Friday, October 7, 2016

THE SLAVES WHO REIGN

“Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.” Ecclesiastes 10:6-7 NIV
*****************************
(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)
***************************
“And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them” (Revelation 22:5a)

John had just written much the same thing not many sentences previous to this. He is repeating himself. John, it seems to me, is simply in amazement as he views this scene in the throne room of God and as he tries to describe the best that he can of what actually surpasses description. It is not only that, but as he views all that is happening and as he begins to grasp the reality of the situation, this fact of God illumining the people returns to him as he sees the full impact of what it all means.

It is also the slaves around the throne that are affected by the illumination of God. These are the same slaves that are serving him, who see God’s face, and who have the name of God written on their foreheads. (see previous posts, Slaves Forever, and To See the Face of God)

John says of these slaves, “And they will reign forever and ever.”
These are the slaves who will reign in eternity. (To continue reading, please press READ MORE below)


The idea of some who will reign as monarchs in eternity also is not new in John’s vision of the New Jerusalem. Previously he had mentioned the “kings of the earth” who will be bringing their “glory” into the city (Revelation 21:24, see also the post, Of Nations and Kings).

What is interesting here is that he is speaking of the slaves who are themselves also serving at the throne of God. These are the slaves. That is the word that he uses. These slaves, with the name of God written on their foreheads and living in the illumination of God, will themselves also reign forever and ever.

After hearing about the slaves being sealed by God and by living in his light, we might expect John to say that they would live – that the slaves around the throne would live forever. This is what Jesus talked about so often. Jesus taught us in the gospel of John that those who believe in him will have eternal life (3:16). Yet here in Revelation, John did not say that the slaves would merely live forever and ever, but that they would also reign.

To us, this thought is entirely foreign. In our thinking, slaves do not reign. Slaves serve. It is kings and queens who reign over their kingdoms. It is the kings and queens who in fact own the slaves. The slaves' only purpose is to serve those kings and queens. In our own experience, the role of the slave  is not that they reign. Their responsibility is to serve and nothing more.

But John is saying that it is more than this. These are the slaves who will reign forever and ever. Actually, Jesus also had hinted at this during his ministry. He told us that he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). It also should not be surprising to us that this life of abundance is associated with the illumination of God. One of the first things that John said in his gospel about Jesus was that in Jesus was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:4). 

Right-Side Up Thinking

During the time when Jesus was on the earth, many of the things that he tried to teach us turned our common perception of things completely on their heads. Jesus said at one time, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27 NAS; see also Matthew 23:11).

He said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5 NAS).

At the last supper that Jesus shared with the disciples, he said to them, “The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:26-27 NAS).

These statements do not agree with our common experiences in our day-to-day living. In our present perspective, it is the master who is the most honored. However, as we saw in earlier posts on this portion of Scripture, the culture of this world is not the culture of the kingdom of God.

In our present culture in the world, power is valued. Money is also valued because it can buy power. But in the kingdom of God, it is service that is valued. In our present culture of this world, those who reign are the ones who are in positions of great power and who are able to control the direction of armies and governments. In the kingdom of God however, those who reign will be the ones who serve. In the kingdoms of this world, those who would reign as rulers must learn how do control and direct people. But in the kingdom of God, those who would reign as rulers must learn how to become a slave to others.

Because Jesus turned many of the world’s values on their heads, we may see the culture of Jesus as being topside-down. But that is not the case. The culture of the kingdom of God is right-side up. It is the culture of the world has got it wrong.

One of the clearest examples of this in the Bible is that of the life of Joseph of the Old Testament. In telling the story of Joseph, I am going to leave out many details and subplots so that I can concentrate on this one point – before one would reign, he must first learn to be a slave. 

Learning to be a Slave

Joseph was a boy with a destiny. He was only one of eleven sons when he was born, with only one other son to be born after him. Nevertheless, although there were twelve sons in all, Joseph was the one favored by his father, who treated him with more privilege than his other sons. The colorful coat that the father made for him in those days of drab and subdued hues in clothing represented this favoritism.

But God also had a purpose for Joseph. However, he first had to teach him how to be a slave instead of a favored son. Because of the jealousy that the older brothers of Joseph had for him, they sold him into slavery. Joseph ended up far from home in the country of Egypt. There, he was sold to the captain of the bodyguards and became a household slave.

So efficient was Joseph and so well-liked the captain, he soon put him in charge of almost everything in the house. But Joseph encountered a problem in the house. He was also well-liked by the captain’s wife, who tried to seduce him. At a critical moment, Joseph fled from her, but not before she grabbed his garment. Joseph left it in her hands as he ran from her. It was through this experience that Joseph was learning the truth of one of the beatitudes that Jesus would say, thousands of years later:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The woman was insulted by Joseph’s refusal of her, and decided to accuse him of trying to rape her. Her husband believed her and had Joseph thrown into prison. God was teaching Joseph something else about slavery, contained in the truth of another of the beatitudes of Jesus.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Perhaps no one would have blamed Joseph if he would have descended into bitterness in that prison. He had been treated very unjustly, first by his brothers and now by the Egyptian captain. But Joseph instead desired to learn to live in the right-side up culture of the ways of God. It always does involve a decision. This type of learning does not come naturally.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”

Because Joseph decided to view life in this way, he again found favor with the man who was now in authority over him, this time the chief jailer. The jailer put Joseph in charge of all of the prisoners and trusted Joseph to do well. It did go well, because the Lord blessed his efforts.

Sometime later, two new men were put into the prison. These were the cupbearer and the baker to the Pharaoh. They had done something to offend the Pharaoh, and in his anger, Pharaoh had them thrown into prison. One night they each had a dream, both very troubling to them.

When Joseph saw them the following morning, he asked them, “Why are your faces so sad this morning?”

I think that this question shows the attitude of Joseph in the prison. He had not become bitter, as I mentioned, and he was genuinely concerned for the well-being of the other prisoners. That is why the chief jailer had put him in charge. Joseph, instead of taking out the unfair treatment that he had received onto the other prisoners, treated them with respect and dignity.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Joseph said to the prisoners, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell me the dreams that you had in the night.” Then, Joseph correctly interpreted the two dreams of these prisoners.
 
The meaning of the dream of the baker was not good news. It meant the baker’s death. But the interpretation for the cupbearer was very good. The cupbearer was to be released from prison and restored to his former job for the Pharaoh.

For Joseph, the release of the cupbearer was an opportunity for his case to be brought before the Pharaoh. Joseph told the cupbearer, “Keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”

The cupbearer was released, but he did not remember to speak of Joseph to the Pharaoh, at least, not for two full years. It was only when the Pharaoh himself had some troubling dreams that the cupbearer remembered his former prison mate. Pharaoh sent for Joseph and Joseph again interpreted the dreams, giving credit to God for revealing to him the meanings. The meaning of these dreams was that there were to be seven years of plentiful crops in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine.

By this time, Joseph had been a slave for several years, but in both places, both in the home of the captain and in the prison, he had been a slave who had been put in charge of management. With his experience, he quickly realized what the Pharaoh should do to prepare for the famine. Joseph advised him to build great storehouses and exact a fifth of the produce from the land during the seven years of plenty, so that there would be enough in reserve for the famine years.

Once again, the person in the place of authority, this time the Pharaoh himself, recognized the potential in Joseph, and Joseph was put in charge of all that he had advised Pharaoh to do. Joseph reigned over all the land of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself. Several years later, when the land was deep into the famine, because of the efforts of Joseph, there remained plenty of grain in Egypt.

As the years passed in the land of Egypt, Joseph began to feel more and more like it was his home. For years he had to live as one in exile, as an evacuee. But now he felt that the years of hardship that he had had to endure were over. Gone were the years of people using him and abusing him, and then forgetting him. The Pharaoh had given Joseph a wife, and when their first son was born to them, Joseph named the child Manasseh. The name means making to forget. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” Genesis 41:51 NAS).

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
 
Meanwhile, back in the land of Joseph’s birth, things were not going so well for his family. They were out of food. Joseph’s father Jacob had heard about the food available for purchase in Egypt, but had no idea it was his own son in charge of all of the food reserves in that land. When the brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, they told their father that Joseph was killed by a wild beast, so the father Jacob assumed that his son was dead.

Jacob sent the ten oldest sons to Egypt to see if they could buy some grain. The youngest son, Benjamin, Jacob would not allow to go, at least not on the first trip. Of course, the brothers did not know that it was Joseph from whom they would have to ask for food, nor did they recognize him when they saw him. Joseph however, recognized his brothers when they stood before him, but he at first did not reveal himself to them.

Two trips were made to buy grain. Because of the demands of Joseph, the youngest brother also had to come on the second trip. There was actually a fair amount of drama and intrigue that took place with these meetings, with Joseph trying to discern if his brothers had changed in any way concerning what they had done to him. It was only at the end of the second trip when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, then finally bringing the whole family to live in Egypt.

Many rulers, in the place of Joseph, would have exacted revenge upon the brothers for what they had done to him, but Joseph instead showed them mercy. He had been a slave, so he had learned the virtue of mercy. Through his experiences as a slave, Joseph had learned the right-side up culture of God’s kingdom

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” 

Learning the Ways of the Culture in the Kingdom of God

The slaves who are worshiping around the throne of God in John’s vision in Revelation have learned that in the right-side up culture of the kingdom of God. It is those who serve who will also reign. 

Jesus himself taught us this by his very presence with us. Even though he was God himself and existed in that divine state, he came to live among us, not as a ruler, as all at the time expected the Messiah to come, but rather taking the form of a slave.

That is the word that Paul used for Jesus, who said of Jesus concerning his birth as a human, "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his privileges; he took the humble position as a slave." (Philippians 2:7 NLT)

In this form as a slave, Jesus learned obedience (vs. 8). When he spoke the beatitudes, these were things that he taught us not only from his perspective as God, but also because he had learned and experienced them as a slave.

Because of this, as Paul continues in these verses in Philippians, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV). 

In the same manner, but of course much less in degree, the slaves around the throne of God will also reign. Just what the extent of this reign is, we are not told. But the slaves, along with all of creation, will be worshiping at the throne, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

1 comment:

  1. You helped me understand what truly good slavery is here. I love it. Also you helped me understand the beatitudes by Joseph's experiences. Joseph is one of my favorite Bible characters. This makes me appreciate him all the more and what Jesus is teaching me all the more. Thank you. When I heard the sermon in church, I liked it a lot, I think I just could not process it as well as reading it more slowly here.

    ReplyDelete