As my study of the book of Revelation in BSF wraps up this week, I’m taking some time to write down a few of the profound things I learned about the future age that must not be named…The End Times. I don’t know how many of you remember church culture from the 70’s but End Times talk was as mandatory as water baptism. Hal Lindsey and his book “The Late Great Planet Earth” were the 5th Gospel. Timelines, pre, mid and post tribulation rapture positions; wars, heads of state and foreign leaders all hotly debated among believers, even causing divisions and sadly, ending friendships. Youth camps invited speakers to instill a sense of urgency into their captives–all I came home with were nightmares.
Fortunately, for many, those days are long gone. We’re a much more inclusive group now, we don’t judge each other on our eschatology (very much anyway). In fact, some would argue that much of the book has already happened. Another would argue that it’s merely symbolic and we don’t need to take it so literally. Personally, I was hesitant to tackle it, until I heard that it would be presented as a book written to the suffering Church. Since much of the Church around the world is suffering, that perspective spoke to me, I wanted to find out what it was all about. I share now, just a few of my takeaways from this controversial text, I hope it inspires you to read and digest it for yourself.
#1 I’ve always wondered why Earth is the only planet that is inhabited by humans. Creation seems so extravagantly vast in light of humanity existing merely on one planet. When we delved into the sections on God’s throne room and the descriptions of the risen Christ my question was answered. All of creation is necessary to describe the indescribable! Gemstones, the sea, various animals. Sounds from the sky of thunder and lightening. Noise from earth, rushing water and earthquakes. Clear as glass, white as wool, emerald green, light as bright as sun, fire, stars…I wondered where John might have seen gemstones living a fisherman’s life. Then it hit me, the high priest had them on his garments and John may have seen him at some point in his life. So God, limiting himself by what was available in creation, tried to give his people a glimpse of heaven using treasured and priceless items in the temple as a shadow of the reality. Mind bending.
#2 Coming to this realization forever changed my worship experience. I don’t care if you worship in a Liturgical, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Quaker or other fashion, having this picture of heaven in your mind will forever change the songs you sing, the Scriptures you quote, the response readings you speak, the silence you listen to and the things you do and say with your body and voice. Everything I experience in worship is marked by this perspective and if this was my only takeaway, the entire year of study was worth it. I truly understand that my worship causes me to transcend this world and unites me with the heavenly world. In it but not of it.
#3 The fallen world loves the suffering, compassionate, healer, merciful, teacher portrait of Jesus. They love his exposure of hypocrisy among the religious leaders and his championing the downtrodden. However, they scoff (at their eternal peril) at the risen Christ in all his glory, majesty and power. Ultimately they will refuse to believe he will judge behaviors, actions, choices and all forms of evil as defined in Scripture (be it gossip or sexual) and condemn them to a literal hell.
#4 Speaking of the risen Christ…he’s no wimp. Eyes of fire vs compassion; multiple crowns vs a thorny one; name engraved on his person vs placard “King of the Jews”; robe dipped in blood vs one gambled away by pagan soldiers; name-Word of God vs common Jesus; heavenly, horse riding army vs 12 human men; sword sharp words taking down nations vs compassionate, teaching, humorous, healing, blessing and comforting words. Whatever interpretation you give this symbolic description, the contrasts are inescapable. His first entrance into the world was humble and sacrificial, his second (whenever it happens) will be victorious, powerful and just.
#5 Suffering is normal for Christians–even in America. It seems that God not only allows it, but he instigates it! Ask Job. As much as we’d all like to live our best life now, we won’t…hence, heaven. In days past the church looked to heaven more than they do today. As culture, medicine, technology and wealth have evolved the church has grown ever more concerned with making this life it’s best. Upside down thinking. For the Christian, this life is our hell…our next life will be, indescribably, our best. All things considered, it’s a pretty comfortable hell for many of us.
#6 And finally…God wins. So simple but so profound. In the end, after all the years of millennial rule, the dismantling of deceptive world systems, the judgements and all the countless opportunities for people to choose him, he will win. He will have a people, created in his image, who choose to love him above all others and will reward them with an eternity of face to face relationship. All of our efforts on behalf of justice, mercy and compassion will be evaluated, what we’ve done in his name and for his kingdom will survive.
There is more, of course. It’s impossible to share all that was discussed and debated. So much of Christ’s victorious character is explored. Judgements, so un American these days, are dissected. Who actually understands how all of it will unfold–not me! But coming away with the assurance that God will right wrongs, justice will prevail and his mercy is always available are themes throughout.
What he said he will do, it is written and it will happen.
I just want to be ready.