Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
So begins the 21st Chapter of the Book of Revelation. It represents the summation of the trials and tribulations described in the chapters before. This summation reaches its pinnacle with a vision of the establishment of a new heaven and new earth. The central feature of this new heaven and new earth is the closeness of the Living God to all those who dwell in it.
As Quakers, we know that the reality of God’s presence as Christ in the midst of his gathered people is one of the most important aspects of our faith, and the other important aspect of that faith is that the Presence of God with us and God’s Kingdom is something we can experience now, in the present, and is not something that is wholly confined to some indeterminate event in the future.
The Book of Revelation is full of clues and pointers to the present fulfilment of the events described in it;
“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” Revelations 12:10
It is the ‘Now-ness of Christ’s presence and the ‘Now-ness’ of his Kingdom that I have always found compelling and exciting as a Quaker and a Christian.
The immanency of the Kingdom of God: New and Heavenly Jerusalem
The Kingdom of God, and the New and Heavenly Jerusalem is something we know and experience in the present, and is not something that might happen way off in some future time when the world ends, or something that we will come to know when we die. If we know Christ, now, then we can come into the Kingdom and know what it means to part of the New and Heavenly Jerusalem. The place where God is, and where we can be as well.
We see this clearly stated by George Fox in his proclamation to the Fifth Monarchy Men:
“As for the Fifth-monarchy-men I was moved to give forth a paper, to manifest their error to them; for they looked for Christ's personal coming in an outward form and manner, and fixed the time to the year 1666; at which time some of them prepared themselves when it thundered and rained, thinking Christ had then come to set up his kingdom, and they imagined they were to kill the whore without them. But I told them the whore was alive in them, and was not burned with God's fire, nor judged in them with the same power and spirit the apostles were in. And their looking for Christ's coming outwardly to set up his kingdom was like the Pharisees' , Lo here,' and' Lo there.' But Christ has come and has set up his kingdom above sixteen hundred years ago, (according to Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's prophecy), and he had dashed to pieces the four monarchies, the great image, with its head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet part of iron, part of clay; and they were all blown away with God's wind, as the chaff in the summer threshing floor. And when Christ was on earth, he said, his kingdom was not of this world: if it had been, his servants would have fought; but it was not, therefore his servants did not fight. Therefore all the Fifth-monarchy-men, that are fighters with carnal weapons, are none of Christ's servants, but the beast's and the whore's. Christ said, ‘All power in heaven and in earth is given to me;' so then his kingdom was set up above sixteen hundred years ago, and he reigns. And we see Jesus Christ reign, said the apostle, ‘and he shall reign until all things be put under his feet;' though all things are not yet put under his feet, nor subdued” Nichols p219, 1661 Nichols p219, 1661
If Christ has come, and we know present in the midst then his Kingdom is come, and it is now, and today, and we called to live it.
Fox saw the vision of the New and Heavenly Jerusalem;
“Whilst I was under this spiritual suffering the state of the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven was opened to me; which some carnal-minded people had looked upon to be like an outward city dropped out of the elements. I saw the beauty and glory of it, the length, the breadth, and the height thereof, all in complete proportion. I saw that all who are within the Light of Christ, and in His faith, of which He is the author; and in the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, which Christ and the holy prophets and apostles were in; and within the grace, and truth, and power of God, which are the walls of the city; -- I saw that such are within the city, are members of it, and have right to eat of the Tree of Life, which yields her fruit every month, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
Many things more did I see concerning the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, which are hard to be uttered, and would be hard to be received. But, in short, this holy city is within the Light, and all that are within the Light, are within the city; the gates whereof stand open all the day (for there is no night there), that all may come in.” (Abbreviated) Nichols p575, 671
The Foundation of God, the new and heavenly Jerusalem is not something to appear way off in some distant future but is established here on earth as Christ comes to be established in the hearts of those who believe in him, and his Kingdom are those who gather, here and now, in his name.
Before we can really understand this, something has to happen to us. We have to come to the end of our world, the end of our old self. The Revelation, the Apocalypse, that is guaranteed to affect us, is the one that we experience in the present. Christ must be revealed in us, and part of that Revelation is that the Day of Judgement that is visited on the old man that is in us.
All the trials and tribulations are reflected in the apocalyptic nature of Christ’s revelation in our hearts:
“But now are the vials, and thunders, and plagues, and trumpets sounding and going forth, and the seven woes going out; and now are the kings of the earth, and false prophets, and antichrists, and the mother of harlots, and the beast, and his names and horns, gathering together, with the old deceiver the devil, to battle against the Lamb, and the saints of the Lamb. But the Lamb and the saints have got (past tense) the victory, and the rivers of living waters are opening to all that thirst. Sing and rejoice, let us give glory to God, for now has (past tense) the marriage of the Lamb come."
George Fox, The Great Mystery
This experience is what we called to, now, today…
It is waiting upon Christ, and to truly now his work in us, that we can now the Book of Revelations fulfilled in us;
George Fox writes;
In the spirit of the living God wait upon God,
to learn of and to be taught by him.
For now the beast opens his mouth in blasphemy,
speaking great swelling words.
And now is the cage of unclean birds, and the unclean spirits,
which are gone forth into the earth, seen.
And now are the locusts seen, and the caterpillars known.
And now are the seven thunders uttering their voices.
And now are the hailstones falling,
and the vials of the wrath of God pouring out upon the beast and the false prophet.”
George Fox, Epistle 91.
It is the world in us that needs to be judged and overturned. Only then can we be transformed and made fit for God’s service.
For as we so transformed we can know others who share that experience and come together into a new kind of community. This community becomes the living embodiment of the Kingdom of God.
Just as the apocalypse is now, the establishment of the Kingdom; the place where God rules, is also now.
Yet, those who have not known Christ, may not see it come as we do.
The call to come into God’s Kingdom comes with a call for radical obedience…
Our membership of the Kingdom community inevitably comes with a call for a revolutionary inversion of the World’s ways and means. Peace, Social Justice and renouncement of Worldly Power. This can only come with the release of God’s Power in the lives of those who obey him.
The Early Quakers call to social justice is undisputed; I recall particularly George Fox’s sense of moral injustice shown toward his fellow prisoners in Derby
“And in this time I was exceedinge much oppressed with Judges & magistrates & Courts 4 : & was moved to write to ye Judges concerneinge there puttinge men to death for Catle & for money : severall times : howe contrary to ye law of God it was : & one time when I did write to y m I was under such a burden for there takeinge away mens lifes for such small thinges which was soe contrary to ye law of God : y* I writt to lett y m see howe contrary to ye law of God it was & I was under great sufferinges through it : butt when I came out of it : ye heavens was opned & ye glory of God shined over all …
And I alsoe writt to ye Judges what a sore thinge it was y fc prisoners shoulde lye soe longe in goale : & howe y* they learned badnesse one of another in talkinge off there bad
thinges : & therefore speedy Justice shoulde have beene donne : for I was a tender youth in ye feare off God & I was greived to heare there bad language : & was made often to reprove y m for there words & bad Carriage each towards other.
Edward Burrough, one of the valiant sixty also reminded his contemporaries:
“Our Banner is peace, justice and righteousness, and all those who come among us must cleave thereunto…”
Our answer to God’s call into His Kingdom is not something we can put off until the future, we called to respond in obedience today.
Who can we identify as Mystery Babylon Today? Who is the Beast of the Book of Revelation?
This beyond the scope of this blog, but wherever we see human endeavour and institutions that stand in the way of the establishment ofGod’s Kingdom, and act contrary to God’s Will, there we can see the Mark of the Beast.
Our part is to be willing to build again of the Gospel Foundation laid by our Quaker forebears that we know to a world-overturning message. Although the present and future looks decidedly shaky for us, nevertheless we have no alternative but to trust that our vision of a new world order will come into fulfilment through the Power of God spread abroad in the world, as it was so aptly described in Revelation and the apostle Peter :
“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” 2Peter 3:13
This is true and lasting Revolution and Revelation to which we are called.
Add a Comment
© 2023 Created by Allistair Lomax. Powered by
Allistair, Do you have a copy of Lewis Benson's six lectures on the Disciple Church? Lewis made many of the same points you are making. I have been wondering if you had read those lectures in your preparation for this article? In case you do not have those, I am hoping to have a digital version available in the near future.
Thanks for this, Allistair. There's so much wisdom conveyed through John's vision, and Fox, the early Friends, and now we now today affirm its reality within. One idea that is standing out for me is Fox's identifying that the state of the New Jerusalem was opened to him when he was in a state of "spiritual suffering." This new way of being, of knowing the light of Christ, comes only when the old way no longer works, and we refrain from the lying that obscures its failure and numbs our suffering. For the suffering is the feeling that accompanies the death of the carnal mind, which we must undergo as we love the truth. 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.
Who will believe our report? I think there are many--but not all--who would say: "I believe; help thou my unbelief" (Mk.9:24). To that end, we are commanded to testify.
Thanks for both your comments. Ellis, I don't have a copy of the six lectures you mentioned. Please let me know when they become available.