The Hidden Manna
It is easy to overlook how closely connected the life to come is with the present. Some imagine that when “this mortal shall have put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15: 54) and all present deficiencies in communion and walk with the Lord will have gone forever, that our eternal portion will be unaffected by the lives we have led here. Of course, for each one of us, the state will be perfect, for “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3: 2). Perfection, however, is not equality. Each flower is beautiful and immaculate, but some are large and some are small. The flower reflects the bud before it. So when it is no longer a condition of faith, but of sight, no longer of hope, but of face to face, we must not imagine that our portions will not vary.
Of course, there are many wonderful blessings that are untouched by the character and quality of our service here. How precious to know that every child of the Father’s love shall be clasped to His heart alike—that there shall be no more distance for the one saved “through [the] fire” (1 Cor. 3: 15) than for the one “utterly spent” (2 Cor. 12: 15) in God’s service! Indeed, as we contemplate such blessings as these we might be tempted to think that there cannot be any room for any difference whatever. Is it not true of every believer that “as we have borne the image of the [one] made of dust, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly [one]” (1 Cor. 15: 49)? Yet unspeakably true as all this is, he that has an ear to receive the testimony of God’s Word will find that, in addition to the common blessings which every one of Christ’s own shall have, there are also distinctive and individual blessings, blessings which are not, therefore, the same for all.
The promise to the overcomer in Pergamos is proof of this: “He that has an ear, let him what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him that overcomes, to him will I give of the hidden manna; and I will give to him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives [it]” (Rev. 2: 17). The promise has two parts, which are in beautiful relation to one another. The manna, as is evident, speaks of Christ Himself, and of our apprehension of Him; the white stone is a sign, on the other hand, of His appreciation of us. How blessed is the interchange of affection thus expressed! That, however, is not all, for both these blessings are clearly individual and limited only to the overcomer alone. All do not share in them. Let us take them in their order.
The manna is wilderness food: it fell only there. In Egypt it was not known, and when Israel arrived within the borders of the land it ceased. It was divine provision for those to whom God was an absolute necessity, for He had brought them into a place where natural provision was lacking and where they were wholly cast upon Him. The wilderness does not speak of what we are naturally, for Egypt is the natural condition, and Egypt is a very fruitful land. The worldly Christian has, in essence gone back to Egypt, and is occupied with the fruits of this life. It is the overcomer alone who feels this world to be a wilderness: all his hopes, his dreams and his thoughts are elsewhere. His food (that which sustains him in a barren scene), is out of heaven, typical of Christ as the bread of life (see John 6: 31–33). But here in the address to Pergamos it is not just manna, but “the hidden manna” (v17, my emphasis). The “hidden manna” was that which was put into the ark as a memorial before God (see Exod. 16: 33). There was therefore, not only divine provision for man seen in the manna, but what was precious to God. In promising this to the overcomer, the Lord is thus intimating that the overcomer is able to enter in to the delight that God had in Christ as Man down here. Pergamos was a worldly assembly, dwelling “where the throne of Satan [is]” (Rev. 2: 13). Of this “ruler of the world” the Lord says “in me he has nothing” (John 14: 30). Only the overcomer in Pergamos—one who views this world not as a place to ‘get on’ but as a wilderness—can really ever enter into the delight that God had in Christ here as “a root out of dry ground” (Is. 53: 2). Our present life is not cut off by so broad a division from the eternal one as some would have it. In measure as we feel this world to be a wilderness here, and in measure as we feed on the divine provision now, so shall we enjoy the “hidden manna” in a day to come.
These things raise many questions: How much material for the joy hereafter are we gathering here? How much need have we of Christ day by day? How much hunger and thirst have we after Him? These are very strong terms, but they are evidently also the terms of Scripture: “Work not [for] the food perishes, but [for] the food which abides unto life eternal, which the Son of man shall give to you” (John 6: 27). Which is it for which we are really labouring? The food which perishes, or the food which abides? Blessed as it is to be saved from the wrath to come, is our eye on the city which has foundations, walking as strangers and pilgrims here? Or are we practically living here much as others do—the days filled up with a routine of cares and claims, floating in the stream of this world? Much may be pleaded as to the necessities of duties, while the daily need and ministry of Christ is a thing unknown. Again, it is one thing to understand what is meant by the wilderness, but how much is this world really felt as such? Many can explain the doctrine but few there are who have experienced the reality. Overcomers, by definition, are never numerous. Such questions search such us all.
Let us now briefly consider the second part of the promise—“a white stone” (Rev. 2: 17). The Greek word used for stone in this passage (yhfoς) is used only one other time in the NT, where Paul, recalling his behaviour when unconverted, says “and when they were put to death I gave my vote” (Acts 26: 10; my emphasis). Again, yhfhzwy, the verb derived from yhfoς, is also used twice in the NT and is translated count (see Luke 14: 28; Rev. 13: 18), Now the connection between the words vote and count, and the seemingly unrelated stone may not be readily apparent. Once we see, however, that people in the ancient world voted by casting small stones into a receptacle, all becomes clear. The meaning of this stone is therefore unmistakable: it refers to a person that God has chosen and commended, and the whiteness only serves to emphasise the unreserved nature of this approval. Yet there is more, for there is a new name inscribed upon the pebble “which no one knows but he that receives [it]” (Rev. 2: 17). Names in Scripture are always significant and are descriptive of whoever bears them. To know God’s name is know what He is—to know His character—and in the same way the new name here speaks of some character in the one on whom the name is conferred of which Christ approves. It is a unique and peculiar link between the Lord and His servant. It is not publicly noted or rewarded, but a secret link between the Lord and the individual saint. But where is our spiritual character formed? In our lives here. When we reach heaven there will be no more opportunity for such formation.
These two things then—the hidden manna and the secret name on a white stone—speak to us of what shall be preciously unique to the individual saint. Both imply something wrought here, which has an impact on that scene up there. Both are inseparably connected with one another, for the appreciation of Christ by the soul is the necessary basis of His answering approval. Let us therefore cast aside the falsehood that would have it that our conduct on earth is of no consequence in the hereafter and seek to be wholly for the One who has loved us and given Himself for us!