Why should you think Revelation is as much about the past as it is about the future? Because Revelation isn’t always about the future. Smack dab in the middle of the book we have a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. Revelation 12

“1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.”

No one disputes that this is about Jesus’ birth and resurrection. And for John, the author of Revelation, this was a past event. And yet John doesn’t skip a beat in describing something past right in the middle of his book. So if it happens here, shouldn’t we ask if it happens elsewhere? I think it’s pretty clear that it does. In Revelation 4-5, John describes a vision of the throne of God and a scroll that God holds in his hand. A search is made of heaven and earth for someone worthy to open the scroll. Chapter 5:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.

At first no one was found worthy to open the scroll and John weeps for the state of humanity. But then something changes. Jesus, the lion and lamb, is found worthy because of his triumph. And he takes the scroll in his hand. For John, when does this scene happen? It’s clearly in the past. It’s no longer the case that no one is worthy to take the scroll. Jesus has triumphed. So when does/did Jesus take scroll and begin to break its seals? The answer is as soon as he triumphed. He began breaking the seals in the first century and has continued to breaking them to this day.

6 times, John describes the same time period which is from Jesus to the end of time. And yet each time he uses different metaphors to do it. And each time, he begins and ends his description in worship

The most quoted passage in the Bible by the Bible is Exodus 34:6-7. It’s about God’s character. The God that revealed himself to Moses said that He is, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

At its most basic, God simply says that He’s merciful and just. But there’s more to it in the original Hebrew. There’s no noun connected with the “third and the fourth”. “Generation” is simply assumed for the translation. And without that noun “the third and fourth” is compared and contrasted to the “thousands” mentioned earlier in the verse. God’s scales aren’t balanced. He isn’t simply merciful and just. And He isn’t more just than he is merciful. His mercy has practically broken the scales.

I’m thinking about this because a good friend asked me about heaven and hell yesterday. His brother’s recently died without putting his faith in Jesus. And my friend wanted to know if there’s still hope. While I don’t believe there’s a second chance, the Bible’s pretty clear about that, I do believe that my friend can and should hope for his brother. The God that has revealed himself in the Bible is good and weighted towards mercy. And the one that has personally revealed Himself to us has been extremely merciful. And I think we should believe that whatever God does he will prove himself good and merciful in the end. And that’s where I put all my hope.

One of the more puzzling things about the Passion of the Christ is its use of language. Have you ever wondered why Mel Gibson had English speaking actors speak in two dead languages? I suppose one could chalk it up to a fascination with the Latin Mass or a desire to simply be authentic but there’s also something more significant. In language, Gibson has democratized access to his film. No group watched it from a more privileged position. All were equal in having to read subtitles and listen to a foreign tongue. And in that, Gibson has said the same of the Cross of Jesus: All humanity stands equal before it.

Babette’s Feast

September 21, 2019 — Leave a comment

I love this movie! It isn’t for everyone. It’s a Danish film with subtitles. But for those of us who grew up with a Christian ascetic/holiness environment, this film is a beautiful and moving corrective. We tend to deny ourselves the fruits of God’s grace thinking that this will somehow please God more. And yet even in our stubborn refusal to receive all that he has given, He still keeps giving more and More.

Layers of Time

September 21, 2019 — Leave a comment

One of my favorite experiences in Rome was exploring the Basilica of Saint Clement. Tami and I stumbled upon it in the few blocks between our room and the Colosseum. But as it seemed a fairly ordinary church for Rome, built around 1100, we passed by it a number of times before noticing a sign on the door inviting tourists to see what lay below. After descending a staircase some twenty feet down, we emerged amid the mosaics and fading frescoes of a fourth century church. More than the fact that it lay under the above church told us it was ancient. Rather than the renaissance realism found in the art above, the iconography here had a cartoonish quality typical of Ancient Rome. The church had clearly been in use a long time. At sometime in its history, several walls had been added by stacking ruble in the empty spaces between once decorative pillars. But centuries of debris outside eventually raised the ground level, entombing this space in subterranean silence. And yet it wasn’t the only building resting beneath the 12th century church.

We descended another set of stairs and entered the oldest building constructed on this spot, a series of twisted passageways and dimly lit rooms quite unlike the two churches above it. Here some thirty feet down, we could hear the sound of an underground stream echoing in its halls. To our left, we found the walled up archway that once opened to the street. And around the corner, the reason for the building, a room containing a large block of marble carved with a man grabbing a bull by the horns. It was an altar dedicated to the god Mithra. And on both sides was a typical Roman dining bench where the members of this cult would recline to share a meal in dedication to their god. All of this was destroyed in Rome’s Great Fire of 64AD and filled in.