Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Reflection

At Christmas we reflect on what God had to do to bring about our salvation - something so radical we would never have thought of it, and so radical that we have a job to get our heads around it - become human! As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus had to be made "like us in every way," (Heb. 2:17), and Paul writes, he took on "flesh like ours under sin's domain." (Romans 8:3 HCSB).

The hymn writer Charles Wesley expressed it, "God contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man."

God in flesh, a foreign thought indeed, but as John writes this is the heart of the Christian message for "Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God." (1John 4:2,3)

Jesus was no phantom, and no human becoming God... Jesus was truly literal God in man with man residing - "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14 HCSB).

Yet how frequently the church has wanted to distance Jesus from this stuff - the Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception is an example, and evangelicals have their own ways too.

The incarnation is as important to our salvation as the death and resurrection of Jesus. To put it another way, Jesus could not have been parachuted in to die for us. He had to be born in this stuff, "born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law," (Gal. 4:4).

As Gregory Nazianzen (one of the old church fathers) said many years ago, "The unassumed is the unredeemed." Jesus had to assume it all in order to redeem it all and offer it back to God.

Glorious mystery, wonderful Saviour, so great a salvation!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cataclysmic conflict or glorious hope

For many Revelation is about a cataclysmic conflict somewhere in the future - maybe ours. As such it holds out a gloomy prospect - things certainly aren't going to get better, in fact quite the opposite. But is this really so?

The end of Revelation takes us back to its beginning, with reminders of the immedicy of the prophesied events: ‘quickly take place’ (6), ‘coming quickly’ (7, 12, 20), and 'don't seal the words' (10) - something that Daniel was told to do as the words that he had written were for another generation hundreds of years later, but John is told not as they were for his generation. That doesn't mean they can't speak to us, after all, all of scripture is God breathed and profitable, Old Testament and New Testament, the Gospels, letters and Revelation, and there is much that has helped the church down through history in Revelation to stay strong and true in the face of difficult and trying circumstances.

In the last chapter (22:6-21) it reminds us that these are prophetic words (4 times) - words of diagnosis and remedy that needed to be taken seriously and act upon them.

It reminds us too that there is no grey area, or halfway house to the things of God (Let the unrighteous.... let the righteous... (11) outside are .... (15)). Nevertheless God is patient, and the gospel is offered right up to the end with the invitation to 'Come...' (17) but his patience will not last forever.

Revelation spoke to its generation and speaks to every generation since, that God is sovereign and utterly holy, and his purposes will come to pass, and as such he cannot be trifled with.

It tells us that Jesus has conquered, he has already won - there's not another battle up ahead he's got to fight and win to be sure of his crown. He is already heaven's conquering hero, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Earths empires rise and fall, but he is the King of an unshakeable kingdom that will outlast them all.

It tells us that the things that were passing away (something that was a real hindrance to some of the Hebrew Christians because they appeared to be remaining), were indeed about to, and with them the physical end of the Old Covenant - the Temple with all it's ritual and the place of relationship to God, the priests as intermediaries, and the continual offerings as the basis of that relationship.

It tells us the devil has been bound, the gospel can now be preached effectively in all the nations of the earth, and God will bless it to the extention of his kingdom among all peoples.

It also means that we as God's people can be active in society for the increase of the common grace of God among all peoples, and not simply abandon it to whatever under the pretext that it's all going to burn up anyway.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Reveation 21 - Now and Not Yet.

A new heaven and a new earth. What an amazing chapter this is, with present and future overtones, full of promise now and in the future. Verse 1 speaks of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ a phrase that’s only found in Isaiah 65, 66, and is applied liberally to the church, but v. 5 qualifies it: ‘making everything new’ which speaks of initiation and process. The now and the not yet of the new age.

When Christ died and rose again there was a fundamental cosmic change, and with the destruction of the temple in AD70 this was completed and shifted up a gear - everythings moving forward, not backword. The idea that God dwelt in a building in one corner of the earth was gone – it was and will no longer be required because God’s dwelling is now with humanity (v.3). That means there is no necessity for a rebuilt temple – that would be a backward step.

No sea? (21:1) Just in case some are worried about there being no sea (a new earth without sea??), we need to remind ourselves that Revelation is full of signs and symbols. The sea in Biblical language is frequently used to depict Gentile nations - Is 17:12, 13; Ps. 65:7; Rev. 17:5.  In other words in the ultimate completion of the new and heaven and new earth there will be no unbelieving, pagan, ungodly nations.

All are valued (21: 19-21). In this new world is the new Jerusalem, not a literal city, but a people who are the dwelling place of God, the church, the bride of Christ, here described in all her glorious splendour - the references to the precious stones bring to remembrance the words in Malachi 3:17, “And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels;” Everyone of God’s people has great value, beauty and purpose - not only then, but now!

The curse is undone(21:3; 22:3). It begins now and will be ultimate in eternity. He wipes away the tears; death has lost it sting; grief, crying and pain can be healed and changed, and one day will end.

A River (19:.6; 22:1, 17). Today the river from the spring of life is a mighty flowing river that gives LIFE - in fact the whole emphasis here is on life. The tree of life is available to all and its leaves are for the healing of the nations – now and not yet: in eternity they won’t need healing, so there has to be a present aspect to this. Jesus came that we might have life. The 'rivers' that he offers is none other than the gift of the Holy Spirit. So much so that there are 'waters to swim in' to quote Ezekial.

They will reign... In this chapter we have a picture of the gospel and its power to save, to heal, to restore, and those who believe will reign forever and ever – something that begins here and now, even as Paul said in Romans 5:17,  that those who believe would reign in life through the gift of righteousness. It starts now. Life is preparation for the future. This is the warm up.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Revelation 20: Some thoughts on the Millenium

A lot of theological thought and ink has been expended on the first 6 verses of Revelation 20, and all because it mentions six times a thousand years, yet nowhere else in the Bible is this time frame ever mentioned.

The futurist sees it as a literal one thousand years after Jesus has returned. The problem is that much of Revelation is not literal, it’s in sign and symbol – sometimes that’s explained, at others it’s assumed to be understood by those in the know, and a great deal of it finds it’s meaning in the Old Testament.

I used to believe this was literal, I used to believe the majority of Revelation was in the future, the near future, any moment now (that was 30 odd years ago) – no more. The bulk of it is in the past, with only the end of the book pointing to the future.

The thousand years is no more literal than a literal beast. Some say 10 is the number of human government. Well a 1000 is multiples of 10, so perhaps we could say that it refers to a long period of human government – certainly the idea seems to be of a very long period of time.

Though this is the only time a ‘millenium age’ is mentioned in scripture it’s not the only time a 1000 is, in fact it’s used several times, one example being the cattle on a thousand hills belonging to God, but we would never think for one moment that that means God doesn’t own the cattle on the 1001st or the 1002nd hill. Strict literalism can get you into all sorts of trouble.

Another thing that we should no notice is that it says nothing about Jesus coming to, and reigning on earth during this time – the vision appears to be entirely heavenly – there is no millenial reign of Christ on earth.
The chains too are no more literal than the idea of a literal Dragon in Rev. 12 (can you chain an angel?), but rather tells us in symbolic language that the Devil is bound in such a way as to stop him deceiving the nations – previously he had had what would appear to be ‘free reign’ (he even offered Jesus a short cut to the kingdoms of this world, and Jesus did not say they weren’t his to give), but no more! Yes we can go and preach the gospel and disciple all nations, and the devil cannot stop it, his power to hold them in darkness has been broken!

Another thing to notice, is that those who would soon lose their lives in the Great Tribulation for their testimony about Jesus, were actually very much alive, and not only that they were reigning with Jesus – yes some would suffer, but God had assured them and continued to assure them that he knew who they were and though they might loose their lives they would one day be with him, and reign with him – the devil certainly didn’t have have last word! Encouragement indeed to stay true to Jesus. Not only that, they were now in the place of exercising judgment.

What is happening on earth during the 1000 years? The gospel is advancing, Christ is building his church – a glorious church, ‘without spot or wrinkle’ as Paul puts it, of people from every tibe and tongue and nation, and that church is to be both light and salt, challenging and changing the world it is in.