Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Glory of God Gives Light

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)

 In the message this past Sunday, David talked about the New Jerusalem, the city of God, described as a perfect, brilliant, beautiful city in Revelation 21. He mentioned several aspects of the city, including that it would be reflective, it would be protected, and it would be open. It's a huge city- 12,000 stadia long, with a height and width of the same length.  A perfect cube.

12,000 stadia is about 1,380 miles; a stadion was about 607 feet. That's actually quite huge. I mean, the diameter of Pluto is roughly 1,430 miles. Can you imagine if a city the size of Pluto came down out of the sky, a city covered with jewels and made of gold? I mean, I get teared up when I see a really beautiful old building with ornate carvings and gold filigree. I can't even begin to picture an entire city covered in jewels.

It's beyond our imaginings, and that's one of the points that David made. Revelation is a vision, steeped in symbols and metaphors. Because nothing can fully prepare us for the glory that awaits us in heaven. Revelation is not just a picture of Jesus, but a picture of our future with Jesus, and being the bride of Christ is a future that is too wonderful for us to fully take in.

We're nearing the end of our series on Revelation, and we've covered a lot. I think, though, the thing that I've taken away the most, though, is that Revelation, as a picture of Jesus, as a picture of our future with Jesus, is an encouragement for our present time. 

Take, for example, Revelation 21:23: "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp."

In the future, there will be no darkness, because God itself will be our light. More than that, God will shine through us, because we will reflect His image fully and beautifully. So, for now, secure in that, we can be lights in the current darkness. Like the stars, each with its own light, given to it by the Creator. Or like the moon, which reflects the sun so brilliantly that we can see by its light at night. 


If you haven't read through Revelation or listened to the messages on it, I would encourage you to take some time to work your way through it. Revelation 1:3 states that, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." As you go through the series, you might meditate on these things:

1. What has God already done for you in your life?
2. What has God promised you for your future?
3. What is God asking you to do right now?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Our Eternal Home

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." Revelation 21:1

On Sunday, we bloggers were privileged to give the message, sharing some of the insights that God has given us as we’ve been going through Revelation and especially in relation to Revelation 21:1-8. For followers of Christ, it’s a beautiful and encouraging passage about the present and future hope that we have in Jesus; the promise of a day when there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying out to God, or pain.

One thing we didn’t get time to look at in detail though was the final verse in our passage, verse 8, ‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’. Emily touched on it briefly when she said that all these people are looking for fulfillment and satisfaction outside of God, and that all of us have a choice whether to find fulfillment in God as the only one who can make us happy, the only one who can take our pain away, or in other things. But, even so, it can seem like a terribly harsh, severe verse to tack on the end of a passage filled with so much hope for restoration. Hasn’t Revelation made the point enough already?

I agree with Emily that this verse does remind us that we have a choice, but it also serves other purposes as part of the passage. It is not only a challenge to us to find fulfillment in God, but it also forms part of the encouragement of the vision of the new heaven and new earth. You see, if the things described in this verse are not part of the new heaven and new earth, then our future happiness is secure. As Poythress writes, "No sin or second fall into evil will disturb the permanent security and bliss of the new world."

The exclusion of anything that could taint the splendor and beauty of the new heaven and earth is also hinted at in verse 1 where we are told that there will no longer be any sea. Many of us love the beauty and majesty of the sea, and I do not think we will be robbed of that pleasure in heaven. Rather, the absence of the sea here is symbolic of the evil and chaos that ancient people associated with the sea. In many places in Scripture the sea is connected with destruction, death, and frightening sea monsters (see for example Psalm 69:1, Jonah 2:3, Daniel 7:3, and Isaiah 27:1). Again Poythress writes, "The removal of the sea means the permanent removal of the challenges to God’s order and hence the peace and stability of the new world."

The security of this new heaven and new earth is important as we are going to be there for a while; in fact, forever! And for anyone who has experienced even a degree of uncertainty or instability in their earthly homes, be it through abusive or failed relationships, financial hardship, sickness, and even death, the significance of this won’t be underestimated. In at least three places in this short passage of Scripture (and if you read the passage again or listen to the message you may spot more!) God goes to great lengths to impress upon us the truth that the future home he is preparing for us, in contrast to the current world we experience, is a place of safety and peace.
  1. How does it make you feel to know that there will be a new heaven and new earth free from pain and suffering? How does it change the way you view life on earth now?
  2. Jesus said, "In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2) On Sunday, Dave spoke about how heaven is not just a fuzzy, spiritual place but it will be a physical place where we find joy and fulfillment working in the presence of God. How does this impact your own ideas of heaven?
  3. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for this future hope and asking Him to help you find fulfillment in Him, instead of the things of this world.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This Thing Called Millenialism

Sunday, I preached from Revelation 20.   In the second part of the message, I looked at two images.

1) Satan being bound and shut in a pit for a thousand years.

2) Worshipers of Jesus who reign with Christ for those thousand years.

What is most important about this passage is that Satan is portrayed as a limited and ultimately defeated foe and that the the worshipers of Jesus are portrayed as a blessed, active, and victorious (yet persecuted) people.

A question that emerges from this passage is what time period (symbolic or literal) is the thousand years (millennium) in Revelation 20 referring to?  Three positions have become most prominent over the years, but perhaps one pastor friend I know has the best position which he refers to as "pan-millennialism."  In his words, its all going to "pan out in the end." I think Jesus' teachings were meant to promote a similar trust in us when we think about the end times.

With that said, the things we can learn from exploring this concept of a one thousand year time period in Revelation 20 further yield knowledge that is helpful to us in learning to live like Jesus in our world.  It is with this end in mind that I will briefly present my view of the three positions - premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillenialism.

In this view, the millennium (one thousands years) will follow Jesus’ second coming.  This view places the binding of Satan and the victorious reign of the church on earth in the future, after Jesus returns as he promised.

The strength of this view is that it helps to interpret more literally some of the Old Testament messianic promises of the Messiah establishing an earthly kingdom that ushers in an era of peace and prosperity in the world.  I personally feel that most, if not all, of those Old Testament passages are fulfilled through the church as God's people reign on earth in the authority of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit OR through Jesus' inauguration of the new heave and earth in Revelation 21.

The weakness of this view is that it hard to reconcile with Jesus' clear and extensive teaching (especially Matthew 24-25, Mark 13) that his second coming will be sudden, decisive, and cosmic in scale AND that it would be followed immediatetly by the final judgment.  Premillennialism can also allow for a broader view of Satan's activity and power since he is yet to be bound. 

In this view, we are either currently in the symbolic millennium or soon to enter a symbolic/literal millennium as all the nations of the earth are reached with the gospel. This view sees the church as enjoying a great period of peace, prosperity and triumph (the one thousand years) before Jesus returns.

The strength of this view is that it embraces Jesus' and Paul's teachings that the church has been given authority by God to reign in this life and to see the gospel taken to every tribe, tongue, and nations.  It envisions a victorious church that is presently experiencing the blessing and victory that Revelation 20:4-6 describes.

The weakness of this view is that it does not allow much room for the intensification of satan-inspired activity that the repetitive cycles throughout Revelation reveal and that Jesus himself taught about.  For example, this view is hard to reconcile with Jesus' words in Matthew 24:12 that, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold."  Postmillennialism can lead to a triumphalism that does not help the church persevere well through the suffering, hardships, and persecution that Jesus and the apostles taught it would experience.

Amillennial (Greek: a- "no" + millennialism)
This view understands the millennium to be a symbolic time period that represents the reign of Christ through his church from the time of the Apostles until Jesus returns.  In this view, Satan has been bound by the triumph of Christ at the cross and resurrection so that people from every tribe and nation may come to know Jesus.

One of the strengths of this view is that it allows people to embrace the view of both a church that is ruling and reigning through the authority of Christ but is also facing suffering and difficulties.  It views Satan as bound but  leaves room for the continued activity of Satan from the pit (Revelation 9:1-11) and on the earth immediately before Christ returns (Revelation 20:7-10).  It avoids the triumphalism of the postmillennial view by understanding that, while Satan has been bound and his activity has been curtailed and limited, the church will still face difficulty and distress before Jesus returns.

A weakness of amillennialism is that it does not allow for you to interpret some Old Testament passages and much of Revelation either literally or chronologically.  (However, I personally doubt that some of those prophetic and apocalyptic writings in the Bible are meant to be understood in that way. We are to understand numbers and images such as one thousand years, 666, a pit, and a dragon as representative of real realities but symbolic in and of themselves.)

It's corresponding strength is that amillennialism does make room for the symbolism and repetition that is found throughout Revelation and other parts of the Bible.

Lastly, I find myself most comfortable with an amillennial view because I find that it reconciles well with the rest of the New Testament's teaching (especially those of Jesus) on the end times.  When I read Jesus' teachings, it seems clear to me that Jesus taught that before he returned the gospel would go to every nation AND his followers would experience intense persecution and trouble (Matthew 24).  He also described his return as a decisive event that would usher in both the passing away of this world as we know it and the inauguration of a new heaven and earth rather than an introduction to a literal thousand year rule as premillennialism does.

Thus, I feel the amillennial view fits Jesus' own words and instructions well, and I believe that as a follower of Jesus who is seeking to live like Jesus in our world that this is what is most important.

Questions to Ponder
1) How do these views line up with Jesus' own teachings and instructions on the end times?  Read Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13 to start.

2) How might each of these views effect how you live for Jesus now?  Why?

3) Do you feel it is necessary to embrace a particular view?  What can be learned and applied from each view by someone who is seeking to live like Jesus?  How could you apply that in your own life?