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Revelation (scene 7 of 7)

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Scene 7.  Chapters 21-22, the eternal state.   In the seventh and final scene, John is provided a glimpse of our ultimate destiny and our eternal home.  John refers to God’s new creation as the New Heaven and the New Earth because the current heaven and earth have passed away (verse 1).  In John’s vision he describes this new Jerusalem as coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (verse 2).  Jesus illustrates the Church as the bride and Himself as the Groom throughout the Gospels.  In verse three God speaks and He makes clear what John has just witnessed:  “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.”

We are provided with a few details about the eternal state in four.  There will be no sorrow, pain, nor suffering.  There will be no more death or mourning, for the old order of things has passed away.  The horrible effective of sin and satan have been cleansed away for God has made everything new.  God turns to John and directs him to “write this down,” for these words are trustworthy and true.  In verses 6-8 John directly quotes God’s words: 

“It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murders, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.”

The first death is physical death and we humans are fearful of dying.  Yet it is the second death, spiritual death, that ought to be our primary concern.  I can imagine that John was shaking at this point.  He was face to face with God and was directed to record God’s very Words.  These words bring us great hope because we know how the story ends.  As bad as things get on earth, we know our destiny! 

 But John is not given much time to reflect on God’s Words, as one of the seven bowl angels now addresses him saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  The angel returns John to the vision of new Jerusalem coming out of heaven.  John does his best to record what he is seeing.  This new Jerusalem shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.  I imagine this brilliance to be like that of a diamond glimmering in the sun.  John continues by describing the structure of new Jerusalem as a huge cube 12,000 stadia (1,400 miles) on each side.  The city had high exterior walls with twelve gates (three at each compass direction) and an angel stood at each gate.  Each gate was labeled with the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The wall of the city had twelve beautiful foundations, and on each of them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  (Note:  this vision is quite similar to John’s vision of the heavenly throne room in chapter 4.  This leads support to the understanding that the 24 Elders in chapter 4 is a reference to the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel.)

In the final paragraph of chapter 21 John explains that there was no temple, no special location to worship God.   Rather, God the Father and God the Son are present and can be worshiped directly.  Furthermore, there is no need for the sun or moon because the glory of God provides eternal light.  The nations and peoples of creation will walk in the light of God and in harmony.  There will never be a need to close the gates because there is neither night time nor evil evaders.  The only people abiding in new Jerusalem are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (verse 27).

In chapter 22 the angel takes John on a tour inside a portion of new Jerusalem.   John describes the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 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 on a monthly basis.  The leaves of this tree are used for healing of the peoples of the nations.  The curse of sin is gone!  We will see God face to face and the name of God will be on our foreheads.  We will reign with God eternally.  The angel concludes this brief tour with the statement, “These words are trustworthy and true.  The Lord, the God of the spirits and the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” 

Jesus is coming and when He does it will happen quickly, like a thief in the night.  In verse 16 Jesus Himself states that He sent the angel to provide this testimony for the churches.  The message of the book of Revelation is so important that God took steps to ensure that the message is not changed.  A strong warning is given in verse 18: “If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if any takes words away from this boo of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

This concludes our introduction to the book of Revelation.  I encourage the reader to turn now to the book of Daniel and Matthew 24.  Such passages weave details and depth into our understanding of Revelation.  Continue to study eschatology in breadth as well as depth – do not lose sight of the forest for individual trees. 

What are the big ideas that we can take away from Revelation?  How could we summarize the book to a friend, colleague, or family member?  I think one can develop three themes: 

First, and most importantly, God is in control.  He has told us in advance how the story of humanity unfolds.  We know how the story ends!  We do not need to fear society, culture, or even death as long as we are in the hands of God.  Our eternal home is under construction and it is awesome!

Secondly, evil will be punished.  Those who sin and violated God’s commandments will account.  The judgment of God is both just and certain, it is also harsh.  Our role is to share the Gospel message and follow the great commandments. 

Third, a terrible time of tribulation will occur.  Two-thirds of the book of Revelation speaks to this brief time period and we are to be prepared.  We are to understand that satan will employ an anti-trinity to deceive many during this time.   

The key verse to interpreting Revelation is verse 19 of chapter 1.  It is also helpful to remember the seven scenes:

Scene one:  The seven churches. 

Scene two:  The seven seals.

Scene three:   The seven trumpets.

Scene four:  The seven pauses.

Scene five:  The seven vials.

Scene six:  The Millennium and White Throne Judgment.

Scene seven:  The Eternal State.

Revelation (scene 6 of 7)

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Scene 6 of 7.  “Celebration and the Millennium.” (chapters 19-20). During scene six we learn of preparations being made for the great celebration known as the wedding supper of the lamb.  (v19:9).  This scene also marks the end of the Great Tribulation as is clear from verses 11-21.  We have gleaned sufficient information from the first six scenes to construct a timeline of events.  While we do not (and cannot) know the starting point, it is important for us to understand the process and the final outcome!  The basic timeline of history can be illustrated as follows:

 <-------------------|----------------------------|---------------------------|-->

     Church age        Tribulation         Christ’s return          Millennium

There are three vertical bars on the timeline, the first is the start of the tribulation, the second is Christ’s return, and the third is the end of the millennium.  We know that the time between the first and second bar is seven years.  We also know that the timeline between the second and third bar one thousand years.  Scene one of Revelation occurs prior to the Tribulation and Scene seven occurs after the Millennium.  Thus we know that Scenes two through six take place in a seven year span of time between bars one and two – during the Tribulation.  In this next illustration let us zoom in on the seven year tribulation:

 <-|---------------------------------------------------------------------|->

     Trib begins                             42 months                              Trib ends

      Scene 2         Scene 3           Scene 4           Scene 5         Scene 6

The tribulation begins in scene 2 and scene 6 ends the tribulation.  Scene 4 (the pauses, but specifically the death of the two-witness of chapter 11) happens at the mid-point of the tribulation.  The arrival, ministry, death, and resurrection of these witnesses will be one of the clearest markers of the Tribulation.  From this timeline we can logically assume that scene 3 happens during the first half of the Tribulation and scene 5 during the second half of the Tribulation.  Scene 3 is comprised of the Seal & Trumpet judgments while scene 5 is comprised of the bowl judgments and the destruction of Mystery Babylon.

There is one last important event on this timeline that is not addressed definitively by the book of Revelation – the Rapture.  While the term rapture (meaning to be snatched up) is not found in the Bible, the concept is clearly Biblical.  Please review the following passages:  Matthew 24:37-42, Acts 1:9-11, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, and 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6.  While the Bible speaks multiple times about this Rapture event, we are not given the specific time of its occurrence.  In fact, Jesus warned against any attempt to determine the time of His return for it is a time that only the Father knows.  Even so, there has been much speculation on the timing of the Rapture and three competing theories are common today:  pre-, post-, and mid-tribulation.  Scholars find evidence for each position in Scripture, however I do not find the evidence for any single position to be definitive.  It is my opinion that we ought to plan for a post-tribulation return of Christ and pray for a pre-tribulation Rapture.

But let us return to the text and the celebration that is taking place in heaven at the beginning of chapter 19.  In verse 1 John hears a multitude in heaven shouting, “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments.  He has condemned the great prostitute…”  The great prostitute is the false system of religion that the beast/anti-Christ has used to subjugate the people on earth.  The punishment of the earth is complete, as is the destruction of the prostitute.   Heaven is preparing for a great celebration!  Three times the great multitude of declares, “Hallelujah” (verses 1, 3, and 6).  In verse 7 the official announcement is made, “for the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride (the Church) has made herself ready.”  The Church is dressed in white wedding garments signifying our righteousness in Christ. 

For clarity, the angel guiding John directs him to write the following (verse 9), “… Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”  John understands the message of the angel and falls to his knees in worship.  The angel quickly admonishes John to rise.  “Worship only God,” he declares.

John’s attention is again focused on heaven as he observes another vision starting in verse 11.  John is witness to a rider on a white horse but this is a different rider than the one back in chapter 5.  The rider on this white horse is called Faithful and True.  As John describes this rider it quickly becomes clear that this is Jesus, for on His robe is written, “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”  This time Jesus is not portrayed as a suffering servant on the cross but as a mighty King.  While the angel makes it clear that preparations for the wedding supper continue, there is one other task that needs to be completed. 

In verse 19, John’s attention turns again toward earth with his focus upon the beast/anti-Christ.  Standing with the beast are the kings (governments) of the earth and they are ready for war.  The lines are drawn.  On one side Jesus stands with His Church.  In opposition, we have the beast/anti-Christ and his horde of human followers that have been deceived and accepted the mark (666). 

Let us carefully read verse 20: “But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet… the two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”  Chapter 19 concludes by noting that the human followers of the beast were killed with the sword of Jesus.  We can assume this refers to a physical death because verse 21 notes that birds gorged on the flesh of the dead.  

However, scene 6 is not yet complete.  While the beast/anti-Christ and the false prophet have been dealt with, the third member of the false trinity yet remains.  We must continue reading in chapter 20 to learn about the demise of the dragon - satan.  In verse two we learn that an angel seizes satan and locks him in the Abyss for 1000 years.  (This 1000 year period is referred to as the Millennium.)  For some unknown reason, satan must be released for a short term after the Millennium (verse 3b).

We are only provided with the briefest of summaries of what transpires during the Millennium – verses 4-6.  John sees thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.  He is also witness to the souls of those who had been martyred during the tribulation.  John specifies that the souls belong to those who did not worship the beast nor received its mark.  As John views this vision, these martyred souls come back to life (resurrected) and reign with Christ on the earth during the Millennium. 

We can conclude from verse five that the majority of the Church remain in heaven during the Millennium.  They are not resurrected until the end of the Millennium (v.5).  John is told that those who partake in this first resurrection, that is the martyrs of the tribulation, are blessed and holy.  The second death (hell) has no power of them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ during the Millennium.

If, during the Millennium the Church is in heaven and only the martyrs remain on the earth to reign with Christ, one must wonder who they reign over?  Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are locked up in the abyss.  We must therefore assume that Christ and the tribulation martyrs reign over the people who worshiped the beast and accepted his mark – and their descendants.

At the conclusion of the Millennium (v.7), satan is released for some mysterious reason.  The Deceiver goes out to Gog and Magog and gathers them for battle.  One must turn to Ezekiel 38 and Genesis 10 to understand the terms Gog and Magog.  Most scholars, though not all, understand these terms to refer to the descendants of Noah’s grandson who settled north of Israel (around the Caspian and Black Sea).  A few scholars attribute Gog and Magog to modern day Russia.  MacArthur believes that Gog is a general reference to those who oppose God, and that John uses it here to refer to the human leaders of the revolt against God.  Magog would then refer to the land or nations lead by Gog.

What we do know is that satan and Gog lead a substantial army, verse 8 describes its number as like the sand on the seashore.  This vast army faces off against Jesus Christ and His Followers at the camp of God’s people, the city He loves.  This is most assuredly a reference to Jerusalem.  Just as the great battle is about to begin, God sends fire down from heaven and devours Gog and his army (v.9).  This time, satan is permanently banished to the lake of fire (hell) along with the beast, the false prophet, the demons, and all their human followers (v.10).            

Scene 6 (chapter 20) concludes with the Great White Throne Judgment as recorded in verses 11-15.  John witnesses a great multitude of the dead standing before the throne of Jesus.   Jesus opens the Book of Life, as well as the many books that record the deeds of those standing before Him.  If there was any doubt as to the identity of those standing the Great White Throne, John clears it up in verse 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 he had done.”  This multitude is comprised of every human from the beginning of time, whose name was NOT found in the Book of Life.  The penalty for everyone was the same;  if your name was not in the Book of Life you were judged by your deeds and sentenced to the lake of fire (hell).  This is the second death, eternal separation from God and eternal torment in hell.         

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