Read with Me

 Revelation 21:1-4 (HCSB)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:
Look! God’s dwelling  is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things  have passed away.

Listen with Me

As is the norm in apocalyptic literature, the final scene in John’s vision is one of the complete victory of good over evil, of God over satan. The order of events here is not chronological but thematic. Many people have tried to figure out whether the redeemed live in heaven after Jesus return or on this new earth. Because of the conflict between these two ideas many have imported imagery from the New Jerusalem (21:9-22:5) into their ideas about heaven.

But much of this imagery of the new Jerusalem is recapitulated from God’s earlier visions given to Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 40-48), as well as from several visions that He gave to Isaiah (Isaiah 54-56, 60-64, 66: 12 – 24), all of them clearly not talking about heaven, but about God’s restoration of the earth, the same restoration that he showed to Paul as well (Romans 8:18-25).

The drift of the entire vision is that even though many of God’s people were suffering greatly under the persecution that was happening, God would ultimately be victorious, not only over Rome, but over satan as well. And in the process, he would save his people, and would ultimately remake creation, removing the curse and restoring it to what He originally designed it to be.

This restored creation and provision for God’s people is embodied in the phrase “New Heavens and New Earth”, as well as in the imagery of the New Jerusalem, identified three times as the bride, the wife of the Lamb. That is not another name for heaven, but is a title of the Church, the blood-bought, Spirit-filled saints of God living in community and doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

As God defeats His enemies, His people will experience His presence in their midst in powerful ways. He will wipe away every tear brought on by their suffering and the loss of family members and friends during the tribulation, restoring their joy with His fellowship.

It Is important to realize that even though many believers pray for Jesus to come soon so that they can avoid or escape suffering and persecution, God’s motive for delaying that return is not to increase suffering, but to increase the number of people who are saved, safely brought into His kingdom so that they are not eternally lost. That is why he has not sent Jesus back yet. There are people all around the world hungering for salvation and waiting for someone to hear and respond to the call to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19) so they can hear it and be saved (2 Peter 3:8-10).

But in the meantime, those who follow Jesus can live in His kingdom as the bride of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem, as a here-and-now reality. It is through them that God works among the people of the world, turning sinners away from their sins and to the light of Jesus, and remaking the world one life at a time.

Pray with Me

Father, it struck me as You were speaking that we really do look forward to heaven as an escape rather than a reward, and to Jesus’ return as a rescue rather than a consummation, a period placed at the end of the grand narrative of time. So, we don’t often clearly see the work we have been given to do, the opportunities to be salt and light right where we are. Our focus tends to be more on our troubles and our desire to be snatched away from them. Forgive me, Lord, for sometimes waiting for you to deliver the New Jerusalem to me as an escape plan, instead of just living and working in it right now. Amen