Ed began his sermon by pointing out that many who have taught on this book in recent years use the book as a launching pad for their wildly speculative prophetic interpretations. Such persons have read Revelation as pertaining to today's current events and feel free to interpret the figurative language used in much of the book as being about events happening right now or about imminent future events. Some have gone as far as to make exact predictions concerning the date of Christ's return. Ed pointed out that the only consistent thing about such predictions has been one thing --they have all been wrong-- Christ did not return as predicted.
So while fear of getting it wrong and looking foolish before others have been reasons for some of the hesitancy to preach sermons in this area, our pastor seemed to say that this was not a good excuse and that he would no longer neglect this important subject.
I resonate with my pastor as he speaks about eschatology. I too have felt very ignorant in my knowledge in this area, perhaps intimidated by those I've read and heard that seemed to speak so authoritatively on the topic. When I became a Christian in the early 1980's one of the books the Lord happened to use to help me consider the Christian message was the late 1970's bestseller "The Late Great Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsay. Lindsay captured my imagination because he wrote that all of what is happening today was predicted in the Bible and is currently being fulfilled. He painted a picture of a God intimately involved in the outworking of current events, One who might return at any moment to rapture His followers. God used this imperfect book to prompt me to consider the Bible more closely and to recognize that the Bible has relevance to life today. Now having been a Christian for more than 25 years, I still believe God is intimately involved in the unfolding of all events, and that He could return at any time (for surely this is what the Bible teaches). But I am today skeptical of the kind of prophetic writing presented in books such as Late Great Planet Earth, which seem more an exercise in human speculation than an accurate interpretation of Scripture.
So here's the thing: God can use what truth is found in books such as Late Great Planet Earth, flawed as they may be, to help a person to come to know Him. Yet as we continue in our Christian lives, God expects our knowledge of Him to mature, our theology to become more accurate, and most of all, our love for Him to deepen.
Ed's message on Revelation reminded me of a wonderful yet fearful truth: God knows my works. He knows whether I am growing in the accuracy of my understanding of Him. He knows the kind of job I am doing at work, whether I represent Him well and with integrity there. He knows whether or not I am a good husband and all of my strengths and weaknesses as head of my household. Yet when He judges me, there's one question of highest priority in His evaluation: is He still my first love? Do I still love God more than I love all other things in this life? Do I have a daily affection and a passion for Him? Do I really know Him in a personal way, or do I just know things about Him?
How easy it is to lose sight of this all-important priority-- that Jesus remains one's first love, and that one continues to rely on Him alone as one's daily Bread, sustenance, and only source of true Life.
So I still think studying eschatology is important-- for we ought to know what the Bible says is happening and is going to happen, that we may live correctly now. And improving my theology is also critical-- God's greatest commandment to the believer, after all, includes loving Him with all of the mind. Which means that the knowledge of God that comes through the mind must be accurate-- lest I be in danger of not serving and worshiping God as He truly is, but rather, a god of my imagination. Yet how easy it is, even as one pursues such good things as proper knowledge of eschatology or theology, to lose one's first love.
It happened to the Ephesian church, in Revelation 2, whom Christ had commended both for being hard-workers and for being theologically astute. Nevertheless, He said, they had lost their "first love" and He told them they must repent, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first (Rev 2:5)."
As my pastor points out, this exhortation is dealing with something very serious-- the very salvation of one's soul is at stake. For Jesus promises, "To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7)"
So we see this is serious business. Allegiance to Christ means to love and obey Him, (John 14:15,23) and to love Him means to value Him more than all other things (John 21:15, Matt 10:37), and what we treasure is (and will be) revealed by our actions (Matt 6:21). And the Lord sees all, and knows our hearts better than we do (John 2:25, Gen 16:13).
All of this makes me fearful, I must admit, for I know that there is much sin that remains in me. But it makes me all the more cry out to the Lord for help and mercy and grace, that I may become and be what He has chosen me to be.
I also happened today upon a very helpful article, "Notes on Our Ongoing Need of Redemption as Christians" by my friend John Hendryx of Monergism.com. I consider John a friend, though we haven't ever met face-to-face. But we have interacted and chatted occasionally via our mutual involvement in web ministry. In the past, John was also kind enough to link from Monergism.com to some articles here on knowing God's will. He also linked to this blog and to my ReformingChristianity.com Netvibes website. For this I consider him a friend.
His article points out that as one progresses in the Christian life, one's consciousness of the deep sinfulness that remains in the heart becomes ever more acute, and this might cause someone to feel great guilt, to the point of even doubting their salvation. But John points out that such conviction is actually a normal part of Christian growth. He writes,
In light of God’s holy law I saw myself as, not getting better, but increasingly aware of my own sinfulness. But as it turns out, while this “classroom” revealed my own corrupt heart yet it was for my own benefit so the Lord could shine a light on once dark recesses of my being which were not previously exposed. I learned from this that inwardly, as we grow in grace, the greatness of God (and what Christ has done for us) increases in our hearts, while we become less. In fact it is normal that as we grow in the Lord our sense of our own sinfulness and ill-deserving lives may often even become more apparent. However, at the same time, this is in the Lord's plan and He uses it to make us simultaneously more dependent on Christ. And thanks be to God, that in Christ, God does not treat us as our sins justly deserve … and that is something we need to remind ourselves, and praise Him for, daily.
May each of us know our hearts in the light of God's word, and cast ourselves in humility upon the only One who can redeem the corruption we find within, the Lord Jesus Christ.