Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Revelation 21

Fellowship with God (vs. 21:1-8)--With the devil and his minions defeated and no longer able to plague God's people, the remainder of Revelation is given to the destiny of the redeemed. It is, truly, a lovely picture, for the cause of all evil, pain, and suffering (Satan) has been completely and forever removed from the scene. The destiny of the unredeemed is pictured in chapter 20:11-15, 21:8, 22:15, so there will be two reminders yet of the need for faithfulness. Otherwise, the image is one of peace, comfort, beauty, and hope.

The "new heaven" and "new earth"--i.e., the final dwelling place of those who did not succumb to Satan's wiles--is pictured from three angles in chapters 21 and 22. In 21:1-8, there will be fellowship with God--"the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people" (v. 3). That which was pictured as once having separated the redeemed from full access to Him is gone--"there was no more sea" (v. 1). Again, with the source of all misery removed, there will be no more tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain; those things "have passed away" (v. 4). The absolute surety of this is stated in verse 5--the words are "faithful and true." "It is done," as surely as if it had already happened, and we can rest confident in it because it is the will of "the Alpha and the Omega," the eternal God. All needs will be provided for (v. 6). Verses 7 and 8 give us a subtle reminder. We must overcome while on this earth, and if we do, we shall "inherit all things" as a child of God. But those who do not submit to God’s will "shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (v. 8). It is interesting that "cowardly" ("fearful," KJV and ASV) and "unbelieving" are the first two sins mentioned here. If we do not have the courage to stand against persecution (such is especially the way John's readers would read this) and the faith that the things written in this revelation are true, then how are we different from the devil and his followers? We will almost surely live a life of wickedness and debauchery.

Protection by God (vs. 9-27)--The second portrayal of this final resting place of the righteous is found in verses 9-27--we have God's protection. This protection is illustrated in the form of a perfect, beautiful city where God is the only light needed. Some have questioned whether this is truly a picture of heaven. Twice in the chapter the city ("new Jerusalem," v. 2, and "holy Jerusalem," v. 10) is described as "descending out of heaven." Well, regardless of its particular meaning, it does come from heaven and it is where God's people will live. The description here is obviously figurative. There will be no literal 12 gates, 12 foundations, a wall of jasper and a street of gold (notice there is only one wall and one street--perfect unity and oneness. This would surely not be lost on John's readers, but is lost on too many of us today when we sing of the "streets (plural) of gold.”) The twelve gates have the name of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them (v. 12) and the 12 foundations the 12 apostles (v. 14). Everything is perfect--note how many times 12, or a combination thereof, is used--12 gates, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, 12,000 furlongs, 144 cubits, 12 pearls. As noted in my second article on the symbolism of numbers, 12 represents "organized religion," a combination of three, the divine number, and four, the world number. So, by using 12 (or a multiple thereof) the completeness between the divine and the human are represented--a perfect dwelling place, created by God, for all of His redeemed through the ages. What a incomparable picture. All of this is described in human terms--a city, the expensive materials used, etc.--because that's the only way we can understand it. How does one describe the magnificence of the final home of the saved? Picture it in a way we human, as best we can, understand it--with the most priceless and beautiful materials available. What else could John do?

There was no temple in this city, "for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (v. 22). There was no sun or moon, because "the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light"--the Lamb, of course, is equally God (v. 23). All the saved walk in that light, "and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it" (v. 24), something John's readers would understand better than we because of our democratic, egalitarian society. In the first century, only kings and the high nobility lived in "glory and honor;" the rest, peasants, were left to fend for themselves in poverty. The gates of the city will never be shut (v. 25)--they won't need to be, for no enemy shall ever attack. Pure safety in the presence of God. There will be no night (v. 26), when the evil plot and perform most of their mischief. And nothing vile or abominable shall ever enter that city, "but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life" (v. 27). What else could be said of the perfection, beauty, and peace of the final home of God's people?

Well, there is a little more said in chapter 22. We have a chapter break that would probably be better not being here, but it is, so I will consider the final chapter, with concluding thoughts, in my next post.

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