Alas! how few here reach this; how many are offended if they are even told that till they reach it they are carnal. And yet as long as we only know Christ as outside of, rather than as formed and growing in us, though we may have given up much to follow Him, and like Peter have confessed Him Lord and Christ, and by Him and with Him been used to feed thousands,–we may still only know Him after the flesh, and be still strangers to the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10). We shall deny this till the brighter light begins to dawn. We shall surely confess it when we reach to that which the disciples reached at Pentecost. Then we may see, what we have long confessed, that “there is nothing unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14); that “to the pure all is pure” (Titus 1:15); that a disciple of Christ may, nay is commanded to, “eat,” (Acts 10:13), that is, receive and conjoin to himself, all sorts of creatures; that as all had descended, so all should ascend; that, though they had been unclean, “God had cleansed them” (Acts 10:15); because something had been done for them by the wondrous incarnation and resurrection of the Eternal son, by which all creaturely defilement, be it what it may, had been and could be put away.
Who really understands this truth, that by becoming man,–who is himself an epitome of creation, containing the essences and lives and faculties of all creatures,–He by whom all things were made, in whom all things consist (Col. 1: 16,17); has linked Himself to all, and by His blood has cleansed all? “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, that having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him he might reconcile all things to Himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:19, 20). Heaven opened now teaches Peter this. Many a day had he been in bondage as to clean and unclean, not through any carelessness about God’s will, but rather through the desire to please Him, or at least to keep His word.
Now the meaning and end of Christ’s Incarnation, and of His offering, begin to open to him,–the meaning of His coming down, as the sheet was let down out of heaven,–the meaning of His stooping, as He says, to be “a worm and no man” (Psalm 22:6),–of His becoming a Lamb (John 1:29), yea and a Lion also (Isa. 38:13; Lamentations 3:10; Hosea 13:7); for it is as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” that “He opens the book” (Revelation 5: 5),–the meaning of His going back into heaven in our nature, (even as the sheet was taken up again with all the living creatures,) and appearing there as the Lamb and the Lion also (Revelation 5:5,6),–all this is gradually learnt.
And when a soul, like Peter here, really sees what is involved in the creature’s return in Christ to God,–when we see how in Christ all the faculties in man, the lowest as well as the highest, have been sanctified and raised from earth to heaven,–how not the ox or lamb only, that is service and meekness, but even the lion and the eagle(Rev 4:7), that is force and keenest insight, may one and all be consecrated, and stand around the throne,–then is learnt the lesson which Peter slowly apprehended, that he “should call no man common or unclean”; a wondrous lesson surely, now as of old only to be learnt, as Peter learnt it here, through “opened heavens.” But there are visions still more wondrous than this, for Peter’s example shows us only such openings of heaven as may be reached by those who live the active life of faith and conflict. John shows us those visions which may and must have been seen by the passive suffering life of contemplation.
The man in Patmos, separated from his brethren, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ, sees things which he must indeed write in a book and send (for so he is commanded (Rev 1:9, 11)) to the seven churches, but which the churches, living as they do, will little understand, though the things seen may be fulfilling in heaven, that is the world of spirits, all around them. I do not attempt to open these visions.
They are like the heavenly city they speak of, open to all, but opened here to a few; with gates that never shut by day, and there is no night there, but into which there can in no wise enter anything that defileth, or worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but only those who are written in the book of the life of the Lamb, that is the patient life of self-sacrifice (Revelation 21:25, 27). For as it is the Lamb who alone opens the seven-sealed book, so is it the life of the Lamb which alone can enter these glories. Glimpses however of these visions must be known to some, for there will ever be Johns as well as Peters among Christ’s followers; and such cannot but see what John once saw (Revelation 1:13-16), how One like unto the Son of Man walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; in priestly robes; for is He not the Priest, whose office it is to keep alive the fire, and trim the lights in God’s sanctuary; but showing the woman’s breast (Footnote: “Girt about the paps” Revelation 1:13. St. John here uses the word [Greek], which is the woman’s breast, while [Greek word] is the breast of a man.
Compare what is said of the angels in Revelation 15:6–[several Greek words]), for in the Lord the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man (I Cor. 11:11), made again, like Adam unfallen (Genesis 1:27 and compare 2:21, 22 and Col. 3:10), where there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female (Gal 3:28), but a new creature and a new man in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). This is not the form in which the Son of Man is seen at first, for to redeem us He took our likeness, “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:7), and was circumcised upon the eighth day (Luke 2:21, 27), that so, sharing the shame of our divided nature, He might bear its curse, and heal the breach, and through death bring us back in and for Himself, again to bear the undivided image of Him who formed man in His likeness.
All this is seen at the very beginning of that Revelation, which, from “a door opened in heaven” (Revelation 4:1), leads on to “heaven opened” (Revelation 19:11), when the Priest is seen as King of kings and Lord of lords, out of whose mouth goeth the sharp sword which must smite all flesh, both of free and bond, and great and small; (Revelation 19:15, 19); after which is seen the new heaven and new earth, where there shall be no more death, and the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:1, 2), with the river of the water of life, and the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1, 2). This too surely has been shown to some, but only shown, now as of old, by the coming to us of one of the angels which have the seven vials full of the seven last plagues (Revelation 21:9).
Angels with earthly mercies too often through our weakness only hide from us the heavenly city. It is the angel with the plagues who comes with judgments on the creature, who yet says, as he did to John, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Not until these last plagues are fulfilled can any enter the temple (Revelation 15:8), or see fully the things within the veil, for the way into the holiest is not made manifest while the first tabernacle, in which we groan, being burdened, is yet standing (Heb. 9:8 and 2 Cor. 5:1, 2). But the veil, though not yet taken away, is rent (2 Cor. 3:16; Matthew 27:51; and Heb. 10:20) for all through Christ’s sufferings. Thus even here may we get some glimpses of our home.
But does heaven thus open to believers now? Is it granted to Christians at this day to have the secrets of the spirit-world revealed in vision to them? Again I answer, what is heaven? Is it not the world of light, unseen by sense, that spiritual sphere into which man is brought in Christ, as partaker of His resurrection; where things are perceived which flesh and blood can never see, and joys are tasted which are not of this world? So long indeed as we are dead in sins, the things which occupy us most are the objects which the outward senses see, or hear, or taste, or handle. In these man lives, often for years, not wholly without witness of another world, which dimly rises before him in his fears or aspirations. But with Christ another world appears. Spiritual things, of which perhaps we may have heard,–for in every age God has His witnesses,–become now matters of experience. Truths, which have been hid under a veil, begin to open to us. We now see what we never saw before, the things of Christ, who is the truth, and the things of God, who is a spirit. We may as yet little understand what God is opening to us.
But whenever the things of God, once unconsidered, occupy our hearts,–when sin, righteousness, and judgment, are daily before our eyes,–when we see Jesus interceding for us,–still more when Holy Scripture is unveiled, so that in the law, the prophets, and the gospels, we see wonders touching Christ and His kingdom, which never dawned on us before,–then heaven is truly opening to us, even if at the time we know it not. And the proof is this, that all those truths, which opened to Christ, or to Peter or John, in the visions which we have considered, when heaven opened to them,–whether it be the witness that we are sons, or the assurance that God is now well pleased, or the consciousness that departed saints are very near us, or the truth that no man henceforth is common or unclean, or that the risen Lord is walking in our midst, as the Priest amid the seven golden candlesticks,–all these truths will now be matters respecting which we too can say, not only that we believe, but see them ourselves, though they are not of this world, but of heaven. Where these are seen, heaven is opened. There may be clouds,–there will be clouds,–and we may fear as we and others enter through them (Luke 9:31), but, spite of our fears, the cloud itself is but the gate of heaven, and angel hosts are all around.
For whenever man’s true home is opened, the servants of that home are also seen, even the “angels who ascend and descend upon the Son of Man”, ever near, though unseen by sense, ministering to man’s wants (1st Kings 19:5, 6), or directing his steps (Genesis 16:9), or barring his way, if he turns aside from God (Numbers 22:21, 26); never waiting to be thanked, content, either in ascending or descending, to honour God or succour man; and therefore excelling in strength, because they do His will (Psalm 103:20). So when heaven opened to Isaiah, and he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, and when at the sight he cried, “I am a man of unclean lips”, a seraph at once flew to him with a live coal from off the altar of the Lord, saying, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thy sin is purged away” (Isa. 6:1-7). So again, when Daniel saw his great vision, and was fallen to the earth, one whose face was as the light appeared, and set him upon his knees, and said, “O man greatly beloved, unto thee I am now sent. Fear not, peace be unto thee; be strong; yea, be strong” (Daniel 10:5-19).