Daily Light – March 5, 2019

We Have Something of Heaven

A Theology of Joy In Revelation

(Three Part Article, Part 1)

(Article by Brian Tabb, Academic Dean, Bethlehem College & Seminary)

All is not right in our world and in our lives. This reality confronts us afresh every time we listen to the daily news report, open our email, or look in the mirror. The nations continue to rage. The wicked prosper and the righteous languish. Our loved ones get sick and die. Our friends disappoint us. Our bodies deteriorate, our hearts grow discouraged, and our daily struggle against sin seems like a losing effort. Sometimes — especially in Minnesota, where I live — it seems like it’s “always winter and never Christmas.”1 Enmity and pain, thorns and thistles, dust to dust — the effects of Adam’s sin still endure east of Eden.

We lament and weep in the present, but we also love and laugh and rejoice. Life is more than rainy days, hospital visits, and funerals. We attend weddings and baby showers. We enjoy the company of dear friends, celebrate birthdays with filet mignon, and savor apple pie à la mode with family gathered for holidays. We cheer when our team wins the championship. We marvel when we hear Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. These are all common-grace joys that believers and nonbelievers alike experience, and they point to the goodness of God’s creation and his kindness to his creatures.2 But we know that every colorful sunset and delicious apple pie is a pointer to God, the one who made the sun and fruit trees and gave us eyes and hands and taste buds to enjoy these gifts.Christians grasp the essential biblical truth that the Lord himself is chief object of our joy; he alone satisfies our weary souls with his steadfast love and goodness.3

Present Sadness, Future Gladness

The prophets spoke expectantly of the future joy God’s people would experience when God comes to save them. Isaiah expresses clearly this hope of end-time joy:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. . . . Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. . . . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:1–10)

Here Isaiah speaks of what God will do and how his people — and all creation — will respond. Yet the Scriptures repeatedly contrast our future gladness and our present sadness. Consider these examples:

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:6)

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord. . . . Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:12–14)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20)

What follows is an account of end-time joy. We will first define what we mean by end-time joy. Then we will consider four images of end-time joy in the book of Revelation.

What Is End-Time Joy?

Before going forward, it is necessary to define terms to avoid misunderstanding. Joy is generally defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”4 A survey of book titles displays an astonishing variety of proposals for what brings joy: Joy of Cooking (now in its ninth edition), The Joy of Dieting (unsurprisingly out of print), The Joy of Sex (with more than twelve million copies sold), The Joy of Reading, The Joy of Sports, The Joy of Junk, The Joy of Less, The Joy of Doing Nothing, and so on. Here we focus attention on what the Scriptures present as the chief object of our joy — joy in the Lord and in his salvation.

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation. (Psalm 35:9)

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9)

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God. (Isaiah 61:10)

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:18)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Thus, in this study joy refers to a believer’s great pleasure and happiness in God and his saving deeds.5

Rejoicing in the Last Days

The qualifier end-time specifies when believers experience this joy in God. Theologians typically describe eschatology as “the study of the last things.” Many people assume that these “last things” are limited to the future end of the world and Christ’s return. However, it is more accurate to use the term end-time (or eschatological) to refer to events that take place in what the Old Testament writers call the “days to come” or “latter days,” such as when the messianic king would come and when God would restore Israel, send the promised Holy Spirit, judge his enemies, and establish the new covenant.6

The New Testament writers make clear that the period of the last days has begun through Jesus’s incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter declares at Pentecost, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’” (Acts 2:16–17). Similarly, the book of Hebrews begins, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). This period of the latter days has already dawned in the past and will be consummated in the future at Jesus’s return. The theological expression inaugurated eschatology expresses that there is both an already and not yet dimension to this period of redemptive history that begins with Christ’s first coming and concludes with his second coming.7

This already–not yet understanding of the end-times informs our theology and experience in significant ways. Jesus announced that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15), yet he taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Our Savior died and rose again victorious, and believers “have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1; cf. John 5:24), yet Christians still sin and still die. We “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,” yet “we wait early for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:1523). We regularly experience this tension between the old age of sin and the new age of salvation.  (Part II tomorrow 😊)

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, repr. ed., The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 20. 
  2. See Genesis 1:31Matthew 5:45Acts 14:171 Timothy 4:4
  3. See Psalms 90:14107:9Jeremiah 31:1425Philippians 3:14:4
  4. “Joy,” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, accessed 2 November 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/joy
  5. John Piper similarly explains that in Philippians, “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world” (“How Do You Define Joy?” Desiring God, 25 July 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-you-define-joy). 
  6. See Genesis 49:1Numbers 24:14Deuteronomy 4:3031:29Isaiah 2:2Jeremiah 23:2030:32431:3133:1448:4749:39Ezekiel 38:16Daniel 10:14Hosea 3:5Micah 4:1Acts 2:172 Timothy 3:1Hebrews 1:2James 5:32 Peter 3:3
  7. For additional explanation of inaugurated eschatology, see G. K. Beale, “The End Starts at the Beginning,” in Benjamin L. Gladd and Matthew S. Harmon, Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 3–14. 

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