Monday, January 25, 2016

More about Revelation, a sort of overview of the first half

A few years ago, I wrote about creation on this blog, and received the following comment from a friend of mine who is a pastor.

I once read a book called "The Science of God," by Gerald Schroeder, a Jewish physicist and theologian. I don't agree with everything he says, but he points out (perhaps similarly to Shawn) that time is relative. He says that if you measure the age of the universe by the rate of the flow of time on Earth today, it's almost 15 billion years. But if you measure it by the rate of the flow of time for the universe as a whole at the moment that matter emerged after the Big Bang (called "quark confinement"), the universe is almost but not quite seven days old. That would mean we're actually still living in the sixth day of creation. That would mean that Gen. 2:1-3 actually describes the future—that everything is still being built into what is "very good." It would explain why Jesus worked to improve human life on the Sabbath after the pattern of his Father (John 5:17). It would mean that what the author of Hebrews says about the Sabbath rest is more than a metaphor (Heb. 4:1-11).
(The author of that comment is Cory Hartman, and if you are interested, you can read his blog here.)

The idea that we are still in the sixth day, and that the seventh day is the culmination of all history, when redeemed creation will exist eternally in the presence of God, when the saints enter God's perfect rest (see Hebrews 4)--this is very interesting to me.

I think it fits with the way the seven seals and seven trumpets unfold in Revelation.  In both cases, there is a gap before the seventh, and the seventh arrives with the fully revealed presence of God.  In the gap, it talks of how the elect are saved.  (I haven't gotten to the seven bowls yet, but they are a bit different--there isn't so much of a gap between 6 and 7, although the seventh still demonstrates the revealed presence of God, very similarly: thunder, lightning, earthquakes.)

If you read Genesis carefully, between chapter 1 and chapter 2, it seems to tell all the way through to the seventh day, but then to go back and rest on the sixth day (Genesis 2:4--review Cory's comment above regarding Genesis 2:1-3).  In this sense, Genesis never really explicitly comes back out of the sixth day, almost as though it sets up the rest of what follows throughout scripture as part of the sixth day, until we get to Revelation 21-22 (and of course some allusions to The End by Old Testament prophets).

Have you ever had the chain of a necklace get knotted up on you?  When this happens to me, I have to lay out the necklace on a smooth, flat surface, put on my very best reading glasses, and use two straight pins, one in my right hand and one in my left.  I gently work at the knots of the necklace with the pins, sticking the pointed tips into the thickest parts of the knots and pulling carefully outward to try to tease out the tangles.  Sometimes I have to do this for quite a long time before anything loosens enough for me to be able to see how the knots are tied up, and therefore how to go about undoing them.  Sometimes I feel as though I'll never get it.

Over the years, as I have read and tried to study Revelation, I've often felt like I was at the beginning stages of trying to untangle a particularly fine metal chain.

Although I am still far from figuring it out, recently I've been feeling as though I'm starting to make some progress, starting to see how some things fit together.

I think it is important to read with a view to the circular nature of Hebrew rhetoric.  While there is undeniably a sense of crescendoing chaos as we hurtle towards the Last Day, there is also a great deal of repetition in Revelation.  I think we can quite safely break The End down to only a few events, and not perhaps the complicated and sometimes convoluted timeline that some pull out of this book.

Currently, in my BSF study, we have arrived at Revelation 12, and Revelation 12 has always been a signpost to me that this book is not a sequence of chronological events along a timeline.  In Revelation, sometimes we are looking forward to the future, sometimes we are looking backward at the past, and sometimes we are in the present.  Sometimes a symbol may stand for a very specific and particular thing, and sometimes a symbol might stand for a universal idea or be one picture of what may, throughout history, be a recurring event.

Here are what I think are the defining themes of Revelation:

(1)  Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is Victorious.
I base this first on Revelation 1, where the first verse states that this is the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Revelation 1:4-8 proceeds to tell who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He will still do in the future.  Revelation 1:9-20 describes John's vision of Jesus, and Jesus' instruction for John to write this message for the churches.  Revelation 1 lays this foundation, but theme of Jesus as our victorious Lord recurs again and again throughout the book.

(2)  There will be a Last Day.
The corollary to this point is that, at the Last Day, it will be the end, and too late to change one's mind.
This idea is implicit in the letters to the seven churches (in Revelation, chapters 2-3).
Another way to state it is: Be Ready!
But also, for the faithful who actually are ready, the message is :  Hold Firm!
To those who are drifting into disobedience, the message is:  Repent!

(3)  The faithful will live forever in eternal glory with the Lord.
By the marvelous grace of God, this truth is highlighted at the beginning of the visions, in chapters 4-5.  Personally, I think the Lord does this to build our hope and confidence before showing us what difficulties we may be called to face before we arrive at our prize.  Revelation encourages God's people to trust in God's promises and to hope for the future.

(4)  Those who are unwilling to repent, who reject Christ's offer of redemption and eternal life, will be cast out (Revelation 2:22, 20:15).
This is not our favorite thing to think about.  It is frightening and sorrowful.  However, God warns us and gives us time to repent, because of His great mercy and grace.  This is part of why the book of Revelation is so important.  It is a warning, a call to action.

(5)  There will be suffering, trials and tribulations for God's people on earth, but nothing can compare to the everlasting paradise we will gain when we get home to Jesus.
I do not think that these trials and tribulations are necessarily specifically matched to historical events, or revealed to us in a particular order to help us draw up a timeline for predicting the date of the Lord's return, although they might be.  However, I think the point we should be sure to take away is this: We will experience difficulties, but they will be controlled and limited by our sovereign God, and we can be completely assured that He will save His people in the end, providing eternal comfort and joy.

(6)  Satan, sin and death will one day be completely destroyed, never to come back and mess with us, ever again.
Revelation 20:10 is one of my favorite verses.  The tempter, the accuser, the father of lies will be cast away, and we will be free of him and safe for ever after.  No more pain or sorrow or fear or danger or waste or loss.  Amen!

(7)  Perfect fellowship between God and humankind will be restored, and God will make His dwelling with His people, among us.  We will be in God and God will be in us.
Ages ago, there was a golden ark hidden in the most interior room of the tabernacle, a perfect cube of a room, draped in curtains and too holy for anyone to enter.  The death of Jesus tore the veil away, and the Holy Spirit now resides in every believer.  But after the Last Day, perfect fellowship with God will be restored, the City of Our God will be the perfect cube (replacing, or fulfilling, the Holy of Holies), and we will all live within Him and see Him face to face while He will provide our light (this is from Revelation 21 and 22; I am not making it up).  I think we cannot understand much of what this will entail, being mortal and finite as we are, but I have faith that it will be marvelous beyond anything anyone has ever been able to imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9).  We'll have constant, uninterrupted access to the Lord.

I think that just about anything we come across in Revelation can be categorized under one of these seven themes.

Revelation 1 -- Jesus is Lord

Revelation 2-3 -- There will be a Last Day

Revelation 4-5 -- Jesus is Lord

Revelation 6 -- There will be suffering, There will be a Last Day

Revelation 7 -- The faithful will live in eternal glory with the Lord, Perfect fellowship with God will be restored

Revelation 8-9 -- There will be suffering, Those unwilling to repent will be cast out

Revelation 10  -- Jesus is Lord

Revelation 11 -- There will be suffering... but nothing cam compare to the everlasting paradise

Revelation 12 -- There will be suffering, Jesus is Lord

If I get a chance to write about this again, I would like to discuss the inter-relatedness of chapters 10-12.

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