What Is True Repentance?

In the context of a short story or novel we might be reading in a college English class, I often asked the following questions of my students:  

How many of you believe that all people are innately evil? How many believe people are innately good, but may do some evil things occasionally?

Significantly, most students showed by raising their hands their belief that people were innately good.  Class discussion revealed their belief that it was only the influence of such problems as poverty or a lack of education that made people do evil things. Thus, simply relieving people of their deficiencies in food, shelter, or comfort would mean such acts as theft, lying, or even murder would cease in our world.

The consequence of this belief is that our culture today seems focused on convincing everyone, beginning with children, that they need to “accept” themselves for who they are and that their ideas or thoughts are natural and normal for them, even if not for anyone else.  Self-acceptance is seen as the first step towards normality. Being “assertive” is seen as a positive attribute, even though some behaviors may lead to the point of violating the lives of others.

And feeling guilty for any action is perceived as self-destructive, so every effort must be made just to “be who we are,” accept ourselves and others without demanding change. Any criticism of a person’s appearance or behavior is seen as bigoted or hateful, even if they may possibly be hurtful to themselves or others.

To subtly show my students in a secular environment, at least in a preliminary way, how humans are not “noble savages” but selfish and even evil, I shared my experiences as a parent and as an observer of other parents that a child never needs to be taught how to lie, or steal, or disobey, a point on which the students agreed. On the other hand, I argued, a child needs to be taught from the beginning what is selfish or rebellious, and children need to be shown how to be loving and kind.

Just on an experiential level, therefore, this illustration showed that all human beings are sinful by nature.  In spiritual terms, we all are sinful, not just because we all have inherited Adam’s sinfulness, but also because we do not have the presence of God in our lives, the same closeness Adam and Eve once had with God walking with Him in the Garden of Eden.  This relationship was lost due to their disobedience and willingness to listen to the temptations of the serpent, or Satan.

Having A Conscience

Even so, most people at least have a conscience, an “inner voice” that tells them when they are disobedient or rebellious, one that is imparted at least culturally or through peer pressure.

Recent studies have shown, however, that some people (one in twenty-five is the number estimated) have no conscience whatsoever, and they feel no guilt, shame, or remorse for their selfish or rebellious behaviors. They only feel frustration or remorse if they are exposed or caught in their malicious behaviors, rather than feeling any true guilt or sorrow.  They become more intent on hiding their behaviors in the future to avoid the negative social pressures of being uncovered, the only immediate consequences of their actions.

This condition is labeled psychopathic in psychological terms, or more benignly as “antisocial personality disorder.”  

Even psychopaths may be forgiven, redeemed, and changed, however, for the Scriptures teach that even though “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all may be saved from the deadly consequences of sin.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Sin Is Universal

The Apostle John explains the sinful existence of all human beings:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, among many others, also taught in his letters that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul uses the term “old man” to described the sinful nature that must die in order for the new creation in Christ my fully live.  This new creation, the “new man,”  is what Jesus referred to as being “born again.”

Paul also says that his “inner man” is constantly waging war against the law of sin in his body:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)

Christ Jesus is the Way, Paul says, and the Apostle continues to provide the solution for this warfare:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

Rather than trying to follow the Law perfectly, as many try to do through “will power,” which only serves to worsen our guilt, the Apostle Paul writes that following the rules of the Law legalistically is impossible.  It is a course that is destined to end in defeat and failure. Instead, we must be set free to walk in the new Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, or in Christ’s own words, being “born again.”

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In order to become like Christ, consequently, two steps need to be taken.  First, we need to repent of our sins, and second we need to be born again, or to receive the new nature that is the Spirit of Christ.

True Repentance

Although being born again is a gift of God by His grace, repentance is not a gift but a necessity, an obligation. Just as Adam’s sin was the result of an act of the will, or free choice, so repentance is determined by one’s own decision by the grace of God.  

Why is true repentance so difficult?  It means we have to make a decision to die to our old lives first in order to be born again.  We have to admit that we were mistaken or wrong, that we have been traveling in the wrong direction and need to turn around. Paul writes,

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:2o)

Many believe that repentance means just being sorry for the sins in their lives. However, true repentance means that we must turn from the direction we are traveling and go back in the opposite direction.  It’s a complete turnaround, one which says, “I will no longer go in that direction.”

Therefore, unless we are suffering from the evil consequences in our lives, repentance from sin is usually extremely difficult for us, for a number of reasons.  

First, most sins are pleasurable, at least initially before the ultimate consequences are known or discovered.

Second, to completely change one’s habits, lifestyle, or “sexual orientation,” for example, seems to be cruel and contrary to the freedoms we should all be allowed to enjoy.  Anyone who even suggests such a reversal is described at hateful and bigoted, even if the future consequences are certain, if not in this life at least in the next.

Yet how is it hateful to warn someone who is about to walk over the edge of a cliff to certain death or destruction?

Dying to Self

This is why repentance in the Church is symbolized by baptism in water, a symbolic way of dying, as Paul explains our in the following passage from Romans:

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

When we are baptized, we declare to the world, to Satan, and to ourselves that we have repented of our sins and intend to live a life of freedom from sin.

Clearly, baptism today has been practiced either without true repentance, as in infant baptism, or not at all, for many in the church today have either not been baptized at all, or they continue to live in sinful conditions. Some even have served in church ministry, yet never taken a stand publicly and openly declared both their repentance and their determination no longer to be a slave to sin.

 

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About this Book:

In these pages I share and explain insights into biblical “mysteries,” a word used by both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. I begin with methods of biblical interpretation, including how to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, then I proceed to reveal insights into a number of perplexing biblical “mysteries.” In doing so, I use both historical fiction and autobiographical approaches to help the ideas come alive.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Corinthians. 2:14). Consequently, I seek to explain how to search the Scriptures wisely, beginning with some simple methods that help uncover the spiritual depths of the Words of God, not just their literal meanings.

With this foundation, I then lead the reader through a number of lessons necessary for seeing in the Spirit, seeking foremost to define what Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and others meant by this term “mystery,” a word often used to describe the secrets that God desires to reveal to us: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden” (I Corinthians 2:7).

What Was Jesus’ “Orientation”?

We all have unique perspectives from which we understand our universe, including how we read, examine, and live by the Word of God.  Some philosophers have concluded that there is nothing that can be known outside of the “self,” a very self-centered philosophy indeed! 

This is why Christ gave us the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the true paths of the straight and narrow way.  The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, who reveals the will and purposes of the Father to us.

On a secular level, I often discussed the concept of solipsism in my literature classes as we analyzed a literary text, focusing on the consequences of seeing the world only through a narrow vision of reality.  

Solipsism is the philosophical theory that only the self exists, or at least the only reality that can be proven to exist. Thus, a solipsistic view sees only what appears through the lens of one’s own eye. Rene Descartes originated the idea that “I think therefore I am,” or in Latin, Cogito ergo sum.

In today’s “post-modern” world, the idea permeates our culture that any interpretation of reality is acceptable, for “It’s a matter of personal opinion,” and, “Who is to say that one opinion is right and another is wrong?”  It is wrong to judge another person’s views, it is believed, although doing so often occurs.

Many fallacies arise solipsistic thinking, of course, but my students and I were often engaged by seeing the solipsistic ideas of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, for example, for his life was consumed and destroyed by his narrow and narcissistic views of his own false perspectives of reality.   

One question that has arisen of late, and it’s one that will bluntly be asked more often and more in the days ahead, is whether Jesus was sexually active, and even more blasphemously whether He was a homosexual.  

Interestingly enough, one website that purports objectively to examine this issue uses the following guideline to oppose Christians who may never have considered the possibility that “Jesus was gay”:

On the other hand, there is an often quoted concept that reading the Gospels is like looking down a well. What you see in both cases is a reflection of yourself. Social activists often view Jesus as a social activist. Spiritual people frequently look upon Jesus as spiritual. Heterosexuals may see at Jesus as a heterosexual. Homosexuals may look upon him as gay, etc. (Source)

This website consists of people who are “a multi-faith group,” consisting of such beliefs as atheist, agnostic, Christian, Wiccan, and Zen Buddhist, and their goal is “religious tolerance,” which essentially means that we can believe what we wish as long as we all get along together.  

Thus, the article from this website on the subject of Christ’s sexuality is clearly intended to introduce the possibility of Christ’s sexuality to those of us who are dogmatic and intolerant, in order to make the currently discussed views of human sexuality both normal and acceptable.  Showing that Jesus was similarly tolerant and even a participant in such sexual activity is likely seen as an acceptable way to change the minds of hating and bigoted people and to make them more tolerant of those in our world who engage in such sexual proclivities.

Consequently, it is believed, there are as many views of what is “true” as there are faces and wells to look down, but as long as we choose not to be intolerant, we may all coexist together without hatred, prejudice, and persecution.

However, while we are all taught today to be tolerant and accepting of those with other beliefs, Jesus Christ Himself seemed intolerant at times.  Witness His views of some of the religious leaders of His time, in addition to His future world-wide judgment that will separate the sheep from the goats  (see, for example, Matthew 23:13-36).

An Example of Solipsism

Rollan McCleary is a British-born Australian who, based on his own homosexual experiences and writings about astrology, has concluded that Jesus was a homosexual:

He uses Jesus’ “astrological chart” — the planet Uranus figures prominently, as in the case with many homosexuals, he says — and argues that there are clues in the Bible to back up his views. In the Gospel of John, the disciple John frequently refers to himself in the third person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” McCleary thinks this is highly significant. . . .”You maybe have to be gay to read the signals and to see things and research things which other people wouldn’t,” he added.

[Found in:  Rollan McCleary, “A Special Illumination: Authority, Inspiration and Heresy in Gay Spirituality,” David Brown Book Co., (2004)]

In other words, McClearly’s own solipsistic perspectives led him to believe that Jesus was gay. He also relates that his own knowledge of astrology reveals that Jesus’ horoscope included the planet Uranus, a sign that supposedly figures prominently in the charts of many homosexuals.  

It is not clear how McClearly was able to determine the astrological chart of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, for He was “in the beginning” (John 1:1), and His exact birth date on Earth is unknown.

Even if an astrological chart could accurately predict Jesus’ sexual orientation, the task of creating such a chart appears quite impossible. Dr. McCleary told Australian Broadcasting Commission radio, howevver, that 

In the past, “one or two queer theologians” had attempted to show Jesus was gay. “People haven’t taken them very seriously because they don’t have any evidence and they say things so sensationally that people are not really going to listen or just be very angry. What I’m doing is showing a much more theological and also astrological dimension on all this which will make a lot more sense to people.” (Ibid.)

Dr. McCleary definitely must be looking down the well and seeing only what he wants to see.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Overall, general agreement exists even among those who argue Jesus’ sexual orientation that the Scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of His sexuality.  Still, it is usually implied that the New Testament writers either chose to bury any rumors or suggestions that Jesus was sexually active or that any such passages were deleted by later clerics and clergymen. 

It is further assumed that even Christ’s overt advocacy of opposite-sex marriage and the Mosaic law provides no insight into any personal sexual orientation or practices.  Likewise, it is said, the Scriptures are also silent on whether Jesus was single or married, childless or with children.

Jesus’ views of sexuality, including homosexuality, are manifestly clear in the Scriptures to logical and non-solipsistic minds, however, for otherwise He would have been exposed as manifestly hypocritical.  He would be open to assuming the same role he derided in those Pharisees He exposed as hypocrites and sinners.

Since the Pharisees accused Jesus of being possessed with demons and consorting with prostitutes, they surely would have accused Him of sodomy if there had been any possibility of immorality, a situation that is admitted even by the Religious Tolerance website:

If Jesus were gay, and if the Jewish establishment knew of his orientation, they would certainly have used it against him. Yet there is no record in the Gospels or in subsequent Jewish literature of the topic ever having been mentioned. (Source)

Jesus’ Own Declaration

Jesus taught the scriptural view that God made a man and a woman for the purpose of exclusive marriage.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

Jesus then clarified His teaching further in the following verse by saying,

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

Significantly, when Jesus is further queried by His disciples (they wonder why anyone would want to marry), Jesus shows a unique perspective on sexuality, one that most likely pertains to His own life:

But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

Jesus Himself is therefore revealing His own sexual nature, yet stating that He chooses to abstain from all sexual behaviors or acts “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”  Therefore, although it was uncommon for Jewish males to remain unmarried, particularly if they were rabbis.  The Essenes were a sect that practiced abstinence, for example: 

There can be no doubt that many Essenes (scholars say that some might have been married) chose to be unmarried. According to Philo and Josephus, they did so because they thought that women had a negative impact on men. There’s no reason to believe that Jesus shared this perspective. But He did join the Essenes in accepting an apocalyptic worldview that anticipated the coming of God’s kingdom. (Source)

More Illogical Interpretations

Today, we witness only the beginning of the efforts to recruit Jesus into the LGBT, etc. army.  These improbable interpretations of the Scriptures range from the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, to the suggestion that Jesus and the “disciple that Jesus loved” were a homosexual couple:

Patrick Goodenough, referring to the passage in John’s Gospel, wrote:

One might argue that Jesus loved all of his followers in a non-sexual way. Thus to identify Jesus’ love for John in a special way might indicate a sexual relationship. The disciple was “the” beloved. He was in a class by himself. (Source)

And quoting Robert Goss concerning the same passage, Goodenough argues that since Jesus and the beloved disciple ate together side by side they must have been sexually intimate:

What’s being portrayed here is a pederastic relationship between an older man and a younger man. A Greek reader would understand. (Source)

A number of passages in John’s Gospel describe the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” including John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, and 21:20.  The repetition of this phrase is seen as proof that Jesus loved John intimately, though this conclusion is illogical.  John was merely using a “third-person” perspective to speak of himself to avoid calling inordinate attention to his own presence.  

Specifically, the story about the Last Supper when one of the disciples whom “Jesus loved” asks Jesus which disciple would betray Him is mentioned.  This disciple, presumably John, is described as “leaning back on Jesus bosom,” and this intimacy is seen a proof that Jesus and John were sexual partners (see John 13:21-26).  

This conclusion is highly illogical, however, a typical example of a “hasty conclusion”‘ fallacy.  The disciples were all informally reclining at the table, as was usual–the reason why their feet needed to be washed.  As they ate and shared the meal together, it was highly likely that they would have touched one another in many ways, just as males today in America may have contact with one another in non-sexual ways such as teammates on a football or baseball team.

Another extreme example of solipsistic interpretations refers to the following passage:

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.  [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] (Mark 7:14-16)

Someone named “J Richards” has suggested that this passage “shows that Jesus approves of homosexual acts,” for the sentence refers to “dietary laws” and also applies to “blood transfusions, medication, organ transplants, and artificial insemination.” Therefore, Richards suggests, it could apply to homosexual acts as well (qtd. here Source, although the actual source no longer appears online).

This suggestion would be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly blasphemous and horribly unclean.

The Centurion’s Servant Healed

The story of the Roman Centurion’s servant is related in Matthew 8:5-13 and also in Luke 7:1-10, where the story is told in a fuller narration.  

In Matthew, the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus and makes his request that the servant be healed.  In Luke’s version, however, Jesus never actually speaks to the Centurion, but instead some Jewish elders were asked to make the request for healing. The difference is significant, for the reaction of Jesus to the Centurion’s faith is marvelously revealed in these differing circumstances: Whether the Centurion is speaking directly or only through the Jewish elders, the impact is the same, for faith is the result Jesus marvels about.

The following is the interpretation of the events by Michael Kelly, however, as quoted not only in the religioustolerance.org website, but also many others:

One day a Roman Centurion asked him to heal his dying servant. Scholars of both Scripture and Ancient History tell us that Roman Centurions, who were not permitted to marry while in service, regularly chose a favorite male slave to be their personal assistant and sexual servant. Such liaisons were common in the Greco-Roman world and it was not unusual for them to deepen into loving partnerships….Jesus offered to go to the servant, but the centurion asked him simply to speak a word of healing, since he was not worthy to welcome this itinerant Jewish teacher under his roof. Jesus responded by healing the servant [from a distance] and proclaiming that even in Israel he had never found faith like this! So, in the one Gospel story where Jesus encountered people sharing what we would call a “gay relationship,” we see him simply concerned about — and deeply moved by — their faith and love. Source

Kelly further implies that “Jesus’ sensitivity towards the gay couple might have arisen from his own bisexual or homosexual orientation.” (Source)

This interpretation is highly ironic, however, for Jesus neither sees nor talks with either the Centurion or the servant, yet the implication is that, first, there was a homosexual relationship between the two, and, second, that Jesus obviously approved of this relationship since He healed the servant.  This interpretation misses entirely the significance of the story, revealed by the Centurion’s statement that Jesus so approves of:

The centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:6-8)

Jesus instead only marvels at the Centurion’s faith:

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” (Luke 7:9)

Even More Ridiculous

An even more outrageous interpretation concerns the following passage from Mark’s Gospel, the account of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion:

A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked. (Mark 15:51-2)

Although the translations may vary, this is the result according to Peter Murphy:

We don’t know from the sources what really was going on, but we do know that something was very peculiar between Jesus and young men. (Source)

Equally ridiculous and illogical is the perspective taken on the story of the fallen woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. When Simon said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39), Jesus engages him in a dialogue that demonstrates not only Jesus’ forgiveness but also Simon’s hypocrisy.  

However, the point is made that Jesus seems upset that He received no kiss from Simon.  Anyone who assumes that Jesus is asking for a gay relationship with Simon must have drugged, for “kissing” in greetings were common in those days and were not sexual in nature, as Paul wrote: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16).

Many more examples of solipsistic thinking and interpretation are available in today’s culture, though searching for them and reading them has been nearly as onerous as reading a stack of freshman compositions.  

The Apostle Paul, however, gives some guidelines that reveal how to live our lives and read the Scriptures in non-solipsistic ways.  Since we are neither omniscient nor filled with all godly wisdom, we need to depend on the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all understanding. 

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  (James 3:13-18)

The Kingdom of God, Part VIII

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The End of All Things:  Revelation 21-22

Chapter 21 in Revelation begins with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth John sees after the final judgment described in the previous chapter, when death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)

Again, like other images in Revelation, this detail about the sea’s not existing should not be taken literally, although in a new Heaven and a new Earth there may indeed be no more water, as some teachers of Revelation have suggested, even though there is a “River of Life” flowing through the city.

I believe that the sea in verse one refers symbolically to humanity, which no longer exists on the earth, for all of the unredeemed rebellious people have been sent to the lake of fire, and all of the redeemed are seen as the “New Jerusalem.”  

The sea also symbolizes humanity in Chapter 13 of Revelation, where we see two “beasts,” one rising out of the sea and the other rising out of the earth.  The first is described specifically as devoted to speaking blasphemies against God and persecuting the Church.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in thebook of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:6-8)

The city called the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21 is also depicted as the bride in the following passage:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The speaker in the next few verses is clearly Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, or the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End!

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8)

This symbolic connection between the New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ is emphasized further in the next passage, for “one of the angels says to John, Come and see the Bride” (21:9), yet the vision John then sees is the holy city, the New Jerusalem:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:10-11)

 

What follows is an extensive and elaborate description of this magnificent city, including the dimensions, descriptions of the city gates, and the ornate composition of the walls and streets.

We need to be certain not to interpret these details literally, as though they describe a physical city, however.  Instead, the details are all symbolic, beginning with the picture of the “Lamb” and the temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)

Even the word “Lamb” is a symbol representing Jesus Christ who is described as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), a description which links Jesus to the lambs of the temple sacrifices of the Old Covenant that were sacrificed for the sins of the people.  Even these lambs were a pre-figured representation of the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Christ completed on the cross of His crucifixion, as described by Peter:

  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Peter 2:24)
  • For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (I Peter 3:18-19)

In addition, unlike what I was taught as a teenager, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place where all the saints will live, but instead consists of all of Christ’s saints, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and are built up as “living stones,” as the Apostle Peter relates:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, aprecious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (I Peter 2:4-6)

Further, John writes this about the Temple that is in the midst of the New Jerusalem, indicating that the Temple is an overall representation of the Church of Christ:

And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only thosewhose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

The Water and the Tree of Life

What follows in the next chapter, Revelation 22, is a description of the river of the water of life and the tree of life in the middle of the New Jerusalem, once again the symbolic representation of the Church, the Bride of Christ:

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
This passage alludes back to the story of the fall of humankind in the Book of Genesis, where the tree of life first appears in the Scriptures.  If you will recall, God told Adam that the Earth was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the couple was banished so they would no longer have access to the Tree of Life.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Geness 3:22-24)
Thus, as the passage relates, there will no longer be a curse on the land, and the light will appear not from the sun, moon, and stars, but from the Lord God.

The Final Messages in Revelation

Finally, in Revelation 22:6-21, we read the final messages at the end of John’s visions:

  •  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)
  • “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. (22:10)
  • Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” (22:11)
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (22:12)
  • I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
  • “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (22:16)
  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (22:17)
  • He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (22:20)

Some of these messages seem confounding and confusing, for they seem to be saying that the Lord is coming soon and Christ’s coming is near, in spite of the clear fact Jesus did not come soon.  Even the early apostles and the Apostle Paul implied that Christ’s coming was near.  

However, either His appearing has been delayed for two-thousand years or the Lord’s purposes have a deeper intent than we might suppose and understand.

Perhaps both interpretations may be correct, however, for the Apostle Peter addresses both possibilities about the delay in the Lord’s coming.  Considering that God is timeless, above the restrictions of the linear nature of time’s progress, only two days have passed!

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (II Peter 3:8)

In addition, the Lord will delay His coming until every stone has been added to the Temple, every person has been added to the Body of Christ:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

And finally, Peter says, the Lord will appear suddenly, without warning, much the same way a thief might secretly break into a home when least expected.  

Christ is not a thief, of course, but Peter’s analogy is significant.  As in the parable of the Ten Virgins, we need to be ready, no matter how long it takes, for He could appear at any moment:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)

A Word of Warning

John  adds a final note of his own to his book, warning that some may try to add or take away from the words, and perhaps even the meanings, of the signs and symbols of these marvelously revealed visions.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Unfortunately, some of the most dedicated teachers of Revelation have made the errors John mentions, either by adding their own interpretations to the visions or taking away parts of the visions. 

I heard recently a description of these kinds of interpretations as follows:

It’s like looking into a well and seeing one’s own reflection.  

Thus, some well-meaning teachers only see from their own solipsistic perspectives, rather than finding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of Revelation.  This means, for example, that the locusts in the Book of Revelation are not helicopters with guided missiles, and the 144,000 saints are not members of a religious cult that only appeared in the twentieth century.

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