"He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I. received of My Father. And I will give him the morning star."—Bev. ii. 26-28.
THIS promise to the victors in Thyatira differs from the preceding ones in several remarkable respects. If yon will observe, the summons to give ear to "what the Spirit saith to the churches " precedes the promises in the previous letters ; here it follows that promise, and that order is observed in the three subsequent epistles. Now, the structure of all these letters is too careful and artistic to allow of the supposition that the change js arbitrary or accidental. There must be some significance in it, but I do not profess to be ready with the explanation, and I prefer acknowledging perplexity to pretending enlightenment.
Then there is another remarkable peculiarity of this letter—viz., the expansion which is given to the designation of the victor as "He that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end" Probably not unconnected with that expansion is the other peculiarity of the promise here, as compared with its precursors— viz., that they all regard simply the individual victor and promise to him " partaking of the tree of life" ; a "crown of life" ; immunity from "the second death"; "the hidden manna "; the "white stone "; and the "new name written " ; which, like all the rest of the promises there, belonged to Himself alone ; but here the field is widened, and we have others brought in on whom the victor is to exercise an influence. So, then, we enter upon a new phase of conceptions of that future life in these words, which not only dwell upon the sustenance, the repose, the glory that belong to the man himself, but look upon him as still an instrument in Christ's hands, and an organ for carrying out, by His activities, Christ's purposes in the worlds. So, then, I want you to look with me very simply at the ideas suggested by these words.
I. We have the victor's authority.
Now, the promise in my text is moulded by a remembrance of the great words of the second psalm. That psalm stands at the beginning of the Psalter as a kind of prelude; and, in conjunction with its companion psalm, the first, is a summing up of the two great factors in the religious'life of the Hebrews—viz., the blessedness in the keeping of the law, and the brightness of the hope of the Messiah. The psalm in question deals with that Messianic hope under the symbols of an earthly conquering monarch, and sets forth His dominion as established throughout the whole earth. And our letter brings this marvellous thought, that the spirits of just men made perfect are, somehow or other, associated with Him in that campaign of conquest.
Now, there is much in these words which, of course, it is idle for us to attempt to expand or expound. We can only wait, as we gaze upon the dim brightness, for experience to unlock the mystery. But there is also much which, if we will reverently ponder it, may stimulate us to brave conflict and persistent diligence in keeping Christ's commandments. I, for my part, believe that Scripture is the only source of such knowledge as we have of the future life ; and I believe, too, that the knowledge, such as it is, which we derive from Scripture is knowledge, and can be absolutely trusted. And so, though I abjure all attempts at rhetorical setting forth of the details of this mysterious symbol, I would lay it upon our hearts. It is not the less powerful because it is largely inconceivable ; and the mystery, the darkness, the dimness, may be, and are part of the revelation and of the light. "There was the hiding of His power."
And so, notice that whatever may be the specific contents of such a promise as this, the general form of it is in full harmony with the words of our Lord whilst He was on earth. Twice over, according to the Gospel narratives—once in connection with Peter's foolish question, "What shall we have therefore?" and once in a still more sacred connection, at the table on the eve of Calvary—our Lord gave His trembling disciples this great promise: "In the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Make all allowance that you like for the vesture of symbolism, the reality that lies beneath is that Jesus Christ, the Truth, has pledged Himself to this, that His servants shall be associated with Him in the activity of His royalty. And the same great thought, which we only spoil when we try to tear apart the petals which remain closed until the sun shall open them, underlies the twin parables of the pounds and the talents, in regard to each of which we have, " Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things ;" and, linked along with the promise of authority, the assurance of union with the Master, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." So this book of the Revelation is only following in the footsteps and expanding the hints of Christ's own teaching when it triumphs in the thought that we are made kings and priests to God; when it points onwards to a future wherein—we know not how, but we know, if we believe Him when He speaks, that it shall be so—they shall reign with Him for ever and ever.
My text adds further the image of a conquering campaign, of a sceptre of iron crushing down antagonism, of banded opposition broken into shivers, "as a potter's vessel" dashed upon a pavement of marble. And it says that in that final conflict and final conquest they that have passed into the rest of God, and have dwelt with Christ, shall be with Him, the armies of heaven following Him, clad in white raiment pure and glistening, and with Him subduing, ay! and converting into loyal love the antagonisms of earth. I abjure all attempts at millenarian prophecy, but I point to this, that all the New Testament teaching converges upon this one point, that the Christ who came to die shall come again to reign, and that He shall reign, and His servants with Him. That is enough; and that is all. For all the rest is conjecture and fancy, and sometimes folly ; and details minimise, and do not magnify, the great, undetailed, magnificent fact.
Bui all the other promises deal not with something in the remoter future, but with something that begins to take effect the moment the dust, and confusion, and garments rolled in blood, of the battle-field are swept away. At one instant the victors are fighting, at the next they are partaking of the Tree of Life, and on their locks lies the crown, and their happy lips are feeding upon "the hidden manna." And so, I think, that though, no doubt, the main stress of the promise of authority here points onwards, as our Lord Himself has taught us, to the time of " the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory," the incidence of the promise is not to be exclusively confined thereto. There must be something in the present for the blessed dead, as well as for them in the future. And this is, that they are united with Jesus Christ in His present activities, and through Him, and in Him, and with Him, are even now serving Him. The servant, when he dies, and has been fitted for it, enters at once on his government of the ten cities.
Thus this promise of my text, in its deepest meaning, corresponds with the deepest needs of a man's nature. For we can never be at rest unless we are at work ; and a heaven of doing nothing is a heaven of ennui and weariness. Whatever sneers may have been cast at the Christian conception of the future, which find vindication, one is sorry to say, in many popular representations and sickly bits of hymns, the New Testament notion of what that future life is to be is noble with all energy, and fruitful with all activity, and strenuous with all service. This promise of my text comes in to supplement the three preceding. They were addressed to the legitimate, wearied longings for rest and fulness of satisfaction for oneself. This is addressed to the deeper and nobler longing for larger service. And the words of my text, whatever dim glory they may partially reveal, as accruing to the victor in the future, do declare that, when he passes beyond the grave, there will be waiting for him nobler work to do than any that he ever has done here.
But let us not forget that all this access of power and enlargement of opportunity are a consequence of Christ's royalty and Christ's conquering rule. That is to say, whatever we have in the future we have because we are knit to Him, and all our service there, as all our blessedness here, flows from our union with that Lord. So when He says, as in the words that I have already quoted, that His servants shall sit on thrones, He presents Himself as on the central throne. The authority of the steward over the ten cities is but a consequence of the servant's entrance into the joy of the Lord. Whatever there lies in the heavens, the germ of it all is this, that we are as Christ, so closely identified with Him that we are like Him, and share in all His possessions. He says to each of us, "All Mine is thine." He has taken part of our flesh and blood that we may share in His Spirit. The bride is endowed with the wealth of the bridegroom, and the crowns that are placed on the heads of the redeemed are the crown which Christ Himself has received as the reward of His Cross—" even as I have received of My Father."
II. Note the victor's starry splendour.
The second symbol of my text is difficult of interpretation, like the first: "I will give him the morning star." Now, no doubt, throughout Scripture a star is a symbol of royal dominion; and many would propose so to interpret it in the present case. But it seems to me that whilst that explanation—which makes the second part of our promise simply identical with the former, though under a different garb—does justice to one part of the symbol, it entirely omits the other. For the emphasis is here laid on " morning" rather than on " star." It is "the morning star," not any star that blazes in the heavens, that is set forth here as a symbolical representation of the victor's condition. Then another false scent, as it were, on which interpretations have gone, seems to me to be that, taking into account the fact that in the last chapter of the Eevelation our Lord is Himself described as "the bright and morning star," they bring this promise down simply to mean "I will give him Myself." Now, though it is quite true that, in the deepest of all views, Jesus Christ Himself is the gift as well as the giver of all these seven-fold promises, yet the propriety of representation seems to me to forbid that He should here say, " I will give them Myself!"
So I think we must fall back upon what any touch of poetic imagination would at once suggest to be the meaning of the promise, that it is the dawning splendour of that planet of hope and morning, the harbinger of day, which we are to lay hold of. Hebrew prophets, long before, had spoken of Lucifer, " light-bringer," "the son of the morning." Many a poet sang of it before Milton with his
"Hesperus, that led the starry host,
So that I think we are just to lay hold of the thought that the starry splendour, the beauty and the lustre that will be poured upon the victor is that which is expressed by this symbol here.' What that lustre will consist in it becomes us not to say. That future keeps its secret well, but that it shall be the perfecting of human nature up to the most exquisite and consummate height of which it is capable, and the enlargement of it beyond all that human experience here can conceive, we may peaceably anticipate and quietly trust.
Only, note, the advance here on the previous promises is as conspicuous as in the former part of this great promise. There the Christian man's influence and authority were set forth under the emblem of regal dominion. Here they are set forth under the emblem of lustrous splendour. It is the spectators that see the glory of the beam that comes from the star. And this promise, like the former, implies that in that future there will be a sphere in which perfected spirits may ray out their light, and where they may gladden and draw some eyes by their beams. I have no word to say as to the sky in which the rays of that star may shine, but I do feel that the very essence of this great representation is that Christian souls, in the future, as in the present, will stand forth as the visible embodiments of the glory and lustre of the unseen God.
Further, remember that this image, like the former, traces up the lustre, as that traced the royalty, to communion with Christ, and to impartation from Him. "I will give him the morning star." "We shall shine as the "brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever," as Daniel said—not by inherent but by reflected light. We are not suns, but planets, that move round the San of Righteousness, and flash with His beauty.
III. Lastly, mark the condition of the authority and of the lustre.
Here I would say a word about the remarkable expansion of the designation of the victor, to which I have already referred: "He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end." We do not know why that expansion was put in, in reference to Thyatira only, but if you will glance over the letter you will see that there is more than usual about works—works to be repented of, or works which make the material of a final retribution and judgment.
Whatever may be the explanation of the expanded designation here, the lesson that it reads to us is a very significant and a very important one. Bring the metaphor of a victor down to the plain, hard, prose fact of doing Christ's work right away to the end of life. Strip off the rhetoric of the fight, and it comes down to this—dogged, persistent obedience to Christ's commandments. "He that keepeth My works" does not appeal to the imagination as "He that overcometh" does. But it is the explanation of the victory, and one that we all need to lay to heart.
"My works ": that means the works that He enjoins. No doubt; but look at a verse before my text: "I will give unto every one of you according to your works." That is, the works that you do, and Christ's works are not only those which He enjoins, but those of which He Himself set the pattern. He will "give according to works"; He will give authority; give the morning star. That is to say, the life which has been moulded according to Christ's pattern, and shaped in obedience to Christ's commandments is the life which is capable of being granted participation in His dominion, and invested with reflected lustre. If here we do His work we shall be able to do it more fully yonder. "The works that I do shall he do also." That is the law for life—ay, and it is the promise for heaven. "And greater works than these shall he do, because I go to My Father." When we have come to partial conformity with Him here we may hope—and only then have we the right to hope— for entire assimilation to Him hereafter. If here, from this dim spot which men call earth, and amid the confusion and dust and distances of this present life, we look to Him, and with unveiled faces behold Him, and here, in degree and part, are being changed from glory to glory, there He will turn His face upon us, and, beholding it, in righteousness, "we shall be satisfied when we awake with His likeness."
Brethren, it is for us to choose whether we shall share in Christ's dominion or be crushed by his iron sceptre. It is for us to choose whether, moulding our lives after His will and pattern, we shall hereafter be made like Him in completeness. It is for us to choose whether, seeing Him here, we shall, when the brightness of His coming draws near, be flooded with gladness, or whether we shall call upon the rocks and the hills to cover us from the face of Him that sitteth on the Throne. Time is the mother of Eternity. To-day moulds to-morrow, and when all the to-days and to-morrows have become yesterdays, they will have determined our destiny, because they will have settled our characters. Let us keep Christ's commandments, and we shall be invested with dignity and illuminated with glory, and entrusted with work, far beyond anything that we can conceive here, though, in their furthest reach and most dazzling brightness, these are but the continuation and the perfecting of the feeble beginnings of earthly conflict and service.