Friday, June 23, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (34)

New Creation (21:1-22:5)

Gen.1-2 and Rev.21-22

This last scene of the vision of Revelation, the conclusion to Jesus’ sermon, takes us beyond the realm of sin and struggle to the fulfilment of God’s eternal purpose. Here we find the counterpart to Gen.1-2 as bookends of the entire biblical story which reveal the “point” of purpose of the whole story.

The creation stories reveal the Creator’s work in constructing a temple for he and his creatures to live together in intimacy and harmony.[1] That is his purpose and that for which God works throughout the biblical story. When this purpose is derailed by our sin, resolving that becomes the major focus of the story from Gen.3 – Rev.20. But that story serves to demonstrate not only the reclamation of God’s wayward creatures but most importantly their restoration to God’s original design. That’s what we find in Gen.1-2 and Rev.21-22, the only four chapters in the Bible in which sin plays no role. Here we find God’s purpose in embryo (Gen.1-2) and fulfilled (Rev.21-22).

And the temple God built in Eden at the beginning we find in Rev.21-22 at the end.

-The New Jerusalem, the holy city, is cubic-shaped. The only other structure so shaped in the Bible is the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple (1 Ki.6:20), where God dwelled. God’s fulfilled plan, his bride, his people, his new creation, is the site where God lives and shares fellowship with his creatures.

-This city becomes co-extensive with the new creation, matching the rivers flowing out of Eden to irrigate the then uninhabited lands outside, indicating they were to be settled, thus extending the boundaries of the nascent temple in Eden to include these outer lands as well. The embryonic Holy of Holies has become the worldwide Holy of Holies God intended.

-This new creation to be God’s “home” where he will “dwell” (21:3) which is temple language.

-we also find the river and tree of life of the garden, indeed the garden itself, enclosed within the new city (22:1ff.).

-Humanity will “reign” forever in the new creation fulfilling the mandate given our first parents to have “dominion” over the creation.

Numerous other lines of evidence confirm this identification (see Walton and Beale noted earlier). In Rev.21-22 we see what God had intended for his creatures and creation in full bloom!

We could say much more about this last scene of the vision but I think it is sufficient to note that ends Jesus’ sermon following the model of reading Revelation as a worship service I proposed in the beginning of this series. He closes it off, appropriately, with a Beatitude:  “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7).

Summarizing the Sermon

Chs.12-13 are Jesus’ sermon in a nutshell:

1.       Everything centers on Jesus himself, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension (12:1-6).

2.       The decisive battle between God and the anti-god powers has been fought and the powers have been defeated by Jesus and cast out of heaven (12:7-12).

3.       The defeated enemies of God (Dragon and two Beasts) nevertheless continue their futile resistance as they await their destruction, especially by persecuting God’s people (ch.13).

This is, as you can see, the basic gospel of the early church. Everything in Revelation emerges out of this center and flows back into it.

As an “apocalypse” (1:1) Revelation unveils or reveals the truth of this state of affairs for the church. First, and directly, the churches of Asia Minor to whom it was directed (chs.2-3) and by analogy to the church throughout the ages (chs.7,14).

As a letter (greeting and conclusion), Revelation intends to be a pastoral resource for the faithful living of this gospel by the church living under the “death throes” of the powers.

As a “prophecy” (1:3; 22:7) it declares God’s word into the immediate situation of the seven churches and echoes through the journey of the church as an ever-pertinent reminder of our situation and God’s action and provision.

Revelation, according to Jesus’ sermon, is finally about “living as of the first commandment matters.” Or if Jesus is Lord, the Emperor/King/President/Queen, Prince(ss)/ Prime Minister, etc. is NOT, though they fancy they are. What does it mean to be faithful to the true Lord, Jesus Christ, while living in “the belly of the beast” of false lords pressing them claims on us at every turn? Whether in the 1st or 21st century this is always what is at stake in being the church. Revelation’s imperious and sometimes strident vision of the gospel is necessary for the church to:

1.       re-present Jesus Christ to us in his full stature as Lord of Lords and King of Kings

2.       remember who we are and what we are here for

3.       realize that every day and every action are fraught with “apocalyptic” significance in the ongoing struggle of the church to endure the death throes of the powers and bear witness to the gospel.

Jesus baptizes our imaginations in this sermon to more truly “see” or world and our lives in it faithfully. Similar to John’s hearing about the Lion of the tribe of Judah but on turning to see a slaughtered lamb, we need a similar jolt to our imagination that redefines reality for us. To wit, we really do live in a world where a dragon plots our downfall and recruits beasts to do its dirty work and attack us to hinder and derail our following the lamb. Our world is, as Luther put in his great hymn, filled with devils, this host of evil powers has been beaten by a man hanging on a cross and raised from the dead in 33 a.d.  The unfathomably counter-intutitiveness of this to our “normal” way of thinking requires the strong jolt of the bizarre and the fantastic this sermon offers for us to begin to get a grip on what follow Jesus in our world is all about. Quite a sermon, huh?

[1] See the work of John Walton and Gregory Beale for this reading of the creation stories.

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