A Heavenly View (Part Three)

(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I prepared this message using the NIV.)

Perhaps you’ve read about the tizzy people are in about the “Nones,” the growing statistic of Americans who self-identify as having no religious affiliation.  Depending on who is commenting on the trend, it is either the death-knell of denominational Christianity or a call to reformation of the Church.  I recently read a Bible study by Rick Ezell that addressed this subject.

“William Hendrix’s book Exit Interviews is about why today’s generation is leaving the church. He summarizes the views of many worship dropouts: ‘Perhaps the most common complaint was that worship services were boring. It was not just that these gatherings were not interesting; they were not worshipful. They did little to help people meet God.’ (p. 260)

“Sally Morgenthaler writing in Worship Evangelism says ‘[When] Worship services that are not worshipful, people not meeting God, people not being allowed to participate in a worship relationship with God – it is as if the very essence of worship has been quietly removed. . . . The most significant benefit of a worship service is connecting with God. It does not matter how chatty and interesting the celebrity interviews, how captivating the drama, how stunning the soloist, or how relevant the message. When personal interaction with God is absent, church loses much of its appeal.’ (p. 23)

“George Barna surveyed thousands of churchgoing Christians. The question was asked: ‘Have you ever experienced God in a worship service?’ Only one-third said that they regularly experience God in church.”

(Retrieved from http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-presence-of-worship-exodus-33 on 10/30/15.)

Of all the things that we’ve learned about our eternal home these last three weeks the most wonderful thing is that we will enjoy the presence of God.  Simply put, God’s presence is what makes heaven “heavenly.”

MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day as we will be better people.

  1. God is at the center of the Holy City.

First and foremost, it is the presence of God that makes heaven heavenly.  Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy City bears a lot of similarity to the account of John’s vision which we’ve studied.  He wrote that the SANCTUARY stood at the center of the city he envisioned (48:8, 10 21).  This is another way of saying what John said; God is present at the center of the city. Ezekiel’s vision ends with the name of the city: “AND THE NAME OF THE CITY FROM THAT TIME ON WILL BE: THE LORD IS THERE.” (Ezekiel 48:35)

This is the most obvious and most important fact about our eternal home and it is mentioned often in these chapters.  The presence of God is developed in four different ways:

DWELLING: In 21:3 the angel announces, “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.”  DWELLING is used only by John in the New Testament.  It literally means “tabernacle” and refers to the “Tent of Meeting” that was the place for worship of God before the temple was built.  This is one of many places in Revelation that employs Old Testament images to communicate John’s vision.  The tabernacle, as the original meeting-place with God, was dear to the heart of John’s Jewish readers.  However, unlike the tabernacle – which was a temporary structure – God will permanently dwell with His people.  This is the future fulfillment of the promise made in Ezekiel 37:27: “MY DWELLING PLACE WILL BE WITH THEM; I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE.  The word PEOPLE is actually plural in the Greek; a fact which demonstrates the multinationality of the Church on earth and in our eternal home.

THE ABSENCE OF A TEMPLE: In 21:22 we read I DID NOT SEE A TEMPLE IN THE CITY, BECAUSE THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY AND THE LAMB ARE ITS TEMPLE.  The city itself is the temple!  The entire structure is the place of God’s dwelling so no separate structure is needed.

– As we’ve observed, every detail in the construction of the New Jerusalem points to God, just as a temple would. In his vision, Ezekiel saw a perfected temple.  Here, John sees a better vision: God and His people dwell together in the same building.

THE GLORY OF THE LORD is manifest visually as a bright light.  God is present in brilliant light (21:23-24; 22:5).  1 John 1:5 describes God’s nature as being light: THIS IS THE MESSAGE WE HAVE HEARD FROM HIM AND DECLARE TO YOU: GOD IS LIGHT; IN HIM THERE IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL.  In the Bible, LIGHT is the symbol of knowledge and holiness. Light is also comforting; it dispels the threatening darkness.  Imagine the LIGHT of God’s presence being so strong that it makes the sun redundant!  The SUN and the MOON, the two most luminescent bodies in our sky, will not be missed.  22:5 essentially reiterates 21:23, but adds that even artificial light – a LAMP – will be unnecessary in the unfading illumination provided by God Himself.

This promise was first made to the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:19; THE SUN WILL NO MORE BE YOUR LIGHT BY DAY, NOR WILL THE RIGHTNESS OF THE MOON SHINE ON YOU, FOR THE LORD WILL BE YOUR EVERLASTING LIGHT, AND YOUR GOD WILL BE YOUR GLORY.  The reference to KINGS in 21:24 is a symbol of trivial glory of the worldly kingdoms coming to an end in the new age.  It too was anticipated by Isaiah; NATIONS WILL COME TO YOUR LIGHT, AND KINGS TO THE BRIGHTNESS OF YOUR DAWN. (ISH 60:3)

THE THRONE OF GOD (22:1+3 and 7:17) is  in the HOLY CITY. The presence of God will be immediate; there will be no intermediates like priests or a temple.  God will be – for all eternity – right before His people.

It is called THE THRONE OF GOD AND THE LAMB because God the Father has placed everything under the authority of Jesus.  It is as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22-23 = AND GOD HAS PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER [Christ’s] FEET & APPOINTED HIM TO BE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING FOR THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY, THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY.  After His Ascension, the Bible tells us that Jesus was at the right hand of God the Father.  That was a place of honor, but now in Revelation we see the greater honor of God the Son sharing the throne with God the Father.

A second indicator of God’s presence is the promise that God will remove the grief-causing things of this age.  21:4 develops this thought…HE WILL WIPE EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES and remove the things that cause us to shed tears: THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY.  Here are found four causes of grief.

– DEATH. According to 1 Corinthians 15:26, THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH.  In Revelation 20:14 we read, DEATH AND HADES WERE THROWN INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE for their destruction.  GOOD NEWS!  We will never again be separated from our loved ones, but joined with them for eternity.

– MOURNING can be translated as “wailing.” It is a degree of grief that is so extreme it cannot be contained or controlled, it must be released.

– CRYING covers everything in this life that causes us to despair.

– PAIN covers suffering & weariness in body and/or spirit. There will be nothing to regret.

Using words echoed in both John and Paul’s writings, this promise occurred first in Isaiah 25:8; HE WILL SWALLOW UP DEATH FOREVER.  THE SOVEREIGN LORD WILL WIPE AWAY THE TEARS FROM ALL FACES; HE WILL REMOVE THE DISGRACE OF HIS PEOPLE FROM ALL THE EARTH.  THE LORD HAS SPOKEN.

Revelation 22:12 reads, “BEHOLD, I AM COMING SOON!  MY REWARD IS WITH ME AND I WILL GIVE TO EVERYONE ACCORDING TO WHAT HE HAS DONE.” For the inhabitants of the Holy City, Jesus not only takes away everything that hurts, but He bestows honors on those who chose to obey His commands in this life.  This is good news compounded!  We can learn the meaning of this verse from Elliot’s commentary on this passage: “The warning has been given that men by continuing in sin (Revelation 22:11) are inviting against themselves the law by which act ripens to habit, and habit makes character, and character forms destiny.” (Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/22-13.htm on 10/29/15.)

Thirdly, our hope is founded on who Jesus is.  Jesus is the very definition of creation; the brackets of human history: THE ALPHA AND OMEGA, THE FIRST AND LAST, THE BEGINNING AND END (21:6; 22:13).  The importance of this fact underscored by the fact that it is repeated in each chapter, the only difference being the words FIRST AND LAST added in 22:13.  (Jesus referred to Himself as the ALPHA AND OMEGA in 1:11.)  Salvation is entirely the work of Jesus Christ.

By now it will not surprise you to learn that the prophet Isaiah testified to this truth centuries before John: “THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS – ISRAEL’S KING AND REDEEMER, THE LORD ALMIGHTY: I AM THE FIRST AND I AM THE LAST; APART FROM ME THERE IS NO GOD.” (Isaiah 44:6).  Because He has all authority (see Matthew 28:18), we can rely upon and utterly trust the promises of Jesus.

Jesus is depicted as the LAMB in 21:9, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3 and in Revelation 5:6; 19:7. This symbol is appropriate because His sacrifice for our sins has made heaven available to us. The first mention of the LAMB in revelation is a strange and pathetic but pivotal figure in 7:6, THEN I SAW A LAMB, LOOKING AS IF IT HAD BEEN SLAIN, STANDING IN THE CENTER OF THE THRONE, ENCIRCLED BY THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES AND THE ELDERS.  HE HAD SEVEN HORNS AND SEVEN EYES, WHICH ARE THE SEVEN SPIRITS OF GOD SENT OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH.

– I say “pathetic” because the lamb looked as if it had been SLAIN. This is a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross.

– I say “strange” because of its seven horns and eyes. The number seven symbolizes perfection.  Horns symbolize power and eyes are a symbol of knowledge.  This refers to the perfect power and knowledge of God the Son.

– I say “pivotal” because the LAMB is the only being who could open the seven seals on the scroll and thereby begin the series of events leading up to the end of this creation and the New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem.

In the Greek, there are three words translated as “lamb” and they offer three slightly different views.

Amnos looks to the sacrificial use of the animal.

Aren refers to the harmless nature of a lamb.

Arnion is the word used in Revelation, where it is entirely symbolic of the paradoxical nature of Christ, who is both Sacrifice and Savior, God and Human, Judge and Mediator.

Revelation 22:16 confers two more titles on Jesus.  Taken together, these titles focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophecy.

– THE ROOT AND OFFSPRING OF DAVID. God promised King David that his descendants would rule forever.  As a descendant of David, Jesus fulfills this promise.  In their Gospels both Matthew and Luke give genealogies for Jesus that establish this as fact.  In Isaiah 4, the BRANCH OF THE LORD is promised, and in Isaiah 11, a SHOOT OF JESSE (David’s father) is foretold.  Jeremiah 23 also uses this title, as does Zechariah 3 and 6. These promises were part of what the Jews of Jesus’ day expected as they looked forward to the Messiah.  In Revelation 5:5 He is referred to as THE ROOT OF DAVID.

– THE BRIGHT MORNING STAR. This is the most noticeable light in the sky near the horizon just prior to dawn. As such, it is a symbol of hope.  As the dark night of this present age will soon end, the light of Jesus shines as a preview of the glorious light that will soon follow and shine brightly, as we’ve already noted.  Way back in Numbers 24:17, Moses predicted the rising of a STAR OUT OF JACOB.  In Revelaion 2:28, THE MORNING STAR is promised to the overcomer.

Lastly, we will see God in all His glory; face to face (22:4).  In Exodus 33:20, God told Moses, “YOU CANNOT SEE MY FACE AND LIVE.”  With only a few exceptions, this has been the rule ever since.  The reason behind this rule was to reinforce the holiness of God as indicated by His separation from this sinful world.  However, in the next world – where is sin no more and grace has eliminated guilt, this reason will cease to exist.

In the New Creation, as 22:4 promises, all God’s people WILL SEE HIS FACE.  These words offer a word picture of the new closeness between God and His people.  It’s heart-warming to think of being face to face with our Creator, the One who loves us so much.  Jesus made a similarly heart-warming statement in Matthew 18:10: He said, “SEE THAT YOU DO NOT LOOK DOWN ON ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES.  FOR I TELL YOU THAT THEIR ANGELS IN HEAVEN ALWAYS SEE THE FACE OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  In the “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul expressed this hope in the wonderfully poetic language of that chapter; NOW WE SEE BUT A POOR REFLECTION AS IN A MIRROR; THEN WE SHALL SEE FACE TO FACE.  NOW I KNOW IN PART; THEN I SHALL KNOW FULLY, EVEN AS I AM FULLY KNOWN. (1CT 13:12)  In the OT, Job (JOB 19:26) and Isaiah (ISH 52:8) expressed this hope; that they should see God.

Theologian A.W. Tozer wrote a short but influential book called The Pursuit of God. In it, he wrote a couple of things that should sharpen our appetite for an experience of God’s presence.

– “The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of HIS PRESENCE.” (P. 38) – “Let us say it again: The universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.” (P. 71)

So it comes down to this.  All we’ve noted about our life to come, all we can hope for in this life, it all hangs on wanting to experience God’s presence.  The things of this world that try to captivate our attention or cause us to worry, all of that needs to fade and vanish.

How do we do that?  Let me give you some simple advice.  Experiencing God happens only in the context of a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  That must come first.

Second, it won’t happen while your attention is trained on this world or yourself.  We must make time to be quiet.  Prayer is the key that opens the door to let God in.  No amount of Bible knowledge, no number of attendance pins, no variety of church service will do for us what prayer will accomplish.

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2 thoughts on “A Heavenly View (Part Three)

  1. Very good post.

    Some people are leaving church and going to Jesus—they are entering the Presence of God.

    “You can have all of your doctrines right, yet still not have the Presence of God.”
    –Leonard Ravenhill

    • Thank you, Tim. An honest approach to the Bible recognizes that the Church (capital “C” to distinguish the world-wide people of God from the small-case “c” to refer to a local congregation) is a group identified by a spiritual bond, a shared identity in Jesus Christ. Organizations and properties are secondary at best.
      That said, there needs to be networking of some sort. “Solitary Christian” is not the biblical norm or ideal. So. How do we network and fellowship outside the convenient confines of the traditional means of buildings, budgets, and by-laws (the “Killer B’s”)?
      I appreciate the quote from Ravenhill. One of my faves.

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