Series: Scarlet Thread
Now we are ready to begin, and remember on the first Wednesday of each month, why, we will just pass the collection plate. And sometime in the course of the five months, why, let us give ten dollars for our school.
The title of the lecture tonight is The Scarlet Thread Through the Apocalypse. You would think in the glories, and beauties, and wonders, and excellencies of the new heaven and the new earth, the heavenlies into which the seer of Patmos is caught up, that there would be a forgetting and a forsaking of the blood, and agony, and death of the cross. Surely in heaven, in the glorious unveiling of the glorified, risen, immortalized Christ, that we would leave the cross and gaze upon something even more wonderful.
On the contrary, in the Apocalypse, there is a turning back to Calvary, to unfold to us even more wonders and more glories of the death of Christ. The cross is not only for sinners like us on earth, but it is the subject of the praises of millions of redeemed souls in heaven. Calvary, in Revelation, is rapturously explored and expounded and exalted. The dominant note of the heavenly symphony in the Apocalypse is struck and sounded at once, at the beginning; like one of Beethoven’s symphonies; is it number five? “Da, da, da, da!” And that striking dominant chord, note, right at the first is repeated again and again and again, all through the symphony. So it is with the Revelation. The dominant chord is struck at the beginning, and it is returned to again and again and again.
This is that dominant chord: “Unto Him who loved us,” that is verse 5, “and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” [Revelation 1:5-6]. And that note of the death of Christ, of the blood of the cross, is repeated again and again and again, like the composition of an incomparable Beethoven symphony. You see it again, and you’ll never get away from it. You see it again in verse 18. After the apostle sees the vision of the glorified Christ walking in the midst of the seven lampstands, seeing the glory of that wonderful, marvelous person, he fell at His feet as dead. And in verse 17:
He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead
– referring to Calvary –
and, behold, I am alive forevermore; and I, I have the keys of Hades and of Death
I have the keys of the grave and of death
The glorified Christ is identified as the Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, slain, dead, ascended now, glorified, enthroned. He is still the same Jesus, the crucified Lord Messiah. For example, in verse 17 that I read, “He laid His right hand upon His beloved disciple John.” I would suppose that many, many times John had felt, in the days of the flesh of our Lord, His right hand upon him. As the Lord would touch John, put His hand on John’s hand or put His hand on his shoulder or around his shoulder, it was a gesture, I would think, that was very familiar to the apostle John.
And this glorified Christ is just the same. The countenance may be like the sun, but His heart was as it was in loving, tender kindness when John followed Him in Galilee. The same Lord who died for us is this glorious person who is described here as:
Clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle.
His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire;
And His feet like unto brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters, and His countenance was as the sun shining in its strength.
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as one dead. It was then that He laid His hand upon the beloved and sainted apostle, and said, Fear not. . .I am He that liveth, and was dead,
the King in all His glory is still the Holy One who died for us.
You know, in seeking some kind of an illustration that might bring it more poignantly to us who live in this terrestrial globe, there is just no kind of a thing that ever happened that could illustrate it. There’s nothing comparable to this in all human experience or human literature. But if you were to manufacture a likeness, it would go like this. As if a poor criminal were sentenced to die and the king who sentenced him said, “I love you so much I will die in your stead.” So, the criminal lives and the king lays down his life. But on the third day, the king rises from the dead, and he ascends his throne a million times more loved, more adored, more worshipped because he died for that criminal.
Nothing like that ever happened, ever could happen. No king ever laid down his life for a vile sinner, and certainly no king who died was ever raised from the dead. You couldn’t find an illustration in human story as to what actually happened in the life of our Lord for us. But if you could find an illustration, that would be it. It just shows us how marvelous, how incomparably wonderful this thing that the Lord has done in our behalf. Seeing us, dying unworthy, condemned to the gallows, He ascends the steps of the gallows in our stead and is hanged in our place, executed, and then raised from the dead ascends the throne.
I am increasingly moved, impressed, by the way in God’s economy and God’s government that the cross is looked upon as the throne from which the Lord shall govern the whole creation and forever. Maybe wonderful before, adored before, but how infinitely more now – having laid down His life, He comes back to the throne with the scars, with the scars in His hands and His feet and in His side [John 20:26-27]. Now that is the presentation of the Lord that you find in the Revelation. As glorious as the worship of the Savior was before, in Revelation, returning to heaven, having died for us, He is a thousand times more adored and more loved all because of the cross.
So, in this Revelation, the scarlet thread through the Bible, you don’t leave the blood, or the tears, or the agony, or the scars, or the crown of thorns, or the cross, or the death, or the suffering, but rather, its glory is magnified a million times. And in the unveiling, the apokalupsis, the uncovering of the Lord, He is the more glorious because He died for us.
Now we turn to chapter 5; following the scarlet thread through the Apocalypse. In verse 6:
And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four cherubim,
and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain.
In the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain;
– John, as you know, is told not to weep, that –
the Lion of the tribe of Judah, has prevailed,
So John lifts up his eyes to look, as you would think, on a lion, but instead, he sees a Lamb. The worthy One revealed is the Christ King clothed in the garments of His sacrificial glory. It is as the Lamb slain. It is in terms of the cross that the Lord is presented. It is with the marks of the awful tree, boldly displayed, that you see the Lord in glory; in the midst of the throne, behold, stood a Lamb as it had been slain. Does not the Lord identify Himself always with reference to the cross?
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of John, Thomas said, “I do not believe He is raised from the dead, dead men do not rise.” And the next Sunday night when the Lord appeared to His disciples, Thomas being present, He said, “Come, Thomas, and behold My hands; and thrust your hand into My side; and be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27]. He identifies Himself by His scars. And in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke and in the fortieth verse, when the disciples could not believe that it was actually Jesus, the Scriptures say, “He showed them His hands and His feet” [Luke 24:40]. The identity of this glorious Ruler who sits on the throne of God, the Sovereign of all creation, He is identified with the garments of sacrificial suffering.
It is the cross, it is Calvary that distinguishes Him in heaven and as you continue on in the ninth verse, when this glorious One is presented:
They sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation,
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels,
the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands and thousands[Revelation 5:9, 11]
The Greek word is “myriads.” We have taken the Greek word “fully,” spelled it just exactly alike, and taken it into our language, “a myriad of,” ten thousand times ten thousand:
Myriads and myriads saying,Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and glory, and blessing. And every creature in heaven, and on earth, and even those that are under the earth
– that is, in the netherworld –
all of them, heard I saying, Blessing, honor, glory, and power be unto Him that sit upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever[Revelation 5:12-13]
That’s one reason that I love to hear the choir and the orchestra play and sing Handel’s incomparable “Worthy is the Lamb.” When Handel wrote that, he did not close it with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I don’t suppose I’ve ever been to a singing of Handel, a rendition, a presentation of Handel, that they didn’t close it with the “Hallelujah Chorus,” but that’s not the way he did it. Handel closed it with the song, the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb.” And it was fitting that he should close it with that. That’s the way the Book closes it. That’s the Bible. And Handel did it accordingly, exactly as you read it in the Holy Scriptures. Oh, I love to hear them sing that. I would not object if they sang it every Sunday. I wouldn’t object, just like I don’t get tired of reading it here in the Bible.
I can read that a thousand times, and every time I read it, it’s just more precious. I wish we had time to read the whole chapter now. This is the glory of Christ in heaven, in all eternity, the One who was slain. In chapter 5, verse 9: “Thou art worthy for Thou was slain.” In verses 11 and 12: “Worthy is the Lamb.” In verse 13: “And unto the Lamb”; the host of heaven find nothing so worthy of praise, nothing so commending of worship, and nothing so fitting of adoration as the Lamb slain, Jesus, dying for our sins. Now, I’ve taken time here to write five things that are revealed in that worship of Christ of Calvary, stained with blood.
Number one: the redeemed of heaven, able to look more deeply into the meaning of the life and death of Christ than we ever could in earth, are the more moved by the immeasurable glory and blessedness of His cross. They but echo even the more wondrously the exclamation of Paul in Galatians 6:14: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I say that because you would think that up there in heaven they might know things that we don’t know, and they might have reasons for exalting the Lord beyond what we do in earth. But when we look at the redeemed of heaven, who themselves are able to understand more of what Christ is and has done for us than we could ever understand in earth, when we look at them in heaven, they are but echoing the glory of what Jesus has done when He died for us.
All right, number two: the passage that we’ve just read, this glorious one where they sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” the passage throws a flood of light upon the manner of the government of God. Thrones are for government, and the Lamb slain is in the midst of the thrones. The government of God is mediated by a Lamb slain for sinners. The Ruler of the universe is a Man who died for us, the Christ-Man, the God-Man, the virgin-born Man, the crucified Man – Jesus of Nazareth. When you look at the throne of God in heaven, who is seated there and who rules the universe from it? It is a Man. It is a Man with scars in hands and feet and side. It’s our blessed Savior who died for us.
Number three: the foundation and the basis of our hope of heaven lies in the cross of Christ. It is the Lamb slain who has redeemed us [Revelation 5:9]. It is unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood [Revelation 1:5]. Our hope lies in His sacrifice, His atoning grace, the crimson of His life poured out for us. In heaven, they do not sing “Our tears, and struggles, and labors, and righteousnesses brought us here. Look at me, I did it!” Or, “Look at us, we did it!” The sole and solitary and glorious theme of heaven is “He did it: Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” [Revelation 1:5].
There is nothing of us in our salvation, we just accepted it, received it, took it. We didn’t earn it or deserve it, nor were we good enough for it. We didn’t buy it. It is a gift of God that is by grace. The glory in Him who wrought for our righteousness is the glory that we shall adore and praise and sing about forever. They find in His blood the ground and basis for redemption. And I think when a man preaches the gospel, that’s what he preaches, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], and to those who will accept His loving grace, God will save you, forgive you, write your name in His Book of Life.”
“What? I don’t buy it?”
“No, without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1].
“I don’t work for it?”
That would be a debt God would be paying because you worked for it. It’s just of grace. It’s just of the goodness and love of the Lord.
Number four: where are we to look for the supreme manifestation of the glory of God? Theologians and philosophers talk about God’s omnipotence. He just spoke the world into existence by fiat, by words. They speak of His omniscience; He knows everything. He is omnipresent; He is everywhere. They talk about His moral virtues; He is one of justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and truth, and love. Just take all theology and parade it before us. Whatever you say about God, His supreme glory is this: that He loved us and left His throne in heaven to die for us [Hebrews 10:5-14]. He was hanged upon an accursed tree, and that is the theme of the great songs of praise in glory.
Number five: the very life of heaven is now based upon the cross, up there as down here. Sin broke out in heaven before it ever appeared on the earth. Sin didn’t begin here with us. When the Lord made the man and his wife and placed them in the garden of Eden, just outside the gate there is a sinister being lying in wait [Genesis 3]. Sin didn’t begin with us. It began in heaven. But never again, not only is earth redeemed by the cross, but heaven is secured forever from any further outbreak of evil. This is Hebrews 9:23: The pride of Lucifer brought sin into creation in heaven and the humbling of the cross forever destroyed it.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? Where did sin come from? God said it was born in heaven in pride. What forever secures for us redemption and the freedom of heaven from ever again suffering a stroke of sin, pride? The humility in the cross, the cross that brought in a new order of things in God’s universe, forever destroys the possibility that it will ever fall again. I’m trying to bring a contrast there between where sin came from – pride, the heart of Lucifer lifted up, and what forever destroyed it, the humbling of the Prince of glory in dying a shameful and ignominious death on the cross [John 19:30].
Now we must hasten. In chapter 7, the scarlet thread through the Apocalypse, in chapter 7, in verse 13:
One of the elders said, Who are these arrayed in white robes? whence came they?
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest.
And he said to me, These are they which
– hoi erchomenoi, present tense, are coming –
these are they which are coming out of he thlipsis he megalē the tribulation, the great, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.[Revelation 7:13-14]
The world’s greatest revival is right here in the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse. In the midst of the awesome and indescribable tribulation, these one hundred forty-four thousand preaching the Word of God throughout the earth, there is a great, great, mighty revival. So great is that throng that he says in verse 9: “I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, of which no man could number, of all of the people of the earth, stood before the Lamb, and cried, Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb,And one of the elders said to me, Who are these arrayed in white robes? and whence did they come? And John said, Sir, I do not know” [Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14]. That’s why, among other things, I know that those are tribulation saints.
Tell me, if those were the redeemed of all ages and John looked at them and the elder asks him, “Who are they?” and John looks at them, and looks at them, and looks at them. And the sainted apostle said, “Sir, I do not know. I have never seen them before”; now, you tell me, if those were the redeemed of all of the ages, surely, surely John would have recognized his own brother James, who was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in the twelfth chapter and the [second] verse of the Book of Acts. Surely John would have recognized James. Surely John would have recognized Simon Peter. Simon Peter has been dead a generation, over thirty years, when John saw that apocalyptic vision. Don’t you think he would have recognized his old friend Simon Peter? Don’t you think he would have recognized his mother Salome? Don’t you think he would have recognized his father, Zebedee? Don’t you think he would have recognized at least one or the other of the apostles? It would stand as a remarkable thing that John couldn’t recognize his own father, or his own mother, or his own brother, or his old friend Simon Peter. That’s why it is impressed upon my heart, when John looks at them he says, “I never saw them before. I don’t know who they are. Who are they?”
And the elder replies, “These are they who hoi erchomenoi are coming, they are coming out of the tribulation, the great” [Revelation 7:14]. These are the saints of the tribulation. And they are saved by the blood of the Lamb.
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
O glory to God, O glory to the Son,
O glory to the Spirit, the great Three in One.
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
That is the Apocalypse, and this is the incomparable seventh chapter of the Revelation. The way of salvation never changed; it never changes. It was by blood that Abel came into the presence of the Lord [Genesis 4:4]. It was by blood that Abraham substituted a ram caught in the thicket for his son Isaac [Genesis 22:13]. It was by blood that the holy things of the tabernacle and temple were consecrated. It was by blood that Isaiah looked and saw Him who died for our sins[Isaiah 53]. It was by blood that John the Baptist introduced the Lord, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” [John 1:29]. It never changes. And in heaven, it is ever the same.
Now we must hasten to chapter 12, following the scarlet thread through the Bible, chapter 12: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” [Revelation 12:11]. The victory is always through the cross. It is the basis of our hope and our strength.
There was a businessman – let me go back, because some of you may not remember the passage that I read:
There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceived the whole world: he was cast into the earth, and his angels were cast with him.
And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, The accuser of the brethren is cast down.
And in earth, they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.
How is it that we are able to confront Satan? Well, I came across a good illustration of that. That is so typical, you could just see this. There was a man who came to see a big businessman, and he had a bill to present to him. And the big businessman said to the fellow who had come to collect it, “That bill has been paid. It’s been paid.” And the man who came to collect the bill became furious and demanded payment or threatened all kinds of consequences, and the big businessman went to a filing cabinet, opened one of those steel drawers, took out a certain portfolio, and there showed the fellow who had come to see him the bill marked officially with the word “paid.” He said, “Now look at this and get out and don’t come back.” That was a thing that happened in the business world. That’s the way the Christian is about Satan: it’s been paid, always – no claim, “Now get out and don’t come back!”
“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 12:11], this is what you hear in the glorious eighth chapter of the Book of Romans:
What will we say? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not freely give us all things?
Who can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
“Nay, in all these things we are hupernikomen more than conquerors,” huper, “over and above,” nike, nike. You know, that’s a winged victory, nike, victory, hupernikomen, “we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us” [Romans 8.37]. That’s our victory. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 12:11].
Now, in the Revelation chapter 13:8: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship the beast, whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.” That is one of the most remarkable verses in the Bible.
It’s like Revelation 22:16: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David,” what in the earth? “I am the Root and the Offspring of David,” I can understand, easily, “the offspring of David.” He is of the line of David. He doesn’t say, “I am just of the genealogy of David; I am the Root and the Offspring of David. Before David was, I was.” As He said one time, “Before Abraham was, I Am” [John 8:58]. Look at Micah 5:2: “Thou Bethlehem, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of these shall He come who shall rule My people; whose going forth have been from of old, even from everlasting.” How could that be? This Child born in Bethlehem “whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting?” Now, to us who believe, the impossibility of a conception like that is resolved in a simple faith. This Jesus of Nazareth is God manifest in the flesh, 1Timothy 3:16. Born of a virgin, He assumed a body that in it He might be sacrificed for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. So He is called here, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth” [Revelation 13:8], forever, forever He has been identified with His cross.
Now, chapter 19, chapter 19, following, the scarlet thread through the Bible,” verse 9: “Write, Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb”[Revelation 19:9]. The union of God’s redeemed people for all eternity is there when we sit down with our blessed Savior, the bride and the friends of the Bridegroom, as John the Baptist. Our exalted position and privilege in Christ is without compare; we who are Christians, above John the Baptist. The Lord said in the eleventh chapter of Matthew in the eleventh verse: “Verily I say unto you, of those who have been born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” [Matthew 11:11].
How could we be, even though we’re so humble and small and insignificant in the kingdom of the Lord, how is it that each one of us is greater than John the Baptist, who’s the greatest man ever born of a woman, said our Lord? Well, the reason is in this: “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” [Revelation 19:9]. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready” [Revelation 19:7]. His bride – that’s the church, and those that are not in the church are the friends of the Bridegroom. One of the friends is John the Baptist. He said, “The friend of the bridegroom stands close by and rejoices to hear his voice, but he is not of the bride” [John 3:29]. Not John the Baptist. Not any of the Old Testament saints. There is a privilege and an exaltation given to us who are saved, who are in the church, that is unlike any other position in the earth. The bride is there with our Lord, and the friends of the Bridegroom rejoice to hear His voice. You belong in the very heart of all of the glories that God purposes for those that love Him, you are.
In the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation beginning at verse 11 is the vision of the coming Christ in His second coming – coming in the midst of the battle of Armageddon. And how is He described it?
I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was Faithful and True,
His eyes were as a flame of fire
– we’ve heard that, haven’t we? –
on His head were many crowns,
And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God
– His followers are likewise faithful and true –
And on His vesture and on His thigh a name written,
KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS
I wish – it hurts my heart to go over this so rapidly. He has a vesture dipped in blood [Revelation 19:13]. In Revelation 14:19-20: He is covered in blood, tramping out the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God [Revelation 19:15]. And in Isaiah 63:1 and following, the prophet sees the glorious Messiah coming, and His garments are stained in blood, always the Lord identified in suffering and in blood.
Now the last, in Revelation 22:1: “And He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” In John 7:38: “Rivers of life-flowing water coming from His innermost being.” In Psalm 46:4: “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” In Ezekiel 47:1-9: “He saw a great river flowing out of the sanctuary of the Lord, and everything lived whither the river cometh.” This is from the Lamb. Christ died. From Him comes the life-flowing stream.
And that is the final invitation. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come,” Revelation 22:17, “And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water,” let him drink, “take the water of life freely.” All of it flowing out of the life of the Son of God, out of His cross.
Now, we’re going to look in these next lectures, and don’t come here thinking, “Now, I’m going to leave my mind behind. I’m just coming here with my corpus.” Don’t you do that. We’re going to do something that I have never attempted before in my life: we are going to look at the theology of atonement. “What is this, ‘Christ dying for our sins’?” You’re going to find when we go into the study, that the greatest minds of the human race have wrestled with that problem: “How does the cross of Christ save us?” How is it that out of Calvary flow those living streams of water to which all of us are invited to drink and live? “How is it that the blood of Christ saves us, and what do you mean by ‘the blood of Christ saving us’?” Well, we’re going to look at it. We’re going to take a good look at it, and when it is over, all that may remain and abide for us is just to get down here on our knees and just worship and adore the Lord as they do in heaven.
We may not be able to fathom its unfathomable depths or to describe its indescribable glories, but one thing we’ll do, when we have earnestly and prayerfully looked at it as it is presented in the holy pages and as men have tried to understand it, one thing it will do for us, when we get to the June time, we’re going, as I say, with amazing thanksgiving and humility, just get down here on our knees and lift our hearts in praise to heaven for what God has done for us.
Sweet people, I thank you for staying with me in this tonight. We’ve gone far over the time, but I love talking about it. I love looking at it. It blesses my soul to think about what Jesus has done for us.
For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com