The Living Glory
April 22nd, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
HE LIVING GLORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-22-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are worshipping with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Living Glory. It is an exposition of a text in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, verses 17 and 18 [Revelation 1:17-18]. And I read the context, which begins at verse 9:
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day—
on Sunday, on resurrection day—
and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the chest 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 fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters.
And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
And now the text:
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And 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; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and I have the keys of Hell and of Death.
This is a strong expression: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet, hos nekros, as dead” [Revelation 1:17]. He could not see. The blaze of the glory of the face of Jesus blinded him. He could not hear the sound of many waters. The voice as of a trumpet stunned his ears. He lost consciousness. The exceeding weight of the glory of that sight took away his very life and senses: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet, hos nekros, as dead” [Revelation 1:17].
This is an astonishing thing to me when I think of who it is writing that testimony. John had been with the Lord all of his life. They were first cousins. Their mothers were sisters. And doubtless growing up in Galilee they had known one another from infancy. John the apostle was a disciple of John the Baptist, and the first disciple, along with Andrew, of the Lord [John 1:35-40]. He had followed the Lord Jesus through all the days of His ministry. He laid his head on the Lord’s bosom at the Last Supper [John 13:23]. He was standing at the cross when the Lord was dying. He took the mother of the Lord—he took Mary to his own home and cared for her [John 19:26-27]. He saw the Roman spear that thrust the side of Jesus and followed it out, looking upon the blood and the water [John 19:34-35]. He was present when the Lord appeared to the disciples raised from the dead [John 20:19]. He and Simon Peter were the first to go into the empty tomb [John 20:2-8]. He followed the Lord in the forty days [Acts 1:3] and watched Him ascend up to heaven when a cloud received Him out of their sight [Acts 1:9-10]. Throughout the entire life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, this man, the apostle John, was by His side. Yet he writes: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet, hos nekros, as dead” [Revelation 1:17].
You would have thought that when John saw the risen Lord here glorified, immortalized—you would have thought that he would have been overcome, overwhelmed with ecstatic joy. It would have been bliss supernal. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke it says: “When the disciples saw the Lord: they believed not for joy” [Luke 24:41].
What a glad, glorious moment for John on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-18]. And yet, instead of joy and ecstasy, he was filled with fear and became as one dead [Revelation 1:17]. Why? There are two reasons. One: John is now beholding unveiled and undimmed and un-shadowed deity. In the days of the flesh of our Lord, His Godhead was covered over. It was veiled with His flesh. Just once in a while did the glory of deity shine through, such as when the Lord was transfigured, and His face became as the sun [Matthew 17:1-2]. And as the Lord ministered here and there, glimpses of His supernal and celestial glory shone through. But for the most part, the Lord had emptied Himself and made Himself of no reputation and became as a servant and as a slave and His deity, His Godhood was veiled over by carnality, by the body of flesh [Philippians 2:6-8]. But here John looks upon the Savior in all of His deity. His face is as the sun shining in his strength. His eyes are as a flame of fire. His feet are like molten brass, as though they burned in a furnace. And His voice is the voice that someday shall raise the very dead out of their graves [Revelation 1:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And when John looked upon deity unmasked and uncovered: “I fell at His feet, hos nekros, as dead” [Revelation 1:17].
This same John, as the Revelation proceeds, looked upon the jasper throne of God and didn’t quail. He looked upon the seven lamps and seven spirits of God, denoting the fullness of the Spirit of God, burning before the throne, and had no fear. He looked upon the rainbow of emerald and did not tremble [Revelation 4:1-3]. When he saw the crystal sea that burned as fire, he looked upon it with rejoicing [Revelation 4:6]. He even looked through the door of heaven and looked through the door of hell into the abyss and was not afraid. Yet here, when he looks upon the face of Christ in all of His glory: “I fell at His feet, hos nekros, as dead” [Revelation 1:17].
A second reason why John lost consciousness in the presence of the exceeding Glory [Revelation 1:17]; how could a man, made of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 3:20]—how could a man ever see deity, ever see God, and not find himself without strength and without life? How can a sinful man who has known nothing but wrong and mistake all of his life, who is conceived in iniquity and born in sin [Psalm 51:5], how can a mere man look upon the holiness and the purity and the glory of God and still live? How can an insect exist in the caldron of the burning sun? So John, looking upon Jesus in His glory, looking upon deity, fell at His feet, hos nekros, as dead [Revelation 1:13-17].
It is like the children of Israel when before Mount Sinai, they saw God come down in a flaming fire and His voice speak. And the children of Israel cried to Moses: Let God speak to you and you tell us what God says. But let us not hear God’s voice or see God, lest we die [Exodus 20:18-19]. It is as Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, seeing the Lord high and lifted up crying, saying: “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips” [Isaiah 6:5]. It is like Daniel who, on the banks of the Hiddekel River, on the banks of the Tigris River, seeing the theophany of Christ—Christ manifested, he says his comeliness turned to corruption, and he fell as one dead [Daniel 10:4-8]. So it is here: And when I saw Him—the exceeding great glory: Christ risen, immortalized, glorified and the veil of His face taken away, and the glory of God of deity shining through—”I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me; saying unto me, do not be afraid” [Revelation 1:17].
There is such a disparity here between the Jesus that we have known in His ministering to the poor and to the sick [Matthew 11:5] and in His dying on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. There is such a disparity here between the Jesus that we knew who broke bread with the two disciples in Emmaus [Luke 24:13-16] and was known to them in the saying of the blessing [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. There is such a disparity between that Jesus of humility, and love, and compassion [Matthew 11:29, 15:32], and this glorified God that John sees here in the Revelation [Revelation 1:9-16]. And yet we ought not to think so, for it is the same Lord. He has not changed. “And He laid His right hand upon me; saying unto me, do not be afraid” [Revelation 1:17]. That is a gesture that is so typical of the Lord Jesus: “And He put His right hand upon him.”
How often and how many times do you read in the life of our Lord where He touched the blind eyes with His hand [Matthew 9:27-30], and the blind could see? He touched the deaf man’s ears with His hands, and he could hear [Mark 7:32-35]. He touched the sick with His hands, and they were healed [Luke 4:40]. He took little babes in His arms, and blessed them [Mark 10:13-16].
There is not a more dramatic story in all the Word of God than the eighth chapter of Matthew where it says: “And behold, a leper” [Matthew 8:2]—and behold a leper came to the Lord Jesus. How did he come before the Lord Jesus? The Lord was thronged on every side and the people could not get to Him [Matthew 8:1]. Yet this leper just walked right up. Well, the answer is obvious. By the law, the leper had to cover over his face, cover over his lips and cry wherever he walked, “Unclean, unclean, unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45]. And when the people heard that cry and saw the loathsome, filthy rags, they fell away. And always around that leper was that icy, chilly, horrible circle. He always walked in a circle as the people fell away from the loathsome creature. Not the Lord. He just stood there, and the leper walked right up to Him. And the Book says: and the Lord took His hand, and touched him. I can just see the crowd gasp as He did it. And the Lord took His hand, and touched him; “Be thou clean” [Matthew 8:3]. It was half the cure. He had forgotten how it felt, the warm pressure of the touch of a human hand. “And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Do not be afraid—fear not” [Revelation 1:17].
For the Lord has not changed. He is still the same [Hebrews 13:8]. The heart that beats under that golden girdle [Revelation 1:13] is the same heart that was moved in compassion over the multitudes who were lost like sheep [Matthew 9:36]. The hand that holds the seven stars [Revelation 1:16], is the same hand that was nailed to the cross on Calvary [Luke 23:33, John 19:16-18]. The eyes that burned with flaming fire [Revelation 1:14] are the same eyes that burst into tears at the tomb of Lazarus [John 11:34-35], in Gethsemane [Hebrews 5:7], and over the city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:41]. And the lips and the tongue that speak with authority and someday shall control and rule with the rod of iron [Revelation 12:5], are the same lips that spoke the words of invitation: “Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. He has not changed [Hebrews 13:8]. His heart is still the same. Whether humble in the days of His ministry [Philippians 2:6-8] or whether glorified and exalted, the crowned Prince of Glory [Revelation 1:10-18], He is still the same. “And He laid His right hand upon me; saying unto me, do not be afraid” [Revelation 1:17]. To be dead at the feet of Jesus is better than to be alive anywhere else in the world. And He ministers to us in our daily necessity and need. “And He laid His right hand upon me; saying unto me, do not be afraid” [Revelation 1:17]
Then we have a self-description of deity of our Lord: “I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore . . . and I—I have the keys of Hell and of Death” [Revelation 1:17, 18]. I am the First and the Last. We are familiar with those words because God the Father in describing Himself spoke of Himself as being the First and the Last [Revelation 1:17]. That is deity. He is preexistent. He always was. There was never a time when God was not, and that God is Christ.
In the beginning was the—logos—Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God—pros ton theon, face to face.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
And the Word was made flesh, and dealt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten Son of God)
[John 1:1-3, 14]
“I am the First” [Revelation 1:17]. When John the Baptist introduced Him, he said: “He was preferred before me because He was before me” [John 1:30], from the beginning—this Christ. And the Lord said to the Jewish people “Before Abraham was, I Am” [John 8:58]—”I AM THAT I AM” [Exodus 3:14], the great Jehovah God, the great Jehovah Christ, the Lord Christ—”I am the First, and I am the Last” [Revelation 1:17]. After the kings are wasted in the dust in the earth and their power passed away, after the riches of the earth have been resolved back into their elemental forms, and after the monuments of the earth have all passed away, and then forgotten, He shall endure forever [Psalm 90:2].
Even the heavens shall wax old; and as a garment shall Thou fold them up and put them away.
But Thou, O God, are from everlasting to everlasting, and Thy years shall not cease.
“I am the First and the Last—God. And I am He that liveth”—the living One [Revelation 1:17-18]. All other life takes its existence from some other source. Either from the ground from which it springs, our breath is borrowed. Our life is given to us, but He is ha zōn—the One who lives, the living One. He has life in itself. “And I was dead”; egenomen, “I became dead” [Revelation 1:18]. “And the Word became flesh” [John 1:14]. The verb is in the past: I was dead. There is no crucifix that represents Christ today. It is an empty cross. And the sign and the aegis of the Christian faith is a cross without Christ on it. He was dead [Revelation 1:18]. He died there for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He is the atonement for our souls [Romans 5:11]. He was dead, “But behold, I am alive for evermore” [Revelation 1:18]. And that again is one of the most expressive things—idou zōn emei. Look: “Behold, I am alive for evermore”—eis tous aionas tou aionon, into the always of the always, into the ages of the ages, into the forever of the forever—”I am alive—a living One. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades, of the Grave and of Death” [Revelation 1:18]. They are in His blessed hands. I shall not die until He wills it. And when that day comes, it will be those nail-pierced hands that opened the gates of grace that shall open for me the gates of glory. “And I—I have the and of the Grave and Death.” They are in the nail-pierced hands of our Lord. Don’t be afraid.
Now for the moment, and I have time, may I just say a word: “Behold, I am alive for evermore” [Revelation 1:18]. Then He is somewhere now, is He not? If He is alive, He is somewhere now. Where is He, and what is He doing? And how do we know that He is alive? My brother, if every citizen of the Roman Empire had seen Him alive, and if the official records of the Roman Caesar and of the Roman procurator had officially outlined His resurrection, the testimony of men two thousand years ago would not be as regnant and as pertinent and as dynamic as testimony today, now. Is He alive? Is He? Then how do you know, and where is He?
It is the same thing as if in a court a man were being tried for murdering another man, and while the debate was going on, the man who was supposed to be murdered walked into the court. Can you imagine what an evidence that would be? It is just like that. The evidence of two thousand years ago is not as dynamic or central or pertinent as evidence now. Is Christ alive? If He is, where is He, and what is He doing? “Behold, I am alive for evermore, living. I am living forever” [Revelation 1:18]. Then He is here today. Where? And what is He doing? And how do you know? Here is the testimony today. How do you know He is alive? Because, one, He is still healing. He is still healing.
After the service this morning at 8:15, one of the dear members of the church said to me, “I am going into the hospital for a serious operation. Pastor, would you pray for me? Would you remember me? Ask God to bless and heal me.” Can I do that? I may not believe in paid divine healers, but I believe in divine healing. There is no other kind. The physician can prescribe and the surgeon can cut, but only God can heal, and He is still healing. He lays his hands upon the sick. He softens the pillow of those who lie on beds of affliction. And the hem of His garment reaches to those who need His healing grace. He is still healing.
How do you know He is alive? And how do you know that He looks upon us and that He is present with us? How do you know? Second, He is still answering prayer. Oh, how many, many times bowed before God does the Lord bend His ear to hear and give answers and assurance from heaven? He is still answering prayer.
Third, how do you know that He is alive? How do you know that He listens? How do you know that He lives? How do you know that He is? Third: He is still saving souls. As He saved the disciples, as He saved Saul of Tarsus, as He saved Timothy and Titus, as He saved Polycarp and Papias, as He saved Athanasius and Ambrose, as He saved Savonarola and John Wycliffe, as He saved John Hus and Felix Manz and Balthazar Hubmaier, and as He saved John Wesley and George Whitefield, and as He saved Dwight L. Moody and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and as He saved B. H. Carroll and George W. Truett, He is still saving. He saved you. There was a day when you felt the tug of His presence and heard the sound of His voice, the invitation to come unto Him, and you found the Lord. He is still saving. He is alive. He is still reigning. For a while the earth is not His footstool, and for a while the god of this world brings affliction and trouble and sorrow to God’s saints, but He is reigning in heaven, and someday He is coming again [Acts 1:11]. “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7], which is the text of the glorious Apocalypse, the unveiling of the Lord.
And last, how do you know He lives? Where is He? “And I heard a great voice, as of the sound of a trumpet [Revelation 1:10], behind me, and I turned to see the voice that spake, and being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands; And in the midst of the seven lampstands I saw the Son of God—Jesus, walking among His churches [Revelation 1:12, 13]. And when God’s people assemble, there He is—here today. And so many times in the presence of the Lord God in the convocation of His redeemed, just seated here, I so feel His presence, but sometimes I burst into tears. Jesus here, now, forever. He will never take the Spirit away. And His presence, felt and seen by the eyes of faith, someday will be seen by the eyes of a resurrected body. “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth: and though worms through this skin destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom mine eyes shall behold and not another” [Job 19:25-27]. He is alive. He lives. He is here, and He is our God and Savior for all who thus will accept Him, and trust Him, and believe in Him, and commit their lives and souls to Him [John 3:16; Romans 10:8-13].
Will you do that? “Today, Easter day; this high, holy Lord’s Day, today I give my life in faith and trust to the blessed Lord” [Ephesians 2:8]. Would you? In the balcony round, on the lower floor, somebody you, “Today, I make that decision for Christ.” In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Today, I’m coming.” Put your life in the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Give your life in a new way to God. Accept the Lord as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13]. As the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. Answer now with your life. On the first note of the first stanza, come. If you are in the topmost balcony at the last seat, there’s time and to spare, come, down one of these stairways. If you are on the lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I am bringing my whole family. This is my wife and my children. We are all coming today.” As the Lord shall speak, as God shall press the invitation to your heart, come now. Answer now, while we stand and while we sing.