Having recently attended a couple of funerals I am more than ever convinced that we need to keep our gaze firmly fixed on the soon return of the Lord Jesus for His own. That alone can grant us spiritual stability and confidence in a world that rushes onwards to destruction. As age takes its inevitable toll we all begin to sympathise with Isaacs remark to Esau, "Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death" (Gen 27.2), but it must not be forgotten that believers of this dispensation have access to information outside the patriarchs knowledge. His horizon, understandably, was restricted to this world, a world in which he had been promised blessing which focused upon a specific land. But citizens of heaven look beyond. Our distinctive hope is the Lords coming into the air to catch away His people. Theres a lovely moment near the beginning of Bunyans Pilgrims Progress in which, despite Evangelists pointing finger, the sin-burdened protagonist experiences some difficulty locating the gate that leads to the Celestial City:
"Do you see yonder wicket-gate?" The man said, "No." Then said the other, "Do you see yonder shining light?" He said, "I think I do." Then said Evangelist, "Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do."
Much may be obscure to us, but if the shining light of the Lords coming fills our vision we shall not go wrong. And the Bible goes even further, granting a glimpse into the destiny of the redeemed in the new heaven and earth. Revelation 22.1-5 is compulsory reading for those with heavy hearts because it assures us of a blessed future. Heres the key passage: "His servants shall serve him [the Lamb]: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev 22.3-5).
Those few, simple words are packed with encouragement. First of all we learn that the eternal occupation of the saints will be to "serve him". Anyone who imagines that eternity means endless inactivity must think again. After all, even in the Holy City believers remain "his servants". The word means a slave, "one who gives himself up to the will of another" (W E Vine), and this not because of oppression but because of the infinite value of the death of Christ, which purchased us from sin for Himself. Yet our service will not be the misery of enforced slavery or the drudgery of "sorrow" and "sweat" which Adams sin brought into human experience (Gen 3.17-19), but the satisfying privilege of worshipful obedience. Johns verb is one used in the Hebrew epistle of priestly service in the tabernacle (13.10). Its first New Testament occurrence is in Matthew 4.10, in the context of worship; its final appearance is in our verse. Down here, all our spiritual exercises are limited, eventually impaired by infirmity and terminated by death. In Romans 16.12, by means of present and past tense verbs, Paul carefully distinguishes between two Christian women still at work for the Lord and one who could no longer do what once she did so well: "Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord". Yet Persis is by no means forgotten; indeed, she is given extra praise. However, in the glory of our heavenly home neither the burden of ill-health nor the weight of years will interfere with an everlasting service for which our brief lifetime on this earth has been but a training school.
Further, our eternal contemplation will be the Lord Himself: "they shall see his face". This stands in stunning contrast to the position of those who believe in a Saviour they have never glimpsed, one "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet 1.8). Of course, we currently walk by faith, not by sight, and yet, as the Lord promised, there is even now a special blessing associated with a trust which rests solely on the Word (Jn 20.29); nonetheless, faith will finally give place to sight when the Lord returns and "we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3.2). And that vision will never be impeded. It will constantly stimulate our adoration. I assume the first person blind Bartimæus saw when he was healed was the Lord Jesus. If seeing the face of his healer caused him to "[follow] Jesus in the way" (Mk 10.52), how much more will the resplendent beauty of the risen Christ energise endless worship and devotion?
More, we shall be marked by eternal identification, for "his name shall be in their foreheads". An earlier chapter of Revelation informs us about the mark of the beast, that sign of political and religious allegiance during the great tribulation without which men will have no access to basic food supplies (Rev 13.16-18). This, I think, is the context in which to understand the request, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Mt 6.11), which will become the earnest prayer of the godly remnant in those dark days. But the saints will be everlastingly linked with their Redeemer, stamped publicly as His property. In Hitlers third Reich, members of the dreaded SS were tattooed under the armpit with their blood group, which provided a hidden but still detectable means of identification when the victorious allies were seeking out war criminals. Saved sinners, by contrast, will be impressed plainly on the forehead for all to see with the name of their Master. Ours will be the enjoyment of an intimate fellowship with Christ which can never end.
At the same time there will be eternal illumination: "there shall be no night there". Although darkness is sometimes used in Scripture to picture ignorance or evil, there is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with night-time. Indeed, it is Gods gracious provision in this present creation for our necessary rest (Ps 104.20-23). And as we get older how much we look forward to the going down of the sun and the pleasures of sleep! But the perpetual light of the eternal state will be neither the eye-searing brightness of the noonday sun, nor the eye-straining dimness of a candle; rather, it will be the ideally comfortable, healthy radiance of the Lamb Himself, facilitating service without staleness, and worship without weariness.
But dont miss the final wonder of the saints unexpected and eternal elevation: "they shall reign for ever and ever". Who are they? – the people initially referred to as "his servants". Its quite a step from slaves to sovereigns! But this is one of the goals of Gods redemptive purpose. In marvellous grace, the King of the universe "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant" (Phil 2.7), so that guilty sinners might become His servants and share His throne (Rev 3.21). He stooped low that we might be lifted high. All this is nourishment for the soul. Morally and spiritually this world is getting worse and worse; professing Christendom is departing at breakneck speed from the fundamentals of the faith; the "little flock" has never seemed smaller or feebler; assemblies dwindle as faithful believers are called home. Everything around us speaks of discouragement. Yet if we keep this light in our eye we shall be preserved from pessimism, from the false optimism which expects social transformation before the Lords return, from the apathy which gives up on our spiritual duties. When you feel low, take a good dose of Revelation 22 and look ahead!
To be continued.