Rev 21:1-3, 9-14, 18-25; 22:1-5
It will be clear that these Scriptures refer to the assembly using various symbols, or types. My desire is that each of us may get some impression of the glory of the vessel that is for the heart of Christ and for the heart of God. I do not want to make everything of the vessel itself, but of the One to Whom it belongs. The assembly belongs to Christ – the assembly is for God. The concept is His, and His alone, as we sang at the outset (hymn 92).
Matthew 13 is an interesting chapter. In it is the parable of the sower going forth to sow, followed by the parables of the wheat and the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven. It is what the Lord used to portray to His own what was to become of Christendom publicly – a great, pretentious system, where what is real is mixed up with what is of the devil. The chapter shows us that God is shortly going to intervene in judgement. What is secured out of it will shine in the kingdom of the Father (v43).
I want to concentrate on the two parables that we have read, where the Lord moves from the public side to the hidden side. It says, “The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hid in the field, which a man having found has hid.” Who is the man? I believe the Lord is speaking of Himself. And what He has found – the treasure that was here! Not that He was in any way taken by surprise – He knew from eternity.
We can think of persons with whom the Lord came into contact in the Gospels. I am thinking of two. Firstly the centurion whose servant had fallen ill – you will find it in Luke 7. And the centurion said that he was not even worthy for the Lord to come into his house – He was just to say a word. Because as a man under authority, he knew that a word from the Lord would bring about healing. What did the Lord say? “Not even in Israel have I found so great faith” (v9). It says He wondered at the centurion – He had not found so much faith even in Israel. I think that was just some of the treasure that gave the Lord joy.
Then the Syrophenician woman, who besought the Lord for the healing of her daughter, and to whom He said that He had only come for Israel (Matt 15:24). But she took the place of just a dog in His presence – she took a lowly place. He commended her for her faith. I think that was more of the treasure that He found.
That is not to devalue the disciples who were with Him – they were also part of the treasure that He found. And, if you read through the Acts, you will find that that treasure is still coming to light. But it is hidden in the field. Who hid it in the field? Well, it says, “A man having found has hid, and for the joy of it goes and sells all whatever he has, and buys that field.” These elements that the Lord saw gave Him such joy that, although they were hidden, He goes and buys the whole field. That is, the value of the work of our Lord Jesus is such that He has really purchased the world – not in its evil character, not the world of sin, but the whole field where presently the treasure is hidden.
I wonder if some of the treasure is here tonight? Perhaps some of the young ones here are the Lord’s treasure that is hidden. Well, it should not be hidden from Him, because He knows where it is anyway. Have you told Him that you belong to Him? Are you part of the treasure?
Anyway, it is hidden in the field. Things publicly, according to the earlier part of this chapter, are marked by leaven, marked by failure. And you may say, ‘Well, there are just a few here tonight out of the thousands in this area – just a few here’ – where are the rest? The treasure is hidden in the field, and the field belongs to the Lord. And some day He is going to take His rights over the whole field. It all belongs to Him. He is going to reign over the whole earth, blessed and glorious Lord! And that is what we touched on in what we read in Revelation.
What I particularly want to concentrate on is the Merchant seeking: “The kingdom of the heavens is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls.” I suppose there was a possibility of other pearls, but it says He found one of great value. It does not say ‘great beauty,’ though no doubt it was beautiful. This Merchant knew what He was looking for – He was a connoisseur. The pearl itself, in its fullness, in all its beauty, is one that is of great value. And He “found one pearl of great value.” What is that pearl of great value? That pearl is the assembly.
We read of it in Revelation – there are twelve gates, and they all take character from that one pearl.
The pearl is often referred to as produced in suffering. It may involve a certain amount of suffering for the shell in which it is produced. But that is not the point that is brought out here – He has “found one pearl of great value.”
How great was the value? It says, “He went and sold all whatever he had and bought it.” What can we say of what the Lord had? He had His rights in Israel. He has his rights as the Creator of the universe. Yet He became a Man. He did not cease to be what He was, but He came into manhood. Outwardly, He gave up all the rights that belonged to Him, and He came into manhood, and went into death, and that the cruellest death that could be imagined – the death of the cross, and all that that involved. It tells us elsewhere that the assembly was “purchased with the blood of His own” (Acts 20:28). Precious blood of Jesus shed in order that the assembly might be purchased! What a cost to Him! But that is not the point of the passage here. The point is what value He placed on the pearl – what value He places on the assembly. What is your most precious possession? Would you give everything for it, to keep it, to get it? The Lord gave everything that He might obtain the assembly.
So that is the first point I want to make – the Lord saw great value and beauty in it, and perhaps, when we come to Revelation, we will see some beauty too. Elsewhere there are references to Himself – “no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isa 53:2). Blessed Lord – the place that He took in lowliness, that He might obtain the assembly for Himself!
I do not know if you have thought about it. The assembly is the Church; you say, ‘The Church is in ruins.’ Publicly it is; but what the Lord has secured is certainly not, and never will be, in ruins. What He has purchased, what He has bought for Himself – and He has not just bought it, and He has not hidden it in the field exactly (it does not say He hid it in the field: He hid the treasure in the field, but He did not hide the assembly in the field) – He is caring for it now.
And that is why I read in Ephesians, and the type becomes different. You will understand – I suppose the youngest will understand – that certain things are presented in Scripture using certain figures, or types. This one is a vital one, in the respect that it is a living vessel. The type is of a husband and his wife. It says further down, “This mystery is great, but I speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly” (v32). God uses these natural relationships that He might touch our hearts in relation to His great thoughts.
We might think that God’s thoughts as to the assembly come secondary to what He has set up in creation, but what He set up in creation really was all carefully prepared in view of what He was going to secure in Christ and the assembly. God’s thoughts first stand related to Christ and the assembly. They are not His only thoughts – we need to be careful as to that, God has other thoughts. But His prime thoughts stand related to Christ and the assembly. In bringing in men He had that in mind. The first section we read in Revelation clearly shows that, because the tabernacle of God is with men there. God had that in mind when men and women were created – God had the assembly in mind even from the very outset. Because, in Genesis 1, God says, “Let us make man in our image, … and let them have dominion” (v26). Of whom was He thinking? It was Christ and the assembly. And again, what we get when God created the woman is that she was taken from the man, so that we understand that the assembly, likewise, is compatible with the Man, is of the Man, and is for the Man. That is what the assembly is.
What we find here is not value, but love – “Christ … loved the assembly, and has delivered Himself up for it.” The great thought in this passage is love. We understand how much the Lord loves the assembly. You think how much He feels the public breakdown – that does not affect His love for the assembly, but He does feel, and deeply feels, the public disgrace and breakdown that Satan has accomplished thus far. But Satan cannot triumph, and will not triumph. The Lord is going to “present the assembly to Himself glorious, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things.” You say, ‘How is it possible?’ It is all divine work, and because of the Lord’s love for the assembly.
Do you love the assembly? Do you love the Church? Do you love the brethren? How much do we take character from the Lord Himself? We all belong to Him. “He has given to us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). We will all be formed like Him eternally. But what are our thoughts in relation to the assembly? Are they any less than His thoughts? What is our love for the assembly? His love must be supreme – it cannot be otherwise – but ours should certainly be formed by His love for the assembly.
So He “loved the assembly,” it says, He “delivered Himself up for it.” Does that mean He died for it? Yes it does. But it also would include His present service for the assembly – perhaps that is the prime thought in this particular section. He is working with us today, beloved, He is working with His assembly. The largest part, no doubt, is with Him already in glory; but we, who are left behind – He is working with us, that there might be that purifying, sanctifying effect. And He is doing it “by the washing of water by the word.” God’s word comes to our hearts, and you feel its effect – I trust we do. And it has a purifying, and a cleaning, effect on us, that our hearts might be purified, and thus He is securing this vessel. That is why we are together on occasions such as this – not that we would by any means limit it to such occasions. It has often been said that you put a basket into the sea and you bring it out of the sea and the water just flows out of it – but the basket is cleaner. If you put it into water it is cleaner when it comes out.
We may not be conscious of the effect of the word, but we are in God’s presence, and as God speaks it has an effect on our souls, an effect on our spirits. It has a purifying and cleansing effect. Sometimes we may kick against it, and God has to speak to us in another way. But the washing of the water by the word is for our blessing. And it is in view of a certain day, and that day is coming soon. The Lord is going to take the assembly to Himself, and you read in Revelation 19 of the marriage of the Lamb. He is not going to have a defective assembly married to Him – He is not going to have a vessel that still bears the marks of failure – He is going to present Himself one, as it says, “having no spot, or wrinkle.” Two thousand years old, and not a wrinkle! There will be no spot or wrinkle when the Lord takes the assembly to Himself in all its freshness, on that marriage day which will take place soon – the greatest marriage that has ever taken place, the marriage of the Lamb. And she will be suitably clothed, and the marriage will be celebrated, and the righteousnesses of the saints will be her clothing – “fine linen, bright and pure.” A glorious marriage occasion! When will it be? I do not know, but I believe it will be very soon. It takes place after the Church goes to heaven, after the assembly is taken up. And it takes place before she comes out in Revelation 21 in display in the millennium. Glorious vessel! If only we could have our eyes opened to see the greatness and the glory of what belongs to the Lord Jesus! He values it, He loves it, and He expects us to love it too.
Think of the way that one like the apostle Paul laboured to the end that he might present the assembly “a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2). Think of his labours, his sufferings. The Lord was the greatest sufferer, but perhaps the one after that was the apostle Paul in his labours that the assembly might be presented to Christ as a chaste virgin. How much do we expend? How much labour and love do we expend for the saints? We do not know the whole assembly, but we do know the few in our own local companies. We cannot serve the whole – impossible at this time. But we can serve the few that we know. And it is not necessarily just those that we are breaking bread with – there are souls who belong to the assembly who perhaps need a bit of encouragement to see the glory of this vessel and to enter into the Lord’s mind in relation to it. How we need to be preserved ourselves in relation to the Lord’s mind regarding the assembly. If we are not preserved ourselves in sanctity and what is due to Him, then we will certainly not be able to help others.
Now, I do not want to be too long, but the subject is so glorious! In Revelation 21, I trust, the Spirit will give us fresh impressions. The first verses that we read take place after the millennium. And no doubt there is wisdom in the Spirit of God giving us that before He gives us the section from verse 9 onwards, because verse 9 onwards relates to the millennium. And it is one of the angels who had the seven last plagues who takes John to a place where he is able to see the assembly in this way. But there is no angel mentioned in the beginning of chapter 21 – it is the eternal scene.
And what he sees in the eternal scene! John sees “a new heaven and a new earth.” It says, “The first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Do you want to get on in this world? Do you want to make a name for yourself in this scene? It is going to pass away! It is going to be burnt up! If you want to get something that is secure and eternal, it stands related to God’s thoughts in relation to the assembly. It will be seen in eternity, it will be seen in the world to come. But these other things will all be gone when we come to the eternal sphere. And much more than that will be gone – pains, and tears, and all that will be gone in the eternal sphere.
As I said, what he sees is the new heavens and earth. And he says, “I saw the holy city” – the “holy city.” That is still the assembly – God uses different pictures to present the ideas to us. We have not to think that a great big city fifteen hundred miles square is going to hang over the earth! Some people get that idea. God uses things to give us an impression of its greatness. We did not read about the size of the city, but that is what it is according to the measurements given. About fourteen or fifteen hundred miles cubic – a tremendous vessel there in all her glory and beauty in the millennial day. But here it is “the holy city,” and a thousand years have elapsed from the first view in verse 9 to the view in verse 2. We need to remember that – that verse 9 of this chapter introduces something that takes place at least a thousand years before what we read of in verse 2.
And it is “the holy city, new Jerusalem.” You say, ‘Well, if it is a thousand years old, is it still new?’ What happened in the millennium? Was it a perfect scene? No, it was not – it was a wonderful scene, where the Lord’s reign will be known; He is going to rule, but He is sometimes going to have to use a rod of iron. And, at the very end of it, when Satan is released, there will be rebellion. Is the assembly affected by it? Not a bit of it! She comes out in bridal beauty, in holiness and freshness after a thousand years’ reign with Christ. Can you imagine any other bride after a thousand years in all her freshness? And it will not be an idle thousand years – Paul says, “Do ye not know that we shall judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:3). And the assembly will have an influence over the earth, which we will just quickly look at.
But the freshness of the eternal day is that the city is a scene of holiness, and it is the new Jerusalem, and it comes down “out of the heaven from God, … as a bride adorned for her husband.” It does not say much about the Husband here – it is just that the city is seen as a bride adorned for her husband. And there is a loud voice. And it says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, their God.” The whole scene – God will be tabernacling there. Now, the type used is, as I understand, drawn from the tabernacle of old, which was a tent. And I do not think it is to suggest that the structure is a temporary one. But the “tabernacling with men” is what Moses saw when he was told to make the tabernacle according to the pattern that he had seen in heaven. And the feature of the tabernacle was that there was the holiest, the holy place, and the court. The thought is that God is there in the holiest. But the wonderful thing is that believers today have entrance into the holiest – that is, into the presence of God Himself, really, in the ark. We cannot say much about it – Scripture does not say a great deal about the eternal scene, but we know it is one where God will dwell with men, and it tells us that everything that is adverse is out of the way.
Now, we could dwell on that a bit, but we will go on to the other side, the millennial day. And we see this city that comes down, and, again, we have got to understand that these are figures that God uses. The city is still the assembly, but it is a great vessel, seen in all its glory. It is a holy city, still a “holy city.” To see it, John had to go “on a great and high mountain.” If you want to get a view of the assembly as God sees it, you must get above the level of this earth – you must get above the level of thinking humanly. You must see things as God sees them – you must take God’s perspective of things.
So John was taken to a great and high mountain by one of the angels who had had the seven bowls full of the last plagues. I wonder why it says that just at this point. Why go back and mention the seven bowls of the last plagues? It was God’s judgement – the greatest judgements that took place ere the Lord actually came to deal with the earth Himself in judgement. But God was pouring out the very greatest of the plagues on the earth, and this angel had been employed in that. What a joy it must have been for him to show John this wonderful city that was not a subject of God’s judgement but was, rather, the display of His glory!
So it comes down “having the glory of God,” and, without going into detail, glory marks the whole city. The great feature of it is glory. But the other thing that marks it is the number of times “twelve” is mentioned. Twelve, as we understand from the Bible, stands for divine administration, divine rule. We know what the rule of man on earth is – it gets worse and more chaotic by the day. When we come to the millennial scene, the city, God’s assembly, will be reigning with Christ over the scene. And there are these twelve gates.
It is interesting that he begins with the east gate – that is where the king comes in. We have the east gate first, and then the north gate. The north side is where things are difficult. It may speak to us of the sufferings of Christ. It has other meanings as well. Then, instead of going round the compass, it then goes from there to the south gate – from the north to the south. The south would be the side of all the favour and blessing of God. And so, as a result of the sufferings of Christ, we have all the favour of God towards man. Lastly we have the west gate, which means that it embraces the whole scene. That is, the whole field is now covered by these gates.
Then there are the angels at the gates, and the names of the gates associated with the twelve tribes of Israel. The promise to the apostles was that they would sit on thrones ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt 19:28). The gates, in Scripture, as you will realise from reading the book of Ruth (ch4), are related to administration. It tells us further down that each of the gates is a pearl. Now, if we could apply it this way, the administration in our local companies should be in keeping with the beauty, and the value, of the pearl that the Lord gave Himself to secure. The gates are consistent, they are all the same – there is no difference between them, as far as one can make out. It says “twelve pearls; each one of the gates, respectively, was of one pearl” – each one. So that divine administration is even and perfect, and all in keeping with the glory of the vessel that is so precious to Christ.
Well, it is a challenge for us now, beloved. This is a learning time. Where are we going to learn? We will be there in that scene. The connection between the city and those on the earth will probably be through the angels. But we will be there – it is coming down out of the heaven from God. It does not say it comes down onto the earth – it is going to come down. We form part of the assembly, and the saints will administer in the world to come. Not all having the same rule, no doubt – there will be reward: some over so many cities, and some over more, or some over less; you will find that in the Gospels (Luke 19:16-19), where the Lord speaks about the rewards to those who are faithful at the present time. There is a reward for present faithfulness, and it will be seen in the city in the day to come.
And the Lord will be there – the throne of God is there (ch 22:3). “Lord God Almighty” (ch 21:22) – mighty power is there. No-one will be able to rebel during the millennium. If they do rebel they will be dealt with, and dealt with instantly. There will be absolutely righteous judgement – the street is of gold, which speaks of divine righteousness. And it is transparent – there is nothing to be hidden there. Our administration should be righteous and clear now.
And then there is all the decoration there. They tell me that jasper is one of the hardest stones – I am not an expert in gems, perhaps someone here is; it is quite a subject in itself. But there is a variety of colours. There is nothing mass-produced in God’s world – not even in the present creation. But these gems, in all their beauty, decorate the wall – what is outward and seen. Inside, that pure state of gold – and it is transparent as glass. Think of all the perfection of this wonderful city! The more we consider it, the more glory we will see. It has the glory of God. And it does not need any artificial light. It does not need any of man’s thinking; in divine things, man’s universities are of no use, they are the biggest hindrance there ever has been down the centuries! There is no need of anything like that in God’s city in the world to come. It says there is no temple there – there is direct access, shall we say – God and the Lamb. “Lord God Almighty” – a title that is used here to give us to understand that God, in all His power, is in control.
Then there is the river of life – there is no shortage of refreshment of water then, and no shortage of food. What is the tree of life? It is Christ Himself. He provides for everyone. And there is healing too – there is healing for the nations. There will be nations come into blessing, there will be souls come into blessing in the world to come. God has His own plans – there are many families in heaven and earth. There are the families of those that have gone before – “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:23). We have come to the city of the living God. We have come to the family of first-born ones. But there are also the spirits of just men made perfect – there are the Old Testament saints, like Abraham. I suppose even Adam may be numbered there – as far as I gather the efficacy of the work of Christ goes back that far, the city Adam (Josh 3:16). God has His own place for every one. But the assembly is uniquely composed of those who are secured during this present dispensation, this period in which our time has been set, when the gospel of the grace and of the glory of the blessed God is being proclaimed. It is all going to end, not in ruin, but in glory.
Between the millennial view of the assembly from Revelation 21:9 and the eternal view from verse 1, there are the solemn judgements at the end of chapter 20. The present heavens and earth are removed, and all evil consigned to the lake of fire. The solemnity of eternity in the lake of fire! We should not forget that as we think of the gospel and the needs of mankind. Perhaps someone you know will finish in the lake of fire because they have rejected the gospel. Of course there is judgement according to the works done in the body. The Judge of all the earth will do right. He will judge each one righteously. But I do not want to draw attention to that – that side is finished, there is a new heaven and a new earth in the first verses, and God is tabernacling with men.
What is your outlook, beloved fellow-believer? Are you looking for the glory? Or are you still feeling the pain of the present time? Well, we all know something of the pain of the present time, but let our hearts be full of the glory, and the greatness of this vessel. It mentions His servants, that is, slaves – what a happy portion, to be a slave of the blessed God! We will serve Him, not as slaves, but in a priestly way, and we will reign to the ages of ages. Think of it – no cessation in that reign! No abdications! No dethronements! Going right through from the millennial day into the eternal day.
How God will bring others in is not quite clear. But He will – God is a God of all, and He will secure His own ends.
May we rest in it, may we be encouraged in it, and may we see something more of the glory of God. I would commend to my young brethren to study these Scriptures, because the time is near. Daniel was told to close up certain things, because they were for the time of the end (Dan 12:9). In Revelation we are told it is not to be closed because the time is near (ch 22:10). You say, ‘I would like to live my life out here.’ Would you not rather live it out in God’s wonderful city in a world to come, and right on into the eternal day? Well, what an outlook! May we be encouraged, for His name’s sake.
13 May 2006