The closing words of Scripture are eternally comforting:
I had several things in mind to write about this last day of 2021. But as I was reading the closing chapters of the Bible, I decided that a quick look at Revelation 21:1-5 would be the way to close out the year, as it discusses how God will close out life on earth, and start a new heaven and new earth.
Let me say at the outset that this is a book full of mystery and wonder, and those who claim to have it all fully understood are far more confident – some might say arrogant – than I am. The extensive use of symbolism and imagery alone makes this a very difficult book to properly and conclusively interpret.
As such the advice Peter gave in regard to the writings of Paul seems even more appropriate to John, the author of the Apocalypse: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
But one thing that is clear is that a primary message of the book is that in the end God wins and his enemies lose. God is victorious. Regardless of how bad things have been for so long, God is the Victor and no one and nothing stands in his way. That is good news indeed.
And it is God the Son who is especially highlighted in this book. As the sacrificial lamb, prefigured so often in the Old Testament, Jesus is the all-conquering hero of the book. And we should not let the figure of a lamb (something Christ is called around 30 times in this book) mislead us. He may have come to earth the first time as a gentle sheep, but he returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, wreaking judgment on all his foes.
So he is both lamb and lion. With all this in mind, let me look a bit more closely at some of the closing words found in this book. The first five verses of the penultimate chapter of Revelation say 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, 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.”
Those words alone should be of such tremendous comfort to all who have suffered so greatly during the past year – indeed, during the past 21 months. This global virus and various state responses to it have made that past year or two some of the most difficult that many of us – at least in the West – have ever experienced.
In the light of such tough times and dark days, the words of John in this book are a sweet comfort indeed. And Revelation is written not just for our benefit today, but for all God’s saints who have suffered so much over the centuries. We must never lose sight of the overwhelming comfort this book in general – and its closing chapters in particular – bring to us.
To amplify these glorious truths, let me draw upon just one commentator here. Dennis Johnson titled his 2001 expository commentary on Revelation Triumph of the Lamb. And his chapter on this portion of Revelation is called “Bride: New Jerusalem, Wife of the Lamb”. He begins by discussing the weddings of two of his four children, and says this:
Weddings not only bring parents great joy (perhaps a little sadness, too). There is also a profound sense of relief that months of planning and preparation have reached their goal. . . . Yet, just as our weddings now are only the faintest reflections of the glory and joy of the coming wedding, so the price of our preparations in time and effort and money are a pittance when compared with the Lord’s elaborate preparation for that celebration that begins a whole new world. . . . Revelation has shown us the history – long combat in which Jesus the Lamb has been engaged in order to win and beautify the bride.
The consummation of this romance is what Revelation has been about from the start. The blood and fire, locusts and smoke, falling stars and trembling earth, the dragon, the monsters, the scarlet woman—the whole terrifying conflict has been about the divine Husband’s jealous love for his bride, a love so jealous that he will fight all comers in order to have her all to himself, a love so sacrificial that he lays down his life to protect her from every threat and enemy. John has seen this “holy city” as the temple’s outer court, left “unmeasured” and exposed to trampling under the nations’ feet, persecuted and despised by the unbelieving world (Rev. 11:2). Now he will see the holy city, beautified for her Husband and radiating the light of his glory (21:2, 11). Now the city is measured top to bottom (21:15-17), so secure from enemies that no longer exist that it never needs to shut its gates against invaders (21:25)…The New Jerusalem, the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9-10) is an almost blinding, imagination-overloading image of the people whom God loves passionately. John’s concluding visions reveal the new home that the groom has prepared for his bride and the presentation of the bride – the church – in the beauty of holiness.
He focuses on the bigger picture as he looks at “the tabernacle of God” (21:3). He writes:
The intimacy with God that made Eden truly paradise, the garden of God, was lost through human sin. The tabernacle of God in the midst of Israel’s wilderness camp picked up motifs from that lost home, in the fruit-tree patterns of its curtains and the towering cherubim guarding its inmost sanctuary. Yet both tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament times were faint previews of the eventual, eternal dwelling of God among his people. God’s presence marks the consummation of an intimate covenant commitment, often expressed in the Old Testament in words such as “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Ezek. 37:27; cf. Lev. 26:12), which are echoed here.
The wicked tried to hide from the presence of God (Rev. 6:16-17), and the first heaven and earth had fled from him (20:11). But for those who are his people, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, the nearness of God will be an infinite comfort: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (21:4), removing the mourning veil that covered the people and swallowing up death forever, as he had promised through Isaiah (Isa. 25:8; also echoed in Rev. 7:17). This vivid image of our Lord’s personal comfort to each grieving heart shows that it is his presence among us (21:3) that will do away with the “first things” that now threaten our joy and peace. Because God himself dwells with his people, “there will no longer be any death . . . mourning, or crying, or pain” (21:4; cf. Isa. 65:19-20).
God himself now speaks from his throne: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Through Isaiah the Lord had announced his purpose to do “new things” to redeem his people, saving acts that would cause “former things” to be forgotten (Isa. 43:18-19; 42:9). Now John foresees the comprehensive, cosmic renewal that will flow from the completion of God’s redemptive agenda.
This is all tremendous news, and it is the perspective we must always carry with us. In just a few hours 2021 will come to an end. We do not know what the new year holds, but if it is anything like the last two years, it may not be very pretty. Indeed, things may get worse before they get better.
But Christians have a glorious promise and a wonderful hope that they can cling to and take comfort in. Whether we are near the end of all things – at least the end of all old things – is not crystal clear. But whether the Lord returns in 2022 or some other time, we have a huge wedding to look forward to.
With that in mind, we can repeat the prayer of John: “Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). I sure am ready – are you?