Psalm 148:7–14; Zechariah 12–13:6; Revelation 20:11–21:8

Psalm 148:7–14: Our psalmist essentially recapitulates the order of creation in the next verses as he takes us on a “tour of praise” through virtually every aspect of nature beginning with earth and sea: “Praise the Lord from the earth,/ sea monster and all you deeps.” (7) Then the varieties of weather, all of which is orchestrated by God: “Fire and hail, snow and smoke,/stormwind that performs His command.” (8) Then to the land itself: “the mountains and all the hills,/ fruit trees and all the cedars.” (9) Then from flora to fauna on the earth and in the sky: “wild beasts and all the cattle,/ crawling things and winged birds.” (10)

This glorious ascent through creation comes at last to humans, first focusing on its leaders: “kings of earth and all the nations,/ princes and all leaders of the earth.” (11) and then on ordinary people: “young men and also maidens,/ elders together with lads.” (12) This last verse, mentioning the young, old, male, and female, is an especially appealing description of the variety of humanity–and a reminder that no one is excluded from God’s love nor the obligation to worship God.

The psalmist has listed every aspect of creation because it is all creation that worships God who stands above it: “Let them praise the Lord’s name,/ for his name alone is exalted.” (13a) And to make sure we understand that God is the highest and greatest being of all he has created, the psalm effectively ends with “His grandeur is over earth and the heavens,” (13b) completing the circumnavigation of creation that began with “Praise the Lord from the heavens.” (1)

This psalm beautifully extends worship from something we humans do to something that all creation does, helping us remember that while God loves us, he is also so far beyond us that his enormity and power is simply incomprehensible.

Zechariah 12–13:6: We hear an echo of today’s psalm in Zechariah’s description of God: “Thus says the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the human spirit within.” (12:1) This oracle describes how Jerusalem becomes the greatest power on earth. “a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it shall grievously hurt themselves.” (12:3) And when Jerusalem is attacked in battle, God will help: “I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness.” (12:4a) But as for the people of Jerusalem, ” I will keep a watchful eye, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness.” (12:4)

But perhaps the greatest promise of this victory is that it comes not just to the leaders and the soldiers, but to everyone: “On that day the Lord will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David” (12:8). If we take these verses as a metaphor for God’s action among all humanity, this promise reminds us that God is for everyone, even the weakest among us.

Then a remarkable prophecy: In the battle someone (Zechariah?) has been fatally wounded and “when they look on the one[a] whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (12:10) When we read “pierced” we can only think of Jesus on the cross. But there was no mourning then, only derision from the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

But here, Zechariah describes the bitterness of mourning as separation, the community breaks apart, separating from itself as “the land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves;…and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.” (12:12, 14). What does this breaking apart mean? I think for us Christians, it means that each comes to Jesus by ourselves, and that each of us must reflect on what Jesus’ death and resurrection means for ourselves.

After the mourning has ended, “a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” (13:1) But more frightening is the fate of the false prophets: ” if any prophets appear again, … their fathers and their mothers who bore them shall pierce them through when they prophesy.” It is difficult to imagine a more awful curse than to be injured by ones own parents. But this piercing is apparently not fatal and the false prophets will repent, saying “each of them will say, “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil.” (13:5)

Zechariah is reminding us that false prophets abound everywhere. The trick of course is knowing which prophet is God’s prophet (as he is certainly asserting his own bona fides here) and which are false. An issue that comes up repeatedly in the NT as Paul, Peter and John all warn against “false gospels.” And of course this discernment is equally difficult for us in a world awash in false prophets.

Revelation 20:11–21:8: We arrive at one of the most well known scenes in Revelation: the Great White Throne Judgement where “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened…and the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.” (20:12). Like the separation of the sheep and goats in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, John is reminding us that each of us as individuals is responsible for our actions while alive–and that each of us will be judged accordingly. (John of Patmos must have liked what James wrote!)

And in a single line that has caused more anxiety and pain than just about any other in this book, “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (12:15). But what are we to make of our salvation? Are we judged by our faith or by our works? Or is John just trying to frighten his readers and us onto the straight and narrow? I confess I am ambivalent about what end-of-history judgement awaits us. Is John forecasting history here, or is he being metaphorical? I much prefer the idea of hell being total separation form God, but John’s vivid description have made for some really interesting art, particularly Michelangelo’s depiction of this final judgement on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Once the judgement is complete, history ends, and God creates (or restores his original creation) a new heaven and a new earth. Along with NT Wright, I’ll take these as signs of the original Creation where the effects of humanity’s fall have been wiped away. Perhaps the greatest promise in this restoration is that
the home of God is among mortals.
    He will dwell  with them;
    they will be his peoples,
    and God himself will be with them. (21:3)

At last we are permanently reunited with God and what was once only seen through a glass darkly is now completely visible to all. This will indeed be our greatest “Aha” moment.

Jesus, who is seated on the throne speaks at last, “See, I am making all things new.”  And recalling the promise he made while he was on earth, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (21:6) And for me, this would have been a fine place to end the chapter.

But John, ever mindful of those who fall away and sin, he again reminds his readers that they must remain faithful. Because if they don’t: “as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (21:8)

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