Rooted in Creation: For the Healing of the Nations

Martin Luther despised it.

My Sunday School teachers couldn’t get enough of it.

And hardly anybody calls it by its right name.

Buckle up, reader. This week we are in the Book of Revelation.

Revelation 22:1-5

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Left Behind. Antichrist. 666. Mark of the Beast.

If any of these words mean anything to you, you may have grown up (as I did) in a church that taught dispensational premillennialism. It is a theological perspective characterized by the belief that 1.) Jesus Christ will return at any moment to usher in the end of history and 2.) The Book of Revelation predicts the end great detail.

(It is also the source of one of the greatest things to ever happen to Des Moines).

In 1970, Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth popularized the great premillennialist pastime of scrutinizing the news of the day for signs that The End is Near. Somehow Lindsey was never discredited, even though the world made it through the 70’s. (Check out this article from The New York Times chronicling evangelical excitement about the 1st Gulf War as a sign of the end).

It seems to me that mainline Protestants have been content to leave Revelation to the end times aficionados.

But that is a shame. Revelation has something to say to us –especially as we ponder our relation to the creation.

Let’s start here: if you want to understand Revelation you have to know the correct name for the book. People tend to talk about “the Book of Revelations,” in the plural. And this connotes crystal balls and Nostradamus.

But that is not the name of the Book!

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It’s singular. And the one thing being revealed is not God’s plan for history or some sort of prophetic timetable. It is a revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Revelation exists to show us a side of Jesus that we otherwise would not see: the cosmic Christ who redeems the entire creation.

This particular passage consists of the first five verses of the last chapter of the book. It is part of the description of the New Jerusalem where redeemed humanity will share life with God.

My sermon is still very much under construction, so let me just throw out some random observations and two unfinished thoughts.

First, the random observations:

  • “The river of the water of life, bright as crystal.” The writer gets the connection between water and life.
  • “The tree of life” –a callback to the Garden of Eden?
  • “For the healing of the nations.” Such a lovely phrase. But “nations” is a loaded word in 1st century Christianity. It means “Gentiles.” It means “All people,” not just “our people.” Would it sound provocative to Jewish-Christian ears?
  • What might it mean to have God as our life?

And two unfinished thoughts:

 

The first unfinished thought consists of a quotation from David L. Barr’s Introduction to Revelation in The Access Bible.

 

“The historical and social context seems to be peace and prosperity and the great temptation is not to renounce the faith (as it might be in a time of persecution) but to be seduced by the glamor and luxury of Greco-Roman culture.”  

 

The second unfinished thought: this is a vision of our hope. And it is so large—so grandiose—that I wonder if we hope for too little. Maybe Revelation means to raise our sights.

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