Summary: This passage in Revelation 7 came to light at a time when the church was dealing with a lot of pain and death through persecution, and when indeed every victory that they di...
It’s an image of the coming Kingdom - Heaven, the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. Call it what you will, it is an image of the final dawning of the new age - the climaxing of human history, and, strangely, it seems quite appropriate to be talking about it today.
The end of the world is becoming an increasingly popular topic of discussion amongst people who email me from around the world. I was struck by one mate who signed off on his email to me this week with, “truly we are in the last days”. It struck me because we’d been dialoguing about software protocols!
It wasn’t long ago that people who went around saying, “the end is nigh” were seen as eccentric, if not downright stupid. Nowadays it doesn’t seem so stupid to say that, though I do accept that it’s American foreign policy, rather than prayer and Bible study, that has been responsible for this change in perception.
Some of you will remember me sharing some time ago about when I was in Israel, for it seemed to be sort of taken for granted over there that there was going to be an explosive conclusion to the tensions in that region sooner or later, and most people seemed to be thinking in terms of ‘sooner’.
‘Armageddon’ once taxi driver said to me - ‘You’ve heard of it, yes?’ And he added, ‘It’s in the Bible’, as if to imply that this therefore made it something to look forward to!
Of course, I was in Israel to meet up with my mate, ‘nuclear missile blower’, Morde Vanunu, as he emerged from prison, and so I got used to talking about nuclear weapons with lots of people. Even so, I remember being especially shocked by the casual attitude of one young journalist there who said,. “They’re just there as our last resort. We’ll probably never have to use them. They’re only there in case we get completely overrun or something like that.” “So if you get completely overrun”, I asked, “then you use them?” “Yes”, he said, “then we kill everybody, but only as a last resort.”
It’s interesting, that if you speak about the Kingdom of God in modern Israel, you’ll find that people there today, like the people of first century Israel, seem to think about it entirely in terms of victory over their enemies, whereas In our culture, conversely, when we speak of Heaven and of the spiritual world, we tend to think almost exclusively in terms of our hopes for our own personal immortality!
This is not just amongst religious person’s any more either. Immortality has become a hot concept in our culture over the last few years, with some of TV’s most popular shows being showcased by young and attractive witches and warlocks, who not only live forever but who remain pretty for ever too!
Some commentators have suggested that there is indeed an obsession with immortality amongst today’s generation X’s and Y’s that is really just a form of cultural narcissism. We believe in ourselves so much that we think ‘we are such a wonderful generation; it is not possible that persons such as us could die’, which helps explain why so many in this generation fell apart when faced with the death of that archetypal icon of youthful immortality - Princess Di.
I’m not going to pursue this analysis any further at a sociological level. My interest is in whether this contemporary quest for immortality has anything to do with the depiction of the Kingdom of God, given in today’s Bible reading.
After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.
What do we see when we look at this image? Victory? Immortality? I see first and foremost community.
I see an enormous community, drawn together from every nation - a great multitude that is extraordinarily comprehensive both in terms of its size and its variety. Everybody is represented there - an incredible variety of tribes and peoples and languages. ‘Red and yellow, black and white – all are precious in His sight’, and they’re all there, and they’re all one, in true unity with each other, and in true fellowship with their creator. Indeed, they are in worship. They stand around the throne, singing, Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb!”