Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #6 (Chapters 19-22)

IRevelation Wright conclude the read-through of the Revelation in my 2017-18 devotional read through of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 19-22 conclude the book of Revelation with the judgment and removal of the “Babylon” system that has opposed God and hurt his people throughout history and the re-creation and joining of the new heavens and earth, ruled and blessed by the eternal presence of Jesus Christ. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 19 describes two banquets. One, is the marriage supper of the lamb in which Jesus, the groom, returns to claim his bride, the church (interestingly believers are both the bride and the guests in this metaphor) and celebrate the joining of God to his people and the coming union of heaven and earth. The second feast is enjoyed by "the birds" who feast on the aftermath of the judgment of these evil nations. Jesus judges and completes the victory won through his own blood poured out on the cross and by the power of his word.

The glossy, glitzy world of Babylon has been overthrown; God’s people emerge, with shining, pure linen to wear as God’s own gift. The marriage of the lamb and his bride is to be the focal point of the marriage of heaven and earth themselves, and Babylon, the symbolic equivalent of the ancient Babel which thought to climb up to heaven by its own energy, is shown up as a futile parody of the real thing, a human attempt to get, by sheer greed, what God proposed to give by sheer grace. 168, Revelation 19.1-10

This is how the King of kings and Lord of lords comes before the world. The ultimate justice which drives his victorious battle (verse 11) is the justice of God’s love, which will not work with anything other than the Word (verses 13, 15), and will not be dressed in anything other than purity and holiness (note the ‘shining, pure linen’ of verse 14, matching the bride’s dress in verse 8). Love will win the day, because in the person of Jesus it has trampled the grapes of wrath once and for all (verse 15). 174, Revelation 19.11-21

Chapter 20 begins the discussion of the reign of Christ on earth. The great controversy here is the nature of the "millennium." Is it a literal 1000 years or figurative? It seems to me that the round number must be symbolic, but it does appear that there is some kind of interim period of Jesus' rule before eternity begins. As with most prophecy, it will not be completely understood until it is fulfilled. Satan, who originally functioned in God's heavenly counsel as the "prosecutor," though bound, will get one last chance to accuse human beings which will bring evil to its final end. The nations will gather for battle but will be defeated by the word of Christ and will "burn" probably in the same fire that consumed Babylon. Christ then judges the world based on their works and they are removed from his presence, along with death and the place of the dead. (This chapter places them in the lake of fire, 22 places them "outside the city.")

At this point above all – above all the rest of the New Testament, in my experience – it doesn’t do to be too dogmatic. We must hold on to the central things which John has made crystal clear: the victory of the lamb, and the call to share his victory through faith and patience. God will then do what God will then do. 181, Revelation 20.1-6

When God chooses, he also redeems; when God chooses and redeems, he also works in people’s lives; and the miracle of the divine–human relationship, from the very beginning, has always been that human thought, will and action is somehow enhanced, rather than being cancelled out, by the divine initiative and power. 185, Revelation 20.7-15

Chapter 21 introduces the new heaven and new earth. God completes what was foreshadowed with the tabernacle in the wilderness and what was planned for the garden of Eden. The entire earth will become the temple of God (This was to be the goal of Adam and Eve "subduing" the earth) and the holy city would be the "holy of holies." The New Jerusalem is pictured as a city, a garden, a temple, a bride, and a group of people in this chapter. God will dwell incarnationally with his people, with sin and all its effects banished. Humans, according to God's plan, will rule with Christ with all needs met through intimate relationship with God. Earth and heaven have been renewed, cleansed and are completely united. The entire earth will be blessed and offer worship to God.

What God did in Jesus, coming to an unknowing world and an unwelcoming people, he is doing on a cosmic scale. He is coming to live, for ever, in our midst, a healing, comforting, celebrating presence. And the idea of ‘incarnation’, so long a key topic in our thinking about Jesus, is revealed as the key topic in our thinking about God’s future for the world. Heaven and earth were joined together in Jesus; heaven and earth will one day be joined fully and for ever. 188, Revelation 21.1-5

John is constructing a symbolic universe, not an architect’s design. The city will be an enormous, perfect cube . . . because that is the shape of the holy of holies at the heart of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6.20). The whole city has become God’s dwelling place, God’s temple. Or, more exactly, the very centre of God’s temple, the holy of holies, the place where God dwells for ever. 194, Revelation 21.6-21

The new Jerusalem, in John’s vision, is not the whole of the new creation. It is the centrepiece and glory of it, the fountain from which there flows freely all that the world could need. It is the holy of holies, but actually the whole earth is to be full of God’s glory, is to be the ultimate temple. 200, Revelation 21.22-22.7

The book closes with an exhortation to be ready for the return of Christ. John states that he was an eyewitness of these visions so we can be sure that the events prophesied will happen and the blessing in keeping the word of this prophecy is sure. The book then ends with a warning and blessing. The warning is that Jesus is coming soon for each one of us so we need to be ready. The blessing is that believers will be in presence of Jesus enjoying him for all eternity. The Spirit invites all to come to Christ and enjoy this relationship now and throughout eternity.

John’s readers may find it hard to see in their neighbours on the street anything but cold, hostile stares and the threat of informing the authorities. They may be so aware of the present rule of the dragon, the monster and the false prophet that all they want is to escape, to be rescued, not to hold out to their neighbours God’s repeated and generous invitation. But see they must, because the mercy of God is vast and his invitation wide as the world. 206, Revelation 22.8-21

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