Signs of the Times - Week 7: All Things New
Today we are closing out our study on the Apocalypse of John, otherwise known as the book of Revelation, otherwise known as the most mysterious and confusing book of the entire Bible.
What I've hoped to accomplish with this series was to take away the fear that most of us have about reading Revelation, and to also explore the first-century context within which it was written---realizing that it was not a book of codes, but a clearly understood, albeit imaginative narrative.
I wanted us to see that John the Revelator wrote this letter with the intention of encouraging the members of the seven Christian churches he addressed it to--encouraging them to remain strong in their faith and resist assimilation into the Roman culture around them.
I hope that this has been an interesting and thought-provoking journey, and today we'll finally bring it to a close as we see how the story ends, we are invited to imagine what the world looks like when God gets what God wants…
How do most of us picture Heaven?
Clouds, angels, harps... Pearly Gates? Streets of gold? Those visions come from some active imaginations, religious art through the centuries, and also from the book of Revelation itself.
But when we think of living happily ever after... is that what we envision, really? Or do we imagine something a bit more earthy, tangible, something that's dream-like, but real enough to maybe even know what it feels like, looks like, smells like...
Castles & Happily Ever After Stories - Almost every fairy tale story ends up with people safely ensconced in a castle of some kind---one that has been remade, perhaps. And maybe when we think about eternity, we think about places like this...
There’s something about a location when you're thinking about happily ever after—something tangible, but dreamy. Where the world is made right and all of our problems right along with it. Disney World gets that with castles, nooks, imagination...
Speaking of Disney World. Walt Disney had this idea about the city of the future which he called EPCOT—the original design was something else. It defied imagination when he rolled it out initially.
And the end result was not at all like his original idea, which was too far fetched even for the Disney Imagineers.
The vision that we'll be exploring today is an incredible one, and it also marks the end of a very long journey through a lot of ups and downs, strife, cosmic battles, strange creatures, and more than a few moments when it felt like the world was going to come to an end.
John’s vision is meant to stretch the imagination—beyond earthly limits. He wanted his readers to take their wildest dreams about what a world made right would actually like—and push them even farther.
And once again John uses cultural references, images, and ideas, but turns them upside down and all around to come up with something entirely new.
As always his goal was to keep the readers fully engaged and grounded in the world right here, right now, but also have them hoping and dreaming for a better world made right through the power of the Resurrection.
Here's what I want us to hang on to today...
IN ORDER TO EXPERIENCE GOD’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, WE NEED HOLY IMAGINATION & HOPE-FILLED VISION
Revelation 21:1-5 - All things new, God’s dwelling place, death defeated
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 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’[b] 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.”
There's so much amazingness in this part of the vision. We see that God's dwelling place is among the people, death is defeated, sorrow is banished, and the old order of things is null and void... more on that later.
The New Jerusalem— Revelation 21:22-27; 12 Gates, 1400 miles square, no Temple, gates never shut
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 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.
Suddenly, John sees the New Jerusalem coming from God's dimension, shining like a jewel with 12 gates, and walls that are 1400 feet high, and 1400 feet long creating a weird kind of cube. There is no Temple in this city, no need for light, and everything is pushed to the limits of creativity, imagination, and even dreams.
Eden Restored - Revelation 22:1-5; River of Life, No more darkness
22 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 forever and ever.
This city has no need for aqueducts because the river of life flows right from God's throne through the city. The tree of life is there--making it's appearance again after being the source of issues in Genesis. The curse is lifted. Jesus is Lord. There is healing, peace, prosperity, safety, joy... eternal life.
Cosmic Dimensions—what are the practical implications of hope in this future?
John was making this point all throughout Revelation---what does it mean for you as a Christian to live with the kind of hope embedded in this narrative?
Social Dimensions—The polis; Comparison with Babylon the Harlot
John draws comparisons here---the Bride vs. the Harlot. One is dedicated to pleasure and profit, and the other to life, hope, peace, and love. One lasts forever, the other ends in destruction. The polis as the highest ideal for community and society--taken further.
Political Dimensions—different kind of power structure; monuments, not just about the restoration of the old order
The city is dedicated not to donors, conquerors, purveyors of Empire... It is dedicated to the foundations of the Christian faith... apostles, tribes, the Church itself. This is not a restoration of the old order, though. It's something entirely new:
How Do We Live Out What We Learn From Revelation?
Use Holy Imagination—Be willing to imagine a better world with Jesus as Lord.
What does it look like for us when Jesus is truly Lord of our life? There are no other lords above Jesus. We use Jesus' own ministry and teaching as our guide. We desire healing, restoration, reconciliation... we seek unity, we desire peace, we believe there is enough for everyone, we leave no one behind or sitting outside, looking in...
Employ a Hope-Filled Vision—Let go of fear, dream bigger, live fully, bring the Kingdom
The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. - Buechener
To those who would say that these close readings of Revelation, along with our use of first-century historical criticism, literary criticism, and plain old common sense are off the mark...
And who wants to employ an out-of-context, half-baked exegetical approach that has to make stuff up in order to make all their predictions work... I offer this warning from John the Revelator himself:
Revelation 22:18-19 - 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
I know that's kind of harsh, but John was wanting to make a point: Don't try to make more or less of this... just lean into it.
IN ORDER TO EXPERIENCE GOD’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, WE NEED HOLY IMAGINATION & HOPE-FILLED VISION