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A false narrative about God that James Bryan Smith mentions in his book, “The Good and Beautiful God“, is that of a “teddy bear” god. This is a god who is soft on sin and not willing to judge and certainly not likely to send anyone to hell. This false narrative is an overreaction to the “angry God” narratives that present God as mostly angry and desiring to strike humans down whenever he feels like it.
Anyone who takes the “teddy bear” God narrative obviously has not read Revelation. In chapter 11, a great battle breaks out between the Angel Michael, and his angels, and a dragon, which is Satan. Satan is eventually defeated and hurled out of heaven and into the Earth.
In Revelation, we see a God who takes unbelievable steps in ridding the Earth of sin and destroying that which is against Him. There is no soft and cuddly images in Revelation except when you look closely and realize that God is doing all of this for us. His love is so great for his people that wars break out on our behalf, God’s son take the throne of the Earth so we can reign with him, and those who want to destroy God’s people are themselves destroyed. We do nothing except remain obedient; God handles the rest. If you don’t see love in this then you are missing the meaning of the word.
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Many think Heaven will be an eternity’s worth of standing in one spot singing 18th Century Hymns over the backing of 17th century instruments. The only variation will be a spare harp or two.
From what I have read in Revelation so far, this isn’t the view of Heaven that I see. In chapter 11, there is a trumpet and loud voices screaming, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Then the 24 elders fall on their face in worship and before this worship time is over the Temple of Heaven opens up and there is “lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.”
I have never been in a worship service that included screaming and thunder and a severe hailstorm. I am starting to envision these heavenly worship services as a cross between a Premier League soccer match and a natural disaster in which no one gets hurt. The vague notion of harps, and tinkling instruments and lame singing gets squashed by the images of heaven we see in Revelation. Again, it reminds me of what I miss when I don’t read my Bible and I let false narratives tell me what heaven is like and what my Lord is like.
Thank you, Lord, for your word and your revelation of yourself with in it.
As I have stated before, I am taking a laissez faire approach to reading Revelation. I am less concerned in discovering all the secrets found in the language and prophesy than I am simply reading it and listening what God wants me to hear. In Revelation 10, the writer, John, sees a mighty angel who calls down the “seven thunders” and with it the final stage of God’s judgement. John, being the good writer that he is, wants to record what is about the happen but a voice from heaven tells him not to write anything down and to be okay with letting the “mystery of God” be fulfilled when the time comes for it to happen.
I wonder how many people who are obsessed with Revelation pay attention to this part? The message is clear. The final stage of judgement from God is to remain a secret and a mystery.
So, anyone who claims to have all the answers regarding God’s judgement and the end of time are claiming more than is allowed of them by God. Scripture, in this chapter, is intentionally withholding information from us. This is designed by God and we should accept it and be comfortable with it. It should not bother us that we don’t understand everything about scripture and about God. Even John was not asked to understand all that he saw, he was just asked to write it down and send it to the seven churches. In the same way, we are just asked to read and pray that God will reveal to us what he wants us to understand.
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I have never read Revelation. I might have started it once when I was a kid to see what all the fuss was about but since then I have not just failed to read it like I might have failed to read Habbakuk but I have intentionally avoided it.
As with most things involving my spiritual life, my main excuse is fear. I am afraid that I will read Revelation and not understand it and that will frustrate me and I will not want to read it. But what I have learned through the first seven chapters is that Revelation might be the most exciting book in the Bible from a strictly entertainment point of view. The imagery is beyond my imagination, the drama is incredibly cinematic, and the writing is poetic.
But it is more than just sensational reading, the key for me as I have read it is that I am not trying to figure any thing out. I am not trying to interpret the symbolism or the prophesies. I am not trying to create charts and graphs to help me understand how Revelation is connected to other apocalyptic pieces of the Bible (I am attending a study that does that). I am reading for spiritual growth and I can’t read the last half of Chapter 7 and not be inspired.
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]”
At this point, I am not worried about who these people are and if I am included in this group or some other group. I am simply taken aback by this God that I love who “will lead them to springs of living water. And…wipe away every tear from their eyes.” I want to serve this God and be close to this God and worship this God. I am challenged to become a more devoted follower of Christ. For me, this is essential.
I wonder what else in the Bible I need to be reading?
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“God’s wrath is always judicial” and “is a right and necessary action to objective moral evil.” – J.I. Packer
I have always been nervous when discussing God’s wrath because I can’t see how it works with God’s mercy and love. But then I read James Bryan Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful God and learned that God’s wrath is an action of God against those things that destroy his people rather than a characteristic of God. Wrath is something that God does not something that God is. His love for us is so strong and so powerful that it results in wrath against sin and evil and those things that are destructive.
In Revelation 5 we see God’s wrath appear and the reaction of those who are in its path:
15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us[f] from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their[g] wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
This is one powerful image and leaves me with two thoughts. 1) My reaction to sin and evil in my own life should reflect the distaste that God shares for the things that will disrupt and destroy my life. Instead, I often tolerate, feed, and cultivate my own sin. I should recognize it for what it is and take action against it. 2) God will make things right and bring justice to this world. I am a pessimist by nature and am burdened by the evil and injustice I see in the world but reading this reminds me that there will be no ultimate reward for evil and for evil people. Everyone that has destroyed and performed evil against others on this world will be subject to judgement and God’s wrath.
These are sobering thoughts that should leaves us humbled and willing to fall at the feet of Jesus with this prayer on our lips, “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
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I despise the end times obsession that is prevalent among American Christians. If I started a class today on how to do the things that Jesus taught and it was scheduled at the same time as a class on the end times, we would be outnumbered probably six to one. This doesn’t make sense to me and makes me angry to think that Christians are just like the rest of the American culture – seduced by the sensational.
Because of these strong feelings, I have resisted studying eschatology and even the book of Revelation. I know, it is kind of childish, but I plan to change that. I am participating in a study on the end times from a very knowledgeable and scholarly teacher and I am trying to faithfully follow the reading assignments through Revelation.
Because my leanings are towards discipleship and spiritual growth, I would like to point out what I have learned from a spiritual growth perspective while reading Revelation. Today, while reading Revelation 1, I come across Jesus placing his hand on John and telling him, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last.” This reminded me of when Jesus tells Peter to not be afraid after Jesus provides a weeks worth of fish in one catch. Jesus’ sentiment is the same – I am here, things are different now, I possess what you need.
What a good reminder for me as I bring my prejudice, fear, and skepticism to the study of Revelation. I don’t have to be afraid because Jesus knows what is best for me to learn and he wants to teach me. He is the first and last and the Lord of all.