Pastor's Pen - August 2019
“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
- Revelation 21:5 -
Where are we going? Studying the Book of Revelation together this summer has given us an opportunity to consider the ultimate end of our faith, the future which God is preparing for us. Though much of our early study of the book has focused on historical interpretations of the text, particularly the persecution of the Church by the Roman Empire, the final chapters of the Book of Revelation are filled with hopeful pictures of the future which still awaits us.
One of my favorite writers from the early Church, St. Mark the Ascetic, wrote that “To journey without direction is wasted effort.” If we don’t have a sense of where we’re headed, then we tend to wander aimlessly. The fact that we have a picture of the new heavens and new earth toward which history is moving makes Christianity unique in comparison to other religions. Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, see the world as caught up in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. The Sanskrit word they use for this continual pattern is samsara, one meaning of which is “wandering.” Rather than wanderers, Christians are pilgrims. We have a goal toward which we’re moving, and though the journey may include moments of surprise and suspense, we have a destination in mind.
What does the Book of Revelation promise about that destination? As with other imagery in Revelation, much of its picture of the end is artistic and poetic, not necessarily meant to be taken literally. Nevertheless, I believe we can confidently say several things about our hope for Christ’s return and the resurrection life that is to follow. First, evil and death will be judged and destroyed (Rev. 18-19, 20:14-15). Second, those who belong to Christ will rejoice in how God’s justice is made manifest (Rev. 19) and they will share in Christ’s resurrection life (Rev. 20:4, 21:3-4). Third, there will be a new heavens and new earth which are united, rather than separated (Rev. 21:2). Scripture uses the image of a wedding to describe this union because, though heaven and earth are different, as a husband and wife differ from one another, they become one, inseparable from each other after Christ’s final victory. Then the dwelling place of God will be forever with his people and his kingdom will finally have come on earth as it is in heaven.
If that’s the destination of our pilgrimage, then how do we deliberately walk in that direction? The New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has compared the Church’s situation in this time of pilgrimage to a group of actors performing a five-act Shakespearean play. The catch is that the script for act four of the play has gone missing. The actors know the plot through the first three acts, and they can see how the play ends in the fifth act, but they have to improvise to bridge the gap between the script that came before and the end they’re working toward.
So how would you improvise in this stage of history? Let’s think of what Revelation tells us about the first three acts of the story. God is the creator of heaven and earth (4:11), yet earth is filled with people and powers that resist God’s rightful rule over creation. We, too, were once slaves to those evil powers until Christ’s blood ransomed us (1:5, 5:9). Now we live in a time when our spiritual enemy makes war against the Church (12:17), at times using the powers of empires and nations to do so (13:2, 17:18). When the end comes, Jesus will return (19:11-13), these false kingdoms will pass away (19:17-18), and those who belong to Christ will live forever in the company of “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:10, 7:9).
Practically speaking, if we’re headed toward a time when the kingdoms of this world will pass away, then we ought to live now with less attachment to power and wealth in this world. We’ll heed the call of Revelation 18:4 to “come out” from the oppressive and idolatrous ways of our world. We’ll hold our institutional and political allegiances lightly, recognizing that the Kingdom of God demands a higher degree of loyalty. Like the people of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:26, we will also present our treasures to God for his purposes, rather than hoarding them for our own.
If we’re headed toward a time of complete fellowship with people “from every tribe and language and nation,” then I think we ought to seek out such fellowship even now. Our church’s current relationship with Neema African Fellowship is one way we practice this cross-cultural fellowship. If we’ll be joined with sisters and brothers in Christ from other cultures for all eternity, why would we hesitate to begin and nurture such relationships now? How else might we as individuals and as the Church be called into relationship with saints from other nations or people groups? Perhaps God might call us to develop new and deeper international mission partnerships. Or, God might give us relationships closer to home with Christians from other backgrounds, such as the growing number of Latin American brothers and sisters around us.
One more application for us has to do with evangelism. If we really believe that the world is caught in a battle between good and evil, God and Satan, then we will do all we can to invite others to come over to the side of the Kingdom of God. We’ll want them to see that the ways of idolatry and oppression which characterize the empires of Revelation 13 and 18 lead to death. In its original context, the word “gospel” was the title of the Roman Empire’s proclamation that there was a new ruler. To proclaim the Gospel of Jesus therefore is to proclaim that Jesus is the only true Lord and that everlasting life comes through submission to his reign.
“To journey without direction is wasted effort.” In the words of the African-American spiritual “Guide My Feet”, we “don’t want to run this race in vain.” So, let us seek to live faithfully in the hope of the coming kingdom of our God. Until that day, may “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen” (Rev. 22:21).
Grace and Peace,