Salvation Belongs to Our God – Rev. Yena Hwang
Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17
Title: Salvation Belongs to Our God
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
An old man was walking home late one night when he saw a friend on his knees under a street light, searching for something.
“What are you doing?” he asked his friend.
“I dropped the key to my house.”
“I’ll help you look.”
After a few minutes of frustrated searching, the old man asked, “Where exactly were you when you dropped this key?”
His friend pointed toward the darkness, “Over there.”
“Then why are you looking for it here?”
“Because this is where the light is.”
This Sufi parable illustrates the point that many people search for things – the meaning of life or a key to success or the source of salvation, but they will not find it, because they are searching in all the wrong places.
Many have searched the meaning of this strange, scary, and bizarre last book in the canonical Bible we know as the Book of Revelation. Many have used the elusive, exotic, offensive, and violent images found in Revelation to describe how the world will come to an end. Some have made convincing case for one-to-one parallels between the text of Revelation and that of contemporary figures, believing Revelation’s symbolic language as divinely coded language that can be decoded. Throughout history, many historical figures have been identified to be “the beast” or the Anti-Christ, such as the Roman pontiff, Hitler, Stalin, and in more recent times, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladden. I will not be surprised if N. Korea’s Kim Jong –Un also makes the list. Some draw parallel between the events in Revelation to specific contemporary events, while some draw more broad correlation with periods in history. An example of this would be a deciphering of Revelation that proposed that the countdown of the end-events began with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; former President Gorbachev is the Antichrist whom Satan branded with a birthmark and just as Revelation 6:2 stated, Gorbachev/Antichrist will first appear as a “man of peace,” etc. (Fiorenza, 10).
If you are searching for the road map of the “end time” in the Book of Revelation, you will find it – as there are people who understand and interpret Revelation as “the transcript of God’s end-time plan, which stretches from the present to the millennium” (Fiorenza, 10). However, if you are searching for salvation through “correct” interpretation of Revelation or any other parts of the Bible, for that matter – you will not find it. You will be the man searching for the dropped key under the street light.
Salvation belongs to our God.
Not to the government and definitely not to those who shape and run it.
Not to the mighty and the powerful who seem to rule our world.
Not to the Apple and all its wonderful products.
Not to the Preachers and Pastors – not even to the most eloquent, prophetic, and or faithful ones.
Not to the Bible.
Not to the Church – not even the mainline Church!
Salvation belongs to our God!
God who created the world, ordered it and nurtures and sustains it;
God who reveals Godself in the very handy work of creation;
God who desired to have relationship with humanity;
God who “emptied” Godself of the divine authority and power to become one of us in Christ Jesus;
God who turned the world upside-down with God’s radical acceptance and love,
God who spoke truth so scandalous that the scandal of cross became the fate;
God so pure, not even death could hold down;
God who shared the resurrective power to establish the Church;
God who called each of us by our names to be here now and forever into eternity – Salvation belongs to this God!
We have been blessed by the Spirit to believe, accept, and proclaim this truth. What we do in personal and in the communal realm should reflect this truth – God so loved the world that God gave God’s own begotten Son. Whosoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is where we look for meaning of life or the key to success in life – this is where we look for salvation.
But, what is salvation? What do we need to be saved from? Is it from “sin” and the hellish descriptions of judgment reserved just for sinners? Salvation or Soteria in Greek, includes a past, present, and future sense; and it embraces overall concept of redemptive act of God, act that is defined by grace and mercy, not by punishment and judgment.
What does our text reveal? In Revelation, salvation is both political and spiritual salvation from the oppressive dominant power of Rome. It is helpful to remind ourselves that Revelation is a literary work written in a specific historical context, in a specific genre called apocalyptic literature.
A brief historical context: The Book of Revelation is dated around 95 C.E., written and addressed to seven churches in Roman province of Asia, to encourage them to remain loyal to Christ, in spite of their external circumstance of wide spread persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Persecution of Christians existed prior to Domitian, but it reached another level when Emperor Domitian forced Caesar worship and declared himself “Lord and god.” Any who did not worship him were labeled “atheists,” and considered unpatriotic, subversive enemies of the State. Followers of Christ, who would not participate in worshiping Domitian as their “Lord and god” were severely persecuted and punished during his reign.
Now the genre: Apocalyptic literature is a written literature rather than an oral literature; meant for the reader to read the mystical, “mythological- imaginative language” that is not “predictive-descriptive language” according to theologian Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Apocalypse, which is Greek for Revelation, is most often only understood as revealing of future events that has not occurred. However, authors of apocalyptic literature use literary techniques (periodization and pseudonymity) to offer past history as an accurate prediction of future events, using fantastic symbolizations and mythical imageries in a way to appeal to our imagination and emotions, not our logic. (Fiorenza 25).
For John, he conveys strong anger. Theologian Brian Blount states that John writes Revelation in anger, “anger he feels about the injustices that have been imposed upon him and his people, and the even greater injustices that he is sure will soon arrive if his people live out of their faith in the way that he hopes they will” (Blount, 1). Because John writes out of anger for injustice in his world, John fills it with images of violent judgment – these violent images meant to threaten, frighten, and warn those who are persecuting God’s people. Although it is clear that pain and suffering is a part of our Christian life, throughout the Biblical witnesses, we still question God’s salvific plan for our lives, when painful situations occur. But as you have seen in Revelation, salvation is not about being protected from pain, injustice, suffering and death. Salvation is overcoming those and being vindicated by God who will bring justice to all and end all forms of suffering. As “a great multitude of people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples, and languages” come before God, singing songs of praise and worship, we are told that they were the ones endured the “great ordeal.” And now, the Lamb will be their shepherd to lead them so that “they will hunger no more, thirst no more…and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
It is easy to be distracted and misled to question God’s authority and power in the midst of all the atrocities we witness in the world today. There are too many innocent lives being violently ripped apart by incomprehensible, irreconcilable acts of violence – we are bombarded with tragic news like Boston Marathon bombing, tragedy like Sandy Hook Elementary, how young rape victims gets victimized further by the mass media, victims of natural disasters, just to name a few. We don’t even have to look far, in our own personal lives, we deal with tragedies of many scales – pain of losing a loved one, a slow and sustained grief over losing one’s health, estranged or failing relationships, anxiety over the unknown future~ we are weary with tears in our eyes.
Yet, I dare proclaim to you, God is in control. The salvation that we have been promised is “grounded in faith’s ability to resist evil and endure its counter attack.” (Erik Heem – Feasting on the Word). We have been given this sure affirmation, “in life and in death, (and everything inbetween) we belong to God,” and “salvation belongs to God,” who knows us, accepts us, and loves us deeply, even when we go through suffering and pain. And our salvation is holistic – it’s not just about the soul and spiritual realities, but it’s “abolishment of all dehumanization and suffering, as well as restoration of the fullness of human well-being” (Fiorenza, 69). So, let us not lose hope, but in gratitude, receive God’s salvation and join God in God’s salvific plan to establish justice in this world. We proclaim hope in the encroaching darkness. We proclaim peace in war-torn world. We proclaim love to those who live in hatred. We proclaim victory in the face of seeming defeat – because
Salvation belongs to our God.
Bartlett, David & Taylor, Barbara B. Feasting on the Word. Year C, Volume 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Blount, Brian K. Revelation: A commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville:Abingdon, 1993.
Schussler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991.