Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

Living the Future

LIVING THE FUTURE. Text - Revelation 7: 9 -10

When we live together in a community , despite our strong desire and commitment to follow the footsteps of Christ, we experience that it is not always easy to live in peace with others. If not physical contact, often we treat each other differently and exchange bad words. There is one statement that we make all the time. We make this statement to not strangers but to only those whom we trust - that is, members of our own regional group, class, tribe/community and close friends. The statement is this, ‘This people..., these people are cunning, that people are hopeless, these people are problem maker, that people are like wolves, oh! I don’t want to go to heaven if these people are going to be there. We find hard to accept each other in a community like ours. When I was doing my BD studies at UBS, there was a student who used to be a Kungfu master before coming to the seminary. One day, he and his room mate had quarrel over some matter and this student lift his room mate and tried to throw him down from the top floor of Boys' Hostel. The point is, we are still living on earth and often we find it hard to live in harmony with others. In fact, this is what we see everywhere?

Some sociologists have rightly termed the 20th century as an ethnic century/killing century because it was during that time that we see human disaster in a big way - First and second World War, the killing of Jews by Hitler, the destruction of Hirosima and Nagasiki, ethnic conflict between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, the Serbs and the Albanians in former Yugoslavia and the list goes on.

We also see in the history that some nations colonized others and made them slaves to work for their interest. One of my African friends told me that in Africa, when they do a community labour work, the people would hum like ‘Um hah, Um hah’. When they study the history of that tradition they discovered that the original wording actually was different - it was not Um hah as they now hum but ‘Apes work, Apes work.’ The colonizer taught them to hum these words so that they concentrate better on what they were doing. Sad thing was the the people didn’t know the meaning of ‘Apes work’ and even today they continued to practice this. The point is that some nations have looked down upon others and treated them differently as if they are less human.

Today, we see this in different forms - human trafficking from poorer countries to rich countries for pleasure, economic injustice adding burdens to vulnerable communities, social discrimination and oppression of many communities due to the practice of caste system, and religious fundamentalism that gives no room for others. The present ISIS issue is one living example. This people don’t want others to be seen on the surface of the earth. Hindutva ideology in India is another good example. According to this ideology, if you don’t considered India your mother land and the cradle of your religion, you have no place. They don’t have a room for minority! What about we Christians, particularly evangelicals? Often we talk as if we are special people who have nothing to do with people of other faiths. We develop a superiority complex in our faith in God and show negative attitude toward other communities. We feel that we are better than others because we believe in Christ, the only Savior of the world. Yes, it is true that we know the true God and others don’t. But that doesn’t give us a license to judge. Judgement belongs to God alone. Sometimes it is not clear whether we are facing persecutions because of Christ or due to our own superiorly lifestyle and negative attitude toward others.

How do we live in peace with others? This is the question before us today.

There can be different approaches to peace and the construction of peaceful community life. We could look back the past history and draw insights from there. We could also bring together different resources available at hand and learn from them. But, this morning, we are not going to do these. We are going to look at our future hope and try to draw resources for our present life here and now. We call this ‘Living the Future.’ Living the future may appear pietistic or other worldly but we are going to see this as a standpoint to critique our present life here and now.

The text for our reflection is Revelation 7: 8 - 19, particularly vs 9 & 10

This is one of my favourite portions of the Bible because, it talks about the gathering of uncountable multitude who surrendered to the same One God. This, in my view, can help our present Christian living in the following ways - one, it broadens our perspective and creates space in us for others and two, helps us to develop a positive attitude to others including those whom we ‘don’t like’ and three, it gives us skills to deal with our present day issues from the perspective of the new community that God is making. This will of course enables us better witnesses for Christ.

Before we look into the text and draw insights, we shall first try to put ourselves in the place of John when he saw this vision.

Vs 8 begins with a phrase, ‘After this...’ and that indicates that there is another event/vision which precedes the vision of the uncountable multitude. The scene of that vision is described from verse 1 of chapter 7. There, John saw two things and heard one thing. He saw, Four Angels holding back the four winds of the earth. He also saw another Angel ascending from the rising of the Sun, calling with a loud voice to the four angels who have been empowered to harm the earth, saying ‘Do not damage the earth and the sea until we have mark the servants of our God with a seal on their forehead. Then John heard one thing, that is, the number of those who were sealed - one forty-four thousand from the 12th tribes of Israel.

It was after this vision that John saw the uncountable multitude in Chapter 7: 8 - 19?. We shall now look at three things from this vision.

First thing is the vision of the uncountable multitude itself in vs.9. Some, translations say, ‘I saw a multitude no one could even begin to number ...’. The emphasis here is the impossibility to number, even to begin to number. That means, one cannot even to start counting because there were too many people. It is not like you counting up to ten or hundred and got lost counting but it is the impossibility even to start to count.

Who are these people? Different scholars said different things - some said, they are the dispora Jews, or martyrs and so forth. While there is a possibility, we must remember that these are human interpretation, particularly those in the West and the vision is something that is yet to come.

What we can know about these people is that they are from every tribe, peoples, language. Also, they are those who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. That means, they are followers of Christ.

At the same time, the Bible does not provide the list of these tribes, peoples and languages and therefore we don’t know who exactly these people are. But that is ok. It was better that the Bible did not listed the names because, it it does, most of us/all of us will not be mentioned there. It is sociologically sound to argue that identities are social construct and in fact many communities are given tribal identities after Independence. That does not mean that these communities did not exist before. There were there but were given different names for better administration of the people by the Independent India. The point here is that the uncountable multitude includes every human community despite one’s own identity and status. In other words, God includes everybody in heaven. The Bible also says that these people, the uncountable multitude, shout in a loud saying Salvation belongs to the Lord. It doesn’t say that these people shout in English, Latin, Hebrew or Arabic. They all use their own language to express their faith in and commitment to Christ. Each language adds to the melody of the voice that says Salvation belongs to the Lord. That is to say that heaven is not complete without you, your language, your tribe.

Wow! that is a great news, you are very important in the sight of God.

This should make us realize and take seriously about ourselves including own culture for the service of the Lord. For so many years, we have been led to think low about ourselves and culture when it comes to theologizing. We feel that we are only recipients of Western theology or interpretation of the Bible and we think we have no resources of our own. This passage tells us that our physical body, our skin colour, our culture, and our broken English themselves are the resource for theology. This is the message that we need to learn from this passage - we are all equally important to be present before the Lamb and without you, heaven is not completed.

Second thing that we draw out from this passage is a Bitter-Sweet experience of the people in the new community God is creating.

I borrowed the term ‘Bitter-Sweet’ from a well-known Latin American theologian Justin Gonzalez. Gonzalez looks at the book of revelation different from the way in which our Western scholars would normally do and he finds the future hope helpful for our present Christian living.

The point here is that in the eschatological community that God is creating, you are going to see people from every tribe, nations and languages and that is wonderful but, at the same time, it will be over crowded for you. That means that you will not be able to maintain your own privacy, you will not have a space of your own, you are going to sacrifice your comfort, the sweating and smell of the people, etc. will not be easy to adjust with. Moreover, among these uncountable multitude, you will find those whom you do not want to see!!! You said ‘I don’t want to go to heaven if these people are going to be there’ but here you find yourself in the midst of them. In the same way, there will be people who feels the same towards you. So, this is not going to be easy. It will be a bitter-sweet experience because God is accepting all human beings including those whom you have excluded them. The point is that heaven is not like UBS where you can make a choice whom to be associated with. But, it will be a new community God is making and you will have to live with whoever God puts them in. Our challenge is that the God whom we love has included those whom we don’t love.

The Third and very important point we see here is the surrender of all the tribes, peoples and languages to the same One God. Despite their differences in language, world views, and personalities, all who gathered before the Lamb surrendered to the same One God. They shout in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who seated on the throne and to the Lamb.’ Our interest here is the surrender and devotion of the uncountable multitude to One God. No matter what we are, who big or small is our community, how much we know, how much we have, how much we can do in a shorter time, we will all surrender ourselves to the same Lord. The Lord alone is the creator, sustainer and the destiny of our identity, language, culture, and worship. Before Him, we all are the same. We don’t belong to ourselves or to our community; our culture, language, bodies and wisdom belong to the same One God.

We do not take pride in the number of our community, the popularity of our language, and culture. In the same way, we also do not feel a shame of ourselves, our way of life and identity as long as they join the voice of the uncountable multitude who proclaim God’s salvific work in our lives. God alone is our judge and savior. In following Him, we walk together as brothers and sisters.

In Conclusion, let us reflect on these words:

Everyone is equally important in the community God is creating. Heaven is incomplete without you/your language/your tribe. Heaven is incomplete without your enemies because the God whom you love has accepted them. We all surrender to the same one God - that includes our life, our language, culture, identity and faith itself. May we learn to practice to live the future.