God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

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A Most Encouraging, Comforting and Exciting Passage

Rev 21 4

We are excited about beginning our New Testament Bible Reading plan this coming Sunday.  The rest of this week we will be hearing from various writers on what God’s Word means to them.  Today, we are pleased to hear from Seth Ross, the Executive Director of the Church of God General Conference and Atlanta Bible College President.

 

Over the years, I have found certain portions of Scripture have come back to encourage me over and over. Revelation 21 is one of those chapters that encourages me when I’m down, it comforts me when I’m in pain, and it excites me when… well, all the time. When I’ve lost people close to me (grandparent, parent, etc) the particular verses below have given me comfort in what God has in store for us. On days when I’m not sad, this same passage excites me about what is coming and it gives me strength to make spiritual decisions that might not make sense to most people. In this special chapter, in this special section, there’s one special verse that gives me a sense of how much God loves for each of us individually and how much he really cares. This is what can encourage you to read the rest of the Bible through the year to see what else God has in store for you.

REVELATION 21:1-4
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

TO MEMORIZE
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” ~Revelation 21:4

 

-Seth Ross

 

 

God’s Fan

psalm 122 1

If you haven’t been paying attention, its football season. A new season of hope, optimism, and excitement for what could be coming for your team. As a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks my joy lasts until our first loss and then the thoughts turn to next year. I see so many people put so much thought and preparation into tailgating and cheering on their team and it makes me think:  What if we put this much excitement into serving the ONE true God. I think of Psalms 122:1 where David says he was glad to be able to glorify God in the house of the Lord. This wasn’t just one verse, the pages of the Psalms are filled with praises to God from men excited by what God has done, is doing, and will do when his kingdom comes. No disappointment of being on the wrong side of a football score.

This is a morning to wake up and glorify a God who when we put our hope in him through his son Jesus, never disappoints. When we read Rev. 21 and 22 we read about why we should have more hope, excitement, and optimism than an Alabama fan. So as this excitement over this time of year in football fades, remember you are a child of God and that excitement will never fade. Jesus says to seek his kingdom first. When is the last time you thought about what you will do in your first ten years in the kingdom, who are your ” top 5″ people you want to meet, what it will be like to have communion with Jesus, etc. I have to admit when I focus on this, football seems to fade, as it should. This morning we will be at different areas of the world but I hope God is pleased when as a unified body we lift praises to our God.

-Joseph Partain

Be An Overcomer

Revelation 1 3

The Old Testament has 17 books of prophecy (5 Major Prophets and 12 Minor Prophets).  It is here that God’s messengers gave many warnings of what troubles and destruction would come to those who didn’t repent and live a life pleasing to God.  Many (though not all) of the prophecies recorded in these books have already taken place: destruction of ancient Israel and Judah, restoration for a remnant and the coming of the Messiah.

Similarly, the New Testament ends with one book of New Testament prophecy –  the book of Revelation.  And in it we read many warnings to those who don’t repent, accept Jesus and live a life pleasing to God.  Most of the prophecies recorded in this book have yet to come: destruction of the ungodly, the 2nd Coming of the Messiah, and restoration for the godly in the Coming Kingdom.

God sends this series of revelations to John (by way of Jesus and an angel).  He writes of what must soon take place and says, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (1:3).

In chapters 2 & 3 the seven churches in Asia are individually commended for what they were doing right (hard work, perseverance, not tolerating wicked men, etc…).  And, they were then challenged to work on other issues which required repentance and renewed commitment to truth and purity (not allowing false teachers and immorality, etc…).  These words are very applicable to us today.  We would be wise to consider what we as a church are doing well, as well as what we need to repent of and change.  Each church is challenged to listen well to what the Spirit has to say to the church, and promised that overcomers would be rewarded.

Then the vision turns to the throne room of God where a lamb, looking “as it had been slain” (5:6) breaks 7 seals from a scroll unleashing war, famine, and other disasters on the earth.  A dragon and two beasts, allied against God, arise to demand the worship of earth’s people who have not been killed in the earlier catastrophes.  Seven bowls of the wrath of God (reminiscent of the plagues on Egypt) bring disasters such as darkness, the most severe earthquake ever and huge hailstones.  The upheaval destroys Babylon the Great.  Next, the heavens open and the Savior, Messiah, King Jesus, also called the Word of God, appears on a white horse ready to lead heaven’s armies in destroying evil.  For 1000 years Christ reigns on earth while Satan, “that old serpent” (20:2) is bound and kept from deceiving more.  At the end of the 1000 years, Satan is released briefly to instigate a worldwide war, but never fear – it says as they surround the camp of God’s people fire from heaven will devour the enemy and Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire.  God unveils a new heaven and a new earth.  The new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, and God will dwell with men.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (21:4).  There are so many more beautiful descriptions of the coming Kingdom on earth found in the last 2 chapters of Revelation.  It is truly something you don’t want to miss.  But, we know that many will, because of the decisions they are making today.

Just as Moses laid out for the people blessings and curses depending on what the people did, so too, John’s Revelation includes good news and bad news.  What will you do today to prepare for a Coming Kingdom?

Be an Overcomer

Marcia Railton

 

 

Say Yes

Revelation 20-22Revelation_22-12

Saturday, July 22

The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with God and his children named Adam and Eve living in a perfect garden where his children have immediate access to the presence of God and can interact with God face to face.  The act of rebellion against God caused them to be separated from God.  They initiated this process by hiding from God and by their failed attempts to cover over their guilt and shame.  The consequence of their rebellion against God was that they were cut off from immediate fellowship with God, they were cut off from the garden which, along with all of the earth and the inhabitants of the earth including animals and humans fell under the curse of death.

Within God’s ruling of the consequences of sin and the resulting curse came a kernel of good news in Genesis 3:15.  One would come who was a “seed of the woman” meaning a child, a human child, who would ultimately defeat the serpent, which represents evil.  In the process of destroying the evil serpent, that human would also suffer a wound (a bruised heel).

The rest of the Bible is the story of how God’s plan to rescue the earth from the curse and restore  and redeem humanity that was cut off from God is fulfilled ultimately by Jesus Christ, the human being, he was a seed of the woman, who was also the perfect and sinless son of God.  In going to the cross and dying for the sins of all humanity, and being raised up by God to everlasting life, Jesus defeated the serpent.

Revelation 20-22 provides a vision of the ultimate victory of how this is ultimately realized.  The serpent/dragon/devil/satan(adversary) is permitted to influence the world only so long, and then it will finally meet it’s end.   Evil will be defeated by Jesus Christ.  Christ will return, the dead will be raised, there will be a final judgment based upon what we have done.  Some will be resurrected to everlasting life with God on a renewed earth in the city of New Jerusalem.  Some will be judged and condemned by God and cast into the lake of fire, which the Bible calls the second death.  (Note that it does not teach that they will be tortured for eternity, but that they will die a second and final time in a type of mass cremation).  Death has to be destroyed.  Those who reject God’s love and gracious gift of salvation will not have it forced upon.  God allows us the freedom to accept his love and the offer of salvation, but he also gives us the freedom to reject it.  Just as a bride must consent to marrying the groom in order for a marriage to be valid, we, God’s people must consent to God’s love before our covenant relationship will be valid.

For those who reject God’s love, they will finally and mercifully be brought to everlasting destruction.  Those who accept God’s love through Christ, will be granted everlasting life.  The Bible ends with the reversals of Genesis 2-3.  God will again make his presence here upon the earth.  The image John gives in Revelation is of a New Jerusalem coming down from God to take up occupancy on the earth.  This new Jerusalem, interesting, is built on the same scale as the Temple in Jerusalem was… only so much larger.  The new temple occupies a territory that rivals the ancient Roman empire.

For Christians living in the first century suffering under Roman oppression, this must have given them hope.  Rome/ or Babylon or whatever earthly power that was anti-God would be brought to an end, and God’s Kingdom, God’s government would cover all the earth, with Jerusalem acting as a giant temple where God and his people would dwell for all eternity.  Within the temple, emanating from the throne of God is a river of life surrounded by the tree of life.  The tree of life was the very reason why Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, so that they would not partake of the tree of life/immortality in their sinful and broken condition.  Sin had to be defeated once and for all before immortality could be enjoyed.  But now, in Revelation, we are free to partake of the tree of life, we are free to embrace immortality, and we will live forever with God in His Kingdom on this renewed earth.  We have, in a sense, come full circle, we are back home with God’s presence in the new Eden, and we are forever blessed.  Even those who have suffered martyrdom for their faith, will enjoy the benefits and blessings of the New Jerusalem the New Eden and the New Earth.

If you’ve never said yes to God’s love, I don’t want you to miss out on this greatest of all blessings.  Say yes to God, you can do it right now.  And then solidify that “Yes” by entering into a covenant relationship with God through Baptism.  And then live as a child of God and share this good news with as many as you can, until the day all is fulfilled and Christ returns, or the day that you draw your last breath.

-Jeff Fletcher

(https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Revelation-22-12_Inspirational_Image/)

 

Babylon the Great

Revelation 17-19

revelation19_6

Friday, July 21

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!”  Great political power, great military might, great wealth, great corruption and resistance to God and to his ways in the world.  Babylon represents all the great powers of the world who have used their power and wealth in service of self and in opposition to God’s Kingdom.  In John’s time, Babylon would have been the Roman Empire as they persecuted God’s people.  In every time and place there have been Babylons.  Who or what is the Babylon of our age?  Who or what is using it’s wealth and power in service of satanic goals in opposition to God’s Kingdom?  Whoever or whatever it is, those powers are doomed to fall.  All the power and military might of this present age pales in comparison to the armies of Jesus Christ who will bring about their utter defeat at his return.
Jesus came to Jerusalem the first time gentle, riding on a donkey.  When he comes again it will be as a warrior on a white horse leading the angelic hosts to victory over the forces of darkness.
Once again, for John’s original audience in Rome, these images of the conquering Christ returning to defeat the broken powers of this earth who had been persecuting God’s people must have filled their hearts with hope and expectation.  It would have given them courage to continue following Jesus Christ, even in the face of suffering and death.
How often are today’s Christians tempted to give in to the lure of worldly power?  How often are we tempted to join forces with Babylon?  Where are we willing to compromise our faith in order to receive short term, temporary benefits?
Revelation reminds us that, as powerful and appealing Babylon might seem, it’s fate is certain, Babylon will fall.  It makes no sense to give our support to an enterprise that is destined for destruction.  Instead, it makes sense to support the one whose ultimate victory is guaranteed.  Jesus Christ will prevail, the Kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ!  Hallelujah!

-Jeff Fletcher

(Photo Credit: http://www.heartlight.org/)

Don’t Lose Heart

Revelation 13-16

beast_sea

Thursday,  July 20

Revelation 13-16 gives a continuation of God’s judgments and wrath which are poured out upon the earth.  We are introduced here to two beasts.  For those who are familiar with the Old Testament book of Daniel with it’s four beasts, this material will be familiar.  These beasts are ferocious looking images that represent some of the great oppressive empires of the ancient world.  The land which we today know as the nation of Israel has always been a strategically important piece of geography.  It is a point of convergence for three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.  It has been hotly contested for thousands of years.  All of the major world empires up to that time took turns occupying the land.  It was occupied by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.  I’m sure that if you were a peasant trying to eek out your life living in a small village in Israel, you would look at these various invading armies as  monstrous beasts.  Suddenly, you were forced to follow a new set of laws and customs, and learn to speak new languages in order to understand your captors.  You would have to get used to new kinds of money in order to be able to negotiate your way in the new culture.  I imagine it would have been scary and overwhelming.
John foresees a time when these beastly powerful world empires who control all of life, will be brought to an end, to be replaced by God’s Kingdom.  Even though, for a while, it seems that they are all powerful and all controlling, this will not last forever.  Patience is required to live as a believer in this current world system, but one day, our patience will be rewarded.  Don’t lose heart.  While the mark of the beast would seem to protect you from temporary suffering by the powers of this word system, it is the mark of God, which we are given when we follow Jesus Christ, that will protect us from God’s wrath.  Which mark would you rather have?

-Jeff Fletcher

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.trackingbibleprophecy.org/revelation13A.php)