Beginning at the End, Part 1

This post is a serialization of an unpublished book I wrote several years ago entitled Characteristics of the Kingdom of God. It is a companion to Uniting the Kingdom of God, which is available on Amazon.com. To read this from the beginning, start with the Introduction.

Part I: The Form of the Kingdom

What does the kingdom of God look like? What is heaven like? Streets of gold and mansions everywhere? The universe’s greatest rock band? the largest library and all eternity to read through it? a massive computer waiting for somone to program it (actually is the dream of a friend of mine from long ago)?

Whenever we think of the Kingdom of God, we imagine the widest range of possibilities springing from our own fantasies of the “perfect” place or time. personaly I am certain that, not only will my human friends and family be there, but also all my beloved pets.

All this is fine and good as an intellectual exercise or a campfire topic of discussion held after supper and before the ghost stories make their appearance. But what about the nature of the kingdom of God for real?  What does it really look like? how is it organized? Was Dante right in his description of Paradiso? And is the kingdom of God only found on the other side of death, in heaven, or can it be found here on earth (or whereever you may be reading this)? Is there anything available to us that can provide any kind of description of what we can expect it to be (a rhetorical question as the rest of this series will provide the answers)?

The first part of this work will focus on the Biblical witness of the general structure of the Kingdom of God. we will get into more detail in Part II. For now, however, let us move onto the discussion at hand.

Chapter 1 – Beginning at the End

Our exploration begins at the end of the book, in the last two chapters of the closing book of the Bible to be precise.

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.  (Revelation 22:14-15)

Even amid glorious images of the way things are going to be, here is a message to the churches of our current era, prior to the Lord’s return. What makes this passage so significant is that Jesus is describing something that has been either overlooked or assumed to be something that it is not. In these two verses, we find three distinct groups of people mentioned.

What is so surprising about this is that it appears to fly in the face of what we have believed heaven to be. For many of us within the western churches, we have felt that somehow everyone would be equal once we have reached the pearly gates. So many of us have believed that, once we had shed this mortal coil we would also leave behind the differences and distinctions that have separated us for centuries. Why, then, does there appear to still be distinctions among the people in heaven? This is certainly something for us to consider (as though that’s not what we’ve already planned on doing, wink, wink). Let us take a quick glance at each of these to see if we can make sense of them.

First there is the City: Revelation 21:9-21 contains a description of the city of God as being the Bride of Christ which is also the Church.

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)

Another passage that makes the same allusion includes Ephesians 5:25-27 where the apostle speaks of preparing the saints to be without spot or wrinkle as a bride for the bridegroom.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

This is easy enough to understand, many of us have already heard these descriptions for the church. The question arises with the other groups.

Of these there are those who may enter the gates into the city and have the right to the tree of life: Who are these people? Clearly, they are not the city, as described above, yet they are able to enter the city and they do have access to the tree of life. Who are they?

And then there is the last group. At first glance these are those who have missed the boat completely and will spend eternity in hell, right? Look at the list of their characteristics: “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” This part ought to be pretty cut and dry. There’s even a parallel passage of sorts in the Revelation 21 that spells it out even more clearly, along with just where they will end up:

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)

Looking at these two lists of characteristics reveals that they are virtually identical, which would easily place the group in chapter 22 in the same boat as those in chapter 21. They will all “have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone”, right? Absolutely; end of story, case closed, on to the next issue – unless we read the Bible the way it was written.

Examining the Evidence

Comparing the two lists found in these chapters, can we determine whether they are speaking of the same group of people or of two different groups? If the latter, what does that do to our perception of the Kingdom of God?

While there are similarities and duplications between the lists, there are also significant differences. It is important, therefore that we take a closer look at these to try to determine whether they are the same group or not, because if they are not … (do we even want to think about it?). Let’s get back to the two verses that we’re concerned with.

Revelation 21:8:

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Revelation 22:15:

“But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”

The question we are seeking to answer here is this: are these verses identifying two different groups of people or are they the same group with two different descriptions? Looking at these side by side as they are now, we can see things more clearly than when we were looking at them within the context from which they came. We can see that there are some elements that are the same and some that are different. Let us take some time and look at each of the various aspects of the verses to try to unravel the mystery here. We’ll start with the location.

The first group, (Revelation 21) “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death”. This seems clear enough that these folks are in hell. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Can we say the same about the second group (Revelation 22)? This says, “But outside are[1]which could mean the same thing. I recall that there are some parables of Jesus in which people are cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and other parables where people are cast into the lake of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In both places there seems to be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth going on so neither location sounds pleasant. Could it mean that these are the same? Let’s take a quick look.

Matthew 8 describes the account of the healing of the centurion’s servant. When Jesus is amazed at the Gentile’s faith, He announces that many will come from the farthest corners of the world to sit at the table with the patriarchs of old, while sons of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness.[2] In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Later, He explains that the tares represent all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness. These will be cast into the furnace of fire where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.[3] The parable of the dragnet, also found in Matthew 13, includes in its explanation a description of the wicked that will be thrown into the furnace of fire with the same wailing and gnashing of teeth.[4] Matthew 22 contains the parable of the wedding banquet. In what, at first, appears to be a side story, one person attending the feast is discovered unprepared for the banquet. He is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.[5] The evil servant of Matthew 24 will be cut in two and have his portion appointed with the hypocrites.[6] Matthew 25 contains the parable of the talents, where the one servant who buries his master’s money is also thrown into the outer darkness because of his unfaithfulness.[7] And finally, Luke 13 finds Jesus teaching about the narrow way when He teaches that the workers of iniquity will be cast into outer darkness.[8]

Again, there seems to be a nearly indiscernible similarity between those who will wind up in the fire and those who will be cast into outer darkness. The best way we have to put the matter to rest would be to go take these two passages from Revelation and examine them word-by-word. Perhaps, then we can come to some satisfactory answer.

The Common Ground

Let us first look at what is the same about these two verses. In both verses we find murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers and idolaters, although not necessarily in that order. In both cases, the words used in the original language are the same, so we can be sure that what is meant for the one group is certainly meant for the other. Let’s look at each individually.

Murderers: This is the same word that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount to introduce the idea that hatred equals killing. We all know that murder is the taking of someone’s life. It is also possible to murder someone’s joy, or hope, or self-respect, or innocence. The scriptures teach us that these are equally subject to judgment and the flames of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).

Sexually Immoral: The Greek word used here is “pornos” from which we get the term “pornography”. The sexually immoral here means more than “mere” adulterers or fornicators; it can include any type sexual obsession that may keep someone bound in demonic chains.

Sorcerers: Whenever I see this I can’t help but think of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. But while that may be a cute musical number that is very entertaining, the picture it paints of sorcery is light years away from the truth behind the Greek term. The word is “pharmakeus” and refers to those who enchant with drugs (as opposed to pharmacists who use drugs in the healing process). Today, this would include all those who would try to get school aged children hooked on whatever it is that they try to sell to them. Another translation of this word is “poisoner.” Hmm

Idolaters: The term used is more directly translated to mean “the servant or worshiper of an idol. From Mt. Sinai, the Lord was quite clear:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. (Exodus 20:2-5)

Whenever anyone looks to someone or something other than God for the solution to their problems or the fulfillment of their hopes they are being idolaters. To whom do you turn first when you are feeling under the weather (let’s be honest with ourselves now)? For too many people, it is the medical profession (take a couple of aspirin for that nasty headache).[9] Who puts the world into an understandable focus for you? For too many people (once again) it is either the nightly news shows on TV or it is whatever Hollywood has currently in the theaters. Sure, we are good church attenders and we do turn to God for the really big things, but we just don’t want to bother Him with the little stuff every time, blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.

So, with these four, taking the quick look that we did, not only did we see a lot of people whom we have encountered in our own lives (serves ‘em right), but we may have also seen something of ourselves in some of these as well, that is if we were really being honest with ourselves about it (ouch).

So, what do we have so far? The very first thing that we observed, the location of each group, proved to be inconclusive. The four terms that we have in common within each group certainly gave a strong argument for these lists describing the same group of people. OK, fine so far, but we still have more to examine.

Very Similar Terms, But Not the Same

There is a term that is found in both passages but appears to be different in each. That has to do with lies. In 21:8 they are called “liars;” in 22:15 they are referred to as “whoever loves and practices a lie.” We’ll look at this next.

Liars: The way it is used in 21:8 points more to the character of a person, to what is located deep within the soul. It points to those people who are, by their very nature, false and should not be trusted. Unfortunately, because they have become so accomplished at falsehood to elevate it to the level of an art form, very few people would be able to know they are being deceived.

I heard once that if I were being attacked, I would be aware of it right away. If I were being slandered, I would know it immediately. But if I were being deceived, how could I know? Unless a person could get a hold of the truth about an issue, they would never know that what they are embracing is a lie. How many people in the world today have turned their backs on the Lord Jesus because of the lies of someone they believed?

Those Who Love and Practice A Lie: The term used here refers more to the actions and habits of persons rather than to their character. This leaves open the possibility for an inner struggle to take place within them about their behavior.

Why do people lie in the first place? For some it is out of a sense of self preservation. Children who don’t want to get punished about something may make up a story about how the trespass occurred that would point the finger of blame away from them. Others would lie to attempt to gain respect from those they admire and want to emulate. At the first it is difficult to speak the falsehood, but once a person successfully tells a lie, and sees that punishment is diverted or that admiration is paid to them, they find that it becomes a little easier the next time.

What about “justifiable lies” – lies to protect others from emotional stress or injury, such as a case where a child is not told the real reason their friend or family member has died? Wouldn’t it be better to lie to the child and spare them the heartache of knowing the truth? Regardless of what good is intended at the time, the result of any such falsehood multiplies the hurts later on, for not only will the person suffer the agony of having to live the pain once again, but they will suffer a lessening of the level of trust that was once enjoyed. Once trust is broken, it is very difficult to mend.

And what about lies that serve as a wall of protection for someone who doesn’t want others to know the whole truth about them?  This wouldn’t spring so much from a sense of deception as it is a defense mechanism for one who may be embarrassed or ashamed of what they perceive themselves to be.

Regardless of any reasons or justifications made, the very root of the lie is falsehood. In the Greek it is the word pseudos; you recognize it most frequently from “pseudonym” (the “false name” used by authors when they want to protect their private lives).

Comparing the two here, side by side, we see a discernible difference in how they are used. In the one lying is an integral part of the person’s character; in the other, it is an action or an attitude, but not necessarily a characteristic. For many, this may seem a small thing and hardly worth our time, but this may begin to open the doors of the possibility that there are two distinct groups of people being spoken of in these verses. Let us not stop now but press on to unraveling this mystery.

To be Continued …

 

What do you think? Do you agree with me? Are you confused about the discussion? Leave your comments or questions below.

Until next time, Via con Dios!

This post is part of a companion piece to Uniting the Kingdom of God which is offered through Amazon.com.

 

[1] The translator has added italicized words within the scripture because no corresponding word is found in the original texts. This makes the passage clearer to English speaking readers. If we want to be true to the original texts this verse could just as easily be read, “But outside: dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

[2] Matthew 8:5-13

[3] Matthew 13:41-42

[4] Matthew 13:49-50

[5] Matthew 22:1-14

[6] Matthew 24:45-51

[7] Matthew 25:14-30

[8] Luke 13:22-33

[9] This is not to say that going to a doctor is wrong or forbidden by God. There have been plenty of times when I’ve prayed for the Lord to grace the skills of the medical professionals to bring about healing for those I’ve visited in the hospital. The point we are trying to make here is that too many people look only to the medical profession and not to God at all for their healing.

Advertisements
Gallery | This entry was posted in Bible Study, The Church and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s