By John Nelson Darby
Revelation 21: 1-8
In this part of the chapter we have the end of all things, when the mediatorial work of Christ, even as king in subduing all things, is finished, and He has given up the kingdom that God may be all in all; when the final result is produced in the new heaven and the new earth; when the former things have passed away; when everything is in its own essential blessedness in the presence of God, and we have not only got blessing, but this in glory; it leads us in a peculiar manner to see the way in which the thought and counsel of God have been at all times to make man His dwelling-place. This is not always observed in Scripture; but when God's ways are brought out, and also particularly His holiness as it is said in the Psalms, "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever," then we have the purpose of God unfolded to us to make man His dwelling-place; and therefore we find the goodness and love of God finally displayed.
"Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." The language is figurative, no doubt; but there is this full and complete effect of God's own dealing and working in the removal of everything that can create a pang. But there is more in this than that tears are wiped away: God shall do it. There is the compassion that has caused the removal of the sorrow, and this is more than that the sorrow is gone. It is God who has removed all. If the evil is gone and the sense of pain, it is God who has put them away from the heart. "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." Not only has He taken away the evil, but it is never to be any more. That is, there is now full and perfect security and blessedness. All the evil is gone, and all those things too through which; man was exercised to bring him to a point where he could really meet God. The love of God takes the place of everything, and, filling all things with Himself, precludes the possibility of evil ever coming in again the contrast of man's paradise of old, as we all know.
Then come two great principles in verses 6, 7: "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." First, there is the one who is athirst, and then the one who overcomes. These are the ways in which the Spirit works; and God always answers the workings of the Spirit. Whenever the Spirit acts in producing desires and wants (it may be at first after holiness or forgiveness, and then after communion and enjoying God), they are all perfectly satisfied in God. Therefore it is said, "I will give unto him that is athirst of - the fountain of the water of life." It is not merely, mark, the water of life that is given here; but there is given "of the fountain," that which springs up in the presence of God. What a thing to find! Thus the soul is perfectly satisfied with the fountain of blessedness for which he is thirsting, even God Himself, whom he is rendered capable of enjoying. He is at the wellspring.
The second principle is that he that overcomes shall inherit. Here we find not desires satisfied, but difficulties overcome. It was so with Jesus Himself, as it is said, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father on his throne." "He that overcometh shall inherit these things," as associated with Christ, "and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." He comes into immediate connection with God. In the one we have the satisfaction of spiritual wants, in the other the relationship wherein we stand. This is the general thought. Such is the state and condition of those spoken of; but there is another point which deserves to be enlarged on a little more, and that is the personal happiness found in it. There is no longer a Mediator, no longer the need of one; there is no more the need of mercy and grace found to help in the time of need.
When we come a little closer, there are other things that claim attention. We have here, "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people," etc. His dwelling-place is with men. It is no more an individual or a national thing. Of course the wicked are put away; but God's dwelling-place is no longer with the Jews, but with men. And this too is to be noticed, that the church has a very peculiar place.
The thought of God was to be with men, dwelling and abiding with them. Christ dwelt here among men, but it was a short time, and now He is cast out; but that will be another thing. Nor will it be as He appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even Christ's stay was to end; but not so the dwelling of God by-and-by. Neither is it simply men made blessed; but God will dwell with them. Such is the distinctive eternal character of blessing; but also the church is to possess it in a peculiar way, already remarked on in this passage. It is not life only, but the presence of God with men as His abiding-place to reveal Himself and bless them fully.
If we look back at Adam and his dwelling-place, we shall not find this. God did not, could not, stay there. Man was then put under responsibility to see if God could stay there. The question of obedience had to be settled; and we know how it was settled. Man disobeyed and was cast out. The test was the stability of the creature; it was no question of divine work in grace. God, therefore, in no wise dwelt there. But on man's sin He revealed the assurance of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven. As the first man, Adam, had failed under the serpent's craft, the last Adam was to come and destroy his power. So said God when pronouncing on the serpent. There was this revelation; but the world went on so badly that the flood came and took them all away, save Noah and his family, whom God rescued in the ark.
Yet the next thing we hear of the world is that men set about in the plain of Shinar to defy God, centralise man, and possess the earth in their own might and for their own name; just as men will do by-and-by in a yet more daring way, but Jehovah will confound them also, as He did at Babel. Thus, we see, by His judgment, the world ordered into nations and tongues; and the very fact of the existence of different tongues shews that men are separated into nations. This took its rise at Babel; so that the children of men could no longer understand each other. And still there are these peoples and tongues, nations and families. Thus the world was settled then.
But another thing comes out: "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham." He said, as it were, You must have done with all this: it is the world. You must leave your country, and kindred, and father's house. I must have a people in the world. This was the call of Abram. But though we hear of the calling of God, and the election of God, and the promises of God, we have no such thing as God dwelling with Abram or the patriarchs. We know, in fact, that Abram did not leave his father's home at once, though he did quit his country; in other words, he had not done with the flesh. But when Terah was dead, then he blessedly went on as a pilgrim, and God visited him in a lovely way, shewing him His goodness and grace; not, of course, in such spiritual depth and fulness as now, but brightly and beautifully, as in Genesis 17, 18. He was the olive-tree or stock of God, as we read in Romans 11. Still there was yet no dwelling-place for God. He visits and gives him the promises. This was all right so far as it went; and though Abraham's faith failed in Egypt, yet in the main he walked blessedly as a pilgrim. But though God visited him and talked with him, there was yet nothing of redemption seen as a ground-work for God to abide with men.
At Egypt came the question which was to be the type of redemption: so mercy put the blood on the lintel as a figure of Christ. Then the children of Israel go through the Red Sea as the sign of the death and resurrection of Christ. Then we find redemption - the active intervention of God to make good the promises made. We have not now a promise of something to be given, but actual deliverance, as it is said in Exodus 19: 4: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself." So it is said (1 Peter 3: 18), "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." Not our poor vile bodies - they are not yet brought to God; but our souls are truly redeemed. A work has been wrought so absolute in its nature for the putting away of sin, that now there is not a single thing (morally I mean) between God and him who has part in it; and not only is there nothing in us by which sin can be imputed, but we have been brought nigh to God.
Say, are you brought nigh to God? You say, I am hoping to get there. Then you have not been brought there, for He does not bring half way. But Christ has brought us nigh to God. He represents us in the presence of God. The putting away of sin is accomplished, or it never can be, for Christ cannot die over again. The work is done, but also the people are brought out. All that hindered God having them is put away by blood-shedding; but also they are taken out of the condition in which they were and are brought to God, to "walk in the light as he is in the light." And so it is with the believer now.
It is a very different thought to say, One day I hope to come, from saying, I am come. It is all grace: that we know. But now there is nothing between me and God - of course, there is the blessed Mediator - but I mean there is no evil; it is all cast into the depths of the sea; and we are in His presence "holy and without blame." And what is the consequence of this? That God can dwell among us and in us. If you look at Exodus 15: 2, you will see how He brings it out, consequent on their deliverance from Egypt, "The Lord is my strength and song and he is become my salvation; he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation." And in Exodus 29: 45, God declares that this was His own thought: "And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God, and they shall know that I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them; I am the Lord their God." This is just the language applied to the church. We shall see the church brought out later. But He brought Israel into the land to dwell among them, and He did dwell among them, as we know, for the Shechinah just means a tabernacle or dwelling-place of glory.
We get this immense truth, which we are almost afraid to look in the face, that, when sin is put away and we are brought to God, He dwells in and among us. just as Solomon said, "But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee," 2 Chron. 6: 18. What a truth this is, that God has so perfectly sanctified the people in order to manifest Himself, that He comes and dwells among them! And where was Jehovah to dwell? In Israel; and all nations were to come there and see His glory; as it will be again in the latter day. It was all spoiled and corrupted: this is another thing; but it was set up that He might be inquired of by the nations.
You will find another thing connected with this, that, except the setting apart of the sabbath, the first time holiness is spoken of is in Exodus 15. Every saint had it, of course, in his heart and ways; but it was not brought out before. But the moment they sing this at the Red Sea, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness," the command is, "Sanctify yourselves"; that is, walk in holiness. The great truth comes out that in redemption the person is brought to God. We also find these companion-truths that the people are sanctified fully, and God is dwelling among them.
There is a people set apart for God, and what characterised them was His own dwelling among them. This itself is an immense truth. It is thoroughly followed out in Christianity, not in figure but in the reality of truth, through the true blood-shedding of the Lamb of God and perfect cleansing from sin, and real deliverance through the death and resurrection of Christ, whereby we are brought nigh to God.
But now another thing comes in, that where one gets this full blessedness is in Christ: not Christ in us (however true), but we in Him. And you will find this connected with the fact that He is dwelling with us. There is not a spot left on the man that is set apart as redeemed and purchased and perfected for ever, Christ having borne his sins in His work of redemption. The believer stands in all the efficacy of Christ's work. Suppose you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and your sins have not finally and definitely been put away, they never can be; or else Christ must die again, and He never can. But, blessed be God, He has put away sin, as we find in Hebrews 10: 11, "And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices which can never take away sins; but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God." He is not standing, but is set down, for the work is done. There we find perfect cleansing through the blood-shedding, as it was said to Israel, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you."
But then we find another thing in the death and resurrection of Christ. I have One passed out of this world (of course, in spirit, He never was of it, this blessed, Holy One, but as to His actual presence here). He is gone as man into another scene, as risen, having passed through the Red Sea, or death, and gone to God as man. Thus we see not only the putting away of sin, but Christ entering into another scene; and now we see not only God dwelling with man, but man with God. Christ has gone into God's presence as the Redeemer, presenting Himself to God for us, and we stand in His presence in Christ. How is this? He sends the Holy Ghost as the Comforter, and our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. We have this wonderful and blessed truth as the result of redemption accomplished and sin put away. We are partakers of the death and resurrection of Christ. He is gone into heaven presenting His own blood. We are cleansed, and our bodies the temple of the Holy Ghost, and thus we become individually His dwelling-place.
It is true again of the church of God, as it is said, "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit," Eph. 2: 22. Thus the church of God became the habitation of God. This is a wonderful and blessed position, and we have it in a special manner by the Head being in heaven, as the Lord Himself said, "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you," John 14: 20. This expresses our union with Christ; as it is said in Ephesians 5: 30, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." Such is the special and blessed character of the church. It is the habitation of God, and will be so till the day it is taken up to be with the Lord. This is indeed a wonderful thing, and shews us what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation. The individual may fail, and the church of God may fail, and has failed, so as to have become the very seat of Satan (I mean those professing to be the church now); but this has not altered the truth that, wherever we find the true church, it is the habitation of God. It is not merely that life is there hidden as we get in Colossians, but manifested, as in Ephesians; it is brought out. It is the Holy Ghost in the individual man, though His presence may perhaps only be known by a groan. I am not speaking now of how all this has been corrupted and spoiled. This is truth also. But so is this other thing with regard to the individual, that Christ is in him, and he is in Christ. This is true of the church too, if it knows its place. It is more than being the mere dwelling-place of God. We have union with the Head in heaven. We are members individually, we are also collectively the body of Christ. Hence the exhortation, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God"; and therefore, the church ought to be as a city set on a hill.
Thus, we have here two things: first, God dwelling among us; and secondly, and what specially characterises the church, it is one with Christ. But let us follow farther. When we come to the kingdom, we have this union fully accomplished, being in heaven in the body. We go into our Father's house; not only does He dwell in us, but we have association with Christ - a place in the Father's house. I can say, the Head is in heaven, and He is going to take me there to His own dwelling-place; just as He taught us before He went up, "In my Father's house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself." Not only so, but we have boldness to go there now in spirit; and He will come again and receive those whom now He is not ashamed to call brethren, when He comes to display His glory in connection with this world, and the heavenly Jerusalem becomes the dwelling-place of God. As John says, "I saw no temple therein."
Supposing, in order to explain things, there had been a temple, and God dwelling in it as among the Jews, there He was hidden, so that even the high priest could not go in but once a year; and even then none saw Him. Though glory was there, it was a glory which was hid. It was then in darkness, except what light the glory itself gave. Here "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple." If I may so speak, His own glory is the temple. Therefore there is no light there; "The Lamb is the light thereof," or the lamp of it, as the word should be rendered.
Behold the blessed picture of this in the transfiguration. We see Peter, James, and John, men on the earth; Moses, Elias, and Christ representing men in glory, and then they enter the Shechinah, which, I have no doubt, was the cloud which overshadowed them, of which they were afraid as they entered. As for Peter, he was so astonished that he did not know what to say, and proposed to build three tabernacles, where each could preside as three oracles. But then comes the excellent glory which overshadows them, and they hear the Father's voice saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him." In this scene we see the three things which shall be in the kingdom. We find here (Rev. 21) the same thing, the heavenly Jerusalem coming down, and we have the purpose of God when all is done. We know that it is the church, for it is called the bride, the Lamb's wife, and only the church is suited to be thus associated with Christ.
The tabernacle of God will be with men. Not only He is with them, but there is the tabernacle, the church, and He dwells in it. Here is the full and blessed result of God dwelling with men, and also the tabernacle; for we shall have been taken up and given this heavenly character.
It is a great truth that there is even now the dwelling-place of God. It is not only that we have life and are happy in heaven, but here we are the habitation of God. Let me ask, What is the full fruit of redemption? God dwelling in us. And look at the practical effect of this. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost," which is the only spring of our thoughts and feelings, so that nothing else can come in. And cannot we understand how holiness ensues? Of course it must, and divine judgment too, as it is said, "Judgment must begin at the house of God"; for nothing that defiles can be in His presence anywhere, and of all places not there where He dwells. Thus holiness is founded on redemption, being intimately connected with God's dwelling-place. You will see how all is founded on redemption. Adam innocent could not get it. He listened to Satan and ate the forbidden fruit, and so was driven out.
A new thing comes in - redemption. The Son of God came and brought the responsibility of man to its full, final, test. They would not have Him. He would not condemn till the iniquity was full; but when they rejected the Son, it was full. They afterwards despised the Holy Ghost, but at the cross it was full. Then comes in the fruit of redemption, taking man out of that scene of judgment by One glorifying God perfectly. Now that redemption is wrought, the sin is put out of God's sight and deliverance is given, which we enter into by faith; and those who are now brought to God by the power of redemption are not now as man under responsibility to answer for himself and find he is good for nothing, but through the work of Christ they are brought into the new creation; as it is said, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation," 2 Cor. 5: 17. He belongs not to the old creation (of course his body does; but I am not speaking of that: the man himself does not), but to the new creation, as it is said, "That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures," James 1: 18. The church of God is such.
We see that God has not done some little good for us, but He has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. We have become His dwelling-place, and what do I find as to this holiness which comes in? I am not my own, I am bought with a price. I am sanctified to God, and I must bring the heavenly atmosphere to bear on my ways, habits, and feelings, and grow up unto Him in all things who is the Head, and know more of Christ every day. What a character of holiness belongs to the Christian and to the church of God! "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God."
Let me ask you how you treat this divine guest. I am now speaking reverentially of God's presence. How often do you think of it in the day, that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost? If the queen were to come, and for a time take up her abode with any of us, we should think of nothing else. I am now speaking of the respect which every person ought to feel towards her. Supposing I were to forget her presence, it would be a shame to me, and the fact of neglecting her would fill me with shame and bitterness. But what of the Holy Ghost who dwells in us? We think not of it half the day; we think of it, if we do all things so as to please the Lord. I am called to walk worthy of this; I must keep the temple pure. We fail, it is true, and then comes in the intercession of Christ. But such is the character that belongs to us. O, if our hearts only thought of it, His presence in us is far more blessed than when God dwelt in the temple! Though not so palpable, it is far more real. Do you believe that the Lord Jesus sent down the Comforter to dwell here? Of course, as God, He is everywhere. Do you believe that the Son came down? As God, He was everywhere, and yet He came down; and so with the Holy Ghost. He did come down, and where does He dwell? In our bodies and in the church of God. And what kind of persons ought these to be?
Where is He, the Holy Spirit? Has He gone and left the earth? No, blessed be God, and never will, till Christ comes and takes up the church, and then the Holy Ghost will be taken up too, though He will not, even then, cease working. But He is with us even now, and will be till then, unless we say that God has abandoned the earth, which is not true. Where, then, is the sign of His presence, the witness that He is here? There are no such things as miracles now, and I do not expect there will be again, except in the devil's power.
But, practically, what are we to look for? We are to see how far we in heart, conduct, ways, spirit and manner, are walking on the earth in the power of the Spirit. Only let us see that all these things are the fruit of accomplished redemption. How could we talk so if we were only looking at ourselves? But the Holy Ghost comes as the seal and value of Christ's work. He produces fruit after, when He comes witnessing to the efficacy of Christ's work. just as the priests under the law were first washed with water, next sprinkled with blood, and then anointed with oil, the Spirit comes, not as the seal of the fruits He produces, but as the seal of Christ's work, and then the fruit follows.
And thus it is we get peace. It is by the Spirit testifying to the efficacy of Christ's work. Being convicted of sin, we flee to Christ and submit to God's righteousness, looking at the value of Christ's blood; and then peace comes, the Holy Ghost being the witness and seal. And then the exhortation applies, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed to the day of redemption." So it was with the children of Israel. It was not said to them, "See the progress you have made; see you have left Succoth; see you have packed up the dough in your troughs"; no, but "See the salvation of the Lord!" That which distinguishes the effect of redemption is the presence of the Holy Ghost; we enjoy it as the fruit of Christ's work. Is this your case? Do you believe that you are redeemed? You speak of Christ as the Redeemer. What has He done for you? Has He left you in Egypt? He has taken you out of it, if you are a believer, and He is gone into heaven, there to appear in the presence of God for us. All exercise of heart before we believe is to convince us that we are without strength. And what can we do? If we are really powerless, what can we do but "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord"? Then I can say, I am not in Egypt at all. I have got the journey through the wilderness, and exercises of heart there, and conflict in Canaan when I have left the wilderness, but always with the certainty of being redeemed.
The Lord give us to know that the place we hold on earth by redemption is to be the habitation of God through the Spirit individually, and as the church of God, and to feel "what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation," and that "holiness becometh" His "house for ever!" God will carry this on till the time of the new heaven and the new earth; and even then He speaks of the tabernacle of God being with men in connection with the place we have got into in Christ. The Lord give us to know by faith now that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost; that we are not our own, but bought with a price!