Reflection on Revelation on the Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Church takes its second reading on the Sundays of Easter from the book of Revelation in order to meditate on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us.  This Fifth Sunday the reading is from John’s vision of the ultimate future for God’s people.  Here is a comment and reflection on Rev 21:1-5a from Peter S. Williamson Revelation (forthcoming, Fall 2014).

In his final series of visions John sees the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to create a new heaven and a new earth where “the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.  Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create” (Isa 65:17-18).  The mention of a new Jerusalem is entirely fitting here since the prophecy that promises a new heaven and earth also promises that God will “create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight” (Isa 65:18).

John sees this city coming down out of heaven from God to indicate that the city where God’s people will live is not be the result of human effort, but will be God’s doing, God’s provision

It is significant that the heavenly Jerusalem (mentioned in 3:12) descends and is established in all its fullness on a re-created earth.  This text reveals that God’s ultimate plan for the human race is not that we go to heaven, but that heaven, the dwelling of God, descends to a re-created earth.  When the resurrection occurs, besides receiving back real but radically transformed bodies, we will live on a transformed earth.

Most Catholics think that if they remain faithful, their ultimate future will be to spend eternity with God in heaven.  But this is not the teaching of Revelation and not exactly the teaching of the Catholic Church.  A close look at the Catechism shows that it devotes one section to “Heaven” (par. 1023-1029), and, after the section on the “Last Judgment” (par. 1038-41), a separate section to “The Hope of the New Heaven and the New Earth” (par. 1042-50).

Summing up the Catechism, heaven is where the souls of “those who die in God’s grace and friendship” go to live with Christ immediately after death (or after their purification is complete in Purgatory) before the resurrection of their bodies (1023).  There they live in a “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (1024), a reality beyond human understanding. Already, “They reign with Christ.” (1029). In heaven God gives souls the ability to see God in his heavenly glory, what theologians describe as “the beatific vision” (1028).

However, turning now to Catechism 1042-1048, the ultimate future of God’s people, after they have been raised in their glorified bodies and passed through the last judgment, is to reign with Christ in a re-created cosmos. Then “the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness….The righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul.  The universe itself will be renewed” (1042). “Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth” (1043). “In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men” (1044).  “For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race, which God willed from creation…. Those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, “the holy city of God, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb…. The beatific vision… will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion” (1045). “For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man (1046). The visible universe… is itself destined to be transformed, ‘so that the world itself, restored to its original state… would be at the service of the just,’ sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ” (1047). “‘We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed’” (1048).

So what’s the difference?  When the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, God’s people will receive their resurrected bodies and live on a renewed earth.

Nevertheless, there is continuity between heaven now and the new creation in the future age.  In both human beings enjoy the beatific vision; in both they reign with Christ, in both they are freed from all suffering and sorrow. If heaven is defined as where God is present and reigns completely, it is clear that when the new heavens and the new earth are created, heaven comes to earth.

Reflection on Revelation on the Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Church takes its second reading on the Sundays of Easter from the book of Revelation in order to meditate on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us.  This Fourth Sunday the reading is from John’s vision of the slain Lamb standing before God’s throne in heaven .  Here is a comment and reflection on Rev 7:14b-17 from Peter S. Williamson Revelation (forthcoming, Fall 2014).

One of the elders explains the identity of the countless multitude in white robes before God’s throne. First, these are the people who have survived the time of great distress.    John is seeing a vision of the future and the blessed condition of all the faithful on the other side of the great trials of the present age.

Second, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The language is paradoxical.  Whoever heard of making clothes white by washing them in blood? But according to the law of Moses, the blood of certain sacrifices functions as a kind of ritual “detergent” serving to purify people and things (Lev 8:15; Heb 9:13-14, 22). The New Testament teaches that Jesus’ offering of his life on the cross, symbolized by his blood, fulfills the Old Testament purification rites and truly cleanses human beings from sin (1 John 1:7).

Although salvation is entirely God’s gift, human freedom plays a necessary role.  Verse 14 focuses on the action of God’s people: “they have washed their robes and made them white….”  How did human beings cleanse their “robes”—symbolizing the people themselves and their conduct—in Christ’s blood?  They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb by becoming Christians: by believing in Jesus, repenting of their sins, and being baptized.  Those who have “survived the great distress” persevered in faith, repentance, and the grace of their baptism.

At this point the heavenly interpreter’s explanation breaks into what is plainly poetry, sketching the ultimate future of God’s people in phrases drawn from the Old Testament prophets. The picture has three elements: worship in God’s presence, a complete end to suffering, and the tender care of God and the Lamb for the redeemed.

Their adoration is perpetual, unlike the worship in the Jerusalem temple, which ceased between the evening and morning sacrifice.  The direct access to God and the worship of the redeemed before God’s throne are priestly privileges for which the Lamb’s sacrifice has qualified them (see 1:6 and 5:10).

God’s protection will shelter them from every kind of physical suffering: no hungerthirstthe sun or any heat shall afflict them. Although they may have suffered these evils on earth (see Luke 6:21, 1 Cor 4:11; 2 Cor 11:27; and Rev 16:8-9), now they are forever free of them.  All of this will come to them because of divine intervention on their behalf: For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them. The divine nature of the Lamb is indicated by his place on the throne.  Strikingly, the Lamb is their shepherd, another paradox.

Perhaps the best is saved to last.  God, fulfilling a fatherly role, will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Not only will all physical suffering be removed, but every emotional and spiritual wound—above all, the sorrow brought by sin and death—will be healed. The image of “the Lord GOD” wiping away “the tears from all faces” comes from Isa 25:8, part of  an ancient prophecy that God “will destroy death forever.”

This vision of the redeemed worshiping at the throne of God and the Lamb after the great trials of the present age shows that all God’s promises of salvation will come to pass as a result of the redemption won for us by Christ on the cross. As St. Paul says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 Cor 1:20, RSV).

Reflection on Revelation on the Third Sunday of Easter

The Church takes its second reading on the Sundays of Easter from the book of Revelation in order to meditate on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us.  This Third Sunday the reading is from John’s vision of the slain Lamb standing before God’s throne in heaven receiving worship from all.  Here is a comment on Rev 5:11-14 from Peter S. Williamson Revelation (forthcoming, Fall 2014).

Surrounding the throne and the living creatures and elders John sees countless angels who respond to the “new hymn” of the living creatures and elders with a great shout of acclamation praising the Lamb.  Then John hears every living thing in heaven, on earth, and under the earth—i.e., the whole universe—joining in and acclaiming both God and the Lamb. In response to their praise the four living creatures answer “Amen,” and the elders prostrate themselves. Thus, a wave of praise starts from the angels closest to the throne and rushes outward in all directions. When it reaches the extreme limits of creation, it rolls back again to the center where it is confirmed by those stationed closest to God and the Lamb.

It is precisely because the Lamb has been slain that all the angels acclaim him as Worthy of divine honors.  This acclamation attributes adoration equally “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. This is an extraordinary statement to arise from a Jewish monotheist like John, but it is the characteristic claim made about Jesus by the early Church (John 1:1-18; 1 Cor 8:4; Phil 2:9-11; Heb 1:1-3).  This word of praise is all-encompassing and uniquely fitting for God because it is fourfold, symbolizing universality—“blessing and honor, glory and might”—and eternal, “forever and ever.”

The Christian tradition has always understood, as Pope John Paul II said, that “the liturgy we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in the heavenly liturgy.” In fact, all genuine Christian prayer is a participation in the worship of heaven.  According to St. Paul, there is in a real way in which we already have been “raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1-4; see Catechism 1003).  Baptized believers are in communion with heaven and God’s throne because we have been united to Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.  This is true of our personal prayer, but especially in our prayer with others (Matt 18:20), and above all, when we participate in the Eucharist and re-present to God the sacrifice of his Son.  Of course, the participation in the life of heaven we now enjoy is incomplete and awaits a future fulfillment: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).   As the Catechism says, “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims…” (1090).

© 2013 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation on the Second Sunday of Easter

 The Church takes its second reading on the Sundays of Easter from the book of Revelation in order to meditate on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us.  This Sunday the reading is John’s vision of Jesus at the outset of the book.  Here is a comment and reflection on Rev 1:17-18 from Peter S. Williamson Revelation (forthcoming, Fall 2014).

This figure who is “like a son of man” touches John, commands him not to be afraid, and then gives him a powerful reason not to fear by disclosing his identity in solemn words: I am the first and the last. He uses words that God uses to identify himself three times in Isaiah (Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). The next sentence makes his identity explicit: Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. Jesus has come back from the dead with divine authority and will never die again. The good news for us is that he has wrested control from humankind’s perennial enemy: I hold the keys to death and the netherworld (literally, “Hades,” the Greek word for the place of the dead that the Jews called “Sheol”). Jesus holds the keys! The Greco-Roman world knew itself to be ignorant and powerless in the face of death, hoping only for some shadowy continuing existence in Hades. Although Death and Hades will continue to wreak havoc in Revelation until their final judgment at the end of history (20:14), their fate is already sealed in this magnificent declaration of the Risen Lord.

I was dead, but now I am alive forever. The joy and hope these words recall a scene from the conclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Frodo’s friend Samwise wakes after falling unconscious when the Ring was destroyed and sees someone he thought had died months earlier: “Gandalf, you’re alive! I thought you were dead! I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

The message of Revelation, foreshadowed in these opening words of Jesus, is a definitive “Yes! Everything sad is going to come untrue!” A revelation of the Risen Lord, an inner understanding of just who this Jesus is, will enable Christians also to face whatever challenges and circumstances come their way.

Revelation provides its readers with three diverse visions of Jesus—the glorious son of man (1:13), the slaughtered Lamb (5:6), and the Divine Warrior (19:11)—each emphasizing different aspects of his person and work. As we study, meditate, and pray about Revelation we also will become more deeply aware of the awesomeness of Christ.

© 2013 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Stegman’s “Second Corinthians” Ebook on Sale!

In October, Baker Academic is offering the ebook version of Second Corinthians by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture for the sale price of $4.99 (75% off)!

The ebook is available through these online booksellers:

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Audio: Peter Williamson on “The Catholic Next Door”

A few weeks ago we noted that Peter Williamson was interviewed on the SiriusXM 129 (The Catholic Channel) radio program The Catholic Next Door.

Below is the audio from that interview:

Or

Peter Williamson 5.18.12

 

Pope Benedict: “The quality of homilies needs to be improved”

Perhaps you didn’t the need the pope to tell you that!  Recent surveys in both a major east coast and a major western diocese found that American Catholics find the preaching at Mass to be one of the least satisfactory aspects of church life.

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New Website and Blog

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Why You Can Trust the Text of the New Testament

Recently a student of mine told me about someone who claimed he could never be a Christian because manuscripts of the New Testament have undergone so many changes through the centuries that it’s impossible to really know what the New Testament authors really said.  I wish I’d been there to set him straight!

The fact is that the writings of the New Testament are better attested by far than any other ancient works without exception.  Today we have manuscripts copied far closer to the time of the original autographs and in far greater numbers than for any classical work of history or literature.  Although there are numerous minor variants among the manuscripts (as is always the case in hand-copied writings), none of the variations bring into question any matters of doctrine.

For a brief overview of the facts, read this interview with Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading experts in the comparative analysis of manuscripts, a discipline called textual criticism. Not only does Wallace explain the reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament text, he reports the discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark from the first century, an incredible find if it stands up to scholarly examination when it will be published in the near future.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, commenting on Ephesians 2:4-6:

After succinctly describing humanity’s desperate predicament, Paul bursts out with a declaration of the good news, beginning with the hopeful words, But God. God has not left us in our misery. God saw the situation of the human race, much as Exod 2:23–25 tells us he saw the plight of his people Israel enslaved in Egypt and acted to save them. Paul describes what kind of God this is: he is rich in mercy. Mercy, eleos, refers to the good will and kindness that seeks to help someone who is in trouble or need.

God’s motive for acting was his desire for our welfare: he acted because of the great love he had for us. The Greek is more forceful, using the word for “love” both in its noun and verb forms: “because of his great love with which he loved us.” Love (agapē) refers to cherishing and caring in a self-giving, disinterested way. To make plain that we did not deserve this love, Paul indicates that God loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions. This line recalls Rom 5:8, where Paul says that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.