|This week on Monday night, our church bible study group finally finished reading the entire New Testament. It took us meeting once a week for 20 months to finish off the whole thing. We had a big potluck to celebrate too. Anyway, it was great and I think we all feel like we really accomplished something together!
Before we started reading together this week, we talked a whole lot about how during all of this, we’d all passed through some difficult times, and amidst it all, we had our bible study group TOGETHER as a constant, sharing our good and not-so-good times with each other as we read the scriptures together, sharing our lives with each other, and trying to learn better the lessons of life out of it all. And the past few days since Monday, the high of having read the entire thing still rests in me. We did it! Wow.
And now next week we’ve decided to start reading the Old Testament. At the pace we go, we probably won’t finish it til about three and a half years from now, but, I have a feeling that we’re gonna do it.
The Last Few Chapters of Revelation
Maybe I won’t share everything of what we read, but I think it would be good to share at least some and to summarize the rest. Last week we read chapters 17-19 and this week 20-22.
In chapter 17 we read much of “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (17:1-2)
In chapter 18 are the famous lines:
Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
We wondered at much of this, about what it could mean. We talked about how much of this must be immensely symbolic, but we read on:
And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
So after the destruction of “that great city Babylon” and all therein, the heavens and the holy prophets and apostles rejoiced. A great question is, is this transformation that of this actual physical world and our systems of enslavements and ownership, is this destruction spoken of to those systems (sounds very anti-capitalist), or to enslavements within us, or to both? If within, is it toward a no more seeking for things, that we simply exist with the creation, not quantifying or reasoning it, nor accumulating it, nor a seeking it, but merely an existing with it?
Chapter 19 talks about God’s word going forth, that it slew Babylon and their flesh was consumed. As so many chapters in Revelation, this one was full of really beautiful imagery. I especially liked the imagery representing the Word of God — it was a man on a white horse, “His eyes were a flame of fire, and his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself,” and the armies in heaven followed him (12,14). Anyway, pretty powerful. It’s like God speaks and the forces unite. They are led my hir word.
The next chapter, 20, is about binding “the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” for a thousand years and casting hir “into the bottomless pit.” The saints then lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand year, the devil was then loosed for a short time, but eventually all the wicked, including Satan were “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone… tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This chapter also has the famous “final judgement” scene:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
As we consider this, we must ask again, is this something literal or is this figurative. Many people count this as being literal, but I side with a symbolic interpretation, that sometimes we really put the devil down, we cast our afflictions down and live and reign, but in the process of ascension, sometimes they come back, but we learn and then we eternally throw them down. I’m sure others could come up with other just as good sounding interpretations, but that’s just what’s coming to me at this moment in my life.
As we got to chapter 21, two of the people in our bible study group wanted to sing part of this chapter. They’re in the church choir here at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Lincoln Park, and I guess there’s a song or two written using these verses:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
After singing those verses, one person in the group continued reading. Throughout the Book of Revelation are references to the “water of life” or “living water.” Jesus also talks of this too in John 4:13-14, to the woman at the well ze said:
Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
This is greatly related to this chapter in Revelation, verse 6, “I give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things.” This chapter also talks about those who will not drink of this water, that such are those who are of Babylon, and cast into the lake of fire: “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (verse 8). If we are not to be numbered among them, then we are without fear, we believe, we do not seek to get gain through exploitation and deceit – they’ll receive the pounding of a Louisville Slugger for eternity.
As we read the very last chapter, 22, two of my favorite verses were 1 and 2:
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
This is another interesting thing to consider and which our group discussed, that God doesn’t actually do anything but sit on hir throne (which we inherit also), speak hir word, and let the living water flow out from us. It is a very interesting visual. Verse 5 speaks of there being no night or day in that city as “the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” This leads one also to recall the verses of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16):
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
If we are to follow this to perhaps one of it’s logical ends, our word – that which creates the light, movement, and differentiation in our world – the living water flowing out from our throne is what brings about the change. Or maybe the living water is something of our knowing. Even in Genesis, God speaks, hir word is what causes the differentiations of light and dark to occur in the universe, giving us a perception of witnessing and knowing. The words are the cause, and then people see. The tree of life whose leaves heal the nations is fed both by the living water flowing from God’s throne, but also by a light of the reception of knowing, or perhaps more so, the joy of the contrast around it created by the word. Pretty striking and stirring stuff.
As we read verse 10, “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” one person commented that all of the rest of everything is sealed and done, and so all that is left now is the coming of this new Jerusalem.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.