As the curtain falls
Revelation 22: “Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
The final scene is that of a river flowing with the Water of Life and a tree called “the Tree of Life.” There’s the Throne of God surrounded by his worshipers. Righteousness reigns…holiness everywhere. John is told to publish his vision, making it available to all who will read. Then, Jesus, the star of this whole story speaks, in effect, putting his signature on the entire vision. Now, we hear a word that’s both an invitation to all and a mission for the Church. There’s the invitation to “come and drink…freely of the Water of Life.” There’s also a commission for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to join the Spirit in echoing the invitation to the entire human race, offering this Water of Life to all who will come. What we receive we offer to others. Now, as the curtain is falling, Jesus speaks again, assuring us of his return. From the audience John answers for all of us: “Yes, Come, Master Jesus!”
Take Away: Jesus is coming back. This is our hope. Proclaiming this truth is our mission.
The New Jerusalem
Revelation 21: Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.
The final battle has been fought and the Day of Judgment has taken place. The indescribably beautiful City of God descends from heaven to a made-new earth. This City and this made-new earth is inhabited by people made new. The old ways have ended and new ways have come. Death, tears, and pain are forgotten. It’s been a long time coming but now the new day has dawned…a day without a sunset. John watches as the wonders of the New Jerusalem are revealed to him and as an angel measures out the magnificent city. Nothing that will spoil its perfection will enter this place. God’s people, those whose names are written the Lamb’s Book of Life, though, will get in. In one setting, Judgment Day, the vital importance of having one’s name in that all-important book is seen as the only way to survive Judgment. Now, as we watch John watch the Holy City coming down out of heaven, we find ourselves back at that same Book. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
Revelation 20: I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there – before the Throne!
The events described are challenging to say the least. There’s a 1000 years of peace on earth as the old dragon is bound in the pit. Is it a literal thousand years? Is the peace total or just the general condition of the earth? At the end, it seems there’s a good chance that the story of the human race is about to start all over again as the dragon is released and goes to work. But it’s not to be. Time is up. The dead are called forth and Judgment Day has finally come. Two books; one detailing the deeds of each life and the other listing those who’ve given themselves to the Lamb are the witnesses. The separating of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares takes place. It’s the end. It’s the beginning. Everything that’s happened has been the prelude to eternity. As is plain to anyone reading my devotionals on Revelation I really don’t have a clue. I’m lost as to both timeline and actual events. However, even someone as clueless as I am can have a handle on this final event. I’m going to stand before God. My life is going to be an “open book.” At that point, my only hope will be that second book, the Book of Life. If I’ve given my heart to Jesus and lived for him, it’s that book that’s my hope: my hope of life. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
The King is coming
Revelation 19: Blessed are those invited to the wedding Supper of the Lamb.
I think I have plenty of male company when I say I’ve always been vaguely uncomfortable with the “bride of the Lamb” language of the New Testament. Men see themselves as, well, “manly” and not as blushing brides. I’ve been helped with this discomfort, at least a bit, by the realization that it’s the Church as a whole that’s described as the bride of Christ, not followers of Jesus as individuals. We aren’t all “brides of Christ.” Together we’re “the bride of Christ.” Obviously, there’s no sexual component here anyway. Here in the latter part of his vision, John sees Jesus riding on a white horse finishing up the judgment of God upon the earth and preparing for the great celebration that’s about to come. His people, the Church, have stood faithful to him and now he’ll be united with them forever. The big feast that has been in the making for all these years is about to take place. Christ is about to claim his Church as a King who comes to claim his throne to the cheers of his loyal subjects. When I think about it this way, I’m reminded that there’s nothing “sissy” about it at all.
Take Away: It’s the Church that’s the bride of Christ and every believer is a part of that great number.
When God’s had enough
Revelation 18: The Strong God who judges her has had enough.
The actual God has had enough. It takes a lot to arrive at this place. A lot of God’s grace has to be rejected. A lot of his patience has to be wasted. As we’re reminded by the writer of Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” All heaven cheers this act of Judgment, not because of vengeance, but because of righteousness. For a righteous, pure, holy God to be who he is, ultimately, the end of all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must come. It’s not as though there haven’t been opportunities to turn around. I can say with confidence that there’s been at least 2000 years. At some point the patience of God will be exhausted. I want to be standing on the right side of things when God has “had enough.”
Take Away: For the Lord to be righteous, pure, and holy, sooner or later all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must be defeated.
The end is at hand, the end is at hand!
Revelation 17: The Lamb will defeat them, proof that he is Lord over all lords, King over all kings.
John’s mysterious journey continues with disturbing scenes and promises of divine judgment. He sees a woman riding a beast. She’s branded as Babylon, but he’s told that that, too, is a riddle name, and the city, Rome, is described. In John’s day, seeing Rome as the seat of evil in the world makes a lot of sense. Some continue to take the woman, Babylon, and description of the riddle to add up to the literal Rome, carrying with it lots of religious overtones. Frankly, it’s beyond me (seems I’ve been saying that a lot lately). If it isn’t to be taken literally, it may be that the “Babylon” represents a current world power that dominants the world as Rome did in John’s day. All of this is the set up for the big battle. This world power will rally the nations of the world to battle against the Lamb of God. Then, before the battle is even described, we’re told the outcome of it. The Lamb wins. In the end, there will be no doubt as to his high standing: Lord over all lords, King over all kings. The descriptions of judgment, war, and destruction are soon to give way to victory, worship, and the exaltation of the Lamb of God.
Take Away: We don’t have to understand everything to understand this: in the end, the Lamb reigns.
Muddling my way through, holding fast
Revelation 16: Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me.
The seven bowls of God’s wrath bring untold misery to the earth. Some of the miseries remind us of what happened in the limited region of Egypt during the ten plagues. In this case, though, the suffering is worldwide. When God’s attention specifically turns to the Beast and his unholy trinity they rally the nations of the earth to fight back. Armageddon is at hand. There’s so much here that I don’t understand that I’m ashamed of myself. Here I am in the book called “Revelation” and I’m constantly reminded that I’m missing whatever it is I’m supposed to grasp. Still, once in a while I’m graciously given something to which I can cling. Even if I don’t get it, I’m advised to “Keep watch!” and to be “ready.” Jesus said the same thing during his earthly ministry and now he repeats it. Even as I muddle through these pictures of judgment filled with symbolism that I’m missing more than understanding, I’m encouraged to simply hang in there. I may not understand Armageddon but I understand what it means to stand fast in my relationship with the Lord. Ultimately, it’s that that matters much more than my poor grasp on the precise meaning of passages like this.
Take Away: Even when you don’t understand what’s going on stand fast in the faith. Ultimately, that’s what matters the most anyway.
Revelation 15: One of the Four Animals handed the Seven Angels seven gold bowls, brimming with the wrath of God.
The revelator hears a song performed by a huge number of overcomers. It’s a song of praise and worship. It’s also a song of fear and judgment. “God is holy,” they proclaim, “all nations will come and worship you, because they see your judgments are right.” That song ushers in the final set of the Lord’s judgments on the earth. Angels are given the task of delivering those judgments. They’re given gold bowls, filled to the brim with the wrath of God. Any view of God that ignores his blazing hatred of sin is an incomplete view. He’s merciful and kind and loving and has overflowing grace. He wants nothing more than to save people and his goal is to save every human being. That’s all proven at Calvary. Some though, refuse his offer of salvation, an offer that cost him everything. Now, as time draws to an end we find ourselves face to face with the wrath of God. How dare people spit on his mercy? How dare they treat the crucifixion with distain? Now, in this vision, we’re given a preview of the wrath of God. John sees smoke from God’s glory and power pouring out of the heavenly Temple. It’s a fearful thing to be even this close to the wrath of God.
Take Away: Any view of the Lord that fails to take into account his hatred of sin is an incomplete view.
The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
God’s people doing what God’s people do
Revelation 13: Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.
As I struggle my way through symbolism that has challenged Bible scholars across the centuries it’s nice to find some firm footing, if for just a moment. I can’t identify the Beast or the Beast’s puppet or solve the 666 riddle. Since John writes to specific congregations in a specific place and time I don’t buy into any interpretation that can only be grasped 2000 years in the future, so the 666 reference, in particular has to make sense historically, but again, I’m not the go to guy for this kind of stuff. What I do like is the momentary firm footing of “Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.” Their situation doesn’t sound very good. There’s some kind of leopard-bear-lion Beast dominating the whole world. This Beast hates the Church and intends to destroy it. Life is hard under this persecution (is it Rome or some future event or both?) and it appears that the Church will be crushed. God’s people, though, stand firm. In spite of prison and the sword their passion for Christ empowers them. In the face of this crisis of (literally) Biblical proportions they “stand their ground.” That’s exactly what God’s people do. It’s not that we travel easy roads, smelling roses all the way. Sometimes we take some hits that are anything but easy. We don’t like it and we do all we can to avoid it, but in the end, whatever comes we passionately and faithfully stand for God. Even as I have a hard time getting the rest of this passage into focus, my view of this truth is 20/20.
Take Away: The Lord’s people have staying power even in impossible situations.