John gives us a vision of the triumph of God’s will for humankind. What is our end, the destination toward which we are headed? Revelation sings of a well-populated, joyfully crowded eternity where “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation . . . all tribes and peoples and languages,” sings, “Salvation belongs to our God!”
My church is shrinking. Our losses indicate our unfaithful limitation of the scope of God’s expansive salvation. Revelation is clear: God’s realm is not restricted to one age group (my church’s median age: sixty), a single social or economic class (we are comfortably middle-class), one race or language (we speak English in our worship). God wants it all—a great, innumerable crowd.
My wife, Patsy, serves on the Invite and Welcome Committee of our church and therefore worries about a task that ought to consume the whole congregation. In what ways do our practices limit the boundaries of God’s people? How do we unintentionally exclude some “tribes and peoples and languages” by the way we worship? The grand, inclusive, expansive vision of Revelation 7 tells us what God wants, and it’s our job as the church to want what God wants.
“Sadly,” a congregant told me, “my son who was brought up in the church, as an adult is not a Christian.”
Thanks to Revelation 7, I, knowing of God’s determination finally to have “a great multitude,” replied, “You should say, ‘Not yet a Christian.’ You tell your son to keep looking over his shoulder as he goes into his fifties. God’s got ways. Revelation 7 says that God will settle for nothing less than a standing-room-only heaven.”
What can I do to spread the good news that God’s family is “a great multitude”?
The texts remind us that human decisions, relationships, communities must be rooted in the reality of God. In his vision recorded in Revelation, John sees all communities, all nations, shouting before God’s throne that salvation comes only from God. The story of the crossing of the Jordan in Joshua 3 illustrates this principle: apart from Yahweh’s grace, Israel’s life could not be sustained. Paul does not deny an authority due him because of his previous relations with the Thessalonians. At the same time, he can reverse the image and speak of himself as an orphan when separated from these people (2:17). The possibility of mutuality emerges out of a clear acceptance of the authority of the gospel. The scribes and Pharisees are singled out in Matthew 23 for aunting their positions and for engaging in pious activity so as to be praised and courted by others. Their craving of honorific titles illustrates their failure to acknowledge the empowerment of Jesus as teacher and God as Father.
• Read Joshua 3:7-17. What miracles have you seen God perform lately in your life? in the life of a friend?
• Read Revelation 7:9-17. How do you reconcile a God of judgment with the writer’s statement that “God will settle for nothing less than a standing-room-only heaven”?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13. How is the word of God at work in you?
• Read Matthew 23:1-12. When have you been humbled in being faithful to Jesus’ call on your life? Is being humbled a sign of true servanthood?
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