Tag Archives: Revelation

Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13

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Heroes and Villains – Ryu

“Sometimes the most important battle, is the battle within…”

-Ryu

Ryu

Ryu is one of the most well known video game characters, right up with the likes of Mario and Megaman.  He made his first appearance in the 1987 arcade game “Street Fighter” and has since become something of a mascot for the Street Fighter series and the company which created it, Capcom.  Ryu is a martial artist who travels the world fighting all kinds of opponents seeking to further hone his skills.  Despite his benign goals, he is plagued by a dark power within him, the Satsui no Hado or dark hado.  The Satsui no Hado (translated as “Surge of Murderous Intent”) is a sinister power that arises within individuals when they become so consumed with rage or the desire for power that they are willing to kill for it.  In Ryu’s case, it was awakened in him when he was pushed to his absolute limit while fighting a powerful opponent.  He eventually loses control of himself and wins the bout with a single vicious attack powered by the dark hado.  Ever since that time it has threatened to consume him and take away his heart and his humanity.  Ryu’s heroics do not lie primarily in fighting villains, but in his struggle with the evil within himself.

Like Ryu’s Satsui no Hado, sin is and remains a constant threat to us during our lives here on earth.  Paul writes about our struggle against it in Romans 7:21-25:  “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”  Even though sin’s power over us has been broken, this does not mean that evil remains idle.  God’s warning to Cain back in Genesis 4:7 is every bit as applicable to us today:  “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  Sin no longer has the last word, but that doesn’t stop it from constantly trying to coax and cajole us back into its service.  It lies at our door (“crouching” in the English Standard Version) accosting us at every opportunity.  God also wants us and seeks us at every turn, but His desire for us is very different than sin’s.  Sin wants us so that it can consume us.  God wants us so that we may be filled with Him thereby receiving life everlasting and being shaped into the person He created us to be.

With sin so persistently after us, Paul advises us to think of our Christian walk as an athletic contest.  He writes, “Do you not know that those who run a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus:  not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight:  not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)  The prize that athletes receive for winning a contest is a perishable one, one that does not last (as a matter of fact, Paul is probably here referring to the crown of laurels that was awarded in ancient Greece, a crown of leaves and branches that would wither).  Paul states, however, that in our Christian walks we are striving for a crown of eternal consequence.  The imperishable crown of which he speaks is the crown of life used as a metaphor for the eternal life with and in God that we receive. (Revalation 2:10, 3:11)  The contest of Christianity has the highest stakes and we compete, not against others, but against ourselves, sin, and the devil.

Although Christ has won the victory for us against sin, we cannot sit back and rest on our laurels, for we must follow Christ in order to cross the finish line.  Paul urges us to be deliberate in our living:  “Therefore I run thus:  not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight:  not as one who beats the air.”  The decision to follow Jesus is a deliberate setting of ourselves against our former ways and a decision that we must make many times each day (as many times as sin urges us to return to it).  Making this decision is no easy task.  Just like a martial artist (or any other athlete) we must train ourselves as we pursue our goal.  Martial artists train themselves by such means as weightlifting, practicing kata, running drills, cardiovascular exercises, etc.  Christians train themselves by meditating, reading Scripture, praying, serving, etc.  The goal is the same:  to further immerse oneself in and become more proficient at one’s art.  The Christian’s art is to rely on God alone and become ever more conformed to Christ’s image.

Ryu’s training and travels may serve as a metaphor for the kind of pilgrimage that Christians are on.  Though he is well traveled, Ryu’s destination is not a physical place, but an intangible one:  ever further mastery of his art.  Likewise Christians, no matter how far we go or how spiritually mature we become, have no physical destination.  As a matter of fact our destination cannot be found in this world, tangible or intangible.  “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)  Christians constantly seek the heavenly country that God has prepared for them in eternity.  The Kingdom of Heaven which grows in our hearts is a foretaste of the rest which awaits us.  Despite the constant attack of the dark hado upon him, Ryu remains dedicated to his journey.  Likewise, despite sin’s attack we ought to remain dedicated to our Christian journey.

It is worth noting that Ryu doesn’t have a perfect track record when it comes to resisting the dark hado.  There have been times that it has successfully taken over him, but he was able to come to his senses again, not due to his abilities alone but with the help of his friends who called him back to himself.  Ryu’s battle with the dark hado is not a solitary one, but one in which he is helped and supported by others.  Our battle against sin is not a solitary one either.  God is always with us and He has also created the Church in which we are able to help and support one another as fellow pilgrims.  We cannot stand alone against sin because there will be times that we stumble or lose our way and need others to help us up and to lead us back to the straight and narrow way.

Ryu shows us that being a hero isn’t always about battling villains but sometimes consists in battling the evil that dwells within us.  It is about the daily resisting of that evil and the training that helps us to resist.  For Christians, this means learning to rely on God rather than ourselves and to draw from His strength rather than our own.  “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man:  but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Food for Thought:

  1. Am I actively following Christ’s call to heaven or am I sitting idle and waiting for heaven to come to me?
  2. Do I merely go through the motions and fight as one who beats the air or do I discipline myself and bring myself in subjection to Christ?
  3. Consider what a mercy it is that God helps me in my struggle to follow Him.

WTH 4 – The End

Over the last couple of weeks, we have considered what hell really is, how it fits with God’s holiness, and how we fit into the mix.  Now we return to our original question of how God, who is love, could also be the same, unchanging God who created hell.

God’s love for us is perfect, therefore, by definition, it is not half-hearted and He also desires for us to know and love Him to the fullest extent possible.  As long as there is sin in and around us, we will never be able to know and love God to our fullest potential.  Sin (unlike the sinner) is irredeemable and breeds only death.  This is where hell comes into play:  it is the result of God’s righteous anger and disgust towards sin with respect to His holiness.  But God’s holiness gives rise to love and mercy in addition to righteous indignation.  It is in holy love that Christ came to earth and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that we may be credited with His righteousness and spared the wrath of God laid up against us.  It is also holy love that motivates God to give us the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and walks alongside us; quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) revealing the things of God to us and interceding for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.”

If we were to hazard a short answer the question we began with, it would be that God is holy.  In all things He is holy.  He is holy in love and in wrath, in mercy and in judgment.  Hell is the outworking of His holy wrath and judgment while the cross is the outworking of His holy love and mercy.  Everything about God is holy, which is why it is such a remarkable thing that He chooses to create and associate with us.

Many times, God’s holiness is something that we view as cold and alienating.  It is true that His being holy puts some distance between us and Him.  However, we must not forget that it is this same holiness that He is drawing us closer to as we grow and develop and Christians.  His holiness is not something that we ought to view negatively, as if it were some lifeless barrier.  Perhaps a better way to view it would be as the perfection of being that burns so hot and so bright that we cannot draw too close to it right now, for it burns up all that is unclean with unquenchable fire.  However, we nonetheless move towards it along the trail blazed for us by Christ, the firstborn from the dead, guided carefully and lovingly by the Holy Spirit.  This is, at least in part, why Christian growth is not a fast-moving affair.  It is like coming out of a dark room into the sunlight.  It takes time for our eyes to adjust to the brightness.  Likewise, our hearts and souls, after being warped by sin, must have time to be shaped and sanctified according to the righteousness we are credited with in Christ.

Why can God create a place as terrifying as hell and also perform the greatest act of love the world has and will ever know?   It is because He is “holy, holy, holy”.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior,

Who alone is wise,

Be glory and majesty,

Dominion and power,

Both now and forever.

Amen.

-Jude 24-25

Practical questions:

  1. Have you ever thought of God’s holiness including His love or mercy?  Why or why not?
  2. How can putting God’s holiness at center-stage change our perceptions of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together as a unified whole?

A challenge:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that block of time reading, re-reading, thinking, and meditating on the passage from Jude above.  Let this reading and thinking lead you into prayer about whatever you are led to say to God.


WTH 2 – God, Holiness, and Sin

Last time we saw that Jesus describes hell using a perpetually burning city dump (gehenna) as a metaphor.  It is a place where unclean things are disposed of.  Christ speaks of it as a very real consequence that we face rather than as a figure of speech.

Sin is the unclean thing that is disposed of in hell.  In order to better understand the relationship between God and hell, we must first spend some time considering the relationship between God and sin.  God is holy.  As a matter of fact, He’s so holy that the four living creatures around His throne have to constantly say the word “holy” 3 times in a row to even begin to express how holy He is.  (Revelation 4:8)  Skimming the rest of Revelation 4 gives us a further glimpse at just how Holy God is.

The Greek word translated as “holy” that the four living creatures say designates something being most sacred or pure.  The Hebrew word that is often translated as “holy” carries similar meaning.  The overall sense that we get from the words translated as “holy” is something that is set apart as being pure and without blemish.  To say that God is holy is to say that He is set apart from all things because of His pureness.

God is so holy that the place where He dwells is also holy.  When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, He tells Moses to, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”  (Exodus 3:5)  Much of the law regarding the priests in Israel dealt with them being sanctified to minster before the Lord.  In the New Testament, Paul reminds us that we are the temple of God because His Spirit dwells within us and that temple is holy (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).  (This is why it is important that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the perfect and all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins.)  Heaven is also a holy place since it is where God dwells.

This idea of God’s dwelling being a sinless place comes into focus best when we consider John’s description in Revelation of the New Jerusalem where, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.”  (Revelation 21:3)  It says of the city that, “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:27)  “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)  Nothing that is sinful will enter into the city where God dwells with His people because God’s dwelling is holy by virtue of God’s holiness.  So what happens to sin if it is unable to be where God is?  It is disposed of in hell, the perpetually burning dump.

That is all well and good, but where do people (and angels for that matter) fit into the equation?  That is something that we will address next week.  For now, here are the main points:

  1. God is holy; meaning that He is set apart or separate from all other things on account of His purity.
  2. Because God is holy, the place where He dwells is holy and nothing that defiles can enter into it.

Practical Questions:

  1. How do you feel when you think about God’s holiness?  Fear?  Awe?  Indifferent?
  2. Have you ever thought about hell in the context of God’s holiness?  Why or why not?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He, who is “holy, holy, holy” makes His Spirit to dwell in us?