The story is told of a man who wanted his family to go to the great expense of having him buried in Israel because he heard, “Israel has the highest resurrection rate of any nation in the world.” If you want to know anything about resurrections Israel is a good place to start, especially in the time of Jesus, after all He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Our text is filled with weighty truths about weighty matters. Here the doctrine of the resurrection is declared from the lips of Jesus Himself, before His resurrection. Jesus brings to light at least three revelations concerning the resurrection in our text.
What is the main thing you will take away from our study of Revelation? What is the main truth, or encouragement or challenge or exhortation? What is different for you because of our study of this part of God’s Word? Let’s reflect on this journey through this more remarkable book, a journey that began September 2014. In that first sermon I said we would see and hear and feel things strange to our eyes and ears and senses. And indeed we have. We have seen the great throne room in the great celestial city of the New Jerusalem. We encountered an explosion of symbols and graphic imagery to dazzle the eyes, a virtual cornucopia of music, color, texture, along with tastes and smells enough to engage all our senses. We have heard angelic choruses and mighty trumpet blasts. We have trembled as we felt the violent clashes of great armies and giant beasts. The sizes and numbers of everything staggered our imaginations. How fitting that the final book of the Bible that tells of final things yet to be revealed should stir and capture our imaginations and carry us into another dimension, well beyond our secular time-space existence. This isn’t about the never-never land of Peter Pan and countless other fantasy stories, this is the ever-ever land of our majestic and sovereign God and His kingdom and realm, This is a picture of heavenly glory, of things yet to come. What words would you use to describe Revelation? Exciting, amazing, stunning, confusing, mystifying, dramatic, strange, unbelievable, inspiring, and at times just plain weird. We can hardly remember those early chapters that seem so normal after all we have seen since then. Remember the seven churches and their struggles and trials and persecutions. Their daily lives and ours seem pretty boring compared to what we have seen since then. But it is good for us to be lifted up out of our normal routine of life to be reminded that we live in a world created by a huge and holy God and that our world and our history are part of a cosmic battle filled with principalities and powers beyond our vision and imagination. There is a world beyond ours of white horses and great beasts and angelic creatures and thrones. It is good for us to reflect on real realities rather than our trivial realities, to move out of these shadowlands as C.S. Lewis call this earthly existence. It is good to move out of the shadows into John’s vision and heavenly perspective, into the bright splendor of heaven and the glory of God and presence of Him who’s eyes are like a flame of fire, who’s feet are like burnished bronze refined in a furnace and who’s voice is like the roar of many waters and who’s face is like the sun shining in full strength (Revelation 1:14-16).
Introduction. Tonight we will conclude the Book of Revelation. Then a month from now I will do a Revelation Wrap Up, reflections on our journey through this whole book. As we come to the last words of Revelation I thought last words might be an interesting little introduction. So I googled famous last words and read a couple of hundred and was completely underwhelmed, very few worth quoting. Karl Marx may have been a bit too cynical, “Last words are for fools who haven't said enough.” I think when people are dying they aren’t trying to be profound or witty or say something memorable. About the best you could hope to say is “I love you” and “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” As endings go this one in Revelation is not entirely unique. Twice in Moses’ last book he makes a similar warning. Deuteronomy 4:2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Deuteronomy 12:32 Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. The book of Joshua begins and ends with similar warnings: Joshua 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 23:6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left. Proverbs has similar words near the end. Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. 6 Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. Revelation begins with a blessing on all hear and obey the words of this book and ends with a curse on all who disobey the words of this book. Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 22:18-21 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
The book of Revelation is a series of visions received by the apostle John while exiled on the Island of Patmos. The book of Revelation begins with a brief forward or preface and then the actual visions start at 1:9 and go through 22:5. What remains here is like an epilogue or afterward, a seemingly disconnected collection of promises, exhortations and confirmations that point forward to the coming of Jesus soon. Since this is the conclusion it should be the last chapter. Some of our chapter and verse placements are unfortunate. They are not inspired. A professor at the University of Paris in 1227, Stephen Langton, divided the Bible into chapters. Robert Stephanus (Stephens), a French printer, divided the verses in 1551. Revelation ends the way it began. Listen to the beginning again: Revelation 1:1-2 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. And: Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” God’s Final Words, vss. 6-10. We have come to the last words of the book of Revelation and of the Bible. God’s last holy and inspired and infallible words. Words are important, God’s words are especially important.
Heaven will be stunningly amazing. Heaven will be better than anything on earth and better than everything on earth. Heaven will be better than the very best thing on earth. Nothing here comes close to comparing to what it will be like there. The sounds will be crisper, the colors sharper and more brilliant, the sights will be more spectacular, the smells will be more aromatic, the sensations will be euphoric. It will be sensory overload. To experience the marvelous light of the glory and presence of God will be something like, all at once, tasting all the best tastes (ice cream, chocolate, strawberries, fine wine), hearing all the most beautiful sounds possible (ocean waves, Beethoven symphonies, a babies laugh, a kitten’s purr), feeling every good sensation possible (back rub, sitting down after standing for hours, silk on the skin, toes in a sandy beach), inhaling all the most wonderful scents at once (lavender and lilacs in spring, Chanel No. 5, fresh bread baking), and seeing all the most beautiful created things possible (Aurora Borealis, a murmuration of starlings, the Milky Way on a clear night, the Grand Tetons, a lightning storm). Yet heaven is better than all of this multiplied a thousand times, but heaven is at least all of this” (this idea inspired by a Joshua Gibbs blog post). It will be a purity and beauty of experience that no human words can convey. All the symbols John uses in Revelation are meant to communicate to us that what’s in heaven is beyond what mere symbols can capture. It will be above and beyond anything we could ask or imagine. It will be better even than the Garden of Eden which is being paralleled in John’s vision. The river and the trees, the abundance, the beauty, the intimacy with God Himself, all of that it turns out was a prophetic vision anticipating an even greater future. What the first Adam lost by his sin, the second Adam recovered by His obedience. That wonderful paradise lost is regained in heaven. This final vision restores the very first vision of unbroken, idyllic fellowship between God and man. The end is far better than the beginning.
Remember how I started last week’s sermon with some people’s idea of heaven being wearing white robes, playing harps on clouds. I came across a wonderful C.S. Lewis quote I want to read: “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs” (Mere Christianity). We are most definitely in the realm of the symbolic in this great and final vision of John on the Island of Patmos. But just because it is symbolic, doesn’t mean it isn’t real or true. It just means that human language is employed here to try to capture something that can’t be expressed with human language. This is an earthly glimpse of a very real heavenly reality. As has happened three times before, John is carried away by the Spirit to be shown something. In Revelation 17 he was carried away by one of the seven angels to a wilderness to be shown a woman, a harlot, the great whore of Babylon. This vision is meant to be a great contrast to that vision.
What do you think of when you hear the word heaven? What flashes into your mind’s eye? One of the unfortunate images of heaven among unbelievers is of saints in white robes strumming harps on puffy white clouds, sing around a great throne for endless ages of eternity. No wonder some people think heaven sounds more like their idea of hell. Whatever we think of when we think of heaven is greatly handicapped by the fact that here on earth heaven is completely inaccessible to any of our five senses. At Jesus’ baptism a door to heaven opened a crack, we saw a dove come down and we heard a voice. In Revelation 4 the door opened even further: Revelation 4:1-2 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. Now we are at the moment of John’s final and greatest vision. These first 8 verses are a bit like a summary that will be expanded on in the rest of chapter 21 and 22. This is a forward or a preview, a setting of the stage for the grand finale of this great drama at the end of history. What a dramatic shift. How many chapters now have we been wading through pain and suffering, persecution and torment? How many promises have we heard made to those who persevere and overcome, who don’t bow the knee, who don’t bear the mark of the beast? Now comes the fulfillment, the consummation, the vindication. Our text has two parts, and passing of former things and the making of all things new.
Allow me a brief explanation of why this sermon tonight. First, I will not be preaching on Revelation the next four Sunday evenings and I didn’t want to start the final section of Revelation on heaven with one sermon and then have a four week break. We will finish the last two chapters of Revelation starting January 7. Second, it didn’t say very much about the lake of fire in my last sermon on this text and more needs to be said since most churches and most pastors tend to pass over such topics. And third, there is actually a connection between Christmas and hell. Christmas and hell. Christmas is about hell, it’s about the lake of fire and perishing forever. Some people say a loving God would never send people to an eternal hell. Christmas is about a loving God sending someone to save us from an eternal hell.
In the great drama called history there has been a great cosmic conflict. In the old age Satan ruled, in the new age Christ rules. The new age began with the coming of Christ and with the announcement that” the kingdom of God is at hand and now is.” This new age is also called the last days which will end at the second coming of Jesus. From the first coming to the second coming is the Gospel age, the church age, the time of Christ’s rule on earth through His church. This age is given the symbolic number of a thousand years. The old age of Satan ended at the beginning of new age of Christ. Proof is seen in Christ’s repeated casting out of evil spirits and demons. Satan is bound from deceiving the nations while the Gospel spreads to all nations and there is a great growth in the church. The Gentile world may persecute the church all through this time, but the gates of hell will not finally prevail and God will preserve to the end His own and gather us all into His perfect paradise. So there is an overlapping of ages at the end of which there
Chapter 20 of Revelation is one of the most controversial in all of Scripture, no doubt right up there with Genesis 1. This chapter has been a virtual paradise for fanatics, false prophets and false teachers. It has been a playground for literalists, a court room for judgmentalists and a throne room for much hubris (excessive pride or self-confidence). In just seven verses the term thousand years is used six times. But these six uses of a thousand years have created many thousands of debates over a couple of thousand years. What do these thousand years refer to? Are they literal or symbolic? When are these thousand years? Are we in them now, or are they yet to come? How can anyone know? This evening we enter where angels fear to tread and take up the great millennium debate. Over the last few chapters of Revelation we have watched the enemies of Christ be defeated. The harlot (Rev. 17:1 – 19:10), those who bear the mark of the beast, the beast himself, the false prophet (19:11-21). One by one they have gone down to complete destruction. One enemy remains, the greatest enemy of all, the dragon who is called the serpent or the devil or Satan himself. This chapter brings us to consider the final destiny of Satan. The new heavens and the new earth when they come will be completely free from all sin, evil, suffering, temptation, disobedience and rebellion (21:1-8).