I Know How the Story Ends

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Revelation 21:1-7
Revelation 22:1-5

The story of human history is always puzzling, and often painful. But do you know how the story ends? For all who love and worship Jesus Christ, it ends in glory!

I have a confession to make. I love to read pulp fiction – spy novels, techno-military thrillers, murder mysteries, that sort of thing. Now I realize that these books are to literature what junk food is to fine cuisine, but I can’t help myself – they’re just so entertaining.

I also have a further confession to make. When I’m reading one of these exciting novels, I sometimes cheat. As the drama approaches its climax and the suspense becomes unbearable occasionally I’ll skip ahead to read the end of the story. You know how it is in a thriller. The hero is caught in some impossible trap with absolutely no way out, or our country has been dealt a devastating blow and seems destined to be defeated. The situation appears to be hopeless. So if I find myself becoming too anxious or depressed over how the plot is unfolding, I’ll just turn ahead to the end of the story to find out how the good guys turn defeat into victory.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that in real life? When we find ourselves caught in the middle of nightmarish circumstances or trapped in tragedy with no way out, if only we could fast forward to a happy ending! But unfortunately we can’t. Life simply has to be lived through. There’s no way to bypass the pain or skip ahead instantly to better times. Having said that, though, there is one thing that as Christians we can do. We can read ahead to the end of the book. Whatever may be the twists and turns of our individual plot lines, we know how the larger story turns out. We know the way the world and its history are going to end. We know who holds the future. We know who the winner is.

Our Christian hope is that at the consummation of all things when Jesus Christ returns to earth in glory, the entire universe will be transformed and will experience the blessings of redemption. The suffering and futility of life in the old sin-spoiled creation will be replaced by the joy of a perfect new heaven and earth. The final visions of John’s Revelation point us toward the glory of this new Creation.

BEHOLD, I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW”

Here is the last thing John sees in the book of Revelation. After the final battles in which sin, death and the devil are destroyed by the victorious Word of God (19:11-21), after the awesome scene of the Final Judgment before the great white throne of God (20:11-15), John is given a vision of the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1).

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, the 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,

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Rev. 21:1-7, NRSV

John tells us that after the glorious return of Christ the old creation “had passed away” (v.1). What will the end of the world be like? Perhaps the universe will be completely destroyed and then remade – from scratch, so to speak.

According to the Bible, at the day of the Lord (the end of the world), “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (cf. 2 Peter 3:10). Or it may be that the apocalyptic language of this passage from the Second Epistle of Peter means that the whole created order will undergo a renewal or transformation of a less destructive nature. In biblical imagery, fire can purge or cleanse as well as destroy.

Whatever the exact scenario played out at the world’s end, the final vision given to John in the closing chapters of Revelation shows what comes after that. The end of the world is not the end of the story, at least not for the people of God who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb who was slain. When the heavens and the earth have passed away, behold, a new heaven and a new earth! The new creation John sees is in some ways a continuation of the old one, but with a universe now transformed, redeemed, made perfect (just as after the resurrection our bodies will somehow be continuous with our old mortal bodies, but gloriously changed). Though we cannot dream how all this could happen, we may be sure that in some unimaginable way the hope that the Bible holds out for the whole physical creation (see Romans 8:18-21) will be realized at the consummation, when Christ comes again in glory.

The new creation is brought about through exactly the same means as the old one: by the power of the word of God. In John’s vision the Lord God himself utters the words, “Behold, I am making all things new!” – the first time incidentally in the whole book of Revelation that the One who is seated upon the throne is heard to speak. God has the last word, and he will use it to create the world afresh.

Notice that the eternal future believers look forward to is very much a physical one. According to the Bible, our future is to live forever with real bodies, on a real earth, as part of a real universe – a life, in fact, that is more, not less, real than the life we presently experience.

THE CITY OF GOD

Life in the world to come will be life as God meant it to be. It will be life made perfect, joyful and glorious beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. The first thing we are told about the new creation is what is not there: “there was no longer any sea,” John says (v. 1). In the Bible in general, and in Revelation in particular, the sea represents chaos and the forces of evil; it was from the sea that the Beast who symbolizes the Anti-Christ came (chapter 13). The fact that there is no longer a sea in the new earth doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to have any beachfront property! It rather means that all sin and evil have finally and forever been removed from the universe. Because evil is gone, that means that a host of other things are gone as well. John lists many of them in the course of these two final chapters. Not only is the sea absent from the world to come, so are tears, death, mourning, crying and pain, everything under God’s curse, darkness and night (21:1,4; 22:3,5). So the new Creation is a world with no sin, no hurt, no suffering, no loss, no end.

Positively, John describes the life of the world to come by means of two powerful biblical images. The first is the city of God, the new Jerusalem:

I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

In the year a.d. 410, St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, received the news that his beloved Rome had been conquered and sacked by barbarian invaders. Augustine sought comfort in the fact that there is another city, not made with human hands, which is our true home. “The cities of man rise and fall,” he wrote, “but the City of God is everlasting.” On earth Jerusalem was God’s city, but even that holy place was merely a symbol of the eternal city, the city which is to come, of which John was given a glimpse – the heavenly Jerusalem where God will dwell with redeemed humanity forever and ever.

The second image John saw in his vision of the world to come was a garden within the city.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Rev. 22:1-5, NRSV

Heaven holds the garden of God. Unlike the old Garden of Eden, the new garden is in the heart of the city, where the trees of life and river of life run right down “Main Street” (22:1-2). Both the city and the garden convey the same message: unending life and health and strength, God now truly living with us, dwelling among us forever. The greatest joy in all the splendors of the new Creation is that “Now the dwelling of God is with mortals, and he will live with them” (v. 3). That’s why there is no need for a temple or the sun or moon in the city. God himself will be in the midst of her. No more need for any lesser lights, when the source of all life and glory is present.

What that will actually be like, I can’t imagine. The Bible uses words like “imperishable” and “unfading” (1 Peter 1:4) to describe the world that is coming. It says that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, niv). I sometimes try to picture how it’s going to be: beauty that never fades, strength that never diminishes, blooms that never wither, music that never stops, pleasures that never cloy, bodies that never die, relationships that never come to an end. I’m at a loss to even begin to imagine it.

A new heaven and a new earth. The heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth. Trees with leaves of healing that blossom all the year around and rivers of the water of life. The dwelling place of God with humans. Riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing, forever and ever. This is how the story ends for all those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ; for me, and I hope for you too. Only it isn’t the end.

It’s just the beginning.