Reinhold Niebuhr once observed that “It is unwise for Christians to claim any knowledge of either the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell, or to be too certain about any details of the Kingdom of God in which history is consummated.” Those who read Revelation and expect to come away with answers to these sorts of things prove to be either deeply disappointed or wide of the mark in their calculations.
But those who read Revelation and come away reminded of the Kingdom priorities that are laced throughout the book are attuned to the kind of calling that can help shape the contours of our lives in the here and now. Indeed, if we read Revelation and find ourselves gazing less at the sky, waiting for Jesus to come on the clouds, and instead see that we are being summoned to do ministry here and now then we have gained a richer perspective and a renewed calling.
Take the very last line of the book, for instance. Revelation 22:21 comes at the climax of two chapters of high and holy hopes. This line offers one of the biggest, boldest, and most audaciously encouraging verses in all of Holy Scripture. Here is where we who like to dream big dreams and build big buildings with big budgets and big programs find ourselves being brought down to size. Here we see the biggest word that the Bible has to say getting the last word of all: grace, as in “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (NASB).
In a world where we have a label for everything and everybody; where we know who the “us” and “them” is in every argument and every situation; where we build big walls and strong gates and live under lock and key, John comes to us with a word that says, “The home of God is among mortals,” or, as Eugene Peterson renders it, “God moves into the neighborhood.” Best of all, when God does move into the neighborhood, John says that God leaves the doors wide open (see 21:25 where John says of the heavenly city: “Its gates will never be shut”).
That sounds foolish in an age where homeland security is about the hottest topic out there, except for maybe shoring up the nation’s borders and getting clear about who ought to be in and who ought to be left out. Then here comes the Bible saying that, at the end of the day, God is going to throw open the doors and those doors will never, ever be closed. No more borders, no more boundaries, no more barriers. Come one, come all, says the Creator. Maybe it sounds foolish to some, but to students of Scripture and to followers of the Lord Jesus Christ it sounds like something else: grace.
There is a place for anyone and everyone in God’s way of doing things. There is a home for us all in God’s ordering of affairs. All of us sin-sick and thirsty souls who hunger for heaven hear it loud and clear at the end. The Bible’s last word is the Bible’s best word: there is grace for one and grace for all!
That brings us back to the fact that the end has not yet come. The world goes on and the divisions and the debates still remain. We who yearn for heaven have the opportunity and the obligation to embody the grace that the Bible proclaims in the manner in which we live here and now. Perhaps it is a pipe dream to imagine that we could do anything to silence the cacophony of hateful, divisive rhetoric that so dominates public discourse. But then again, a kind word here and a graceful gesture there couldn’t hurt, could they?
R.S. Thomas has a wonderful line at the conclusion of his poem “Lore” that says, “Live large, man, and dream small.” Perhaps that is our calling, too: to live the largeness of God’s grace and to live it in the small little corners of the kingdom where we traffic day in and day out, right here and right now.