Sunday, November 01, 2015

The prize of heaven

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:17

This heavenly scene from John's vision is full of mystery but also certainty. There are ambiguities like who exactly are the 144,000? What does it mean to "seal them"? Is the mark of God's seal on their foreheads a literal mark or symbolic?

However, many things in this chapter are clear.
  • The great multitude in heaven will be made up of people from all around the world: "...of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues" - Revelation 17:9.
  • They are absorbed in praising God and Jesus in a scene that reminds us of a combination of Palm Sunday (John 12:12-14) and the wedding feast in Jesus' story (Matthew 22:1-14).
  • The creature inhabitants of heaven are also completely wrapped up in praising God. They chant what my Bible footnotes describe as "a sevenfold ascription of adoration":
"Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honour and power and might Be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
  • When John, in his vision, asks who this great crowd is, one of the elders tells him it is "...the ones who came out of the great tribulation." The grammatical makeup is literally the "ones coming out" expressing a continuous (not once-for-all) action. My Bible's footnote explains: "This is not a post-consummation picture. Therefore tribulation is to some degree taking place throughout the entire church age....The great tribulation describes the acceleration and intensification of troublesome times as this age comes to an end, climaxing with the Rapture and Second coming" - Earl Wesley Morey,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1827 (emphasis added).
  • The setting in heaven is idyllic.
- no more hunger or thirst.
- no more sunstroke or energy-sapping heat.
- the Lamb-Shepherd (Jesus) leads its inhabitants to living fountains of water (Psalm 23:1-6).
- and finally, there is comfort as God wipes tears away. Note that it doesn't say there won't be tears but that God will wipe them away. I see a picture of a tender parent, wiping the tears of a distressed child: "There now, it's all better." (See also Isaiah 25:8, 35:10.)

Sometimes I wonder why we hang onto our sick and dying loved ones who have trusted Jesus so tenaciously when this is what awaits them. No matter what we go through on earth of persecution, suffering, bodily illness, or decay, we have this wonderful place to look forward to. As we face the challenges of life's race today, let's focus on this "prize" (Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 9:24).

PRAYER: Dear God, heaven, as shown in the Bible, is beyond my most wonderful imaginings. Help me to keep these scenes in mind when I meet up with derision and scoffing, pain and sickness today and in the days ahead. Amen.

MORE: All Saints' Day

Today the church celebrates All Saints' Day—a commemoration of saints and martyrs who have died. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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