Chapter 22 of Revelation: Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed…The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden (Gen 2:8-10).

What is your picture of heaven?

I think that rural people dream of a heavenly city while urban people long for the solitude of a garden. Here the Apostle John has a vision of a heavenly Zion with the garden of Eden planted right in the middle of it.

Yet it is the image of God himself that dominates John’s vision: The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory (Isa 60:19). The headwaters of the river of life proceed precisely from God’s heavenly throne (v. 1).

Even here salvation is not universal. The angel says: Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy (v. 11). Our own hearts testify to the judgment that awaits us if we forsake the Lord by our actions.

For example, do we long for, like John: Come, Lord Jesus (v. 20)? Or is our lament reserved for the latest Apple IPhone?

Judgment does not escape those who arrogantly add and subtract from these prophecies—plagues are decreed! False teachers beware! Even Balaam refused to prophesy for love of money or to curse God’s chosen (Num 24:10). Are we as wise?

Revelation is not a book to be read with a spirit of complacency. We are presented with stark images and hard choices. Our guidance is, however, simple:

Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book (v. 7).

Questions

1. Describe the river of life. What is significant about it? (vv 1-2)
2. What curse are we talking about in verse 3? (Hint: Genesis 2:16-17)
3. How do you know you are saved? (v 4)
4. What is the significance of God providing the light in heaven and the absence of night? (v 5)
5. What is true? Who is blessed? (vv 6-7)
6. What mistake does John make a second time? Why is it important to know? (vv 8-9)
7. Who is the angel and what does he say? (vv 10-20)
8. What is odd about verse 11?
9. What does the word, recompense, mean or imply? (v 12)
10. What does Jesus say about time? How do you interpret it? (v 13)
11. What is the warning about adding and subtracting? (vv 18-19) Who is Balaam? (Num 24:10)
12.What is your favorite picture of heaven? Why?
13.What questions would you like to pose about the Book of Revelation?

Chapter 22 of Revelation: Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!

Also see:

Chapter 21 of Revelation: Home Sweet Home 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

 

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Chapter 21 of Revelation: Home Sweet Home

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and
the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind…
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD (Isa 65:17-25).

Home! Sweet Home! is the name of hit song written in New York City by John Howard Payne in 1822. Then as now, for most of us nothing is so sweet as place where we grew up—even if only because we possess a selective memory! And God knows this! So the vision of heaven given in Revelation is familiar, yet different in exceeding expectations!

So we groan for our redemption and all of creation groans with us (Romans 8:22-23). As the Apostle Paul reminds us: our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). Here on earth we are sojourners, travelers, exiles—not even permanent residents! (1 Peter 2:11). So in Revelation 21, we get a glimpse of our eternal home.

Heaven in John’s vision is the new Jerusalem. For Isaiah, the dream of a new Jerusalem had an earthly address—a place where the Babylonian destruction would become a distant memory. In John, the new Jerusalem also had an earthly address—a place where the Roman destruction would become a distant memory.

For us the new Jerusalem does not have an earthly address, but is truly an answer to the prophecy: And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people (Lev 26:12). The presence of God is transformative: heaven is a radiant cube lit by the glory of God and watered from the spring of life freely given (Rev 21:6, 11, 23).

In verses 15-17, we see an angel again with a measuring rod, much like in Ezekiel 40-42. The purpose is not stated but may be to show the heavenly city dwarfs earthly imitations in size and splendor. For it houses the redeemed of all eternity.

This week I attended the funeral of the son of a close friend. In the eulogy, the pastor read from the Gospel of John: In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)

Our comfort with John 14 arises not because we gain a new address or get a glimpse of the real estate, but because we know that God will finally reveal his full glory. And: he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore (Rev 21:4).

Knowing who God is, how he keeps his promises, and how life’s story truly ends, our joy is complete even in the presence of death.

Questions

1. Why does John say that the sea had passed away? (v. 1)
2. How does John describe the new heaven? (vv. 1-2)
3. What are the attributes of a new bride that are similar to heaven? (v. 2)
4. What are 5 things that are special about heaven? (vv. 3-7)
5. Who are excluded from heaven and what is their fate? (v. 8)
6. What does heaven look like? (vv. 10-1, 16-21)
7. What is missing from heaven? (vv. 22-23)
8. What is the effect of heaven on the nations? (vv. 24-27)

Chapter 21 of Revelation: Home Sweet Home

Also see:

Chapter 20 of Revelation: The Binding, Millennium, and Judgment 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

 

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26. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of all mercy and grace,
We praise you for creating the heaven and the earth, all that is, that was, and that will ever be; all things seen and unseen. We look upon your creation, smile, and praise your name. We praise you for the example of your son, our savior, Jesus Christ— who in life lived in service to others, who in death atoned for our sin, and who in rising from the death granted us the hope of eternal life. We see your son’s example and feel your love for us. We praise you for your Holy Spirit, who draws us to you, grants every good gift, and provides all things. We look upon your spirit’s power in the world and break out in praise. May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven today and every day, with us and through us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Be Holy For I am Holy

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God is holy; we are not. Our tension with God often starts with guilt over this holiness gap. This gap, which is more of a chasm, points to our need for Christ because we cannot bridge it on our own [1]. The existence of this gap is explains why the gift of the Holy Spirit is foundational for our faith and for the establishment of the church. But first, let’s talk a bit more about the gap.

What does it mean to be pure in heart? The Greek word for pure, καθαρός, means “to being free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin” (BDAG 3814 (3c)). The Greek expression, pure in heart (καθαρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ), is only here in the New Testament but arises in the Old Testament—

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4 ESV)

—in the context of worship in the temple in Jerusalem. In view here is the holiness code of Leviticus where God admonishes us many times: “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44).

The emphasis on the heart in English translation is somewhat misleading because the response expected is not limited to emotions, which the English infers. The Hebrew expression for heart, לֵבָב, means “inner man, mind, will, heart” (BDB 4761). This is not wordsmithing trivia. Immediately following the Shema [2] we are commanded—”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5 ESV)—which emphasizes this point (heart, soul, might) through repetition [3]. Jesus reminds us of this verse in Matthew 22:37 where he gives us the double-love command (love God; love neighbor; Matt 22:36-40)

The promise of seeing God, if we remain pure, is a promise of forgiveness (Ps. 51:10-11) and salvation (Job 19:27), but it is also a call to ministry. Seeing God figure prominently in the call stories of both Moses (Exod 3:6) and the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 6:5). Similarly, Paul is blinded by light in his call story which parallels the call account of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 1:28) [4]. Seeing God blinds us and threatens our very existence, as unholy beings.

The promise of seeing God is also a promise of restoration of the relationship with God, as we first saw in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8-9), which is also a picture of heaven. For example, in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, we read:

“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev. 22:3-4 ESV)

In some sense, holiness is the mark of God on our souls, as well as our foreheads. This surprising idea is not a new idea; it is an old one. In Genesis we read:

“Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, She is my sister’? And she herself said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this. Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Gen. 20:4-6 ESV).

What is most surprising here is that Abimelech is a gentile, not a Jew. Yet, God works in his heart to keep him from sinning and speaks to him directly.

It is indeed ironic in this beatitude to see Jesus, a “friend of … sinners” [5], placing a high value on and teaching about holiness knowing what was to come. John’s Gospel ends with Jesus offering the Apostles a commission—”As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV)—and anointing them with the Holy Spirit—”Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 ESV). Clearly, purity of heart was a prerequisit for ministry and the Holy Spirit brought purity of heart within their reach. Still, the Apostles had to appreciate and desire the gift.

 

[1] The exclusiveness of Christ arises, in part, because he is both God and man which is a necessity for bridging both the holiness gap and the gap between mortal and immortal beings.

[2] ”Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut. 6:4 ESV)

[3] The unity of heart and mind (or body, soul, and mind) implies that having a pure heart is a holistic statement of purity—purity throughout our entire person or being. Benner (1998, 22) notes that when the Bible refers to a division of the person, the division is for emphasis, not to infer that the person can be divided into separate and distinct parts.

[4] The Acts 26 allusion is the most complete: ἀνάστηθι καὶ στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (arise and stand on your feet; Acts 26:16 BNT) which compares with Ezekiel’s words: στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (stand on your feet; Ezek 2:1 BGT)

[5] “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, He has a demon. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35 ESV)

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Hunger and Thirst for God

Life_in_Tension_web“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:1-3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The great irony of faith is that we approach God out of our poverty, not riches. Babylon and Egypt were among the riches of nations in the Ancient Near East because of the benefits of irrigation, while Palestine was mostly poor and best known for its deserts. Yet, it is in the wilderness that we get to know God (Card 2005, 16).

What do the law and the prophets say about satisfying the hunger and thirst for righteousness?

The Law. Hunger and thirst were unknown in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis we read:

“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” (Gen. 2:8-10 ESV)

In the Garden of Eden was an abundance of food and water. Righteousness consisted of living in direct communion with God. Hunger and thirst arose when God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden on account of sin (Gen 3:23). Consequently, hungering and thirsting for righteousness can be seen as mourning over the sin that separates us from God.

We see this idea prominently displayed in the blessings associated with the Mosaic covenant. Seeking a renewed relationship with God is caste in terms of obeying the laws of the covenant. Moses writes:

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.” (Deut. 11:13-15 ESV)

If one obeys the law, God will send rain and you gather a full harvest and have plenty to eat—be satisfied. Likewise, if one reluctantly obeys the law or disobeys the law out of disrespect for God, then hunger and thirst follow:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.” (Deut. 28:47-48 ESV) [1].

Consequently, it is fair to conclude that under the law one reaps what one sows in respect to one’s relationship with God! In fact, hungering and thirsting for mere physical things, not God, is subject to judgment (Exod 17:3) [2].

The Prophets. In the law, one reaps what one sows. In the prophets, the wise are clever and the foolish are ignorant of the ways of the world. For example, we read in Proverbs:

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Prov. 25:21-22 ESV)

Because God rules over both heaven and earth, understanding the ways of the world is an aspect of wisdom that God grants to the faithful. In this case, the wise feed their enemies and offer them drink because they will feel an obligation—will they perhaps become friends?

In the prophets, we also see hunger and thirst used in a more metaphorical way. For example, Jeremiah prophesies a new, more enlightened form of leadership:

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15 ESV)

The good shepherd is, of course, Jesus himself (John 10:11-16) but here we see hunger relieved through “knowledge and understanding” rather than through physical consumption. This metaphorical view of hunger and thirst clearly shows the influence of the creation accounts and pictures heaven as a return to Eden. In Isaiah, for example, we read:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isa. 55:1-2 ESV)

Eden is, of course, a place where water and food are abundant. And when we hunger and thirst for God’s fellowship, heaven is not far off (Rev. 22:17).

[1] This theme is repeated over and over (e.g. Deut. 8:11-16).

[2] This is, in fact, the basis for the curse for not accepting the new covenant in Christ.  Paul writes:  “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28 ESV)  To be given over to one’s passions is a curse and it leads to self-destruction because both the mind and the heart are corrupted by sin.

REFERENCES

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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On Earth as in Heaven

Dead_flowers_102302013“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The next two phrases in Jesus’ prayer—“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”—are one sentence in the Greek text. These phases repeat the same thought in different ways. Together they express, in a highly emphatic way, the idea that we want God’s desires to prevail in our lives, not ours. With this prayer, the disciple radically commits heart and mind to the attainment of God’s holy kingdom on earth.

The synoptic Gospels begin citing John the Baptist’s famous phrase: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2) In the gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist introduces the phrase, kingdom of heaven, while Jesus introduces the phrase, kingdom of God, in the gospels of Mark and Luke. Thus, while the Baptist focused on judgment, Jesus’ stressed salvation (Matt 3:10; Matt 4:23).

Where does this kingdom language come from? [1]

This kingdom language hints at a restoration of the Garden of Eden. In Eden we see a picture of a world uncorrupted by sin. Adam and Eve rest with God and have access to the Tree of Life. Before the fall, there is no death, no strife, and no corruption. After the fall, there is death, strife, and sin. The kingdom of heaven restores the uncorrupted world of Eden.

One clue of this creation theme echoing Eden is the appearance of strange animal behaviors and spiritual beings. In Isaiah, for example, we read:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isa 11:6)

In Jesus’ birth and resurrection accounts, angels appear (e.g. Luke 2:10, Luke 24:4). Not surprisingly, the tree of life returns in the Apostle John’s vision of heaven (Rev 22:2).

What are we to conclude? The restoration of Eden in God’s new kingdom presents an image of hope. The resurrection of Christ has inaugurated a new kingdom that has not yet been fully realized. In praying for this new kingdom to arrive, we look beyond the present death, strife, and sin to hope for the joy that is to come.

[1] Strassen and Gushee (2003, 22–23, 35) draw a parallel between the beatitudes in Matt 5:3-10 and Isa 61:1-11. Their focus on Isaiah is attractive because Jesus himself cites Isa 61:1 already in his “call sermon” in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19).

REFERENCES

Stasssen, Glen H. and David P. Gushee. 2003. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

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En la Tierra Como en el Cielo

Dead_flowers_102302013“Venga Tu reino. Hágase Tu voluntad, Así en la tierra como en el cielo.” (Matt 6:10 NBH)

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Las próximas dos frases en la oración de Jesús—”Venga Tu reino. Hágase Tu voluntad, Así en la tierra como en el cielo”—son una frase en el texto griego. Estas frases repiten el mismo pensamiento de maneras diferentes. Juntos, se expresan de una manera enfático la idea que deseamos la voluntad de Dios a prevalecer en nuestras vidas, no la nuestra. Con esta oración, el discípulo radicalmente comete la corazón y la mente a la logro del reino santo de Dios en la tierra.

Los evangélicos sinópticos empiezan citando la frase famoso de Juan el Bautista: “Arrepiéntanse, porque el reino de los cielos se ha acercado.” (Matt 3:2 NBH) En el evangélico de Mateo, Juan el Bautista introduce la frase, el reino de los cielos, mientras Jesús introduce la frase, el reino de Dios, en los evangélicos de Marco y Lucas. Por lo tanto, mientras el Bautista centra por juicio, Jesús hizo hincapié en salvación (Matt 3:10; Matt 4:23).

¿De donde viene este termino de reino? [1]

Este termino de reino sugiere la restauración de la Jardín de Edén. En Edén vemos un pintura de un mundo sin pecados. Adán y Eva resta con Dios y tienen acceso del Árbol de la Vida. Antes la Caída, no era la muerte, no la lucha, y no la corrupción. Después la Caída, hubo muerte, lucha, y pecados. El reino de los cielos restaura el incorrupto mundo de Edén.

Una pista de esta tema de creación que refleja Edén es la aparición de comportamientos animales extraños y seres espirituales. En Isaías, por ejemplo, leemos:

El lobo morará con el cordero, Y el leopardo se echará con el cabrito. El becerro, el leoncillo y el animal doméstico andarán juntos, Y un niño los conducirá. (Isa 11:6 NBH)

En nacimiento y resurrección cuentas de Jesús, los ángeles aparecen (e.g. Luke 2:10, Luke 24:4). No es sorprendente, el árbol de la vida vuelve en el visión de el Apóstol Juan del cielo (Rev 22:2).

¿Que concluimos de todo esto? La restauración de Edén en el reino nuevo de Dios presenta una imagen de esperanza. La resurrección de Cristo ha inaugurado un reino nuevo que no es aún realizado completamente. En orando para este reino nuevo a llegar, miramos más allá el presente muerte, lucha, y pecados a esperar para el gozo que está por venir.

[1] Strassen y Gushee (2003, 22-23, 35) establecer un paralelismo entre las bienaventuranzas en Mateo 5: 3-10 y Isaías 61: 1-11. Su enfoque en Isaías es atractivo porque el propio Jesús cita Isaías 61: 1 ya en su “sermón llamada” en Nazaret (Luke 4, 18-19).

REFERENCIA

Stasssen, Glen H. and David P. Gushee. 2003. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

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