Good food for thought for Christians.
The 10 Commandments are a manifestation of God’s holiness. They are the summation of His law. As such they are a demonstration of His nature. They are not mere rhetoric or suggestions: they are meant to be obeyed so that human beings may enter into proper fellowship and right relationship with Him. They tell us how holy and righteous He is, and how much He cares about us. We are to follow these commands for our benefit as well as for His glory.
Yet we know that we cannot follow these commands well enough to please God, let alone perfectly. Anyone who thinks otherwise, who thinks he or she never breaks even one of these is lying and so guilty of breaking at least one, and so guilty of breaking all.
No human being can measure up to the 10 commandments nor can anyone live a life that is totally pleasing to God unless they have placed their faith in Christ Jesus. He fulfilled the Law on our behalf, obeying it perfectly. However, this does not exempt us from following His law of love. It spares us His wrath because we are not condemned. We are still responsible for fulfilling the covenant. And the great news is that He does it in and through us by His Spirit!
The Gospel reading this week was from John 2:13:22. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus performed His first miracle. He changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. This was a real historic event that bears some symbolic meaning. John recorded it to teach a theological lesson: Jesus had come to fulfill the Law. The six stone water jars at the wedding feast are like the Law. They were there for ritual purposes but they could never substitute for wine because water was not as tasty, or as pure. Neither was it able to provide the joy that came from the juice of the grapes. This indicates that the Law of Moses was inadequate. It could not impart real life. Jesus gave new life to the feast by changing water to wine. And it was not cheap wine, but the best. This miracle demonstrated that Jesus came into the world to provide real, abundant life in the Spirit by doing what the Law could not do.
The event recorded in this week’s gospel lesson builds on that theme. By cleansing the Temple area, Jesus shows the inferior way the Jews of Jesus’ day handled God’s law and His grace. They treated it as a means of monetary and social profit. They ignored the grace of God that embodied the sacrificial worship at the Temple and replaced it with formalism, ritual and legalistic rule-keeping. Their bureaucratic system benefited those in power and the merchants they chose to carry out their work but exploited the common man as well as the poor, needy and the downtrodden. Jesus shows that He had come to provide justice and grace.
The church today can learn from Jesus’ example. The gospel is not for sale, it is not a means of profit or the pathway to power and prestige. The church is the Lord’s agent of grace and life to the rest of the world, not a system of religion that is run like a business or a theatrical show place. The church is where the needy come to find mercy and freedom from the slavery of sin not entertainment or self-improvement.
With this reading we end our journey through the Bible. As we end, we encounter vital final words of admonition and encouragement from the Lord Jesus Christ. These are witnessed by an angel, the Spirit of God, the bride and the Apostle John. We are to get right with God for He warns us to remain faithful, to persevere in loyalty to the Lamb of God in the midst of persecution, suffering and loss. The visions we have seen of tribulation and God’s outpouring of wrath upon sinful humanity will shortly occur. These dark times we will endure in this period of pain and suffering will be difficult to endure unless we hold fast to the light of Christ and that vision we have seen of our reward. We are warned to persevere because if we do, we will receive blessings and joy beyond what we have ever our imagined that will more than make up for what we have lost for the sake of faith in Christ. The real losers are those who in this life are successful, who think they are in control, who live for pleasure and self.
Until Christ returns then, the way remains open to Him and to heaven for all who have been the slaves of sin and Satan and victims of injustice and evil. The ideals of the United States and many of the nations of the world focus on freedom from oppression, want, hunger and fear. Rulers, politicians and governments maintain they are seeking to provide and maintain justice and equality for all people. Yet all their efforts, all their striving to produce a peaceful and perfect world turn to evil and corruption.
The problem is that true freedom is found not in laws that foster equality for all, that promote and value the autonomy and self-determination of the individual, the ability to make free choices. True freedom is found in surrender and total submission to a God who loves us. Jesus Christ alone has the only true and permanent solution for all the world’s troubles. And He has entrusted that key to us, His church: the gospel of salvation found only in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. May we ever be faithful to uphold and preach this truth. Come, Lord Jesus!
Now as John’s vision draws to a close, he sees a vision of the eternal kingdom, a new creation with images drawn from Genesis 1 and 2 as well as the Old Testament prophets. The eternal Kingdom is the Church, the bride of Christ. She descends from above, from God, indicating that all of the beauty, purity and radiance she possesses is God’s work. We have been saved and sanctified, made holy, we have performed works of righteousness all by His strength and His grace. All the metaphors and symbols John uses to depict the details of the heavenly Kingdom are human and earthly images and terms that symbolize theological truths and the ultimate reality the like of which John had never seen. The city is perfect in its dimensions, a perfect cube in shape unlike any human architecture. This symbolizes God’s perfection. The walls of the city are not needed for defense because all of God’s enemies have been defeated. Rather they symbolize God’s awesome power and strength. They also symbolize His and our separation from all that is unholy and sinful.
The basic building materials are those material things which we humans value most, what we consider to be most precious and beautiful: gold, pearls and precious gems. This tells us that God’s Kingdom is worth infinitely more than all that we strive for in life and all that we hold onto so dearly. Therefore it is worth all of our life, time, effort, sacrifice and suffering. In His kingdom we find peace, joy, solace, comfort, and healing from all the hurts we have endured in this life. We will never want for anything. We will never need to be afraid of anything. The ancients feared the darkness and the sea symbols of evil, chaos, the unknown and all that which was beyond human control. We fear that as well. Yet in the eternal Kingdom there is no darkness, no chaos, nothing to fear. The Lord is in control. The Lord is with us here in eternal relationship.
In the midst of this beautiful vision we find a warning (21:7-8). This warning is designed to help we who read these words the reader to look at the lives we are leading and all that we value and all that we pursue in life. What in life is of more value than what we see here? Nothing the world values is worth the loss of the glories of heaven.
John now tells us that, although the beast and the false prophet are tossed in the lake of fire for all eternity, Satan himself is temporarily bound in an abyss for 1000 years. There has been much speculation among theologians and pastors concerning the exact nature and purpose of this binding and of the 1000 years itself. Many claim that the 1000 years is merely symbolic of the peace and harmony that mark the eternal reign of the Lamb. Others maintain that it is a definite period of time in which Christ rules the earth after His Second Coming. Still others claim that the Church or Israel will rule the earth for 1000 years and then the Lord will return. Yet from what John states here it is impossible to be so dogmatic about any of these theories, even though many books have been written by so-called experts and many sermons preached by well intentioned pastors detailing exactly what it all means and what will happen.
The safest course of action is to take the 1000 years as symbolic of God’s perfection and His providential plan. Though this leads to further speculation, what is obvious is that the devil is bound. This is probably to allow the spread of the gospel. When the gospel has been preached to all the world, then Satan will be allowed to amass his forces for one final battle against the Lord and His people. This of course will end in judgment for Satan and all his followers. Those who are in the Lord will be spared the wrath of God. They have already taken part in the first Resurrection when they passed from death to life by profession of faith in Christ. They have nothing to fear from the second death which is eternal punishment on those who have chosen to separate themselves apart from God.
Those who reject God have no excuse, none one to blame but themselves for His judgment and punishment. In life they rejected His rule, His guidance and His warnings preferring to rule their own lives, to exist as their pleased, to make their own choices about what they would do and believe. They have sealed their eternal destiny by their own choice and this even in the face of the absolute certain evidence of God’s love. Because of their desire to be left alone by God, He will give them what they want. The Lord will judge them based on their deeds. Those who are not found in the Lamb’s Book of life share the lake of fire for eternity along with Satan, the beast and the false prophet.
The death of the Prostitute is cause for great rejoicing in the Kingdom of God. This event demonstrates God’s justice for He has repaid her for all her evil. He has vindicated His holiness and avenged the oppression and martyrdom of His saints.
The death of the Great Prostitute also announces the great wedding feast of the Lamb. The Church is His bride. She stands in marked contrast to the Prostitute for she is clothed in white linen that is, she is pure and holy. She has remained utterly faithful to the Lamb despite the temptation and suffering she endured. She is characterized by righteousness and deeds of kindness and charity. The Prostitute was dressed in scarlet and purple, covered with jewelry and drunk on the blood of the saints, the epitome of selfishness, self-centeredness, injustice and excess. The wedding feast symbolizes our unity with Christ in eternal fellowship, a cause for rejoicing for it is a time of joy and peace.
The Lamb comes on a white horse to claim His bride but first He must subdue those forces opposed to Him. With Him come His followers arrayed as an army but it is the Lamb who alone makes war using as His weapon: the word of God. He Himself is that Word. By His Word He declares those sinners who surrender their lives to Him to be righteous because of His blood shed on the cross which cleanses them and makes them pure. By His Word He judges those sinners who refuse to follow Him and condemns them. By His Word He destroys evil and puts an end to it. The image of the outpouring of God’s wrath is the antithesis of the wedding feast: it is a banquet enjoyed by scavengers and birds of prey feeding on the bodies of all those who stood against the Lord not just the rich and powerful, but all the rest of mankind who followed the beast. This disgusting feast symbolizes the ignominious and shameful fate of all those who refuse to serve the Lamb.
Think about what you did in the last few days. Hopefully, many of our deeds and thoughts served to enhance the fine white linen of the Bride. Yet if we are honest, we must admit that much of what we did or thought tarnished that linen. We need to admit our sinfulness and ineptitude. We need cry out to the Lord for forgiveness and mercy as well as the strength to overcome. We overcome sin and evil only by the power of God’s word!