Have you heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”?
Just like any saying, it is only partially true. There are times when you need to see rather than just listen to a description.
For instance a earlier this year the screen on Bri’s Chromebook was cracked, and I looked up how to replace it. It wasn’t until I watch a Youtube video that I was able to understand exactly what I needed to do.
But other times, a picture simply cannot capture what we see and all descriptions fall short.
A few years ago I went backpacking with a friend. Our second day out started with a 2 hour steady climb that ended with this amazing, beautiful view of the Youghiogheny River Valley…and every time I look at the picture from that moment…I feel disappointed. It simply does not capture all the beauty of that moment.
I experience the same thing when I look at our pictures from the Grand Tetons from a couple years ago. I remember almost losing my breath as we topped the final mountain pass and caught our first glimpse as the sun set behind this amazing range of mountains. I still cannot put into words the beauty.
As we explored the area over the next week or so, we heard story after story of how people had come to visit the mountain range and just never left…they stayed to write about the mountains, draw and paint them, and climb and hike them. Their beauty is absolutely captivating.
And no matter how good the picture, some are far better than others, they just don’t seem to do justice to actually being there and experiencing the views and the mountains personally.
John has been moving toward these final chapters…and despite His best descriptive efforts…it still falls short. Who of us can adequately imagine a realm where evil does not impact every relationship and interaction? Who of us can adequately imagine a place where God is finally and completely ruler of all? Where there is no need for a temple or church because God’s presence is right there all the time?
There is movement throughout Scripture that brings all of the Bible together….God walked in the Garden of Eden with the man and woman…God’s presence dwelt on earth in the Tabernacle and the Temple…God in Jesus dwelt on earth…God dwells in us through the Holy Spirit….but God’s ultimate plan is to return and walk with us on the earth He created. We see in these final chapters a reversal of the Genesis story.
Where Sin entered the world and forced human expulsion from the Garden of Eden
Sin and Evil Will Now be Judged and Removed in preparation for the new Eden.
Our passage starts with the destruction of the accuser,
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
So first God removes the tempter, the snake, the accuser, then he goes about judging not only evil and darkness but also each one of us according to what we have done.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
“8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The scene here is one where each and every one of us stand before the Throne of God. It isn’t necessarily going to be pleasant, as our passage tells us, “The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.” This reminds us of the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden. After eating from the tree they attempted to hide. That judgment meant their expulsion from the Garden…but this judgment means the renewal of the entire earth.
Over the last six months, I have been taking improv classes to help me improve my speaking and on stage ability. My first teacher was a great guy named Mike. He was VERY encouraging. When we would be doing a scene he would say things like, “Great job! I liked how you did…” I don’t think I ever heard him really point out what we had done wrong only what we had done right.
Justin, my second teacher and the owner of the theater, is VERY different. And I have found I personally like his approach better. He will point out the good things we have are doing, but he is just as likely to tell us the bad things we are doing. Justin is just as likely to say, “Good job!” as he is to say, “That was the stupidest thing I have ever seen! Don’t ever do that on my stage during a show!”
I like his approach better because I want to know what I’m doing wrong and how to correct it…not just what I’m doing right. I am able to take it from him because I know he knows what he is talking about.
God’s judgment isn’t going to be easy, but it is necessary. Every one of us who follow Christ will weep over the sin God reveals to us, and just how many times they have fallen short and how we have hurt others even while doing what we think is the right thing.
We need someone who is able to stand up and say, “That is wrong!” and then make it so we can change. And that is where is the next stage is so powerful.
The New Heaven and New Earth
John does not believe in the destruction of creation as is often stated by many who talk about the End Times. He understands that God has invested himself in His creation, and is not going to abandon it. From the beginning, John has spoken of God as the creator and shown all of creation worshipping at the throne of God. It would be against everything John has written for him to now show creation destroyed.
NT Wright states, “If creation is not gloriously reaffirmed at the last, God has been finally defeated: the satan has won.”
So rather than destroy our world, as many speak of when talking about the End Times, John is affirming the exact opposite. And while we often focus on the new city, the most powerful example of God’s new creation is the Resurrection and the fact that He is “making everything new”.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
Have you ever wrestled to overcome a bad habit in your life?
Maybe the internal conversation goes like this: Why can’t you ever get this right? You always go right back to doing what you know you shouldn’t do! It is like I just can’t help myself. I feel compelled to do what I know I shouldn’t and don’t want to do!
Have you ever had that conversation with yourself?
Maybe it is over your weight…you want to be healthy, but you also want that chocolate milk shake and double cheeseburger.
Maybe you procrastinate.
Maybe it is more serious you wrestle to stop an addiction to drugs, or alcohol, or a self-destructive habit like cutting or bulimia or anorexia.
There is that sin you just can’t seem to break away from doing.
God’s promise is that through the Resurrection, through the Judgment…He says, “I am making everything new! To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
What empowering words…God isn’t just in the judgment business…He is in the renewal business. We don’t just need someone to tell us how wrong we are…we need someone to tell us what the right thing to is and then give us the ability to be what He has called us to be.
Once sin has been judged we have been renewed…then, in the ultimate reversal of the Genesis story…
We Re-enter God’s presence.
Let me just give you a glimpse…
Revelation 21:10-14 says,
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. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Many people have used this passage to describe “heaven.” This is not necessarily heaven…this is the New Jerusalem God establishes on Earth. He describes it here as a city.
And in Revelation 22:1-5 is described as the Restoration of Eden
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. On each side of the river 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. 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. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
The Tree of Life only appears two places in Scripture in Genesis and then here at the end.
Most people focus on the description of the city….the jewels, the gold, the gates…but that is like going to the Sistine Chapel and talking about the doors or the flooring material. The city description is only meant to represent the kind of place that is worthy to house God and ultimately to restore Eden so God and His people could be together.
That is God’s ultimate plan…not destruction, but the restoration…the removal of pain and weeping and sin and evil and the healing of all that keeps us from Him…so that we can dwell in His actual presence.,,,because, as verse 3 says, we “will see his face!”
So what does all this mean?
For our everyday walk with God, what does it mean for us?
It means that as we follow God obedience, with faithful endurance, with sacrificial obedience…we are leading to the destruction of evil. Every act of kindness, every time your forgive the person who doesn’t deserve it, every time you love the person who doesn’t deserve love, every time you write an article or a book or a poem or paint or draw a picture or compose a piece of music you are building into the coming Kingdom of God.
Every skill you learn and develop…ever sin and temptation you overcome…every thing you do for God will not end with death it will be stored up for this coming age where everything wrong with our world is set right!
Revelation 22:12-15; 17
12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
They say the only thing we can take with us are the things of eternal value…and there is nothing more eternal than the people around us. That is why our call throughout all Scripture is to be a witness that leads others to Jesus.
We simply have to stand and say, “Come! All who are thirsty! Take the free gift of the water of life!”