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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