Monday, October 20, 2008

Revelation 7:1-8

There is an old saying about jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. That’s sort of what I feel like here.

We’ve been writing about the book of Acts since July (!). Now the book of Acts is a great book, and I’ve thoroughly it. But it does present something of a challenge when writing about it devotionally. You have to think about the stories and discern the principles behind them and how those principles still apply today. That’s not quite as straight forward as, say, the pastoral advice of Paul, which (for the most part) is relatively simple to relate to today.

All this is to say that as much as I’ve enjoyed the book of Acts, I’ve been ready to do something a little different—ready, if you will, for something a little easier to write about…

Well, this week I got my wish. Or, at least the first half of my wish. We are starting a new book. Revelation!

But as to getting something a little easier to write about… well, I’m not so sure that is the case. Does the Bible get any weirder than this?

Actually, this isn’t that weird. If you understand something about the type of literature this is (yep, I’m talking about that again!) this text is actually pretty straightforward. The book of Revelation (singular, not plural!) is called “apocalyptic” literature; that is, it’s rich in imagery and numbers and grand cosmic events that make a sort of coded language with which to speak about what God is doing. The key to understanding these symbolic references is to have read enough of the Bible to catch the allusions to other passages in Scripture (like the locust plague here that recalls one of the 10 plagues of Egypt) that will unlock the code for us.

Take today’s passage, for instance. It speaks of the 144, 000 who were “sealed”. Are we to infer from that that only 144,00 people will be saved, and not a single person more or a single person less? That when we reach 144,000, a “no vacancy” sign will be posted on the doors of heaven and no one else will be allowed in?

That hardly makes sense, does it?

But if we realize that in keeping with the type of literature we are reading the number 12 is actually symbolic (as opposed to literal), the meaning becomes quite clear.

We’ve seen the number 12 over and over again in the Bible, haven’t we? And it is always associated with God’s ability to carry out his redemptive purposes for mankind. 144,000 is 12 squared, a way of dramatically emphasizing the meaning of this number. 144,000, therefore, refers to God’s perfect ability to save. Nothing will prevent him from accomplishing his purposes, and we can therefore trust him completely.

For the people first reading these words, that was a great comfort. The power of Rome seemed to threaten the power of God as Christians were persecuted and brutally killed. This passage reassured them that God would indeed win the day, and that they could count on Him.

Sometimes I get discouraged about my salvation. Can God really save me? I have so many faults and failings, so many struggles in which I fall short of what I know God asks of me. But the hope of my salvation does not rest in me; it rests in God. Like Christians before me, I take great comfort in that.

And you can too.

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