September 23, 2012 David Balzer

Revelation 21-22: God’s people in God’s place… again

This week marks the end of high school for Tim and Michelle and Hannah. Apart from the small matter of some exams, they’re FREE. And there’s celebration and relief. And a sense of new possibilities and a new richness and fullness to life.

And today we come to the end of our SERIES. A series on the ONE STORY OF THE BIBLE. And maybe you’re feeling the same sense of relief that our Year 12’s are feeling. “Yes, it’s finally over!”

We’ve seen how it’s the story about how God made his world perfect. With him as king, and humanity made in his image to RULE under him. It was a perfect picture of his KINGDOM. Of God’s PEOPLE in God’s PLACE under God’s RULE.

We’ve seen how sin DESTROYED that picture. That sin is choosing to step OUT of God’s kingdom. Out from under his rule.

And how that sin had all sorts of consequences for God’s perfect world. How suffering and pain and frustration and death came in. Consequences we still live with every day.

But then we’ve seen how the one big story of the Bible is about God working in his world to RESTORE his kingdom. To BUILD his people. To bring them into his PLACE. And the long process, again and again, to bring them under his RULE.

And through it all, God promises that ONE DAY he’ll bring in his kingdom. Finally and completely. And that he’ll do it through his special king. A special FOREVER king, who’ll bring together God’s people and assemble them in God’s PLACE. And enable them, truly, to live under God’s RULE.

It’s a PROMISE. It’s off in the future. But it’s a SURE promise. It’ll be a day when WE can breathe a sigh of relief. When there’s celebration and joy far better than just FINISHING SCHOOL. And when there’s a new sense of expectation and purpose for new possibilities and richness and fullness of life. A life we can only LONG for at the moment.

And we’ve seen how Jesus came and BEGAN that process. God himself, sent from the Father. With the job of bringing in God’s kingdom. He PREACHES about it. He LIVES IT OUT. And he invites people to JOIN it. To turn from their rebellion, and then to live in submission to him as king.

And we saw last week how God raised him from the dead. Declaring him to be Lord and Christ. And how that act CHANGED EVERYTHING. How the Kingdom of God BEGAN. How the power and victory and joy. And the life and the light of the kingdom came RUSHING IN.

Jesus is the Kingdom of God

In a sense, God’s kingdom began IN JESUS HIMSELF. He IS the Kingdom of God. The kingdom PERSONIFIED. You see, he’s the TRUE Adam. The TRUE Israel. God’s person. The only one to truly and fully live under God’s rule.

And he’s God’s PLACE. The place where God and humanity meets. He replaces the temple, the presence of God in the midst of his people.

And he’s the first one to live fully under God’s rule. Never stepping outside it. And then, in his resurrection, he’s the first to live the forever, victorious life of God’s eternal kingdom.

And here’s where it gets a bit tricky to follow. Because God’s plan is for US to become part of God’s kingdom by becoming part of JESUS HIMSELF. Humanity comes into God’s kingdom by being JOINED TO JESUS, who IS the kingdom.

God’s plan to restore everything to their proper relationships – to restore his kingdom, in other words – BEGINS WITH JESUS. Then he’s the FUNNEL everyone else flows through into God’s kingdom. God JOINS PEOPLE TO JESUS BY FAITH. For any who trust Jesus’ work on their behalf.

And then God builds his kingdom IN THEM. His new people.

And it all comes because THEY’RE CONNECTED TO JESUS. In his letters, Paul describes the Christian being IN Christ. JOINED to him by faith. And then he talks about all the things that FLOW from that. Like in Eph 1.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing IN CHRIST. 4 For he CHOSE us IN HIM before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless

 

Or Verse 7

7 IN HIM we have redemption through his blood,

 

Or verse 11

11 IN HIM we were also chosen, having been predestined

 

And then in v13

13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were MARKED IN HIM with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

We’re connected to Jesus by FAITH. Jesus is our REPRESENTATIVE king. And so, everything HE has is OURS, TOO. That’s what Paul’s getting at a bit further on in Eph 2 v4. Listen to it.

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive WITH CHRIST even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST and seated us WITH HIM in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that IN THE COMING AGES he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

CHRIST was made alive. CHRIST was seated in the heavenly realms. And God, because of his great love for us, does that FOR US TOO when we trust Jesus. We are there with Christ because we’re CONNECTED to him.

That’s our STATUS. Our IDENTITY.

And once that happens, our task is for Christ to be GROWING in us. For our NATURE to be growing more and more like that IDENTITY. For God’s DE-generated world – our sinful selves living in this fallen world – to become more and more like his RE-generated world. His kingdom in Jesus.

Our role now is about BRIDGING THE GAP. SINCE we’re seated with Christ in the heavenly places, let’s LIVE LIKE THAT. That’s the logic Paul uses in Colossians Ch 3. It’s ethics and behaviour that flow from Christ’s resurrection. Col 3 v1.

3:1 SINCE, then, you have been RAISED WITH CHRIST, set your HEARTS on things above, WHERE CHRIST IS SEATED at the right hand of God. 2 Set your MINDS on things above, not on earthly things. 3 FOR YOU DIED, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Christians are JOINED to Christ by faith. We’ve died to our OLD self. Our life is now hidden WITH Christ. We’ve been raised to new life WITH Christ. And that means we should fix our attention – fix our desires – on THAT reality. On God’s kingdom. We should LIVE WHO WE ARE. So that when Christ appears. When God brings in his kingdom FINALLY. When we receive everything CHRIST has now. When we receive GLORY. Then, we’ll MEASURE UP. We’ll FIT IN.

The delay before the end

But at the moment, we’re WAITING. Because there’s A DELAY BEFORE THE END. We’re LIVING IN THE GAP. Living between the promise and the reality. Between the beginning and the finish. Between who we are in IDENTITY, and who we are in NATURE.

Like so much of the Kingdom of God, it’s a matter of NOW, and NOT YET.

It’s BEGUN – Jesus is KING. We ARE seated with him. But there’s still MORE TO COME. The full RICHNESS of God’s promises. Of his kingdom.

At the moment, we see SOMETHING of Jesus as king. But in OTHER ways, we’re NOT seeing him as king. People all over the world, people in our streets. Even in our families. Aren’t RECOGNISING that kingship yet.

It’s like LABOUR. Now and not yet. The baby is fully grown. But giving birth is a PROCESS. A LONG process!

And, just like labour, there’s some PAIN INVOLVED. As we live in that IN-BETWEEN TIME. As we wait for Jesus to return and bring in his kingdom COMPLETELY.

Romans 8:22 talks about how we GROAN. How even though Jesus died to DESTROY sin, we still SIN. Even though Jesus was WOUNDED that we might be HEALED, we’re still SICK. We still suffer baldness and short-sightedness and arthritis, and acne and broken legs and cancer.

And even though Jesus was raised to destroy DEATH, we still DIE. And endure the pain of those we LOVE dying, TOO.

And plenty of YOU have had THAT sort of groaning to endure. And you know from experience the truth of these words from Romans 8 v22 (p800).

22 We know that THE WHOLE CREATION has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, GROAN INWARDLY as we wait EAGERLY for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Notice what’s DIFFERENT for the Christian? We might be GROANING like everyone else. But we can wait EAGERLY. We can look forward with expectant hope. Because God’s promised us NEW BODIES. Redeemed, bought-back, glorified bodies. Bodies that won’t grow old or wear out. And he’s given us his Spirit as the DEPOSIT. The TASTE. The ENTRÉE.

And not just FOR US. He’s promised a WHOLE NEW WORLD to go WITH it. A liberated world that MEASURES UP to the new redeemed bodies God’s PEOPLE have. A new PLACE for God’s kingdom. Rom 8.20, in the paragraph before the one we just read, puts it like this.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that THE CREATION ITSELF WILL BE LIBERATED FROM ITS BONDAGE TO DECAY AND BROUGHT INTO THE GLORIOUS FREEDOM OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.

Our sin means the world isn’t the way it’s SUPPOSED to be. And one day God will set IT free as well.

But it begs the question. If there’s so much GROANING going on, why is God taking SO LONG with the labour pains? Why not finish the whole thing QUICKLY? Send Jesus TOMORROW?

That was the question people were asking when Peter wrote his second letter. In 2 Peter 3 he answers scoffers who reckon God’s not going to deliver on his promises. That he’s NOT sending Jesus to return. That he’s NOT going to end the suffering and bring in a new world. That his SLOWNESS means he won’t, or CAN’T keep his promises. But here’s what Peter says in response. 2 Peter 3 v8.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God’s got plenty of time. He’s been around, literally, FOREVER. He’s had plenty of time to be patient. And the REASON he’s patient with bringing judgment is the same reason behind everything he’s done in the Bible. BECAUSE HE WANTS TO BRING IN HIS KINGDOM. He wants to restore everything to the way he created it.

And that means he wants to give as many people as possible. People from every nation under heaven. Time to respond to his gift of life. To turn from their rebellion, and to bow the knee before King Jesus.

That’s why the delay. That’s why there’s the NOW and the NOT YET between the victory Jesus won and the CULMINATION of that.

And when that culmination comes he’s going to have to bring SOME things to AN END. Peter talks about how it will work. 2 Peter 3.10 (p861).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will DISAPPEAR WITH A ROAR; the elements will be DESTROYED BY FIRE, and the earth and everything in it WILL BE LAID BARE.

THIS earth, with its corruption and curse and death and frustration will be STRIPPED BACK. BURNED AWAY. Like the Rural Bushfire Brigade doing back burning. Burning away all the leaf litter, the rubbish, the dangerous fire fuel. And leaving it clean and fresh and safe. Ready for SOMETHING NEW.

An end and a beginning

Not only is God DESTROYING. He’s MAKING NEW. There’s an END. But there’s also a BEGINNING. Jump down to v12. Halfway through.

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

A new heaven and a new earth. Everything restored by God. Not just the SPIRITUAL – heaven. The PHYSICAL TOO – a new EARTH. And it will be a PERFECT home for our new glorified physical bodies. THAT’S what we look forward to.

It’s exactly what God had been promising for his people through his prophets in the Old Testament. Like in Isa 65 (p532).

17 “Behold, I will create NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH…I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

And what Isaiah goes on to describe is “HOME”. Long life, and peace, and contentment and rest. And God living with his people. Not distant anymore. Wonderful promises to give his people Israel HOPE. To give them the strength to get through the agony of the exile.

And for us, in Jesus, we see those plans much more FULLY. In a new heaven and a new earth BEYOND this world.

Like in the book of Revelation.

Revelation, like with so much OTHER Old Testament prophecy, BUILDS on that Isaiah picture of a new heaven and a new earth.

At the end of Ch 20 John sees a vision of God’s judgment throne. And all humanity standing before him at the end of time. But then in Ch 21, after JUDGMENT, John sees something ELSE. And for readers of Isaiah it sounds FAMILIAR.

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Just like Isaiah, a new heaven and a new earth. Just like Isaiah, the city is Jerusalem. But this time it’s the NEW Jerusalem. Because it’s the people of King Jesus. And they’re beautifully dressed like a bride. Ch 19 v8 tells us that the fine white wedding dress stands for the righteous acts of the saints. A life of obedience to Jesus. And King Jesus, the bridegroom, reckons it looks BEAUTIFUL.

And the pain and death and frustration of the OLD world is GONE. Burned up. V4. God himself wiping away every TEAR. No more crying because the OLD things are gone.

And while much of the one story of the Bible has been about the DISTANCE between God and his people – NOT ANY MORE. In the new heavens and earth the distance IS GONE. God will be dwelling right in the middle of his people (v3)

And down in v22 John mentions that there’s no TEMPLE in the new Jerusalem. Because you don’t NEED it. Temples brought you close to God. A temporary measure. But God will be right WITH his people.

And then in Ch 22, we get ANOTHER detail that’s added. It’s not just brand new heavens and earth. It’s RESTORED. It’s BACK TO Eden. It’s BETTER than Eden. The kingdom of God in the Garden of Eden was PARADISE. But here we see BETTER than paradise. It’s MORE EDEN THAN EDEN.

“Eden” was looking at paradise in a mirror, or as a shadow. But THIS is the REALITY. The reality that Eden was JUST A COPY OF.

Genesis 2 tells us that Eden had a river flowing out of it that watered the garden. And that it was the source of four major rivers. But here in Revelation 22 we read

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city.

A river of life flowing from God himself. Because he’s the SOURCE of life. And the next to the river, on both sides (v2)

stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Just like Eden. It had the tree of life. In Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin and banishment meant they couldn’t eat from it anymore. And so they DIED.

But now the tree gives life and healing FOREVER. To EVERY nation.

And the CURSE that came from Adam and Eve’s sin. Bitterness and frustration and arguments and pain in childbirth. Well, in the NEW heavens and earth (v3), there’s NO LONGER any curse. Just like Eden.

The goal of God, since the first days of creation, has been to RESTORE everything to perfection. And this is a vision of it COMPLETED. God’s kingdom finally RESTORED. But even BETTER THAN BEFORE.

And when it happens, it will be perfectly secure. Forever.

God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

And, in a sense, that’s where the story will END. But in another sense, it’s where the story BEGINS. Because it’s THAT creation we were MADE FOR. The NEW creation. That’s our natural home, not HERE. And so, that’s when the story will REALLY begin.

Let me read from the Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. What’s happened is that Aslan the lion, who represents Christ, has brought the PRESENT world of Narnia to an end, and a NEW world has begun. And our heroes are discovering what this new world is about.

“Peter”, said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”

 

“I don’t know”, said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name.”

 

“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world.     In fact, they’re EXACTLY alike.”

 

“And yet they’re NOT alike,” said Lucy. “They’re different.”

 

“More like the REAL thing,” said Lord Digory softly. “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But THAT was not the real Narnia. THAT had a beginning and an end. It was only a SHADOW or a COPY of the REAL Narnia which has always been here and always WILL be here:

 

“And of course, it IS different; as different as a REAL thing is from a shadow, or as waking life is from a dream.”

 

It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia. Perhaps you get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.

 

And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a mirror. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different— the real ones were deeper and more wonderful.

 

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was DEEPER country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it MEANT more.”

 

The Unicorn summed up what everyone was feeling. “I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.

 

THE REASON WHY WE LOVED THE OLD NARNIA IS THAT IT SOMETIMES LOOKED A LITTLE LIKE THIS.

 

“And for us this is the end of all the stories. But for them it was only the beginning of the REAL story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia, had only been the COVER AND THE TITLE PAGE: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the GREAT Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

And that’s the eternity. The reality. God’s got waiting FOR US. For those of us who are living for King Jesus.

We’re living through the title page and contents page as we wait for the real story to begin. As we wait to go HOME.

For some of us that truth RESONATES. That COMFORTS. Because we can’t WAIT to get home. Can’t wait for suffering and loneliness and frustration to end. Can’t wait to see loved ones again.

But for OTHERS of us, we need A WAKE UP CALL. We need to remember where’s REALLY home. And we need to FIX OUR EYES on that home. Because we’ve got too comfortable in THIS world. Too DISTRACTED. Too pre-occupied by things that WON’T last. And “the things above” impact us TOO LITTLE.

We need to feel the EXHORTATION of Paul from Colossians 3.

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Set your hearts on things above. And get rid of the idols that distract you from your TRUE home.

And Peter would add HIS exhortation. Fix your eyes on HOME, and WORK HARD to be found WORTHY of it. 2 Peter 3:13

13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Work hard to be righteous. Because your true home is the HOME of righteousness.

Fix your eyes on home. Long for it. Live for it.

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