Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday in Advent 3: Sealed and unsealed

Opening Sentence
Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. Mark 13:35, 36

Collect of the Day
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 50

Lessons: Zechariah 4, Revelation 4:9-5:5, Matthew 25:1-13

While living in exile in Babylon, the prophet Daniel received a vision concerning the events which were to take place from the time of the end of the exile to the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah. He was instructed to "shut up the words and seal the book" because, at that point in history, this was all God decreed for Daniel and the exiles to know. A time would come, however, when the book would be unsealed and the fullness of God's plan would be made known.

Fast forward about 600 years. An elderly Jewish mystic was in exile "on the island called Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). While "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day," he heard "a loud voice like a trumpet saying, 'Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea'" (Revelation 1:10-11).

The similarities between Daniel and John are not merely coincidental. They both received their visions while in exile. They were both told to write it down in a book. There is one glaring difference, however, in the instructions concerning their respective visions. Daniel was told to "shut up the words and seal the book until the time of the end." John was told, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near" (Revelation 22:10).

In the grand narrative of the Bible, Daniel and Revelation are two parts of the same whole. When John began to "weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it," he was consoled by one of the elders around the throne of God, who said to him, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals" (Revelation 5:4-5).

The book Daniel had been instructed to seal was now unsealed. The fullness of God's plan for the redemption of the world had been revealed in Jesus Christ, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David" who "has conquered" the forces of sin, death, and hell through his life, death, and resurrection "so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

The instructions given to Daniel were consistent with the nature of prophecy under the Old Covenant. The mystery remained hidden, veiled, sealed until the time of its fulfillment ("the time of the end"). But under the New Covenant, the whole plan and purpose of God was an open book, unsealed, made known throughout the whole creation until the final consummation of history. As long as the prophecy was sealed, it was necessary for knowledge to increase, in order that the plan and purpose of God might be better understood as it continued to unfold. With the coming of Christ and the revealing of that plan and purpose in him, however, there was no longer any excuse for not understanding it. Thus, whereas Daniel was told, "Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase," John was told, "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy" (Revelation 22:11).

Of equal significance is the warning at the end of Revelation to "everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" (Revelation 22:19). The book is unsealed because it is complete. There is nothing more to say. God's Word is final. We add to it or subtract from it at our own peril.


Angels from the Realms of Glory