Text: Rev 22:6-21
OT Text: Deuteronomy 29 (This closing admonition of Moses has many similarities in style and content to the closing statements of the Book of Revelation.)
Featured Verse: Rev 22:6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
Main Idea: These closing verses remind us about God's purposes for the book as they not only booked Revelation, but serve as a closing note for the entire Bible.
This is our final entry in the blog. Thanks for following along on this reading program. In the Easter Sunday Service at 10:15, the sermon will cover four of the verses from this section in greater detail, so we will not comment on them today. (The sermon text will be Rev 22:16-17,& 18-21, dealing with the common theme of saying, "Come, Lord Jesus.")
I'd also like to thank Neil Sederburg for reading these posts in advance and making necessary corrections. If you noticed that the posts had fewer errors and typos as we went along, say thank-you to Neil!) (You're welcome and thank you!!! -Neil)
Congratulations! (I am saying that partly to myself.) We've made it to the end of the book. Unless Jesus returns between my writing this and you reading it, we will have completed our project.
I say that, partly in jest, but also seriously. The closing section of the book reminds us of several things, one of which is a healthy sense of anticipation for the return of Jesus. "The time is near... behold, I am coming soon", says Jesus. (22:10-12) Which leads us to the big question... When will Jesus come?
As we have repeatedly reminded ourselves, we don't know. Jesus told the disciples that no one knows the hour or the day of his return. (Matt 24:36) However, in God's view of history, the return of Jesus is the next event on the horizon. It is the next thing scheduled to happen. Like the next song cued on the playlist. That is why John is told "don't seal up this book." (22:10) We can best understand that verse by way of contrast. The close of Daniel's prophecy seems to point toward the final judgment and the events portrayed in Revelation 20-22. But God told Daniel to "seal up the book until the time of the end." (Dan 12:4) This is because from Daniels point in history a whole bunch of things still needed to happen, before the end could come. In particular, Jesus needed to be born, die, be raised, pour out the Holy Spirit on the Church and empower them for faithful witness to the nations. In contrast, those key events have happened for John in his point in history.
Furthermore, we have argued that the events of Revelation have already begun. The scroll of history was opened at resurrection of Jesus. The shaking of the nations during the seals and trumpets have already begun. We await the return of Jesus, but the events have begun to unfold. As we speak, the gospel is going to the nations and the church is growing even as beastly figures seek to oppose the church, and Babylon seeks to sway and seduce with her shimmering splendor. God is working in the world right now, shaking the nations and establishing his unshakeable kingdom. So, we seek to live in faith and we seek to operate with an expectation that Jesus is close (among his lampstands) and that his return is just off stage. Therefore, we can live in hope with a lively expectation about the coming renewal of all things.*
Conclusion and Application
John bakes several commands into this closing admonition.
1.) Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (22:7) A reminder that John's revelation is meant to be pastoral. He wants his churches to act in response to what they have seen. The book is not meant to satisfy our curiosity. It is not meant to be a riddle book which is fun to solve. It is meant to be a pastoral word for churches and Christians who are facing hardship. It is meant to be an encouragement to endure under hardship. All of the visions are serving that function. To the degree we are moved to greater faithfulness to God and greater endurance, then we have understood the book properly.
2.) Worship God. (22:9) We are called to right living, but that includes worship. Revelation is meant to stir us to more heartfelt worship. A quick story.
When I was a seminary student, I took a class on Revelation and had to translate the entire book. It was a really good class and many things I am relaying in this study are timeless truths that I learned in that class two decades ago. But, what I remember most vividly is translating the heavenly vision of chapters 4-5 and reaching the final verse (5:14) which says, "and the elders fell down and worshipped." I remember how profoundly it struck me. I was alone in the basement corner of the library and I was training to be an elder, so it seemed applicable. So I put down my Greek New Testament and picked up a hymnal and sang a soft song of praise. Perhaps, it was "Holy, Holy, Holy," where we sing of the saints casting their golden crowns before God around the glassy sea. Through this experience, the book became more personal. In Revelation, we are being invited into a song of praise sung by every creature under heaven, by the angels themselves, and by people from every tribe, tongue and nation. I pray it will lead you to deeper worship.
3.) Let the evildoer do evil... and the righteous do right. (22:11)
This is a pretty difficult command to understand. In light of the many calls to repentance, we can't see this as a call to complacency. Here is what I think it means. I think Revelation is telling us that people will continue to do good and evil throughout this age. As Jesus said in the parable of the weeds - both kingdoms will grow right up until the end, when weeds and wheat are separated in the final judgment. At times, one may look stronger than the other, but both righteousness and evil will continue to happen until Jesus returns.
4.) Blessed are those who wash their robes. (22:14)
This is one of the those calls to repentance. Believing in Jesus, confessing your sins and following him as Lord are part of being connected to him by faith. In faith, the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin and our robes are "washed."
Revelation presents stark images of future destruction and future renewal. It shows us the end toward which all things are moving and in so doing it moves us toward a decision. Are you with Jesus, or with Babylon. Will you fall with the beast in judgment, or will you enter the city with the Bride. Who do you trust? Who do you serve? Who do you worship?
5.) Don't add to [the words of the prophecy of this book], or take away from [them.] (22:18-19) It has been historically understood that the closing words were a very appropriate end. Not only an end to this particular book, but to the whole Bible. We should neither add new revelations, or cut away things God has revealed.
After 50 Days Through the Book of Revelation, I trust that we are all a little more familiar with this book of prophecy. I pray that it will lead you to greater faithfulness, greater worship, and greater confidence in the victory of Jesus. I pray that you will have greater hope in the midst of inevitable human conflicts, as you learn to see life through the lens of these heavenly visions. God Bless. "Come, Lord Jesus." - Matt
* One final pop culture reference. The return of Gandalf during the battle of Helms Deep in the Two Towers is a pretty good depiction of faith in action. Aragorn and Theoden's decision to "ride out" and meet the enemy in battle is a direct response to the promise of Gandalf that he will return. And as the "Rider in White" sweeps down the hill toward the enemy hordes, their deliverance arrives just in time! This is one of my favorite scenes of all time. And I like it even more when I think about it through the lens of the Book of Revelation. Maybe John saw something like this when he saw a prophetic vision of Armageddon.
Look to My Coming at First Light on the Fifth Day… Look to the East
I am not saying that when Jesus returns he will fight against orcs. But I do think that the prophetic image is meant to stir our hearts to greater faithfulness as we seek to witness for Jesus, even in the face of great opposition.
Text: Rev 22:3-5
OT Text: Isaiah 60:19-20
NT Parallel Text: Matthew 27:45-54
Featured Verse: Rev 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Main Idea: The defining feature of this future vision is the life-giving presence of God.
Analysis and Application
There are important OT background texts for this passage. One is listed in the additional scriptures, from Isaiah 60. It is worth reading to see the prophetic background of this image. We also want to remember that the symbolic value of the image regarding the absence of night does not necessarily mean sunsets are removed from the renewed cosmos.* I trust that the Lord will make the new creation beautiful, perhaps in ways that are familiar or in ways we have never imagined.
But today is Good Friday, and I would rather spend time thinking about the significance of this vision. The central feature of this whole section is the presence of God with his people in the New Heavens and New Earth. This is expressed through the age-old symbolism of light and darkness. In 1 John 1:5, we are told that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." In today's text, John shows us a vision in which the light of God outshines all other lights. The moral goodness of God is present and visible. Another way of saying it is, "we shall see his face." The very thing that even Moses could not do. The deepest longing of humanity. After the completion of our redemption, our relational connection with God will be immediate and intimate.
But because it is Good Friday, it is especially important for us to remember how this is possible. We are redeemed because Jesus was cursed. We are brought in, because he was cast out. We are healed, because he took the sin of all his people on himself.
In particular, in the Gospel reading for today, Matthew tells us that during the crucifixion, for three hours "there was darkness over the whole land." (Matt 27:45) We will one day experience the unending splendor of the light of God's glory because Jesus endured the darkness of God's just wrath.
And as he agonized with death approaching, Jesus cried out with the words of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46) We will one day see God face to face, because Jesus endured the isolation of the cross on our behalf.
Tonight, our church will gather for a Good Friday Tenebrae Service. We will read through the passion narrative in the Gospel of John, and accompanying verse from Revelation. My hope is that the juxtaposition of those readings will remind us that our salvation was deeply and intimately connected to the suffering of Christ. As the readings progress and the candles are extinguished, the lights will dim and we will end in darkness. Thankful, that is not the end. A few minutes in darkness will help us remember. But the future is bright. The future in the eternal city is marked by the bright glory of God's unshadowed presence. The cross opens the curtain of the temple (Matt 27:51) and in so doing opens the doors of the eternal city.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
* There is, admittedly, a lot that we don't know about this topic. But here are a few thoughts. First, the paradigm for renewal in the Bible is the resurrection of Jesus. Clearly it is the paradigm for human resurrection (he is the "first fruits"), if not all of the recreated world order. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he was raised with the same body. It was new and "upgraded." It was, after all, eternal and incorruptible. And there is a bit of a mystery in which people didn't fully recognize him. But, he could be recognizable when he wanted to be. And his body bore the marks of the crucifixion. For Jesus, this was a little more straight forward, because his body did not see decay. (Acts 2:27) For other humans, God will have to be more creative to put our bodies back together. And yet, we assume a continuity between our earthly bodies and our heavenly bodies. The symbolism of Christian burial always pointed to this reality in a powerful way. But we also know that God can resurrect our bodies if they are burned or eaten by fishes or scattered to the four corners of the earth. After all, at the resurrection the sea will give up its dead. (20:13) The point is, if this is our paradigm, then the renewed earth will be in continuity with the original creation. It will be renewed and upgraded, but there is reason to believe that it will be recognizable. Not a completely different thing, but a renewed thing. After all, we are told that the newness is for not just the earth, but also the "heavens." (21:1) Perhaps there is no moon or no sun in the New Heavens as a literal reading of Isaiah's prophecy would seem to indicate. Or perhaps, they are just not necessary.
Text: Rev 22:1-2
OT Text: Ezekiel 47:1-12
Featured Verse: Rev 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Main Idea: The OT images of the River of Life and the Tree of Life are found in the New Jerusalem of pictures of God overflowing and healing love.
Since this is Easter week, I was already thinking about "Easter Eggs." Many of you are thinking of the dyed eggs that parents hide for children. Others are thinking of more contemporary references to the way that video games or movies contain hidden messages with inside jokes or outside references.* I tend to think of the term as referencing the way a modern movie may have sly references to older films in the same series. Anyway, using the term that way... Revelation has tons of "Easter Eggs" in it. Tons of references to earlier parts of the Bible. But unlike modern movies, the references are not inconsequential to the plot. Rather, John's visions are described in ways that develop the story arc of the Bible and present old truths in more developed ways. This short section has numerous examples.
- First, there is a river in the city which flows from the throne. Just like Ezekiel's vision of the water flowing from the temple. (Ez 47:1-12) Zechariah also prophesied of a day when living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem." (Zech 14:8)
- Second, there is a tree growing around the river.** Not just any tree, but the Tree of Life. Just like one of the two trees found in the Garden of Eden, and the one which Adam and Eve were barred from eating, lest they live forever. (Gen 2-3)
- Third, the leaves on the tree are for the healing of the nations. This is a direct reference to Ezekiel 47:12, "their leaves [were] for healing."
Why does John do this? The pattern is throughout the Bible, so we might generalize the question and ask, Why does God do this? Well, it is not to further an inside joke or get a cheap laugh, like "Easter Egg" references in modern movies. When an old concept is referred to in the Bible, it traces the arc of a story. It shows how God is working things out over time. It is often said, that the story arc of the Bible begins in the garden and ends in a temple.*** Not only are they similar as places where God dwelled with people, but the story develops and expands. Not only did God restore what was lost in the fall, but he restores it better. The New Jerusalem is expanded and upgraded over every picture of salvation that came before it!
Conclusion and Application
In closing, I'd like to explore one feature of these verses which are similar to a prior description of the city gates. The intriguing closing note about the leaves being "for the healing of the nations" strikes me as similar to the reference about kings bringing the honor of the nations into the city.
It is tough to know how far to press some of this symbolic imagery. Are we meant to think of things existing outside the city, which need to be brought in through the gates? In a similar manner, is there meant to be ongoing healing for the nations? Since the text makes it clear that there is no longer any source for sin, we don't want to develop the need for ongoing healing in the wrong direction. Nor do we want to imagine some world outside the city which brings a distorted element to our theology.
But I think that we can recognize that an important aspect of both of these images is dynamism. What I mean by that is that they imply movement and activity. In eternity, the saints seem to be doing things. Again, we don't want this to imply some sort of imperfection, but we can imagine a perfect world that has activity. God made a world with moving stars and changing seasons and swimming fish and flying birds. This sort of movement is a beautiful part of his world. Sometimes, I think we can picture heaven in very static ways which make it seem boring. Of course it will not be boring. The full goodness of God's creation will be present and we will have eternity to enjoy it. Since we are finite creatures and should not expect the resurrection to change this, presumably, we would spend eternity exploring the wonders of creation. Presumably, that would include the exploration of the wonders of redeemed humanity as they bring the "honor of the nations" with them.
In short, some of our popular conceptions of heaven end up being either too static or not physical enough. We can imagine (wrongly) that the only thing people do in heaven is sit on clouds and play harps. While I want to be the first to acknowledge how little we know about the details, I think that the vision of Revelation 21-22 is an exhilarating picture which stirs our imagination and provokes our hearts to godly longing.
* Wikipedia has two interesting entries on the origin of this practice in video games and current use in film.
Easter egg (media) - Wikipedia List of filmmakers' signatures - Wikipedia
** I'm not sure how we are meant to understand a singular tree growing on either side of the river. (22:2) Perhaps it is growing over it, or perhaps the tree has multiplied. Either way, it highlights a regular feature of the book, in which symbolic language is used and we are not even given explanations of how this would be possible if the vision were not symbolic.
*** Greg Beale is famous for exhaustively tracing these story arcs of Scripture. In particular, his massive tome, The New Testament Biblical Theology, has two sections on the church as a temple and its connection with the Garden of Eden. (p592ff, 614ff) The point is that the presence of the Tree of Life is only one feature of many that link Eden with the New Jerusalem, by way of the temple. All are types of sanctuaries where God dwells with his people. The interruption brought by sin and exile from the garden is completed after the return of Jesus.
Text: Rev 21:23-27
OT Text: Habakkuk 2:14
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
Featured Verse: Rev 21:26 And they will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
Main Idea: The enormous volume of the temple expands to fill the earth, and the honor of the nations are brought into it.
I mentioned yesterday, that the size of the city in John's vision is enormous. Let's go back and consider just how big this city really is. John said that it is a cube, with each side "12,000" stadia. That is equivalent to 1,400 square miles. By way of comparison, Mt. Everest is six miles high. Tim Chester points out that air is thin at the height of six miles, so if we were trying to map this onto our experiential reality, then the top of this city would be extended far beyond the earth's atmosphere. What is going on this this vision?
We saw yesterday, that the inside of the temple was a cube. So the entire city has the same function and the same proportions as the Holy of Holies. It was a place for God to dwell. The other significance of this enormous temple is that it essentially covered the known world.* This is a fulfillment of the earliest promise God made to Abraham. His work through Abraham's descendants would ultimately undo the curse of Babel and bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. (Gen 12:1-3) The binding of Satan allows the ministry of the Gospel to go to the nations in the power of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus. (Matt 28:18-20)
We have already seen multiple times in Revelation that the redeemed people of God will be from "every tribe, and language, and people, and nation." (5:9, 7:9, 14:6) Now we see another intriguing image. "The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it... they will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." (21:24,26) So what is the glory and honor of the nations? As a minimum, it means that the gentiles (non-Jewish people) are coming to bring themselves as worshippers. But, it may be mean more than that. The glory and honor of the nations may carry with it the unique ways in which God was pleased to shape particular cultures. This may be showing a celebration of the redeemed cultural goodness of those people who have come to faith in Christ - from out of every ethnic group. We don't know for sure how far to extend this or whether some of our "cultural artifacts are carried through into eternity." We do know that good works done in faith will last. (1 Cor 3:10-15) We also know that redeemed people will continue to bear the marks of their earthly human ethnicity. After all, John can recognize people from every "nation". (5:9, 7:9) And think of it this way. Jesus is still, "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah." In his humanity, he remains Jewish. In eternity, we will not be one amorphous blob of humanity. It seems that in some sense... we will carry with us, the marks of our earthly ethnic humanity. God will do this, because the vast diversity of his created order is pleasing to him.
Conclusion and Application
Part of the beauty of the New Heavens and New Earth is that it includes the completion of God's world-wide mission. The growth of the church across the cultural divides that began after Pentecost and have continued throughout church history will find its completion in the book of Revelation. For John, who was Jewish, the reference to the Gentiles has the perspective of the grace of God extending outward from his long-established place in the covenant community. But for the rest of us, when we see the nations coming into the city**, we see family faces. Imagine, that you are looking back at old photos and slowly recognizing faces...
Wait...look. That's my grandparents! Coming into the city, carrying the honor of the nations with them.
Look. Those are our friends in Zimbabwe. There... Bulgaria.
The prayers we have offered regularly for the persecuted church in China... look, I can see the answers to those prayers.
Isaiah 60:3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
* Beale, p483.
** Given the way in which John has regularly "layered" the visions of Revelation, I don't think that this is meant to communicate that the Gentiles will come into the kingdom later. The Bride of Christ, necessarily includes the entirety of the church, which is all of God's people from all nations. All "those who are written in the Lamb's book of Life." (21:27)
Text: Rev 21:9-23
OT Text: Ex 33:1-11
Featured Verse: Rev:21:15,22 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls...22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
Main Idea: God will dwell with his people in the New Jerusalem.
We have seen that the final six chapters of Revelation highlight a contrast between Babylon and the New Jerusalem. The first is described as a harlot and is the City of Man - humanity in its rebellion against God.* The second is the Bride of Christ, the City of God - redeemed humanity. Simply put:
Babylon = Harlot = City of Man
New Jerusalem = Bride = Church (City of God)
The New Jerusalem is described in ways that are continuous with the people of God throughout the Bible. The gates have the names of the OT tribes. (21:12) The foundations have the names of the twelve apostles. The jewels and gems reflect the OT temple practices. This is a prophetic picture of what Paul tells us in 'Ephesians 2:19-22, the church is the new temple of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Here is the catch. John tells us that in this vision of the New Jerusalem, "there is no temple in the city."** Why is that? The simple answer is that the whole city is a temple. Think about it this way. The purpose of the temple was to offer limited access to God. This point is illustrated in the OT reading from Exodus 33:1-11. In that section we see that God cannot any longer dwell with his people because of their sin. This is a cause of great disappointment to them, but although God did not travel with them in the manner he had before, the very next section describes the presence of God in the tabernacle - which is the earliest, tent-like version of the temple. The temple offers access to God, but only on certain terms. It allows God to dwell with his people but protects them from his consuming holiness.
Here is the contrast. In Revelation 21:9-22, there is no temple. (21:22) That is because the temple is no longer necessary to limit access to God. God's presence with his people is unlimited. "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man." (21:3) Which leads us to an interesting point. The angel shows him the size of the city by using a measuring rod***, which reveals that the city is enormous. And, it is a perfect cube.**** Just like the Holy of Holies in the OT temple! Derek Thomas writes, "In the New Jerusalem... the entire city is a holy place."*****
Conclusion and Application
The primary feature of the New Heavens and the New Earth is that God's people will live with uninhibited access to God's presence. When Jesus returns, we will experience a massive "upgrade" from what we have now. Now, we can pray to God any time we want, but we don't see him face to face. Now, we can be confident of our standing in the righteousness of Christ, but our experience of God is darkened by the shadows of sin, Satan, and the fallen world. Our experience of God is real, it is limited and partial. In the future, it will be uninhibited. This is how Paul described it to the Corinthians at the end of his great chapter on love.
1 Cor 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
* "The wording in vv.21:9-10 is almost identical to 17:1,3, which introduced Babylon. This underlines the contrast between the two women, the harlot Babylon, and the bride of the Lamb. The immoral and unfaithful conduct of Babylon is contrasted with the faithfulness of the bride." Beale, Revelation and Shorter Commentary, p477
** Interestingly, the depiction of the city is very similar to Ezekiel's prophecy of the ideal temple. (Ez 39:25-40:16 ff) This furthers the assertion (made often in the NT) that the people are the temple. When we see the parallel between the Bride and the City, all of the pieces fit together.
*** Again, notice a similarity to Ezekiel 40.
**** "It's length and width and height are equal." (21:16)
***** Thomas, Let's Study Revelation, p175,
Text: Rev 21:5-8
NT Parallel Text: 1 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Featured Verse: Rev 21:5 "And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Main Idea: After the final judgment, God will renew all things in heaven and on earth. Unfortunately, the passage makes it clear that the "all things" does not extend to those who are outside of Christ, remaining characterized by their sin.
You'll notice that we will take these final two chapters at a bit of a slower pace. As we move toward Easter Sunday, we will get an in-depth look at the end goal for God's plan of redemption.
Analysis and Application
The final two chapters of Revelation give us an inside look at true utopia. I mentioned the concept of "utopia" in a prior post. All human attempts to create a perfect world order, this side of the return of Jesus, are fraught with peril. Yes, we should seek to make the world a better place. But, no we cannot create "heaven on earth" in our own strength. Realizing that brings humility and constraint to our efforts. In the end, recognizing our limitations helps make the world a better place, here and now. But the true Christian hope is found here. After the return of Christ and the final judgment all things will be renewed. Heaven comes down. God's people are given new bodies. The earth itself is made new and restored. In fact, this is what the creation has been longing for the whole time. (Romans 8:22-23)
There is a lot that we don't know about what the New Heavens and the New Earth will actually be like. John shows us only the barest of sketches, and it is sometimes hard to know how certain images should be understood. But this much is clear. This created world will be renewed. We will be renewed - body and soul. We will gather as God's people with immediate access to him. ("Behold the dwelling place of God is with man." - 21:3) There are a lot of threads we can pull on in these images, and we will explore that a little in the coming days. For example, what does it mean that leaves on the tree of life are for the "healing of the nation"? (22:2) Interesting.
For now, here is what we can say. The original purposes that God had for humanity in their creation will be resolved and fulfilled in the New Jerusalem. We don't want to be too specific, since the images are not given with exact specifications. But we can expect to see the fulfillment of our good longings and desires in the recreated world order. As my friends Pastor Bill Glaze says, "let me use my sanctified imagination" to explore this a little.
- In the New Heavens/New Earth (NE/NH) our relational needs will be fulfilled in perfect relationship with God. The disappointments and pain of this life will be washed away in the immediate presence of God.
- In the NH/NE we will be God's "people." Therefore, we can expect that we will recognize other people, and enjoy fellowship with them. While God is at the center, it seems that we would also honor God through our relationships with each other.
- In the NH/NE the cosmos will be re-created. There will no longer be a place of chaos, represented by the "sea." I'm not convinced that this means there is no large body of water. Afterall, there is a "river." (22:1) I have no idea how the renewed creation would relate to our current creation. But, if the model of the resurrection of Jesus is meant to be an example, the renewed creation would have recognizable features. This is where my sanctified imagination kicks in, but I think it is plausible, that the New Heavens and New Earth would declare the glory of God the way our current ones do. (Psalm 19) And therefore, our enjoyment of the created world in the NH/NE would be one of the ways in which we glorify God. Perhaps there will be a renewed version of the Grand Canyon or Mt. Kilimanjaro.
So, that is fun to think about. Of course, much is uncertain, but given the Biblical emphasis on this theme as our hope, it is better to think about this too much (with appropriate safe guards and humility)... than not enough. I suspect that most of us fall on the side of thinking about heaven too little. There is, however, a somber note in the midst of these speculations. John is a pastor and inserts his pastoral concerns at several points during the vision. Toward that end, verse 8 sends a stark warning. Those who persist in sin will not enter the NH/NE. Those who align with the powers and privileges of this present world will be removed along with that entire order. I have no idea if people in the redeemed creation will spend any time thinking about the "lake of fire." But as people who live on this side of it, the warning is jarring. Like a flashing red light, John suddenly erupts with the concern that breaks into our reality. The first century churches in Asia Minor were being challenged with hard questions about Jesus. Will you remain faithful? Will you trust him when things are hard? Will you worship God alone? Will you say no to idolatry and immorality? Will you put your hope fully in the grace that will be yours when Christ is revealed?
Along with the beauty of this picture is a clear warning. This renewed reality is for those who are in Christ. Those who trust him for salvation and who are saved by his blood. It is for those who abide in him by faith and remain in him in the face of many dangers, toils and snares. It is worth losing your life if your soul is safe in Christ. (Matthew 16:26)
Text: Rev: 21:1-4
The text will be the topic of our sermon during the Sunday morning worship service. That service is Livestreamed and recorded on our YouTube channel.
Also, this is the second week in a row in which I used lyrics from a song by Josh Garrels in the front of the bulletin. If you would like to hear the song, with lyrics, on YouTube, I have provided a link here: Zion & Babylon
Text: Rev 20:11-15
Featured Verse: Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
NT Parallel Texts
Matthew 25:31-32 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."
Romans 14:10 For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Acts 17:31 ...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.”
Psalm 96:13b He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Main Idea: Quoting the Westminster Confession of Faith 33:3 - Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there will be a day of judgment, both to deter all people from sin and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity. He makes that day unknown to mankind, so that they may shake off all worldly security and be always watchful, because they do not know when the Lord will come, and may be always prepared to say, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.
The final judgment of God on all humans is one of the most attested ideas in Scripture. I purposefully added multiple parallel texts (above) to help convey the sense of this. Of course, Revelation continues to convey these truths with symbolic language. For example, it is hard to picture how "death and hades" are literally thrown into the lake of fire. But the message is clear. After the final judgment death will be no more. When we see it happen, we will understand the appropriateness of the symbol.
Central to the passage is the idea of personal accountability of the creature to the creator. Also, notice the significance of two types of books. The first books are a record of "all we have done." (20:13) The second, is a reference to "another book" which is called the "book of a life." This is a record of all who are connected to Jesus by faith. Actually, this is the fifth of six references in Revelation to the "Book of Life" so it is not a new idea.* Here is how it seems to work:
On one hand, acquittal in the final judgment is dependent upon connection to the righteousness of Jesus through faith. Salvation is by grace.
On the other hand, part of the final judgment is a reckoning with "all we have done." Not only do our works reveal our faith (see Matthew 25 and mercy to the "least of these"), but the works of believers will be judged. In 1 Cor 3:10-15, Paul describes how our Christian service will pass through judgement on the last day. He writes, "each one's work will become manifest, because the Day will disclose it." (1 Cor 3:13) Some of the things we did in the name of Christ will really last, and some will be exposed as selfish and useless service. Paul says that some Christians will be saved by grace ("as if through fire" - 1 Cor 3:15), but their life of service could be largely worthless.** Most importantly, Jesus says that he will "confess the names" of his followers before God and before the angels. Those in Christ, will be publicly recognized.
By contrast, those who are outside of Christ will be judged for their works. They will be judged completely fairly with perfect justice. Sometimes, we may get the impression that rebellious people will be judged for their rejection of Christ. While that can be part of the picture, we can lose sight of the importance of the first set of books, and the general witness of Scripture - the rebellious are judged for their sin, done in the body. (20:12. See also, 2 Cor 5:10.)
Conclusion and Application
Analysis is important here. But application is critical. What does it mean for us to live as people who will one day stand in judgement? I suspect that this concept is largely lost from our culture. As Christianity fades further into our cultural memory, the concept of "Judgment Day" is lost. Largely people in our culture speak of death in benign terms. In the words of many old Western movies. Death means that we must be "prepared to meet our maker." The Bible tells us that prospect should have a huge influence on our lives now. Here is a partial list:
1.) Knowing that death leads to standing before God in judgment, gives us urgency to repent and turn to Jesus.
2.) And urgency to share this with our neighbors.
3.) And urgency to pray for our neighbors.
4.) Knowing that death will lead to all of our works being revealed before God, gives us motivation to live lives of integrity. All will be exposed.
5.) Knowing that our works will be revealed means that we are absolutely dependent upon the grace of God - not only for salvation, but to bear spiritual fruit that endures. (1 Cor 3:10-15)
6.) Knowing that all people will stand in judgment means that we do not have to get perfect justice now. We can love our enemies, and endure momentary injustices, because "vengeance is mine, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
7.) Knowing that Jesus has been judged in our place and that we are secure in him give us hope and joy in the face of death. (1 Cor 15:56-57, Romans 8:1-4)
* Two notable references are included in the address to the church in Sardis, where Jesus promises not to blot the names of the faithful out of the Book of Life, but "confess them before the Father. Also, Revelation 21:27 refers to the "Lamb's Book of Life" as being the key for admittance into the New Jerusalem.
** In regard to judgment day, WCF 33:2 says, "In that day, not only the apostate angels will be judged, but also all persons that have lived on the earth will appear before the tribunal of Christ to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive judgement according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil."
Also, WLC #90 What will be done to the righteous at the day of judgment? [A.] At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, will be set on his right hand, and having been openly acknowledged and acquitted, they will join with him in judging reprobate angels and people. They will be received into heaven, where they will be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery, filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and presence of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. This is the perfect and full communion that the members of the invisible church will enjoy with Christ in glory at the resurrection and day of judgment.