Today’s reading: Revelation 20-22.
Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. ― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
“Where will my journey of faith take me?”
N. T. Wright’s words describe heaven’s invasion of earth. In one sense it began with Jesus’ ministry on earth. It intensified as the church spread and grew. It will be fully realized, the invasion will be complete, when earth is remade and redeemed and the New Jerusalem comes down out of the new heaven. Until then there is still much that must happen according to the Revelation.
The Kingdom of heaven on earth
They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4-6
- The thousand year reign of Christ. Following Jesus’ return to earth, he will rule on earth for a millennium. His reign will fulfill the Old Testament promises which God made about the throne of David and the restoration of the Promised Land. Jerusalem will be the capitol of the world, and Jesus will ensure its peace.
- The resurrection of the saved. Those who were martyred for their faith will come to life and rule with Christ during the millennium. Those believers who had already been caught up to be with Jesus will also govern with him. The earth will be populated by those who survived the Great Tribulation, including believing Jews. Life will continue. Children will be born, but they will no longer die prematurely. Men and women will grow old, but their lives will be full and blessed. The millennium will be a living demonstration of the glory of God in a material world that is fully obedient to him.
The Kingdom of heaven rejected
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Revelation 20:11-12
- The imprisonment, release, and final punishment of Satan. Satan will be imprisoned in the Abyss during the thousand years, but at the end of that time he will be released. His influence will cause many to rebel against God once more, but God will destroy them and throw Satan into the lake of fire. This final conflict illustrates that even in the most perfect of circumstances, with Jesus ruling the earth, men are still capable of rejecting God’s grace in order to pursue their own selfish desires.
- The great white throne judgment and the second death. Following the final conflict and the destruction of Satan, the unsaved dead are resurrected and come before the judgment seat of God. The records of their deeds are examined, and then the book of life is examined. Since they are not listed in the book of life, and because their deeds confirm their rejection of God, they are thrown into the lake of fire along with Satan (the second death). The redeemed, who have already been resurrected, are not mentioned here, but every believer will have his deeds judged in order to determine what rewards he receives in heaven.
The Kingdom of heaven in heaven
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:2-5
- New heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem. As God redeemed men from sin, so he will redeem the earth from its subjection to sin. Heaven and earth are remade, perfect and eternal. The center of life in the redeemed earth, literally heaven on earth, is the New Jerusalem. John describes an enormous, 1400 mile wide city, a giant jewel, but will the New Jerusalem be an actual building? The angel calls the city “the bride, the wife of the lamb,” a term usually reserved for the body of believers. The New Testament says that believers are being built up into a living temple with Jesus as its foundation. It may be that the body of believers are the New Jerusalem more so than any city could be.
- The river of life and the tree of life. The Old Testament ended with a curse, but the Revelation says there will be no curse any more. The river of life flows out of the city. The tree of life, not seen since the garden of Eden, grows along its banks and heals the nations. The redeemed live with Jesus face to face, and reign with him eternally.
- Jesus is coming soon. Two thousand years after Jesus’ return to heaven, this declaration can seem confusing. Is Jesus coming soon? Yes, in every way. Each mortal person will face death soon enough, and then we come face to face with eternity. In God’s time, a thousand years is as a day, and by that reckoning it has only been two days since Jesus returned to heaven. From heaven’s perspective, all of time is but a dot, and eternity stretches out like an infinite arrow. Jesus promised he would come back soon, and by now we should be certain of his promises. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.
“I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.” ― John Newton’s last words
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? ― John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself
We may speak about a place where there are no tears, no death, no fear, no night; but those are just the benefits of heaven. The beauty of heaven is seeing God.― Max Lucado, Experiencing the Heart of Jesus Workbook: Knowing His Heart, Feeling His Love
There is, in the text, a cry for the coming of the Lord. If you read the verse in connection with that which goes before it, you will be persuaded that the cry of the Spirit and the bride is addressed to the Lord Jesus concerning His Second Advent. As the echo of the Savior’s previous words, “Behold, I come quickly,” the Spirit and the bride say, Come. This cry is continually going up from the Spirit and from the Church of God and the more gracious the season, the more intense the prayer…We are looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” is the desire of every instructed saint…But there is a second ministry of the Church which is the cry for the coming of sinners to Christ. In this respect, “the Spirit and the bride say, Come.” It is a very sad calamity when any Church ceases from its mission work. It is clearly out of fellowship with the Spirit of God and has ceased to work with Him. The cry of, “Come,” should never cease at any time or in any place. It should be addressed to all men as we have opportunity. The world should ring with, “Come to Jesus! Come to Jesus! Come and welcome, Sinner, come!” For this purpose the Spirit of God dwells among men and for this purpose there is a Church left on earth! – Charles Spurgeon
Image by Neil R on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0