Peter Misselbrook's Blog
31/12/2020 - Revelation 22:1-21– The beginning and the end

Today we come to the end of the Book of Revelation, to the end of the New Testament as it is conventionally arranged, and so to the end of the Bible. And what a wonderful ending it is. Here, all that was written before and promised before reaches its conclusion.

The Bible begins with a picture of the perfect world God created for our blessing and enjoyment. It is pictured as a garden full of delights – a garden in which God walked and talked with a man and a woman whom he had created in his own image and to whom he had entrusted all that he had made. And in the middle of the garden was the tree of life, symbolising the life God had given to them and to all creation. But humankind was banished from the garden and from these blessings because of rebellion against God; banished to live in a world marked by God's absence; banished to live out a limited lifespan under the increasing shadow of death.

And now the Bible ends with a vision of a garden city, filled and ever refreshed with life that flows from the presence of God. There is no longer one tree of life, there are many such trees, providing nourishment and healing – healing for all that is past; healing for all the hurts of our present world. There is no longer any curse. There is healing for the nations (what sermons there are in this wonderful phrase). The inhabitants of the garden city will see God's face and live in the brightness of his presence (Revelation 22:1-5).

If this wonderful picture fills us with joy and with longing, what shall the reality be like?

One of the hymns we sang when I was a child began like this:

God has given us
a book full of stories,
which was made for
his people of old,
it begins with the tale of a garden,
and ends with the city of gold.

But the Bible is more than a book full of stories; it tells the one great story which is both God's story and our story. It is the story of human folly and of divine faithfulness. It is a love story. It is a story that centres in Jesus who, along with the Father is "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (22:13).

In him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.

The Lord Jesus has centre place in this story because it is in his death that God has passed judgment on a world in rebellion against him; in his death its death is announced. And it is through his resurrection that the new creation has begun in the realm of the Spirit and will be fully manifest when he appears. He is the hope for the healing of a broken world – “by his stripes, we are healed.”

We need to be careful how we tell this story; not adding anything extraneous to it nor leaving out any part of it (22:18-19). We need to tell the world the story. We need to live the story in the power of him who is our beginning and shall be our end.

Father God, help me by your Spirit to show and tell your story more faithfully and fully day by day. Help us to live the story and show the world something of the promise of the age to come. May this story bring healing to the nations, life to the world and eternal glory and praise to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

30/12/2020 - Revelation 21:1-27 – A new heaven and a new earth

In Revelation 20 we read of one seated on a great white throne, prepared for judgment. Heaven and earth fled from his presence and there was no more place for them (20:11). Now we read of a new heaven and a new earth (21:1). And this is not just a repetition of the old; it is radically new, radically different. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (21:4).

The terms "heaven" and "earth" are often used in the Bible to signify the whole of creation (e.g. Genesis 1:1). But they are also used to mark the radical separation between God and humankind, e.g., "God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2). We live in a world which, in a very real and deep sense, is marked by separation from God. Not so of this new creation. John sees "the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes'" (21:2-4). Eden is restored as God dwells with us in the midst of his creation.

There is both continuity and discontinuity between our present world and the world to come. The present creation is not abandoned; it is made new. We are not snatched up from earth to dwell with God in heaven; the New Jerusalem descends to earth so that God may live with us and we with him in the renewed creation. Nevertheless, it is a new creation; "the old order of things has passed away."

We need to retain this difficult balance. We must not treat this present world as if it were disposable, due for demolition. We are called to care for God's world and to seek to make it now, more like it shall be in that last day. We are called to pray and labour for the coming of his kingdom, that his will might be done here on earth even as it is in heaven. We must never give up on God's great kingdom project of seeking to build a world of justice, peace, truth, righteousness, compassion and love. We need to believe that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.

"God's plan of restoration includes not only our reconciliation to God and to each other, but in some way the liberation of the groaning creation as well. We can certainly affirm that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth (e.g. 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), for this is an essential part of our hope for the perfect future that awaits us at the end of time. But meanwhile the whole creation is groaning, experiencing the birth pains of the new creation (Romans 8:18-23). How much of the earth's ultimate destiny can be experienced now is a matter for debate. But we can surely say that just as our understanding of the final destiny of our resurrection bodies should affect how we think of and treat the bodies we have at present, so our knowledge of the new heaven and earth should affect and increase the respect with which we treat it now." (John Stott, The Radical Disciple)

At the same time, we need to know that our efforts, even though they are motivated and empowered by the Spirit of the age to come, cannot ultimately bring in the kingdom. We cannot abolish death. We can crush but we cannot kill the serpent. However, the day is coming when Christ, our Saviour and our hope, shall appear. He will accomplish the desire of our hearts and complete the work of our hands; he will make all things new.

Living God, may this hope flood my soul and animate my life. May I continually turn from the old and embrace the new – embrace and live the life of the coming kingdom.

29/12/2020 - Revelation 20:1-15 – Death thou shalt die

“Death be not proud…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die.”

Revelation 20 is the only passage in the Bible that speaks about the "millennium". This admittedly difficult passage in a difficult book has become the ground of much controversy among Christians. It is not my intention to comment on these controversies here. Here, I want rather to pick up a picture from the end of the chapter.

In 19:19-20 we read of the beast and the false prophet being thrown into a fiery lake of burning sulphur. The picture, taken from the bowl of a volcano, is used here as a picture of complete and utter destruction. Now in 20:14 we read, "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire." Death and the place of the dead are utterly destroyed; they have no further place in God's creation.

Death was defeated through Jesus resurrection from the dead yet it continues to ravage our world and to affect believers and unbelievers alike. Some are slaughtered in war; some die from painful diseases; some die of hunger and of thirst; some die in tragedy and disaster. And if you manage to avoid all of these things and live on to a ripe old age, still you will die. It is one of the few certainties in life. But the day is coming when death will not only be defeated, it will be destroyed – it will be no more; it shall die.

The music of The Messiah has run through my mind as I have read many sections of the book of Revelation. Let me close by quoting another passage that is forever associated with Handel's great work:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:51-58)

This also is the message of Revelation. Stand firm, strengthened in the truths of the gospel and faithful to a victorious Saviour. Always joyful and full of hope, keep on working for the coming of the kingdom. The kingdom will come. It is not death but the risen Christ who will have the last word.

Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks and praise that you have broken the power of death and shall destroy it utterly at your coming. Help us always to give ourselves fully and gladly to the work of your kingdom, knowing that our labour is not in vain, for you are risen and alive and you are Lord over all creation. Have mercy upon this world despoiled by death and help us to hold out before it the word and promise of life.

28/12/2020 - Revelation 19:1-21 – The wedding supper of the Lamb

In Revelation 19, the Hallelujah chorus celebrates three things: God’s judgment upon “the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries” (19:2); the unrivalled reign of “our Lord God Almighty” (19:6); the wedding of the Lamb to the bride that has been prepared for him (19:7).

These three are closely connected. God establishes his reign over all the earth by destroying all rival claims to power – all those who have sought to establish their own kingdom in the earth. God created humankind to bear his image and to rule over creation in his name and for his glory. The tragedy of human history is not that people have sought to rule over the earth but that they have sought to do so by their own power and for their own ends. They have sought to make gods of themselves. God will bring all rival claims to power to an end – good news for Christians suffering under the crushing power of Rome. God will at last answer the cry of his people in 6:19, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”, for here we read, “He has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (19:2).

With the destruction of all who have sought to build a kingdom for themselves, the scene is now set for the kingdom of God to be established in unrivalled glory. The prophecy of 11:15 has now been fulfilled, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” But Christ, the Messiah, will not reign alone. He has a bride who will share in his reign. The time has now come for him to take his bride, for him to be united with his people for all eternity (see the beautiful picture of Revelation 21).

Most of us like to receive a wedding invitation; we are pleased to share something of the joy of the couple being married. In 19:9 John is told, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” Who are those who are invited to the celebration? The answer is given in the closing verses of Revelation, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” It’s an open invitation. No one need be left out. All are welcome. The Spirit echoes the call of Christ to all who are thirsty to come to him and drink (John 7:37). The bride – those who know Christ – join in inviting all to come. Those who receive the invitation not only respond to it themselves but also pass it on to others. In the words of a tract by John Bunyan, “Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.”

Make sure that you don’t miss out on the greatest royal wedding in all of history. Be sure to be there.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your great love for us that brought you from glory to live among us. Thank you for your love that took you to the cross to die for us. Thank you that because of your love for us you want us to be with you for all eternity and to share in your reign over the world to come. Lord, we look with longing for the day of your coming – for our wedding day. Help us by your Spirit to busy ourselves with handing out invitations to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

27/12/2020 - Revelation 18:1-24 – Evil Empire

Revelation 18 paints a vivid portrait of God’s judgment upon the evil empire which was Rome. But it provides us also with a salutary portrait of the evil nature of human empire as such.

The power of empire is used to sustain the riches and luxury of those in power at the expense of those whom they exploit. It is the merchants (a word from which we get our word “Empire” – hence “emporium’) who stand appalled at the destruction of Babylon the Great. The merchants and the owners of the ships which carried the luxurious cargoes mourn and wail at the loss of their business. These cargos include slaves, “the souls of men” (Revelation 18:13). The wealth of empire was built with the bodies and souls of slaves.

The power of empire was also maintained by military might. Some of the references to purple and scarlet may reflect the splendour of the uniforms of Roman soldiers.

Modern empires have generally displayed the same attributes. The creation of wealth demands that those in power and those who hold a monopoly in the trade of goods and capital are rewarded with unimaginable riches while others are forced to labour for a pittance. Slavery continues to be the foundation of modern empire, though it is often invisible because the slaves are “hidden” in far flung corners of the globe where they and their children may work in dangerous conditions: over 1,000 people died in the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh in July 2013, others have died in factory fires. The insatiable desires of empire continue to be satisfied by exploitation and safeguarded through military power.

Modern empire also seeks to maintain its riches and splendour not only through the exploitation of other people (slavery), but also through the ravaging of the earth. The seas are emptied of fish; forests are torn down; the earth is scarred and poisoned; the atmosphere is polluted; the very fabric of the created world groans and cries out for relief.

It is difficult to avoid complicity in the evil acts of empire. When we fill our vehicles with fuel, when we insist on cheap food, cheap clothing and imported goods from around the world, we provide support to the machinery of empire.

God’s judgment upon empire is a reflection of his concern for freedom and justice. The gospel is concerned not merely with a message of spiritual blessings; it concerns the transformation of the world. God’s judgment is proclaimed upon greed, exploitation, injustice, poverty, inequity and the maintenance of such evils through the (ab)use of power – the military-economic machine.

In what ways could we be at work now for the transformation of our world? In what ways could we seek to build a more just and sustainable economic system? These are questions that we should be seeking to address as those who belong to a different kingdom. The call is for us to “Come out of her, my people” (18:4), but it will not do simply to cut ourselves off from a world that has been corrupted by greed – to walk on by on the other side; we are to long for, pray for, look for and work towards its healing.

A new year will soon be upon us. How can we use this new year to stand against the culture of our age and bear witness to a better kingdom?

Lord Jesus, we look for and long for the day of your coming when the deep hurts of our world shall at last be healed. Give us the wisdom to live now as those who belong to a better kingdom. Teach us how to withstand the subtle pressures to become conformed to the patterns of this world and to graciously bear witness to the transforming and healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to bring healing to our world rather than increase its hurts.

26/12/2020 - Revelation 17:1-18 – The Lamb will triumph

This morning we have another dark chapter. ‘Babylon’ or Rome with its empire is pictured as a monstrous prostitute who has enticed many with her corruptions. She dazzles the world with her riches while making herself drunk on the blood of the people of God. She ensnares the world through the offer of luxury while delivering slavery.

The picture becomes increasingly complex as the chapter develops its theme but the basic message is clear. Christians suffering under the oppression of the Roman Empire are to take heart; the days of their oppressor are numbered – the prostitute will be brought to ruin. The powers of this world may wage war against the Lamb, "but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers" (Revelation 17:14). The Lamb will triumph, and his people will share in that triumph.

Jesus has sat down at God's right hand,
he is reigning now on David's throne.
God has placed all things beneath his feet,
his enemies will be his footstool.

      For the government is now upon his shoulder,
      for the government is now upon his shoulder,
      and of the increase of his government and peace
      there will be no end, there will be no end,
      there will be no end.

God has now exalted him on high,
given him a name above all names.
Every knee will bow and tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.

      For the government is now upon his shoulder,
      for the government is now upon his shoulder,
      and of the increase of his government and peace
      there will be no end, there will be no end,
      there will be no end.

Jesus is now living in his church,
those who have been purchased by his blood,
they will serve their God, a royal priesthood,
and they will reign on earth.

      For the government is now upon his shoulder,
      for the government is now upon his shoulder,
      and of the increase of his government and peace
      there will be no end, there will be no end,
      there will be no end.

Sound the trumpets, good news to the poor,
captives will go free, the blind will see,
the kingdom of this world will soon become
the kingdom of our God.

      For the government is now upon his shoulder,
      for the government is now upon his shoulder,
      and of the increase of his government and peace
      there will be no end, there will be no end,
      there will be no end.

(Jonathan Wallis)

Take a long hard look at the world in which we live until you clearly recognise its empty enticements and pitiless enslavements; its corrupt governments, voracious corporations and myriad small oppressions and injustices. All this shall pass, but the kingdom of our God and of his Christ shall last for ever.

Lord God, keep us from the empty enticements of this world that would lead us away from simple faith in the Lord Jesus. Give us patient endurance in the life of discipleship and faithfulness in our counter-cultural witness to Christ. Help us to have our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, the beauty of his holy character and the glory of his kingdom of righteousness and peace. May we love him above all things and desire nothing more than him. As your people, help us to bear witness to the coming kingdom by the pattern of our shared lives and by our testimony to Christ our Lord.

25/12/2020 - Revelation 16:1-21 – Blessed is he who stays awake

Here we have another chapter that it full of terrible pictures of judgment. They are pictures of judgment poured out upon the evil kingdom of the beast (Revelation 16:10). They are judgments that recall the plagues visited on Egypt which secured the liberation of God’s enslaved people. They are judgments which echo the threats against the Roman Empire from nations and armies to the East that were all too real when John wrote this extraordinary book (16:12).

These judgments are working up to a last battle at Armageddon when the powers of this world will face their final showdown with God Almighty (16:16,14)

God is righteous and just (see 16:5-7). If we are angered by a world marked by greed, oppression, injustice, pain and the lust for power, do we not think that God is angered far more? He sees all that it done in this world. He hears the cry of those who suffer from hunger and war. He hears the cry of the homeless, the refugee, the widow and the orphan. He hears the cries of those who watch their children die. God is not unmoved by these things. The day is coming when he will judge the world in righteousness and put all things to rights. God is coming and he calls us to stay clothed and awake as we look for and long for that day: “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed” (16:15)

It is the early hours of Christmas morning and I am awake before the dawn. In the darkness and quiet of this night, my thoughts turn to the shepherds near Bethlehem on the night the Saviour was born. They were out in the countryside keeping an eye on their sheep. Perhaps they dozed with one ear attentive to the sounds of the night. Maybe they took it in turns to sleep while at least one kept awake, alert and watching. Whatever the case, they remained clothed and ready for action; alert to whatever the night might bring. It was to them that the news of the Saviour's birth was first announced by angels. The Saviour of the world had arrived "like a thief in the night" – unseen and unnoticed by many. Their whole concern had been for the welfare of their sheep yet they left their flock at the mercy of the night and hurried to Bethlehem that they might see the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.

It was those who were alert in the watches of the night who were the first to witness the arrival of the Messiah. This verse in Revelation calls us also to remain always alert, clothed and ready for action; we do not know at what day or hour the Lord may appear. Peter, recalling how the Israelites were told to remain clothed and ready to move on that first Passover night, urges us to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 New King James Version).

When the Lord to human eyes
shall bestride our narrow skies,
not the child of humble birth,
not the carpenter of earth,
not the man by all denied,
not the victim crucified,
but the God who died to save,
but the victor of the grave,
he it is to whom I fall,
Jesus Christ my all in all -
he it is to whom I fall,
Jesus Christ my all in all. (Timothy Dudley-Smith)

Lord, keep me watching, keep me waiting, keep me praying, keep me working for the coming of your kingdom when pain and injustice shall be no more.

24/12/2020 - Revelation 15:1-8 – The song of Moses and the Lamb

Revelation 15 prepares the way for the final judgments of God to be poured out on the earth. But before these judgments are executed, John sees a crowd of those who had been victorious over the beast – though he sees them in heaven. They "sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb" (Revelation 15:3) – a song which celebrates the righteous power of God.

The "Song of Moses" would seem to be a reference back to Exodus 15. After the Israelites had been brought out of Egypt, they came to the edge of the Red Sea. The Sea was before them and Pharaoh's army were behind them. It seemed that they were about to be destroyed, or at least, returned to slavery. But God acted in a remarkable way to save them. He created a path through the sea, through which the Israelites passed on dry ground. When the Egyptian army sought to follow them, their chariot wheels got stuck in the sand and the waters rolled back over them and they were drowned. This great act of salvation is celebrated in the song of Moses. Here are just a few verses from that song (Exodus 15:1-2, 11-13):

I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my defence;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him...

Who among the gods
is like you, LORD?
Who is like you –
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?

You stretch out your right hand,
and the earth swallows your enemies.
In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.

The song celebrates judgment upon the Egyptians. But it does so only because this is the means by which God has saved his people. Those who threatened them can threaten them no more; they are destroyed. The song celebrates the saving power of God and the assurance that, by his strength, he will bring his people safely to the place where he will dwell with them.

This also is the theme of the Book of Revelation. He has redeemed his people through the blood of his Son. He will not abandon them to those who now threaten them. God will destroy those who seek to enslave his people so that they might be brought safely to his holy dwelling.

But the “song of God’s servant Moses and the Lamb” is no nationalistic song, glorying in the destruction of another nation. On the contrary, it affirms that “all nations” will rejoice in the saving acts of God. God is rescuing his entire creation from the one who has taken it captive. All creation shall rejoice together in its liberation from sin and death:

Great and marvellous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.

Lord God Almighty, we rejoice today in your great salvation which shall one day transform the whole of creation. Lord Jesus, you have gained the victory over the powers of darkness that have enslaved your world. By the power of your Spirit help us to bring the light and liberating power of your salvation to those who still live in darkness and despair, that they may join us in singing your praises and living to your glory.

Peter Misselbrook