Monday, April 8, 2019

A White Stone and a New Name

Have you ever arrived for a major concert or sporting event, approached the theater, arena or stadium, and suddenly started searching your pockets? “Where are the tickets?!” You turn to the person accompanying you and ask, “Do you have the tickets? What did we do with the tickets?!” 

Images of tickets lying at home, on the kitchen table or your dresser, flood your increasingly desperate mind. Where are they? Then, as a last resort, you reach into a pocket inside your jacket – and there they are. Whew! Crisis averted.

We’ve probably all been there at one time or another. Maybe you have a painful recollection of a time when you actually did forget the tickets. Whenever I’m going to an event like that, I find myself checking and double-checking where the tickets are, just in case. Because no one wants to be on the outside looking in.

Maybe right now you’re eagerly anticipating an upcoming concert featuring a favorite entertainer, or have already purchased seats for one of your team’s football teams games next fall. Do you know where the tickets are? Are you sure?

I raise these questions because of a significant Scripture verse one of my friends brought to my attention recently. It’s not obscure, but I’ve never heard the passage mentioned in a sermon or radio message, so it’s probably one many of us have overlooked.

It's found in the second chapter of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. In the apostle John’s vision, Jesus Christ addresses the seven churches in Asia Minor, recounting their strengths and shortcomings. At the close of His message to the church in Pergamos – described by some as “the compromising church” – Jesus declares, “…To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).

Reading this passage, several questions come to mind: What’s “hidden manna”? And what’s up with this “new name”? But the question my friend asked concerned the “white stone,” and its significance. Until then I had glossed over the mention of this stone, so I had no idea what it meant. This sparked my curiosity, and I’m glad it did, because it provides an interesting parallel to misplaced tickets.

Seeking the “secret” to the white stone, I consulted some resources. One of them, the MacArthur Study Bible says it relates to a common practice of biblical times: “When an athlete won in the games, he was often given as part of his prize a white stone which was an admission pass to the winner’s celebration afterward. This may picture the moment when the overcomer will receive his ticket to the eternal victory celebration in heaven.”

Another resource, the NIV Study Bible, offered a similar explanation: “Certain kinds of stones were used as tokens for various purposes. In the context of a Messianic banquet the white stone was probably for the purpose of admission.”

Yet another reference, the Ryrie Study Bible, gave a somewhat different view but confirmed the same outcome: “The white stone may refer to the custom of voting for the acquittal of an accused person by using a white stone (indicating the believer can be assured of acquittal before God).”

We’ve all heard speculative scenarios about what will transpire when we’re standing at the entrance to heaven. There is no shortage of opinions. What if, upon arrival in front of the so-called “pearly gates” there’s someone, perhaps Jesus Himself, passing out literal white stones – the tickets of entry – for everyone who’s being granted admission?

The Scriptures typically use the term white to represent purity, and that is exactly what Jesus did on our behalf on the cross. A verse instructing how husbands should care for their wives describes what Jesus Christ has done for His Church: “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or winkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).

We’re told our salvation – the ticket to eternal life – cannot be earned: “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Isn’t it interesting to envision Jesus Christ reserving a white stone – one with a new name written on it – for each of us willing to accept this “ticket” into His everlasting kingdom? Wouldn’t it be a grievous thing to arrive at heaven’s door and discover there is nothing waiting for us, no white stone bearing our new name? 

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