Revelation Week 16

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And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:22-27

Let us take a moment to think back, through the stories we remember from the Bible, at the place where God dwells. In Eden, He walked with Adam and Eve, but after sin entered into their lives, they were cast from the garden, and God’s presence forever. His angelic presence visited with Abraham and He even came down and wrestled with Jacob, but the Hebrew Scriptures show vast years in between each of these incidents… years of silence and isolation. Indeed, Moses appears to be one of the first mortals to get regular attention from God, but even Moses was not permitted to see God’s face.

In their 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites understood God to be leading their vast caravan – in a cloud by day and in a vast pillar of fire by night. They believed His presence abided among them, hovering over the Ark of the Covenant. God continued to stay over that Ark, whether it was in the possession of Israel or her enemies. Eventually, King Solomon built a temple to house the Ark where it stayed until Israel fell into civil war and was eventually conquered by Babylon and Assyria. Meanwhile, the prophets could hear God’s voice and saw His hand at work in the world in various ways. Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s throne having wheels and moving all over the world to wherever God wished to be.

All of this understanding of God’s presence comes to a head though, when Jesus steps into the picture as the only begotten Son of God. Now, instead of dwelling spiritually in a place, God has manifested Himself physically as a human being. Fully human and fully divine, Jesus Christ contained the whole of God – who created the universe, all within a simple human body. Jesus told the chief priests during Holy Week, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” referring to His body, not a building because the presence of God within Him was greater than that which was in the temple. Indeed, as Christ breathed His last, the curtain in the room holding the Ark of the Covenant was torn from top to bottom, perhaps in a demonstration that God’s presence had left that place.

Pentecost brought about a new understanding of the presence of God, dwelling within all His people, through the Holy Spirit. With that outpouring, God chose to abide in the hearts of believers, making them (and us) all like little temples. However, this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is only the first installment of our true inheritance. Like a ring given to a woman for her engagement, the Holy Spirit is a gift given as a promise of a much deeper relationship to come. That promise is fulfilled in the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride of Christ at the end of Revelation. We are invited to be united with God in a way even greater than Adam and Eve enjoyed before sin.

Even greater than in the Garden of Eden? Yes. You see, the passage above shows us that, unlike Adam and Eve, we will not rely on anything else but God. They relied on the Sun for light, while the new city will be lit by Jesus, the Light of the world. They relied on walls to keep them safe and keep evil at bay, but the gates of the new city will always be open. There will be no night, no fear, no pain, no tears. The whole world will be welcomed into God’s presence to give Him glory, and those who would oppose Him will never even venture close, for they will see the very presence of God from far off, like a city on a hill. At long last, He shall be our God with us, and we shall be His people, and nothing shall come between us.

Revelation Week 15

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“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” – Rev 20:7-10 (ESV)

 

One of the great sources of debate in interpreting the book of Revelation is the thousand year reign of Christ. When does it occur? If we try lay a chronological timeline over the passages in Revelation, we find that, after the world has been plagued, after Babylon has been destroyed, and after the Beast and the False Prophet have been judged and thrown alive into the lake of fire and Satan has been imprisoned – then the thousand year reign begins. The trouble is, we are not sure that Revelation is meant to be read chronologically. Indeed, it is unlikely it was intended to be read as a step-by-step program of the end of the world. Unfortunately, our human desire to be in control of our lives encourages us to take the easy way out and look for signs to interpret and steps to memorize instead of trusting and obeying God in the present. Let me restate that. The faithful are not the ones who know God’s master plan for the end of the world. The faithful are the ones who trust God with the world now and in the future, regardless of their understanding of the end times.

 

The lack of faith and trust in God we sometimes demonstrate has driven Christians in history to seek out this thousand year reign of Christ. Through noble intentions (particularly around turns of centuries) people have done extreme things in attempt to “usher in” the millennial reign of Christ. Most of us can remember the kind of extreme things people were saying, doing, writing, etc. during the last change of the century and millennium, and that continues today with predictions about the world ending in the year 2012. Do you remember all the panic about the Y2K glitch that was rumored to be able to topple governments and economies? The world was full of anxiety on New Year’s Eve of 1999.

 

A thousand years earlier, the western world was in a similar state of anxiety, particularly as the church looked upon her losses in the middle east with Islamic and Jewish groups predominating in the “New Jerusalem” of the time. Instead of trusting and obeying God in the present, they too tried to “usher in” the millennial reign of Christ with the military strength of the European Kingdoms in a war that lasted over the course of 200 years. Historians refer to that war as the Crusades – a failed attempt of the Church to win back the Holy Lands by military might. The consequences of that bloodshed reach into our lives even today as the Church continues to struggle to regain her witness in the Middle East – to be seen not as a imperial tyrant, but as Jesus: one who served, loved, and died for sinners the world over. I do not pretend to make excuses for anyone’s actions in our conflicts with the Middle East or the people of Islam… it’s a long, drawn out, and complicated mess. However, I do point to the fact that 1000 years ago, Christians tried to force the hand of God, and it did not work. It backfired terribly.

 

In fact, I can recall a time, nearly 1000 years before the Crusades, when the people of God tried to do the very same thing. We celebrate that attempt this weekend as Palm Sunday: the day Jerusalem opened her doors to Jesus the Messiah and gave him a royal welcome with shouts of Hosanna (“Save us”) and waving palm branches (which was equivalent to the national flag of Israel). They wanted to take this young, charismatic teacher and prophet, and make a general out of him, for the purpose of kicking out Rome and reclaiming Jerusalem for themselves. Their plan did not pan out. In fact, by the end of the week, the city had turned on Jesus and those who had not simply run off were standing in the crowd shouting “Crucify him!”. God did not act according to their plans and so they sought to kill him. God’s plan was not ruined by the impatience and impertinence of His people though. Through their actions he worked redemption in the midst of that devastation. What the devil and man had intended for evil, God worked for the good, and with the blood He shed, he poured out forgiveness upon the whole world and broke the power of sin forever.

 

Look at this passage in Revelation one last time. The armies of Darkness gather at the gates of God’s city, surrounding it on all sides and numbering as many as the sands that touch the sea. Who is the hero of the light that marches out of the gate and slays the darkness? What army turns them back from wherever they came from? What secret weapon do the people of God unleash that saves the day? No one. No army. No secret weapon. It is God, who like a loving father, like a good shepherd, like He always has, reigns down fire from heaven and destroys those who seek to harm His children. They don’t have to lift a finger, but only trust Him. Even on the day of the last great battle, God is clearly in control… and He is today as well. Let us put our minds and our actions to the things that are pure and noble, seeking to better trust God with our todays and our tomorrows rather than trying to force the world to be the way we think it should be. Let us seek God first and let Him work His redemption in and through us.

 

    Come, every soul by sin oppressed,

    there’s mercy with the Lord;

    and he will surely give you rest,

    by trusting in his Word.

 

    Only trust him, only trust him,

    only trust him now.

    He will save you, he will save you,

    he will save you now.

 

 

 


 

Revelation Week 14

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“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.” – Rev 19:11 (ESV)

Here comes the groom.

Our Lord and Savior, the long-awaited Redeemer and Son of God will return at last to sweep across our broken world. Here for the first time John sees Jesus wearing many diadems – the crowns the beast and the dragon had worn – as he rightfully takes lordship over the many nations. He leads the army of heaven and strikes down the nations with the sword of his mouth judging and making war in righteousness.

It saddens me to think of the countless number of leaders, groups, and nations who have taken it upon themselves to be God’s army in the world. Our past is full of them. Alexander the Great was considered by some to be a divine ruler and the Greeks worshiped Caesar as a son of God who would march across the world in conquest. Even today, in Africa, there are terrorist groups calling themselves ‘God’s army’. In our world today, with as much confusion as there is politically, economically, and spiritually across the world… how can we understand a Savior who judges and makes war in righteousness?

First, let us remember what has happened up to this point. The world has already received judgment through a series of plagues, each one focusing more and more specifically on the problem of sin. Some religions teach that the world will simply be destroyed in the end, in the battle between good and evil. Our bible teaches differently though. God created this world and in Christ, He died to redeem it, not to destroy it. Rather than imagining the world as a failed experiment, about to be ended, we should see it more as a precious jewel that has become dirty and dull – one that should have reflected God’s nature of love in a multitude of ways, but cannot presently do so in its present, filthy state. God does not intend to throw the whole thing away… he intends to wash away the filth.

Our trouble is that often the filth of sin sticks to us, and even more often, we, to sin. We hang on to our wretchedness with our lives because we see it as part of ourselves… we cannot imagine life without sin. We cannot imagine life as we were made to live it. Christ has offered his blood to wash it away and let us live that life as conquerors of the sinful nature, but we have to choose it. If we choose our sin over God, we may find ourselves washed away with it.

Christ is not marching over a land flowing with milk and honey, but rather a wasteland, devastated by famine, earthquakes, pestilence, and death and He claims it as His rightful inheritance as the Son of God – not to get something out of it, but because He is the only one who can truly redeem it. Jesus is the only one who can heal the brokenness in the land and truly bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, which is why He leads the great army Himself. Only He, is the Faithful Shepherd of God’s flock and the True King of Kings. It is a small thing to take weapons and soldiers into the world and rule by fear and force. Our Lord attacks sin at its source, capturing the devil, the beast, and the false prophet(s), and any who put themselves in opposition to Him, but does not create casualties of bystanders. The powerful words of His mouth that created the world do not miss their targets. Our God is strong. He is able. He is coming back.