The book of Revelation reflects the experience of the writer. There was much unrest at the time it was written; persecution and a whole lot of hostility between Christians, Pagans, and the Jewish community. The literary genre of Revelations is apocalyptic. It’s a first-person narrative in which the author relates visions of the future. Most Jewish apocalypses use a lot of symbolism to distinguish between the present experience of evil and the future experience of blessing. And so, we find in the book of Revelation images of the writer’s current world, “Fallen… is Babylon… . It has become a dwelling place of demons (Revelation 18:2b).” As well as images of what the writer envisions as yet to come, “… Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:4b).” Many of us like to take the visions of Heaven in Revelation to heart, after all, won’t it be nice when the streets are made of pure gold? (Rev. 21:21) This helps us look forward to a day when we cease to wrestle with our current challenges.
This hopefulness is also found in the meaning of salvation. Unfortunately, Christianity has really distorted the biblical intent of salvation. We often assume salvation is something we will attain once we die. But nowhere in the Old Testament is salvation related to an afterlife, and rarely is that connection made in the New Testament. The original meaning of salvation has extraordinarily rich connotations. We find them all the way from the great Exodus of the Israelites, to the parable teachings of Jesus. In these stories, salvation is liberation from bondage, return from exile/homecoming, life rather than death, sight to the blind, and the healing of wounds, etc. In the Psalms, salvation is linked to deliverance from enemies. In today’s world, the most common experience of these types of bondage is fear—fear of terrorism, fear of people unlike ourselves, financial fear, and fear of the unknown, just to name a few. Therefore, I believe salvation are those moments we find release; when we are so connected to a right relationship with God, the challenges of our lives become insignificant.
Still, we have that Kingdom-speak, it’s actually central to the teachings of Jesus and often diluted into something that means the afterlife, “the Kingdom of Heaven.” But an accurate translation from Greek to English is “Kingdom of God” (I’ll shamelessly put in a plug for the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, out of the plethora of Bible translations, it is the closest to the original Greek). For a long time I assumed that Jesus was talking about Heaven when he referred to the Kingdom, but Jesus was speaking about the here and now; life on earth. If you’ve ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer, you’ve acknowledged the present tense, “…thy kingdom come.” I believe the Kingdom of God is about justice and peace, and those are things we need not wait to receive in an afterlife. They are attainable now. The point of Christianity is not to determine where we will spend the next life, but how we live and experience God today. So, what happens when we die? I cannot know for sure, but if the realm of God is eternally present in the universe, I’m fairly confident our spirits will be okay.