Tag Archives: Revelation

Great Stories Have Great Endings 5


This is part 5 of our series looking at Revelation 21-22

You may also like to read parts 1, 2, 3, or 4

5) It is a Place of Wealth and Beauty:

It is not insignificant to notice the size and the beauty of the city, its walls and its gates.  The city was 2200 kilometres long, and, as high and as wide as it was long. It was made out of pure gold (21v18).  The city walls were 65 metres thick, made of jasper and clear as crystal (21v18).  The foundations of the city were decorated with every kind of precious stone (21v19-20).  And the twelve gates were each made out of a single pearl (21v21).

It is important to remember that much of this imagery is figurative.  And so while we cannot say for sure what the city of the new creation will look like, the imagery of the city is mean to take our breath away with its size, wealth and beauty. The language John uses is meant to fill us with wonder and awe.  And captivate us with its immensity and beauty.  The new creation will not be a place of mere function or sterile uniformity, it will be a place of wonder, of beauty, creativity, awe and splendour.  Life in the city of God will be good and rich and free and beautiful!

The Kings of the earth will bring their splendour: (v24)

Twice it is mentioned that the treasures of the nations of the nations will be brought into the city.  “The Kings of the earth will bring their splendour” (21v24) and “The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it (21v26).

John seems to suggest that all the wonder of song and story, of artefact and design, of art and architecture  of imagination and engineering, of function and beauty, of wealth and engineering will somehow be brought in and incorporated into the new creation.  The new creation will be a place of staggering diversity.

This life will somehow count for something in God’s restoring of all things.  German engineering, Italian art, French cooking, Brazilian football, Xhosa singing will not have all been amusements to keep us busy and then burnt up and forgotten.  The genius of Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Lauryn Hill will perhaps somehow not be in vain… I don’t know where they all stand with Jesus but somehow our world and our lives have been enriched by their music, their legacy.  Perhaps it will not all have just been a meaningless distraction from the march to be rid of this life?

And what of us?  Is it perhaps true that what we do now somehow echoes into eternity?  It seems that perhaps despite our sin and rebellion God chooses to ennoble our efforts, our work, our art and our lives.  He chooses not to simply wipe away all our fallen, weak and imperfect attempts at taking up and shaping his creation.  Is it perhaps possible that the creation mandate though deeply marred and broken, is not altogether forgotten?  Is it possible that God in his grace and mercy, when he finally wipes away sin and rebellion and restores all things, somehow still chooses to include and redeem our work and make it new along with the rest of creation?

The Tree of Life:

Finally notice in 22v2 that occupying a central place in the city of God is the Tree of Life.  And it will always be in season, bearing fruit every month.  Firstly note it is the Tree of LIFE not of duty, of necessity, or of drudgery. It is the Tree of LIFE!  In the New Creation there will an unlimited access to life – full and free.

Secondly note that there is an abundance of fruit from the tree of life.  The new creation is a place of abundance and of provision.  In a world of scarcity, of fighting for survival, of starving children and economic oppression this is good news! One day there will be a world where there will be an abundance.  Where children will not go hungry, where you will not look the other way at the traffic lights, a world where there will be no more sweat shops or workaholics or the dehumanizing drudgery of factory workers, working long hours for minimum wage.

The New Creation will be a place of wealth and provision, of beauty, freedom and joy. It will be a place of life and of wonder.


Great Stories Have Great Endings 4


This is part 4 of our series in Revelation 21-22.  You may also like to read parts one, two or three.

4) It is a Place of Rest:

When you read these chapters there is a real sense of safety and security.  It is a picture of a world at peace and at rest.  In the first creation account, the goal of creation was rest. Not a sleeping type of rest, per se, but a rich, beautiful enjoyment of God’s creation. At the end of the story we see the rest which was lost restored.  We are set free to once again enjoy and marvel in the beauty and splendour of the Creator and of his creation.

In 21v1 John notes that there is no longer any sea.  Firstly, before all the surfers faint, remember this is all picture language.  These images are not meant (in large) to show us what the new creation will look like.  The intention of the picture language is to show us what the new creation will BE like.

So in this instance, for the people, of the ancient world the sea commonly represent a place of fear, of uncertainty and of chaos.  In the new creation it is not necessarily the sea that will be absent but fear, uncertainty and chaos certainly will be absent.  It will be a world of peace, of safety, of rest and of order.  It will be a return to the character of Eden.

Central to these chapters are the image of the New Jerusalem, the city of God, the bride of Christ as a massive secure city with giant walls and huge gates (21 v 15-21).  The imagery itself is beautiful but when we remember that this was written in a day where invading armies, vengeance killings and marauding bandits were still very much a reality, then the idea of this huge, impenetrable city was a beautiful, comforting image.  The new creation will be a place of safety and refuge, no longer will there be any danger of invasion, of plunder, of slavery, of rape, of vengeance, or of wanton destruction.  No longer will there be a need to anxiously guard your property or your family, to hide from evil-doers or to fear the unknown.

But it gets better, the gates of this huge city will never be shut!  City gates were shut at night!  Night time, even in our days of electricity, is a time of danger, of fear and of uncertainty.  The gates of the New Jerusalem will never be shut because there will be no more night.  The new creation will not be a place of fear, of violence, of danger.

All these will be gone and those who practice those things will not be welcome in the city (21 v 27).  It is a beautiful and paradoxical picture of this imposing, massive city- impenetrable.  But yet its gates stand wide open…  As if to give a powerful visual aid to Jesus’ words “To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.” (21 v 6)

Photo Credit: Olivander

Great Stories Have Great Endings 3


This is part 23of the series looking at Revelation 21-22

You may also want to read Part One and Part Two.

3) The New Creation is both physical and spiritual

There exists a massive assumption in Western Christianity that the purpose of being a Christian is simply to “go to heaven when you die.” That is, that we are in some sense, “souls in transit” waiting to be free of this earth.  This earth is at best an irrelevance, at worst a dark, gloomy, evil place.

This spiritual-physical dualism is simply not biblical.  The world God made and declared good was a physical world.  The fall was physical – eating fruit, realisation of nakedness, attempting to make clothes etc.  The story of redemption through the people of Israel is very much physical.  Jesus’ incarnation and his atoning death was physical.  His resurrection was physical.

God’s plan is not to rescue us from this prison of the physical. His plan was always that the spiritual and the physical would be two parts of a whole. Much like heaven and earth, which we see being finally joined together into one new creation in these chapters.  The sweep of the Bible story is not how God is doing away with this earth but how he is restoring all things to their original intention, which was both PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL.

Most of this imagery found in this chapter is physical imagery – eating , drinking, a city, a river, a throne, the city coming down to earth, wiping away tears, a city that can be measured, the tree, roads, walls, gates. Even the things that are not there are physical – no sea, no darkness, no tears, no temple, no lamps.  It may be argued that most of these images must be understood in Old Testament picture language, with which I agree.  But still the pictures that are used are of the redeeming or perfection of physical images rather than some sort of escape from the physical.

NT Wright says“Heaven and earth… are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated for ever… No, they are different radically different; but they are made for each other in the same way as male and female. And when they finally come together, it will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is a creational sign that God’s project is going forwards; that opposite poles within creation are made for union; not competition…”

Photo Credit: Olivander

Great Stories Have Great Endings 2


This is part 2 of the series looking at Revelation 21-22

You can read Part One here

2) Evil and Pain will not triumph

Jesus is said in 21v4 to “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  This is  some not positivistic thinking, that denies the reality of pain.  Or promises “your best life now” when you come to Christ.  John is writing to the church in Rome, a  church that has been persecuted, marginalised, ridiculed, seen martyrdom, had property confiscated, lost family, been alienated from society and business, had their name and reputation slandered, been falsely accused and even exiled from Rome.  In the end there is no denial of pain, the pain is acknowledged, the presence of tears shows the reality of pain, but now, says Jesus it is over.

It is an intimate image of our King Jesus, reaching up his hand and gently wiping away the tears.  “I know my child, I know.”  “I saw.  It is over. I am with you.  I am making everything new.” The context specifically has in mind here those who suffer for following Christ (v7 “he who overcomes”).   What ever it costs you to follow Christ in this world, God has seen and God is seeing right now and He is doing something about it.  There is a day that is coming…

While we may experience pain, marginalisation, ridicule or worse now, for those who overcome there awaits the new heaven and the new earth on that day there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (v4).  For these things belong to the old order and now that is no more.  The curse is gone (22v3).  God is now making everything new and we are given to drink from the water of LIFE (v5-6)!

I love the way G.K. Chesterton describes the life of God, it is the only way I think to describe how life might be like in the new heavens and the new earth:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-ups people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

We are so easily bored with life. We are weary with sin-induced futility. But God is never bored with life. He is life. His joy and life are so gigantic that he never tires of sunrises and daisies, of beauty and life and joy. Now we are old and tried and cynical. But then we will be young again, forever young, forever delighting in God. (Porterbrook: Gospel Living Module: p26)

Finally there is a terrible warning.  Not all will know this life (21v8, 27).  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may enter.  For those who will not know the Lamb who was slain for us, who disdain his sacrifice and his mercy, they will meet Jesus not as the Lamb but as the terrifying King of Kings, riding on a white horse, with a sword coming from his mouth, coming not in salvation but in judgement.

photo credit:  Olivander

Great Stories Have Great Endings 1


Great stories have great endings. In fact I think it is the ending that defines the story…

In the urban spirituality of the city there is a somewhat accepted spiritual epithet that “it is not the destination that matters but the journey.”  This sounds really spiritual but in reality it is, quite simply, a load of cobblers (always wanted to write that, it just sounds so Dickensian).  The ending is that which gives shape and substance to the entire the story.

If the ending is tragic then the story is a tragedy, despite the moments of joy and laughter that may be found in the journey.  If the ending is happy then the story is a comedy (as defined by Buechner) despite the moments of sadness and tears which it may take to bring the story to the required happy ending.  The ending is not simply that which ends the story, it is that which gives shape, substance and even meaning to the entire story.

This is equally true for the Bible story as for any other story.

The biblical ending defines, shapes and gives meaning and significance to the biblical story. If the ending is rubbish or trite then the story is a waste of time. Certainly not something to base your life on.

To use some big words for a minute our ESCHATOLOGY defines our MISSIOLOGY which defines our ECCLESIOLOGY (HT to Alan Hirsch whom I ripped off slightly).  To translate our doctrine of the end must defines our mission which must shape our doctrine of church.

I have been reading, teaching and meditating recently on the end of the Bible story (Revelation 21-22).  A few things stood out for me:

1) God does it

This chapter is full of God’s work.  This glorious picture of the new heavens and the new earth- it is all God’s doing.  Only He can do. Only He will do it.  And as a result all the glory can only go to Him (21:2-5).

And the Lamb is at the centre of all that he does (21:9, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3).  Who is this Lamb? It is the the Lamb who was slain (5:6, 9).  At the centre of the New Creation is Jesus who died, for our sins (the Lamb who was slain).  The New Creation will forever be shaped by the king who died for his people.

What particularly struck me is that in Revelation 19 we have just had this picture of Jesus on the white horse, with eyes like blazing fire. A sword coming out of his mouth, He is crowned with many crowns, and the name King of Kings is written on his robe and on his thigh.   He comes to judge the nations and to rule them an iron sceptre.  It is a great and terrifying picture of a powerful and mighty king come in judgement

I think I have always assumed that it is this King who will be the centre of our worship in the new creation.  But when we come to Revelation 21-22 who is at the centre of the new creation, the Lamb who was slain!  Without reading too much into the picture language of Revelation, it is the pattern of the Lamb which is will shape the pattern of life in the new creation.

photo credit:  Olivander

Good News for South Africa: Racial Reconciliation 2

The apostle Paul writing about relationships between the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2 has this to say:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (v14)

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (v14-16, 19-22 edited)

To believe the gospel is not simply to give mental assent to some rational truths that you agree with (it is certainly not less than this). To believe the gospel is to hear the word of declaration of the arrival of God’s King and his means of salvation and to join your life with His Story. It is the Great Story whose aim is the glory of God and whose plot is the restoration of true humanity.

When the gospel is at work among his people in South Africa we ought to see the church, in part and yet in significant ways, overcoming these issues. We ought to see churches bringing people of different races, cultures and socio-economic classes together in the gospel.

The desire of our nation, reflected in the talk of our politicians and thought leaders is for meaningful racial reconciliation. But for all that talk we have made little progress. We may work in the same buildings, ride the same trains or even attend the same churches but at the end of the day we go home to our own communities, by and large populated by “people like us”.

We may exchange small talk and pleasantries or even engage in rigorous professional or academic debate but what do we say when our guard is down and there are only people like us left? I am frequently shocked by other white people “taking me into their confidence” with the assumption that I too am like them and will concur with their frustrations and prejudices.

What of the church? If there is any place that racial reconciliation ought to be succeeding it is in the church. The gospel gives me reason to lay down my privilege, my grudges, my cultural distinctives, my personal preferences, my history and together stand at the foot of the cross amazed at the grace of Jesus. Jesus, who though he was so very different from us, became like us, in order to redeem us.

Jesus who died for us so that we might live, be forgiven and adopted into his family. Jesus whose resurrection life has broken out into the world breaking down the dividing wall of hostility (through his own body) and creating in himself one new man, thus bringing about the shalom (peace) of God. That would surely look and be good news to our divided and broken nation.

In Revelation 7:9-10 the Kingdom of God in it’s fullness is revealed as a heaving multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people. And this united, restored humanity is directly linked to the gospel (v10).

“I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

You may also be interested in:

Good News for South Africa: Racial Reconciliation 1

Good News to our City: Economic Inequality

How to Talk to Black People