Today we come to our last encounter for a while with the book of Revelation. Let’s recap:
1) The book is always Revelation, not Revelations! It is Jesus’ revelation to John.
2) We take the book seriously, but not literally; it means what it means, not what it says.
3) The book is a series of letters John wrote to 7 churches in Asia Minor regarding their persecution by the current (94 A.D.) Roman Emperor, named Domitian.
4) John’s message was meant to frighten those with little scriptural knowledge (like those who were guarding him) and meant to comfort people who knew scripture.
5) Of the 404 verses in the book of Revelation, 278 allude to an Old Testament passage.
6) The bottom line of the book: God wins; Satan loses.
7) Numbers are meaningful in this book.
Also as a reminder: Revelation is not an almanac or a predictor of what will happen in coming centuries. Hear what Dr. Craig Koester Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota says about the subject:
Members of sectarian groups have long been attracted to Revelation as a source of clues concerning the time of Christ’s coming. The groups described below exemplify a pattern in which a charismatic individual develops a distinctive interpretation of biblical texts and gathers a group of followers who anticipate that time will end in the near future…. One of the most important end-time movements in America began through the preaching of William Miller (1782-1849)…He settled in New York State, and after extensively studying Daniel and Revelation, … [said] that the consummation (rapture) would come in 1843-1844. As the time approached, Miller refined his calculations, announcing Christ’s return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When the dates Miller set came and went without Christ’s visible return, [Miller] acknowledged that [he] had misunderstood the time foretold by biblical prophesy… A woman named Ellen White, who experienced trances, gathered a few of Miller’s followers who adhered to this spiritualized view into the group that became the Seventh Day Adventists….In the decades that followed [what was called ] the Great Disappointment, new dates for the coming of Christ continued to be proposed….A man named Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) began popularizing the view that Christ returned spiritually in 1874, inaugurating a millennial dawn period that would climax with the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth in 1914. Russell spread his views by organizing Bible studies and producing literature through the Watch Tower Tract Society…. Revelation has had a central place in the thinking of Jehovah’s Witnesses [especially the literal interpretation that only 144,000 will have a special place there as priest of God and kings of God.] The idea came from Revelation 7:4-8 and 14:1-5. The other most famous group with a charismatic leader who read Revelation as a predictor of the last days was the Branch Davidians under the leader Vernon Howell, who renamed himself David Koresh.]
(Revelation and the End of All Things, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, pp. 14-17)
So, stay on the straight and narrow with me! Last week we learned that John had just given a detailed account of the walls and gates of the holy city. The actual Temple had been destroyed about 20 years before Revelation was written. We might expect news from John that the Temple was going to be rebuilt. But no! The edifice that had been so important was now no longer is needed! Why? Chapter 21, verse 22 tells us: the temple in New Jerusalem “is the Lord God and the Almighty and the Lamb.” In other words, God is present everywhere in that Holy City, not just dwelling in a Temple! Incredible! We might expect street lights or lamps to be there, and we might wonder if we’ll see the sun or the moon. No; they aren’t needed since “The glory of God is the light for the city, and it’s lamp is the Lamb.” (Remember, the lamp is not a real lamb, the Lamb is Jesus Christ, who himself said in John’s gospel that he is the light of the world. John 8:12). In this new city, nations will walk in the light of Christ; and kings of the earth will bring their glory to the one who truly deserves glory! And almost like being near the North Pole, there is no night in the Holy City. Here we read how although the gates are open forever, those invited to enter are ones who call Jesus “Lord” and follow him. Those are the ones said to be written in the Lamb’s book of life. Again, don’t fall into literalism here or in the rest of Revelation. This revealing has a mystical sense about it. Also do not think Jesus needs you to be judge and jury about which of your acquaintances will be there and which ones will not. Leave that to Jesus!
In chapter 22 a new scene is revealed, almost like the curtain in a play rising to reveal it. In this scene, a river—bright bright as crystal—flows from the throne of God! Jesus promised to all who thirst that they will have “water from the fountain.” The thirst for righteousness is now being fulfilled in this new place! And in a vision that is almost a return to Eden, we find a tree—not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—but the tree of life, with 12 kinds of fruit. Robert H. Mounce, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, wrote a commentary that our Revelation class used for the entire semester at Princeton Seminary. He wrote this about verse 2: “The imagery has a double source. In the early chapters of Genesis we read that if Adam had eaten of the tree of life, he would have received immortality (Gen. 2: 9; 3:22) In Ezekiel there is also a picture of healing waters flowing from the temple to form a river along whose banks are trees which each month bring forth new fruit whose leaves are for healing. (Ezekiel 47:12) The tree of life was a regular feature in Jewish portrayals of Paradise.” [The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing,1977, p. 387] Now we know why there were 12 kinds of fruit: a new and refreshing fruit grew once every month a year! It means there is plenty to eat for all!
Next it is revealed that nothing accursed shall be there: no serpents, not demons, nothing, but only those who love the Lamb Jesus and want to be with him forever! If you want that, then you get to see his face too! People have speculated about the face of Jesus from famous painters, to National Geographic researchers, to a little boy who said he saw Jesus in heaven, described in the book Heaven is for Real. What do you think Jesus will look like? Even though God said in the book of Exodus that mortals could not look upon the face of God and live, (Exodus 33:20) we will get to see the face of Jesus in New Jerusalem! And remember how Revelation 13:16 said people who followed the beast (who was the cunning and brutal emperor) would bear his mark upon their foreheads (perhaps not literally, but symbolically) to indicate that people who looked at them could see their loyalty to the beast? Revelation 22:4 indicates that those who love and are faithful to God “would bear the name of God on [their foreheads.]” (Mounce, p. 388) That means, “We belong to God.” Our Presbyterian Church (USA) “Brief Statement of Faith” begins with these words striking words: “In life and in death, we belong to God.” Indeed we do. Be comforted by those words here, and in the hereafter.
This is the final destination of our guided tour through this “apocalypse” (which means “revealing.”) What else is like this final scene? Very little. I tried to imagine it: Perhaps it is like those who go to Scandinavia and actually see the Northern Lights. Perhaps it is like those who went to the moon, peering out of the capsule windows and looking back at earth. Maybe it would be like legendary people going deep beneath the ocean and finding the lost city of Atlantis. It gives us something to dream about and to hope for. It also is yet another reason our Lord deserves our thanks and praise! Now, shall we gather at the river?
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 26, 2019