Greatness and the Spiritual World

“To him who conquers … I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17). To him who conquers I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12).

Once when I was a young man in seminary days my mother came to me in an unusual frame of mind. She seemed anxious to tell me something from her heart. She said, “You know John, I spend my days washing clothes, making dinner, cleaning the house, and other very small and unimportant chores, but someday I will be great!” She then promptly turned around and left. I never had a chance to say a word, and I would not have known what to say if I had the chance. Be this as it may, I saw her for the first time not as a mere mother, but as a person. I always knew she had a great soul, but now I began to understand something about greatness. In the Bible, to have a name is to have fame, to be known, such as Abraham (Gen 12: 2) and David (II Sam 7:9). My mother, who is now among the saints, fits in comfortably right along with them.

We have all been made for greatness. This is why we all are innately interested in famous persons; they attained something in this world that is symbolic of something far more real and lasting in the spiritual realm. You see, we have been made in the image of God, and God, by definition, is great, and His fame is all encompassing. We all are to be like Him. Not to have a name is not to have an identity. This is behind the Revelation passages above. To have a name written on a white stone from God that only we “know” means that we, if we are among those who conquer, will have a unique fame in all of the New Jerusalem, among the great cloud of witnesses consisting of all the just souls of the ages made perfect. The point, I believe, is not that our name is secret and unknown amongst the saints and angels, but that we have accomplished our unique destiny and have grown into a fame etched eternally in stone. In heaven everyone knows everyone else, and it will take eternity to take in the richness and wonder of each person’s identity and person-hood. As we said in an earlier post, in the spiritual world, everyone is known, and everyone knows. It has to be this way. Ignorance and the loss/lack of identity belong to this world of shadows. Even those who attain fame in this world find it very illusory, as Milton tells us in one of his poems: “Fame is no plant that grows in mortal soil.” True fame consists of our name being associated with God and His holy city, as the text in Revelation above tells us.

True, from our perspective in time as we know it, all will be accomplished at the Second Coming and the great descending of the New Jerusalem to this earth, making the spiritual and physical world one. But the New Jerusalem and the Kingdom exists now. It is a reality that we can enter into now through prayer and worship. The names of the great saints of the past are not mere names, but actual persons who are involved in our lives right now. They know our greatness and the importance of our hourly moments in light of eternity, though we may be only vaguely aware of it in the haze of our daily lives.

It is a wonderful thing to hear in the ancient liturgies the names of many of the saints who have gone before us. It tells us that we must not only be rooted in history when these saints lived and influenced their cultures, but that they are very much alive and part of our experience now. What a terrible loss not to be aware of this. How shallow is the experience of Christians who live with little sense of history or the spiritual realm!

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