Revelation 7:9-17. 9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Matthew 5:1-12. 1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Book of Revelation is clearly the most puzzling and intriguing of the bible’s writings. For nearly 2,000 years various groups have understood it to be of great prophetic importance; it seems that every few years, someone uses these apocalyptic visions to support the claim that the end of the world is right around the corner. The truth is that this New Testament Scripture was never meant to be a foretelling of times to come. It was, in fact written in response to the persecution and suffering of Christians in the Roman world that were occurring when John of Patmos wrote the Book of Revelation from his exile on that small island in the Aegean Sea.
A good portion of the content of the book takes place in the 60’s A.D., when the Roman Emperor Nero was engaged in wholesale persecution of the Christians in Israel. And the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 A.D. certainly added to the feeling of a calamity of catastrophic proportions raining down on these early Christians. The visions of a “new heaven and new earth” that Revelation describes were most certainly a product of the persecution and destruction that the author was victim of; along with the rest of the Jesus’ early followers. This envisioning of better times was a reality that was hoped-for in the first century. John was sharing his vision of what life would be like for Christians once they were lifted up from under the heel of Roman occupation.
This was the purpose of the book of Revelation, to envision the ultimate victory of good over evil. And here’s where the often predicted “end times” pronouncements found their genesis. And, in fact we can trace the evolution of the meaning of a word to this same book of Scripture.
The dictionary defines “apocalypse” as; “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale”. And this has become the accepted meaning of the word, occasionally used to describe Armageddon.
And this is unfortunate, because apocalypse is the English translation of the Greek word that John of Patmos used to title his book of revolutionary visions for the early Christians; “apokalypsis”. Slightly different spelling, nearly identical pronunciation. And the word in Greek simply means, “unveiling” or “revealing”; thus “Revelation”. John is revealing to his readers his vision of what the new world will look like when God brings forth his kingdom on earth. The bizarre, supernatural, and rather obscure references in the writings may seem a bit surreal to us, but their symbolism would be readily apparent to those to whom the words were directed. In fact, apocalyptic literature was a well-known and often used literary genre in ancient times. Our ancient forebears would have been quite comfortable with John’s bold, dramatic imagery.
So, let’s push the obscure symbolism aside and view Revelation as what it was intended to be; that is a revealing of glory, victory, and celebration for God’s people in God’s kingdom. The Lutheran Study Bible notes that the purpose of Revelation is to reveal, “the glorious visions of triumph that offer encouragement to those who are oppressed, persecuted, or feeling powerless in a hostile world”. On this day when we celebrate the lives of those who have left us to be with our God in heaven, the truth of the kingdom to come as envisioned in Revelation provides those of us who have yet to join the he departed saints with comfort, knowing our loved ones have been received into the Father’s domain. It’s worth repeating these verses that describe the reward that has been bestowed upon the faithful departed, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We also discover the truth of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recounted by Matthew this morning. In these ‘Beatitudes” Jesus speaks to the blessings to come, and to those present now. Another example of the “already, but not yet” understanding that Lutherans profess when describing the kingdom of God. Like the saints who have gone before us, we too will be recipients of the blessings promised by God, through our faith in Christ. All these will be fulfilled in the heavenly realm; yet these current signs of the kingdom are the people who now live according to the values that help bring the coming kingdom about. These are rooted in the hope and faith in the promises of God, as revealed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In this mountaintop sermon Jesus speaks to those who are “blessed”. Interestingly, the Greek word here translated as “blessed”, “makarios”, lends itself more to “happy”, “fortunate”, or “privileged”. We are being assured that our current hardships and future blessings are intertwined. The suffering in this world will be replaced by the glory of the next. Yet, we should not confuse the blessings to come with the adversity experienced in the present. The blessing, the “makarios” lies in being part of the kingdom that exists in both the “already” and the “not yet”. This is evidenced by striving to secure these “blessings” for others. As followers of Christ we know for certain that our blessings are to come; it is in providing relief to others now, that we affirm we live in the “already” blessed realm of the present kingdom.
We’re called to act on behalf of Jesus, to share our knowledge of the promised blessings with those who do not yet experience them. Those who are dispirited, especially in these trying times; those who mourn their losses, especially in these trying times; the meek ones living in fear, especially in these trying times; the merciful and those striving to secure peace, especially in these trying times. All of God’s children living in the “already” of the kingdom are deserving of the knowledge of the blessings to come in the “not yet” realized heavenly realm. Included in the Prayers of the People this morning will be the reading of the names of those we have lost in this past year.
While we too, mourn their passing, we must rejoice that they now rest in the arms of Jesus and that they have received the promises of God. For those saints who have passed into new life with the Father, all has been revealed. They have seen what John of Patmos envisioned; they have been blessed; they enjoy the “makarios”, the happiness of the true Revelation. That of the truth of God as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious and Holy God, your love, mercy, and forgiveness have been revealed to us, your people who remain in the “not yet” of your kingdom. We give you thanks that the saints who have left us to be with you and your Son now enjoy the fulfillment of blessed life in the “already” of your kingdom in heaven. And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, who has been revealed to the world. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.