Revelation Chapter 20-21.
REVELATION CHAPTER TWENTY.
As the camera swings into chapter twenty, we read of Satan being bound and martyrs who reign. Later we see Satan being freed and nations likened to Gog and Magog (Ezek 37), gathered for battle and marching on God’s people. The enemy is struck down by fire and a new vision of a great white throne appears. All whose names are not in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire.
“In our age of terror, Revelation shows us that there is another way to deal with terrorism and injustice other than war: it is the way of the law court, of putting evildoers on trial for their war crimes and sentencing them to punishment before God’s throne of justice…People who cry out for justice in the world, who are oppressed by tyrants, need to know that there is a divine law court or tribunal before which their case can be brought. “Mothers of the Disappeared” in el Salvador or Argentina, who stood with photos of their missing husbands or daughters in the Plaza de May month after month, deserve to know that they will receive answers to what happened to their loved ones Victims who cry out for justice need to know that God still says, as in the Exodus story, “I have heard the cry of my people and I have come down to deliver them.”
B. Rossing in, ‘The Rapture Exposed’ page 131.
In many castles across the world there are huge ornate paintings which could never fit into the ordinary everyday home. In looking at such colossal paintings it is hard to take everything in at once and you inevitably find your gaze returning to an already seen part of the picture and viewing things that you had not noticed the first time. As you do so, the full grandeur of the picture begins to come to life in your mind.
In scripture we find the same events often being spoken of again and again from different perspectives, or with different colours being added, so to speak, which help us grasp the overall picture more fully. For example, the four gospels differ from each other with each bringing additional understanding to the overall picture of grace and mercy seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In light of this we need to be careful as we start to focus on Revelation chapter twenty. We need to be careful not to rush in and simply assume that the events of chapter twenty – the binding of Satan and casting into the abyss for a period of time - chronologically follow the events of Revelation 19:11-21. What chapter twenty actually does is to show us the demise of the enemy from a different perspective than previous chapters and does so in a way which again underlies God’s absolute mastery and control over all.
The ‘cast out of heaven’ one.
In Revelation 12:9 Satan is the ‘hurled down’ one, with his defeat coming about because of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Servant King: God stooped low.
During His earthly ministry Jesus cast out demons and stated that the strong man had been bound (Mark 12:27). Elsewhere, in response to the disciples amazement that demons submitted to the name of Jesus spoken by them, (Luke 10:17), Jesus said that He had seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18).
After the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, all of Satan’s accusations and attempts to discredit God’s character are seen for what they really are – totally unjustifiable. God’s ways have always been right, and His love has always been present in such a way that does not compromise His holiness.
Satan is a deceiver (Rev 20:3) and during His ministry Jesus spoke of Satan as the father of lies (John 8:44). The term ‘father’ (often used to denote source) casts our minds back to the initial lies Satan spoke through the serpent to Adam and Eve concerning God (Gen 3:4). Yet the ‘you will not surely die’ one’s time is limited, and it is running out fast.
Satan is cast out of heaven (an event that has already occurred), yet this does not mean that he is given free reign here on Earth. If this had been so then the world as we know it would already have been destroyed. After all, do we really think that Hitler would have stopped his persecution of the Jews through his own volition, or that ISIS would choose to lay down their arms if they had been allowed all the power they wanted? Satan is a powerful being, yet he is limited in all that he does - this being conveyed in the picture of an angel, a key, an abyss and a large chain.
In the ‘Abyss’.
In Revelation 20 (v 1-4) we see Satan bound by an angel who has a large chain and a key to the Abyss. Satan is removed from heaven and the speed of his expulsion is likened to lightning (Lk 10:18); it does not come about after a long wrestling match, as if there were equal forces of good and evil opposing one another. Satan is then locked in the abyss for a thousand years to keep him from deceiving the nations, after which he is released for a short time (v 3).
The chaining of Satan (speaking of power being curtailed) is the result of Christ’s resurrection and Satan’s one thousand years imprisonment speaks of the time between the first and second coming of Christ.
The imagery (being chained and thrown in the abyss) does not mean that there is a dark abyss somewhere in or under the world, or that Satan is bound with a literal chain. Imagery is used to convey truth without it being taken literally. For example, we do not expect Jesus to have a physical double-edged sword coming out of His mouth (Rev 1:16); it is a symbol of divine judgement (Deut 32:36-41), power and authority (Eph 6:17). Neither would we expect the Messiah to literally have all the members of the government upon His shoulders when reading Isaiah 9:6. In Isaiah’s day, official keys were large and made of wood with many pegs in them to fit the holes of a lock. The keys were too big to be carried on a fob or chain and would often be carried on the shoulders as a sign of official authority, hence the term ‘government upon his shoulders’.
What is being pointed out in the imagery of the binding of Satan in Revelation chapter twenty is that the enemy’s powers are severely restricted, although his influence is still present to varying degrees.
As is the case throughout Revelation, physical imagery is often used to convey spiritual truth in a way that helps our hearts and minds grasp what is going on more fully.
One Thousand Years
Revelation tells us that the enemy is bound from the first advent of Christ to the second (depicted as 1000 years) and therefore is not something that takes place after a future return of Christ. We are in the here-and-now of the millennium with the number ‘1000’ being used figuratively.
In speaking of the figurative usage of the number 1000 in Revelation, Professor G.K. Beale writes…
“That this is not a literal chronological number is apparent from: (1) the consistently figurative use of numbers elsewhere in the book, (2) the figurative nature of much of the immediate context (“chain,” “abyss,” “dragon,” “serpent,” “locked,” “sealed,” “beast”), (3) the predominately figurative tone of the entire book (so 1:1), (4) the figurative use of “1000” in the OT and, (5) the use in Jewish and early Christian writings of “1,000” years as a figure for the eternal blessing of the redeemed.”
Prof G.K. Beale in, ‘The Book of Revelation’ page 995
Another helpful comment concerning the usage of time in Revelation is found in C. Koester’s commentary, where we read…
“When John says that the allies of the beast receive kingly power “for one hour” (17:12), he means that their reign is brief, not that it lasts for exactly sixty minutes. When he refers to persecution lasting for a three-and-a-half-year period, he repeats and varies the time reference, so that it does not fall into a neat chronological pattern. When he uses multiples of a “thousand” to identify the number of the redeemed in 7:4-8 (twelve thousand from each tribe, for a total of 144,000), he quickly alters the imagery of 7:9 to show that this same group actually consists of a multitude “that no one could count”. Similarly John will use multiples of a “thousand” when stating the dimensions of the New Jerusalem (21:16) – not to tell readers how much square footage to expect in eternity, but to speak about its fullness and perfection. Fullness is what the “thousand years” signifies in 20:1-6.”
C. Koester in, Revelation and the End of All Things, page 181-183
The Authority to Judge and Reigning for a Thousand Years
Having seen a vision of the binding of Satan and his being cast into the abyss, one could wonder, what is happening to God’s people during this time? As if to answer the question, the camera swings round in Revelation twenty to focus on another part of the vision where there are thrones on which those who have authority to judge are seated.
Those seated on the thrones refer to the twenty-four elders mentioned in Rev 4:4 and they personify all believers being representatives of the church of God. Those who have gone before us are alive in Christ (Eph 2:6) whether they die of old age or a martyr’s death. The crushed and oppressed believers of the world have become, through the work of Christ alone, the victorious ones who acknowledge that all God’s judgements are right and true. The encouragement for the beleaguered and battered church across history is that those who have gone before them are safe and secure with the ‘waiting for His enemies to be made His footstall’ One of Heb 10:13-14. Considering this, the symbol of one thousand years between the first and second advent cannot be seen as a time when the enemy is free to do as he wills. It is a time of patient waiting by the One who desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).
The Patience of God
In 1 Peter 3:20, we read that God waited patiently in the days of Noah whilst the ark was being built. God could have provided Noah with an Ark in an instant yet waits patiently and, in doing so, gives the world the opportunity to repent. The word ‘patiently’ in 1 Peter 3:20 speaks of the One who has every right to judge the world this very second yet in grace and mercy chooses to withhold judgement for a season. As has been said, the ‘waiting for his enemies to be made his footstall’ (Heb 10:13-14) period is not because the enemy is powerful and will take time to defeat, it is because God is allowing as much time as possible for man to come to repentance.
The First Resurrection (Rev 20:5).
The phrase ‘first resurrection’ (20:5) is not found anywhere else in Scripture and refers to the resurrection of Christ, He being the first fruits from among the dead (1 Cor 15:20; 1 Peter 1:3). All believers are part of this first resurrection – His resurrection - by virtue of being united with Christ for as Paul writes, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5).
“Death was introduced by Adam, conquered through resurrection by Christ (the first fruits), and will be finally destroyed in the ultimate victory of Christ at the end of history. The reign of Christ that began at the resurrection will eventually put all enemies under his feet.”
Dr K. Bailey in, ‘Paul through Mediterranean Eyes’ page 446.
Through God’s grace and mercy, our position right now is of those who have been raised up and seated with God in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6-7). The soul does not die, and through physical death those in Christ begin to enter the fuller life (hence “came to life”: Rev 20:4) and reign with Christ until the time He returns when body, soul and spirit are united as one.
“The first resurrection of which he partakes is not in himself but in Christ. His participation is entirely due to his union with Christ, and his union with Christ is a reality because the human nature which the Son took to himself in the incarnation is one with the human nature of those he came to redeem.”
P. Edgcumbe Hughes in ‘The Book of Revelation’ page 214.
Those who reign in Christ are spoken of as blessed and holy (20:6), having received the gift of life through Christ (blessed) and being set apart as special (holy) through Christ and Christ alone. The second death has no power over them whatsoever and they are priests: those who have received blessing and share that blessing of fellowship and love with others. In complete contrast to this, the second death results from divine judgement and the eternal state of all those who reject Christ. They have passed through physical death (first death) and yet do not cease to exist. At the judgement, they will then pass into the second death: eternal separation from God.
“When we sin, we don’t just do things that we know to be wrong and that hurt other people, but we declare our independence from God by deliberately living life our way rather than God’s. We reject his rightful and loving rule over us by making up our own rules…. The result of our independence from God is that God gives us what, in effect, we ask for. If we love our lives without God, wanting to go our own way, then he will let us spend eternity apart from him.”
M. Ots in, ‘What Kind of God’ page 113.
Why Satan is Released for a Short Period of Time
It has often been said that if you want to see what a person is really like then give him or her all the power they could possibly want. For example, and as has already been said, imagine what Adolf Hitler could have done if he had not been stopped, or what ISIS would do if they were not continually challenged. Imagine what it is like looking at a lion through the bars of its cage and then having to enter its cage; how long would you last?
We live in a world where we often fail to see that what we reap is a direct result of what we sow. We also live in a world where many accept all manner of religious practices as they seek to engage with the supernatural, whilst others mock and ridicule any belief in the supernatural whatsoever. In allowing the enemy an ‘hour’ we see a final opportunity to see evil for what it is and to turn from it, and yet also see that there is an enemy who is ultimately held back by one person alone: The Creator.
The enemy is allowed more power and the ‘did God really say…?’ one continues to deceive as a one-world ideology of self-assertion, religious fervor and political correctness continues to amass itself against Jerusalem (Rev 20:8-9), this speaking of all God’s people as shall be seen.
The power of Satan increases and yet it is through the hand of God that time as we know it will come to an end. Through grace and mercy there is going to be both an end and a new beginning. There is going to be an end to suffering and pain, to accusation and the pointing finger, to ridicule, oppression and the power of the enemy. All things will be under Jesus’ feet and believers will reign in Him.
Satan Gathers an Army from the Four Corners of the Earth.
In the mention of Gog and Magog (20:8) we find ourselves reminded of Ezekiel 37, where Gog (from the realm of Magog), the Prince of Rosh, Meschech and Tubal comes against God’s people. It is not known exactly who Gog was, possibly because names were often taken from previous leaders and given to a then present-day power.
God allows Gog to rise against Israel to reveal the heart of the enemy and at the same time, the power and might of God to His own people - many of whom had struggled and wandered from truth. It is as if God is saying, “This is what your enemy is really like; this is what you are facing, and this is who I am.”
In Ezekiel, the enemy’s heart is seen in the words, “I will invade the land, attack peaceful and unsuspecting people, plunder and loot” (Ezek 38:11-12). Yet the power of God has already been expressed in the words, “I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army — your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords…” (Ezek 38:4).
As a fisherman hooks and reels in a fish, so God will exercise His power over all who oppose Him. God’s power is also captured in imagery that speaks of the earth crumbling, walls falling to the ground, plague, bloodshed, rain, hailstones and Sulphur raining down on the enemy, and nations that align themselves with darkness. Gog and the armies of the north would eventually be utterly destroyed as God took a devastating victory, it taking seven months (denoting perfect victory) for the enemy to bury their dead (Ezek 39:12).
In Revelation 20, nations come against God’s people from all directions, yet no matter the power and persuasion of the enemy, the result remains the same: ‘Gog’ and ‘Magog’ will again be defeated as God takes the victory. In a world of false religion and a western world where being politically correct means, anything goes except Christianity, Christ is building His church, one by one. The devil, who began his campaign through the words, “Did God really say…?” is a defeated enemy and will one day be thrown into the lake of fire: eternal punishment (Rev 20:10). The camera continues to run and John’s vision then turns to focus on a white throne.
The White Throne
The white throne is a symbol of God’s supreme power and authority and is the throne belonging to the Father and the Son (Rev 3:21). It is also seen as the place from which all believers have victory in Christ, ruling with the One who is the source of all grace, mercy, strength, power and love. Of Jesus, C.S.Lewis once said…
“The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, “This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,” but He says, “I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.” He says, “No man can reach absolute reality except through me. Try to retain your own life and you will inevitably be ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.”
C.S. Lewis “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” quoted in The Journey, p179, Ed Oz Guinness.
John sees earth and heaven fleeing from the presence of the One on the throne (Rev 20:11) underlining the truth that no corruptible matter has any standing before God. The world as we know it will be renewed and there will be no vestige of the curse, decay or destructive nature of man remaining in any way whatsoever. There will be only a new heaven and Earth, bound together in covenant love (Rev 21:1)
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
As Revelation twenty begins to draw to a close, John then sees the dead standing before the throne and books being opened along with another book, the book of life. The sea gives up its dead, as does death and Hades and the dead are judged according to what they had done (Rev 20:12-14).
The One who Judges.
Jesus is the perfect One, the Holy One; the untouchable One who has come close so that we can taste and see that the Lord is good, coming to us in the rags of servanthood and spending His strength and energy through unconditional love.
In all situations and circumstances, whether on the Mount of Olives or a cross at Calvary, Jesus displayed absolute control over all things, whether scheming religious bigots or demonic forces called Legion (Mark 9:5-13). In every way and at every turn of the page of His life we see God’s sheer perfection in the Servant King, manifest in breath-taking generosity, compassion and mercy in space and time. All others see dimly through a mirror (1 Cor 13:12), as did Job’s comforters of old, yet Jesus sees all things as they really are and through His victory, He alone has the right to judge.
Ancient kings often kept written records (e.g. Esther 6:1-2) and in John’s day, registers were a matter of importance in an Empire which liked to keep tabs on all its citizens. The imagery of books in Revelation 20 conveys the truth that God knows all things and that nothing escapes His notice.
The dead are judged according to what they had done, symbolised by books containing a record of all past deeds (Rev 20:12). There is nothing hidden from God, no words whispered in secret, no attitude of heart, no pointing finger or deed done in darkness; all is as an open book to Him and all outside of Christ will be called to account.
In contrast to the books of the dead, the book of life does not contain deeds but the names of all who are in Christ, they are the ‘have no record of wrong’ ones who are covered in the blood of Christ having embraced His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness (Heb 10:19-22).
“The name is that which sums up and expresses the inner, ‘real’ truth about a person (62:2; 65:15-16). The Lord will thus keep his people in secure possession of their new nature as his children, the seed of the Servant. The blessings of salvation cannot be forfeited, because the Lord has promised that their ‘name’ is as durable as the new creation itself.”
A. Motyer in, ‘The Prophecy of Isaiah’ page 542.
As Paul writes, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor 15:54)
“…The ‘perishable’ must ‘put on the imperishable,’ and the mortal must ‘put on immortality.’ The picture is that of the investiture of a king, emperor or high official. The king has the same body but after the investiture, with new robes, he is a new man.”
K. Bailey in, ‘Paul through Mediterranean Eyes’, page 473.
The Lake of Fire
In our world, there are many who pay a price for their wrongdoing with a prison sentence that often has a beginning and also an end. In stark contrast to this, the second death (wages of sin and judgement) is in a lost eternity – a lake of fire because no imperfect being can ever pay a price for wrongdoing; there is never going to be a time when adequate payment is made. They enter eternal separation as opposed to eternal life in having no standing on the rock that is Christ Jesus and therefore facing the sheer holiness of God without any solid ground (hence a lake of fire).
Satan is thrown into the Lake of Fire by the One who holds all power in His hands – the One who had a disfigured face and covenant wounds on His hands and feet. This disfigured One took our beating and became unrecognisable so that we, the unrecognisable ones by way of sin and rebellion, could be recognised as sons and daughters of God. In Him alone there is victory.
REVELATION CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE.
“The great picture at the end of Revelation is the re-uniting of heaven and earth, and the restoration of the original relationship between God and man which existed in the Garden of Eden (cf Gen 3:100. The passing of the old order means the undoing of Gods curse on the world (21:4, cf Gen 3:14,17), and this restoration is total, encompassing heaven, earth and sea – the three great elements of creation.”
J. Richardson in, ‘Revelation Unwrapped’ page 72-73.
A New Heaven and Earth.
The camera swings round as we continue through Revelation and the focus now changes from the final judgement to the new heaven and Earth as well as the people of God. The purity of the new heaven and Earth is underlined in the statement that there will no longer be any sea (Rev 21:1). In the Ancient World, sea routes supplied Rome with luxury goods, often at the expense of others, with the sea also being known as a place of death by many. Therefore, the renewed creation is depicted as having no sea – speaking of no sin, no suffering, no more trade in human misery and no more death.
“The evil nuance of the sea metaphorically represents the entire range of afflictions that formerly threatened God’s people in the old world.”
Prof G.K. Beale in, ‘The Book of Revelation’ page 1043.
We are so often the ‘let’s build heaven on Earth’ ones who try to protect our vulnerability and insecurity by striving to control life and the situations and circumstances that we find ourselves in. Yet all too often our attempt at escapism entrenches us more deeply in suffering of the heart and mind. Heaven cannot be built on Earth, no matter what we may think. Instead, as John’s vision clearly reveals, the reality is that heaven is coming to Earth – a renewed Earth. The “In the beginning” One of Genesis is bringing His work to its final destination – heaven and Earth will meet. The One who prepared a garden in a place called ‘Delight’ (Eden) will bring about His new Eden, having birthed it through the mud and mire of our humanity by sending His Son who was birthed into a second-hand manger in a cow-stall.
“The birth of a new king marks a new beginning in heaven and on earth of a very different kind. …The birth of the new king, the one Rome did not anticipate and Herod could not stop, begins another history, which carries in it the end of all old royal histories. Characteristically, the birth of this new king marks a jubilee from old debts, an amnesty form old crimes, and a beginning again in a movement of freedom (so Luke 4:18-19).”
Prof Walter Brueggemann in, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ pages 102-103.
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the Servant King – a world now groans with birth pangs (Rom 8:26) and not death throes. Despite all the death, decay, oppression and destruction, this is a world pregnant with new life, a life that we can experience here and now through the Spirit of the living God who was present right at the beginning (Gen 1:1).
“The new city comes from heaven down to earth (Rev 21:10). This signifies a totally alien basis for the hope of a utopian city. There is no workable project for humans either to carry out the necessary judgement or to establish the new heavens and new earth. They are perceived to come from God.”
Editors: J. and P. Levison in, ‘Return to Babel’ page 202. Article by Jorge Pixley.
Salvation has always been a personal gift to all who reach out in repentance and faith, yet salvation is much bigger than a personal gift. Salvation speaks of the total transformation from what the world has become in our hands to what is truly called to be in His. In His hands is the gift of life – life as it should be lived and all across the world there are men, women and children responding to His call to life. One such person was Rahil Patel.
Rahil Patel was a Hindu priest from a very young age, but found inner peace eluding him no matter what he did. He studied Indian philosophy, major world religions and a whole host of different doctrines and often spoke before crowds of thousands. Yet he was not happy. On one occasion he bought a children’s Bible and hid it amongst his other books. His last year of being a Hindu priest was to be 2011 after a deepening search for the truth in Christianity. He eventually walked through the doors of a large church in central London and heard a whisper in his left ear that said, “You’re home”. That night Rahil gave his life to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. In his book, Found by Love, he later writes…
“This journey was the beginning of a relationship with a living God, not a religion of rules and regulations like the one I had come from. This was a God who showed His generous love when he gave Jesus to die for my sin. Whatever mistake I had made that day – or tomorrow – he would go on loving me increasingly.”
Rahil Patel in, ‘Found By Love’ page 197.
The worn-out robe (Heb 1:11-12) of our failures and effects of the curse will be no more as God’s power reinvigorates and restores creation. All that is evil will be removed and the ‘not my home’ place in this world will become, in His world, ‘my at home with my Father.’ The ‘robe’ will be removed and that which lies under it will rise up to fulfil its initial purpose as the cleansed, renewed and restored work of God and blessing that goes far beyond our concept of perfection.
“There must be a new earth. This earth, raped, robbed, torn, filled with anger and revenge, with hurt and pain, cannot and should not remain. It has to go. This earth had been the dwelling place of the beast, the false prophet of the beast who came out of the sea. It was the throne of Babylon, the great harlot. This earth had given refuge to the murderers of the saints of God but because, by the same token, the arena of the suffering and death of God’s children. Never “home” for them.”
A. Boesak in, ‘Comfort and Protest’ page 126.
Sometimes, when I wake up early on a sunny morning, I see and then capture in my imagination what is but the very briefest of glimpses of what a renewed Earth that is at one with heaven might be like. It is, of course, but a pale shadow in my mind, but it is as if the freshness of the air and initial peace and tranquillity of a new summer’s day gently points me to a heaven and earth intertwined. It is almost as though God has walked through His world during the night and renewed the faded grass, reinvigorated the colours of the flowers and leaves of the trees and purified the air that I breathe. As I continue to think along these lines, I also remind myself that this world is important to Him and so am I. I remind myself that He has not let go of this world and He will not let go of me. I remind myself that even though this world at present bears little by way of comparison with the renewed heaven and Earth, it is still so very important to Him. It is not ignored, it is not of no consequence – it is His and He is about His work of transformative grace right now.
“For people in the Bible, nature was very close to God. Yahweh had created the universe, and they did not believe he had left it. His voice could be heard in the thunder, his power observed in the storm (Psalm 29). God’s acts of power were readily visible in rivers, rainfall, birds and volcanoes (Psalm 104). Heaven was not a far-off place. It was more a hidden dimension to everyday reality, readily accessible through prayer and worship. When God spoke from heaven (as the Bible sometimes mentions him doing) he was actually very near. Ordinarily he was invisible, but he was never inaccessible.”
Tim Stafford in, ‘Surprised by Jesus’ page 126.
All disharmony and division will one day come to an end with Isaiah capturing this truth in the following words, which speak of the work of the ‘I will wipe every tear from their eye’ One.
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.” Isaiah 11:6-8
Expanding Our Vision
John’s Holy City imagery coming down from heaven reminds us of Isaiah’s “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind…” (Isaiah 67:17). In both Isaiah’s words and the vision that John is given, we are encouraged to raise our eyes, to look beyond our plans and four walls of our own thinking to the One who holds all things together, Abba Father. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven because it is a gift. The underlying truth that sustains all things is that the transformation of every life in Christ and the world we live in is purely an act of grace motivated by God’s love alone. Heaven meets Earth and God will live with His people; they are noticed, they are not forgotten, they are His.
“We interpret heaven in terms of earth, instead of interpreting earth in terms of heaven. If we interpret in the wrong direction, we live either in mediocrity, unaware of the glories just past our perceptions, or in dreams that are useless to the lives we have. “Heaven is not simply a dream to retreat to when things get messy and inhospitable on earth. Heaven is not fantasy. We have access to heaven now: into invisibility in which we are immersed and that is developing into visibility.”
E.Peterson in Reversed Thunder, page 172.
The One whom so many ignore is the very One who has promised to never leave or forsake us (John 14:16); He is the One who will renew this place from which we see through a dim mirror (1 Cor 13:12) as indeed He renews the hearts and minds of all who turn to Him.
One young woman who learnt to think in new ways and eventually placed her trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is Yeonmi Park who, as a teenager, escaped from North Korea. During her escape across China she was raped, forced into marriage and abused in horrific ways. After suffering years of abuse she finally made it to South Korea and in her book she speaks of how difficult she found it to believe the truth about North Korea and Kim Jon Il…
“For a long time, I simply refused to believe it. Assuming that North Korea was always the victim of imperialist aggression was part of my identity. It’s not easy to give up a worldview that is built into your bones and imprinted on your brain like the sound of your own father’s voice.”
Yeonmi Park in, ‘In Order to Live’ page 215.
Yeonmi also writes about how difficult she found it to learn to think for herself, explaining…
“In South Korea, I learned to hate the question “What do you think?” Who cared what I thought? It took me a long time to start thinking for myself and to understand why my own opinions mattered. But after five years of practicing being free, I know now that my favorite colour is spring green and my hobby is reading books and watching documentaries. I’m not copying other people’s answers anymore.”
Yeonmi Park in, ‘In Order to Live’ page 215.
Through the love and care of Christians around her, Yeonmi came to see how precious her life was to God and eventually placed her trust in Jesus Christ. Despite her horrific past experiences and previous upbringing in a brutal dehumanizing regime, Yeonmi found grace and mercy in the One who restores our hearts and minds; the One who makes all things new.
“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the Lord, "so will your name and descendants endure.” Isaiah 66:22
The Alpha and Omega Who Makes All Things New (Rev 21: 5-6)
We serve a God who seeks to make all things new and who offers life in the most extraordinary of circumstances and strangest of ways. Take, for example, a story I came across recently surrounding the events of a particular Campus Crusade for Christ Jesus Film Project in 1997. Paul Eshleman, the Campus Crusade Director writes…
“In the state of Bihar, India, there is a notoriously anti-Christian tribe called the Malto. When a crew with Campus Crusade’s Jesus film attempted to schedule a showing there in 1998, they were strongly rebuffed. A few days later, a 16-year-old Malto girl died. But that evening, just as her parents were about to bury her, she came back to life. As an awed crowd gathered around her, she told them that the God of the film crew had sent her back for several days “To tell as many people as I can that he is real.” The girl and her mother went searching, and the next day, they found the crew in a nearby village and invited them back for a showing. For seven days she told her story in every village they could get to, drawing large crowds for the film. Hundreds of people became Christians and started churches. After seven days the girl still looked fine, but she collapsed and died once again.”
Paul Eshleman quoted in ‘Kingdom Triangle’ by Dr J.P. Moreland, page 169.
As the Alpha and Omega, God holds all history in His hands; He is before all things and will bring all things to their true eschatological fulfillment as the Creator. He is the origin and goal of all history, the One who spoke creation into existence (John 1:1) and the One who has the last word concerning creation’s final destiny. God is the One who is beyond the horizon of the horizons and yet is also with us right now in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
This world had a beginning that was ordained by heaven and it will have an end which, for believers, is a new beginning. The One who says this is the Alpha and Omega.
The letters ‘Alpha’ and ‘Omega’ are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet with the term ‘Alpha and Omega’ being what is known as a ‘merism’. A ‘merism’ is a figure of speech where a phrase or statement actually refers to one single thing. So for example, “Lock, stock and barrel” which originally referred to parts of a gun is now a phrase used to speak of the whole gun. As the Alpha and Omega, God holds all history in His hands. There has been a beginning and there will an end as we know it – our new beginning.
“Often the gospel is spoken of as being a great arc leading from the creation to the Fall to the Incarnation to the death of Jesus and then his resurrection and ascension. But the arc is not yet complete. Jesus will return, and when he does, the resurrection really will change everything. The Bible tells us, “He must remain in heaven until the tie comes from God to restore everything” (Acts 3:21). Paul tells us that God as “a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10).”
A. Warnock in, ‘Raised with Christ’ pages 249-50.
Come and Drink Without Cost (Rev 21:6).
In a world of hardship and pain where very little is free, especially at the hands of man, there is the call of God to come and freely drink, to come without money and receive great blessing (Rev 21:6).
This call of God echoes the call to come and drink in Isaiah 55:1. It was a call given at a time when the kingship of Israel appeared to be totally destroyed; a time when all that was good and true was being treated as unimportant or trodden underfoot – and yet God still called. The outrageously generous offer made in Revelation 21:6-7 calls out to us all as God encourages even the most despondent of souls to take up His offer; to eat and drink at no cost with a heavenly King.
In John’s world of suffering where Christians were marginalised and thrown out of guilds (therefore losing the ability to make money), the ‘buy at no cost’ One encourages them with a future that no money can buy. In recognising this, I am reminded that like all who are now in Christ; we were all as Mephibosheth – in great need of blessing.
Mephibosheth Comes Home
We were all Mephibosheth – those who have been crippled from a young age who all come from the family of a ‘king’ (Adam,) who became a failed rebel like Saul. Our family was the first Adam and like him we were called to rule yet are so often ruled. And yet like Mephibosheth, we are the ‘sought out’ ones. For, as in victory, David sought out the grandson of his enemy (Saul) in order to bless him (2 Sam 9:1-5), so too we have been sought out by heaven in order to be blessed.
Like Mephibosheth, the ‘I remember you’ recipient of David’s covenant relationship with King Saul’s son Jonathan, we are the remembered ones in the covenant made between our representative (Jesus Christ) and God. Like Mephibosheth, the crippled son of a rebellious king, we are able to eat at the table of the One whom we shook our fists at or viewed with indifference. Like Mephibosheth and yet so much more so, all that we lost has been restored to us and increased in measure through grace and mercy alone. We truly are the ‘Come to the water and drink’ ones – those who receive what we have not worked for.
“The great tragedy in modern Christianity is that pools of living water are bubbling in the burning sand of our souls and we don’t know it. We haven’t dug deep enough through the debris of our self-deception, through the strategies we carefully follow to make life work, to drink from the divine stream within. We’re drinking polluted water and thinking it’s pure. Worse, we’re feeling refreshed…but it’s false refreshment. It’s both contrived and counterfeit….”
Dr L. Crabb in, ‘The Pressures off’ p 48.
God will be with His People and He will be their God (Rev 21:3)
The Lord is the covenant Head who sustains His people, who bestows gifts, and who equips (2 Peter 1:3). He is the One who has put everything under his feet (Psalm 8), speaking of absolute mastery, and the Earth trembles at his presence (Psalm 114:7). We are not our own, having been bought at a price (1 Cor 6:19-20) and His grace is sufficient in all things (2 Cor 12:9).
John is taken to a mountain (Rev 21:10)
One of the angels with the seven bowls of wrath comes to John and he is taken, in the Spirit, to a mountain. In a parallel passage (Rev 17:1-3) the angel had said “come” and then showed John the whore of Babylon in the desert, a city that is going to be punished. Now, in complete contrast to this, we are seeing another city as the angel says “Come” (Rev 21:9-10) and shows John the New Jerusalem as he stands on the mountain.
In the Ancient Near East, mountains were often seen as symbols of strength and stability with David saying on one occasion, “O Lord, when you favoured me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” (Psalm 30:7). At the time, these words were written as David was contrasting his former self-confidence (when he thought himself to be almost invincible) with the trust he now has in the Lord. It was God who has made his ‘mountain’ – his strength – stand firm.
In the Old Testament, the kingdom of Messiah is depicted as a mountain (Daniel 2:35) and in Rev 21:10-11 we see John being taken to a mountain that is “great and high”, reminding us that in participating in what God does, we stand in His strength. Ultimately all that is good and true comes from His grace, mercy, strength and power.
From the vantage point John has been brought to, he now sees the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming down from heaven; the bride and wife of the Lamb. Throughout Scripture the term ‘marriage’ was sometimes used to describe God’s spiritual relationship with His people and in Christ we see the Bridegroom with the church.
The Brilliance of the City Was Like Jasper (Rev 21:11)
In Revelation 4:3, we read of the One upon the throne having the appearance of jasper and carnelian. Here in Rev 21:11 we read of the city of Jerusalem shining with the glory of God and brilliance like that of jasper, clear as crystal.
In John’s day, jasper was the collective name for opaque stones and sometimes referred to as clear transparent diamonds. In all of this we see that the city speaks of God’s blessing and presence with His people (hence Jasper). John mentions the city coming down three times and in doing so, underlines the truth that all goodness and perfection is a gift from God.
Heaven comes to a renewed earth and the veil is removed forever. God has provided great blessing for us, God is providing great blessing for us and God will provide great blessing for us.
Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem
The present-day Jerusalem is on one of the hills of Mount Moriah on which Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son whom he loved. As Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God stayed his hand and provided a ram. Thousands of years later this heavenly Father – this ‘stayer of hands’ One – would stand back as the Son was put to death as a criminal. Abraham had been called out from a culture of paganism, religion and politics in the Mesopotamian Ziggurat city of Ur. In seeing how God stayed his hand and then provided a sacrifice, he was aware of how different this God was from those of his past and the surrounding nations. Therefore, he named the place of sacrifice, ‘God will provide’, with the heart of this being, God sees, God provides.
The city of Jerusalem (Yerushalayim), or the place known as ‘The Lord will provide’ was originally called Salem (Gen 14:18) meaning ‘peace’. The word ‘peace’ speaks of wholeness and unbrokenness – something only God can truly bring about. True peace ultimately comes about through covenant - the giving of self for another, epitomised in Christ paying the price for man’s sinfulness so that man could receive richness (2 Cor 8:9). In light of this, Jerusalem was to be the covenant city, the place of peace where God provided, and people shone with the light and glory of His presence. Yet Jerusalem failed in her true calling and failed to recognise the covenant-keeper, the Lord Jesus Christ, in her midst.
The New Jerusalem speaks of intimacy and fellowship with God, the bride with the bridegroom, the wife with her husband. Considering this we would do well to remember that the New Jerusalem is not about a physical city but about the coming together of heaven and Earth, speaking of people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
“The Lamb is leading us on an exodus out of the heart of empire, out of the heart of addiction to violence, greed, fear, an unjust lifestyle or whatever holds each of us most captive. It is an exodus we can experience each day. Tenderly, gently the Lamb is guiding us to pasture of fie and healing beside God’s river.”
Barbara Rossing in, ‘The Rapture Exposed’ page 142.
God’s Hand of Friendship
In Isaiah 62 we capture something of the friendship and love that God desires with his people, with Jerusalem being spoken of as ‘my delight is in her’, this being reminiscent of Eden which means ‘delight’. Jerusalem is also called ‘holy people’ (set apart as special), ‘redeemed of the Lord’ (purchased by God as ‘rescued from loss’ ones), and ‘the City no longer deserted’ (Isaiah 62:12).
Jerusalem of old had killed the prophets sent to call those who had wandered from God or who had sought to refashion the word of God with their own understanding, back to the love of God. In a worldly way, we could not blame God if He gave up on His people; yet what do we find? The One who could destroy all cities with the breath of his mouth enters Jerusalem as a lamb led to the slaughter.
Jesus came into Jerusalem as the true gift of God and the only way through which man would be able to find true peace with God. He came to a city that was never meant to rely on her building programmes, her walls or the way she set about worshipping in the temple or how the temple looked. He came to a Jerusalem that had been called to express covenant living to all and a temple that was to be a place of prayer for all the nations, yet He was not recognised as a Saviour and perceived as a threat by so many; yet still He came.
Jesus came and revealed what covenant living was all about as He reached out to all people - the dispossessed and the possessed, the religious and the compromiser of faith. In the city named ‘peace’ at a place called ‘God sees and will provide’, Jesus came and showed what Kingdom living is all about. He showed us life as it should be lived – in harmony with a heavenly Father as well as sacrificial and unconditional love. He revealed the heart and mind of the Life-breather in a place where life was being strangled by religious zealots and half-hearted men and women. As the perfect man, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and as imperfect man, they turned and beat Him and put Him to death. He wore our bruises and stood in our place – the place of judgement at Calvary – and it is because of Him that we are the New Jerusalem of God.
In the world of Rome and Greece, cities were often described as people and in Jewish thinking, the term ‘Jerusalem’ spoke of both the heart of covenant living and the people who are living there. Therefore the New Jerusalem speaks of the bride of Christ and the depth of fellowship and love that is now possible between God and man. No wonder John speaks of the city (people) as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Rev 21:2).
Gates, Foundation Stones and Ordinary People Like You and I
In John’s vision, the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem are continuously open, (Isaiah 60:11, Rev 21:21) unlike the gates of ancient cities or the old Jerusalem whose gates were closed at night. The gates of the New Jerusalem are always open because there is unhindered access to God through all that He has done. Written on the gates are the names of the twelve tribes and written on the foundation stones of the city are the names of the twelve apostles. But why are the apostles spoken of as the foundation stones when Israel preceded them?
In answering the question, we remember that Christ is spoken of as being slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), this revealing that the heart behind the universe is One of sacrificial love. The fulfilment of all Israel’s promises comes through the Messiah who, together with the apostles, form the true foundation of the renewed covenant. The names of the twelve tribes written on the gates point to the all-encompassing work of God and the open door to Israel through Christ in whom all are united (Gal 3:28).
The tribes of Israel were descended from what could be loosely referred to as one of the must dysfunctional families in Scripture; in the N.T. we find outrageously ordinary people with all their ups and downs being chosen as disciples in a society that expected only the best. As if this choice of uneducated disciples was not bad enough, when an educated man was chosen, he was a tax collector. Then, as if things could not get even worse, a murderer comes through Christ into the number of apostles as one abnormally born (1 Cor 15:8) in that he had not lived and walked with Jesus.
Does not all of this clearly reveal the power of God’s redemptive ministry through those spoken of as having their names on the gates of pearl and foundations of the city? The pearl gates draw us back to the divine exchange that God desires between man and God, the giving of all that one has for the other. We pick this up in the words of Jesus where the kingdom of heaven is firstly likened to a treasure (Mat 13:44-45) that we should sell everything to get. The kingdom of heaven is then likened to a merchant (God) who is looking for pearls and who gives His very best (Jesus to get them); we are those pearls.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”
Measurements Are Taken (Rev 21:15-17)
The angel with John has a measuring stick of gold and measures the city along with its gates and its walls. He represents the Holy One, the ‘who marked off the world’s dimensions’ One of Job 38:5-7 and the multiples of the number twelve in measuring the city point to the full number of God’s people (as does the number 144,000) and therefore the fulfilment of all His promises to man.
As measurements are taken, we see that the New Jerusalem is shaped like a cube – but why a cube? The answer to this question is seen when we take a view of the whole of Scripture and recognise that it points to God’s localised presence in the inner chambers of the tabernacle and temple which were cubic in shape (1 Kings 6:2-3). Both the tabernacle (dwelling place – from the root, ‘to entwine) and the Temple (Palace of God) speak of God’s presence with His people with the inner sanctuary being, as already said, cubic in shape. Therefore, the imagery of a cube speaks of God’s presence with His people and His people’s presence with God. The church is known as the ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 3:16) with all believers being spoken of as living stones and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). In light of this, the New Jerusalem (the descending cube-like city) clearly speaks of God’s permanent presence with His people, they being the Israel of God comprising of both Jew and Gentile who turn to the Lord. The sheer size of the city is so great that, were it a physical city, it would cover the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Spain. The city represents both the people of God and the presence of God and encourages us to live our lives for Him right now. Around the city is a thick wall that is made of Jasper, this again pointing to the protection and covenant care of God.
“…It is built of the stone which represents God. Zechariah had prophesied that in the restored Jerusalem, God himself would be its wall of fire (Zechariah 2:5). No wall is really necessary, but the presence of a wall was what defined a city in John’s day. The city of God is defined by his presence. He is its eternal security.”
M. Maxwell in, ‘Revelation’ page 209.
Foundation stones and precious stones (Rev 21:14, 19)
The New Jerusalem symbolises the people of God with their heavenly Father having entered the holy of holies through the great High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb 9:11-12). By virtue of his grace and mercy, we are now a royal priesthood called to reflect His glory. This intimacy and reflecting of his glory is captured in the mention of the precious stones (believers) in the wall (care and protection) of God.
In the Old Testament, it was the High Priest who had a turban inscribed with the name of God and a breastplate with twelve gemstones on it who entered the holy of holies (Exodus 28:17). The precious stones had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them and formed a square shape, reflecting God’s glory. As Isaiah once prophesied…
"O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children's peace.”
Over the years I have collected many gemstones of various size, colour and value. The true worth of these stones is seen in their beauty and the way they reflect the light – it is their capacity to show colour that really counts. As the people of God from every tribe, language, people and nation, we are living stones built into a spiritual house to reflect the glory of God in the way we give our lives to one another in sacrificial, unconditional love.
Finally, as we move from Revelation 21 to Revelation 22 we note that there has been no mention of the temple by name because the temple is the New Jerusalem as a whole; the temple is the people of God (1 Cor 3:16). The New Jerusalem is the temple and the people, the place where God and man reside together, is a place where there is no separation of spiritual and the physical, no secular and sacred. It is the place where the sheep are with the Shepherd, the Father with his children; it is the redeemed people of God. In light of this, the New Jerusalem is not some distant place or an esoteric far-off experience. Neither is it an out of reach place or a place to run and hide in. It is heaven coming to Earth, it is you and I in Christ; it is life as it should be, a life that is united with God.
"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”
You are the bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, made up of those who were once enemies of God. You are protected, a pearl of great price who can freely enter into the presence of God. You are the living stones, reflecting glory as the royal priesthood of believers. You are in the holy of holies, in the very presence of God. He is with you right now and you are precious, set apart and empowered by His Spirit as one who is special and loved. He is your foretaste, your guarantee and you will be with Him in a united heaven and Earth.
REVELATION CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO.
George Washington Carver was a black slave who, as a child, was traded off for a horse. Through many different situations and life experiences, he rose to freedom and eventually became a scientist. In all that he went through, whether a slave or free man, struggling or successful, George never lost his faith in God and on one occasion wrote…
“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
G.W. Carver in, The Book of African-American Quotations, page 28
As we tune into the last chapter in Revelation, we find that the first five verses emphasise the inner life and a transformed nature - external and internal - depicted as the New Jerusalem. Through grace and mercy and despite all we go through or find ourselves facing, we are the ‘continually able to receive’ ones, drawing on the resources of the One who is always so willing to give.
My Future is Because of His Past
Our present life in heart, mind and wellbeing is secure and our future position is a reality in the work of God and the Lamb. Indeed, our future is based on His covenant love; it is based on His past – His sacrificial death and resurrection and so we are secure. In the ups and downs of life and the turmoil of the changing days, our future is His workmanship. It is His future – a restored heaven and Earth from the One who is all our tomorrows; from the One who is our certainty.
“The Hebrew word for tomorrow is ‘mahhar’ from the root ‘ahhar’ meaning ‘to be behind’…. As you can see, in Hebrew thought, they perceived the past (yesterday) as in the front while the future (tomorrow) as behind. It is not that they saw themselves walking the road of time backwards – in fact, they did not see time as linear, but as cyclical. They perceived their history, the past, as events that can be seen, therefore in front, while the future cannot be seen therefore, it is behind and out of view."
Dr. J. Benner in, ‘The Living Words’ pages 35-36.
As we look to the One who reaches out, the unknowable One who seeks to be known, we hear His call to receive.
“The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Rev 22:17.
In Genesis 2:10 we read of a river flowing from Eden and watering the garden before being separated into four headwaters. Then, in Genesis 21:17-19 in the barren environment of a desert and with a crushed heart and mind we read of an abused slave called Hagar being found by God. God hears the cry of the oppressed and encourages her and raises her up, opening her eyes so that she can see a well of water provided for her and her son to drink from. The incredibly good news is that God comes into the desert of our own making and offers us water of life. He is the One who heard the cry of Ishmael (Gen 16:11) and He hears the cry of the down-trodden, the marginalised and the mistreated. God hears the cry of the businessman/woman trapped in his or her desert of worldly success yet who is now panicking because they think that this is all that there is to life and something is still missing. God hears the cry of all, from the young girl trafficked for a body that belongs to her alone to the woman caught in the bondage of Islam who begins to question what it is that holds her. He hears the cry of us all and encourages all to turn to Him and receive the water of life, the presence of His Spirit, the touch of the One who has always loved us; the One who says, ‘Come to the water and drink’.
In a desert place, a rock was struck at Horeb (meaning ‘dryness’ or ‘desert’) and water gushed forth for a group of ill-disciplined ex-slaves who were now enslaved by their own hearts (Ex 17:6). Centuries later, in unmatchable grace, the Son of God was struck as the judgement that should have fallen upon us all (Isaiah 53:9-11) was paid for by the One who has done no wrong (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). This heavenly King veiled in flesh reveals what humanity should really look like – in close fellowship with the Father. He is the One who spoke to the lonely Samaritan women standing by a well in the full heat of the midday sun (John 4:7-14) and told her that if she asked Him, He would give her living water. Living water gushes up from the ground and speaks of the work of God by His Spirit. As Jesus once said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John 7:38.
Through the work of God, we are planted by streams of living water (Psalm 1:3) and by virtue of His grace and power, we can prosper in all that we do. This prospering is through engaging with God in both heart and mind, speaking of the Holy Spirit’s presence and touch on our lives. In both the Old and New Testaments, water is associated with the care and work of the Holy Spirit.
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.”
Through God’s incredible intervention in our lives, we are brought back to our true self in Him. He is the only One who truly holds the blueprint to our lives and, like all who have gone before us, we have suffered the consequences of assuming that we hold the true picture of self. We stand in our self-assurance but are crippled by a self that assumes it knows best, yet still He came. Jesus came to set us free, but do we really understand this freedom; will we come to the water? God offers us wholeness and healing at a much deeper level than we can fully comprehend whist we stand on this side of eternity. He offers radical transformation, but are we prepared to lift up our eyes and look to Him – are we willing to receive?
“As long as we refuse to take notice of what is beyond our sight, beyond our reason; as long as we are blind to the mystery of being, the way to prayer is closed to us."
Abraham Heschel in ‘Man’s Quest for God’ p62.
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
The Tree of Life (Rev 22:2)
Adam and Eve were created as both physical and spiritual beings of immense strength, power and insight when compared to modern day humanity. Adam was told not to eat the fruit of the tree (physical testing) and, as a spiritual creature, was expected to withstand any attempt to draw him away from his trust in the Lord (Genesis 2:17). Yet Adam failed, and the results of his failure are written across history in each and every person’s failings from the murder of Abel to the present day where we have more enslaved people and more wars than at any other time in history. Through judgement on sin, Adam and Eve were prevented from eating from the tree of life yet through becoming sin, Jesus opens the path of blessing to all who bow the knee. No matter how far we may have fallen, all the promises of God are ‘yes’ in Christ (2 Cor 1:20) and we can eat freely from the tree of life (Rev 2:7) whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
‘Take and eat’ (Rev 2:7).
The tree of life is a metaphor that speaks of great blessing, with Proverbs 11:30 stating that the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. Ultimately Jesus is the Righteous One (1 John 2:1), the One who seeks to encourage, instruct and uplift us no matter what we face; He is the One who encourages us to eat.
In Revelations 2:7 we see that those who are open to God and trust in Him are given the fruit of the tree of life. This giving is not at the end of life but a day-by-day occurrence. It is the fruit of God’s work of salvation to all who now live in the power of His Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
“The figurative picture of healing by the leaves of the tree of life means that Christ was “slain” on behalf of the believing nations, so that they were “released from (the penalty) of this sins by his blood” cf. 5:9 with 1:5). Christ suffered death on their behalf in the present age so that they would not have to suffer it in the age to come.”
G.K. Beale in, ‘The Book of Revelation’ page 1108.
The tree of life is mentioned in the Garden in Eden yet is also mentioned by Ezekiel in Ezekiel 47.
Ezekiel was a priest belonging to the aristocracy of Jerusalem and a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel. He was taken captive of Babylon when he was around the age of twenty-five and eventually married and lived in his own house (Ezek 8:1). Ezekiel prophesied the future blessing of God’s Messianic kingdom and spoke of this blessing flowing from the sanctuary saying…
“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."
In Revelation twenty-two, we hear of the Tree of life (Rev 22:2) straddling the river of the water of life, with leaves that are for the healing of the nations. In this context, the word ‘healing’ (therapeia) speaks of healing through being cared for and reminds us of how Jesus came alongside men, women and children from both inside and outside of Israel. In His words and His actions, His touch and His gracious acts of healing, we see a clear portrayal of His kingdom at hand. The healing Jesus brings to bear on life ultimately involves body, soul and spirit and is in complete contrast to the soul-destroying, life-sapping ways of a world that trusts in that which is ultimately transient and passing. Like Jesus, we are called to walk alongside people, to uplift the downtrodden and move in the gifts of the Spirit in accordance with His will.
“But more often than not, the most healing thing that we can do with someone who is in pain, rather than trying to get rid of that pain, is to sit there and be willing to share it. We have to learn to hear and to bear other people’s pain. That is all part of becoming more conscious.”
M. Scott Peck in, ‘Further along the road less travelled.’ Page 28
Through Christ and Christ alone we find wounds being tended to, burdens being lifted, pain being removed, guilt being washed away, grief being ministered to and life in increasing measuring being birthed into earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). The bruised all-powerful One with covenant scars on His hands brings healing to our fallen world by His Spirit through grace, mercy, and love. He brings healing and the promise of a new Earth, a coming together of heaven and Earth likened to a city arriving as a bride in all her glory. The curse of our autonomy and self-fulfilment is removed and we become free - freer than we have ever been before.
“…the Christian seeks neither autonomy nor independence, but rather to be faithful to the way that manifests the conviction that we belong to another. The Christians learn to describe their lives as a gift rather than an achievement…. true freedom comes by learning to be appropriately dependent, that is, to trust the one who wills to have us as his own and wills the final good of all.”
S. Hauerwas in, ‘A Community of Character’ page 130-131.
“…and they will see His face.” (Rev 22:4)
Through grace, the God whom Adam and Eve hid from and whose essential character is so powerful and glorious that no one could look on Him and live (Ex 33:20) is now fully seen by those who are spoken of as having his name on their foreheads.
A name speaks of the nature and character of that which is named and His name on our foreheads points to us being totally His. He is the ‘make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you’ One (Num 6:25) who releases us into our true self in Him. He is the One who loved the unlovely and who crossed the line (e.g. Luke 19:5) with the offer of acceptance and life to those who deserved nothing but judgement and eternal separation. He walks with us by the Spirit right now. Some Christians seem to want nothing more than a powerful Saviour to destroy an ever-threatening enemy, yet those rooted in Him see a Saviour who reaches out to all and calls us to love in a way that can only be done through Him.
“Would you prefer a lofty and powerful messianic king who always triumphed in battle and exercised complete authority, never feeling the pangs of humiliation, never know what it was like to be under someone else’s control, never knowing what it was like to be stripped, beaten and led away to die? Would we prefer a Saviour who could not possibly relate to the sting of public rejection and ridicule, who was never challenged, never misunderstood, never slandered, never repaid with evil for doing good? Is this the kind of Messiah we want? Or do we want a Messiah who suffers and then reigns, who dies and then lives again, who gives himself to us long before we give ourselves for him? The choice should be obvious.”
M.L. Brown in ‘Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus’, vol 1 page 192.
Through Jesus, the ‘make his face shine upon you’ One has shown His kindness to us and revealed His nature and character for all to see. Unlike worldly Kings, He encourages all who are His to look to Him.
“In oriental culture, a mere peasant or servant was not permitted to look a king in the eye. When in the presence of the king one must look down and not at his face. This is not only to show respect, but to keep the servants from becoming too familiar with the king. It was a way of exercising control, keeping a person in his place so to speak. ..Without looking into the king’s face, one could never know what the king was feeling. Yet, our King of all Kings is drawing our attention to His countenance. He wants His people to see what He is feeling.”
Chaim Bentorah in, ‘Hebrew Word Study’ page 32-33
‘Blessed is the one who keeps the words of prophecy in this book’ (Rev 22:7)
Prophecy challenges the world and all within it to see that we are not on our own and that our Creator is calling us to blessing through the work of the Saviour King. Therefore, prophecy challenges us all. It challenges us through drawing our attention away from ourselves to focus on the One who created all life and so, in a real sense, prophecy encourages us to focus on the whole picture, on the painting and not just one or two colours. God is the Life-breather, the ‘none can take them from His hands’ One (John 10:29) the One who spoke through a now reborn murdering, religious bigot….
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The future has arrived in the present and the present is heading into His future. We are part of His story and no longer need to belong to our own.
Prophecy continues to unfold and will do so until the ordained moment in space and time when God calls all things to the end of its present state and form.
All prophecy proceeds from the throne of grace; from the Master of history who holds everything – whether atoms, nations, individuals or a world – within His grasp. He who entered this world in the rags of our poverty, will return in glory unveiled as history is called to account and blessing is imparted to all who are rooted in Jesus Christ.
“For every prophecy of Jesus’ first coming, there are seven of His second. He is not just the Christ of ancient history or of present experience – He is the Coming King, coming in clouds of power and great glory. He is the Rightful Owner of all creation, at whose advent all people will be called into reckoning, small and great, rich and poor, religious or not. He is not the Christ of a long-gone past; He is the present Saviour, and the world’s future Judge, a future that is fast moving into present reality.”
Dr W. Pratney, ‘Nature and Character of God.’
Do Not Add to the Prophecies of this Book (Rev 22:19)
Revelation reveals the covenant relationship between God and humanity and as covenant truth, it is not to be added to in any way; doing so would be to invoke a curse - as was the case whenever Israel strayed from God’s truth (Deut 4:2-4; 11:26-28). Revelation is firmly couched in the whole counsel of God’s word and points to Him as the Author of incredible loving-kindness and the true Judge of all things. It is not some sort of fantasy or a means of working out precise times and dates; it is all about Him and its purpose is to encourage, uplift and invoke praise and prayer.
The ‘Last Adam’ (1 Cor 15:22) – the true King – has come into His world and the words of His covenant are not to be altered. Unlike Daniel, who was told to seal up the words of his book, the words of this book are not to be sealed up because the King is on His throne and time is moving towards a new beginning - a new Genesis that far outshines even the most beautiful of days.
The book is not sealed because it is meant to be understood by John’s generation and birth hope, as indeed it does to every soul who seeks to understand the heart of the One whom Revelation clearly points to at every turn of the camera. No wonder it begins by speaking of blessing (Rev 1:3) and ends with the promise of blessing (Rev 22:14); it speaks of unstoppable growth for the believer and hope for the hopeless in a world of suffering. All good things originate from the heart of God and through Christ there are no issues of accessibility when it comes to approaching the throne of grace. There are no accessibility issues because God has done all that is needed for life in its truest sense – united with heaven on Earth. He is the ‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask me’ One, the ‘I was found by those who did not seek me’ One (Isaiah 65:1), the One depicted as a loving Father with outstretched arms greeting a prodigal son that had misused his inheritance (Luke 15). In a world where darkness often seems to be winning, His kingdom advances in the cells of imprisoned believers in Iran, amongst multitudes in China and in the lives of displaced refugees from North Korea along with a whole host of other places across our world from North to South and East to West.
The Morning Star (Rev 22:16)
God sees all things and ultimately all will answer to the Shepherd King, the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End, with each statement underlining the great truth that time is in His hands. All who have washed their robes – who have clothed themselves in His work – are wholeheartedly welcomed by the One who is the Root of David and the true bright Morning Star.
In John’s day the term ‘morning star’ referred to the planet Venus, it being the brightest object after the sun and moon which appeared just before sunrise, signalling the beginnings of a new day. The morning star was also a well-known metaphor for Kings and was, to Rome, a symbol of victory.
In Jesus being spoken of as the Morning Star, we see the One who promises to give His victory in increasing measure to those who serve Him. As Scripture clearly reveals, His victory is given and not earned (hence the New Jerusalem comes down). Our obedience does not earn us blessing, what it does is enable us to receive more of a blessing that is already present.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 1 Peter 1:19
Amidst all that God does, there are many in the world who invariably carry on doing what they have always done and therefore, with great irony, fallen man is told to continue in his waywardness (Rev 22:11). Sometimes it is only when man experiences the harvest of his wrong-doing that he really begins to realise that all is not right. In a world often teaching that all ways lead to God, or that there is no God at all, the fruit of wrong thinking is easily found in the isolation and pain inhabiting the heart and mind as well as in the marketplace of life.
“Behaviour follows beliefs as surely as thunder follows lightning. What starts in the studies will end in the streets.”
Prof. O. Guinness in, ‘Time for Truth’ page 99.
Ultimately evil speaks of counter-covenant living, of fallen man’s unwillingness and inability to live up to the standards and calling of God’s law of love. Yet evil also speaks of our willingness to overstep His boundaries in our abuse of His world and the people within it. Yet there is hope - because of God’s grace and mercy, there is always hope.
Revelation continually speaks into our world and encourages us to look to the One who holds our lives in His hands. It calls out to us and challenges us to look to the King who is present by the Spirit and to persevere by leaning on the One who gives strength to the weary…
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
The ‘call’ of Revelation
As sons and daughters of the living God, we live in a world that ignores the truth of Christianity or persuades people to think of it as no more than a quaint way of living for those who cannot cope. Yet in reality, as the whole of Scripture testifies, it is not the Christian faith that sits on the peripherals of day-to-day living; instead it is the outside of covenant living that sits in a dark and distant place on the very edge of life as it is meant to be lived - in harmony with a heavenly Father who is available to all through Christ.
The book of Revelation is about the covenant heart of God from beginning to end; it is about love and justice and an encouragement to worship and serve. It is a call to expand our vision, to see the bigger picture and to live from His presence in all that we do as we trust in the ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ One (Heb 13:5).
In a very big world, we can feel very small and insignificant, yet there is nothing small or insignificant about our lives to God. He is the One who sees the widows small offering (Matthew 12:42-3) and, as the following story reveals, He can take the smallest of offerings and grow them into amazing blessing. After all He is the one who fed five thousand men with a few loaves and two fish (Luke 9:16-17) and He continues to feed us today. I was recently encouraged to see how God takes small things and uses them for His glory through reading a true story in the book, My Journey So Far, by the Bishop of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. He writes…
“Recently, I travelled to the US to visit a number of different places and meet some church leaders who really care and support our mission. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to a Christian school in Seattle. As I was being shown around, a little boy called Sean came up to me and gave me $1, telling me it was for the children in Iraq. It was a hugely moving moment and, to me, a true symbol of the widow’s mite.”
The Bishop of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, in, ‘My Journey so Far’ page 220.
White goes on to speak of how he shared the story of the small boy in other schools and, to his surprise, found that so many other children were willing to do the same. He later writes…
“By the end of my trip, that $1 had turned into an incredible $25,000! For me this is the perfect illustration of how God is able to take a “small” act of faith and multiply it into something amazing. That little boy had no idea of the blessing his $1 would trigger; he simply sowed a seed and left the rest in God’s hands.”
You are noticed, and you are loved, you were thought of before the world began and you belong to Him - you are His workmanship, His son or daughter. You belong to Jesus and are called to be blessed and be a blessing. You are called to continually receive from the King of Kings, the Root of David and the bright Morning Star. Be encouraged.
Written and produced by Jem Trehern M.A.