Revelation 7:11-17

Once again this week, in an effort to illustrate the common usage of the literary style or genre of apocalyptic literature, I have selected four different readings, and I’d like to see if we can guess which actually comes from the book of Revelation.

Which one is Revelation

I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.[1]

And I saw one of those four who had come out first, how he took hold of that first star which had fallen from heaven, and bound it by its hands and its feet, and threw it into an abyss; and that abyss was narrow, and deep, and horrible and dark. And one of them drew his sword and gave (it) to those elephants and camels and asses, and they began to strike one another, and the whole earth shook because of them. And as I looked in the vision, behold one of those four who had come out cast from heaven and gathered and took all the large starts whose private parts (were) like the private parts of horses, and bound them all by their hands and their feet, and three them into a chasm of the earth.[2]

Now concerning the signs: behold the days are coming when those who dwell on earth shall be seized with great terror, and the way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith. And the unrighteousness shall be increased beyond what you yourself see, and beyond what you heard of formerly. And the land which you now see ruling shall be waste and untrodden, and men shall see it desolate. But if the Most High grants that you live, you shall see it thrown into confusion after the third period; and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night, and the moon during the day, Blood shall drip from wood, and the stone shall utter its voice; the peoples shall be troubled, and the starts shall fall.[3]

You shall say to them, you have drunk the wine that has been strained, drink also of its dregs, (This is) the judgment of the Exalted One, who has not favorites. For this very reason he once had no mercy on his own sons, but afflicted them as if they were his enemies, because they sinned: thus were they chastened then, that they might be sanctified. But now, you people and nations, you are guilty, because you have always trodden down the earth, and treated the creation shamefully; for I have always showered my gifts upon you, and you have always been ungrateful for them.[4]

(The first paragraph is from Revelation 9:1a-6 NIV)

If the world was a village of 100 people

 Perhaps you remember having seen or heard the illustration, “if the world were a village of 100 people.” Researchers filter down the entire world population to a more manageable number of 100 people. According to the statistics, out of the 100 people, 50 would be female and 50 would be male. Twenty-six people would be children along with 74 adults, 8 of whom would be 65 and older. There would be 60 Asians, 15 Africans, 9 from Central and South America, 11 Europeans, and 5 from North America. The religious persuasion of those 100 people would be 33 Christians, 22 Muslims, 14 Hindus, 7 Buddhists, 12 people who practice other religions and 12 people who would not be aligned with a religion. Out of the 100 people, 12 would speak Chinese, 5 would speak Spanish, 5 would speak English, 3 would speak Arabic, 3 would speak Hindi, 3 would speak Bengali, 3 would speak Portuguese, 2 would speak Russian, 2 would speak Japanese, and 62 would speak other languages.[5] Our world is large and very diverse.

Who is and isn’t a Christian

DOC

The opinion of a church somewhere in Kentucky is that members of the Disciples of Christ are not Christian, nor are Catholics.

 A pastor friend of mine shared with me something he had found on the internet. A church was apparently questioning whether members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), are true Christians. I found this intriguing as this is the denomination in which I was ordained and the sister denomination of our own United Church of Christ. Unfortunately, this church assumes that members of the Disciples of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are not true Christians. This is rather unfortunate! The world population is about 7.4 billion people, of which approximately 2.1 billion make up what is called “Global Christianity,” which includes 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, 210 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, and 40 million Mainline Protestant Christians such as our church, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the fore-mentioned Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

If we accept this one church’s conclusion and extrapolate that all Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Mainline Protestants are not Christian, that leaves only 650 million people worldwide as “true Christians,” roughly 10% of the world’s population. If your mind hasn’t done the math, let me finish the calculation. According to some, God is going to send 90% of human beings to an endless eternity of suffering. Even if we widen the umbrella to consist of each and every of the 2.1 billion people under the heading of “Global Christianity,” God is still going to punish two out of every three people alive on this planet to an endless eternity of suffering.

When I was in Bible college, every freshman was required to take a first year missions course. Though the professor was smart and well-spoken, he taught in a slow and prescribed manner, utilizing power-point with the lights turned off. In a large class of 100 people or so, I often found it very easy to fall asleep in class. But there was one session early on in which the professor held the entire class’s attention. He asked us to consider whether people who lived in far-off jungles or in communist countries and had no knowledge of Jesus or the Bible would go to heaven or hell when they died. Certainly the thought of some first year Bible college students was that God would somehow allow these persons an opportunity to get into heaven. Yet, as the professor carefully explained to us, if God did allow these people into heaven, we would be better off never telling them about Jesus than perhaps them hearing and rejecting Christianity. I left class that day with the sobering lesson that God was going to punish forever the vast majority of the world, and my classmates and I were about the only hope they had.

Such is the mentality many people start with when they read the book of Revelation. God has an axe to grind and is going to punish humanity, whether we know better or not. Yet our scripture from Revelation describes “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.”[6] This wonderfully diverse group of people stand before God and joyfully exclaim, “Salvation belongs to our God.”[7] While many people understand salvation and Christianity to be a reward of only a select few, and the book of Revelation as describing God sending down fire and brimstone on unbelieving humans, this is not an accurate portrayal of the God revealed in Jesus Christ[8] The God of Revelation is not a frustrated deity who acts out in anger and violence, upset about only converting a small fraction of the world.

God’s welcome is for everyone

This loud proclamation of “Salvation” refers to “any kind of deliverance or rescue…but especially deliverance from living a life apart from God.[9] This “salvation” is about renewed connection with God, being in the presence of God.[10] “Revelation’s gift to us is a story of God who loves us and comes to live with us.”[11] It’s a story of hope. “The whole message of the Bible is that God loves the world so much that God comes to earth to dwell with us.”[12] According to Revelation…the God who saves humanity is the God who has definitively acted to be revealed as the savior of all in the person of Jesus Christ.[13] The idea that God’s deliverance and restored presence will come to all people is not new or unique. An influential Christian named Origen who lived in the third century believed that since humans were created from God, God would somehow bring humans back to God’ self, [14] that there was no one incapable of being restored to God’s presence.[15]

According to some, most people in the world will suffer endlessly in hell at the hands of God. via age-of-the-sage.org

The truth of the gospel isn’t that God is saving a select few and leaving the rest to endlessly suffer, rather it’s that God can and will rescue us from the suffering of our own making. The Bible is consistent in saying that God wants to rescue us from the messes we make. So then, as one author asks, “does God get what God wants?”[16] I think God does, because after all, salvation belongs to our God.

Rather than spreading a message of fear and punishment, the book of Revelation tells of God’s welcome for all people “from every nation, tribe, people and language,” a great multitude that no one can count.

Rather than spreading a message of fear and punishment, the book of Revelation tells of God’s desire to rescue us from making choices we will one day regret.

Rather than spreading a message of fear and punishment, the book of Revelation tells of God’s desire to restore all people into relationship with one another and with God.

Let us praise God for the salvation we have received, a life reconnected with God!

 

[1] Revelation 9:1a-6 NIV

[2] “The Animal Apocalypse,” in Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader, ed. Mitchell G. Reddish (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 45.

[3] “4 Ezra,” in Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader, ed. Mitchell G. Reddish (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 58.

[4] “2 Baruch” in Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader, ed. Mitchell G. Reddish (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 105.

[5] <http://www.100people.org/statistics_100stats.php?section=statistics> (accessed April 15, 2016).

[6] Revelation 7:9 NIV

[7] Revelation 7:10 NIV

[8] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 230.

[9] Leonard L. Thompson, Revelation: Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 108.

[10] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 226.

[11] Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004), xi.

[12] Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004), 148.

[13] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 229.

[14] On First Principles, Origen, Google Books (accessed April 15, 2016), 298-309.

[15] On First Principles, Origen, Google Books (accessed April 15, 2016), 301-304

[16] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 98.

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