Passage – Revelation 21:1-22:6
This week we’re fast forwarding to the very end of time. God’s judgment has occurred and all who were opposed to God have been thrown into the Lake of Fire (the second death) and we’re told what will then take place. Some of the language is symbolic and not to be taken literally, but what we are told in these climactic chapters from the lips of the risen, ascended and glorified Jesus is real (21:5, 22:6). The recipient of this Revelation is the Apostle John who was imprisoned on the island of Patmos because of his faith in Christ (1:9). This gives us a clue to the purpose of the Book of Revelation in that it is to spur the suffering Christian on and the persecuted church to keep going. Hence this week’s title- Don’t give up! In the midst of the pandemic and the suffering it has caused, now, more than ever, it is important for us as followers of Christ to not give up. One of the metaphors in the bible describing the relationship between Christ and his church is “a marriage” (19:7). There is a Groom, a Bride and an Invitation.
Meeting the Groom
People have all sorts of questions about heaven- will we recognise each other? Will we work? Will loved ones be there? Will our pets be there? But Jesus in these final chapters makes one thing very clear, he will be there and we’ll meet him face to face- “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.” (21:3). “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (22:3). The curse which separated man from God since the Fall has finally gone. This is because God has done something about it once and for all time through his Son. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13) Jesus was hung on a tree- the cross- where he took God’s curse for us. The first churches to receive this revelation from Jesus faced many problems (2:1-3:22)- persecution, false teaching, lukewarmness, loss of love for Jesus, spiritually dead, sexual sin, discouragement. Sound like the church today? Of course. But the message of Revelation is don’t give up! Keep looking to Christ and keep believing in Him because one day we will meet the Groom face to face, and we have his word on that!
Admiring the Bride
Half-way down our staircase we have a windowsill and on it are pictures of both of our parent’s wedding days and a picture of our own wedding day, 30th July 1988! Occasionally I stop and look at the picture, remember what a happy day it was and remind myself how beautiful my bride was (and still is)! John tells us about Christ’s bride, the church. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (21:2) “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the last seven plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God.” (21:9-10) The passage then proceeds with symbolic imagery of the Holy City- walls, gates, 12 tribes, 12 angels, 12 Apostles, precious stones, perfect shape, streets of gold. This is a picture of absolute perfection. This is the church that Paul says Jesus will present to himself “as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27) As Christians we can easily get a downer on the church. We have our disagreements; we can be very tribal; we focus on our failings; we feel marginalised; it feels like culture is shaping the church. This was the situation faced by the seven churches who first received this revelation. But Jesus’ message is clear- Don’t give up!- because he has not given up on his church. No matter how messy and ugly we might feel, one day we will be perfect, and we have his word on that!
Accepting the Invitation
Different wedding invitations evoke different responses. Some invites are met with a “do we have to go?” whilst others are RSVP’d the same day! At the heart of our passage, Jesus issues an invitation- “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (21:6) On two other occasions Jesus speaks of the water of life (John 4:10, John 6:35). The water of life is “eternal life”, meaning life with the Eternal One (John 17:3). This is not something we earn by our good works but is a gift from God to be received when we put our faith in Christ. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40) Our passage highlights two responses to this invitation. The first is in 21:7 where Jesus says- “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” To each of the seven churches who first received this Revelation Jesus says- “To him who overcomes”. Who is he referring to? Those who trust Jesus and keep trusting Him- those who don’t give up! The other response to this invitation is in 21:8- “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” The cowardly is not a description of those with a timid disposition, but rather those who, in the face of opposition, do give up on Jesus. Verse 8 is not so much a warning to the world as it is a wake-up call to the church. Don’t give up!
Prayer – Dear Lord God. As your word declares- “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:17). Please give us the strength to keep going and to keep looking in faith to you and to trust your promises. Thank you that one day you will make all things new. In Christ’s name, Amen