We’ve finally arrived at Happily Ever After…sort of! God graciously gives us a glimpse of the great and glorious end he has planned for us – and with us – and wants us to be confident of the surety of our hope in Him and the work of his beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But even though we enjoy the “now” of certain aspects of our salvation, we’re still living in the “not yet” of others, aren’t we?
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20
Praise God that our hope is not in this life only, as is true for so many! This past week in our days of study, we looked at several aspects of the ultimate end that is yet to come, and how that end connects back to the very beginning, and to the long middle in which we live.
All Things New
On Day 1 we looked at the truth that God himself will make all things – all his creation – new.
Revelation 21:1-5 says this:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”
-Notice the covenantal language of Revelation 21 (first italicized section), language that goes back to the very first books of the Bible. God’s commitment to his promises and to his people is unfailing, and we see its ultimate fulfillment in Revelation 21.
-“The sea was no more.” Of course this came up in our discussion! We talked about the fact that scholars are divided on exactly what this means in Revelation 21. Is this literal? Symbolic? We don’t know for sure, as is true of many elements that we see in Revelation. It helped me to read Dr. R.C. Sproul’s comments on the sea in Hebrew literature and poetry, along with other commentators. While the sea represented chaos and is generally a negative force in scripture, rivers are continually used in positive, life-giving images, and Revelation 22 fittingly tells us that “the river of the water of life” flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb!” For those of us tempted to disappointment at the possibility of no oceans in the new earth, it might be helpful to remember that in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth, where there is also no death, mourning, crying, or pain, we won’t miss anything that is no longer; we will live in perfect harmony and fellowship with one another in the presence of God in His perfectly restored world.
The Tree of Life
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him….And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22: 1-3, 5
-There are a few more “no mores” in this passage: No more will anything be accursed, no more night, and no more lamp or sunlight, for the true light will have come!
-God’s people will once again dwell in His presence with the tree of life in their midst! God, in mercy, barred Adam and Eve from the garden and the tree, lest they live in sin forever. But even as he pronounced the curse, he promised one who would bruise the serpent’s head.
-Consider for a moment that it was a tree of death (the cross) that gave us access to the tree of life in eternity. Galatians 3:13 says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree – ‘” In Christ’s death and resurrection, Genesis 3:16 is fulfilled! The serpent, Satan, bruised the heel of the woman’s offspring, but the One who was to come, and DID, bruised – actually crushed! – the serpent’s head.
-There is no longer a curse upon those whose trust is in Christ! These will be restored to the privilege of eating from the tree of life, and living forever with God.
The Throne of God
The throne of God was mentioned several times in the passages from Revelation quoted above. Revelation makes plain that the throne of God will be a significant feature of our eternal home, and rightly so, for the kingdom of God will come into its fullness when God and the Lamb are seated on it and the whole of God’s people/children/subjects are gathered before Him in worship. I appreciated how Courtney Doctor, in our study, took us back to Isaiah 6 to consider Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God. Isaiah, the prophet of God, cried out in apparent anguish at his vision of the Lord high and lifted up. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Other translations use the words “ruined” and “undone” in place of lost. Isaiah, in facing the awesome holiness and purity of God, saw his own sinfulness, almost to the point of his undoing. But God…
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
The presence of God should be terrifying for you and I, as sinners, to behold. But though we were yet sinners, Christ DIED for us, to give us access with boldness and confidence so that we can come to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16) In the glory of heaven (the final dwelling place of God with man), we will have continual access to the father without shame, without guilt, and without the ongoing presence of sin to inhibit our intimacy with God.
I love how Revelation 4 echoes the glory of the vision of the throne room the prophet saw in Isaiah 6. I also love that you and I who are in Christ can look forward to enjoying the awesome presence of our holy God without the fear and dread that Isaiah experienced. We know that our Lamb has been sacrificed, and our guilt is atoned for! Revelation 7 tells us that same Lamb of God now sits on the throne of God and will be our shepherd, guiding us to springs of living water. We will be numbered among the multitude from every tongue, tribe, and nation, clothed in white robes, made spotless by the blood of Christ.
God’s Dwelling Place
We’ve traced the progression of God’s presence with his people throughout scripture. We saw God cast Adam and Eve from his presence after their rebellion in the garden. We saw God move toward Abraham with a call and a promise (several, actually). We saw the people of Israel leave Egypt in the Exodus, following God in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. We saw that the tabernacle, and later, the temple, was given so that our holy God would have a way to dwell in the midst of his unholy people without ignoring or making light of sin. We saw Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us, humble himself and take on human form to dwell (or tabernacle) among us. (John 1:14) We know that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and died as the spotless Lamb of God so that he might be the atoning sacrifice for all who believe in Him. And though Jesus ascended to be with the Father and is no longer present with us in bodily form, he did not leave us orphans, as he promised in John 14. We now have the Holy Spirit of God to indwell us who believe; we are new creations by the work of the Spirit, who is a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (2 Cor 5:17, Eph 1:14). In eternity, though, we will see God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. We will finally be whole, complete, perfected, glorified.
Even with all that we’ve studied, there is much we don’t know about what heaven and eternity will be like. We will have redeemed, restored bodies and reside in a redeemed, restored earth in the presence of God. Jesus’ resurrection body gives us hints and clues about what our resurrected bodies – and our redeemed, renewed earth – will be like. But we have just the glimmers of the reality that is to come. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully….” As faint as the picture may seem, though, friends, this is our reality. Our hope – and our future – is in the hands of our covenant making, covenant keeping God, who cannot and will not be unfaithful to his commitments.
I hope that as we move into this Christmas season, we will see the incarnation of God with fresh eyes that enable us not only to look back at what God has done for us in love, but also forward, with hope, toward the eternity he has planned for us. May the reality of our hope breathe life and promise into our moments and days, for the glory of the One who called and keeps us!