Seventh Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – “Working” our way to the end of the book of Revelation

See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.”

In our modern times – that is, in the 20th and 21st century – the message of Revelation is that the end is coming soon, and this is how it will be. However our “modern times” have covered several episodes of end time prophecy – all with the end time not coming. So . . . how soon is “soon”? And how can we know what the reward is? And should we be nervous about how our work will be judged, and how we will be repaid? Just because the end times have not come yet, does not mean they are not coming. And while we may thing that the interpreters of Revelation have given us the answers, those answers are not absolute, and the questions remain.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

God is, an remains, God. We do not know God’s beginning; and I am pretty sure we will not know God’s ending. Boggles the mind just a little bit.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”

So, what does that mean? . . . if we are asking questions. From what I can gather it means that one has followed the commandments of God; the washing of the “robes” is not a washing action that we by physical might have done, but something that is conferred on us – clean robes. Or, a clean spirit. And it is because of that we have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city of God properly through the gates.

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

If there was any question of where the inspiration for Revelation comes, it is in the declaration that it came from God. The God who has been God all through the Old Testament and New Testament . . . so it would seem. In my more cynical moments I have to wonder about the change in the representation of the Lord from the Old Testament to the New Testament. But that, beloved reader, is my own wondering and not one that need occupy your mind.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” (Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21)

We come then to the end of the book of Revelation . . . questions answered or not. It is like a triathlon, I think. First, believing that the writer of Revelation actually was taken in body or spirit to see, witness, and write about these things. Second, to understand and discern what is meant by the symbolizes, metaphor, or straight prediction of what will happen. Third, to apply it to our lives. I see this because each time I work my way through Revelation, either the whole book or passage by passage, I feel like I have gone through a “work out.” It is my hope and prayer, beloved reader, that each time you engage in such a worker it leaves you stronger in your faith. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – A Vision of Heaven

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5)

I can picture this in my mind – I often have. Picture, beloved reader, a street with old but sound buildings made of chiseled stone – more intricately carved than any human hand could do. The buildings rise up to the sky rivaling the clouds that harmlessly drift by. Down on street level there is a wide broad roadway that is both street and path. People are walking along the roadway or bicycling. Down the middle of the street is a canal and clear water runs through the canal; people along the way are stopping to take a drink, dip their feet, or splash about in the water. Along the canal are trees whose branches dip and sway in the water also. All about is light, laughter and love; there is no darkness but sunlight all the time. The water literally bubbles along in the canal like chimes swaying in the breeze, and from the tree branches come chiming notes also. Far down the canal is the center of all things and there the Throne is and the water flows out from under the Throne without ceasing. All around are white birds and butterflies that also make chiming notes. The breeze is slightly scented with flowers and flowering trees and bushes, all of which are nourished with the flow of water. The light flickers on the flowing water in accompaniment to the musical notes in the air. It is indeed Heaven!

I hope and pray you have your own vision of Heaven that sustains and nourishes you until you too are beside the water of Heaven1 Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – When the new heaven and new earth comes

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (revelation 21:1-6)

When ever I read this portion of Revelations (and since it is an often used portion, I have read it several times) I think about a city the size of a castle floating down to the ground with gauze and lace fluttering around it. It is actually a pretty interesting image – a shame I cannot share it with you beloved reader. But maybe you can imagine your own visual.

This sort of thinking inevitably gets me to thinking about what heaven will be like. I know the ideas and images of heaven are pretty diverse. And from a certain perspective, kind of dull. I mean, one can only image so much singing in a choir before you get tired of it. Don’t get me wrong! That there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain is great. But will the “texture” of life be gone to? The sense of accomplishment and progression? It almost seems like from the description of the writer of Revelation, God/Christ will be accomplishing everything and we will just be standing around watching; not be thirsty, but . . . if everything is accomplished for us, what will we have to do?

You see, from my perspective there is a lot to be done in this world. And God has called us to do many things that are Godly works. And I am glad to do them, even if there is death, mourning, crying and pain. Because we are not alone. And in heaven we will not be alone either, I want to hasten to add. But . . . if all the challenge of life (and death) is gone, what will there be to do?

But then I think . . . God knows me because God created me. And I do not think that in the new earth and new heaven to come I will be so substantially changed that I will be content to do nothing. So I am thinking that God will have SOMETHING for me to do. And in that case, I can eagerly wait for “all things to be made new” and what part there will be for me. Perhaps, beloved reader, you and I can work together in the new earth and new heaven that God has in store for us. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – Hope from the mind and dreams of John

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)

It is said that our dreams, normal earthly human dreams, come from bits and pieces of our own lives. We dream what we know, or think we know; do not dream what we do not know. Therefore, one must assume one of the following three things: the dreamer John knew of all of these events in heaven; or he thought he knew about them; or it was not a dream that came from earthly understanding, but was inspired by the Divine. Now, what is interesting is what follows.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Verses 13 to 14)

It is not the content of the verses that I am focusing on but the teaching that is done by question and answer; it happens several times in the book of Revelation. Teaching by engaging the learning in dialogue, or questions and answers is method that has its root in Greek learning traditions, but is also strong in Judaism. But why, I have to wonder, if this form of educating and illuminating found in a dream? Could it be that the book of Revelation was written more as a teaching and lesson than it was in relating an experience that the dreamer had?

There may be some of you, beloved reader, who believe that the book of Revelation and the rest of the bible was inspired by the Divine; and I do not mean to dispute that claim. My point and purpose to suggest that the book of Revelation was written as a message to the early Christian church as to what heaven might be like, and the struggle between Jesus/God’s perfect good and the evil that had control of the world for a time.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Verses 15 – 17)

The early Christian church, just as the spectrum of Christian churches today, was struggling to make sense of what was happening around them, and happening to them, and why. If there was persecution going on in heaven as well as on earth, then maybe heaven was not so far away. And what they suffered on earth would be made right in heaven. It was to give them hope, and help them endure what was to come. And that, beloved reader, is a help to us in our modern lives. The analogies and metaphors may not fit today’s world, and the outcomes may not match the outcomes we look towards, but hope in a broken world is hope. And we should cling to hope wherever we find out. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – A glimpse of the Heaven of Revelation, narrated by Preacher and Seeker

Preacher: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,”
Seeker: Imagine a football stadium the size of a city; or a concert hall that stretches out several miles, but the singers are not on the stage but are the audience. And the music sweeter than any human force can produce!
Preacher:” . . . singing with full voice,“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Seeker: I know the lyrics seem strange – not what you would expect on earth. But in the Heaven of Revelation all focus and attention is on the Divine. Maybe not your idea of Heaven. But remember – this is a celebration of the greatest event in all of creation.
Preacher: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,”
Seeker: So creation itself is celebrating. Anything and everything that has ever gone wrong has been made corrected. There are no more flaws in any creature or any person – nothing to mar the heart, soul or spirit.
Preacher: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”

Seeker: And the reason that perfection now exists is seated in the midst of the celebration. What would you do if you were there?
Preacher: “And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-14)

Second Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – Greeting through the ages

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:4-8)

I am writing and posting this on the eve of Easter. Because I write a week ahead, I have been writing about post-Easter while anticipating Easter. This year, as never before, I have been conscious of Holy Week; the slow movement of each day, and the day of waiting between Good Friday and Easter morning. Although this will appear when Easter is past, for me it is the vigil of waiting Easter. In that moment and from that moment I wish to you, beloved reader, the joy of the Lord and the peace that comes from dwelling with our God daily.

The writer of Revelation, John, was writing to remind the early churches churches that the times that they were living in would come to an end. Some say that Revelation is a foreshadowing script of what will come; others say it is an allegory and metaphor. The book of Revelation has played different roles in my life, at different times of my life. It has, though, what I appreciate in so many books of the bible – a tremendous and welcoming opening! As we move from the season of Easter to the rest of the church year, may we carry with us the truths that are revealed to us, whatever their source. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Celebrating the infant Jesus and looking forward to the Lord’s return

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Reference: Revelation 21:2-4 )

There may be thematic appropriateness for these verses being used for this day, the day of Christmas Eve. (Five years ago I was more sure than I am now. This actually a re-working of my thoughts from December 24th 2009.) According to anecdotal stories, Jesus was born early Christmas morning when the star of Bethlehem was at its brightest. This same light could be re-imaged as the light of the new Jerusalem. And these verses also talk about the Divine coming to humanity again as it happened that early Christmas morning – the infant Jesus born in a stable growing to be the Messiah that these verses say said will come again along with the coming of God and the Holy City. Yes, these verses could be a good fit for a Christmas Eve day that anticipates the coming of light from heaven.

It is intriguing to have juxtaposed the coming of the infant Jesus with the coming of the Holy City as a bride to the now grown Christ – if it were not for remembering that the coming of God and Holy City in Revelation means the end of this world. If one were to forget that the coming of God in these verses is the time of judgment. If only one could forget or put aside the images of the battle in heaven and the vengeance of the Lord, the coming of the Holy City could be serene and pastoral.

The world forgets however, at its peril, that the coming of the baby Jesus started a chain of events that the world has not yet seen through to completion. The coming of the baby Jesus is a soft and pastoral scene. And the final day of God when the new Jerusalem, the purified and Holy City, comes down is a day of joy and looking forward to a new way. But in-between there is still mourning, crying, pain and death.

I think this is why, beloved, during Christmas we are encouraged and we encourage others to set aside animosity and hostility, and to focus on love and compassion. It has been a time when nations lay down their military arms and remember our connection to one another. We remind ourselves and others that God sent light to the earth in the form of the baby Jesus. And that some day the Lord will return to complete what was started so long ago.

But that day, I do not think, is this day. This is a day spent waiting for Christ Jesus, who in his tiny hand is clutching hope for the world. May you spend Christmas Eve in joyful wonder and hope, with family and/or friends waiting for our savior to be born anew in our mourning and pain filled world, and in our hearts. Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . Not what is “awesome”

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Reference: Revelation 19:9-10 [Emphasis mine] )

There are some things in this live that are pretty wonderful. All sorts of things on a long continuum of life experiences. For myself chocolate of most any kind (dark especially), hugs from friends and family, sleep, and a cooling breeze are things I could almost worship. For others it is financial resources, furniture, jewelry, and cars. Still others have other things that they place on a figurative or literal altar. The writer of Revelation was probably closer than most in trying to worship something truly worthwhile, an angel. But the only thing that should be worship is God.

Now we may put things high on our priority list, and that is a sort of worship. But I do not think my chocolate or someone else’s diamond necklace should take priority over compassion, mercy etc. It is okay to really like those things, but if the pursuit of those things and authentic Christian living conflict, you know what has to go. And this should be even more abundantly clear when we talk about our relationship with others – although I am very willing to share my chocolate!

The historic Anabaptist for today focused on a different portion of this passage than I did. His focus was hearing and having faith in the true words of God. Jelis Strings wrote, “Behold, dear friend, if we hear His word, and keep it well in our hearts, we are entitled to all these promises of blessedness; for it is the true food of the soul, by which all Christians must be fed, if they are to live; for Christ says that man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Matt. 4:4. Yea, as the prophet Jeremiah says, in the 15th chapter, verse 16: “Lord, thy word sustains me, since I have obtained it; and thy word is the comfort and joy of my heart.” Solomon, also, says: “Every word of God is pure, and they are a shield unto them that put their trust therein.” Prov. 30:5. Therefore, dear friends, let us always put our trust in God’s Word; it will not deceive us; for John says: These sayings of God are true; heaven and earth shall pass away, but the words of God shall not pass away. Rev. 19:9. O dear friends, let us heed it well, for it is what will judge us in the last day . . .”

In looking at what I wrote five years ago I discovered I had focused on the same portion of this passage, where the angel rooted his identity in being a fellow believer. In “Fellow Servants” I said that we stand in a long line of believers spanning back to the disciples of Christ, and we have all worshiped God together be in through scripted liturgies and litanies, or praise chorus and hosannas. Authentic Christians focus their prayer, praise, and worship on God; and that unifies us all as fellow believers. May your belief hold strong beloved as we all worship God together. Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . It’s not that hard!

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” (Reference: Revelation 14:9-12 )

Perhaps it is because I myself am worn out, but I can almost feel sorry “for those who worship the beast and his image”, and those who have received “the mark of his name” having “no rest day or night”. I am tired out and am already thinking longingly of sleep, how must it be to get no rest but to worship endlessly and relentlessly something that we never do anything for you or intercede for you, but actually seeks your harm and destruction!

But then I am not sure I am capable of “patient endurance.” I am not really sure what that means – unless it means putting up with the beast roaming around unchecked, the image of the beast popping up all over, and those with the mark of the beast generally being “beastly.”

Maybe Menno Simons’ patience was being tried when he wrote “Behold, such an unbelieving, impenitent, tyrannical, idolatrous, contrary, disobedient, blind, carnal people are they who imagine that they are the believing church and the real and lawful bride of Christ. These poor children do not notice that all under heaven is spoiled, even as the prophet complains that there is not truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying and killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break out and blood toucheth blood. Hos. 4:1,2. The world, says John, lieth in wickedness.”

It could be something as simple as obeying God’s commandments and being faithful to Jesus. If that is the case, I can do that no matter how worn out and tired I am. May you beloved patiently endure until the time God and Christ return putting an end to the “beast” and those who follow and worship the “beast.” Selah!

GOD AS COMFORTER . . . and Tissue

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. “ (Revelation 7:17b from Revelation 7: 14-17 )

Yes, we read this before, twelve days ago. But it is worth looking at again. Why? Because after God wipes away the tears there is a sense of relief and hopefulness. As I think on this, I reminded for Psalms 30, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (verse 5b) I would assume that John, the writer/recorder of Revelation, would be familiar with this. Or maybe not. We as readers certainly are. While we may mourn and grieve, when the sun/Son comes out/comes our tears, sorrow, and sadness fade away. And since God blessed and gifted us with the Son, God has provided the means for our tears to be history.

The baby Jesus is now four days old; four days past Christmas many people are taking down Christmas decorations and readying themselves for the New Year. The tears of yester-year are fading away and new hopes for the New Year are taking shape. It is my hope, gentle reader, that you have set aside the sorrows for 2013 and are looking forward to the New Year.

I will be here in the New Year, if that is a source of joy and happiness for you. I cannot promise you a year without tears, but what I can promise you is hope that will dry and wipe away your tears because we will be again looking at scriptures that bring hope and help us define our faith.

May the tears of yesterday be a faded memory, and may you have hope, joy, and shalom for today and tomorrow. Selah!