When All Things Become New

By Stephen Terry


Commentary for the December 29, 2012 Sabbath School Lesson


“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” Revelation 22:12, NIV

This is the time of year when children, excited that Christmas is coming, can hardly sleep. Whether it is visions of “sugar plums” or anticipation of the latest electronic toys that are keeping them awake, the children wonder if they have been good enough to find what they wanted under the tree. For weeks Mom and Dad have been reminding them that Santa is watching every moment to see if they have been bad or good. Expectant children clean their rooms, brush their teeth, help their mothers, and even willingly take baths to prove that goodness is the very essence of their natures.

Walking through the holiday stores with mother, they spy in the distance a display for the very object they have been hinting for and their behavior changes as though they were walking on holy ground. Any rebelliousness is replaced by “Yes, Mommy,” or “Can I help you with that, Mother?” Though slightly askew, the halos come out and cherubic faces, full of smiles, flit about doing mother’s every whim. We expect this behavior from children anticipating the visit of Santa Claus, but what about Christian adults? Do we model something different? Or are there similarities that we don’t admit to yet still demonstrate?

As it turns out, some may also be waiting for someone with a red suit and white beard to bring presents. Only we call him Jesus, not Santa. We can find the red suit in Revelation 19:13 and the white beard in Revelation 1:14. We can even find the presents in Revelation 22:12. There is a naughty and nice list, and it can be found in Revelation 20:12. Just like our children trying to impress Santa Claus, we walk around trying to be good against our normal natures because Jesus might be watching, and we want to be on the “nice” list. We might also ponder how coincidental it is that bad children receive punishment in the form of coal from Santa which is used to fire furnaces, but those who are not on the “nice list” with Jesus are actually cast into the fire.

So what is my point with this comparison? Perhaps our faith is not as mature as it might be if there is little difference between the way we relate to Santa Claus and the way we relate to Jesus. This can be problematic in several ways. One is that our faith in the gift giver is often proportionate to our need. For example there is an old story of a poor boy explaining heaven to a rich one. The poor lad waxed eloquent about how we will be able to eat every kind of fruit in heaven, and wouldn’t that be wonderful? The other child responded, “But I have that now in a bowl on the dining room table. Why would I want to go to heaven?”

As children grow up, graduate from school, and go to work, they find they can purchase their own toys. Santa is then no longer relevant. There is no longer a need for this gift giver as a steady income and easy credit make so much instant gratification available. Some find the same is true about their relationship with Jesus. Drawn to Him for blessings and healing when a need they could not fill motivated them, as their situation changed and they could provide for their needs in other ways, they found Jesus no longer relevant. Sometimes the same steady income and easy credit that made Santa irrelevant does the same with Jesus.

Another problem with an immature view of Jesus is that it can make it harder to return to a proper relationship even when we can see that there is a problem. We know we have abandoned Him, and we know we did it because we felt we no longer needed Him. Because of that we feel guilt and shame when we realize that we still need Him. Like an old friend we owe money to, we avoid Him thinking that the debt we owe is more important than the friendship we have lost. However, Jesus continues to offer His friendship even though we owe Him more than we can ever repay. (Matthew 11:28)

We should avoid seeing Jesus as simply someone who maintains a naughty and nice list to sort out the good and the bad. In fact, the Bible tells us that everyone is on the “naughty list.” (See Romans 3:23) It also tells us that no amount of good behavior will get us off of that list. Only God’s love can do that. (Romans 6:23) He does it by offering us a “gift” even though we have been naughty. Furthermore, the gift He offers us is one we cannot buy no matter how much available credit we have, and we do not need to make even one installment payment on that account. It is already stamped “Paid in Full.”

So if this is available then what about that lake of fire? First, it may not be real, only symbolic. For instance, death is also cast into the fire. However, death is not an entity but a concept. If concepts can burn then surely the fire is real. However, it may be more elemental than that. Fire, air, water and earth were considered by the ancients to be the primary elements that all things consisted of. In this case, the lake of fire may simply represent death returning to an elemental form that poses no threat to the living. We can see an example of this in Malachi: “Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 4:3, NIV

These four elemental forces are often representative of cleansing or purity in the Bible. We have the formless earth prior to sin of Genesis 1:2. We have the water of the Noachian flood cleansing the world of evil. As has already been stated, there is the cleansing fire of Revelation, and we have the Holy Spirit which is present in Genesis 1:2 and is equated with the elemental qualities of air or wind by Jesus in John 3:5-8. Could the Bible simply be telling us that those who choose not to accept the gift of life offered freely to everyone will return to the elemental state from which they came? If so, perhaps this adds significance to the description of man as created from the dust of the ground. Hebrew mythology even contains references to the creation of beings called Golem from the same elemental earth as mankind. However, since man’s creative ability was nowhere near that of God, the Golem was an imperfect creation unable to speak. While such a creature probably never existed, it does illustrate the role the elements played in the ancient understanding of life and the world.

Thus the Bible may be offering a choice to mankind between returning to an undifferentiated elemental state or continuing to possess unique personality and identity. However, like silver cleansed of dross, the offer includes purification to a state not currently enjoyed. Cross currents of conflicting purposes rage within us and our understanding of our being is confused and unclear. We “see through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Once purified, we will know and understand ourselves even as God knows us. This is the essence of the promise of God and the hope of the Christian.

While it may be tempting to reduce all things to a simple matter of obedience and rewards, God is not Santa Claus. He is not a mythological being best left behind in childhood when we move on to adult things. He is essential to who and what we are. Without that spark of life and personality (Genesis 2:7), we are little more than the elements from which we are derived. Therefore we return to Him not for a “goodie bag” full of presents, but because we find ourselves in Him, and we find His image in us. (Genesis 1:27) This is our natural state. This is whom we were created to be. This is what draws us homeward to our Creator.

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;

The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”

Psalm 8:3-9, KJV



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