Have you ever found yourself so familiar with a set of words that they lose their significance? Maybe it is a song you once loved, and can still sing every line, but you aren’t really thinking about how meaningful the words are anymore. Maybe it is political rhetoric that keeps getting repeated but the implications of which we’ve ceased to truly analyze. Maybe it a Bible verse like John 3:16 or the Lord’s Prayer; we can recite every word without connecting with the powerful ideas embodied there.
Sometimes, however, if we take time to slow down and dig a little deeper, we can unearth rich treasures.
I found this to be true of the opening lines of the Three Angels’ Messages in Revelation 14. In verse 6, we have the first angel proclaiming the everlasting gospel “to those who dwell on the earth.” This seems pretty straightforward so far: the gospel is proclaimed to everyone. But then John breaks it down a little more: “to every nation, tribe, language, and people.”
Why is this necessary? Is the passage just being redundant? Was John trying to hit a word count and needed to add some filler? Or is something more significant going on? Let’s take a closer look at each of these words.
Nation (Greek: ethnos). Commonly referring to the Gentiles, but also in reference to any ethnicity or race.
Tribe (Greek: phyle). Commonly referring to the Tribes of Israel, but also to any sub-division of a group of people.
Language (Greek: glossa). Literally translated tongue and used especially to indicate a person’s native language.
People (Greek: laos). From which we get the word laity. Most frequently used in reference to God’s people, thus giving it the connotation of religious groups of people.
Each of these four words describes an aspect of our world, but more specifically an area of division. We find ourselves divided by nation, tribe, language, and people. We are divided by nationalism, racism, colonialism, tribalism, classism, sexism, and denominationalism. We are separated by language, politics, religion, and any other category we can place ourselves or others into.
The everlasting gospel is proclaimed to all “who dwell on the earth” but the message goes out, not to a people united, but to a world consumed with division. This is precisely why the gospel is so powerful and relevant right now: it both challenges and offers healing for these areas of divisions in our world.
How does the gospel do this? By the fruit it produces in our lives. The gospel says that even though we were dead, we can be alive in Jesus; even though we were separated from God, through Jesus, we can be unified with God - even to the point where Paul says God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
Do you realize what this means? Our true place of belonging is at the right hand of God; we are not limited to our nation, tribe, language, or people. We live in the kingdom of heaven, not the divided kingdoms of earth. Our value and identity don’t come from our race, politics, gender, class, or religion; our value is found in being a child of God. In the beautiful reality of that truth, we actually become “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), representatives of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Friends, we think too small. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed a situation where they’re arguing over which human religious leader they’re associated with. They, like us, were still entrenched in tribalistic thinking. Paul’s response is brilliant:
“Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
Too often, I find myself with a very small outlook on life. I’m stuck looking at my bank account, or squabbling over doctrinal differences, or holding a grudge, instead of looking out from heavenly places and realizing that all things are mine in Christ! Our identity is found in God, not in any of the things which cause separation and inequality in the world.
So what does this look like in real life? What does it look like to be in heavenly places in Christ and live as an ambassador for the kingdom of heaven when you’re...
Stressed at work or school?
Choosing a career or where to live?
Talking with someone about the issue of women’s ordination?
Deciding who and how to date or marry?
Dealing with issues of racism or sexism?
Engaging in conversations on nationalism and immigration?
Let us know in the comments!