Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 22]

Then he showed me the river of the water of life. It was sparkling like crystal, and flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…Nothing is accursed there anymore…Let the thirsty come; let anyone who wants the water of life take it freely…Amen! Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. ~REVELATION 22:1,3,17,20-21

We made it! To the final chapter of Revelation. Of the New Testament. Of the Bible!! And how beautiful and fitting that it takes us back to the beginning: to Eden. Genesis.

The final chapter of the Bible takes us all the way back to the very first chapter of the Bible. New Creation eclipses the old Creation.

Since the creation of humanity, God has desired uninhibited, joy-filled communion with His people. To simply walk together in the Garden and enjoy one another’s company. But a few things happened to severely disrupt that glorious reality. If someone were to ask the big question, “What does God want from us?” I think the biggest answer would be: “A family. A family who freely chooses Him above all else, above all others.”

This is what God gets in the end, here in the final chapter of the Bible. A loving family with uninterrupted communion with Himself, enjoying His presence forever.

We come full circle, back to Eden, with all detractors and distractions eliminated.

Sigh (of relief and joy).

There is much in this chapter about life and water and eating. Only one place in all of Scripture do we find eternal life actually defined, and it is in John 17:3 where Jesus declares it to be knowing God and Himself. “Knowing” in the biblical sense, if you will. In the new Eden we will finally be able to see God fully. We will be able to handle God’s face shining upon us without its holy radiance blasting us into obliteration. We shall see Him as He truly is, without any veil, and enjoy His naked, unmediated presence without restraint.

Here in this life as we now know it, there is much that clouds our view and draws our attention away from fellowship with our Creator, which is why it requires significant effort to deeply enjoy God’s presence. The good news, quite literally, is that since the resurrection of Jesus, humanity has indeed been able to enjoy God’s presence as never before that event, for we may partake of it uniquely through the risen Jesus.

And yet…..

Although God’s final kingdom was in fact inaugurated by Jesus, it has not yet crystallized into its final form. By God’s divine wisdom and appointment, He chose to spread His kingdom thru Jesus and a handful of women and men, region by region, all over the globe, even to this day, while not eliminating evil forces all together until the appointed time.

Therefore we needs must remind each other daily of the truth that we are indeed clothed with power from on high, that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, able to overcome the wicked one and his followers thru the blood of the Lamb, and that it requires a special effort on our part to live in the energy beam of that grace and power due to accursed forces still at work deceiving us into thinking we are powerless until they are eliminated in the end.

This takes us back to the main thrust of John’s message and charge to us all who read and hear this letter: to remain faithful witnesses to the truth of the Lordship of Jesus, even if our environment is hostile to that witness, for God wins and is winning no matter how drastically the enemy distorts the picture of reality to make it look like God is losing.

God’s team wins. Choose your team. Don’t be stupid.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!!

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 21]

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God the almighty is its temple, together with the Lamb. ~REVELATION 21:1 & 22

This has got to be one of the most beautiful chapters in all of Scripture. John is attempting to describe the indescribable new heaven and new earth. When witnessing something of this magnitude and glory, it is sometimes easier to communicate what it is not, more than what it actually is, since it is something quite beyond imagination, beyond human language. What will not be there? John writes that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death, mourning, weeping, pain, or suffering in the renewed earth.

Sounds amazing!

There are two additional components missing from the new earth and new Jerusalem that are most intriguing.

There’s no more sea, and there’s no temple.

To keep this Ripple under a thousand words, we’re just gonna drill down on one of these elements–the sea. BUT! let’s just say quickly that the reason there is no temple is one of the most beautiful facets of this chapter. It is because our Lord God will be dwelling with us Himself like never before, so manifestly present that Yahweh and Yeshua themselves will be our temple; it will be like a sacred temple every square foot of this new place because God will be so noticeably and wonderfully infused in the fabric of it all, that there will be nowhere you can go where you won’t feel the permeating overflowing euphoric love of Christ! I am so excited thinking of this right now!!!

OK, settle down, on to the sea.

We know that Revelation is full of rich symbolism, and the idea of “the sea” is pregnant with all sorts of possible meaning. One of the many characteristics of Revelation I am enjoying (and really all of Scripture) is the multi-angled dimensions of meaning it presents to us for the mining. A work such as this must be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because we humans just cannot come up with anything this profound, abstruse, and recondite on our own!

The sea was a very traditional symbol in the ancient Near east for the forces of chaos and evil, “a chaotic source of defiance to God’s sovereignty” as Brian Blount so pithily puts it. J. Richard Middleton says in his book A New Heaven and a New Earth that “the disappearance of the sea in Revelation 21:1 is not making the point that no one goes swimming in the new creation…The point is that the forces of evil and chaos will be eradicated.” I for one will be very happy to see chaos go bye-bye. With the combination of the internet and politics, could it get any more chaotic and confusing?? You know the evil one is having a grand old time with controlled narratives, propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation to keep us guessing and doubting what is really going on at any given moment. All of that garbage will be gone in the new earth, thank you Lord..!

The sea also represented the main arena where the world’s idolatrous trade took place. The Roman Empire expanded her brutal domination and exploitation of others through sea trade. From Craig Koester’s commentary, “The absence of the sea underscores the difference between Babylon’s brutal dominion, which relied on seaborne commerce, and the new order in God’s city. Just as Babylon fell and was not found anymore, the sea it relied on for its economy does not exist anymore.” No more sea is a way of showing that the exploitative sea trade of the Roman Empire will end forever. This is why the shipmasters, seafarers, and sailors were mourning and weeping back in chapter 18. To quote J. Richard Middleton again: “It is therefore good news that in the eschaton the sea (which facilitated the economic expansion of the Roman Empire) will be no more.”

One more aspect of the sea we can look at is a personal one which I found rather interesting from commentator M. Eugene Boring. “There may be a personal, existential element here. It was in fact the sea that separated John and his beloved communities of anxious Christians. But for the sea, he would be there personally to speak his word of encouragement he must now communicate in writing, and be with them during the great ordeal they must endure. The new world coming will mean the removal of all present barriers to human relationships.”

These are but a few highlights of the many layers of meaning that “the sea” in this passage brings. G.K. Beale sums up nicely, “The evil nuance of the sea metaphorically represents the entire range of afflictions which formerly threatened God’s people in the old world.”

In the new world there will be no more actual or possible threat to God’s creation.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 20]

He grabbed hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and the satan. He tied him up for a thousand years, threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he wouldn’t be able to deceive the nations any more, until the thousand years were complete. After that he must be let out for a short time…When the thousand years are complete, the satan will be released from his prison. Out he will come to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog. He will summon them for battle, a throng like the sand of the sea in number. ~REVELATION 20:2-3, 7-8

One of the challenges of reading Revelation is approaching it afresh, leaving behind preconceived notions, and ignoring the copious amounts of extra biblical literature and thoughts which have so heavily influenced popular interpretation of this enigmatic book. A fresh approach is what I have intensely attempted to embark upon ever since this deep dive began last December. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound it makes; but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going to. That’s what it’s like with someone who is born from the Spirit.”* This is how I’ve labored to ingest Revelation, to sit and listen for the Wind. It has been wonderfully fascinating to rediscover what is actually written, and not written, in this letter by John. For example, did you realize that the word “antichrist” is not in the book of Revelation? Who knew??

Another riveting detail is this thousand year business and all that goes along with it. Known as “The Millennium”, it has been the spark of much discussion and debate over the decades of my life, and beyond. There are three predominant views of the millennium: 1) It will occur after the second coming of Christ. 2) It will occur toward the end of the church age and Christ’s return will happen at the close of the millennium. 3) it started at Christ’s resurrection and will be concluded directly before His final coming. I grew up with view #1 being hammered in pretty emphatically, but as I said earlier, I tried my best to shed what I heard before and look at it again for the first time.

The interpretation most convincing to me is that this “thousand years” began with Christ’s resurrection, and is running thru what we call the “Church Age”, and that it is not a literal 1,000 years since that number is used so often in Scripture to denote simply “a long time”, and besides, the Church Age is obviously closing in on the 2,000 year mark. I wonder if churches will have huge bimillennial celebrations to commemorate!

(A quick caveat here. I am in no way saying I would argue this in court, or that you better also see it this way. I’m simply sharing what I’ve gleaned from my studies and what makes the most sense to me at this time. Ultimately, my hope is that you will find encouragement in the overall message.)

Now with this view there is an issue which needs some resolution, that of the satan being bound and unable to deceive the nations during the last two thousand years. It sure seems that the devil is indeed still deceiving nations, especially after hearing deeply disturbing updates from my Ukranian friends who were in town a week ago. But what does the text actually say? During the “thousand years”, the satan is not allowed to deceive the nations in order to gather them together to launch an attack on God and God’s people. The devil is still active today, and unfortunately deceiving many churches, but he is not able to go all “Gog and Magog” on everybody until God allows it. (over the years “Gog and Magog” came to represent everything that is against God and that attacks God–see Ezekiel 38-39)

But, the plot thickens.

Revelation 20 tells us that when satan does deceive the nations of the world into launching this attack on Yahweh’s eschatological plan, that it will fail miserably, resulting in the devil’s final defeat and destruction.

So why would God prevent satan from initiating his own demise?

I shall defer to Michael Heiser’s answer, the scholar who has been the most influential on my interpretation of Scripture: “God wants to forestall the judgment of the nations in favor of redeeming people from all those nations. The delay of Satan’s specific deception in Revelation 20:8 for the duration of the Church Age provides time for the Great Commission to be fulfilled.”

Here is some encouragement. God is patient. God waits until so many more turn to Him in love. Yahweh is crazy about us and seeks after more and more of us to join the family! Also, we yet again see that God is in ultimate control, dictating the outcome of history even in the midst of horrific ugliness caused by humans. The deceiving of the nations by the satan will ironically bring about the very battle in which he will be finally defeated. Oh how the turn tables!! As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been granted to you from above.”

*The Greek word pneuma is used for spirit, wind, and Spirt.