the final overthrow of Satan is in virtue of the church's standing upon the victory of Christ; and that victory of Christ is not only something objectively to be appropriated, but to be wrought inwardly, something wrought within us. The Lamb's victory! When we speak of the Lamb, we are not just speaking of a Person, we are speaking of a work, a nature, a power in that Person the Lamb.
"The Seven Spirits of God"
The point is, what is it that represents Satan's overthrow from the inside? The answer is that things shall be according to God. But what are those things? It seems to me that we have that suggested in this highly symbolic language of the seven lamps, the seven eyes, the seven horns, all of which are the seven Spirits of God. If we understand what that means, then we have the key to this whole matter of an inward state that makes Satan's power nil.
What God is doing here, what God is doing with the church and with the nations at the end, is reacting in accordance with His covenant. God has made a covenant; that covenant has certain terms and He is reacting to what He finds here on this earth in accordance with the terms of that covenant. Do you know that the word 'seven' means oath or covenant? The Hebrew word 'Shabar', which is a verb, means 'to swear'. The noun 'Sheba' is seven, and that is used in various ways in the Word of God.
You remember in Genesis 21 you have Beer-sheba where a covenant or an oath was made of seven sacrifices. Beer-sheba, the oath of seven, a covenant made with seven. The covenant made with Noah was symbolized in the rainbow - seven hues. And that covenant comes up in the book of the Revelation; around the throne a rainbow. The sign of the covenant made with Abraham was circumcision, which had to be carried out on the completion of seven days. The sign of the covenant made with Moses was the Sabbath, the seventh day. The Lord Jesus gathers all that up in Himself. He is Messiah, the 'Anointed' - seven letters gathering up everything in Himself, all the covenant, and the new covenant in His blood. It is sealed by the Holy Spirit.
We are sealed by the Spirit, the Spirit of the covenant, and that Spirit is sevenfold in expression. The seven Spirits are only symbolic of the one Holy Spirit operating in spiritual fulness and completeness, on the basis of the covenant in the blood. That may all be technical and may only be interesting, but it is valuable to get to our point. God is reacting on the basis of His covenant, and you have got seven: seven lampstands, seven churches, seven lamps before the throne, seven eyes, seven horns. Look at the sevens all the way through the book of the Revelation, and you find that God is working on the basis of a completeness of a spiritual condition.
But let us look again at 'seven'. Seven is four and three. Four is the number of creation and it runs right through this book; the four living ones, the four and twenty elders. The four living ones, cherubim, as we know, are the symbols of creation. Four - creation; three - God, so that it is God and the creation in covenant - seven; God's covenant with the creation now in the blood of the Lamb. All that is very simple and very clear as typology, but it is this sevenfoldedness of the nature of things according to God's mind that governs everything; the seven Spirits.
Now, in chapter 4 it is God who created all things. The worship is accorded to Him that sits on the throne, who created all things, "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created". Before the throne of Him that sits thereon are the seven burning lamps of the Creator. Remember that a lamp is always a testimony. So here, with these seven lamps before the throne of Him who created all things for His pleasure, is the sevenfold testimony about His thought, His mind and His creation.
What is in God's mind about His creation? When you pass over to the next chapter, chapter 5, you do not have the Creator but the Redeemer being worshipped, and the Lamb, the Redeemer, having seven eyes and seven horns. Horns are symbols of power, and here are the seven eyes. What are they? They accord with the seven lamps before the throne because in both places they are the seven Spirits of God. What are these seven eyes, these seven lamps, which in effect are the same? The things which are according to God's mind. If the horns represent power, then the Lamb is going to deal with everything in the light of what is according to God's spiritually perfect mind. The power of the Lamb is going to operate, and what power it is! Before the wrath of the Lamb, kings and nations will flee presently. In the blood of the Lamb the saints will wash their robes and make them white and they will overcome. This is power in the blood of the Lamb! But the power works with that which is altogether according to God's mind, and the judgment is coming in, weighing up and testing everything, as to how far it accords with these seven lamps before the throne.
It is rather interesting that the churches are represented as seven lampstands, every lampstand having seven branches, seven lights, the fulness of spiritual testimony - to what? Why, they are golden lampstands and the gold is that which is God's mind. It is the Divine nature, the Divine standard. It is pure gold. We know that from the Old Testament.
The Spirit of Life
The sevenfold nature of God expressed in testimony by the Holy Spirit is, first of all, the Spirit of Life. The very first expression of the Spirit of God is Life. No matter where you look in the Word of God from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, you will find that the first expression of the Spirit of God is Life. The Spirit brooded over death and darkness and chaos. The first movement of the Spirit was to bring out from a state of death. That is true in the natural creation; that is true in the new creation. The first movement into the new creation is Life from the Lamb in virtue of His precious blood: the Spirit of Life.
What are those eyes doing there before the throne? They are testifying, in the first instance, to the fact that God is the source of perfect spiritual life. All that belongs to God, all that is centred in that throne, the full thought of God, is incorruptible Life. It is where everything begins. It goes right through the scriptures and comes out here in fulness in the Revelation - Life! The lamps burning before the throne testify to fulness of Life. The Lamb comes out from the presence of God and says, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" - in fulness. The full testimony of God in the first place is a life which is the very Life of God in its nature.
He looks for that in the first place in the seven churches. He says to Ephesus: 'Yes, I know thy works, thy patience, thy labour. I know lots of things, but there is an element that is not there as it ought to be.' It is Life. Apply that law of the Spirit. Everywhere you find that that is what the eyes are after, what those seven eyes are dealing with - the question of Life. As to the church or the churches, their very existence means that they are supposed to be vessels of the testimony of a Life which has overcome death. Those flames are to correspond with the lamps before the throne, to be living witnesses here on the earth to the fact that now death, since Jesus conquered death, is not universal. Him that had the power of death has been dealt with and that power has been broken and here is the evidence.
The churches are the evidence that neither Satan nor the world can take it for granted that their state of things is universal. The world does seem to take it like that sometimes. You go into the world among men and they immediately begin to take you for granted as being after their sort. They begin to talk to you as they would to anybody, and our presence in this world is to let men know that everybody is not the same. 'We are not all alike; we do not think as you think, talk as you talk; our minds are not occupied with the things with which your minds are occupied. Our level is not your level of life. It is not that we are superior, but there is a difference.' Oh, you know how you come up against that. We have travelled about, and someone of the world, in their own way, which is not often pleasant, not often clean, begins to talk to us and take for granted that we know all about their kind of life. There is a world between them and us and the clash comes, the distance is felt. It is not artificial, it is not put on, it is a fact. Satan has got to feel that sort of thing by the presence of the church, and he is ever out to bridge that gap and that is what happened in the churches in Asia. For the most part, Satan had bridged the gap and the clear line of distinction between Life and death was not apparent. So the Lamb has overcome death and is in Himself the embodiment of the fact that the universal reign of death in Adam is no longer universal, but Another has come into the conflict and conquered. The churches are here for that. The saints are here for that and it is not the number of things the churches or the saints may be doing, not the work and the labour and all that they may be occupied with for the Lord, it is the mighty impact of that risen Life upon the power of Satan and death - that is the thing that matters. In the first place, the expression of the Spirit of God is in Life.
The Lord Jesus is introduced in the book of the Revelation as the One whose eyes are as a flame of fire. And then He is presented a little later as the Lamb with seven eyes. At the end He is presented as the lamp of the new sanctuary and the lamp of the heavenly Jerusalem. These eyes! Those lamps burning steady before the throne of God! The Spirit of God comes out in the power of that to take account of everything here, and we need to be impressed with what that means. It is a fact that the Lord, the Spirit, overlooks nothing; there is nothing He fails to see. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, "All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). "Him with whom we have to do" - all things are naked and bare before His eyes.
Now, the Lord has given to His church a full revelation to which nothing is to be added, to which no thing need be or can be added, and His eyes are the eyes of judgment in relation to what He has revealed of His mind to the church, and you and I and all the Lord's people are responsible for what the Lord has revealed. That is what this means. He is reacting to the revelation that has come. His eyes are looking in, looking everywhere, to see what is according to that revealed mind of God and what is contrary to it. The Lord knows us through and through.
That, on the one hand, is a great comfort. On the other hand, it is something to bear in mind by way of a check, perhaps a correction. We may deceive one another or others; we may be able to pass off as this or that. We may get through and feel that we are not detected. But let us not deceive ourselves, let us not be foolish. It is not with one another that we have to reckon. It is not even with the elders of our church. It is the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. The Lord knows; the Lord sees; and here is perfect vision - seven eyes. Perfect vision, and it is with that that He approaches His own people first of all.
It is a very solemn thing for our remembrance, and I think we must ask the Lord to save us from our own self-deceptions and from our own blindness and, in the grace represented by the rainbow around the throne, in the mercy represented in the blood of the Lamb, let us ask Him to keep us alive, awake, to what He sees to be contrary to His thought. And even though we really do feel that we love the Lord and we want to be all for God, and in our hearts we would say, 'Yes, we want the Lord to have everything and be everything, and we want nothing for ourselves, we want all for Him.' Yet at the same time there may be much, if only we knew our own motives, our own hearts, that could not bear the light of those eyes. We would be smitten to the ground as dead if those eyes really fell upon us and we realised it is not our sincerity, not what we think to be our pure, good motives, what we believe to be our devotion that the Lord sees. No, Ephesus would have stood up and proclaimed most vehemently devotion to the Lord, love for the Lord, but the Lord saw lack. It is not what we see, what we think or believe about ourselves; it is what those eyes see. We must ask the Lord in His grace and His mercy, according to His own covenant in grace, to be faithful and true with us. He is introduced as the Faithful and True. As such, He deals with the churches. Let us not shrink from that. Let us ask the Lord to do the looking in. Let us ask the Lord not to allow us to go on blindly or ignorantly falling short of His full thought. No, presently those eyes will fall upon us and we shall see as He sees.
Now, so far as our testimony is concerned, what He is looking for is the expression of an incorruptible Life. He is looking that we should be living in the power of that Life which, having conquered sin, has conquered death: a deathless Life, because an incorruptible Life.
The Spirit of Fervour
Then there are other things which I hardly dare launch upon, but I will just mention what this sevenfold expression of the Spirit of God is. First then, the Spirit of Life, then the Spirit of Fervour, for these are lamps and they are as fires before God; the Spirit as a lamp, the Spirit as burning. The Spirit as fire ever speaks of spiritual fervour, and you remember that that is one of the things concerning which the Lord dealt with some of the churches at least. At Laodicea that was the issue: "Thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of My mouth." Writing to the Romans, the apostle said, "Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit". Fervent in spirit! The Lord is looking for the fervour of His Life and His Spirit in His saints. Are we fervent in spirit? Look up that word 'fervour' and words which mean the same - diligence, devotion, energy. Are we characterised by that? Has first love gone? The eyes are looking; they know. Let us stand in the light of those eyes now. If we feel that the Lord, as He looks upon us, may find us wanting in this matter of real spiritual fervour, let us judge that lack of fervour before Him; judge it, deal with it, see that the lamp is more fervent.
Fervour - that was the thought of God concerning the lamp. It was never to be allowed to go out in the sanctuary. It was to be trimmed morning and evening; the flame was to burn with a steady, unabating fervour. This is the Spirit; this is the fruit of the Spirit, and this is the effect of the Spirit, the oil being in our vessel; a steady fervour unto the end. This was lacking in the case of the five virgins and therefore they were not overcomers. The overcomer, then, is one in whom, first of all, the Spirit of Life is triumphant; secondly, the Spirit of fervour, Divine energy burning for God.
The Spirit of Truth
You come to the end where you see the vessel which expresses the full thought of God (and it is a pity that chapter 22 begins where it does, it ought to begin before that) and you notice that it is very necessary, in order to understand those five verses, that you go back a little earlier. What leads up to that is the Lamb's wife, the church, the new Jerusalem. That new Jerusalem, the Lamb's wife, is the vessel, the embodiment, of the full thought of God when it is realised at last, and one feature of that vessel is that its light is as a jasper: clear, transparent. This is the Spirit of Truth: absolute transparency; no murkiness, no fogginess, no muddiness, no duplicity, no dishonesty - truth! "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts." He is the Spirit of Truth. When the Holy Spirit gets hold of a life, He will steadily work to get rid of all that shadiness, all that you cannot put your finger upon, something all the time deceiving. The Holy Spirit will make us transparent.
The Spirit of Love
"Ephesus, thou hast left thy first love! Philadelphia, thou hast that love and they shall know that I have loved thee!" This is the Spirit of Love.
I will not go any further, but I want you to realise God has a full thought and the realisation of that thought in us is made possible by the Lamb. All that the Lamb has done and all the virtue of His precious blood has made it possible for us to dwell in the eternal light, to stand in the presence of the seven lamps before the throne. Praise God for the mighty efficacy of the blood! We can dwell in the eternal light, but He is looking for things in us, in His church, to answer to His perfect thought because of the perfect provision.
The covenant in the blood has, as its terms, the full thought of God. What God has undertaken is, through our faith in that blood, to conform us to the image of His Son; that is, to bring us into perfect correspondence with His own thought for the creation. He has undertaken that. The blood is the seal of that. But what is the matter with us? Why are we so other? Well, that is what the Lord wants to show us; the Lord would reveal that to us. I do believe that in any life and in any company of the Lord's people, as members of the one Body, when the Spirit really gets hold of a life, when we really put ourselves right into the hands of the Holy Spirit and have a definite understanding with Him on the matter of God's mind, the Spirit of God will deal with us very definitely in checking us up on all matters contrary to the will of God. I believe He does do that. If He does not do that, it is not because He is not willing. There is something there that stands in His way that will not yield. There is the issue of our pride, and God cannot deal with us if there is pride - it is an abomination to Him. There is some of our self-will, there is some of our opinion, our reason, our judgment; there is some of our affection, desire.
Remember that God's end is only by means of the Cross and that is why the Lamb is always in evidence. God's end is by means of the Cross, but the Cross has to be something applied, applied to our pride, applied to our will, our mind, our desires, our affections. The Cross has to be applied, and then God gets His end as that Cross brings us down, breaks us, empties us, and the Spirit of God checks up all the way along and deals with us.
Oh, the Christian life is a real thing! One of the strongest things for us in our confidence is that it is such a real thing. It does not matter wherever we go, even to some remote, uninhabited place on this earth, away from all men, the Spirit of God is there. We cannot get away from Him. He deals with us, and we know that, whether it is alone or in the crowd, before the Spirit of God we are as though we were the only creature in God's universe. It is just as though we were alone - as though there were no other. It is a very real thing, this spiritual life, this Christian life, and the Lord would have it like that. It must become like that. We must have our walk with God and God must have His dealings with us. Seven eyes! Perfect knowledge, perfect intelligence, a perfect standard of Divine thought and all His dealings with us on that basis, Well, we do not want it otherwise, do we? Then before the Lord let us ask that, on the one hand, the Cross shall make a clear way for us, and, on the other hand, the Spirit shall go on with His work.