Apocalyptic


This Sunday (10/28/12) I will preach my final sermon from John’s Apocalypse—the Book of Revelation.[1] We will cover chapters 21-22. This will be the ninth sermon in this series. I covered the entire apocalypse, with the exception of chapters 15-16, in just nine sermons. Wow. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.

Upon careful scrutiny, the artistic beauty and structural genius of John’s masterpiece come to the forefront. It truly is a magnificent work of art. Here is a look at the structure of the drama:

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Act One:

1. The Prologue, 1:1-20.

2. Scene One: The Church in Imperfection – The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, 2:1 – 3:22.

3. Scene Two: The Authority of God over Evil Explained – The Seven Seals on the Scroll, 4:1 – 8:6.

4. Scene Three: The Warning Judgments – The Seven Trumpets, 8:1 – 11:19.

Act Two:

* Center Scene: The Lamb, God’s Answer to Evil – The Seven Unnumbered Figures and Angelic Messages, 12:1 – 14:20.

4. Scene One: The Consummated Judgments – The Seven Bowls of Wrath, 15:1 – 16:21.

3. Scene two: The Authority of God over Evil Exercised – 7 Descriptions of God’s Authority, 17:1 – 20:15.

2. Scene Three: The Church in Perfection, 21:1 – 22:5.

1. The Epilogue, 22:6-21.

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I can’t get the editor on this blog page to cooperate, but if I could, I would progressively indent each scene in the two acts so that you would notice that the structural frame forms the left-hand side of the letter “X.” This is called chiasm, from the Greek word for the letter “X” – chi. John has created a chiasmus with the structure of his apocalypse.

The drama is presented in two acts: act one is comprised of chapters 1-11; act two is comprised of chapters 12-22.

Notice how each scene in act one moves us toward the center scene—chapters 12-14. This is the center of the drama and the heart of John’s message: the Lamb of God is God’s answer to evil.

Then notice how each scene in act two mirrors—in reverse order—each scene in act one. Again, this is artistic genius at its finest.

Recognizing this structure helps in the interpretation of the work. For example, much debate and speculation surrounds chapters 21-22. There John describes the holy city with its gates of pearl and its streets of gold (21:21).[2]

Is this a description of heaven? Many people believe so. I have sung many songs about heaven’s streets of gold and I have heard many jokes that begin at the “pearly gates” of heaven. Saint Peter is there with the keys into heaven and the authority to allow us in or deny us access.

But if this is a description of heaven, then it is a very awkward one. Why? Because the city John describes is “coming down out of heaven” (21:2). How is that possible?

And, this city is referred to as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). That sounds like the church, doesn’t it?[3]

So is this a description of heaven or is it a description of the church? Which is it?

I am convinced that it is the church, not heaven. How can I be so sure? By carefully looking at the structure of John’s work.

In act one, scene one (chapters 2-3), what is John talking about? The church. No question about that.

Now look at the scene in act two that mirrors act one, scene one. Remember, act two progresses in reverse order; therefore, the corresponding scene in act two will be the final scene—chapters 21-22.

What is John talking about in the final scene of act two? Well, maybe heaven and maybe the church, for many it is not 100% clear. There are arguments that cut both ways.

But for my thinking, examining John’s structure removes any ambiguity. In both acts John is talking about the church. In act one, he is talking about the church in a state of imperfection; in act two, he is talking about the church in its perfection. Any ambiguity is eliminated once John’s structural framework is brought to bear on the question.


[1] The title is singular, Revelation, not plural, Revelations. Sorry, just a minor, technical pet peeve of mine.

[2] In fact, John says that there is only one street—singular—that is made of gold. He doesn’t mention any other streets.

[3] See Matthew 9:15, John 3:29, Romans 7:4, 1 Corinthians 6:15, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-33 for examples of Jesus being referred to as the “bridegroom” and his people, the church, being called his “bride.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

Lucifer image copyright @ Caelicorn

Much of what the early church believed about God it learned from Judaism. Likewise, her beliefs about Satan flowed out of the same mindset.

Today, much of what we believe about Satan does not come directly from clear explanations of the origin of Satan found in the Bible. Instead, it comes from tradition, both Christian and Jewish, inferences from a smattering of passages, and from a strange exegesis of some passages in the Hebrew Bible, namely: Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. The exegesis of these passages is strange because neither is referring to Satan, the Devil, or even anything supernatural. Both are specifically referring to human beings. Isaiah is addressing the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the king of Tyre.

General Discussion of Isaiah 14:12-17.

  • Isaiah 14:12-17 has been used to explain the origin of Satan since the second century AD.[1]
  • The Hebrew phrase הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן־שָׁ֑חַר  (Helel ben Shahar) found in Isaiah 14:12 is notoriously difficult to translate. It seems to mean:
  • Helel – “The Shining One” or “The Bright One” (derivative of the verb hll, “to shine”).
  • Ben-Shahar – “son of the dawn” or “son of the morning.”
  • It seems to refer to the morning star—the first “star” visible in the morning, Venus (technically a planet).
  • The Greek uses ἑωσφόρος (heosphoros – phosphorus), which means “light carrier.”
  • The Latin word for the Greek heosphoros is lucifer, which was used in the Latin Vulgate, the foundational text for the King James Version in English. Hence, the KJV renders Isaiah 14:12 thus: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (notice the capitalization of the word, making it a proper name).

Christian Evolution of the Understanding of Satan (the Devil).

  • The idea of Satan has evolved within Christianity and Judaism through the centuries.
  • Many argue that not all of this evolution is the result of sound exegesis of Scripture, particularly when various Old Testament passages are applied to Satan.
  • Regardless, the following appears to be the basic Christian understanding of Satan and his origins (again, not every assertion can be clearly established by Scripture):
  • Satan was originally an angel, created by God and serving God in heaven, whose name was Lucifer (from Isaiah 14:12).
  • Lucifer was perhaps the greatest, most beautiful angel God had created—“the brightest in the sky” (again from Isaiah 14:12).
  • But, his pride led him to refuse to bow to God, as all the other angels did.
  • In his self-worship, Lucifer sought to rule heaven himself and rebelled against God.
  • Other angels followed Lucifer in this rebellion against God.
  • This understanding is derived in part from the following passage in Ezekiel:

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 18 By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. 19 All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’” (Ezekiel 28:12-19, NIV).[2]

  • Following his fall from heaven, Lucifer took on other names and identities:
  • The Devil. This term comes from the Greek διάβολος (diablos), which means slanderer or accuser.
  • Satan. In the New Testament, “Satan” occurs 35 times in 33 different verses.[3] In Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 the terms are used side-by-side and refer to the same being, hence, the Devil is Satan, the accuser.
  • Beelzebub.The New Testament uses the name Beelzebub seven times.[4] This is a contemptuous name given to a Philistine god whose original name has been reconstructed as most probably “Ba’al Zabul,” meaning “Baal the Prince.” He was the head of the house, the lord of the house, or the “master of the house” (Matthew 10:25). However, the house over which he was master was demonic; hence he is the prince of the demons. His household was also considered to be made up of garbage or, worse, flies and so he is known as “The Lord of the Flies.”
  • The Serpent. Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 refer to Satan, the Devil, as that ancient serpent.
  • The Deceiver.Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as “the Deceiver.” Hence, it is assumed that Satan is also the serpent in the Garden of Eden who deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.
  • The Prince of this World.John 12:31, 14:30 (prince of the world), 16:11.
  • Prince of the Powers of the Air. Ephesians 2:2 (the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience (ASV)).
  • The god of this World. 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • The Accuser of the Brethren. Revelation 12:10.

Popular, Non-Biblical Works that Contribute to Our Understanding of the Devil.

Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost“ by Gustave Doré, 1866

Several popular works have contributed to our understanding of the Devil, Satan. It is often difficult to discern which of our beliefs come from the Bible and which come from these popular works. Here is an abbreviated list of the most influential:

  • Dante Alighieri, Inferno (1321).
  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1604).
  • Joost van den Vondel, Lucifer (1654).
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667).
  • C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942).

Satan in the Hebrew Bible.

  • The Hebrew word satan occurs over 30 times in the Hebrew Bible.[5]
  • It means adversary or one who opposes.
  • When the New Testament links Satan with the Devil, it is clear then that he becomes the accuser (See Revelation 12:10).
  • Sixteen times[6]the word “satan” appears in the Hebrew Bible with the definite article.
  • Standard rules of grammar would normally require these passages to be rendered, “the satan,” the adversary, or the one who opposes.
  • However, the direct article in these passages has been omitted and the term satan has been capitalized (Satan), thus leading to the conclusion that a specific person is being indicated.
  • For example, Job 1:6 reads in English: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.”
  • It seems clear, however, that these texts are referring to a role being played or a function being carried out rather than the proper name of a specific being.
  • Based on this data, most biblical scholars assert that, “Nowhere in the [Hebrew Bible] does Satan appear as a distinctive demonic figure, opposed to God and responsible for all evil.”[7]
  • According to this view, the present understanding of Satan as a distinctive person did not develop until the inter-testamentary period.[8]

Summary of My Understanding of the Development of Our Understanding of Satan.

  • I agree that neither Zechariah nor Job refer to Satan as a specific, known person.
  • Instead, they both indicate that a role of an Accuser existed within the divine council.
  • By the time of the New Testament it is obvious that there is one person who fills that role—the person to whom we refer as Satan.
  • Many biblical scholars argue that this conception of Satan did not develop until inter-testamentary period.
  • I disagree. I assert that the Hebrew Bible contains evidence that this conception of Satan developed before the inter-testamentary period.
  • Specifically, this conception of Satan was in the mind of the Chronicler when he revised Israel’s history for the post-exilic community. He inserted a specific reference to the person Satan, the archenemy of Yahweh, by clearly using his proper name in 1 Chronicles 21:1.

[1] Such early interpreters as Origen (184/185 – 253/254 AD), Tertullian, (160 – 225 AD) and Augustine (354 – 430 AD) used the text in this way.

[2] As mentioned, the king of Tyre is being addressed in this passage.

[3] Matthew 4:10, 12:26 (twice), 16:23; Mark 1:13, 3:23 (twice), 26, 4:15, 8:33; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:15; Revelation 2:9, 13, 24, 3:9, 12:9, 20:2, 7.

[4] Matthew 10:25, 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 18-19.

[5] According to my research in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word satan occurs 33 times, in 6 different forms, in 28 verses as follows: Numbers 22:22, 32, 1 Samuel 29:4, 2 Samuel 19:23 (19:22 in English), 1 Kings 5:18 (5:4 in English), 11:14, 23, 25, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7, Psalm 38:21, 71:13, 109:4, 6, 20, 29, Zechariah 3:1 (twice), and 3:2 (twice).

[6] Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7; Zechariah 3:2 (twice).

[7] T. H. Gaster, “Satan,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (New York, New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 224.

[8]  Ibid., 1377. “The earliest texts that indisputably contain the proper name Satan date to the second century BCE.” The texts that do contain such references are The Assumption of Moses 10:1, Jubilee 23:29, and possibly Sirach21:27, all of which are clearly dated within the inter-testamentary period.

Inside the New Jerusalem

My preaching ministry has me in the middle of a nine-sermon series from John’s Apocalypse–the Book of Revelation. My teaching ministry has me teaching Isaiah for the second quarter in a row.

Obviously, I have run up against the biblical teaching on “last things”–eschatology for the theologians and seminarians.

Many scholars assert that the Bible does not present a consistent picture of what will happen at the end of time.

  • Some argue that the gospels do not coincide with what Paul presents.
  • Others claim that John is in opposition to Paul.
  • Some even argue that Paul is not consistent with Paul! (e.g., his eschatology in 1 Thessalonians is different from his eschatology in 2 Thessalonians).

I can’t sort out all the nuances of each school of thought but this is clear: no consensus exists among biblical scholars regarding Scripture’s presentation of the end of time.

And this is equally clear: the average person sitting on the pew thinks very little about the nuances of the issue. The basic understanding of many Christians seems to be:

  1.  Christ will return,
  2. The dead in Christ will rise first,
  3. Then those who are left alive will be gathered together
  4. And all will be taken up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1Thessalonians 4:17, NIV).

End of story. Seems pretty clear. What’s the problem?

Jesus confirms this in John 14:1-3 when he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Finally, Peter weighs in on the conversation to tell us what will become of the earth: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10, ASV).

So Plato and all those Greek philosophers were correct. Our bodies die, decay, and are never more. Our souls go to heaven to live with Jesus forever and this nasty ol’ material creation is disposed of as it should be. End of story; what’s the problem?

Well, the biblical story is not that clear cut.

First, according to the New Testament, our physical bodies are going to be raised from death, just as Jesus’ physical body was raised (1 Corinthians 15). Second, there are a number of passages that talk about a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Take the 2 Peter passage as an example—the classic proof-text for a “the world is going to be burned up” position on the matter. If we keep reading, just two verses later we see that “according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13, ASV).

Isaiah talks about a new heaven and new earth that follows God’s judgment (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).

John does too in his Apocalypse. In fact, the new heaven and the new earth is the precise climax to which John leads the reader of Revelation (see Revelation 21).

According to these passages, the hope we have is not to wind up floating around the clouds in a vaporous realm in the sweet by and by, but rather an entirely new creation in which God’s perfection finally prevails (“wherein dwelleth righteousness,” to quote Peter again).

So where do a new body, a new heaven, and a new earth fit into the mainstream Christian understanding that at the end of time our bodies go into the ground, our souls go to heaven, and all matter will be destroyed? That we go to live with God in a non-material realm and leave this terrible place in the far reaches of our memories?

And what exactly does Paul mean when he says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”? (Romans 8:19-21, NIV).

That sounds a whole lot like a new earth following God’s judgment, which would be consistent with other passages on the subject.

At this point I have more questions than answers. And I have a much deeper appreciation for those scholars who wrestle with this and come away scratching their heads.

I remember a Bible teacher many years ago telling us his view:

  1. We will get new bodies at the resurrection
  2. In those bodies we will go to heaven to live with God forever
  3. God will then re-create the earth
  4. So we can all sit around in heaven and watch re-runs.

At the time I thought he was joking. Now I’m thinking, “Maybe not. Maybe he is on to something.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

Christianity had a humble beginning indeed: from 12 to 120 to thousands upon thousands. And now? The largest religion in the world.

But when we take a close look at its beginning we ask, “How did it even get off the ground?” And when we look at its internal problems we ask, “How has it survived and flourished for 2000 years?”

Resurrection power, that’s how. The power of God that was not expected has been unleashed. And it changes everything.

It changed the first followers:

  • Prior to their experience of the resurrection, some of them had vague notions of a bodily resurrection someday far off in the future but they had no idea of how a future resurrection and judgment radically alters one’s life here and now.
  • Prior to their experience of the resurrection, they may have had a conception of another world “out there” but they did not fully appreciate the implications of another world, a New Creation, breaking in on and radically changing this one.

Once they experienced that in-breaking, once they witnessed the empty tomb, after they had handled the resurrected Lord of Heaven and Earth, their new perspective changed them and they changed the world.

Take Peter and John for example. In Acts 4 we read,

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” 18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Act 4:13-20, NIV).

Peter and John had been radically changed by their experience. After their brush with the resurrection, when they had seen God’s New Creation in action, they knew that the so-called rulers of this realm are as illegitimate as the leader of the rebellion in that world, Satan.

And this new knowledge organized their new life in Christ. It allowed them to conquer this age, even if that meant being put to death.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They overcame [conquered!] 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.”

In Christ we are all “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). May God empower us to live as such!

The term eschatology comes from two Greek words: (1) eschatos, last, and (2) logos, speech, word, or discussion. Eschatology then is a discussion of the last things or the final age of human history. It is also a mindset, a way of looking at time.

Obviously it is difficult for those of us who have never known anything but time to speak the language of the One who lives beyond time. And yet the Timeless One entered into time to teach us something about time. It behooves us to make a sincere effort to embrace His teaching about time.

Theories abound on how we should properly interpret the New Testament’s presentation of the end of time (the eschaton). C. H. Dodd proposed a useful conceptualization of the end of time that he called Realized Eschatology. According to his proposal, since the end of the world has already been announced by God then the end of time has already been “realized.” Most reject this terminology (if not his idea outright) because it can be misinterpreted to mean that the end of time has already been realized—the end of the world has already occurred.

Oscar Cullman proposed a more useful term for (and a more coherent explanation of) the end of time. He argued that we should see things in terms of Inaugurated Eschatology. God has announced the end of the world; however, we should see that not as the realization of the end of time but the inauguration of the end. In other words, the beginning of the end has arrived but the end of the end has not.

Clearly God has established events and experiences that are to help us experience the “end of time” in the here and now. In the Lord’s Supper, for example, we celebrate our salvation now, we feast now, we experience forgiveness now and yet, simultaneously, we anticipate that Great Banquet at which the full realization of all these things will take place. In-time judgments (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem) are also in-time events that carry with them end-of-the-world significance.

The importance of this discussion is in how we view our lives in relation to the end of time. Are we living in this present age? Or are we living the future now?

“The times they are a-changin.’” Bob Dylan recorded those words in 1963 for his third studio album of the same name, released on January 13, 1964. Dylan’s words were as true in the 1960s as they are today. The only constant, unchanging truth about life is the fact that it is constantly changing.

Most so-called experts who study these things agree that the world as we know it is in the midst of or has just passed through a major transition:

  • From an industrial society to an information society.
  • From a modern world to a post-modern world.

It matters little how it is described—what specific terminology is used—the point is that when historians look back at the 20th century, some date in that century will mark the end of an era (many point to the decade of the 60s as the point of transition but time will tell).

It appears that “post-modern” is the most popular term being used to describe the transition through which we are creeping. In that case, it behooves us to define it. What does the term “post-modern” mean?

Put simply, post-modernism refers to the fact that we have, as a culture, moved out of the modern era, modernity. The presuppositions, goals, and values that characterized the modern age are being rejected. We have moved past them, we are beyond them, hence, we are post-modern. And so to understand post-modernism one must first understand modernity—its assumptions, goals, and values.

  • As a modern world science has been the foundation of our building. Using the scientific method of inquiry, our goal has been to emerge from the darkness of superstition. In many cases, this has led to the rejection of all supernatural explanations for the universe.
  • In addition, technology has been the second floor of our building. Through advancing technology we have mastered our lives. Tasks that used to take hours (e.g., cooking, washing clothes, etc.) now take a fraction of the time. In some cases, technology has taught us how to control the very forces of nature.
  • Finally, the third floor of our building and our ultimate goal has been the production of wealth.

The promise of modernity was a society in which ignorance was overcome, disease was cured, poverty was eradicated, and war was rendered obsolete. Modernity promised to eliminate material and social needs. The dream was a society that continually improved itself, a civilization in which people would be genuinely happy and truly free for the first time in the history of the world. This has been the promise of modernity.

The problem is that modernity failed to deliver on its promise. The 20th Century witnessed some of the worst atrocities and human suffering ever experienced in the history of the world.

  • A true world-war. World War I was the most devastating and destructive human conflict in the history of the world up to that time. Many believed it to be the “war to end all wars.” After the devastation and destruction was assessed, many were convinced that no one would be stupid enough to start another war.
  • Another true world-war. World War II surpassed the first world war in terms of devastation and destruction.
  • The use of the nuclear bomb on non-military targets. Two bombs, two cities, one-quarter of a million people killed.
  • Global depression.
  • Untold human starvation.
  • The Holocaust.
  • Mass genocide around the globe.
  • Corporate scandal.

All of this (and much, much, much more that could be listed) in spite of our great knowledge, advanced technology, and unprecedented wealth.

In the aftermath of the 20th century, we are seeing a mass-scale rejection of the modern view. Its underlying assumptions about the world and the universe are bogus. As a culture, we are moving past the promises of modernity. In fact, there is a gnawing pessimism toward the entire modern project altogether.

Under this new, emerging, post-modern worldview,

  • Progress may be inevitable but it is often evil, destructive, and selfish.
  • Science, technology and the accumulation of wealth will ultimately lead to the destruction of the delicate balance of nature.
  • Progress will lead to an unhealthy need for further conquest rather than cooperation.
  • Ultimately it will lead to the destruction of the human species.

In the midst of all of this change, God still holds out hope to the human family:

  • Self-centeredness has been our problem from the first day we were expelled from Paradise.
  • God’s Word still has the key to human happiness and to the survival of the human family: turn from self-centeredness and return to God-centeredness.
  • God designed us to live in a harmonious community, enjoying open fellowship with him and with one another.

It sounds utopian but no matter how radically the world changes, it still works!

God’s people can and do enjoy the peace that passes all understanding. That peace cannot be found in earthly knowledge, modern technology nor in massive wealth. It can only be found in God.

Go ask Bob Dylan. He discovered that truth as well.

The more I study Scripture the more it fascinates me. Lately I have once again become enthralled with John’s Revelation. What is it? Why is it in the Bible? What did it mean to John’s readers/hearers? How should we read it? What should we do with it? Is it only about the end of the world? Is it about the end of the world at all? I have many more questions than I have answers. Yet, my curiosity remains.

Here is what I do know.

Since God is the Creator of all things He ought to be served by that which He created. This is the overarching theme of the seven letters to the churches, the rest of Revelation, and of the entire Bible. YHWH is God and He alone ought to be served wholeheartedly by all creatures. Failure to do so will result in judgment—in time and at the end of time.

All churches tend to drift in our focus. It is so easy, and so human, to turn from Jesus Christ and Him crucified and all that that amazing event implies for the human family. Our passion for our mission degrades into mere maintenance of the church. Church structure and doctrinal nit picking take precedence over incarnational church life. Reckless, heart-felt adoration of God and loving service to others are replaced by cold, rigid policing of the ranks. The warmth, beauty, and freedom that come from God’s redemption all give way to hyper-technical gate-keeping. This has been the curse of the Christian Church from its inception.

One of the central themes, then, of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation is to point this tendency out. Jesus wants to prevent it from happening in every church and He demands repentance from it in any church where it has raised its ugly head. Failure to repent results in judgment; the church of Christ no longer functions as the church of Christ because it is not the church of Christ—it is the church of something else.

The purpose of the seven letters of Revelation (2:1 – 3:22) is to get the disciples to put into practice the full implications of the fact that YHWH is God. He and He alone is to be served by His creatures. And He is to be served wholeheartedly, not merely halfway. According to the seven letters, each disciple must repent from everything that prevents this type of service to God.

Given the impending crisis about to break in upon the disciples of Asia, the seven letters alert the disciples to the urgency of an immediate, penetrating, and ruthless self-assessment of their faith and commitment. According to the seven letters to the seven churches, God ought to be served wholeheartedly by His creation—or not at all.

That is what I know.

 

Art used by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site, http://revelationillustrated.com.

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