River of Life - Hope
This lesson focuses on the image of the river of life found at the end of John’s Revelation.
Apocalyptic Literature: the Revelation of John is a form of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic (apocalyptic means that which is revealed which is why the book if called Revelation) literature emerged during the period following the return of the Jewish people from exile. It emerged as a response to the fact that God’s people were oppressed (by Persians, Greeks and then Romans) and that God’s promises of freedom and restoration had not taken place. It was literature that gave them hope because it pointed to a future time when God would intervene and save God’s people.
There are several characteristics of this type of literature. It believes that this age is drawing to a close and that a new and better age is coming. It believes that God will one day remove the barriers between heaven and earth and the two shall become one. It offers a vision of the new age which appears to restore creation to a pre-fall state. It uses imagery to paint “theological pictures” rather than offering blue-prints of exactly what the future will look like. It insists on justice. This means that there will be judgment and that some people will not be saved. At the same time the image of those saved, is large and expansive, while those not being saved is small (the lake of fire…small vs. a new Jerusalem…which is large).
Action and Calling: in Revelation these are the two criterion for salvation. In Chapter 20, just prior to our reading, there is a judgment scene. All of the dead are brought back to life to face judgment (remember there must be justice). They are first judged on what they have done (20:13) and then they are judged by whether or not their names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life (20:15). What this portion of the book tries to do is remind Christians that there is a moral component to their lives (an important part of Biblical teaching). Also at this time of judgment death and hades (hell) are thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed. They are destroyed because God is about to remake all of creation.
New heaven and New Earth: there are two types of new. One is throw out the old and buy something new. The other is to take what is old and renew it. This second image is the one that is used in Revelation. All of God’s creation is to be restored. This is what the author of the study meant when she wrote that God is not a “throw away God” (pg. 74). The good news of this concept is that it means that we are not throw away people; that we are worth redeeming and recreating.
This new heaven and new earth will be a new Eden where human beings and the Triune God will live in right relationship once again. It will also be a place where there is not death (remember that death has been destroyed). Thus much of the imagery focuses on what is necessary for eternal life. There is the river which always brings clean fresh water. There is the tree of life which spans the waters and offers fruit year-round. The leaves of this tree are for the “healing of the nations” which means there will be no more war. There will be no more night, which focuses on the issue of no more hiding…no one can hide anything in the dark (evil thoughts or deeds). There is also the continuing tension between those who come in (nations and kings) and those who don’t (those who do evil and whose names are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life). What is interesting about this is that it comes quite a bit after the judgment…and as the author points out, perhaps implies a second opportunity to change one’s life and come into the New Jerusalem. This tension exists, I believe, because the writers of Revelation believe that God chooses and calls people into community, makes all things new, but at the same time we all are responsible for our own actions and choices.
Hope: In the end, the Book of Revelation, is a book about hope. While it was originally written to people whose lives were at risk, it has been used by Christians across time in order to fine hope. Early Puritans and slaves saw in its words the hope that one day they would find freedom in a new and wonderful world.
This leaves us with two questions: where do we find hope and where can we offer hope to others? If we believe the news media we are supposed to be a fearful people. We are to be afraid of germs, of strangers, of people who are not like us, or going to Detroit (or perhaps anywhere). We are to see that the world is trending to a catastrophe (political, economic or social). Yet if we read Revelation we see that there is hope. So where do we see hope in the world? What things are happening that send a message that God may already be making things new? At the same time, we need to be asking what can we do to show others that there is hope? What can Presbyterian Women do to show hope to a hurting world?
1. What do you think of John’s image of the New Heaven and New Earth?
2. How would you balance judgment between who gets into the New Jerusalem and who stays out?
3. Where do you see hope for the world?
4. Where can you offer hope to the world?