Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Future Past

We can't imagine what Forever's going to look like, but there's one thing we can know: our past will be swallowed up in it.

That's different than the way most of us fear it will be. We're looking at all we've been and all we ever hope to be, and so often, it feels like our future is being held hostage to our past. We don't believe we can expect more of ourselves than we've ever been. We don't think we can overcome some of the troubles we've had in order to have anything better. But that's not the reality of the Promise.

The Promise is that our past is already being woven in, and when we reach the future, we find that whatever we've been through, and whatever we've been, is just another part of the beautiful tapestry of all that we are and all that we will become. This Promise is nowhere greater than in the context of Heaven.

Wouldn't that be weird, by the way, if that wasn't the case? If you die and God re-creates you and you find out this life was all for naught? It won't happen. God, and Heaven, are about meaningfulness; nothing you do in His shadow is meaningless. It can't be.

Anyway, I'm taking this idea from a verse in Revelation 1. It's one of those things you have to know some Bible to really piece together, but it can be done beautifully. Let's start in verse 12:

I turned toward the voice which was talking to me, and when I turned, I saw seven gold lamp stands. There was someone like the Son of Man among the lamp stands. He was wearing a robe that reached his feet. He wore a gold belt around his waist. His head and his hair were white like wool - like snow. His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like glowing bronze refined in a furnace. His voice was like the sound of raging waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword. His face was like the sun when it shines in all its brightness.

That's enough for now. Jesus sounds a little....well, a little this account, doesn't He? You can say it. He does. But let's look closer at the elements of the story. When we do, we will discover they are the elements of the stories of God's people (and God) across time.

He is standing among lamp stands. Lamp stands were used prominently in the Old Testament as part of the Lord's Tabernacle. So right from the outset of this description of God, Israel was able to connect Him back to His first presence among them - the Tabernacle.

The robe He is wearing also goes back to this, but it goes a little further. One of the priestly garments was a robe, and we know that the priest was required to be fully covered when performing the duties in the Temple. So God is not now just in His tabernacle; He is defining Himself as a priest in it. The belt further identifies Him as the same figure Daniel saw in Daniel 10:5. So here, God is tying Himself back to the story again and again.

His head and His hair were white like wool - and we know that God is the shepherd. He constantly uses the imagery of sheep. He's wanting to evoke those images again. 

His feet were like glowing bronze refined in a furnace. Remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They were thrown as three men into the furnace but were seen as four men in there, and we know the furnace was used for death but also for refinement. This Jesus is saying, "I am the God who has walked in the hard places with you." And the bronze? It was the king of the Babylonians who had the statue made of bronze.

He held seven stars, in a tradition where the people knew it was God who set the stars in place and held them there. Out of His mouth came a two-edged sword, a verse found in Hebrews. The Word of sharper than any two-edged sword. And go back to John 1: ...and the Word was God. 

His face was like the sun when it shines in all its brightness. Remember the transfiguration?

Yes, this is Jesus. And we know that Revelation has much to reveal about the day that is coming. We know that all of these symbols say something about tomorrow as much as they would ever say anything about the past. It's important not to lose that. But it's also important to know that it's very possible that as the people of God read and heard these words, they couldn't help but think about their own story. The stories they knew so well about where they'd come from and how God had been with them, and here He is, tying those stories to tomorrow. He's wrapping up the past into the future. 

He does the same with us. 

It's hard to see, sometimes, in the midst of the trouble. It's hard to know, or even to believe, that things could maybe ever be different. It's easy to feel like tomorrow is somehow hostage to today. But it's not. It's always today that has to answer to tomorrow. And God is already busy weaving your past and your present into His Promise. It's all going to come together. 


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