The Crystal Sea

“And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.  And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” ~ Revelation 4:6, 9-11

The book of Revelation includes many descriptions of heaven and the new heavens and earth.  One such description is found in the above passage.  The image of “a sea of glass like unto crystal” is a beautiful one, and we do well to consider it alongside the words of the hymn which so effectively versifies the passage, By the Sea of Crystal, by William Kuipers.

The first verse of this hymn emphasizes the truths of the size and diversity of the body of Christ: “By the sea of crystal saints in glory stand, myriads in number, drawn from every land, robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus’ blood, They now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.”  The Bible speaks of the appearance of the body of Christ on multiple occasions, and it is a one of my personal favorite truths from Scripture.  On the one hand, it is characterized as being absolutely immense.  When Christ returns, we will be able to see the body of Christ in all its glory, and we will likely be stunned by its sheer size; the hymn’s word “myriads” will likely not even be able to do it justice.  God will prove Himself faithful to His promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 to make his seed “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.”

Additionally, the body will be incredibly diverse.  This too is found in Scripture; in Revelation 5:9, we read, “…for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”  That God calls His people out of every corner of the earth and out of all races and peoples stands in stark contrast to what we would do.  If we are honest with ourselves, the body of Christ would look much different if we were to pick its members than how it does in actuality.  This is because, while man looks only on outward appearance, God judges the heart (I Samuel 16:7).  God, who makes the true decisions on the body’s members, “is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).  God elected the body in eternity entirely apart from any merit of theirs.  That body will one day stand together, united by our status of justified, “robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus’ blood.”  What a knowledge!

The final verse of the hymn is also quite striking.  It begins by attributing all glory to God alone: “Unto God Almighty, sitting on the throne, And the Lamb, victorious, be the praise alone.”  As did the 24 elders of Revelation 4, we will bow down at the feet of God’s throne, confessing that He is worthy “to receive glory, and honor, and power.”  The song concludes with an amazingly powerful rhetorical question.  We sing, “God has wrought salvation, He did wondrous things, Who shall not extol Thee, Holy King of Kings?”  No person worldwide will be able to stand before the presence of the Lord in defiance; everyone will be forced to extol Him.  Indeed, it will not simply be the 24 elders or the elect people of God who will bow before Him.  We read in Romans 14:11, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend this idea, it is still incredible to attempt to picture the scene, and doing so is enough to bring tears to the eyes of the child of God.  We are again led to ask, “Who shall not extol Thee, Holy King of Kings?”

Matt Koerner

A couple brief thoughts on patriotism and citizenship in the Christian life

For those of us who live in the United States, our society joins together today to celebrate the birth of our nation as an independent state as well as the virtues of good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. It is a day of patriotic expression, pyrotechnic displays, and commemoration of our national history that often features a curious mixture of facts and less national mythology. As Christians we find ourselves as people with a sort of dual citizenship, as we are both citizens of the country in which we reside and citizens of the heavenly kingdom into which we have been translated by God’s loving work of grace. But these two citizenships are not equal in their importance. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven, of God’s heavenly city. This bond transcends all national, ethnic, and geographic boundaries. This is our true home. Likewise our fellow saints around the world are our true fellow citizens and countrymen. In this regard we share a closer bond of love and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Singapore, the Philippines, and Northern Ireland (to name a few) than with the vast majority of our fellow citizens here in our own country. For we share a spiritual kinship and membership in one household of faith as fellow brothers and sisters who have been adopted into the family of God. It is with this body, the body of Christ, that our loyalties truly lie; and while patriotism and love for one’s country is not itself a bad thing, if such patriotism in any way interrupts our love and loyalty to the body of Christ, it becomes a sin. Of course this is not to say we cannot participate in the Fourth of July celebrations, nor is it wrong to celebrate one’s country and to thank God for his blessings and the place that he has given us in this earthly kingdom. Indeed we ought to pray for our land, both giving thanks for the unprecedented blessings (both material and in liberties) that he has given us in this land, as well as praying that the Lord may have mercy and grant to our nation much needed repentance for our rapidly decaying public morality.

But let’s keep in mind that the kingdoms of this world are transitory. All human political institutions pass away, and all conquests, revolutions, and wars for independence which have punctuated human history are only for a moment. Ultimately, whatever nation state to which we belong is for us inconsequential. All that matters is that we are members of the body of Christ and therefore are citizens of what Augustine calls the “Celestial City” of our God. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world; we are merely passing through on our arduous journey toward the dwelling place the Lord has prepared for us. Our citizenship in this earthly city is temporal like all other earthly things. It will not last, and in the end it does not matter. Just as the great saints listed for us in Hebrews 11, we desire and earnestly seek “a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). So have a happy Fourth! Enjoy the fireworks, the fellowship of family and friends, the festivities and (hopefully) a day of relaxation off from work. And as in all things in the Christian life, let us all remember continually to set our affection on things above, not on things on earth (Colossians 3:2).

JS

The eternal joy of heaven

What a hope our Lord has given us! What joy we shall experience! Our eternal joy when we are brought to heaven will be the culmination of our hope in this life. What will be our joy in heaven? Our joy will be that of the saints described in Revelation 7:9, 10: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” We will be in the company of the elect from all ages for eternity, praising God for delivering from so great a death, from such a hopeless situation, for providing the Mediator to pay for our sins. Also Revelation 21:3, 4: “ And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” All of our earthly life and worries and sorrows will pass away and will be replaced with eternal joy!

Not only is our hope in our being delivered from the troubles of this life, but also that when God takes us home and in the end resurrects our bodies, we are going to see him face to face in our flesh! “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27). We will be in such a state of perfect righteousness and holiness, that the holy God will allow us to see him in his full glory. When Moses beseeched God to “shew me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18), God replied, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (v20). And then in verse 23, “And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” We on this earth cannot see God and live. He is too holy for our eyes to behold and not be struck dead in an instant. In Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God in Isaiah 6 the seraphims were covering their faces and their feet with their wings. A few verses later in the chapter, Isaiah says, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (v5). Isaiah thought he was a dead man, for he had seen God. This same holy God we will see face to face because we will have been clothed in white robes of his perfect righteousness and holiness. Meditate on this!

RK