when the sea will be no more

Where is God when dark things happen? Does he know what’s going on or care? Will there ever be an end to evil?

These are the sort of questions the book of Revelation was made to answer and it’s answer, for the most part, is summed up in this statement:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Revelation 21:1 CEB)

Appreciate the meaning of this and the place of “the sea” in Revelation. In an earlier post, I had noted the following text:

“Something like a glass sea, like crystal, was in front of the throne.” (Revelation 4:6a CEB)

Whatever is right in front of God’s throne is plainly obvious to him and is clearly affected by him. And what is the significance of “the sea?” It is not beauty, like heaven’s reflecting pool, but rather as an image of the source of evil. Take for example what stands at the sea’s shore:

“Then the dragon stood on the seashore …” (Revelation 12:18 CEB)

Or consider what emerges from the sea:

“… and I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads … and on its heads were blasphemous names.” (Revelation 13:1 CEB)

Both the dragon and the beast oppose God, but they are not able to overcome him. In fact, in the end, even their place of origin, the source of their strength, is no more.

“… the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Revelation 21:1 CEB)

Even God’s people were at first were separated from God’s immediate presence by the sea, and they had to worshiped him from a distance:

“Then I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire. Those who gained victory over the beast, its image, and the number of its name were standing by the glass sea, holding harps from God. They sing the song of Moses, God’s servant, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, king of the nations. Who won’t fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and fall down in worship before you, for your acts of justice have been revealed.’” (Revelation 15:1-4 CEB)

Now, however, that which separated God and his people, that which harmed his people and all others, is gone. There simply is no place for “the sea” in the new order of things. God has swept it away.

Darkness will not have the last say. Evil will not always be. God can clearly see all that is going on and he can, and will, set things right once and for all.

And for that, we can only worship God all the more.

Heavenly Father, thank you for telling us of your presence and perception of things. Thank you for answering our yearning for all that is wrong to be finally and fully answered. Thank you for bringing us close to you and delivering us to where we long to be, with you forever. Amen.

* This devotional marks the conclusion of the Fresh Bread series of devotionals, a series based on a ninety day reading of the New Testament, the Fresh Eyes project. After a two day pause, daily devotional posts will resume this Mon., April 4, as I dive into the Lenten Blog Tour.

what follows you?

And I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.” (Revelation 14:13 CEB)

What fills your mind when you stop to consider God’s awareness of all that you do? Is it the questions you have? How you rarely think of such? That you try not to think about it?

What grips your heart when you pause and reflect on the fact that someday your life will be assessed by God in light of all that you do? Is it uneasiness? Shame? Fear? Terror?

What wells up in your spirit when you pause over these words of God’s Spirit for yourself: “their deeds follow them?” A sense of regret over things you’ve done? Have left undone? How you wish you could do more?

Now read this passage again slowly and ask yourself exactly what it is the writer, John, intended to convey to us by hearing these words.

“Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.” (Revelation 14:13 CEB)

Who is being spoken of? Those who “die in the Lord.” How are we to view their condition? As “favored,” that is, “well off in the eyes of God.” What do they experience? “… rest from their labors …”

Now thus far, to say this is “good” is an understatement, no? Without a doubt! Now ask this passage, and yourself, one more question.
On what basis is it that this text says those who die in the Lord are well off in God’s eyes and experience rest?

Answer: “… because their deeds follow them.”

Clearly John is not holding out to us uneasiness or fear, regret or shame, uncertainties or questions. He is deliberately extending to those who labor in the Lord the great assurance, comfort, confidence, peace, security, and serenity that can, and does, come directly from the Spirit of God.

In other words, what you do matters. It matters for good. It matters here and now. It matters forever. It matters for others. And it matters for you.

Your good, no matter how large or small, is remembered by God. The power of your good work in the name of Christ is not dependent on its remembrance by others or even on your own memory. The good you do simply because you are in the Lord and you let him come out through you, as it were, go with you beyond the grave into God’s presence with you. And our awareness of that reality, made known to us by revelation, is a gift to God to us to encourage and spur us on to never cease doing good.

We will do good and not even realize it. We will do good and forget we even did it. We will do good and others will not even know it, remember it, or care. But God cares and remembers perfectly. God does not forget and will do good to those who live their lives expressive of his goodness, being “in him” and “for him” in life.

In this, let your mind find peace, your heart have rest, your spirit take comfort, and your hands, busyness to do good until the day you die. For what you do always matters.

Father God in heaven, remember me for good and help me to remember you in all things, that I might live well by you in Christ’s name. Amen.

at the center of it all

Today we expect a story to move toward a climax at the end. It is as if the story is a plane taking off and the climax, or end, of the story is when it reaches its highest altitude.

But stories have not always been shaped this way and that’s not the ways travelers view a successful flight, either. You see, many stories in ancient times find their climax not at the end, but in the middle. Something like the way a plane slowly ascends, reaches altitude, and then gradually descends on a trajectory similar to, but the opposite of, takeoff. Such structure is known as chiasm and the Bible is chock full of sentences, paragraphs, and whole books with chiastic outlines.

Now most modern interpretations of the book of Revelation are doomed to misunderstanding as soon as they takeoff in that they assume the book follows a modern outline (i.e. its climax is at the end). However, a close examination of Revelation reveals quite the opposite for the entire book appears to be outlined chiastically.*

Prologue: Rev. 1:1-20

A. The imperfect church: Rev. 2:1-3:22

B. God’s power over evil explained: Rev. 4:1-8:6

C. The warning judgments : Rev. 8:1-11:19

D. The Lamb as God’s answer to it all : Rev. 12:1-14:20

C. The judgments consummated: Rev. 15:1-16:21

B. God’s power over evil exercised: Rev. 17:1-20:15

A. The church in perfection: Rev. 21:1-22:5

Epilogue: Rev. 22:6-21

You’ll notice that if the prologue and epilogue are removed from the book, the book naturally falls into seven segments, six of them having corresponding sections. It is the book’s centerpiece, the very center of the book (Rev. 12:1-14:20), that forms the book’s climax. A closer look reveals that each of the seven sections are composed primarily of seven components.

Prologue: Rev. 1:1-20

A. The imperfect church: Rev. 2:1-3:22 (seven letters to seven churches)

  • 1. Ephesus: 2:1-72
  • 2. Smyrna: 2:8-11
  • 3. Pergamum: 2:12-17
  • 4. Thyatira: 2:18-29
  • 5. Sardis: 3:1-6
  • 6. Philadelphia: 3:7-13
  • 7. Laodicea: 3:14-22

B. God’s power over evil explained: Rev. 4:1-8:6 (seven seals)

  • 1. War: 6:1-2
  • 2. Rebellion: 6:3-4
  • 3. Famine: 6:5-6
  • 4. Death: 6:7-8
  • 5. Martyrs: 6:9-11
  • 6. Cosmic signs: 6:12-17
  • 7. The seven trumpets introduced: 8:1-6

C. The warning judgments: Rev. 8:1-11:19(seven trumpets sound)

  • 1. Hail, fire & blood: 8:7
  • 2. The sea becomes blood: 8:8-9
  • 3. The falling star: 8:10-11
  • 4. Sun, moon & stars darkened: 8:12-13
  • 5. Opening the bottomless pit; the first woe: 9:1-12
  • 6. Four angels released; the second woe: 9:13-21
  • 7. The consummation; the third woe: 11:15-19

D. The Lamb as God’s answer to it all: Rev. 12:1-14:20 (seven significant symbols & seven angelic messages)

  • 1. The woman with child: 12:1-2
  • 2. The dragon: 12:3-4
  • 3. The male child: 12:5-6
  • 4. The angel Michael: 12:7-17
  • 5. The beast from the sea: 13:1-10
  • 6. The beast from the land: 13:11-18
  • 7. The Lamb on Mount Zion: 14:1-5
  • 1. Good news: 14:6-7
  • 2. Babylon is fallen: 14:8
  • 3. Wrath on beast worshipers: 14:9-12
  • 4. Blessing is pronounced: 14:13
  • 5. Ripe for harvest / judgment: 14:14-16
  • 6. The harvesting angel is ready: 14:17
  • 7. The judgment of evil earth: 14:18-20

C. The judgments consummated: Rev. 15:1-16:21 (seven bowls of wrath)

  • 1. Sores on people: 16:2
  • 2. The sea becomes blood: 16:3
  • 3. The rivers & fountains become blood: 16:4-7
  • 4. The sun’s fierce heat: 16:8-9
  • 5. Darkness: 16:10-11
  • 6. The foul spirits prepare for Armageddon: 16:12-16
  • 7. The earthquake: 16:17-21

B. God’s power over evil exercised: Rev. 17:1-20:15 (seven descriptions of God’s judgments)

  • 1. The prostitute & the beast identified: 17:1-18
  • 2. The doom of Babylon is announced: 18:1-20
  • 3. The doom of Babylon described: 18:21-24
  • 4. The marriage supper of the Lamb: 19:1-10
  • 5. The defeat of the beast & the false prophet: 19:11-21
  • 6. The binding & limitation of Satan: 20:1-10
  • 7. The final judgment: 20:11-15

A. The church in perfection: Rev. 21:1-22:5 (seven descriptions of the church in perfection)

  • 1. The new heaven & the new earth: 21:1
  • 2. The new Jerusalem, God’s dwelling: 21:2-8
  • 3. The glory of the holy city Jerusalem: 21:9-14
  • 4. The city’s measurements: 21:15-18
  • 5. The city’s foundations: 21:19-21
  • 6. The city’s light: 21:22-27
  • 7. The city’s support: 22:1-5

Epilogue: Rev. 22:6-21

Yes, I can hear you saying now: “Okay, that’s all very interesting to someone, I’m sure, but what difference is all of this supposed to make to me?

This is the difference. As you read the book of Revelation, don’t look for the focus of the book to be at the end, as if to answer your question, “What’s in this for me at the end?” Instead, read it with your eyes riveted on the one at the center of the book, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. See him as the more than adequate answer to all that comes up against the Creator and his creation. Period. For you see, this book was not written with us humans at the story’s center, but God. It was penned not to answer the question “What will we get?,” but the only question that truly matters, namely, “What is God doing?”

Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, forgive us as we all too frequently unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, “rewrite your story to be about us. You are the only Perfect One and you alone are sufficient answer to everything. Grow in us the confidence you longed to place within us by giving us your story and placing us in it, namely, that it’s not about us, rather it’s all about you. Amen.

* For this outline and understanding of the book of Revelation I am deeply indebted to the work of Dr. Nils Lund and my professor in graduate work at ACU in years gone by, Dr. Ian Fair.