I Saw – Revelation 21

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“I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Rev 21:22). Here are two more of John’s eye-witness accounts, two more of what “I saw,” when caught up into heaven and into the future.

The last three chapters of the book of Revelation show us something of what a new heavens and new earth will be like. There are lots of “new” things and lots of “no” things (things that will be no more).

Think first of what will be absent. There will be no more sea, nothing to divide and separate. Human life depends on the hydrologic cycle: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. But in that day, life will be sustained by divine power and there will be no need for the sea any longer.

There will be no more death. Can you imagine a deathless world? Life which is really life? No specter of death hovering over you, no funeral cortege ever to wind its way to some desolate cold and windy cemetery (not sure why it always seems cold, windy, and rainy in cemeteries). And linked with the absence of death, no more sorrow, crying, or pain. All of these things linked with our former life, with our bodies which have been humiliated by sin, will be no more forever. We will have bodies raised in power and glory, not just by power and glory!

Then there will be changes in the cosmos as well. No sun, no moon, and no night. Does this suggest an eternal day? Our bodies will never weary and not need sleep. No longer will there be the “terror of the night” (Ps 91:5). Darkness will be banished, relegated to an old creation. All will be light. The sun which warms will no longer be necessary as we will walk in the light and warmth provided by the Lamb (Rev 21:23). Locked and barred doors and windows linked with earth will be exchanged for a gate that will never be shut. There will be continual access to the city. No lockdown in that day or “shelter in place” orders will ever be issued.

The curse will be no more (22:3). All the direct and indirect effects of sin will be gone forever. All the injustice of earth, the triumphing of the wicked and the oppression of the poor, the persecution of the godly, and the arrogance of the proud. No more disease or COVID-19 pandemics to bring the world to the brink of chaos!

And no more flesh to struggle with day by day! What a change! All the value systems of earth will be forgotten. Only what God values will remain.

But perhaps best of all, there will be no physical distance between us and the Lord Jesus. “His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face.” To serve undistracted, free from all the tainted motives which we struggle against, the half-hearted devotion, the self-awareness that plagues us – is a service to be coveted.

What about the “new?” Instead of listing all the new things which will mark that day, as seen by John, just listen now as the King ascends to His throne and gives His grand inaugural address to a worshiping and wondering world. “Behold, I make all things new.” “All things,” not just somethings. What is going to make this inaugural address unique is that there is an Administrator Who is able to carry out every part of His platform. His agenda will be totally “new.” He will start out with a New Heavens and a New earth. There will be a New Song to fill the streets of that New City. We will have new bodies, bodies suited for a celestial sphere and a ceaseless service. We will have bodies pulsating with life as we never knew it here on earth.

We will have a “new name” (Rev 2:17), an expression of His appreciation of us! We will live in the enjoyment of that for all eternity. Everything is going to be new. And as C. S. Lewis so eloquently described it, as we go further up and further in, we will continually discover more “new” things and revel in the grace that has brought us there.

As the pandemic and the resultant lockdown, distancing, mask-in-place situation drags on, we long for change. We want our “liberty” back and restrictions lifted. Whatever day it is that the change occurs, and we can walk around, shake hands, hug and greet, will be a great day. Going from restrictions to liberties is a thrilling thought. But that pales before the prospect of the ultimate change when there will be no more of all that has been the result of sin, COVID-19 included, and everything will be new!

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Better to travel expectantly than to arrive.” In other words, the expectation during the trip is better than the actual destination. We have all known that when it comes to plans and vacations on earth. But it will not be that way when we get to heaven. The expectation will pale before the majesty and wonder of the arrival!

I Saw – Revelation 19

It would be difficult to find a sight comparable in its majesty and its soul-thrilling grandeur than the sight which John received on that day when he saw heaven opened. Listen to his words which must have been spoken with unparalleled joy: “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True” (Rev 19:11).

What a sight for any mortal to behold! Heaven rent! A Rider issuing forth! A Revelation of a Conquering Christ! The One Whom men said was a fraud, will then be declared to be “True.”  The Man Whom men accused and judged to be a sinner; God will display as the “Faithful” One.

As we look around, so earth-bound as we are, the thought of heaven being opened and Christ descending to judge the assembled armies and the unholy trinity seems like a fairytale of a master spinner of stories. Yet, it is true, every word. The problem is with us, not with the eye-witness account of John.

From chapter 18 and on to the end of the book, John has ten “I saw” eye-witness accounts. This is only one of those ten. Each is thrilling in its own right. Here John sees a sight of the return of Christ to the earth accompanied by the hosts of heaven. That company associated with Him will include you and me. So we have a vested interest in that day. Elsewhere, Paul tells us that in that day He will come to be admired in all of us who believe and to be glorified in us as well (2 Thess 1:10). We are reminded that the manner in which we live now will enhance His glory in that day. Men will marvel at what He accomplished with such poor material as we are.

This day is worth waiting for with great expectations, expectations which will not be disappointed. For over 2,000 years, Christ has been denied all that belongs to Him. He has been blasphemed, labeled an impostor. Some have tried to sanitize humanity’s estimation of Him by calling Him a great teacher, a wonderful example of selfless service, a martyr, or someone who brought a great philosophic way of life to us. None of that is consistent with the claims He made: “I and the Father are One.” And, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He is either Lord of all or the greatest fraud who ever lived!

These concepts of men will bear no resemblance to how He will be revealed when He comes. Look at the titles and pictures which John provides for us in the sight which he saw.

“His name is called, The Word of God.” He came as the Word with a message of grace at His first advent and men denied Him. He will come as God’s Word, His final message to men. They rejected the message, the Word, and refused to hear. Now God’s final message to them will be one of judgment. 

On His thigh will be written another name, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” In that day, this name will strike terror to the hearts of the followers of the beast who has claimed world-wide dominion. It will cause wonder and worship to a beleaguered Jewish remnant when they realize for the first time that the true Messiah for Whom they have waited is the One Who was here and Who died. In the words of Zechariah, they will “look upon Him Whom they pierced,” and a “fountain for sin” will be opened for their cleansing (Zech 12:10; 13:1).

But there is another wonderful truth contained in that name written on His thigh. It is not only the pronouncement of His Kingship, but the place where it is written, His thigh. In Jewish history and tradition, their patriarch, Jacob wrestled with God and had his hip dislocated. As a result, they did not eat of the “sinew which shrank which is upon the hollow of the thigh” (Gen 32:32). The thigh is a constant reminder of a broken man, a man who had to be subdued beneath the hand of God as he wrestled with Him. In contrast, Christ never needed to be “broken.” He was the One Who could ride upon the unbroken colt. He was, as in the picture of the red heifer in Numbers 19, the One Who never needed a yoke to control and subdue Him. He was always submissive to His Father.

But the thigh would also remind the nation of weakness. Jacob’s thigh was weakened by the touch of God during the all-night wrestling match. Upon the thigh of the Lord as He returns in might and power, is the reminder of the One Who will rule and reign over the nations. There is no weakness linked with Him. 

Thirdly, there is a name which “no man knew but He Himself” (v 12). His true worth and value can only be known amongst the Godhead. He will grow greater in our estimation as eternity rolls its course, but we will never know Him as His Father knows Him. But it will be the delight of the Godhead to eternally reveal fresh beauties to us: The Son declaring the Father and His character, the Father revealing the Son and His beauty. We will sit in the classroom of the great University of Heaven and learn unceasingly of the wonders of our God. Paul caught a small glimpse of this when he burst forth in his doxology of Romans 11: “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! … For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Whom be glory unto the ages” (Rom 11:33-36). There will be no commencement exercise from the University of Heaven, but course after course will be pursued throughout eternity.

Unsearchable riches, unsearchable grace, unsearchable wisdom and judgments, all revealed in unspeakable words. We are in school now; we are going to another school where we will not have the distractions which now hinder us, and we will have capacities for learning which will enable us to know and appreciate Him better.

Isolation

Although there are many other examples in Scripture of those who knew social distancing and isolation, the final individual to merit our attention is the Apostle John. Like some who are reading this (not all, of course), he was an aged person. He was on Patmos, a rock strew island off the coast of modern-day Turkey. It is only about 7 miles by 4 miles, so not a lot of hiking to do, and at age 90, not a lot of stamina to do it.

He was there because of being a Christian. No other accusation was leveled against him, but being a Christian was enough to get you banished and to experience some significant social distancing.

John, however, was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day. I do not think that initially, this meant any ecstatic experience or some special level of spiritual attainment. Likely, it simply means that instead of engaging in a day of self-pity and despondency, he was determined to enjoy his spiritual blessings.

We are not told how long John was on Patmos before we are brought to the events of Revelation 1. He may well have spent many lonely and monotonous days on the island, watching the sunrise from one side of the island and then the setting sun on the western side. Days came and went with little to distinguish them apart from changes in the weather. His real interest, however, was not in the weather or the scenery (or lack of it). He was “in the Spirit,” communing with His Savior, even on Patmos.

And then, a day like no other occurred as suddenly he heard a voice behind him, and, as has been said, you know the rest of the story. The man who had known the closest physical and perhaps emotional relationship with the Lord, resting on His breast at the supper (John 13), now falls at His feet. To the exiled apostle is now granted a “revelation” of Christ which overwhelmed his soul, thrilled his heart, and filled his mind.

Exegetes may draw many wondrous truths from Revelation, theologians may argue over many points, prophetic teachers (and modern-day prophets) may opine on future events and the calendar of God, but the lessons we can draw are quite simple and on the surface.

Circumstances cannot hinder our enjoyment of Christ:

A barren island, harsh conditions, lack of social contact, and fellowship with other believers, even the advancing of age cannot hinder “being in the Spirit.” It is a choice I make. Do I want to bemoan my circumstances, wallow in my perceived deserved self-pity, rail against the events that have transpired? Or would I rather find enjoyment in fellowship with the Savior? You and I have a whole Savior to ourselves to enjoy.

Circumstances may afford a fresh revelation of Christ:

None of us will get the magnitude nor the majesty of the revelation which John received. God is not asking any of us to write a Revelation of future events. The circumstances in which John found himself, did lead to a knowledge of Christ he did not have prior to this. If you had asked any of the disciples which of them knew Christ the best, they might, in a moment of rare humility, have motioned to John. Yet, John had so much more to learn. Had we been able to interview John, it is likely would have said something to the effect of, “I never knew He was so majestic,” or, “I can’t believe that the One Who is so great allowed me so near.” Glory and grace would have cowed him in wonder and worship.

To my shame, I have to confess I have not had a fresh revelation of Christ through the pandemic. We might enjoy Christ, but have I learned anything new of His infinite person?

Circumstances cannot hinder usefulness for Christ:

When the Roman emperor banished John to Patmos, he did so with the certainty that he was limiting the influence of this aged patriarch on the upstart movement of Christianity which was seen as disloyal to the Caesar-cult. The island would serve as an effective end to John’s service.

God had other plans. Nothing and no one, including the Caesars of that day and of any day, can hinder God’s purposes and work. No one can limit the usefulness of a vessel for which God has purposes and plans. The form of John’s service may change, but his usefulness will only increase. He had written three epistles for believers; he had already penned a Gospel account for his generation of both unbelieving Jews and believers (still enjoyed by us today). Now God would entrust him with penning a volume, not only for seven assemblies in Asia, but for all believers down through the centuries. His usefulness was not only intact but expanded.

May we learn to be “in the Spirit,” look for fresh unfolding of His person, and seek for avenues of usefulness whatever circumstances the Lord may allow in our lives.