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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

A Long Road Home

A Long Road Home


In our world of shortcuts, soundbites, and sermonettes, I realize that this post is somewhat long. I tried to shorten it, However, I wonder if I have been even to brief.

In my last several posts in Reflections of Faith, I have been tracing two story lines through the Bible: the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of man. I have been exploring these two narratives beginning with the Genesis story of creation, and following them through the message of the Prophets, and the life and teaching of Jesus.

In this post, I want to continue, as Scripture moves us to the culmination of these two divergent paths.

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A Brief Review

In the beginning, God spoke his kingdom (his purpose) into life on earth. God’s kingdom would be one of creativity, peace, community, and joy, where we would live in harmony with our creator, with one another, and with creation. But, the highest good requires the greatest risk, a world of choice which makes love possible, but also makes denial possible.

And humanity chose, and still seems to be choosing to say, “No thanks. We’ll do it our way. We’ll live life on our own terms.”

And so, Human life on earth grew toxic: relationships were strained and broken, conflict destroyed peace, community turned to competition, and struggles for power and control emerged.

Many dystopian novels revolve around the theme of the abuse of power and the oppression that follows. From George Orwell’s classic novel1984, to more recent ones such as Divergent ,The Hunger Games, and The Handmaid’s Tale. In some ways, these tell the same story as the Bible, the exploitation of power centralized in government, economy, and religion.

This does not mean that these systems are inherently evil. It is because of the involvement of people of honesty, integrity and faith, that truth and goodness are still found. However, because of the power they wield, these institutions perhaps hold the greatest potential for corruption.

Corrupt politics, inequitable economies, the duplicity and hypocrisy of religion, Crime and war, oppression and abuse, arrogance and polarization, and the exploitation of creation—These demand the headlines.

The kingdom of God, on the other hand, lies behind the scenes. It is somewhat of a subversive underground. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like yeast hidden in flour…a seed hidden in the soil…a treasure hidden in a field.

John the Baptist said that the kingdom of God would come near when people repent (a change of mind that leads to a change of direction), when they share their food and resources with those in need, when they are fair in business, and when they avoid greed and excess.

When a man told Jesus that the greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor, Jesus said “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus also said that the kingdom of God belongs to the meek, the humble, the merciful, the children, and the peacemakers. He said that the heirs of the kingdom are those who feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, and welcome the stranger.

Wherever love and peace, justice and mercy, humility and compassion, are lived out in this world, the hidden kingdom of God rises to the surface.

The kingdom of man screams for our attention, calling us to be our own God, to make up our own right and wrong, to live by our senses, to take care of ourselves, to ignore the needs of others, and rather than repent of our own sin, to blame someone else for what is wrong in the world.

The kingdom of God whispers, “repent and remember”: Repent, for the kingdom of God is near. Remember that you are created in the image of God. Remember, The kingdom of God is within you.” It lies as potential, waiting to be realized. Remember Jesus, who came to open your eyes to the kingdom of God, to give you new life, and who calls you to Seek first the kingdom of God.”

How will the story of life on earth end? Will the kingdom of God ever become reality? Will the kingdom of man continue forever, or will we eventually destroy ourselves and the earth?

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Using symbolic language, Scripture chronicles a repeating cycle of the rise and fall of human kingdoms, and their inability to bring peace, justice, equity and hope to God’s world.

This symbolism begins in Genesis. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night…

The prophets borrowed this creation imagery of, sun, moon, and stars as governing bodies. They became symbols for human kingdoms, empires, and governments. And the darkening of sun, moon, and stars became a symbol for the fall of human kingdoms.

In Genesis 37 we read that Joseph was only seventeen when he had a dream. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

Joseph’s father knew exactly what he meant. When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”

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Ezekiel 32, …Raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt …When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Isaiah 13, A prophecy against Babylon…The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.

In Matthew 24, Jesus says, Immediately after the distress of those days, the sum will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

Many think that Jesus was speaking here of the literally sun, moon and stars, and about the end of time and his return. However, I believe that, using the language of the prophets, Jesus was speaking of the fall of a nation. Just as Ezekiel told of the fall of Egypt, just as Isaiah told of the fall of Babylon, Jesus is telling of the fall of Israel.

To follow this prophetic language to the end, In Revelation 6 we find the same symbolism. I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth…

Here we see the final fall of all human kingdoms of the earth. NOTE: I don’t think this is so much God’s punishment, as it is humanity’s corrupt rule of the earth finally imploding on itself.

As the curtain comes down on the kingdom of man, Revelation 11:15 reveals what happens to the kingdom of God. When the seventh trumpet sounds. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Egypt fell, Babylon fell, and Israel fell (in 70 A.D.). Four hundred years later, Rome would fall. The Byzantine empire would follow.

The collapse of human governments continues: The Ottoman Empire in 1918, British India in 1947, The Soviet Union in 1991, South Africa’s white supremacist government in 1993, and Czechoslovakia in 1994.

New kingdoms rise to take their places, They exert their power “briefly” (maybe a thousand years), they decline, they fall, and they are replaced. Economic power follows the same pattern, and many religious institutions are no different. They rise to a peak of power, decline, and then fail.

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I know that I am stepping into “deep water” in what I say next, and I know there are many who would not agree with me. I think I will take the plunge anyway, so buckle up and enter at your own risk.

Many believe that Revelation is a literal account of the unfolding of events of the end times. I believe, however, that the truth it reveals is a story too big to be told literally. And instead of merely predicting the future, it is the epic narrative, in symbolic language, of life on earth, past, present, and future.

The first chapter reveals the time frame, and the meaning of the first symbolism

—vs. 2 says what John saw was not the end times, but the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus.

—vs. 4 identifies Jesus as the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.

—vs. 19 says that John is to write what he has seen, what is now, and what will take place later.

—vs. 20 explains some of the imagery: …The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.

Chapter 1 also tells us that what is written is not to tweak our curiosity, help us speculate about the future, or interpret specific “signs”, from current events.

—Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it… Its purpose is not to gain inside information about the end times. But, if we read it, listen carefully, and take responsibility for what it says, it brings blessing.

I believe that the book of Revelation, using symbolic language, tells in several different ways, the story of the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God, from the beginning of creation to eternity.

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Revelation, in its narrative, uses several numbers: 4, 6, 7, 12, 144,000, 666

In keeping with the theme of this post, I only want to talk about two of them: six and seven.

In Revelation, the number seven is a recurring theme. It speaks of seven stars, seven lamp stands, seven seals, seven bowls, seven angels, seven plagues, and seven trumpets.

Throughout Scripture, seven is the number of God’s completed purpose. In seven days God proclaimed creation very good. Jesus spoke of perfect forgiveness as seventy times seven.

In Revelation 11:15, The kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of God at the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

—The kingdom which has been since the beginning of creation…

—The kingdom that is within us, in our own deepest longings…

—The kingdom that the prophets hoped for and John the Baptist preached…

—The kingdom that Jesus was born for, lived for, prayed for, died for, and conquered death for…

All these sevens represent the fulfillment of the kingdom of God:

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When most people think of the book of Revelation, they usually jump straight to what John calls the mark of the beast 666. John says that it is the number of man. As seven represents the kingdom of God, six represents the kingdom of man.

Whatever else this may mean, One thing I believe John is saying is this, 666, three sixes of man, eight sixes of man, or a hundred sixes, the truth is that six, will never reach seven.

Every new kingdom, country, or empire that rises up on the earth, every elected official that takes office, promises great things: peace, security, prosperity, and a better life. But, the number of man will never reach the number of God. In other words, human effort, human rule, and human achievement will never accomplish the kingdom of God.

The mark of the beast

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries people have tried to identify the mark of the beast as social security cards, the Nazi Swastika, credit cards, and microchip implants. Personally, I am not looking for some form of literal identification.

In ancient times, slaves were marked (branded) on the hand or the forehead. This mark could not be hidden, and it identified ownership.

In Exodus 13:9 the commemoration of Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt was to be “like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead.” In Deuteronomy 6:4 Israel was to take the commands of God and “tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads…” Not to be taken literally, but as a symbol of belonging to God.

To take the mark of the beast is to put your trust, your faith, your hope, your security, and your future, in the power of man, which will always fail. It is, in a sense to be owned by the world.

In contrast, the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist, of Jesus, and of the apostle John in his Revelation vision, is this— Do not trust in the kingdoms of man. Do not settle for 6. Instead, no matter how difficult, no matter how unlikely it may seem, no matter what happens, no matter how long it takes—wait, be patient, and pursue 7: trust God, follow Jesus, look to the eternal horizon, and Seek first the kingdom of God.

So much more could be said, but I close with the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under…Christ.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” It may be a long road home, but the kingdom of God will be reclaimed and restored.

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1 Comment


gillum.peggy
Aug 23, 2023

Thank you, Dick. It is a good reminder for me today to “seek first the kingdom of God” and do not settle for the number 6. In the trials of the days, it’s a must to remember.

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