|Mercy Street Church of Christ
THE SEVEN BEATITUDES OF THE APOCALYPSE by Leroy Garrett
The late Scottish theologian William Barclay described the Sermon on the Mount as "the essence" of the teaching of Jesus, and the eight beatitudes contained therein as "the essence of the essence" of Jesus' teaching. We can hardly make such a claim for the seven beatitudes of the book of Revelation. Being as pessimistic as apocalyptic literature is, we hardly expect blessings in it.. Nor can we suggest that the beatitudes in Revelation serve as the essence of the book.
We might rather see them as surprising, appearing as they do along with seven-headed dragons, horned beasts, and locusts who look horses. Neither is there any point in comparing them with Jesus' beatitudes. The interesting thing is that there are seven beatitudes in the Apocalypse, and we shall view them as they appear in that book.
1. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written in it, for the time is near. (1:3)
Notice the reference to public reading. The reader is singular, the hearers are plural, a reference to the place of reading in the primitive ecclesia. It is noteworthy that while there are several Scriptures that refer to reading to the church, there is not a single reference to preaching to the church. Preaching was to the world, while teaching (reading) was to the church. Colossians 4:16 is informing: "Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you also read the epistle from Laodicea ." As is 1 Thessalonians 5:27: "I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren."
Today's church would do well to have gifted readers who studiously prepare for their readings. Women might do this better than men. We are often haphazard and nonchalant in our readings. It should be done seriously and with reverence and meaning, but not glamorously.
2. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them" (14:13).
What a glorious blessing! Death is man's most consummate fear, but for those who die in the Lord there is nothing to fear, for death is here made part of life. Note that this beatitude is announced from heaven, and that the Spirit adds an Amen, assuring the reader that those who die in the Lord will through their good deeds continue to bless mankind long after they leave planet earth.
3. Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame (16:15).
This is a reference to the Lord's unexpected return, like a thief in the night, an oft-repeated theme in Scripture. It is a call to be expectant and prepared. The reference to keeping one's garments means to keep one's clothes on — clothes of righteousness that identify the one who is prepared. This beatitude blesses the one who stays ready.
4. Then he said to me: "Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb" And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."
Notice the assurance of the writer: As if to say Write it down, its that important. This device is also found in Revelation 21:5 where God at last speaks rom the throne and tells the prophet to write down what he has to say, This beatitude blesses those who are invited to the wedding feast, a reference to the glories of heaven.
5. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him for a thousand years.
One interpretation is that the first resurrection is the resurrection of the martyrs, followed by the millennial reign, with the second resurrection being the resurrection of the rest of the dead. Others see the first resurrection being the rising from the watery grave of baptism, with the second being the resurrection to glory. The second death is the judgment of the wicked. Some hold that the thousand year reign (the millennium) will be literal and on earth, but this has not been accepted by the church generally. What is certain and what matters is that this beatitude assures us that we are to have no fear of death and that we are destined to reign with Christ in glory.
6. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book (22:7).
All through Scripture obedience to God's commandments is emphasized as a blessing both for this world and the world to come. It is the way of Shalom — peace and well-being. Here the motivation is that time is of the essence. Grace and works are incompatible to salvation but not grace and obedience. We are not saved by works, but we are saved by obedience.
7. Blessed are those who do his commandments that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
While in the previous beatitude obedience is in reference to Christ's coming, here obedience is in reference to heaven itself. It is those who keep God's commandments who have the "right" to the tree of life and enter by the gates into the eternal city. We may not think of the Apocalypse as urging obedience all that much, but at least four of the beatitudes emphasize it. Apart from simple trusting submission to the will of God there s no hope.
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