[Ed. note: We have two Bible Blog posts today, Rev. 19-20, Prov. 30; AND Rev. 21-22, Prov. 31. The annual cycle begins again tomorrow on September 11 with Genesis 1-3.)
by Matt Schneider
In March of 2009, I traveled with a delegation of students and colleagues to El Salvador, where the dozen or so of us would be international election observers for the country’s heated presidential election. On the day of the election, we served as impartial observadores, wearing dopey white vests and hats to identify ourselves.
Each observadore was strategically stationed to monitor the activity at several outdoor polling booths. All day, I watched thousands of Salvadorans come to their assigned booth, identify themselves, take a ballot, and choose a candidate. When the voters returned their marked ballots to the polling volunteers, they immersed in a bottle of indelible election ink one of their thumbs, which would remain stained for several days, identifying them as someone who had already voted.
Toward the end of St. John’s Revelation, we learn of similar indelible marks, identifying two categories of people at the end of time. First, there are those marked by the beast/Satan: “And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image” (Rev. 19:20a).
Then skipping ahead some, there are those marked in a much more hopeful manner: “Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4b).
God sees some of us naked, standing on our own, deceived by the beast and his prophets, who convince us to worship gods other than the one true God. These gods—or idols—can be anything from trinkets, to ourselves, to addictions, to Satan himself—to whatever we put our trust in. As such, we are marked by the beast as his chattel. Satan’s greatest trick isn’t simply to make us worship him but to make us slaves to anything but the triune God.
On the other hand, there are those not marked with the brand of the beast. Instead they are marked, as our baptismal service says, as Christ’s own forever. When God sees us like this, he does not see us standing on our own, trusting in ourselves, our idols, or our best deeds, which appear to him as filthy rags. Rather he sees Jesus Christ—his life, his merit, his deeds, his death, and his resurrection.
The identifying mark as Christ’s own forever is indeed indelible. But unlike election ink, it does not fade over time—it cannot be removed or forgotten. Neither can we discern this mark in others. To each other, we might look the same, but God’s vision allows him to discern the difference. Our baptismal font is a dipping bottle of Jesus ink that God recognizes. To seal this for us sacramentally, we have oil smeared on our foreheads to signify the mark God sees long after the water evaporates.
If you recognize your need for help outside yourself, repenting of the idol factory that is your heart, then rest assured you are marked as Christ’s own forever, and no one (not even you) may take that away. And when you humbly receive the Holy Communion in your hands, remember your identity won for you by Jesus Christ. God—the ultimate Observadore, robed in white—will recognize the difference on the Day of Judgment.
The Rev. Canon Matt Schneider is Canon for Parish Life and Evangelism at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama.
Our Final Destination
by Andrew Pearson
What is heaven like? A number of books, and even a movie, have come out in the past few years attempting to answer this question. These books have been written because:
1) We all contemplate our own mortality and think of life eternal (regardless of our spiritual persuasion)
2) There are a lot of misconceptions about what happens after death.
A lot can be said about the first, but the second is what I would like to address.
Christians have caused much of the confusion about heaven, and beyond. Atheists don’t spend a lot of time writing about heaven; Christians do. Although the Bible is not very verbose about heaven, it does say some things that are often overlooked by Christians. These overlooked things range from the nature of heaven to the final home for Christians.
Heaven is real, but it is not the final destination for believers in the Lord Jesus. In John 14 when Jesus tells his disciples “In my Father’s house are many rooms (14:2),” the Greek word for “room” is better translated as “way station.” That is, God the Father has prepared for his people a way station. This points to the fact that heaven is not the final resting place.
[Actual heavenly way station may look different from this.]
When a Christian dies, we have the idea that the believer’s soul floats up the heavens to be with the Lord always. There is truth to this. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).” When we die, our souls go to be with the Lord, though our mortal bodies remain here on earth.
There will come a day, however, when the trumpet shall sound, and our mortal bodies shall be raised, and our departed souls reunited with our bodies, and we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ at the end of the age.
John is given a glimpse of what happens next in Revelation 21-22. After Satan is defeated once and for all, and the world is judged, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. Those “who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14)” will live on this new earth where we will have perfect fellowship with God. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” and Jesus himself shall declare, “Behold, I make all things new.”
This is what we have to look forward to on that great morning when God will finally do away with the devil, sin, and death. All shall be made well, including our mortal bodies, and we shall walk with God.