Psalm 148:1–6; Zechariah 12–13:6; Revelation 20:11–21:8

Originally published 12/28/2017. Revised and updated 12/27/2019.

Psalm 148:1–6: This majestic psalm of praise celebrates God and his creation. It begins in heaven itself as the psalmist gives us a glimpse of just who is there:
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise Him on the heights.
Praise Him, all His messengers,
praise Him, all His armies. (1, 2)

Here, messengers are obviously angels, but the paintings and popular conception to the contrary, I doubt they are winged and haloed beings. Somewhere in the Bible there’s a verse about us having “entertained angels unawares,” i.e. they look like us. Remember that Abraham and Sarah entertained three angelic beings that looked just like them. I’m guessing, though, that God’s armies are populated by those fearsome looking seraphim with multiple wings and lion’s faces.

Our psalmist comes to earthly creation, effectively paralleling the Genesis account. But here it is not just that God has brought creation into being, but that creation itself worships God. Our psalmist begins with God’s physical creation above our heads:
Praise Him, sun and moon,
praise Him, all you stars of light.
Praise Him, utmost heavens,
and the waters above the heavens.  (3, 4)

I presume the “waters above the heavens” refers to clouds and rain and that the phrase “above the heavens”  refers simply to the sky above.  All these seemingly inanimate objects exist for the same reason we humans do: they—and we—were created to praise and worship God:
Let them praise the Lord’s name,
for He commanded, and they were created.
And He made them stand forever, for all time.
And he set them a border that could not be crossed. (5, 6)

So, what is this border? I think it’s the boundary between God’s visible creation, which includes what’s above are heads, and Heaven itself, which we cannot see in the same way as the sun, moon, planets, and stars.. Of course John’s Revelation attempts crosses this border in its almost hallucinatory effort describe the fundamentally indescribable. I prefer our psalmist’s statement that there os a border between God’s physical creation and Heaven, and leave it at that.

Zechariah 12–13:6: Zechariah continues with his vision of a great army arrayed outside Jerusalem—effectively the same image as John who describes Satan’s armies preparing for battle outside the new Jerusalem: “And all the nations of the earth shall come together against it. On that day, says the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness.” (12:3, 4)

Zechariah writes that Judah will be triumphant in this battle and will “devour to the right and to the left all the surrounding peoples, while Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in its place, in Jerusalem.” (12:6) Very good things will then happen to the people of Judah, who must have been hanging on Zechariah’s every word at this point: “On that day the Lord will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, at their head.” (12:8) Zechariah seems to be getting carried away when he starts comparing the house of David to God.

Or is he? There is indeed someone from the house of David who is in fact God: Jesus Christ. And in the section that follows, it appears that the people of Judah will have executed their messiah: “I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one  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)

That Jesus was pierced with a sword while on the cross is certainly suggestive here. However, there was certainly no compassion expressed by the inhabitants of Jerusalem before the cross, while Zechariah describes a woeful mourning by all: “The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves;” (12;12)

Chapter 13 opens with what seems to be a clear reference to repentance and baptism occuring on the Day of the Lord: “On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” (13:1)

Zechariah describes a general cleansing: “On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit.” (13:2) He goes on to state that the many false prophets will disavow their own prophecies and realize they are no more than farmers: “will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; …each of them will say, “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth.” (13:4) 

John certainly seems to have picked up this same false prophet theme in the person of the Antichrist.

Revelation 20:11–21:8: John describes what some have called the “great white throne judgement,” which we refer to in our creeds, “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” John gives us the details of that judgement. The dead, who arrive from out of the sea and from “Death and Hades” will be judged first “according to their works, as recorded in the books…according to what they had done.” (20:12, 13) In an echo of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew, this is the separation of the sheep from the goats and “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (20:15)

This judgement scene is why Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and others are anxious to have their children baptized so their name is written in the book of life. More evangelical types such as Baptists believe that a “personal decision for Jesus Christ” at the “age of accountability” is the means by which their names are written into the Book of Life.

The judgement complete, John “saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (21:1) And in perhaps one of the strangest images in the Bible (and given John’s descriptions in this book, that’s saying a lot), John “saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:2) And we arrive at one of the more famous lines in this book that describes what heaven as experienced in the new Jerusalem will be like—and it will be far different than the lives John’s readers are experiencing in their quotidian lives. This is nothing less than God coming again to dwell among them:
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away. (21:3, 4)

How encouraging this image must have been to the churches suffering persecution. And amidst the sturm und drang of our own culture, these are certainly words we can hang on to also.

John gives all the credit for what is a brand new creation to Jesus, who is sitting on the great white throne: “See, I am making all things new.” (21:5a) And to provide evidence of John’s bona fides he writes that it is Jesus who has given John the authority to write this book: “Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (21:5b)

John’s take on the Good News, the evangelicum is right here as Jesus himself states, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” (21:6, 7)

The binary nature of being either for or against God is crystalline here. John, still speaking in Jesus’ voice, offers a final sentence on the fate of evildoers: “But 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) As if dying once is not enough, these evil-doers are condemned to a second death. I wonder if he’s referring not only to the culture in general, but evildoers within the church?


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