This devotion is for Easter Sunday, the day when Christians around the globe celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It is also the final day of our 90-day reading journey. Hopefully, you have gained new insight into the story arc of redemptive history. As we close our devotional series, we will look at the last words of the Bible.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.
The closing words of Scripture are essentially a prayer. A prayer for Jesus to return. In his first advent (birth and life) he lived a righteous life and died the death that we deserve. Those who are united to him by faith participate in his death and resurrection. The resurrection power of the Spirit is at work in us now.
But we still live in a fallen world. The effects of sin and corruption darken God’s good created world. The worldly power of human rebellion continues to cause pain and suffering. The remaining power of sin casts a shadow across our own heart and twists our desires. So, we long for Jesus to return. We long for his second advent (2nd coming), in which he will defeat the enemies of sin, Satan, and death and make all things new. We are living in the story of God’s redemption. WE… are in the midst of redemptive history. On the other side of creation, the fall, and redemption, we are looking forward to full restoration when Jesus returns.
In this present life, there are good gifts that we receive from God and joy can be found in our spiritual journey. But life is often quite hard. We have been given a glimpse of the future glory of the New Heavens and the New Earth which shows only an outline of what that will be like. While we don’t know the details, and see only the broad outline of what that future restoration will be like, we know enough to look forward to that day. The rest of the Bible repeatedly urges us to direct our attention to this future victory. We are not people defined by our past, or the present struggles. Instead, we are people who are defined by a redemptive future that is ours in Christ.
The more we face disappointment in our present life, the more we learn to look forward to the hope of eternal life. This is not escapism. This is basic Christianity. “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Connect and Reflect: Peter urges us to set our minds on the future hope of the return of Christ. He calls the second coming of Christ “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is not referring to the book of Revelation, but to the concept found in the closing chapters of that book. At the end of time, Jesus will return. We are meant to look forward to that day with urgency. Though we don’t know when, we know that this is always just over the horizon. Jesus is coming soon. Set your hope fully on this grace.
I Peter 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
[Note: an early version of the outline had a mistake that indicates the last verse is “25”, this should read 22:5 as the end of the reading for today.]
Throughout our sermon series on the story of scripture, we have often used the words “Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration” to summarize the story arc. The final word “restoration” refers to the way that God restores things through Jesus, but it finds its focus in the closing chapters of Revelation. In these two closing chapters we will get a glimpse of eternity after the final judgment, after evil is purged, and after death itself is destroyed. It is only a glimpse, but the hope of this future restoration in completion is a major Biblical theme.
In these closing chapters of the entire bible, the threads of redemption are brought together in a compelling picture of restoration. Let’s look at some of the ways that this is done as we reflect back on our journey through the history of the Bible.
I hope that you can see from these examples (and there are many more), the way in which the story of the entire Bible finds its completion in Revelation 21-22. The point of these images is not for us to try to form a picture in our heads of a literal city of the dimensions listed (it would be absurdly structured), or to try to determine if gold is really a good material for the surface of a road (sounds slippery.) Rather, the point of these prophetic images is to convey a sense of the grandeur and to show the links to the rest of the Bible.
Finally, we need to point out that the images are all linked to physical things. If we use the term “heaven” to refer to the spiritual rest our souls have in Christ after our death (see Rev. 6:9), we should recognize that heaven is not the end goal. The story arc of the Bible turns our attention to the return of Christ, the resurrection of the body and the physical reality of our perfected world in the “New Heavens and the New Earth.” Our glorious future is a physical reality, not just a spiritual one. The entirety of God's good creation, including humanity will be restored in the renewed earth. In summary, we see that God will “make all things new.”
Reflect and Connect: Christian burial is designed to celebrate the hope of the resurrection. The reason that we bury bodies is that this symbolizes the certainty that the body will be raised and renewed. The words of committal traditionally read at the graveside celebrate this future victory over death. How do these words shape your perspective on each day?
I Cor. 15:51-52 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
Today is the day that Christians remember the death of Christ. “Good Friday” may seem like a strange name to commemorate the death of the Messiah. Certainly, his first century followers did not see it as “good” when it was happening. The actual event was horrible. Jesus was beaten, rejected, abandoned, and crucified. Unlike modern forms of capital punishment, which seek to be as painless as possible, crucifixion was intended to be the most painful and humiliating death imaginable so as to be an effective deterrent. But, the day is good because we understand that Jesus was judged in our place. Though he was innocent of sin against God or against his fellow man, he stood in our place and received the just judgment of God on our behalf.
That is why we can read the closing chapters of the book of Revelation without being crushed by them. Chapters 18-20 show the judgment of God against the whole earth. First we see the destruction of Babylon (Rev 18), the quintessential “city of man.” Then we have an invitation to the wedding supper of the lamb – beautiful for those who are waiting for Jesus, but terrible for those who oppose him, becoming the feast for the vultures. Jesus arrives as the rider on a white horse and soundly defeats his enemies and they are thrown into the lake of fire. In chapter 20, we see the story of Satan’s defeat which culminates in a great battle and the complete victory of Jesus. At this point, all of the enemies of Jesus have been put under his feet (I Cor. 15:24-25.) Then the story shifts to the end of history. The dead are raised and every person stands before God in judgment. They give account for their deeds and words. Then judgment is enacted on all humans, and death itself is destroyed. In all of these things, we see the just judgment of God against evil. Removing evil from the earth is a good thing. But, how do we know that this judgment will not fall on us as well?
The good news in the final judgment is that for some people, their name is recorded in “the book of life” (Rev. 20:12.) The phrase “book of life” is used by Paul (Phil. 4:3), and was referenced earlier in Revelation in connection with the salvation of Jesus. Christians are those whose names have been “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The reason that we have hope in the final judgment is because of Good Friday. If we were to stand before God on our own, and if the only record of our life was our own actions and words, then we would surely perish. But the salvation of God is extended to those who are connected to Jesus by faith. Their sins are forgiven, because their sins were already judged in Jesus. The gates of paradise are opened to the humble through the mercy of God. It is a “good” Friday.
Reflect: In one of the great songs of the church we sing, “It was my sin that held him there.” It is a powerful activity to personalize the cross and own this for ourselves.
Connect: This theme is central to our understanding of the gospel.
II Cor. 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
 There is considerable debate about the identity of “Babylon” in Revelation 18. Everyone agrees that it is used metaphorically to describe a wicked city. Those who hold a preterist view (see Excursus) would link this city to Rome or Jerusalem. Amillennial interpreters understand this to represent humanity in its assembled rebellion against God and not one particular city. It is therefore the counterpart to the “City of God”, which is present in partial form as the church gathers, but only fully realized at the end of history (Rev. 21).
 Returning to the topic of “when” this happens, the sequencing of chapters 18, 19, and 20 is particularly hard. One way of reading the text is to see the prophetic images of Revelation 18,19 and 20 as separate sequential events, following one after another. Preterist interpreters might see them as a sequence of events largely in the past, while Premillennial interpreters would see them as largely a future sequence of events. However, another way of reading the text is to see them NOT as things that happen one after another, in sequence. Instead, they can be viewed as different pictures of essentially the same thing. In that reading (Amillennial), the binding of Satan is a picture of something that happens at the beginning of the church age and is linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, this is not meant to be read in sequence as if it happens after the great battle with the rider in white. Instead, it may be intended to show the same great and final battle from a different perspective. In this reading, the rider in white who slays his enemies with a sword, and the fire from heaven which wipe out the enemies of God are different ways of looking at the same thing. All of this may connect to the “battle of Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16.) Either way, there is agreement that we expect final judgment to be proceeded by a great battle in which Jesus is victorious over his enemies. What that battle would actually look like in time and space… no one can know.
In the daily blog post I summarized the ways in which faithful Christian scholars interpret the middle section of the book differently. In regard to the section between the opening of the sealed scroll and the final defeat of Satan (Rev 6:1-20:6) I wrote, “Some say it all happened in the past, some say that it will all happen in the future, and some say that it is a picture of the judgment that is generally happening in the church age.” I will give more explanation of those various views here. This is not intended to have scholarly precision, but to try to introduce the reader to the interpretive disagreements.
The material under discussion is a series of judgments that are given in sets of seven. There are seven seals on the scroll, seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath. All of these are pictures of judgment. In the middle of this are several pictures about the church wrestling with their spiritual enemies. Some scholars think that there are meant to be seven pictures, but they are not numbered in the text. These pictures include things like “The Woman and the Dragon”, and “The Beast.” Again, the question is when are these things are supposed to happen.
(1.) The first view, which we will label the preterist view, is that these events primarily describe a judgment that happened in the past. This view has been important in history, but is not as mainstream today. The preterist view of Revelation says that the sequences of judgment are meant to describe the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (Others could hold this view and focus on another type of judgment which was experienced by the early church, such as the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire.) This view would still affirm that the closing section of Revelation remains in the future, but would place the primary emphasis on something that affected John’s original audience. It has the advantage of making sense of the admonition Jesus gave to those historic churches in chapters 2-3, “Behold, I am coming soon.” In summary, this first view places the focus on past events in history, and deemphasizes the connections to the final judgment.
Personally, I think that this view has some real merit. I am convinced that other NT prophecies function in this way, such as the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. This prophecy of Jesus is directly related to the destruction of the temple in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. At the same time, Jesus directs his disciples to turn their attention forward to “the end of the age” when he will return. However, I think that linking the judgments of Revelation too much to the destruction of Jerusalem also misses the historic context (churches in Asia Minor) and diminishes the conceptual link to the final judgment.
(2.) The second view, which we will label the premillennial view, is that these events primarily describe a judgment that has not yet happen and will happen at the end of history. This view was made famous in books like, “Left Behind” and it is probably what most people think about when they read Revelation. The premillennial view takes its name from the reference to a 1,000 year period in which Satan is bound and the church flourishes. They believe that this represents a future period of time which is after the return of Christ, but before the final judgment. During this time, some of the promises to Israel will be fulfilled in literal ways. This view is associated with a way of reading Scripture that tends to diminish the connection between Israel and the church and looks for a way for God to literally fulfill all OT promises about the land, the temple, the people, etc. By contrast, some Reformed Scholars take a modified approach (Historical Premillennial), but many favor the first of third options.
Personally, I think that this view misses the historic context of the letter and also strives too much to make Biblical prophecy have a literal fulfillment when that is not the purpose. By placing this book almost entirely in the future, it robs us from the comfort and challenge that it is meant to bring for us now. Instead, it tends to promote an unhealthy speculation about when Jesus will return as it looks to map the scrolls, trumpets, and bowls of wrath onto modern day events. Jesus, himself, said that no one knows the hour or the day, thus discouraging this sort of speculation.
(3.) The third view, which we will label the amillennial view holds that the scrolls, trumpets, picture stories, and bowls are not meant to map onto a single event in history, but are general descriptions of how God works throughout the church age. In this view, the beginning of the sequence (opening the first seal) is conceptually linked to the experience of the early church. They were living in a time in which the judgment activities of seals, trumpets, etc., had begun. God was shaking his church (Hebrews 12:28.) But, this will continue through various cycles of renewal throughout the entire age of the church and will culminate in the final defeat of Satan, some day in the future. The name “amillennial” comes also from the interpretation of Rev. 20:2 in which Satan is said to be bound for a 1,000 years. Instead, of looking for a 1,000-year period which will happen after Jesus returns, this view understands the number to be symbolic. That is, 1,000 years represents the entire age of the church. In this understanding, Satan is bound right now, therefore the church is able to grow and expand. But we anticipate some great climactic battle in which Satan attacks the church with full fury before being finally defeated.
Personally, I hold this view to be the most attractive. It allows us to use the judgments of chapters 6-20 as an interpretive grid that can fit any conflict in which the church finds herself engaged. In this sense, it really did apply to the early church and the original context as they wrestled with Roman persecutions. So, it is not surprising to see ways in which the various prophecies seem to relate to aspects of the Roman Empire. (See Greg Beale’s massive tome, The Book of Revelation, for more details.) However, the meaning of the text is not exhausted by the first century context. It continues to apply in every cycle of opposition and persecution that the church experiences. In this sense, we are not looking for one single, particular beast (though this may take particular from as we move toward the end of history). Rather, we are taught to recognize that there are always beastly and demonic powers at work in the midst of human persecution. There is more to the struggles of the church than meets the eye. Just as Jesus is present in the midst of his church (Rev 1:12), so too, Satan stands behind the dark sweep of human history. And yet, we can be assured of his certain and ultimate defeat. Therefore, we are encouraged to stand fast. “Blessed are those who overcome.”
 There are a whole lot of nuances to these views, I will try to be general. Furthermore, there are important distinctions within these views. For example, there are huge differences between the Historic Premillennial view and Dispensational Premillennial view. But I am trying to write a blog post, not a book. So, forgive me if I miss some things when I generalize this.
Beginning in chapter four, the perspective of Revelation shifts from earth to heaven. John makes this clear with the transition, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven!” This turns our attention from the correction of real-world churches to a different set of concerns. A voice from heaven tells John that he will be shown in this vision, “what must take place after this” (v.4:1) Which leads us to the challenging question about the timing of the events in revelation. When is "after." When do we think these things were supposed to have occurred. This is an essential part of our understanding of church history, but it is offers a very difficult interpretive challenge.
As you might imagine, there are a bunch of different ways of reading this next section. I will try to write more about this in another post for those that are interested. But there are a few really important things that we can see which are not controversial to interpret and can be seen in the text without too much trouble.
First, Jesus is the one who opens the scroll. In Revelation chapter 4 we are invited into a visionary depiction of the throne room of heaven. It is full of worship and God is central. But, chapter five introduces a problem. There is a very important scroll and no one can be found to open it. The picture of a scroll is a common prophetic device to show “divine revelation associated with judgment” The fact that it is sealed shows that this revelation is concealed. But, it also seems to show that the events are prevented from happening. If the sealed scroll represents God’s redemptive plan for the world, it is not only concealed, but we seem to be waiting for something to trigger them and bring them into effect. (Notice how the breaking of each seal seems to cause something to happen.) The good news in all of this is that Jesus is worthy to open the scroll. The lamb who was slain is worthy and God’s plan of redemption will roll forward with Jesus as the center of the plan!
Second, this is about justice. This can be confusing for us, because we think of judgment mostly as negative. But the world is a messed up and broken place. Every time we say, “why did God let that happen?” we are essentially saying that we want God’s judgment to break in. Notice how the souls of the martyrs (v.6:9) are asking for this justice, “How long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Because Jesus died for the sins of his people, we can be spared from that judgment. But events which unfold in chapters 6-20 are essentially about justice being enacted on the earth. That is a warning to those who oppose God, but it is good news for his people, and for those who are oppressed and downtrodden.
Third, we can all agree that the end of Revelation is about the final judgment and the end of history. The broad middle section of Revelation (6-20) is about God’s judgment in history. There is vast disagreement about when this judgment occurs. Some say it all happened in the past, some say that it will all happen in the future, some say that it is a picture of the judgment that is generally happening in the church age. (I hold that view, personally.) But one thing that everyone can agree on is that chapter twenty shows a final battle (v.20:7-10) in which Satan is defeated and Jesus gets the final victory. Then, the dead are raised and stand before God in a final judgment (v.20:11-15.) Then God renews everything! (chaps 21-22) We will explore those themes more in coming posts, and for those who want the details about the interpretations of Rev 6:1-20:6 look for a separate blog post titled “Excurses on Revelation and History.”
Reflect: One day we will all give account for what we have said and done. Though God often allows evil people to do evil things, they will be accountable in the end. This is both an encouragement to us and a warning.
Connect: Paul spoke of the final judgment to the Greek Philosophers on Mars Hill.
Acts 17:30-31 "[God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
 Greg Beale, The Book of Revelation (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). See Ezekiel 2:10, and especially Isaiah 29:11 and Daniel 12:4 for scrolls that are sealed.
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.