The End? The new beginning

With this last chapter of Revelation, John focuses again on Jesus and his centrality to all of God’s creation and redemption. A recording of this post will be available on the Shofar Durbanville YouTube channel.

The Bible begins and ends with the description of a paradise-garden in which there is a tree of life and a life-giving river. In this last chapter of John’s Apocalypse, John shows how God’s restoration and renewal of all things are brought to completion. In this final vision of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1), we see the Gospel of God beautifully painted.

Jesus is life (22:1-5).  Continuing with the scene of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21), John describes the River of Life flowing from the throne room of God and the Lamb.  The picture of the life-giving river alludes to Eden (Genesis 2:7-10) and Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 47:1-12).  This River of Life flows in the middle of the street of this Holy City.   On its banks is the Tree of Life, bearing fruit all-year long, with “it’s leaves for the healing of nations” (22:2; Ezekiel 47:7,12).

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After Adam and Eve rebelled and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God removed them from the Garden “lest [they] stretch out [their] hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” in their fallen state (Genesis 3:22-24).  But access to the Tree of Life is a sign that there is no more sin, no more darkness, “for the Lord God will be their light” (22:5) and those who dwell therein will forever reign.  This garden-image is a compelling picture of Christ’s full redemption and restoration of mankind, where mankind will live in communion with God, to share in his life, and reign over his creation with goodness (Genesis 1:26-27).  Here life is as it always should have been.

The symbolism is beautiful and meant to be both hopeful and instructive to the readers. Christ is the source of all light and life (John 1:4-5; 11:25; 14:6).  The Life-giving River “which make glad the city of our God” (Psalm 36:8; 46:4) depicts the nature and work of the Holy Spirit – the “Spirit of Life” (Romans 8:2, 11) who satisfy believers to “never thirst again” (John 4:13; Isaiah 55:1), even to overflow with “rivers of living water” (John 7:38-39).  The street in the Holy City is “the Highway of Holiness” (Isaiah 35:8), “the Way” of life Jesus taught of and made possible by his blood (Acts 24:14,22, cf Hebrews 10:19-20).  The Tree of Life is the church, God’s redeemed creation, who in turn is God’s redemptive gift to the world.  It is the tree that grows from the Gospel seed (Matthew 13:31-32), who is planted next to the River of Life and therefore “yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8).  Through the reigning of the Lamb and the nourishing of his Spirit, the church now and forever reign (Revelation 5:9-10; Romans 5:17).  

Put together, the church is those renewed and sustained by the Spirit of God, who walks in the Way of Holiness as they submit to the reign of God and the Lamb.  By drawing from the water of the Spirit, the church bear fruit that gives life and healing to the nations, displacing evil.  This is as much a picture of the church today as it points to Christ’s coming kingdom.    

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Jesus is the judge (22:12).  Four times in this chapter, John records the words that Jesus’ return is “soon”, and hears Christ’s admonition to “hear the words of this prophesy and keep it.” (22:7)  The angelic warning about the end on the river-bank pictures a strong allusion to Daniel 12.  But in contrast to Daniel who was told to “seal up” and “shut up” the prophecy “until the last days”, John is now instructed to “not seal up the prophecy, for the time us near” – implying the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment is near (22:10; Daniel 12:4, 9).  Alluding to Daniel’s vision (22:10; Daniel 12:10) the angel says:

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, 

[let] the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

This does not imply that the time of grace is over.  John writes that doing proceeds from being.  In keeping with the rest of the prophecy to the seven churches, John urges believers that, if indeed they have been redeemed and sanctified by the Blood of the Lamb (5:9-10), then act in accordance with your standing.  Since you are holy, do righteous deeds!  Do not live in the filthy ways of Babylon, because Jesus is coming soon as the judge, “to repay each one for what he has done” (22:12; Isaiah 40:10).

 

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Jesus is the goal (22:13).  What will be the standard of the judgment?  Christ Himself!  In addition to being the Ever-living One (Alpha and Omega), the Sovereign One (First and Last in rank), Christ is also “the Beginning and the End” (Greek telos) of all things – the origin and the purpose (or goal) of all creation.  The goal of all mankind is “to conform to the image of His Son”, to resemble or reflect the image and reign of God (Romans 8:29, Genesis 1:26-27).  The problem is that all have sinned and fall short of His glory  – that none resemble his nature and ways (Romans 3:23).  When Christ’s comes to “repay each one for what he has done” (22:12), there will be “no one righteous”, none can stand on his own works (Romans 3:10). With the disciples, we cry “Who then can be saved” in that Day (Matthew 19:25)?

Jesus is the only hope (22:14). As he did in the recording of his gospel, John displays “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as the only hope for the sinful world before a Holy Judge. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (22:14).  How have the redeemed washed their robes to gain entry into God’s New Creation?

“These with white robes… are the ones who… have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)  These are saved from the wrath of God not by their own efforts, but by grace through faith in God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9).   These are the ones who trust not in their own ability or righteousness, but recognize their own shortcoming and trust in God’s Lamb who was slain as the propitiation for their sins (substitutionary sacrifice, 1 John 2:2). Indeed, the just shall live by faith forever (Romans 1:17)!

One big message.  From beginning to end the book of Revelation shows cohesiveness in form and message intended to encourage and exhort the church in its struggle against evil.  The nature of Revelation is that of an apostolic letter (1:4, 11; 22:16, 21) from John to seven congregations, containing a prophecy from the Lord to his church (1:3; 22:7) in apocalyptic genre unveiling what is at work behind the suffering of the world and how it will end (1:1, 10; 21:6, 10). Its central confession is that Jesus Christ is sovereign over both his church and the world and that he is already at work to destroy evil on earth until he rids the world of all evil influence, even sin, death and Satan.  Christ is among his church, and through the presence, prayers and patient endurance the saints participate in Christ’s conquest over evil, until he returns. It calls the church to remain faithful to its Lord, promising rewards in the share of His reign.

Bringing it home

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This chapter reveals the Gospel of Christ in beautiful images.  The renewed Garden City of God shows a world without evil, sustained by the life-giving presence of God.  But also warns of the imminent judgment of Christ to a fallen world, because sinners cannot enter God’s renewed creation.  Then it displays the amazing grace of God, who would slay the Heavenly Lamb to cleanse sinners through his blood, to reconcile a broken world to himself in love.

This gospel depiction reminds us of God’s amazing love and his unwavering justice.  It calls me to consider my conduct in light of my being: have I repented of my sin to accept God’s is grace and submit to His Lordship?  Then by the blood, I have been made holy and should act righteously. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6)

Moreover, this chapter displays the corporate reality of the nature and mission of the church in a beautiful way. We the church, redeemed and renewed by Christ, already share in His Life-Giving Spirit and walk in His Way. We bear the fruit and the leaves for the healing of the nations.  The church is the living witness of God’s coming kingdom.  It calls me to consider my personal and communal witness: in which way can the world taste and see that the Lord is good?  In which direction does my life (private or shared) bring healing to the nations?  May the love, grace and justice of Christ be known in your life.

“Come, Lord Jesus!” 

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26

The End? The Reason to Endure

In this 19th study of revelation we look at need for salvation and the reality judgment and Hell in chapter 14.  A recording of this will be uploaded at the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.

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“What’s the point of all this hardship? Why push through the pain?  Others have given up, and they seem to be having an easier life! What can be worth this much effort?”  Whether it’s a marathon, long-term studies, a grueling project or start-up initiative – somewhere along the road you will ask that question in agonizing pain.  So too in your journey of faith.

The answer to this question is what Revelation 14 offers to struggling church.  The scenes instills courage in the hearts of believers tempted to give in or give up, but it does not shy away from the sober reality of what is at stake.  The chapter is divided in three logical sections, revealing the role models, the reason and the reward for endurance.

The role models for endurance (14:1-5).  Chapter 14 opens in stark contrast to chapter 13’s end.  Moving from the Beasts and those who receive the mark, John’s attention falls on the Lamb and his army of 144’000 who bears the mark of His Father on their foreheads.  In our post on the 144’000 from chapter 7 we concluded that this group represents the fullness of people saved by Christ’s blood, who remain loyal to him.

From the contrasting groups John hears contrasting sounds (14:2-3): God’s voice roars from heaven “like many waters” accompanied by “load thunders” (repeated in 8:5; 11:19; 16:18; refer 4:5) alluding to God’s justice and judgment from his Law (Exodus 19:16). This originates from his judgment on the and his worshiper (14:8ff).  John also hears the sound of joyful, tranquil music by harpists.  These comes from the believers singing before the throne the song of the redeemed (compare 4:3 with 5:8-10) – a song that only those who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb can faithfully sing.

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Here comes the brides!

The redeemed are described as those “who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins… who follow the Lamb wherever he goes”. (14:4).  This phrase is not a reference to physical celibacy, but spiritual fidelity, as it contrasts God’s faithful people to those seduced into “fornication” with “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (14:8; 17:6).  Here, drawing from the Old Testament prophets (notably Hosea), John describes idolatry as the Church’s spiritual unfaithfulness to God symbolically with a married person’s immorality and sexual unfaithfulness towards his or her spouse.  Paul uses this imagery when he laments the Corinthians’ backsliding: I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that… your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:11).  But the ones before the throne are a bride “without blemish” (4:5; compare Ephesians 5:27).

The reason for endurance (14:6-12). The next section in this chapter outlines the basic theology on judgment, revealed by three angelic messengers.  Angel one proclaims the “eternal gospel: Fear God and give him glory.”  God is the creator of all the earth, that he is sovereign over all the nations, and that he will judge all people, everywhere – and that hour is soon (14:6-7).  Angel two announces the destruction of “Babylon” because she lead people everywhere into idolatry and immorality (14:8; compare Isaiah 21, Jeremiah 51).  In chapter 18-19 the author returns to this theme, wherein Babylon is described as the the city infested by demons and inhabited by the defiled (18:2).  Angel three decrees God’s wrath on the beast and all who bears his mark: eternal judgment in “fire and sulfur” (14:9-11) – an allusion to Hell.

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Vision of Hell by John Culatto.

Our generation is not comfortable with the idea of judgment in general, and hell in particular.  I don’t like speaking about hell either – but Jesus, our Saviour, spoke more about Hell than he did about Heaven.  His urgency to save people from the reality of eternal judgment drove him from heaven to earth, from comfort to the cross.  Because, in his words, Hell is an eternal torment (Luke 16:23) of anguish and regret (Matt. 13:42) in unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48).  From this “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30) there is no escape (Luke 16:19–31).  Hell is not a place where he banishes people to, but rather the default destination that he came to save us from.  This same urgent cry to count the cost and remain faithful is what we hear throughout Revelation, and in particular in this chapter. 

This section concludes with the exhortation “for the endurance of the saints, [to] keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (14:12; compare 13:10 and Matthew 24:13).  In other words, this is the reason to patiently bear the shame and suffering on earth, because the alternative is to serve the beast and bear his mark, which mean you will share in judgment.  Suffering tempts believers to deny Christ to escape the wrath of the Beast, to enjoy peace on earth.   But the angels warn that it is better to suffer the wrath of the Beast for brief time on earth than the wrath of the unbearable Lamb for eternity.  Remain faithful to to Christ, because – “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

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The reward for endurance (14:13-20).  John describes then hears the voice declaring that “those who are dead in the Lord… may rest from their labors” (14:13) but sees a terrible judgment by “the Son of Man” likened to the harvest and trampling  of grapes in the wine press (14:14-20; compare Isaiah 63:1-6).  This terrible judgment of the nations happens when the “grapes are ripe” so that their crushing leave the land flowing with blood (14:15, 20; compare Isaiah 34:1-3).

In this image of judgment, with blood flowing on the land, there is a powerful allusion to the crucifixion of Christ – an act of God’s mercy and justice.  In this grape-pressing image of judgment John alludes to Christ being taken “outside the city” (14:20; compare John 19:16-17 and Hebrews 13:12), “crushed by God” (Isaiah 53:5), and his “blood flowed” for the remission of sins of all the world (compare Matthew 21:37-39).  The invitation for the reader is that in the crucifixion of Christ, and his blood which flowed on our behalf, we may escape the wrath of God (1:5; compare Ephesians 2:13).

Herein Jesus reveals that the reward for endurance is to enter the rest (or peace) of God by faith is atonement (14:13; compare Hebrews 4:1-13), to be freed from the presence of sin, suffering and Satan forever – rather than suffer from the wrath of God along with Satan and his hosts of evil.

Bringing it Home

This call to endure was written to church in Asia oppressed daily by the Beast which was Rome and temped by the seductive culture called Babylon, nearly 2000 ago.  However we can identify with their inclination to give up on our faith and fidelity as we are bombarded daily by suffering and seduction.

Walk on. This chapter calls me to look at my suffering in light of the eternal Fires. I’m urged to consider the cost of denying Christ and default into a life of compromise for comfort’s sake. And this spurs me on to “run the race with endurance, looking to Jesus” and that “great cloud of witnesses” who surrounds his throne (Hebrews 12:1-2).  I’m encouraged to “to be found in Him… hold onto what is true…press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:9-16).  My salvation from Hell makes the endurance worth it!  

Cross_massesWitness. This sober look at the Final Judgment calls me to consider how I look at my family, my neighbours, my world.  If Christ was moved from comfort to the cross to save the lost – like me – how much am I moved to share this “eternal Gospel” (14:6) so that others may be saved from the wrath of God?

Worship.  This look at the Final Judgment also moves me to sing the song of the redeemed – to remember the his blood and relish in his mercy towards me.  Amazing grace indeed!