Reflecting on Revelation for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 21:1-4:

For many Catholics accustomed to thinking about eternal life in heaven, Revelation’s picture of the new Jerusalem descending to a re-created earth may come as a surprise. However, a close look at the Catechism shows that it devotes one section to “Heaven” (1023–29), and after the section on the “Last Judgment” (1038–41) comes a separate section on “The Hope of the New Heaven and the New Earth” (1042–50).

Summing up the Catechism, heaven is where “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). They live there 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. In heaven, God gives human beings the ability to see him in his heavenly †glory, what theologians describe as “the †beatific vision” (1028).

However, turning now to Catechism 1042–48, the ultimate future of God’s people—after the resurrection and 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). “In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men [cf. Rev 21:5]” (1044). “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, emphasis original).

So what’s the difference? When the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, God’s people will have new 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 heaven and the new earth are created, heaven comes to earth.

For many centuries Christian hope has focused on heaven. In contrast, the hope of the early Christians centered on the return of Christ (Titus 2:13), the resurrection of the dead, and the full establishment of God’s kingdom as expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Without lessening our desire to go to heaven when we die, we Christians would do well to set our hope on the full and final establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 7:15-17:

An end to suffering. The vision in Rev 7:9–17 of the eternal life promised us is extraordinarily comforting. Here is no empty promise that faithful Christians will be spared trial and suffering, a way of thinking that the life of Jesus and all of Christian history contradict. Rather, John foresees a countless multitude passing through the great tribulation of this age before Christ returns and standing victorious before God and the Lamb, wearing white robes, and waving palms in celebration.

This vision offers a partial yet helpful answer to an age-old question: How can a God who is good and all-powerful allow suffering to afflict the just? The vision reveals that all such affliction is time limited. There will be an irreversible end to the suffering of those who belong to God. Those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood the Lamb”—the Lamb who fully shared in the suffering of this world to the point of being slain—are destined to eternal joy in God’s presence, where there will be no more hunger, thirst, oppressive heat, or any other evil. The Lamb will be their shepherd and quench their thirst with life-giving water. God their Father will heal their wounds and “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

For all the saints. The Church reads the two visions of this chapter on the Solemnity of All Saints, a feast that celebrates the sanctity of all God’s faithful people who have gone on before us, not just the saints who have been canonized by the Church. The Lord calls every Christian to holiness, in every state of life. Hebrews 12:14 exhorts us, “Strive for . . . that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is a simple fact that only saints—holy people—reach heaven. Christ qualifies us to live in God’s presence: he makes us holy through his death and resurrection, conveying the benefits to us through the sacraments. Nevertheless, we must “strive” to do our part as well through ongoing repentance, prayer, reading Scripture, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our part entails daily dying to self and surrendering ourselves completely to God. This process must be completed before we see the face of God. Why not begin in earnest now?

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.