Friday, May 14, 2010

A Look at This Sunday's Lesson: Revelation 22:12-21

[To help the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I serve as pastor, and of any other congregation that uses the Revised Common Lectionary for their weekend worship, here are a few thoughts on the lesson on which I'll be doing my sermon on Sunday: Revelation 22:12-21.]

12“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.
(a) The speaker is the risen and ascended Jesus, the One Who John the Evangelist says has given him the revelation of the new Jerusalem that he has been given.

(b) Jesus says that He is "coming soon." First-century Christians were confounded by the fact that the risen and ascended Jesus had not returned yet. But Jesus had said even before His crucifixion that all the conditions for His return had already been fulfilled. He further said that His people shouldn't speculate about when the end would come, that the decision about that was in the hands of the Father. It was to assuage anxieties over Jesus' perceived "delay," that the apostle Peter wrote:
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
(c) "to repay according to everyone’s work": Be careful not to misread these words! Jesus isn't saying that if you work hard at being good, you'll get eternity with God. To those who asked what they needed to be doing to do the work of God, Jesus once said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). Of course, if we believe in Jesus Christ--that is trust Him with our lives, that trust will be seen in what we do. That's the point of Jesus' foretelling of the end time in Matthew 25:31-46; there, believers will be unaware of their good works. They simply trusted in Christ and He worked in them. Also see Ephesians 2:8-10.

13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
(a) Here, Jesus claims for Himself the same designation given to "the Lord God" in Revelation 1:8, "the Alpha and the Omega." These, of course, are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Their use in Revelation 1 pointed to God as the One Who began creation and the One Who would bring it to a close. Only God has that power.

Throughout Revelation, we've seen that the Lord God and the Lamb reign from the same throne. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30).

Here, as we near the end of Revelation, the Lamb Himself is making clear His claim to be not only a man, born among humans, but also God. He has the power to create and end the lives of worlds.

14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
(a) We've seen the imagery of washed robes already before in Revelation. In Revelation 7:14, John saw a great crowd. One of the elders told John, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Christians are sinners whose sin has been washed away by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus. This cleansing is available to all who believe in Jesus. (Check Hebrews 9:23-28.)

(b) The first human beings, Adam and Eve, along with all their descendants, have been denied access to the fruit from the tree of life since Adam and Eve fell into sin. Prior to that point, humanity could have gotten to that fruit, fulfilling God's desire to give us life. The only "forbidden fruit" came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once sin became part of us, God refused to take the risk of our living forever separated from Him.

But in eternity, after "the Alpha and Omega" has shut down the life of the old heaven and the old earth, the tree of life can do those washed in the blood of the Lamb no harm. Cleansed of the stain of sin, they can live for eternity as God intended humanity to live: eternally, in the presence of God. (See Genesis 3:1-24.)

(c) Remember that earlier, John described the vision he saw while "in the spirit" of "the new Jerusalem." It had twelve gates, he said, always open.

Of course, in the first century world, people lived in cities because, at night, their walls and locked gates provided protection not to be found in the countryside, where thieves and muggers loomed. But, as John has previously described the new Jerusalem, the city will be filled with endless light, coming from the Lord God and from the Lamb. The gates will be open because there won't be anything to fear, yet it's also clear that only those washed in the blood of the Lamb will be able to gain entrance.

15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 
(a) "the dogs": There is some debate among scholars over the precise meaning of this term. Among first-century Judeans like Jesus, for example, dogs weren't domesticated and never used as house pets. They roamed streets and countryside, scavenging food and menacing people. So, people of that tradition wouldn't have used the term, "dog," in any but disparaging ways.

Commonly, in Jesus' day, Gentiles were referred to as "dogs" by Jews. Jesus had this meaning in mind, when he used the epithet in his conversation with the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to cast a demon from her daughter. Jesus had told her, "It is not fair to take the children's food [the children being Jesus' fellow Jews] and throw it to the dogs." Jesus was astounded by the woman's faith and granted her request when she answered, "Yes, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." (Matthew 15:21-28).

Some scholars believe that the term "dogs" as used by John in our Revelation text is meant to be a blanket categorization for all the other notorious sinners presented in the balance of the verse. But if anything, the final term, "everyone who loves and practices falsehood" would seem to more likely cover all the categories of sinners preceding it. Jesus says that all who spurn Him spurn the truth and trust the father of lies.

(b) Sorcery is relying on "powers" other than God to live one's life, control one's destiny, or to make decisions. (See What's Wrong with Reading the Horoscope?)

(c) Fornication is sexual intimacy outside of marriage. Marriage, of course, is a lifetime covenant between a husband and wife, with God. It was instituted by God apart from the "piece of paper" issues by local governments. 

(d) Idolatry is the worship of false gods. Our "god" is what we derive ultimate meaning and purpose from in our lives.

(e) Of course, all these sins can be forgiven by God. When we repent in Jesus' Name and trust in Him, we are washed in the blood of the Lamb and made fit for citizenship in the new Jerusalem.

16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
(a) An angel is a messenger. The term, angelos, in the original Greek of the New Testament, means just that, messenger.

(b) "the root and the descendant of David": Jesus claims here to be the one who established the family line of David and, as a man, a descendant of David. David died in 970BC, nearly one-thousand years before the birth of Jesus. The Davidic line was chosen by God to be the kings of Israel. (See Isaiah 11:1; Jesse was David's father.)

(c)"the bright morning star": See Numbers 24:17. The "morning star" brings a new day.

17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 
(a) "The Spirit" is the Holy Spirit.

(b) "The bride" is the Church. See here.

(c) There are three invitations to "come" in this verse. The first two are addressed to Jesus. The last is addressed to all who haven't been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

(d) The invitation echoes the invitation to receive the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.

(e) "And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift": This echoes the prophecy found in Isaiah 55:1-5, written centuries before the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the living water who gives life to all who turn to Him.

Notice too, that salvation or an eternal relationship with God is not forced on anyone. It's available to "anyone who wishes [to] take the water of life." See here.

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 
(a) This is a solemn and bracing warning to any who want to pick and choose among the truths that God has revealed to the world. Just as Jesus couldn't go halfway to the cross in order to win our salvation, we dare not go halfway in faith. We either trust in Jesus as Savior and God or we don't.

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
(a) Here, we have a call and response. Jesus affirms that he is coming to the world soon. The response is agreement (amen means truly or it is so) and invitation, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. 
(a) "the saints": All who repent for sin and trust in Jesus are counted among the saints. Saints are forgiven sinners who, in this life, wrestle with temptation and sin.

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