I'll never forget my first visit to the first congregation I served at as a pastor. It was a church in a little town outside of Corpus Christi called Portland. I had hit the road early on a Tuesday morning to make a three and a half hour drive from Austin, where I was staying at the time, to Portland, my soon-to-be home. It was a pleasant drive, first down 1-35 from Austin to San Antonio, and then down I-37, headed toward Corpus Christi, until I got about twenty five miles north of the city. All of a sudden, dark and ominous clouds appeared on the horizon. And as I sped closer to my destination, I realized that the weather was about to take a turn for the worse.
And then, it happened.
The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, the heavens opened up, the floodgates released, and the rain came pouring down. It was one of the most stunning displays of precipitation I had ever witnessed. I could barely see a foot in front of my windshield. Those last few miles took me a full hour to drive. And as I drove them, I thought to myself, "Is this some kind of hurricane? I'm not so sure I want to live here!"
Thankfully, my opinion soon changed. For the next time I returned to Portland, the sky was blue, the weather was pleasant, and as I sped over a picturesque causeway from Corpus Christi to Portland, I was enraptured by the sailboats drifting through the harbor and the maritime birds soaring up above. "This is more like it," I thought to myself. "Now this feels like home!"
In our reading for today from Revelation 15, we see a storm of sorts, described as "the seven last plagues" (verse 1), which are representative of the unfortunate trials and tribulations that accompany the end times. Notably, during these stormy plagues, the temple in heaven is "filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, [so that] no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the sever angels were completed" (verse 8). In other words, much like a blue sky in a thunderstorm, there are portions of God's counsel which remain somewhat shrouded during this spiritual storm.
The writers of Scripture have long noted that, in some sense, God remains hidden from us as we live our lives on earth and in sin. Paul describes it thusly: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways" (Romans 11:33). "Inscrutable." Now there's a word you don't hear very often. It is the negative form of "scrutinize." Paul us saying that, try as we might, we cannot scrutinize or analyze or standardize the way in which God works. His ways often remain dingily shadowed behind the smoke in Revelation's temple. And yet, it will not always be this way.
Just like the clouds over Corpus Christi eventually broke and the storm eventually cleared, so too will the smoke from the temple one day dissipate and God in his full glory in righteousness will be revealed. Indeed, not only will the smoke from the temple clear, the temple itself will tumble! As John writes concerning the end of time, "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22). And then later, "We will see his face" (Revelation 22:4). We will one day see the entirety of God.
In the mean time, however, we're still in the storm of plagues. Indeed, you experience this every time a financial crunch hits, a relationships breaks, or a loved one dies. And it is during these times that we wish we were able to peer into the smoke of God's temple and scrutinize his job performance. But, frustratingly at times, we cannot. But the smoke will indeed dissipate. The temple will indeed tumble. And we will indeed see Jesus face to face. And when we do, we will declare, "Now this feels like home!" I can't wait.