Monday, January 27, 2020

In Conclusion... Revelation 22:10-15

The Bible is a series of divinely-inspired, God-breathed books, that were written by 40-or-so men “carried along by the Holy Spirit” in their own time, place, and context to record the revelation of God as pointed toward, completed in, and resulting from the work of Christ. One can imagine that finishing a collection of books of this magnitude is no small feat. The idea of concluding such a work might lead us to wonder with great interest, what final words will be offered in God’s special revelation? How exactly will this wrap up? What parting message will be shared? Over the next couple of weeks, with great reverence and care, we will answer this question as we cover the final verses in Revelation. Today, as we begin to bring our study of this important book to a close, we are going to read four statements that work together in Revelation 22:10-15 to bring the Revelation of Jesus Christ to an end.
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The first statement given in this context is a prophetic utterance and the first element of this utterance is a command—“and he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near” (22:10). In many cases throughout the Bible, prophets are asked to share things and keep other things hidden or “unshared.” This is the case for John in the Book of Revelation. Earlier in Revelation 5, John weeps when the seven-sealed scroll appears with no one able to open it—a scroll containing, at least in part, the unfolding series of judgments that move God’s plan along to the end. When Jesus emerges to open the scroll, John is relieved and then permitted to describedwhat ensues (the seals, trumpets, and bowls). In other cases, John is asked to withhold information. In Revelation 10:4, John is told to seal up what the seven thunders said to him. In both ways—in withholding information and in sharing revelation—John serves as a prophet. Here, John is asked to share the contents of this book openly—i.e. proclaim the revelation contained in this work to the world. After all, as was alluded to in 22:7, “the time is near” (22:10). People need to hear this and be given an opportunity to respond to it.

However, the next element of the final prophetic message is the realization that often comes with the call to share what is revealed. The first realization concerns the stubborn—“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy” (22:11a). God is realistic concerning the response people will have concerning his revelation. For many who are stubborn and “stiff-necked,” they will continue to resist in spite of what has been shared. A similar realization is given to Isaiah at the front end of his ministry. Immediately after an experience in the throne room of God in which he was commissioned in a special way to speak for God to his people, he is told the following: “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render their hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim,…” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

In this case, Isaiah is sent with word from God to a stubborn and obstinate Judah and Jerusalem. God knows that despite his messages and overtures, the people will continue down their path of resistance. That said, he is perfectly willing to provide much-needed and important revelation nonetheless and was prepared to tell them on the back end of their failure “I told you so.”
Unfortunately, the same will be true in John’s case with many who pick up the Book of Revelation and read it. Many will refuse to believe it and/or resist its many implications and, as a result, persist in their wrongdoing and wallow in their worldly filth. That said, John, acting as a New Testament prophet, is still called of God to share what he has recorded in this volume.

Thankfully, there are others who, in God’s grace, respond positively to the revelation provided and, as a result, begin a life of righteousness and holiness unto the Lord—“and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy” (22:11b). These two kinds of people—the wicked and the righteous, are also identified in Daniel (a book that shares a lot in common with Revelation).

Daniel 12:9-10-“Many will be purified, many spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”

Both in Daniel and in Revelation the Word reveals that the world will continue to consist of the wicked and the righteous right up to the end. Given that the end is near, comments like these are intended to encourage the unsaved to think carefully about the choices they are making concerning God’s revelation in general and the greatest revelation—Christ—in particular. Those who enter a relationship with Christ are made righteous and placed on a path of holiness that will lead them to enjoy the many blessings that are described in this book in the end. Those who stubbornly refuse Christ will continue on the path of wickedness all the way to the eternal separation from God described in this book. In many ways, what is expressed in this final prophetic message is the same kind of statement God offered to so many in Isaiah’s day and in Daniel’s day—a sobering front-end reminder that there are two types of people in the world and it is preferred to avoid the wicked and unrighteous bunch by responding positively to God’s revelation.

2. The Final Prediction-22:12

Following the final prophetic message is the final prediction given in the passage—“Behold, I am coming quickly,…” (22:12a). Just as Jesus has already done in verse 7, Jesus promises and predicts his impending return. That he uses “quickly” or “soon” means that people everywhere ought to treat the return of Christ with great urgency.

There have been people in every age who have believed that they were living in the very last of the last days—i.e. that they would see the return of Christ described in the Book of Revelation. There are those who believe this today. While some might seek to tame this sentiment, I believe God desires us to live this way, regardless of whether-or-not it may happen in our lifetime. Consistently in the New Testament, Jesus and the disciples make the case that his return is soon.

Luke 22:34-36-“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Matthew 24:27-“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Matthew 24:42-“Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

Revelation 3:11-“I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”

See also Matt. 25:13; Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 4:3-18; 2 Pet. 3:10-12

If they believed this, how much more should we and how much more seriously should we consider how we live and minister in light of this?

Along with the prediction of his second coming, Jesus predicts what will come along with his return to the earth—“and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (22:12b). It is important to acknowledge that in Revelation, the “reward” is not salvation (so that none should believe that works bring about a right relationship with God). Instead “rewards” in Revelation focus on the end times and relate to eternal blessings that will be given to believers for their faithful walk with Christ. In other words, though believers are not saved by works, good works done in faith are rewarded by God in the end. The rest of the New Testament shares the same testimony.

1 Corinthians 3:8, 12-13-“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor…Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.”

Again, believers, while not saved by works, will be rewarded according to their good works done in faith by the grace of God. One motivating factor behind such works done in this life ought to be the imminent return of Christ who could come back any moment. This final prediction intends to motivate good works from those who belong to Christ—those kinds of works that will be rewarded in the end.

3. The Final Theological Statement-22:13

Following this final prediction is a final theological statement—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). Here, not once, not twice, but three times Jesus refers to himself as the sovereign Lord of all. Each element of the triad here endorses parallel references to the start and finish of history. The theological point being made with these titles—Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end—involves the eternality, preexistence, and authority of Christ and reiterates his divinity in those terms. No one is superior to Him as he is the ultimate Alpha. No one is worthy of “first” priority except He who occupies “first” place on the list of supremacy. No one has been from the beginning except Him. All other things have a starting point. Similarly, there is no authority higher than the “Omega” that will exist in the end. All others simply share in the program that he has authored. There is no one worthy to give the “last” word on the matter other than He. All other words are judged against His. There is no one else who decides the “end” except Him. All others are subject to his will. What Jesus shares here is a power message of his divinity, beautifully captured in a fitting triad of completion.

What renders this statement especially beautiful is that this theological claim also satisfies the second and concluding element of an inclusio (bookend) found in the Book of Revelation. Both at the beginning (Rev. 1:8) and end of the book (here in 22:13), God and Christ (respectively) refers to himself as the beginning of all things. Literarily, this establishes that the same One who ordained the beginning of the world will bring it to its end. He is both the Creator and the Recreator.

4. The Final Beattitude-22:14-15

The last statement made in this passage is a final beatitude given in two parts. Initially, the beatitude addresses those to whom a blessing applies—“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city” (22:14). Though this is the last of the seven beatitudes in the book (see 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7), the one unifying theme is the necessity of remaining true to the Lord in order to participate in the resurrection to eternal life (Osborne, Revelation, 789).

Here in 22:14, the imagery of washing their robes speaks of ridding one’s life of the filth of this world and striving to live in purity before God (Osborne, Revelation, 789). These are those who have been made right before God in salvation and, as a result, pursue holiness in Him –exchanging their garments of sin and shame for the robes of righteousness. According to this blessing, these will be granted access to the tree of life and entry into the gates of the holy city. In other words, eternal life and uninhibited access to God’s presence is promised to the righteous.

In stark contrast to those called “blessed” are those left “outside” the gates—i.e. those who are prohibited from enjoying the fruit from the tree of life. These are identified in verse 15—“Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying,…”. As with the list of iniquities found in 21:8, this verse is not intended to serve as an exhaustive list of unpardonable sins. Instead, it denotes the kinds of practices that are witnessed on a regular basis in the lives of those who are not in right relationship with God. Their being “outside” the boundaries of heaven indicates that they will not enjoy the blessings described earlier—those blessings that come from access to the tree of life and proximity to God’s glorious presence.

So What?

These four statements—a prophetic utterance, prediction, theological statement, and beatitude—lend themselves to important applications for our lives today. First, the prophetic utterance highlights that faithfulness to share God’s message is its own reward and we ought not base our success on how many or who responds so long as we are faithful to proclaim what God has revealed. Second, the prediction indicates that we ought to be spending what little time we have left before Jesus’ return performing those works that please him and forsake that which is trivial or against God’s will. The theological statement ought to engender confidence that regardless of what we perceive around us, God is sovereign over it all and will bring to a perfect close what he has started. The beatitude ought to have us checking ourselves to see if we are in the faith and cause us to share that faith with those still on the outside looking in. Ultimately, these final statements are a call to be busy—busy sharing what God has made known, knowing that He is in control and pleased by our efforts to share him with those around us. This business ought to be fueled by the imminence of his return, the glory of the blessings that are coming for the saved, and doom that will befall those who don’t enter into a relationship with Christ in time.

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Forever Home Pt. 3-Revelation 22:1-7

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve toured the forever home awaiting God’s people in Revelation 21 (examining the exterior, size, materials used, and highlights of the New Jerusalem in Heaven). This week we follow John as the tour of heaven concludes and are ushered to the gardens of the eternal state (after all, what is dream home without a great backyard?). It is here, in Revelation 22:1-7, that we will observe the final two components of John’s description of heaven. What we will learn about the end today will help us make sense of the story God has been writing from the very beginning. This passage will also encourage use to, with urgency, share the hope of glory that is found in heaven with those who believe that this world is all that there really is.

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1. What is Witnessed-22:1-5

a. A Future and Better Eden-22:1-3

After touring the forever home for God’s people, John’s tour guide takes this apostle “around back” to explore the gardens—a restored/regained Eden. In this new Eden, John reports, “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” (22:1-2a). While there is no longer any sea in the new heavens and the new earth (see 21:1), there is, as this passage reveals, a river. In Genesis 2:10, a river “flowed from Eden” to “water the garden” (see Gen. 2:9). Also, in Ezekiel 47:1-12, a river was said to flow from south of the altar in the renewed temple, turning everything it touches fresh, even salt water, so that living creatures and fish flourish (see Zech. 14:8). Both contexts point to the life-giving power of the river and this serves as the foundation for the point made in Revelation 22. As this life-giving river is “coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” this passage reveals that the sole Provider and Sustainer of life is God himself. That God and the Lamb provide life is consistent with what has been said of God elsewhere in the Book of Revelation (Osborne, Revelation, 769).

Revelation 7:17-“for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life,…”

Revelation 21:6-“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.’”

The presence of this river “clear as crystal” would have proven especially meaningful to the original context. Though we might take for granted the access we have to clean drinking water today, then, as in much of the third world currently, this was not something that many can always count on. Water is life in a very literal sense, and so too will this prove to be the case with the pure/unpolluted spring that flows in heaven. Something of the significance/prominence of this water feature is suggested by the river’s placement “in the middle of” the street that has was already described in Revelation 21:18-27.

A prominent river was also present in Genesis 2:10. There, a river “flowed from Eden” to “water the garden.” However, in Genesis, “life was restricted to the “tree of life” (see Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24) (Osborne, Revelation, 769). This is why Adam and Eve must be expelled from Eden following the fall—so that they no longer have access to this tree of life and live forever. However, this story is not the only background provided for the presence of this tree here in Revelation. Throughout Proverbs, the “tree of life” calls to mind blessings (Prov. 3:18), “the fruit of righteousness” (Prov. 11:30), “a longing fulfilled” (Prov. 13:12), and the “tongue that brings healing” (Prov. 15:4). Therefore, sustaining life and blessing is not only witnessed in the river flowing from the Creator and Sustainer of all life (God on his throne), but it is highlighted by the reemergence of the tree of life—a shrub that hasn’t been available since the Garden of Eden.

This tree is especially significant as its fruit, twelve in kind, is always in season (yielding fruit every month) in the eternal state. The perpetual fruit-bearing that will take place in heaven epitomizes the transformation of the normal seasons/cycles of seedtime and harvest (Wilson, ZIBBC, 370). The fruit of this tree in connection with the river already mentioned hearkens back to Ezekiel 47:12 where the temple stream has “fruit trees of all kinds” growing “on both banks of the river.”

While the ongoing supply of fruit provides consistent nourishment, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2c). This is yet another allusion to Ezekiel 47:12.

Ezekiel 47:12-“By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”

In Ezekiel’s context, it is the nation of Israel that is healed. However, here, in this greater tree, it is the healing of the nations that is provided for in this powerful plant. Make no mistake, at this late hour and context in the Book of Revelation, nothing present on the earth will need healing of any kind. Instead, these leaves portray the healing of the world that has already occurred.

The final life-giving element present in this future Eden is the absence of the curse—“there will no longer be any curse,” (22:3a). When Adan and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a curse came upon humanity and the created order (see Gen. 3:1-19). The effects of that curse are finally and forever reversed here in Revelation (Wilson, ZIBBC, 370). While the tree of life is conspicuously present, the once prohibited tree of the knowledge of good and evil is conspicuously absent.

In many ways, the Bible reads as one big story that occurs between two trees (in Genesis and Revelation) with Calvary’s tree standing in the middle. In order to enjoy the tree of life in the end (Rev. 22:1-3), one must escape the curse introduced by Adam and Eve who ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the beginning (Gen. 3). This only comes by embracing in faith the one who hung on a tree to provide salvation for you and me (Gal. 3:13). 

Galatians 3:13-“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hands on a tree’…”

The presence of the restored Eden as described here means that all who are in Christ can expect to enjoy lasting life with no curse forever in heaven.

b. A Most Wonderful Service-22:3b

In addition to a restored Eden, John beholds a most wonderful service. This service is rendered to the one most deserving. Here, in 22:3, he is identified by means of his throne—“and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,…” (22:3b). Once again, the close proximity and association of God and the Lamb illustrates their shared divinity and equality in the Godhead.

Those who will be serving the one on the throne are introduced next: “and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads,…” (22:3c-4). The term “bond-servants” (douloV) is used frequently in the New Testament to describe followers of Christ who have been purchased out of their slavery to sin and were given freedom to follow Jesus. Servitude to Christ is not oppressive, but the way of abundant and lasting life. Here, in fact, the verb “serve” means “to perform religious rites as part of worship” (Louw & Nida) and comes from the same word used in Romans 12:1.

Romans 12:1-“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (emphasis added).

Revelation indicates that just as God’s people will be enjoying a restored Eden, they will also be serving their Lord in worship.

c. A Brightest Glory-22:5a-b

Highlighted earlier in the description of the New Jerusalem (see Rev. 21:18-27—especially 21:5), John also beholds a bright glory—“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” (22:5). If the open gates introduced in Revelation 21 demonstrate the absence of any threat in heaven, the bright light of God and the acuity of its luminosity demonstrates the absence of any evil (or darkness). While in this world of darkness, light must come from the sun or from lamps, in the eternal world of light, the presence of God will fill eternity with his glory. While in this world the saints must bear the light of God in areas of spiritual darkness, in heaven, God’s light comes directly from his person (Osborne, Revelation, 775).  

d. The Reign of God’s People-22:5c-“…and they will reign forever and ever,…”

One final visual observation made by the tour guide in this passage is the reign of God’s people—“and they will reign forever and ever” (22:5c). That believers will rule a future domain alongside Christ is prophesied in 2 Timothy 2:11-12 when it says “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” This prophesy is fulfilled in Revelation 22 as God’s people share in Christ’s inheritance of a new world and along with that share in the dominion of it.

This is also, in some ways, a return to the beginning. After all, Adam and Eve were called to exercise dominion over the planet. When sin entered the world, this became exceedingly difficult. Ever since sin entered the picture, when dominion was exercised, it was imperfect, short-lived, or even corrupt. However, now that sin is completely gone in a newly created world, the redeemed are free to do what they were originally designed for—ruling the planet God created for them uninhibited and unencumbered.

From the vantage point of the garden surrounding the New Jerusalem, one can see that in heaven there will be a restored Eden in which God's people will serve the Lord perfectly, enjoying the light of his glory and the rule of a remade world. However, in addition to all of this visual stimulation, there are some things that are spoken in the remaining verses of this context that deserve special attention.  

2. What is Said-22:6-7

Verses 6-7 almost serve as a conclusion of the tour that has been in process since 21:1. These verses also lead to the final messages of the book (in 22:8ff). First, the declaration of verse 6 suggests that readers can trust that what they have read in the description of the new heavens and new earth, the New Jerusalem, and surrounding area—“and he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true,’…” (22:6a). This is, in fact, the third time that the angel has said as much in the closing chapters of Revelation (see 19:9 and 21:5).

Not only should the reader trust that these phenomena are real based on the confirming and repeated declaration of their being “faithful and true,” but they can also hold fast to the fact that what John has recorded is not a product of his own imagination or creativity. Instead, it has been given to him in a unique way—“and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place” (22:6b). This revelation is, in other words, from God’s own mind (source), delivered through an angelic medium (agent), to his servants (the recipients), John being one of them. What is interesting here is that God is not only supervising this revelation from the front end as its source, but on the back end as the supervisor of the spirit/mind of the prophets used to record it—“and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets.” He is not just the creator of the message, but he is involved in its recording.

2 Peter 1:21-“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

On the tail end of the conclusion to this tour, the divine author of this revelation intimates something of the urgency associated with what has been shared—“and behold, I am coming quickly” (22:7a). In other words, in the mind of God, heaven is closer than we might think. For Him it is just around the corner and as good as already here.

With this in mind, he utters the sixth beatitude of the Book of Revelation—a blessing—“Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7b). Because Jesus’ return, the judgment of the world, and the coming heaven described here are just around the corner, the speaker encourages recipients of this revelation to embrace it and follow it before it is too late. Those who heed this message will inevitably find Christ—the Savior of the world. Those who place their faith in Him, having heeded the word of his prophecy, are blessed—i.e. will one day enjoy and inhabit the heaven they read about in these pages.

So What?

I’m not sure what captures your imagination most about our coming forever home—its size/shape, the brilliance of the building materials, the presence of the river and tree of life, the brightness of God’s glory, or all of the above—but it is my prayer that it does create within each one of us a sense of awe and wonder—awe and wonder that the things of this current world cannot produce. However, rather than enjoy this awe and wonder privately, it is also my prayer that we would share the awe and wonder with those around us. As God’s people who await these things in the end, we must be about the business of carrying the light of the gospel into the corners of darkness that are all around us and draw attention to the one who hung on the tree for the sins of the world. After all, only those who heed the words of this prophecy are called blessed. However, as Paul wonders, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14). As we strive to be more heavenly-minded this year than we have ever been before, may this tour of our forever home create within us both a confident hope for things to come and a conspicuous witness before those all around us

Monday, January 13, 2020

A Forever Home Pt. 2 -Revelation 21:18-27

If you were designing your dream home, what features/extras would you want to add to it? Would a mudroom be helpful? What about an extra bedroom for invited guests? Would you want a pool in the backyard? What about a covered patio? Would a finished basement be nice? Though some of these features might intrigue you more than others, none of these match the characteristics of the forever home believers will one day occupy in eternity. Though last week we were able to enjoy the exterior (curb appeal) and learn about the measurements (square-footage) of the New Jerusalem, today we are going to take a closer look at two more features of the believer’s permanent residence. I think you will find that the features of what is coming are very different from many people’s preferences today when it comes to where they live. That said, these features tell us much about the One who will reside with us and ought to inspire hope and excitement for what is in store.

1. The Materials-21:18-21

Again, last week we looked at the exterior and the measurements of the believer’s forever home. In verse 18-27 of Revelation 21, the reader continues the tour of the New Jerusalem with an examination of the materials used to construct this impressive residence. First, John reports “the material of the wall was jasper” (21:18a). As noted in 21:11 and earlier in 4:3, jasper is associated with the radiance of God’s glory.

Revelation 4:3-“And he who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.”

Revelation 21:10-11-“…and he 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.”

In other words, the resplendent walls of the New Jerusalem betray the wondrous glory of the King who resides inside.

The theme of glory and resplendence is carried over in the description of the city within the calls when John says, “and the city was pure gold, like clear glass,…” (21:18b). The gold (along with the shape of the city introduced earlier) is reminiscent of 1 Kings 6:20-22 where Solomon overlaid the interior of the sanctuary and the altar in the Holy of holies with gold (Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1079). However, more than simply being “overlaid” with gold, Revelation 21’s description of this new city reveals that it is constructed of “pure gold.” Even further, this gold is unlike any gold known currently to mankind as it is “like clear glass” (21:18b). While this transparency suggests to some that this gold is especially pure—so pure it is see-through (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 469)—others believe the transparency theme that began in 21:11’s “crystal clear” jasper reveals that both the walls and now the city itself allows the glory of God to shine through, thereby illuminating everything around it (Osborne, Revelation, 754).

Next, John goes to great lengths to describe what the foundation stones were made out of—the same foundation stones introduced in 21:14, “and the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Each stone labeled with the name of each apostle is associated with its own precious gem: “The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz. The tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst” (21:19-20). Precious jewels have already been used to portray God’s presence (see 4:3) and his dwelling place (21:11), symbolizing the Lord’s majesty and splendor (especially in contrast the fleeting and false splendor of the idolatrous world in places like Rev. 17:4; 18:12, 16) (Osborne, Revelation, 755). The concepts of majesty and splendor are here extended to God’s people, represented by the apostolic foundation envisioned here in reference to the church. “Now that these foundation stones are ‘adorned with every kind of precious stone,’ the people of God are portrayed as sharing the divine glory” (Osborne, Revelation, 756).

In addition to glory, the jewels, twelve in number, also may connect the church to the faithful believing Jews as twelve jewels were used in Exodus to symbolize the tribes of Israel (see Exod. 28:17-21; 39:14). In fact, twelve jewels of differing colors adorned the breastplate of the high priest. Therefore, it is possible that the bejeweled ornamentation of the New Jerusalem connects both the Old Testament and New Testament saints in glory.

While the number of the gates and their location has already been reported (see 21:12), in verse 21, the reader learns what the gates are made out of—“and the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl.” Interestingly, one of the reasons Caesar tried to conquer Britain in the ancient world was the reports about its pearl fisheries. “Among many ancients, pearls were ranked highest among precious stones because their beauty derives entirely from nature, improvement by human workmanship being an impossibility” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 473). It was one of the most precious and valuable items known in the Roman world of the first century and here, ascribed to these gates, these pearls demonstrate something of the value associated with access into God’s presence in the coming future kingdom.  

The last building material to be described involves the streets—“and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (21:21b). Like the city of pure gold mentioned earlier, the gold streets illustrate the glory of God which is accentuate and seen through these transparent thoroughfares.  
As in any dream home one may walk through today in which no expense is spared and no corners are cut, the future home for God’s people is of the highest quality and craftmanship that heaven can afford. After all, God is its designer and builder.

2. The Features-21:22-27

The exterior, measurements, and materials associated with the New Jerusalem afford this residence some important functions and/or highlights. The first of these is that there is no temple—“I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). While a temple was necessary in the Old Testament as a set-apart sacred space for the Shekinah glory of God among his people, here, no such place is necessary. The Holy Lord will reside freely in this new residence among his redeemed people because there is no longer any stain of sin nor corruptible thing upon the earth. In fact, the whole city (a 1500X1500X1500 gold cube) is itself one humungous temple with openings on all sides that offer access to the glory of God.  One commentator has said “just as the NJ [New Jerusalem] is more than a place, i.e. denoting the community of God’s people, the temple is more than a place, i.e., denoting the presence of God and the Lamb in the community of his people” (Park, More than a Regained Eden, 209-10). Because God abides with and among his people freely in the New Jerusalem, there is no need for a separate temple structure.

However, not only does God the Father serve as the temple (as conceived in the Old Testament), the Lamb is also associated with this new arrangement—“for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). This demonstrates the unity of God with the Son in glory and continues the apocalyptic emphasis on the equality there is between these two members of the Godhead. In 4:2 and 5:6 both Father and Son occupy the same throne space. In 4:8-11 and 5:9-14 both are said to be worthy of worship. In 14:17-20 and 19:11-21 both act as judge. And here, both are understood as the temple in the Holy City—the locus of God’s presence (Osborne, Revelation, 761).

Another highlight of this forever-home for God’s people is its lack of a sun or moon—“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” (21:23). The apostle John has made it his habit to describe God and the things of God in terms of light and those things that are against God as existing in the realm of darkness. All the way back in his gospel John says of Jesus, “In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn. 1:5). Whether witnessed in the first created thing (“let there be light”), or in the pillar of fire leading God’s people in the Exodus, or in the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John, God has consistently been portrayed as light—i.e. anti-darkness, revelatory, illuminating, truth. In the New Jerusalem, the light of God will so-saturate the world that there will no longer be any need for other light sources. Reflecting on this coming reality one commentator has concluded, “if the light of God the Creator has dawned, of what use are the celestial lights, the sun and the moon? Of what good is their pitiful reflected light when he who is light (John 1:5) itself is present?” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 40-66, 557).

Taken together with the transparency of the walls surrounding the city and the clear-gold the city is going to be made out of, the light of God will not be covered hidden away by anything. One wonders if there will even be shadows given how awesome the light of God will be and the transparency of the building materials used.

James 1:17-“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

The light will allow for clear and uninhibited access to God as it illuminates the way to his celestial city for all—“ 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…” (21:24-26). “The nations” described here are those believing peoples from every nation and tribe that have repented of their sin and followed Jesus as Lord and Savior. These have overcome the fallen world of sin and death in Christ and now enjoy glory with their God in heaven. This glory they may experience by means of the “open gates” of their forever home. This open access appears to complement the prediction of Isaiah 60:11 which reads, “Your gates will always stand open; they will never be shut, day or night.” Because there are no longer any threats, pollutants, carcinogens, worries, or deception, this forever home will be literally perfect (and here, literally literally means literally, 😊), allowing believers from every tribe and nation to enter without fear.

One final highlight of this glorious forever home is its cleanliness—“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,…” (21:27). After all, the only ones, other than God, that are allowed admittance into this city are those whose names are found written in the Lamb’s book of life, i.e. those who have been saved by grace through faith (made righteous before God and perfected by the power of the Spirit because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished).

The presence of this book appears to be modeled after the roster of citizens that existed in ancient cities, especially the Old Testament register of the citizens of Israel in places like Psalm. 9:5, 87:6, and Isaiah 4:3. Just as these ancient cities possessed registers of who belonged in their respective jurisdictions, so too will the New Jerusalem.

So What?

While clear walls, golden streets, and pearl doors may not be your style, one day, for believers, it will be reality. What a glorious place believers will be allowed to call home! However, the greatest feature of all concerning the New Jerusalem is the uninhibited access to God—our Creator, Sustainer, Savior, and Lord. That is good company!

The question for us today is this: is your name found in the register of this coming forever city? Is your spot reserved in the New Jerusalem? Those who will one day enjoy the full presence of God are those who are in relationship with him today. These are those who have recognized his light (Jesus) and have been led by that light out of the darkness of sin and death?

For those of us who already enjoy a relationship with Jesus, ask yourselves this: has the light of God’s glory been muted in your life? Has a preoccupation with the things of this world created a fog that is keeping you from enjoying the hope and anticipation of what is to come? My prayer is that God would use this brief tour of our coming forever home to lift the fog and recapture our imagination and expectation for the things to come as we live our lives as carriers of light in the darkness.

Monday, January 6, 2020

A Forever Home-Revelation 21:10-17

One of the more popular things to watch on television is the HGTV channel. Though we don’t get that channel in our basic lineup at home, I’m familiar enough with shows like “House-Hunters,” “Dream home,” “Love it or List it,” etc. to know that many are fascinated with finding and/or creating the perfect home. Running parallel to these series are competition shows that will have designers competing against one another to achieve the perfect space—be it for a kitchen, living room, bathroom, or bedroom. These shows intrigue me as there are so many different styles and tastes that people have when it comes to their ideal residence. However, regardless of how amazing some of the estates may be on these shows, there is a more perfect forever-home awaiting those who are a part of the family of God—the listing of which is recorded for us in Revelation 21:9-27. While last week we looked at John’s description of the New Heavens and the New Earth in general, today and next week we are going to tour the forever-home that the Lord himself has designed for his people. It is my prayer that by touring this forever-home we might grow increasingly hopeful for what is in store for us and more on mission than ever before as there is plenty of room in this divinely-designed space for those potential residents God has placed around us. 

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1. FEATURE #1: The Exterior-21:10-14

The first feature that is described of the forever home for God’s people is the exterior. However, before we look at these features in detail, let’s acknowledge that the forever home of heaven is just as much about the people of God who inhabit it as it is about the place they live. After all, the “bride” mentioned in Revelation 19 refers to the people of God but in Revelation 21:2 the “bride” is employed in reference to the New Jerusalem. In verse 9 of chapter 21, the same “bride” reemerges in connection to this city when “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls,…spoke with (John) saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’” Immediately following this, verse 10 reads, “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,…”. Therefore, the city about to be described is closely associated with the people who are permitted citizenship therein—the redeemed people of God.

From a perch on top of a high mountain, John sees a “holy” city—perfect in every way—called “Jerusalem” –perhaps alluding to what the ancient city with the same name was intended to be (i.e. the locus of global blessing and center of God’s presence)—“coming down out of heaven from God”—indicating that this locale is other-worldly (i.e. not a rebuild or traditional town, but a divinely crafted residence from on high). All of these indications reveal that the forever home for God’s people, while not of this world, does eventually land on earth. In many ways, this new domain will go a long way in finally and forever answering the prayer articulated in Jesus’ model for his disciples—“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Here, upon the emergence of this city, heaven does come down to earth in perfect harmony.

The façade of the city is described as follows, “having the glory of God.” (21:11a). The glory of God is the primary and recurring element in the description of this new domain (see 15:8; 21:11, 23). Similar glory was witnessed at Sinai (Exod. 24:15-16) and in Isaiah’s vision of heaven in Isaiah 6:1-4. One commentator calls “glory” here the personification of God’s character, especially his splendor (Osborne, Revelation, 749). Reinforcing the resplendence of this new city is the phrase, “her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal clear jasper” (21:11b). The presence of jasper reminds the reader of the throne all the way back in 4:3 which “had the appearance of jasper.” Though many speculate as to the exact color and tone of the stone in question, the transparency (“crystal clear”[ness]) is what is highlighted here—something that will be seen again later in this context.

John continues his description of the exterior by overviewing the walls surrounding the city: “It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel…” (21:12). Of the 1000 cities in the Roman empire at the time this was written, most were founded as Hellenistic cities and included defensive walls (Wilson, ZIBBC, 367). A city’s strength was often in direct proportion to the quality of its walls—the stronger/more impressive the walls the stronger/more impressive the people inside. Compare for instance, the dire straights in which God’s people found themselves in Nehemiah’s day when the prophet learns that Jerusalem is in shambles and its walls were destroyed (Nehemiah 1). Nehemiah knew what must be done first in order to bring the people of God back on the world’s stage—the walls needed to be rebuilt. Compare that to the massive walls of Babylon’s capital city under Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 1ff). The center of this strong empire was guarded by a double-wall system that was exceedingly tall and impressively thick punctuated by 250 towers surrounding the entire city. Revelation reveals that at the end, the New Jerusalem will come with “a great and high wall” indicating something to the greatness that is inside.

However, what is peculiar about this wall, at least when considering the historical context, is its many gates—“with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel…” (21:12b). The 12 gates (the product of 3 and 4 that symbolizes completion) implies open and unlimited access to God and the Lamb for the inhabitants of heaven. Each gate bears the name of one of Jacob’s sons—the twelve tribes of Israel—the forefathers of the people of God in the Old Testament and the spiritual forefathers of the church thereafter.

The twelve gates were distributed as follows: “There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west…” (21:13). Most cities in the ancient world had only a couple of gates at strategic location providing entrance and egress. After all, these gates were where the city’s defenses were most vulnerable. The more holes you had in your wall, the weaker it ultimately was. The fact that there are twelve gates (three on each side) suggests there is nothing fear (no threat is on its way that would require a limited number of entry points into this most glorious domain). This unusual configuration of twelve gates around this celestial city appears to have been taken from Ezekiel 48:30-35. There, as is the case here, the names of the tribes are also associated with the gates. “The meaning in Ezekiel is that each tribe has a gate that opens to its own tribal territory. Here the thrust is quite different. These gates provide access to all ‘humankind,’ namely, the ‘people’ (21:3) who have ‘overcome’ the world (21:7a) and so ‘inherited the city of God’ (21:7b)” (Osborne, Revelation, 750).

The “greatness” and “highness” of the walls is demonstrative of how grand this forever home is for God’s people and the twelve gates illustrates how welcoming and safe this new residence is for all who will enjoy heaven.

However, John says even more about the exterior of the New Jerusalem: “and the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (21:14). While the walls themselves introduces the Jewish component of the people of God, the foundation of the walls introduces the Church component of the people of God. Both groups are saved by grace through faith in the completed work of Christ (Rom. 4:3, 13) and both are represented here in the exterior structure of the New Jerusalem. The relationship between the walls and their foundations (faithful Jews and the Church) witnessed here is a concrete illustration of what Paul talks about in Romans 4:16-17a.

Romans 4:16-17a-“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations.’”

Abraham is the physical forefather of the Jewish people and the spiritual forefather of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles (the church) who come from every tribe and tongue.

In summary, the exterior of the believer’s heavenly destiny reveals that it is an other-worldly, glorious, impressive, safe, and welcoming residence for all the people of God. What a great place to call home!

2. FEATURE #2: The Measurements-21:15-17

After the breathtaking description of the exterior is given, the next feature that John explores includes the measurements of the city (how big is it?)—“the one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall…” (21:15). Later the reader will learn that the city is made out of gold (21:18) as are the streets (21:21). Therefore, it only makes sense that the tool used to measure the glistening metropolis is made of gold also.

While many measure their homes today by means of square-footage, this form of identifying area is not suitable for the task here in Revelation. It is discovered upon measuring the city that “the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal,…” (21:16). This unusual shape and size reveals several things about the forever home of God’s people. First, the phrase “length and width and height” employed at the end of the verse is similar to what is said in Ephesians 3:18 about Christ’s love—“…what is the breadth and length and height and depth”—(minus the “depth”). If this verbiage was used in Ephesians to express the magnitude and fullness of Jesus’ love, these similar words might be used to express the magnitude and fullness of this city here in Revelation. But full of what? The shape betrays the answer—a perfect cube. According to Revelation, the New Jerusalem is twelve thousand stadia (between 1400-1500 miles) long, wide, and high, indicating a perfect cube. This is an important shape in Jewish thought, especially as it pertains to another important structure—the holy of holies.

2 Chronicles 3:8-“ Now he made the room of the holy of holies: its length across the width of the house was twenty cubits, and its width was twenty cubits; and he overlaid it with fine gold, amounting to 600 talents.”

1 Kings 6:19-20-“ Then he prepared an inner sanctuary within the house in order to place there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits in length, twenty cubits in width, and twenty cubits in height, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid the altar with cedar.”

In the temple structure, the holy of holies housed the literal and glorious presence of God resided in a cube. However, in the Old Testament world, only a few could enter in and only under extreme and restricted conditions (the high priest after satisfying very specific protocols). In the New Jerusalem, the entire city is set up as a new and far larger cube—a new holy of holies where the full presence of God resides. Only now, everyone can access the Lord’s presence at any time through one of the twelve open gates. While Jesus tore the veil that separated mankind from the presence of God in his first coming, following his second coming, he will invite all who follow him into the inner-sanctum to enjoy perfect communion with God in real time, uninhibited by any barrier. What a blessing!  
The last thing to be measured are the walls—“and he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements” (21:17). Whether or not this 72-yard figure is the height or width of the wall isn’t divulged. However, what is clear is that either way, these walls are, once again, impressive and strong. It is also interesting that the angel records the measurements in ways that are translatable to humans or that, at least here, the record of length/width/height is the same in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical realm.

So What?

While we will conclude our tour of the believer’s forever home next week, it is important for our sake today to meditate on what has already been shared concerning the exterior and measurements of this promised residence. Imagine you are John bearing witness to this vision and recording this here. This beloved disciple of Jesus had heard his Savior say to him during his earthly ministry years ago that he was going to prepare a place for them (see John 14). Here, John gets to learn more about what this place will look like. I wonder how this would have inspired this lost-living disciple as he sat there in forced retirement on the island of Patmos. I wonder how it inspires you. The glorious façade we read about here ought to temper how impressed we are by what the world can offer us today. The impressive walls complete with 12 gates ought to yield a sense of peace and confidence that what is in store for us doesn’t include any threats or danger of any kind. The names on the gates and the foundation stones ought to betray just how coherent God’s plan has been from the beginning to bring his people a most glorious future. The size and shape of the city ought to prove the love of God and close proximity he desires to share with those who are found in his son. The New Jerusalem is better than a dream home; it is a coming reality custom-designed for God’s people bought and paid for by Christ himself.