Tag Archives: Revelation

A Hymn for Meditation

Shall We Gather at the River?

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God.

Refrain: Yes, we’ll gather at the river.
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God. 

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will walk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.
Refrain

Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.
Refrain

                 Robert Lowry

 

  • Robert Lowry wrote this hymn during the Civil War. He was ruminating on the horrors of the war and the phrase “river of death” which recurred frequently in reports of the war. That phrase reminded him of another river described in Revelation. Why would the horror of war lead to a yearning for the river in Revelation (see Revelation 22:1-5) 
  • What grows on the banks of the river that flows from the throne of God where the hymnwriter asserts that we can walk and worship in the future?  (Nobody seems to know why the hymn says that the river flows “by” the throne of God when the Bible is clear that it flows “from” the throne of God. Maybe it was a typo.) 
  • The river flows through the New Jerusalem. Why does the hymnwriter think that being beside this river will inspire songs of peace? (See Revelation 21:22-27 and review the passage about the river.)
  • Why is it good for Christians to sing a song like this? What sorts of events in life make you long for a setting like the image of the river of life in the New Jerusalem? Why is it good to think about this image?

 

A Verse for Meditation

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.                                                      Psalm 85:9

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

  •  Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that the Psalms were Jesus’ prayerbook. How might Jesus have prayed this verse? 
  • The angel told Joseph that the name of the son to be born to Mary would be Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” How does this verse recall God’s promise to be with us? 
  • When the psalmist uses the term salvation what do you think he means? 
  • In verse 85:10 the psalmist writes, “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” How does this imagery shape your understanding of the term salvation in verse 9? 
  • Do you believe that God’s salvation is at hand? Why? Does this verse bolster your confidence and joy of living? In what way? 
  • There are numerous views of the meaning of glory in this verse. Do you think Revelation has anything informative to say about it?

See, the home of God is among mortals.

                                    Revelation 21:3 

  • This verse speaks of something that is anticipated, but not yet in evidence. How does a vision of something that isn’t happening yet encourage you?

 

It’s Always the End Times

I remember the world-wide frenzy generated by the “Left Behind” series. I don’t happen to share the hermeneutic stance of the authors, so I don’t have those books in my library. That doesn’t mean, however, that I reject either the significance or the value of the book of Revelation.

Quite the contrary. I believe that book is critical to a Christian understanding of the way we live our faith. The central message of the book of Revelation is that we must cling fast to Christ and live in faithful relationship with him no matter what is going on around us. That message is timeless, and that message has value in all eras for all people. What’s more, the urgency of Revelation is that we should always live and speak of our faith as if time were about to end. Why? Because for every one of us, time is about to end. Whether it ends for all people is irrelevant. The end of time is imminent for every human being, because none of us gets out of here alive, as somebody so famously said in some pop song. God has written it in our souls and we all know it is true that this life, this time, this place is temporary.

That is why I can’t get very excited about an attempt to find a timeline to eternity in Revelation. I don’t think it matters, because the message of Revelation is to be steadfast in faith at all times. Be ready for rejection. Be ready for persecution. Be ready to give the answer as Peter told us (1 Peter 3:15) because somebody will need to hear it. You don’t know if the heavens are about to be rolled back, or if you will be hit by a bus on your way to church. You do know as surely as you know your own name that time will end for you, one way or another.

In the letters to the churches, Jesus cried out for people to live their faith wherever they were. He pleaded for people to reclaim the enthusiasm and energy of their first profession. He reminded them that the gift of his love is not something to hide in a closet; it is something to share in our faithful testimony. He warned people that we will be so filled with regret if we don’t live our testimony that the day will come we will wish rocks could fall on us.

This is what I learn from Revelation. I have a few thoughts about the similarity between the world I live in and the world of the author of Revelation. I have seen calls to worship the state that closely parallel the call to worship Roman emperors. I see all sorts of temptations in daily life to substitute human accomplishments for God’s grace and glory. But I am not able to discern any clear timeline in either Revelation or my own era that say that the final big bang is imminent. However, remembering that Christ said we never will know these things, I don’t worry about these things very much. I have something bigger to worry about.

Myself. What? Am I the most self-centered person you ever heard of? Maybe I am. I pray daily to topple SELF off the throne of my heart, but to date, I am unsuccessful at making that commitment stick. Every time I think for even a moment that I have successfully denied SELF, I am filled with such pride at the accomplishment that SELF climbs right back up on that throne. My faithful testimony is shredded by my complete inability to deny SELF once and for all and follow Christ faithfully in a life of love and service.

So I don’t worry much about the end times. I worry about these times. I worry that I will fail to give my testimony in a way that provides salt and light to a culture that is disintegrating. I don’t worry that time will end. I worry that my time will end before I ever serve Christ for even one minute in faithful testimony. It is always the end times, and I need to act like it.

A Moment Outside of Time

Mark’s story of the transfiguration is one of the three gospel records of this important event. Only John leaves this story out of his gospel, but John shares what he learned that day in the book of Revelation. The transfiguration of Christ was a singular event that science fiction writers might call a nexus. It was a moment when the world of time and space intersected dramatically with the “world” of eternity and infinity. Was it an instant? Was it a century? We have only the language of time and space for our use. To speak of such an event as if it had the same limitations and boundaries as our days and minutes is ludicrous. Yet the disciples had only that language with which to speak of it, and the gospel writers had only that language with which to record it.

I worked for a while with a friend who belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church. She had icons in her cubicle at work, and one day I asked her about them. She explained to me that the icon is a window into eternity. In that sense, the transfiguration was an icon for the disciples, a window into eternity, into heaven.

The gospel writers all tell how Jesus had begun to prepare his disciples for his death. He told them that he would be arrested and executed, and they did not like hearing that prediction one bit. Peter even reprimanded Christ for saying such a thing. Whereupon, Jesus told them something else disturbing: every person who wanted to be his follower would need to be ready for the same fate. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) So, not only did Jesus expect to be persecuted and die; he also expected his followers to be persecuted and die. Jesus was getting serious. The kingdom he kept talking about wasn’t going to be simply a festival of healing and miraculous exorcisms. It wasn’t going to be the fun of being a celebrity in a small town. This news was depressing and scary. No wonder Peter wanted Jesus to stop talking like that.

At the transfiguration, it was Peter who couldn’t stop talking. Peter’s reputation is that his excitement often inspires thoughtless eagerness. At the transfiguration, Peter’s enthusiasm for all the positive things that were happening overwhelmed his good sense. The other disciples were speechless with awe at the sight, but not Peter. He didn’t understand any more than they did, but like a summer camper who doesn’t want to go home, Peter babbled on about staying there on that mountain forever. He didn’t get it.

They should have understood what was happening, because it was all so beautifully staged by God. The disciples all knew the story of Moses at Sinai. Moses went up on a mountain. There was a cloud. God spoke. At Sinai God made Israel his kingdom of priests. He gave them work to do and promised to be with them to carry them through the challenges they would endure. The disciples should have recognized the scene. Instead, they were so flabbergasted by the sight of Moses and Elijah before their very eyes that they were slow to absorb the real message of that day.

The real message was, get ready.

Jesus had warned them of his death. Here he was comforting them with his life. The next time anyone saw him looking so magnificent and full of light would be at the resurrection. This moment looked into eternity, however, not simply the time/space future. The apostle John remembers this moment that way when he describes Christ in the book of Revelation. The Bible says that the disciples didn’t talk about this event after it was over, and I am sure they were simply unable to put such a thing into words. That problem, of course, is the reason it needed to be a visual experience. Christ knew that he could never explain in words that he was truly God and that he could not be confined to a time/space death. His eternal nature as the Son of God was impossible to explain in words. He gave the disciples an icon, a window into eternity, so they would be ready to understand the resurrection. He wanted them to be comforted by this memory when the time came. The words that mattered were the same words spoken at Christ’s baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” In time, and in eternity, Jesus was one with God.

What difference does that make to me? I see something comforting for me, as it came to be comforting for the disciples. The fact that Jesus’ story is ancient history does not make it outdated. The reality of Christ is that he can keep the promise he made at the ascension – namely a promise to be with us to the end of the age. If Christ transcends time, then every moment in time is Now to him. He can be with me, because he was, he is, and he is to come. That is what the apostle John learned from this experience, and I take it to heart. The story of Jesus is, as one hymn says, an “old, old story,” but Jesus is forever, as revealed in the transfiguration. He is with me, as he promised, yesterday, today and forever.