Monday, October 26, 2009

"The Lamb's Drama: His People, His World, and His Justice"

Scripture Readings: Revelation 15:5-16:11; Revelation 16:12-21

What if God created this earth, and gave us life on this earth, for the purpose of sheer delight; for our own sheer delight, and for God’s delighting in our delight? What if the very reason for our existence was that we should love and be loved, and that our life should be marked by beauty, and truth, and faithfulness, and kindness, and justice, and faith, and a holy liberty to pursue true happiness for ourselves and others? What if we were created for a life marked by loving relationships in marriage, and family, and friendship; in which our thoughts, our words, and our actions would not be unworthy, would not miss their mark, would not be misunderstood, would not grow weary, would not be tempted or replaced by resentments, and suspicions, and fears, and angers, and conflicts, and aggression?

What if all this happiness and delight was not intended only for us, as individuals, but also for the whole human race? Families, communities, cities, cultures, nations would all enjoy God’s purpose of delight and love. All groups of people, on every level would function together, and relate to each other, in this delight and love.

This is what God intended for human life. But what do we see? We see a world that has become what it is because our first ancestors, in the Garden of Eden, thought that they would be happier if they were able conduct their lives without a partnership with God.

The story of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, which Adam and Eve ate at the Devil’s invitation, meant that they thought that by ignoring God’s warnings, they could acquire enough knowledge and wisdom and ability to be self motivated, and self directed, and self fulfilled. They made self their new God. They decided they would be happier if they served themselves, just as the Devil had chosen to serve himself. (Genesis 3:1-19)

I am sure that they thought they would still give God a share of themselves; but they would decide for themselves just what that share would be. They were sure that this change would not cause too much harm, once God got used to the new arrangements and accepted it.

Instead, what they got was what we see, and it caused great harm indeed. Not because God was angry, but because God was right.

God was right that it would not be good. God was right that it would bring death into the world: death to the body, death to the heart and the heart’s affections, death to wisdom, death to love and kindness.

We don’t have to look around us to see this deadly, hurtful drifting and shifting of the spirit. We can just look within ourselves.

There was a young Scottish writer in the 1650’s named Henry Scougal, who wrote this about humility. But it also describes what we see in ourselves when our lives are not lived in partnership with God. He writes: “That which makes anybody esteem us, is their knowledge or apprehension of some little good, and their ignorance of a great deal of evil that may be in us; were they thoroughly acquainted with us, they would quickly change their opinion. The thoughts that pass in our heart in the best and most serious day of our life, being exposed to public view, would render us either hateful or ridiculous…” (“The Life of God in the Soul of Man” p. 128)
All of these changes in the world as God intended it to be, and in ourselves as God intended us to be (the loss of the power of true love, and kindness, and delight, and justice, and faith), are the real catastrophe of the world.

The Book of Revelation, in the sixteenth chapter (16:10), tells us about a royal throne that stands in this world. It is called “the throne of the beast”. This throne stands for the independence of the human race from God.

Right now, this throne is invisible and spiritual, although its effects are highly visible and practical. But the Bible warns that a time will come when one government and (perhaps) a single person, or a single team of people, will decide for others what love, or kindness, or delight, or justice, or faith will be allowed.

How should God respond to all this; the world as it is, and as it shall be? We have seen so far (in the Book of Revelation) that God responds to this through our own prayers and witness and fellowship. God responds by designing a world that also responds to the misuse and evil that goes on in it, with warnings that make people stop, and think, and take stock of things. If God is almighty love, all these responses are good, but other things must follow.

The author Austin Farrer (a friend of C.S. Lewis) wrote this: “Delight is naturally kindled by delight and God, who loves his children’s love, delights in their delighting. How, then, is he disposed towards the causes of unwholesome sadness…Does he not detest them? And what is the fate of things which earn the detestation of almighty love? Is it not that they would be abolished? God’s hatred or wrath is, indeed, nothing but this, a simple desire for the abolition of its object.” (The abolition of the sources of this sadness) (Quoted in “From the Library of C.S. Lewis” p. 129)

We are absolutely right when we look at the world around us, or right beside us, or within us, and we say, in great distress: this cannot go on. The Bible promises that God sees this even better than we do; only his vision, and his patience, and his plan are greater than ours. Still, God hears what the talking altar in John’s vision says. Its words are the prayers of God’s people, the prayers of the church: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments,” (16:7) and he will judge.

The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the Book of Revelation tell us about the anger or wrath of God putting an end to the great sadness and evil caused by the human declaration of independence from God. There are seven bowls of wrath or anger. Seven is the biblical number that represents perfection, and so God’s anger, which aims at abolishing of evil, is perfect.

We don’t understand how anger could be perfect, because we don’t understand anger very well. Our own anger is confusing. Human anger tends to be destructive in a way that only makes things worse. In the letter of James we read: “The anger of man worketh not the righteousness of God” or “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20) Anger can do good; but it is tricky, and it can create a lot of collateral damage.

My elementary school had two sixth grade teachers. Mine was Mr. Stroscheiner. The other class had Mrs. Stone. I remember Mr. Stroscheiner as a screamer. He had no middle range of anger. When he was angry, he would scream, and turn red. Mrs. Stone was known to throw things at her students when she was angry. God is not like either Mr. Stroscheiner or Mrs. Stone in his anger.

The Book of Revelation shows the plagues of God’s anger taking place in the world of nature. We are part of nature. We are part of God’s larger creation. We are not some alien presence. We are a natural part of it all, just as much as any forest, or wolf, or river, or salmon.

We are part of creation and it is part of us. We respond to it and it responds to us. That is how God made it.

In the Book of Revelation it may look as if God punishes his creation, and uses that punishment to punish the human race. This is not what really happens. In Revelation, the four living creatures represent the world of nature, to which we belong, and they are the instigators and suppliers of God’s wrath. In Revelation 15:7 it is world of nature, in the form of the four living creatures, which gives the wrath of God to the angels, to pour out on humanity.

Nature isn’t a flunky of ours, nor is it a flunky of God. Nature is a friend of God, an agent of God, which works upon us in God’s behalf. It directs our thoughts toward God. It gives us our home and work.

It is designed by God to be our friend, as well as his, but also it is designed to turn on us when we become ultimately destructive and self-destructive. But this is the role of a friend; to be angry with you when he or she sees that you are going wrong. (For “destroyers” see Rev. 11:18)

When human beings see that nature and the creation are gifts from God, they take good care of them and the resources of nature last. A good farmer is a good steward of the land, to keep it fertile and fruitful, and the land takes care of the farmer and his family.

In the end, the throne of the beast, the human authority that declares independence from God the creator, will mess up the creation itself, and the creation will turn against it. In so many ways, human power tries to regulate its own self-preservation. It justifies its power by claiming to know what is best, and its interference (in our times, using the best standards of science and technology) often only makes things worse. In the last days, this drive to regulate and control will overwhelm the world.

The fifth angel pours his bowl of the wrath of God upon “the throne of the beast” and his kingdom is plunged into darkness. (Rev. 16:10) But the kingdom of the beast is in darkness all along, because it tries to live and rule human life apart from God. The darkness will just be shown for the fraud that it is.

Human power is always tempted to pretend to possess a wisdom, and competence, and ability which it does not have. In the last days, the human authority, or the antichrist, will declare human independence from God on the basis of its own wisdom, and competence, and ability.

It will offer humans the freedom that comes from this independence. It will reward those who support it. It will try to control, and coerce, and threaten those who do not agree with it. In the end, it will be shown for the fraud that it is. It will all break down. But the terrible thing is that it will break down in darkness, and violence, and destruction.

Revelation is clear that there will be a final crisis and conflict. It calls this Armageddon. In Revelation it is not clear who fights whom. But, in a way, this doesn’t matter. The power that pretends that it can solve all human problems will create its own final crisis.

The demon spirits that come out of the mouths of the dragon (which is the Devil) and the two beasts (which are the power of the antichrist) will go out and draw all the nations of the world to battle. The quest for independence from God will create death and destruction just as it did in the Garden of Eden, but it will engulf the whole world.

My dad made wine for a hobby. Wine takes advantage of a natural process that has elements of destruction in it. The yeast ferments the juices of grapes that have been crushed. It is a kind of self regulated spoilage. The process of fermentation produces alcohol which prevents the spoiling of the juice by changing it into something else. But as the yeast produces more and more alcohol it guarantees its own destruction. Even though alcohol comes from the yeast, it is also is poisonous to yeast. At a certain point the yeast will produce enough alcohol to kill itself. In a similar way, evil (if left to its own devises) will kill itself.

In God there is life. There is no life outside of God. Anything that tries to leave God leaves life. Anything that leaves God can only feed on itself, feed on the life that God has given it, until there is almost nothing left.

In the grace of God, rebellion against God is its own poison. In the wrath of God, God stands aside and lets the rebel destroy himself; even if that rebel is the greater part of a world.

The truth is there will be unimaginable destruction. The world, as we know it, will come to an end. It will be a different world after that.

So this is what Revelation shows us about the wrath of God. Creation itself will turn upon the destroyers of the earth. The great rebellion that has brought so much sorrow and suffering to the world will implode in great destruction.

In the middle of this destruction, the Lord says: “Stay awake!” (Rev. 16:15) This is his message to us, or to those who will come after us. This is his word to the church so that it will be awake, and the world of that time will hear it say: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

In the last days, when the dangers and the destruction seem to grow irresistibly, some of the evils will not affect everyone equally. The first plague is said to only harm those “who have the mark of the beast and worship his image.” (16:2) This shows that there will be Christians in that world who will not have the mark of the beast.

Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) This is the essence of what the church is. The fact that there will be people who do not have the mark of the beast and who are call upon by Christ to “stay awake” is the sign that people like us will be on the scene in those days.
What will it mean for the church to stay awake in those days? It will mean the same thing that it means for us now.

Revelation tells us that Christians have the mark that is not a number but a name. It is the name of the Father and of the Lamb upon them. (Rev. 3:12; 7:3; 14:1) We are labeled. We are owned by God. And that ownership is readable by others.

God’s ownership of us is the kind of ownership that is supposed to be visible and audible. Others are supposed to be able to see and hear Christ in us. This happens only when we stay awake.

Our presence in this world is the most awesome and mysterious way that Christ himself comes into the world. He comes through us.

Even when God seems the farthest away from the affairs of this world, as it may seem in the last days, God wants people present in this world who are awake; who can see what he is doing, and give witness to it. There needs to be people who can understand what everything means and say, “True and just are your judgments.”
There must be someone, some body of people (the church) who can go through what everyone else goes through, and still keep faith. When everyone else is cursing, someone needs to be blessing.

There must be someone, some body of people (the church) who can share the sufferings of a sinful world, just as Christ, himself, did. Then we can represent the essential love of a God who sent his Son to die for the sins of the world to a world bent on its own destruction. Even if there seems to be no one who will believe us, we have to be Christ to that world and give them our testimony of the good news.

There are always such people present in the world, even as God is present. If the last battle is “The Day of God Almighty”, as Revelation says it will be (16:14), then there is good reason for us to be there to see what God will do.

We can be such people because it is the Lord’s nature to make his people awake. If we know him we are amazed by him. Amazement is a state of awakening. If we know that he gave himself on the cross for our sins and for the sins of the entire world, then we are awake to the needs of the world. We will know what we need to say and do.
He gives us what we need to live with an endurance that is patient, and faithful, and passionate. He gives us what we need so that when everything else seems to be shaken, we will be steady.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"The Lamb's Drama: His People and the Competition"

Scriptur Readings: Revelation 12:1-11, & 17; Revelation 13:1-18
(Actually the sermon is based on the whole of Revelation 12:1-15:4)

I have only worked a wheat harvest once. That was my first summer here. It was long, hot work. I didn’t do anything but work, and eat, and work, and sleep, and work.

And then it was done. We were done. We stood in the last field. We had turned it all to stubble. We stood in the stubble of that last field, in our cluster of combines and trucks.

Nobody said anything worth remembering. Or, if they did, I don’t remember it. But it felt really, really, really good. It was victory!

The Book of Revelation celebrates the victory of God and his people. It shows the whole game of the contest of heaven and earth, with God’s victory scene, over and over again.

For us to read the Book of Revelation would be like being on a very big and strange football team that would review videos of their last game from beginning to end. But the videos of this game come from more than one camera. If you were on this team, you would have to watch each video, from each camera, from beginning to end, one after another after another.

Say that one video came from cameras set on the goal posts, another camera was held by someone who followed the plays back and forth along the side lines, and another camera was on top of the quarterback’s helmet, and another camera was just focused on the coaches. Maybe that’s not the most efficient way to do it, but that is what happens in John’s vision that forms our Book of Revelation. More than once you get to the end of the game and you think “victory!” but there is still more footage to see, and think about.

In Revelation, the final harvest of heaven and earth takes place at the beginning of chapter eight, and again at the end of chapter eleven, and again at the end of chapter fourteen, and there are still eight more chapters to go. In chapter fifteen, the beginning of the next video-version of the game is announced; but that one is interrupted by the song that the winning team sings at the end, just the way our team does it.

This is how John says that he sees it: And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. (Rev. 15:2-4) That is the victory song at the end of the great game of the old heaven and earth.

What John calls the sea of glass, mixed with fire, is a real part of the picture of harvest and victory. Glass represents the purity of the victory; and fire represents the hardship, and tribulation, and just the plain trouble that went into the victory process.

Back in the Old Testament, the courtyard of temple that Solomon built had a great big thing in it called a “sea”. It was a basin made of cast bronze, about 15 feet across. The sea stored water for cleaning and washing in the temple. (1 Kings 7:23-26)

Washing is a kind of harvest too. It is the harvest of all the dirt and the sweat of the harvest. To come in from a long, hard, hot, harvest day, and take a shower, and sit down is a kind of victory. It feels really, really good. The crowd in John’s vision, who stand beside the sea of glass and fire, have come home and washed after the last, long, hard, hot day of harvest is over, and they have put on fresh clothes, and they have (over, and over, and over again) done the one thing that John says is so important.

He says that getting through the troubles and temptations of this world “calls for the patient endurance of the saints.” (Rev. 13:10 and 14:12) They have done this one great thing. They have patiently endured. That is why they are singing victory at the end of the harvest game.

The sister of a friend of mine once commented to her about me (once when she saw me dressed up). She said, “Dennis cleans up good.” Revelation is all about how belonging to Jesus gets us through life so that, in the end, we clean up good.

In the fourteenth chapter of Revelation, there is a final harvest. Actually there are two final harvests: a harvest of grain, and a harvest of grapes.

A field of stubble, after the harvest is done, is a very different place from a field of ripe grain. The field is empty. The fruit of the harvest has moved on. The life has gone somewhere else. But the vision of the final wheat harvest in the Revelation is told as a happy thing.

In the final grape harvest, the juice that will come from crushing of the grapes to make the wine of judgment is compared to a river of blood. This is not a happy thing.

These two final harvests clearly show that the final harvest of heaven and earth will be good for some: a happy thing; a great day. It also clearly shows that the final harvest will be a catastrophe for some: a day that crushes them, a day of destruction.

There is something violent about any harvest. It is a kind of battle or conquest. It is violent to the plants in the fields and the vineyards. The truth is that our lives are shaped by battles.

For a farmer, a good harvest is a joyful battle, and that is how life can be. In fact we need joyful battles. We work. We play. We strain and weep. We celebrate and rejoice.

Patient endurance does not mean grim endurance. Patience knows how to grunt and sweat, and how to laugh. Life is what Paul calls “the good fight.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
But the part of the last harvest where the blood flows so deep, and so far, is a clear warning that the final judgment will be a time of gut-wrenching crisis. There will be unspeakable fear.

At yet, in that final time there will be more than one kind of fear going on. There will be the bad fears, but there will also be the one good fear.

There is one good fear. We read about it in that line from the song of the victors: “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?” (Rev. 15:4) How odd that, when you fear the Lord, you are full of joy. Your life shows how good and gracious the Lord is.

It is true that if you dearly love someone and, even more, if you know that someone dearly loves you, there will be things that make you afraid. You will be afraid to do certain things, if you are truly loved. And it is said that the person who truly fears God will fear nothing else. And this will be possible for us, even if we are the ones on the scene who are left to face the final judgment.

In the two harvests, the wheat and the grapes are people. We are either wheat or grapes, and ripeness is everything. In the two harvests, no one is touched until they are ripe. You must be everything that a grain of wheat can be. You must be everything that a grape can be. You must be finished to be harvested. You must be ripe. The great question is: will you be ripe wheat, or ripe grapes?

There are two great powers pictured in these chapters. There is the Lamb who was slain. And there is the Beast (well, there is the dragon, represented on earth by the power of the two beasts).

Have we ripened in the Lamb, or ripened in the Beast? The real beast is the dragon, which is Satan; and the Lamb is Jesus, who is God in the flesh.

Now, in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, we see the defeat of Satan described in three different ways. In the first version, Satan is defeated by a baby boy, the son of the woman who is clothed with the glories of nature; the sun and the moon and the stars. The woman’s son is born and taken up into heaven.

This son is Jesus; and this summarizes everything he did between being born and ascending into heaven. Here we have his incarnation (his birth as a human to share life with us), his humble life and service, his death on the cross, his rising from death, and his going up into heaven. (Rev. 12:1-6)

In the second version, the defeat of Satan is pictured as a battle in the heavens: the archangel Michael and his angels fighting against Satan and his fallen angels. But that is just another way of seeing what Jesus did. The birth, and life, and sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus are a cosmic victory. It is a victory on the earth. It is a victory in the spiritual world. It is a universal victory. (Rev. 12:7-9)

The third version of the victory over Satan happens in the song. The song is about our victory over Satan: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Rev. 12:11)

There are two choices. There are two powers to live by in this world, and this choice of what power we will live by is how we decide to ripen for the harvest. There is the ripeness of the Lamb and the ripeness of the Beast.

The power of the Lamb is in his blood. Here is Jesus, and his power is his dying for us and rising for us.

This is how he makes us his own. This is how he seals us. This is the mark that he puts on our forehead and on our hand. The mark is his label. The mark is his claim upon us, his ownership over us, his power working in us.

Jesus, living for us, dying for us, rising for us is the love of God made flesh. It is grace. It is forgiveness. We respond to his love by loving others. We respond to his grace by being gracious to others. We respond to his forgiveness by forgiving others.

If this is true, then this is the power that makes us ripen as the good harvest, the joyful harvest, of the grain. The power of Jesus in us is what makes us like Jesus.

The power of the Beast makes us different from Jesus. The power of the beast is power for its own sake. We live for ourselves. We use others. We do not give grace. We do not forgive. We measure our value by what we have and what we get.

The image of the beast that tries to make people worship the beast is a technological idol. There were pagan idols (in ancient times) that were rigged with machinery that enabled them to move, and speak, and do other things. It is all about stuff, and techniques, and methods of getting results, getting what you want, and getting others to do what you want.

What this stands for is what happens when people carry on their lives by means of methods, and tools, and techniques, and possessions, and stuff. It is life by using and manipulating, and not by living, and feeling, and caring.

In the world of the early Christians, the Roman Empire was a world of power for power’s sake; a world where the end justified the means. One of the emperor’s titles was Savior. The emperor saved by his power. If people were hungry, the emperor fed them. If people were restless, the emperor entertained them. People did not help others because the emperor and his local representatives did that. It was not the job of a normal human being to be compassionate.

There have been times when societies and nations worshiped power, and order, and control. The communists and the fascists encouraged the worship of governmental power focused in the person of a great leader: a Stalin or a Hitler.

The Revelation of John foresees a final crisis where the fate of the whole human race will seem to rest on (and depend on) the power of government and, perhaps, the power of one human being, and the common worship of that government and that person. Anyone who stands against this will be considered an enemy of all that is decent and good.

There is another way of seeing this. There was an ancient Christian hermit named Anthony who said, ‘A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us”’
Those who base their lives on human-based power, and the salvation based on human systems, and human effort, will become the fruit of the Beast. Those who base their values on the principle “the end justifies the means” will become the fruit of the Beast.

The spirit of these principles is the mark of the Beast. The person who lives a life guided by these principles is marked. You can identify such people by the way they live their lives.

The world tends to reward the people who conform to the world’s ways. The world tends to raise obstacles against those who do not conform. Before the end comes, this will grow much worse. Even now, human beings live with one of the two marks of life: mark of the Lamb or the mark of the Beast.

But let’s not judge anyone before the time; not even ourselves. Strangely, until the time when they are fully ripe, a spiritual grain of wheat can be mistaken for a grape, and a spiritual grape can be mistaken for a grain of wheat.

The woman who gives birth to the son whom the dragon wants to devour is the Old Testament church, the people of Israel. By the end of the twelfth chapter, without any explanation, the same woman is the mother of those who belong to Jesus. Here she is the New Testament church. In a sense the woman is us. We are that church, and that church is our mother, all at the same time.

This woman is part of the truth that the power of Jesus begins with his incarnation, with his becoming our own flesh and blood. Jesus becomes us in order to save us.

If the woman is our mother also, and also us, at the same time; it gives us a similar lesson about ourselves. The power to overcome, and to be victorious, comes to the people who will incarnate Jesus; who will seek to be Jesus in this world.
We are called to be his hands, and feet, and back, and shoulders, and his voice in this world, no matter how troubled the world becomes, no matter how risky and dangerous it may seem to follow him.

If we love Jesus, as the scriptures show him to be, we will not be coerced or deceived. The Lamb, who is Jesus, died to hold us close to him forever. We can overcome by the blood of the Lamb; and by the humble, patient endurance that is willing to fight the good fight.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"The Lamb's Drama: His People and His Warnings"

Scripture Readings: Revelation 8:2-13; Revelation 11:1-15

A man was going for a drive with his wife. Now this man had the habit of driving faster than the speed limit, and she had the habit of pointing this out to him. He politely dealt with her habit by ignoring it. But on this drive, after ignoring his wife a number of times, he got pulled over by the state trooper, and got a ticket. When this was over, they went on their way, and the man complained to his wife that the officer could have just given him a warning. But his wife commented: “John, I gave you the warning.”

We live in a world full of warnings. And there are all kinds of warnings.

Some are really important. Don’t run with scissors. Look out for snakes.

Some warnings may seem silly, but they make sense when you really think about them. For instance, there was the warning label on the toilet bowl cleaning brush that said: Do not use orally.

There are warnings that we may want to ignore. As serious as they are, we don’t want them to be serious for us. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet. Do not commit adultery. These might actually seem silly when they get in the way of our getting what we want, but they are dangerous to ignore. They take their toll. They are given to us to make us think.

There are other kinds of warnings that make us think. There was a time, many years ago now, when I got further and further behind paying my federal income tax, and this turned out to be very embarrassing and it really made me think.

I haven’t been in any real natural disasters, but my family did evacuate our home just before Christmas, when I was thirteen, because of flood warnings. Actually we did this a couple times. And during my time in the Midwest I spent time, more than once, in basements, wondering whether the tornadoes were going to hit the house I was in. These things make you think.

The Great Depression, in the nineteen twenties and thirties, made a couple generations of Americans think, and our economy right now is making us do the same kind of thinking. The great dangers that seem to face our country from abroad, and the thought of young people from our families or our communities serving their country, in harms way, makes us think. The death of Drew Swank at our homecoming game makes us think.

Such things make us think: how do we give thought to the people around us? What should we see when we look at them? What should we hear when they speak to us? How do we live? How do we live with passion, and energy, and faith, and hope, and love? And how do we help others live? The world is full of warnings that make us stop and think about such things and, hopefully, to follow through.

We find that the Book of Revelation tells us something important about Jesus and such warnings. The very first words of Revelation are these: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” (Revelation 1:1) The revelation of Jesus means, first of all, that we have to see and know Jesus himself.

We have to see and know Jesus, and what he is like, because the issues and the events that will take us through history to the end of this age, and to the judgment, and to the beginning of a new heavens and a new earth, are all based on who Jesus is, and what Jesus does through us and for us.

It may seem to contradict what we know about Jesus in the fact that the Book of Revelation is so full of destruction. But the very world we live in is full of destruction. It is a beautiful, magnificent world, where so much good is spoiled by anger, hatred, violence, fear, exploitation, abuse, corruption, greed, injustice, self-righteousness, and so many other sources of harm (or even such seemingly little things like jealousy and gossip).

Toward the end of chapter eleven, John, the writer of the book, is told: “The time has come…for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Rev. 11:18) All of these negative things are destructive in their own way. What is to be done with the destroyers: What would Jesus do?

In the section we are looking at today, there are four things to be done with the destroyers. There are prayer, and warning, and sanctuary, and witness. We are involved in all of these.

There are seven trumpets to be blown in this part of Revelation. These trumpets are symbols of warning. In the end, there is a stubborn remnant of human beings who will not think when they have been warned. They will not repent. They will not have a change of heart. They will not stop, and turn, and surrender. (Rev. 9:20) But this is the point of the warnings. Their purpose is to give anyone who will only think a chance.
The seven trumpets of warning are tied to prayer. John gives us the picture of an altar where all the prayers of all God’s people have been collected, and offered to God, and are sent back down to the earth in the form of the seven warning trumpets.
When we pray all kinds of prayers, for all conditions of people, all over the world; when we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray for the warning of the world. We pray for God to put a stop to all the destruction caused by the destroyers. And God’s first answer is to give them warning.

The number seven, in the Book of Revelation, and in most places where it is found in the Bible, is a number that represents perfection or completeness or the essence of the thing. It is like when a parent says to a child, “How many times have I told you?” Of course, in that case, even if you have told them enough times, it is obviously not enough, and so you go on telling them.

Whatever we need to know, God will tell us enough times for it to be enough, and more than enough. He will tell us that he loves us more than enough times for us to hear him. And he will warn us, wherever we need to be warned, more than enough times for us to hear him. All of the prayers of all of the saints add up to this.

Revelation is full of sets of seven things: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls of wrath. These are not all set end to end, as part of a complicated time-line. They are like pictures, or parts of a picture, that overlay each other. Each layer adds to the design of the layers above and below it.

The seven seals tell about the facts of the world as it is, and always is. The seven bowls of wrath to come (that follow the seven trumpets) represent the reality of judgment. The seven trumpets, in the middle of the other two, represent warning. The trumpets are worse than the seals, and not nearly as bad as the bowls of wrath that follow.

This does represent the message that there will be a time when things will go from bad to worse; and from worse to worst. When we pay attention to the pattern of growing seriousness and growing alarm, the purpose of this, too, is to make us, and the whole world, think. The purpose is to make us, and the whole world, decide how we need to live, and how we need to change.

There is one more thing about prayer and warning. The prayers are offered at the altar in heaven. In John’s vision there is one altar, alone, that represents sacrifice and prayer (see Rev. 6:9-11 and 8:3-4). This altar represents Jesus Christ, who died for us and who also prays for us. (Romans 8:34)
Jesus died for the sins of the world because he and his Father so loved the world (John 3:16). The warnings in the Book of Revelation come from God’s love for the world.

The first four trumpets announce warnings that take the form of damage to land, and ocean, and fresh water, and the air that is darkened so that the sun, and the moon, and the stars fade in the sky. If God wants to warn those whose actions destroy the earth, perhaps we are being shown pictures of the warnings in which the destroyers are allowed to see the outcome of their own work. And yet God does not allow them to be destroyed by their own doing. He only warns them.

A couple of the trumpets show us that destruction is not only a physical thing. We are shown some pictures of swarms of mutant locusts that come out of hell, and pictures of the 2,000,000-strong army of mutant creatures.

These mutants are not human beings, and they are not human weaponry. These mutants are evil made visible. They are evil with a demonic face. They show that evil and destruction are not just something that humans do to the physical world, but that they also destroy the heart, the mind, and the soul of human life. The toll this takes will be huge. And there are those who will look at what they have done square in the face; and they will refuse to see it, and they will refuse to change.

There are two more things we are to do in a world full of warning. This is for us to be a sanctuary and witnesses.

The temple John is told to measure is us. The Bible tells us that Christians are the temple of the Lord. Paul tells the Christians in the city of Corinth: “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, also 1 Peter 2:4-5) We are the temple because we are in Christ, and Christ is the true Temple. The Temple is the only place where God is truly to be met, and known, and served.

Jesus said that he was the Temple, and that he would become that Temple by dying for the sins of the world and rising from the dead. In the Gospel of John he says, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) If human beings build a new Temple in Jerusalem (as exciting as this might sound) it will not be the real temple at all. Jesus is the only place where truly we meet God face to face and serve him. This is true for everyone who belongs to him.

In a world full of God’s warnings, we are a sanctuary together. We are to be a haven and a shelter in a crazy and fearful world. We are to be safe people for the shelter of others who need refuge, and strength, and peace. We are to live together in a way that the world does not live.

We also need to have a source of life beyond ourselves that makes such a way of life possible. We can only be a sanctuary because we have taken sanctuary in Jesus, who is our life. In John’s vision we are protected as God’s sanctuary even though we may feel surrounded and besieged. (Rev. 11:1-2)

Being the sanctuary means being in a zone of safety. However, we also have to faithfully function as God’s people outside the zone of safety, because we are witnesses. The witnesses in John’s vision go out, and are eventually killed. There are only two witnesses in John’s vision, but they stand for us. They stand for the church.

They are also Moses and Elijah, but Jesus does a strange thing with Moses and Elijah. In the gospels, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high hilltop, and he changes before their eyes. Jesus starts to shine and dazzle them. We call this the transfiguration. And Moses and Elijah are there with him, and with the disciples. The disciples see the three of them together: Jesus, Moses and Elijah; and they hear Moses and Elijah talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Then Moses and Elijah go away. There is a voice from God who tells them to listen to Jesus. (Luke 9:28-36) And so the disciples become the witnesses of Jesus, in place of Moses and Elijah.

The disciples take up the task of Moses and Elijah, they take the place of the law and the prophets who are the Old Testament witnesses of Jesus, and we follow in their path. This is our job, the job of the church, to be witnesses to Jesus, right up to the very end of the very end of those days.

The fire that comes from our mouths, in John’s vision (Rev. 11:5), is just the truth, and it is the gospel of the love of God in Christ. Love always burns the most those who resist it the most.

This world will be a world full of the gracious and loving warnings of God, right up to the day when everything is finished and the angels say: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

Our job is to pray, and to be a surrounded and besieged sanctuary, and to be faithful witnesses, until that time. This is how we will give those who do not know Jesus a place to go when the warnings of the world make them stop and think.

The vision of Revelation is scary and threatening. The world we live in now is scary and threatening. But the vision shows us how to be on the right path in scary times. It shows us that we can live with passion, and energy, and faith, and hope and love in Christ, and be his partners all the way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"The Lamb's Drama: Who Can Stand?"

Scripture readings: Revelation 4:1-5:7; Revelation 7:9-8:1

When I was little my parents bought a big set of encyclopedias to help us kids in school, when we were older. I have always been addicted to reading, and it wasn’t long before I became a reader of encyclopedias, although I must confess that I started out with the pictures. One of the kinds of pictures, in those encyclopedias, that fascinated me was, for lack of a better word, the cross section. (I know there’s a better word for this.) It was something like a three dimensional picture; say of the human body, or of a gasoline engine. It was always done on several pages of clear plastic that overlaid each other.

For a gas engine (for example), it would show, first, the outside of the engine. Then you would turn that page and see what was under the outside of that engine (maybe it showed what was under the head of the engine and some of the other systems). Then, the next page would show you the next thing under those (maybe the valves). Then it would show you the next thing under those (maybe the cylinders and pistons). These pictures gave the illusion of looking through the layers of the engine and its various systems.

From the earliest centuries, Christians believed that the Book of Revelation was like a wonderful set of these pictures. It doesn’t so much show us one thing after another. The Book of Revelation is not a complicated time-line or order of events. It just peels back views beneath the surface of one great thing. It shows us a cross-section of one great thing: the change of the heavens and the earth (as they are now) into the heavens and the earth as they will be, when God recreates them. It shows us this one thing from different depths and different angles; until we have something like a three dimensional vision of the one great thing that God intends to do.

It is hard to get our minds around this one great thing that God intends to do; taking the heavens and the earth as they now are, and recreating them into the heavens and the earth, as he intends them to be. It is a really big thing. So he gives us this book of many pictures, to help us imagine what he wants to do, and why.

The Book of Revelation gives us many pictures of nature and God’s creation. Some of these pictures are scary. In some of these pictures, nature seems to be in crisis and turning on the human race. Waters turn bitter, or as red as blood. The earth shakes. The world burns. The skies turn dark. Things in space fall upon the earth. That’s one scary picture.

Another picture is a heavenly view of things; a heavenly view of nature and God’s creation. We see this picture in the fourth chapter of Revelation. The four living creatures standing by the throne of God are a picture of this.

In the Bible, the number four represents the world of nature and God’s creation. One living creature is said to look like a Lion; the second like a bull; the third like a human; the fourth like a flying eagle. For the ancient people, the lion represented nobility, the bull represented strength, humans represented wisdom or intelligence, and the eagle represented swiftness. The four living creatures represent everything that is noble, and strong, and wise, and swift in God’s creation.

And John sees that the creation is all eyes. Not only is creation wonderful, but it is full of wonder. Creation is full of attention toward God, and full of worship. Creation, in some mysterious fashion, not only worships and glorifies God, but creation is aware of God. It sees God. Perhaps creation sees us, as well.

So the pictures of nature and God’s creation show us that the creation can play a part in the judgment of the human race. But creation is also right beside us in the presence of God. Creation is a partner with us, in our wonder and worship of God.

This helps us understand the extreme passion of God for everything he has made. It helps us understand our accountability to God for how we live on this planet.

This is true, because we can see ourselves standing side by side with God’s universe, before the throne of God; standing, and bowing, and singing alongside nature in the presence of God. We can see ourselves in that picture, represented by the twenty four elders with their crowns, and their thrones, and their harps (5:8). The number twenty-four (or 2 times twelve) is what identifies us. The number twelve represents God’s people. There were twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, and there were twelve disciples, or apostles, in the New Testament. More than once, the Revelation brings the two times twelve together. (Revelation 21:12-14) The twenty-four elders are all of the people of God from Israel and the Church, the Body of Christ.

Some of the pictures of us, in the Book of Revelation, show us persecuted, and hunted, and endangered, and even dead, but this picture, early in the vision, shows us safe. We see ourselves as God sees us. We are just as Paul describes us in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:6): “God has raised us up in Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places.”

We are enthroned, sharing in the Lord’s rule of the universe, as we say “yes and amen”, and cheer the Lord on through all the things that he does. We see pictures of us, in prayer and worship, and we see pictures of how all our prayers are wound up in the things that God does. (Revelation 8:3-5)

This is our job: to be involved, however we can, in what God wants to do in this world where we live. Prayer is part of our involvement in God’s activities. This is the job of our lives: to become a living prayer in action.

We see many pictures of Jesus in Revelation. There is the Lion. There is the Lamb. There is the one who can open the scroll in heaven.

There is a vision of a scroll with seven seals that cannot be opened. The scroll contains the explanation of everything that is going to happen in human history, and in the judgment of the human race. We are told (in this vision) that no one can open this explanation of everything, except for the Lion of Judah.

John turns around so that he can see the picture of the Lion, but he sees the picture of a Lamb instead, and this Lamb has been killed. It has had its throat slit. It has the wounds of a lamb that has been sacrificed for our sins.

We often want the Lord to be a Lion, and scare away our enemies. Instead, the Lord does his greatest work as a lamb who dies for us.

We often want God to use his great power in order to deal with the way the world works; when his chosen way of dealing with our world is by being the Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world. In all the horrible things that go on in this beautiful world only a wounded God can make sense. In Christ, God gave himself for the sins and evils of this world, and only this can explain everything. Only this can ultimately answer our questions about the meaning of everything. The great Lion can only open the scroll because he is also the Lamb who was slain.

The Lamb who was slain has the kind of authority to explain the meaning of everything the way a surgeon would have the authority to perform a particular surgery based on the fact that that surgeon was not only competent to do that surgery, but had actually had that surgery performed on him or her first. This is the authority that the birth, and the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus give him to be the only one who can unseal the scroll that explains everything.

There is this vision of the scroll that explains everything, and this part of Revelation is in the fifth through the beginning of the eighth chapters. If we want to know what this world is really like, we can see it, from beginning to end, in the opening of the seven seals.

The first seal reveals a rider on a white horse who goes forth to conquer (see also 19:11), and this is another picture of Christ, to add to the Lion and the Lamb. The first explanation of this world is that we live in a world where Christ goes out to win people, to claim them, to meet them and make them his own. This is a fact of the world we live in. If we don’t understand this, then we don’t understand what anything means.

The second seal reveals another rider on a red horse. This rider carries a big sword and takes peace away from our world. This shows us that the world we live in is a place of conflict, and destruction. But the lack of peace is not just about war.
Paul said this about a world that is empty of peace: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of righteousness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5) Don’t you think the world has been a place like this (a world without peace) for some time now?

The third seal represents another rider (this one on a black horse) carrying a set of scales, and the rider says that we live in a world where many people will barely have enough, if anything at all, and yet the luxuries of the world will be safe. This third explanation of the world is that we live in a world of terrible poverty side by side with great abundance. This is a fact of the world we live in.

The fourth seal represents a rider on a pale horse. This rider’s name is Death. This tells us that we live in a world where we all die, and where too many people die tragically, and untimely. This is a fact of the world we live in.

The fifth seal reveals those who have been slain for the word of God. This tells us that we live in a world where good people suffer, where good people suffer for doing good, and where those who trust in God and seek to show his love and justice in the world may be hurt and killed for their lives of faith, and love, and justice.

The sixth seal reveals that we live in a world that will be judged accordingly. It will be as if everything in the world of human affairs and everything in the world of nature is falling to pieces and turning against us. It will be terrifying.

And, at the end of this, John says that the sky itself and everything in it will be gone (all rolled up together), and the mountains and islands and the masses of the earth will also be removed. The world as we have known it will all disappear, in order for a great change to take place.

The seventh seal reveals silence. This is an odd place to stop. What happens beyond the silence is what we will see at the end of the book. But the silence is an amazing thing in itself. The silence means that what happens next will be wonderful beyond words.

There are two more pictures of us in these chapters. John shows us a world that is set on pause, where angels at the four corners of the earth hold back the four winds. The winds represent the forces that bring pain and judgment into the world. John is taken back in time before any harm comes to the world and, I think, before there was any need for the gospel, before there was anything to take away the peace of the world, before there was any scarcity, before there was death. Before anything happened, God’s people were all numbered, and claimed, and sealed.

It is like going to camp, and your mother writing your name on all your clothes, even on your underwear, so that you can sort them out if they get mixed up with other people’s clothes. No one will take them because they have your name on them.
God labels us with his own name. That is what it means to be sealed. But he labels us on the inside. He labels us with his Holy Spirit. He puts more than just his name in us. He puts his resemblance in us so that, in our heart of hearts, we are made for him.

We are all counted and accounted for. John hears this action described as if it happened to the people of Israel; as if they were the ones being counted and sealed, but when he turns to see the people of Israel, he sees a surprising sight. Instead of seeing only the people of Israel, as he expected, John sees a multitude, an uncountable crowd of everyone who belong to Jesus; Jews and Gentiles both. (For the case in favor of identifying all Christians with the people of Israel; see Romans 11; Ephesians 3:6; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11).

Everyone who belongs to Jesus has something in them, something about them, that cannot be taken away, that cannot be lost.

The world sometimes seems like a scary and dangerous place. This world is a place where there is a lot of anger, and fear, and injustice, and evil. The Book of Revelation puts you and me face to face with the consequences and the responsibilities of living in such a world.

It tells us that we are not alone. We are not alone because we are labeled by God and we are always, essentially, in his presence. We are also not alone because we have brothers and sisters of every nation, tribe, people, and language.

We all hear the same words. We all have the same work of prayer, and of being faithful witnesses, and examples, and servants of the good news of the love of God in Christ. We are all nurtured and strengthened by the same things, including this meal and this table.

When we share in this meal, we all come to the same God who will help us to overcome all the way. We all come to be fed with the same bread and cup that unite us with the body and blood of Christ.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"The Lamb's Drama: His People in the World"

Scripture Readings: Revelation 1:1-20; Revelation 2:1-7

Boiled down to one sentence, the message of the Book of Revelation is this: Our side wins. If you come across anything in the Book of Revelation that you find mysterious, or confusing, or frightening, or threatening; take a breath and fall back on this one sentence: Our side wins.

Now here is another way to boil down the Book of Revelation into one sentence. It is this: This book is a picture of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus.

That’s it. The Book of Revelation is about the good news of Jesus. It gives us, in picture language, the message of why God came down from heaven in Christ. It shows us why Jesus became human and took the role of a suffering servant, and died for us on the cross, and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. It shows us how to live in this world as the people of Jesus. It shows us his faithfulness to all people who put their trust in him. It shows us how serious it is to live in a world that is determined not to know him. It shows us how we can overcome the pressures that this world puts upon us to compromise and conform. It shows us that it is not easy to follow Jesus. It shows us that Jesus will not fail in his mission to recreate the world as a place that is free from sin, and injustice, and violence, and evil. It shows us that if the world, as it is, tries to prevent this liberating and transforming plan, then Jesus will put a stop to the world as it is and to those who stand in the way of this plan. It shows us that Jesus will not fail to make us, and all those who follow him, a part of that new world. Most of all, this book shows us how to be joyful and thankful people in this world as we know it. This may seem like a lot, but the gist of all of this is still the good news of Jesus.

We do not want to lose track of the summary. The Book of Revelation is a picture of the good news. If you ever come across anything in this book that makes you think it is about anything else; stop, take a breath, and return to the summary.

The very opening phrase of the book tells us this. It is: “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him.” (See also, John 12:44-50) The book reveals Jesus the Messiah. I find no reason to suppose that the Jesus we read about in the Book of Revelations is any different than the Jesus we find in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. If we think it tells us about a different Jesus, then it is possible that we have never understood the Jesus that we read about in the gospels, in the first place.

Jesus has a cause and there are things in the world as it is that make him angry. In the gospels, Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove the merchants out of the Temple in Jerusalem, where they were set up to profit from the worship that took place there. Their activities made him angry and so he put a stop to what they were doing. But he did this out of love for his people. (John 2:13-17) He even got angry with his own disciples, when they did not trust him, or when they tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem in order to get crucified. (Matthew 16:21-23)

In the Book of Revelation we can read about the wrath and anger of God, but the motive for his anger is his love. There is a good saying that God loves us just as we are, but that he also loves us too much to let us stay as we are. When we know that God loves us, we can understand this.

Revelation is a book about love; and the action that takes place in the book comes through Jesus who has, himself, borne the brunt of the evil and cruelty and injustice of this world, as it is, in his body, on the cross. He has done this so that, in his own time, he can put a stop to the world going on as it is.

The Book of Revelation reveals Jesus and what it means to faithfully follow him. In many ways it is a commentary on our lives right now, where there are many things that are hard to understand, but we can summarize our lives by saying that we can see Jesus in our lives. The experiences that are so confusing and off-putting, in so many ways, can be dealt with by seeing how Jesus dealt with such things as he lived among us, and we can see our lives “interpreted by love.”

The author, John, identifies himself this way: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering, and kingdom, and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9) These three things (the suffering, the kingdom…meaning the kingdom of God, and the patient endurance) come up again and again in the Book of Revelation. They are the marks of the Christian life. Anyone who follows Jesus will have these three things: the suffering, the kingdom, and the patient endurance.

These three marks of the Christian life are like spiritual algebra. They are like an equation as follows: the suffering, plus the kingdom, equals the patient endurance. What are the parts of this equation?

There is the kingdom. The kingdom means so many things. The Lord is your king. Jesus has John write to the church in Ephesus to tell them that they have lost their first love. I think the kingdom of God is like being in love. The whole center and foundation of your life changes. It is centered in someone else. New things seem possible for you because someone loves you. There is someone else to think about besides your self.

And the kingdom is strongly about the future. There are promises, and hopes, and dreams. The kingdom of God is something that is here, now, and it is also something we are waiting for. The kingdom of God is like all this.

And there is suffering. Following Jesus does not protect us from the kind of suffering that everyone else has. Following Jesus does not rescue us from sickness, injury, failure, loss, acts of nature, accidents, bereavement.

And following Jesus actually adds to our suffering. Following Jesus will cause some people to laugh at us, or to take advantage of us, or to look down on us, or to try to tempt us or to get us to betray our faith, or to pass us over for opportunities or advancement.

The patient endurance is the sum of the suffering and the kingdom. It means knowing that there is a purpose, and knowing what is important, and staying true to what you know.

The interesting thing about the suffering part is that the older translations translate it as tribulation. And tribulation is a word that describes the special suffering that will be experienced just prior to Jesus’ returning. The suffering which John and his earliest readers shared, and which we share with them, is covered by the same special word for that period of time that precedes the coming of Christ.

I believe that the Bible teaches that the end times began with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The end times have been going on for almost two thousand years. John, himself, in the letter called First John wrote: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

I don’t think there is any division between the present tribulation and the greater tribulation to come. It is only a matter of degree and what you might call progress.

There are common threads and common issues that we share with the ancient church in the days of the Roman Empire, and those same themes and issues will continue until the final days come. Patient endurance is about keeping watch and keeping alert on those themes and issues, and not to be fooled.

In the seven letters to the seven churches we find the followers of Jesus were challenged by temptations to compromise on issues of immorality and idol worship. Just to keep this simple, let’s concentrate on that idol worship.

There were three common temptations to worship idols (which doesn’t just mean worshiping statues of gods, but the worship of anything that is not God). People in the Roman world tended to worship money, sex, and the government (in the form of the Emperor). Imagine a world that worshiped money, sex, and government.

Our modern world tends to worship these as well. And some Christians would like to find reasons to fit in with the world as it is, and combine chasing after the same things that the world around them worships with their Christian faith.

John writes about this. When you see through the deceptions of the idolatry of our time and live a different way of life you can be one of those who overcome.

One strange thing about the Book of Revelation is its use of number. It seems like everything happens in sevens. The number seven, in the Book of Revelation, and all though the Bible, tends to mean the fullness or the completeness of a thing.
Knowing this helps us understand the main message without getting distracted by the details. For example, the seven spirits of God are not some special thing. Seven stands for fullness and completeness; and so the seven spirits of God, before the throne of God represent the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

The seven churches are real churches in the Roman province of Asia Minor, but as the unit seven they represent the fullness and the completeness of the church, the Body of Christ, all over the world, in every age of history. The promise of Christ to come to them, and the need for them to resist compromise, and the need for them to endure and overcome, so that they could meet Christ when he comes, really applies to all Christians in all times and places.

We all have our temptations. We all have our struggles with compromise. We all need the Book of Revelation to teach us about how to play our part as a follower of Jesus in our own time and place.

Revelation is a book about love: God’s love for us and our love for God. God’s love for us and our love for God are stimulated by the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of God’s people who are the church.

Revelation reveals the good news about Jesus. John sees him in a long white robe with a golden sash around his chest. Here Jesus is dressed like a Jewish high priest who offers the atoning sacrifice in the holy of holies in the Temple on the High Holy Day, the Day of Atonement.

Jesus shows himself dressed this way because he is the highest of priests. He offers the sacrifice of his own life for ours on the cross.

The golden lampstands represent the churches, but the seven stars represent the angels of the churches. For the ancient Jews and the Greeks, as well, everything on earth had a heavenly counterpart, a spiritual reality that was eternal. Although the Lord’s people seem to be separated into one group here and another group over there, the heavenly reality is that all God’s people, in all times and places, are all together in one place, in the hand of Jesus.

Jesus, who gave his own life to make us one, in himself, with his Father, makes us (you, and me, and every Christian who has ever lived or will ever live) into one great thing that he is doing. And he holds us safe in his hand. And, whatever he may say or do in this strange and wonderful Book of Revelation, he says and does as the one who will, at all costs, hold you safe, if you let him in your heart. That is why we need listen to this book, and why it speaks to us.