These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
This is a promise made to those who endure. The sufferings the work the persecution oppression all the insanities of this lifetime will fade away. Those who suffered will find rest. Those marginalized will find acceptance. Those oppressed by unjust systems will finally be led by the Good Shepherd. No more hunger, thirst, homelessness or want. No more weeping. And they shall drink from the waters of life.
Sounds pastoral. Sounds sweet. Sounds like an account of sheep herding written by a city boy.
This is one image we have of Paradise. The stereotyped one of sitting on clouds playing harps — I don’t know where that one comes from. But the sheep and the Good Shepherd. That’s this one here.
The other powerful image of Paradise we get in scripture is one of rulership. Not where God rules alone from his throne and we obey submissively, but one where we get enthroned beside the great Ha’Shem, where we become co-inheritors with Christ Jesus, where we judge the angels, the powers and principalities. Where we reign with the Almighty.
Two very different images. Two very different implications for spirituality and for echatalogical hope. Two very different accounts of what it means to be saved.
But with common ground. Both are prophetic reversals of the (then) current established order. Common to both are the guys currently running the show get dethroned and the agendas set are set to favour the folks currently on the bottom of the heap.
Liberation theology calls this preferential option for the poor. Why don’t these images make God-fearing, tithing folks with 100-G luxury cars and chunky pinky rings feel a tad uncomfortable. How can such folks really believe they are oppressed. How can a biblical literalist read Revelation and not feel uncomfortable about their timeshare in Maui?