Sunday, August 11, 2019
Scripture: Jeremiah 30:18-22 & Revelation 21:1-7
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
I love disaster movies. There’s something appealing about forces so grand their power exceeds all laws of nature.
(Aliens, super heroes or the prediction of the Mayan Calendar)
My guess is that similar images are what come to mind when you think of the “End Times?” My guess is that you’d add fire, brimstone, judgment and images of great destruction.
What’s different about images from disaster movies and the End Times is there’s more fear surrounding the topic of the End times.
The questions at the heart of our fascination of the End Times are: “What’s going to happen to me?” and “What is going to happen to my loved ones?”
The End times should bring us comfort. When Jesus returns he will make all things new. He will restore us and all of creation to what God originally intended.
Different ideas concerning Eschatology (study of the End of times)-what it will look like when Jesus returns and when it will happen. (Each conveys a different idea based on how they interpret Revelation).
Most well known not because it’s followed by the majority of Christians, but because it’s been portrayed the most in books and film, is pre-millenialism –including events such as the tribulation, anti-Christ, rapture, rule of the beast. (Think Tim LeHaye’s Left Behind series)
Different eschatologies differ on when Jesus will return and thereby begin the “end of time.”
Here is how that topic is addressed in other passages of Scripture:
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” –Matthew 24:36
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” –1 Thessalonians 5:1-2
Basically we don’t know.
Common theme in scripture is that Jesus wants us to focus on today.
- Why Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
While we don’t know the timing we trust that he will return.
What does God want us to hear through Revelation today? Before we interpret Revelation we need to discuss the context of Revelation.
There are different genres of literature in the Bible:
- Narrative-Simply tell a story: Acts
- Poetry-figurative language. Psalms: “As the Deer pants for water so my soul longs for you”
- Prophesy-meant to give warning to God’s people during times of spiritual or national danger. Think Isaiah, Jeremiah
- Apocalypse-like Prophesy, but uses more rich, symbolic language
To this last genre Revelation belongs.
Apocalypse: In Greek simply means and “unveiling,” “uncovering” or “revelation”: (apo-uncover, kaluptein)
In Revelation, John (the author) wants to uncover or explain to his audience the visions and dreams God gave to him, while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos (which is a part of modern day Greece).
It is a time of persecution of early Christians, of which John is one. He writes in 1:9: “I, John your brother, who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
Revelation recounts a series of visions and dreams given to John by Jesus Christ. And a lot of it is very frightening.
Keep in mind John’s language is symbolic. Every symbol, color and number represents something in reality, and many in John’s audience would’ve picked up on this immediately. Because we, however, don’t live in John’s day, we have a harder time of it, which results in all sorts of interpretations of the End Times.
Fortunately for us our passage from Revelation today does not include a seven-headed beast (which is a metaphor for the Emperor Nero), but John’s witness of the glory of God when Jesus Christ returns.
While John is still using symbolic language it doesn’t mean that what he is describing isn’t true. Jesus is indeed coming back and will indeed make all things new. John is using symbolic language because words just aren’t enough to describe the beautiful and amazing things Jesus will do when he returns. We just simply don’t have the words or the imagination to comprehend what that will be like.
For example, further into chapter 21 John describes God’s holy city as having streets of gold. This is where we get the popular picture of heaven as being paved with “streets of gold.” But John doesn’t mean this literally. If we think about it gold is a terrible material to be made into a street. It’s soft, it’s malleable so there’s no way it can withstand the normal wear and tare of an actual city street. Again John is appealing to our limited imagination by using symbolic language. His words point to a reality that is beyond our limited vocabulary and imagination.
John gives us a vision of God creating something entirely new. The “first earth” and the “first heaven” pass away in order to make way for God’s Kingdom in its entirety to come down. It’s not as if God looks at creation and says: “Well the first time around I really messed up. Maybe second time’s a charm.”
In the midst of making all things “new,” we in some sense remain the same. In the newness God creates we will still be able to recognize ourselves, and the rest of the world, but it’s just going to be better because God is now fully and physically present.
John tells us that God will now permanently dwell among his people. God was physically with us as Jesus Christ for a period of time, but in John’s vision God is physically present forever. What God did in Jesus Christ he is now doing on a cosmic level. God is now present in all of creation in the same way he was present in Jesus Christ.
“One day, when all forces of rebellion have been defeated and the creation responds freely and gladly to the love of its creator, God will fill it with himself so that it will both remain an independent being, other than God, and also be flooded with God’s own life.”—NT Wright, Surprised by Hope
This is different from popular belief concerning what the Jesus’ return will look like. Instead of us going up to meet God, according to John, God himself and God’s perfect Kingdom come down to us.
God’s kingdom has finally arrived in its entirety.
New Narnia: The sea, the valleys looked the same as the Old Narnia but “somehow different—deeper, wonderful, more like the places in a story; in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.
Unicorn: “I have come home at last! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”
And that’s how it is with us. The tension we live in today is that we see glimpses of God’s kingdom. Those moments of deepest joy, gratitude and love are gifts from Jesus himself and yet they are only a sneak peak of what’s to come. Moments that should result in our gratitude to God. Those moments while they are special moments of deep meaning in our lives are just snippets of what the Kingdom of God will be like. So we have a lot more to look forward to.
Back to the question: “What happens to me? What happens to my loved ones?”
This is a passage often read at funerals. Because it’s one of hope. Can you imagine a world without morning, suffering, tears or death? We can’t because this is the only world we know. The only world we know is broken and we are full of brokenness. Mourning, suffering, tears, and death are all symptoms of brokenness. All are evidence that supports the fact that this is not what God intended.
What John wants us to know is that when Jesus returns, whenever and however that may be, that brokenness will be fixed.
God will restore us, and all of creation, to his original intentions.
- A world without mass shootings
- A paradise where families aren’t broken
- A world where we don’t have to watch a loved one slowly slip away with Dementia
- A place where no one is poor or oppressed based on the color of their skin
- A home where we are valued for who we truly are not for what we do
All this is made possible only by God’s presence and God’s Kingdom fully revealed in us and around us. This is why we pray “Thy Kingdom come.” It gives us a hope for a future that our hearts long for but that is so far more than what we could ever ask or imagine. And that hope is what God wants us to hear today.