Four times in the final chapter of The Revelation Jesus indicates that he’s coming soon. The book was written nearly two millennia before now, so I am prone to wonder if I have a different concept of soonishness than Christ. Or Paul, for that matter, since Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4 that he anticipated Christ to return within his lifetime. Matthew and Mark seem to have also gotten this confused, according to chapters 24 & 13 respectively.
Time is a slippery subject in The Revelation, teasing us with the knowledge that Christ will come but not guaranteeing when or how.
Still, some speculate about his coming and others predict when it will occur, while still many others live in spiritual anxiety and dis-ease. Ironically, it seems that the people most concerned with the future are least concerned with preparing for it—doing …
“Heaven has gates? Just what kind of neighborhood is it in, anyway?”
– Comedian Jim Gaffigan
What if God is like the sun and sin is flammable?
That’s how I typically think of judgment and punishment and hell. Some think that God must be really angry, and so he lashes out against the sinful. That may be partly right. But our perception of anger is so distorted by the sin-stained ruination of human anger that I think something gets lost in translation. Others think that God is really intolerant, so he turns his head to the side and refuses to even acknowledge sinners. Again, that might be partly right, but it tends to cheapen the seriousness of sin and caricaturizes God as dainty, or petty, or elitist. Besides, the nations are welcomed into God’s presence and the gates of heaven are never closed …
This section of The Revelation involves John tediously describing the dimensions of heaven’s walls, the names of heaven’s gates, and the materials used in the construction of heaven’s foundations. I admit, I used to treat these descriptions as the apocalyptic equivalent of genealogies, and still partly do, but some recent study has revealed there’s more going on in those laborious details than I’d first imagined.
The “cubit” for example, has a history prior to its standardization as a unit of measurement. Much like our “foot” was the approximate size of a grown man’s actual foot before it ever became standardized into 12 inches, the cubit was the rough measurement of a man’s forearm (from wrist to elbow). Several Catholic scholars have noted that—since John’s description of the heavenly city brings the natural and the supernatural together—he likely intended the “cubit” …
God the Father speaks in verse 5 for only the second time in Revelation. From the Throne he calls out ‘behold—I make all things new.’ I’d like to suggest that glossing over that little phrase has led to boredom, error, and hopelessness in many of our contemporary churches. Why? Simply because there is a vast difference between ‘making all things new’ and ‘making all new things.’
If, for example, we believe in a God who ‘makes all new things’ then—subconsciously or otherwise—we believe in a God who is content to start over whenever he pleases. Our beliefs about heaven and eternal life are thus affected: we think God is going to do away with everything we know and love and give us something better…only, how could it be better? Will I get a better wife? Better children? What if I want …
One of the first fantasy novels I read was ‘The Sword of Shannara’ by Terry Brooks. It’s now a classic, and it introduced me to the marvelous capabilities of SF fiction to ask truly difficult questions about meaning and the human experience.
The protagonist, Shea, is a pure-hearted young man without any real combat acumen, magical powers or wisdom. In fantasy lit, that pretty much makes him useless. But the secret of the whole book is that Shea’s innocence is actually what makes him so special. The fantastical world is under threat by the evil Warlock Lord, who is said to be vulnerable only to the Sword of Shannara (stay with me here). No one knows what the sword does, only that Shea is destined to use it against the villain. At the end of the book, Shea …
Does God only own the cattle on a thousand hills (see Psalm 50)? Are we meant to forgive only 490 times (see Matthew 18)? Or are these numbers figurative?
When The Revelation speaks about the rule of Christ for 1,000 years some take that to mean Jesus will only triumph for a period of time (literally 1,000 years) before his reign is interrupted, contested and finally reasserted. To be clear, Revelation chapter 20 is the only place in the entire Bible that could even be misconstrued to mean something like that.
And it doesn’t mean that.
The numbers in Revelation are always symbols, not statistics. These few references to a 1,000 reign are meant to emphasize that the martyrs reign with Christ rather than specify the duration of their government (never mind the fact that the Second Testament repeatedly makes it clear that …
In this section of The Revelation we’re treated to an image of the final battle and the defeat of the beast monsters. Jesus shows up on a white horse, surrounded by a heavenly army and birds feast on the flesh of God’s enemies. The common interpretation of these verses suggests that there will be a violent bloody conflict at the end of time, involving wholesale slaughter by Christ and his angelic hosts against non-Christians and demons. I understand why this interpretation is so common. At first blush, the text can be read like that. But, I have some lingering questions:
1. Jesus is here portrayed as a rider on a white horse. But, how is he predominantly depicted elsewhere in The Revelation? As a slain-lamb, right? How can the slain-lamb now take vengeance on his enemies? How can Jesus finally stop …
I think all five of my counterparts have (at some point) mentioned that the Greek word for angel (angellos) is the same as the Greek word for messenger, and was sometimes also used for bishop or pastor. The word is intended to describe anyone—human or supra-human—who delivers God’s word on God’s behalf.
In this section of The Revelation, amidst all the cool stuff about the marriage supper of the lamb, I’m most struck by John’s proclivity to worship the angelic messenger. The message is that Babylon has fallen and will never rise, that Christ has won the decisive victory, and that it is now time to celebrate. It’s a fantastic message. But John does what we all tend to do, he falls in love with the messenger because he’s so overwhelmed by the good news.
This happens all the time. We idolize …
If the last three sections of Revelation have been able the evils of Babylon, then this section is undoubtedly about the evils of her suitors—the kings of the earth, the merchants, and the mariners. Just as Babylon was a corrupted city whose own evil eventually destroyed her, so too Babylon’s suitors are corrupt men whose greed and self-interest have now been depleted. With her demise, they die too (in one way or another).
The kings mourned the loss of their pimp (‘they fornicated with her and shared her luxury’). Babylon was their pleasure center, the focal point of their illicit and self-indulgent relationship with excess. With her destruction, the kings have no way to work out their kinks. It is amusing, though, that the kings mourn her from a distance. They’ll miss her, but not enough to run up and say …
When I first moved to Michigan seven years ago, I was flummoxed (yes! Flummoxed!!) by an article in the Detroit Free Press describing ‘urban wilderness.’ The article informed me that some areas of Detroit were so dilapidated and vacant that wild animals were now roaming the city streets. There had been sightings of white-tailed deer, coyotes, and large predatorial cats roaming sections of town from which most people had fled.
At first I thought it was a joke, until I visited Detroit for myself. I couldn’t believe that one of the greatest cities in America had fallen so far, so fast. Within three decades the home of MoTown and the Mecca of the US auto industry had crumbled into something like ruin porn. It was, and still remains, heartbreaking.
Revelation 18 predicts a similar fate for Rome and, as NT Wright cautions, …