In the first ten verses of today’s reading there are three parts: the binding of the evil one, the reign of God’s holy people, and the release of the evil one for his final attempt at a battle. There are also four themes. The evil one’s war is futile…he cannot withstand even an angel. God’s holy people will be vindicated and glorified. God will have the final victory. Even when sinful and depraved humans experience Christ’s good purposes in the world they still flock after the evil one when he gains even a small amount of freedom to act.
Like the Old Testament angel of the Lord the angel coming down from heaven has God’s authority. This is symbolized by the key that controls the bottomless pit and the power to put chains on God’s great enemy for 1,000 years. God has as sovereign plan for the evil one. He will be shut up in the abyss for 1,000 years and then briefly released to deceive the nations once more before being cast into the lake of fire. What a grand and glorious day that will be!!! The 1,000 years in the pit for the evil one is a preliminary defeat for him and the powers of evil. Deception is the trademark of the evil one who is a liar. The faithful believers who experience Christ’s reign will not be deceived. The little while might be the equivalent of the symbolic three and a half years…it is a limited time. Verse 4 portrays a heavenly tribunal which includes the elders, the victorious martyrs, and God’s people. Beheading was a common form of execution for Roman citizens. By law Roman citizens could not be crucified except under extreme situations. The faithful who had remained true to Christ and resisted receiving the mark of the beast will judge the condemned. They will sit on thrones similar to those of the elders who worshiped the One sitting in the throne. At the onset of the kingdom, authority is officially transferred from angels to men. A new world order is established with the overcoming Saints of the church age coming together with Christ in His kingdom. Those who had been beheaded are believers martyred by the beast. In verses 5-6 John contrasts the first resurrection with the second death. Let me explain. From this is looks like the resurrection of the dead does not happen all at once. This passage indicates that there will be a first resurrection of dead believers before the 1,000 years and a final resurrection after the millennium is finished, before the great white judgement throne.
Now we see the fifth of the seven beatitudes. This focuses on the promised reward of life. God’s faithful people will reign with Christ as priests of God. The first resurrection is assured for all believers, but the blessedness mentioned here belongs more precisely to those who have a part in the first resurrection. The second death is the everlasting death of torment in the lake of fire for unbelievers who face the great white throne judgement. John has previously stated that the one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Verses 7-10 speak of the final defeat of the evil one. His all-out attempt to conquer God will result in his demise. These verses have two main purposes: to show God’s absolute justice because the evil one and his followers are worthy of punishment and will never change. And second, to show the depravity of those who follow the evil one. It is amazing that in spite of seeing the nature of Christ’s reign in the world for many years people still flock to the evil one’s standard when he is set free. These factors are the basis for the judgement at the great white throne. As a result of the evil one’s deception the world’s armies will gather for battle against God again as they had done before Christ’s second coming. When he is free to act the evil one always seeks to deceive. He will gather an army once more in a final attempt to overwhelm God’s people. Gog and Magog was a common rabbinical title for the nations in rebellion against the Lord, and the names recall the prophesied invasion of Israel in Ezekiel 38-39. Jewish traditions vary regarding the locations of Gog and Magog. Symbolically they are towards the north, the direction from which Israel’s enemies traditionally approached. The names represent nations and rulers from every corner of the earth that oppose God’s people. Repeating the earlier scenes in which God’s enemies assemble for battle, the evil one here makes a last-ditch attempt to confront God and His forces. We see the comparison between the evil one’s followers and Abraham’s descendants. Both are as numerous as sand along the seashore. This should be terrifying to all of us to think there are that many who follow, practice, and delight in evil. We see too the characteristics of those who follow the evil one. Their names are not written in the Book of Life. They are judged according to their works, and they are found to be worthy of endless death. These unbelievers are destined for the lake of fire along with the members of the evil trinity. Once again, no battle occurs because God sent fire down from heaven and consumed them, just like Sodom. If there was doubt before, we see again that the enemies of God cannot stand against Him. In the lake of fire, they will be tormented forever. Rebellion against God has eternal consequences. The thought of eternal torment may bother some people, but God has made it crystal clear that those who chose evil over Him will pay for their disobedience. The message of scripture is that God will deal sternly with sin and rebellion by those who choose to reject Jesus Christ and His saving work. More than any other book in scripture, Revelation shows that the unrepentant persist in their rebellion despite the consequences. Revelation also shows that God is just and deals with sin as it deserves.
The rest of chapter 20 speaks of the final judgement. We see a court hearing at which the dead are judged on the basis of their works. God’s response to eternal rebellion is eternal punishment. The great white throne is a picture of God’s holy rule and judgement. The One occupying the throne may be God the Father or both the Father and the Lamb as seen in the new Jerusalem. The earth and heaven have fled is a poetic way of describing the burning up of this creation and its related works. There is no place anymore for this sin polluted creation in the new heaven and new earth. Even creation knows that you can run but you cannot hide. The rest of the dead from verses 5 are raised and made to stand before God’s throne of judgement. To some the first resurrection includes only martyrs so that both believers and unbelievers will stand before the great white throne. There are others who point to the broad promises to Christians in the Book of Revelation of ruling with Christ as evidence that all Christians will experience the first resurrection and thus will not have to endure the great white throne of judgement. Once the people were gathered the books were opened, including the Book of Life. This book holds the names of those who have experienced God’s saving power. Books in general refers to the record of all works done in this life. Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God the opening of these books would certainly lead to eternal sentences in the lake of fire. Here’s the thing. None of us will be judged acceptable based on what we have done in this life, many will be saved by God’s grace received by faith in Jesus Christ.
The sea is the resting place of unburied bodies. Death and hades refer not only to dying but to existence beyond the grave. The picture here is of all intermediate abodes of human bodies giving them up to God in judgement. While unbelieving humanity is judged according to its works, death and hades, the Lord’s final enemy is also destroyed by being cast into the lake of fire. The second death is spiritual and eternal, just like the punishment of the wicked. The first death is physical dying. Both are included in the overall meaning of the death that came upon the human race because of Adam and Eve’s sin. The expression death and the grave refer to the reality of death. It is the last enemy God will destroy. The lake of fire portrays the horrible end of God’s enemies who will not experience the first resurrection.
Everything takes a decided turn for the amazing in chapter 21. Here we see the new Jerusalem. This vision involves God’s creation of the new heaven and new earth. The old creation has disappeared because it was decayed and badly tainted by sin. The sea was gone. The sea was associated with chaos, or the abyss and it was sometimes portrayed as a roaring monster. The new creation will be free from all such evil. New here suggests freshness not just a second beginning. This is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah 65:16, 66:22, and 2 Peter 3:13. It is significant that this eternal renewal has already begun in the life of believers because using the same term, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The old passes away before the new heaven and earth arrive. The fact that there will be a continuation of some features of the present creation in the new heaven and new earth is implied by the description of the New Jerusalem as the holy city, a title that is applied to the present Jerusalem. But the differences between old and new are drastic. The New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven, prepared as a bride, is where God’s people or Christ’s church are prepared for the marriage of the Lamb. Christ is the husband or Lamb, and the church is His bride. This new creation is a gift from God. In the beginning God created everything good and in the end, God will create a new, unbroken world. This picture of Jerusalem as a beautiful bride stands in stark contrast to the vision of Babylon as the prostitute.
God is now home among His people. Both Old Testament and New Testament expectations are fully and finally realized. Ever since humanity sinned, separation from God had been humanity’s greatest problem. God has repeatedly called His people to Himself through the prophets, through Jesus His Son, and through the presence of the Spirit. In the new heaven and new earth, God’s people will finally experience ultimate and everlasting fellowship with God. This recalls the incarnation where Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. In the new heaven and new earth there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. God’s people will know the creative wholeness and salvation that Christ brings. The believer’s rebirth through faith in Christ brings newness to that person’s life, but it is only in the eternal state that God will make all things new. John is to record this because it is trustworthy and true. It is finished echoes from the throne just like it did from the cross. This connects Christ’s death with the assurance of eternal life. It also proclaims the completion of God’s wrath being poured out in Babylon. Now the focus is on the One who created the new heaven and new earth. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet John portrays God as encompassing total reality and total truth. God was from the beginning, and He is also the end, the goal. Because Christ is supreme and in charge of all things, He dispenses the water of life to all who are thirsty for it. Water of life here is tied back to Jesus’s references to living water in John 4:14. Jesus spoke of this water in connection to eternal life and life in the Holy Spirit. We will see a similar offer to the one who is spiritually thirsty in 22:17. All who are victorious, that is God’s children who in life will inherit His blessings will persevere. The best part is that the believers will be sons and daughters of His. They will be rightful heirs forever. Adoption is a covenant relationship, and the adoption language certifies their privileges and responsibilities.
The list of vices in verse 8 summarizes sins described throughout Revelation. These sins characterize people who have not experienced adoption by God. Their fate is the lake of fire for all of eternity. John mentions liars several times. It seems that he believed that deception is the root of all sin. Elsewhere he describes the evil one as the father of lies. Verses 21:9-22:9 are a symbolic vision of the new Jerusalem. We see vivid word pictures used to describe the bride, the wife of the Lamb. This is all who respond to Christ’s message of salvation. Another of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the last plagues invited John to come with him. There John saw the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The angel took John, in the Spirit, to a great high mountain. In scripture experiences with God often occur on the mountains. They are places of revelation. This high mountain overlooks the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. We are reminded that God’s presence and eternal life cannot be reached by human effort but are received as a gift. The description of this new city emphasizes God’s glory which is the source of plight for the city. Jasper is opaque on earth, but the heavenly jasper is clear as crystal, having a transparency that mirrors God’s purity and integrity. The description of the great and high wall that contains 12 gates named after the twelve tribes of Israel echoes Ezekiel 48:30-35. There is scholarly debate as to the meaning of the 12 gates. Some point to the 12 tribes and others believe
They represent all of God’s people, including both Israel and the church. Some think they are all of the Israelites. Many believe the 12 tribe represent the redeemed people of God. The foundation for this community of God’s redeemed is the 12 apostles of the Lamb. In Jesus, God’s promise to bless all of the families of the earth through Abraham has been fully realized. The 12 apostles being the foundation of the new Jerusalem recalls Paul’s imagery of the apostles as the foundation of the house of God in Ephesians 2:20. There were gates on all four sides, three to a side. This is the same formation the tribes of Israel took as they encamped around the tabernacle of the Lord as they wandered in the wilderness.
This angel who was giving John the tour of the new Jerusalem had a gold measuring stick to measure the city, it’s walls and gates. Measuring defines accepted boundaries. This recalls Ezekiel 40-41. The city is laid out like a cube. It’s length, breadth, and height are all equal. The cube was an ancient symbol of perfection. The most holy place in the temple and the temple itself were cubic in design. The symmetrical measurements of the city are so vast (1,400 miles) and the wall is so thick (200 feet) that they almost surpass the imagination. The imagery suggests that the city is the dwelling place of God’s presence, just as the tabernacle and temple had been. It is impossible to be certain whether ordinary measurements should be applied to the eternal state, though the reference to the measure of a man may imply that they should. The measurement of 1,400 miles equals 12,000 stadia. The number 12,000 symbolically represents the people of God. In the ancient world walls were important not only to the defense of the city but also to its status. The fact that these walls are nearly 200 feet thick indicates the strength of God’s redeemed people. The measurement of 144 cubit uses a multiple of 12 to represent God’s people. A cubit was the length of a man’s forearm, a standard measure of 18 inches. The wall is built of jasper. The city is fashioned in gold which is not opaque like earthly gold. Instead, like God’s transformed people, the heavenly gold is clear and pure. The 12 stones adorning the foundation of the city’s walls are a reminder of the twelve stones in the high priest’s breastplate that represented the people of God. The exact color of some of the stones is uncertain but it is probable that the jasper is colorless, sapphire is blue, chalcedony is green or greenish blue, emerald is bright green, sardonyx has layers of red and white, Sardis is blood red, chrysolite is yellow, beryl is blue or blue green, topaz is golden, chrysoprase is apple green, Jacinth is blue or bluish purple, and amethyst is purple or violet. It is interesting that things that are precious and luxurious on earth are considered building materials in heaven.
There will be no temple in the new Jerusalem because the Father and the Son will be there. Christ referred to His body as a temple and the church called itself a temple of God. This may seem like a conflict with earlier visions but keep in mind each vision in the book is a separate symbolic representation of God’s presence. Now that God is dwelling with His people there is no need for a temple. The vitality, energy, and life of the city are not in institutions or physical sources of light and power. They come from the Lamb and the glory of God. The sun and moon were features of the first creation, but Jesus is the Light of the world. With the statement that the nations will walk in its light God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled. From all the nations Christ’s redeemed will enter the city in all their glory. This glory is God’s glory which is reflected in people who have repented and walk with God. The city gates are never closed because there is no night. This is in contrast to the ancient days when the city gates would be shut right at night to keep the residents safe and the enemies out. But now all the enemies of God and His people have been destroyed and there is no night. Therefore, the gates never need to be closed. Gold people will enjoy peace in His supremacy. There is no more fear or failure. There will be nothing evil or unclean there either. Evil here refers to things that are dishonest and idolatrous. Those whose names are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life will not be in the city.
John’s vision of the city also deals with God’s provision of water and food for His people. Although God originally made a garden of delight for His people, Adam and Eve, they were disobedient and lost it. Now Eden is refashioned and united to the celestial city as God’s marvelous gift for his faithful people. The river flowing with the water of life is reminiscent of the water coming from the temple in Ezekiel 47, as well as Jesus’ expression of rivers of living water in John 7:38 symbolizing the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit. And, although humans were denied access to the tree of life after they sinned it is now freely available. The tree on each side of the rivers shows that there is no wrong side of the river in heaven. The tree produces 12 crops of fruit each month, demonstrating God’s constant provision . The leaves of the tree are a healing balm for the nations. Everyone will be made whole. Ever since the first sin humanity has been cursed because of their rebellion against God. Now the rebellion, sin, and the curse are gone forever. His servants will worship Him there. Revelation gives us glimpses of authentic worship. Before sin came into the world, God went to the garden of Eden in the cool of the evening to walk with Adam and Eve. The first sin destroyed that and even Moses didn’t see the Lord’s face. Now, when all sin and evil is gone, we will see God face to face. Paul said we now see in a mirror dimly but then face to face. The human fears of death and of seeing God will be removed. God’s people will bear His name. The glory of God will shine forever, and the eternal inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will reign forever with the Lord as implied in 1:6 and stated in Daniel 7:18,27.
The rest of chapter 22 is the epilogue. There are utterances by an angel followed by a concluding plea for Christ’s return, and a closing benediction. The epilogue has a number of direct verbal connections with the introduction to the book (1:1-11) and it sums up important themes such as encouraging faithful perseverance, warning evildoers, affirming the authenticity of the prophetic message, and restating the nearness of Christ return. The visions of Revelation are meant to inform the servants of God, the believers who will serve and reign with the Lord eternally as to what could take place very soon. Everything that John records in Revelation is trustworthy and true because God who has all authority has sent the messenger. However, this does not mean the visions are easy to understand. Verse 7 brings the sixth of the beatitudes found in the Book of Revelation. The blessed here are those who are obedient. John is still awestruck at what he has seen, and he falls down at the feet of the angel who has showed all these things to him. Again, John is chastised and warned to worship only God. Instead of sealing up what he has written, John is instructed to not seal up the words because the time is near, the time of fulfillment is potentially close. Some things have been sealed, like the seven thunders, because God does not reveal everything. This is serious business here. We are encouraged to be ready when the Lord returns and if we are waiting for later, or for when we think we are closer to our end, we could well be in trouble. Eternal life is guaranteed for believers but there are no guarantees about tomorrow or even the rest of today. If we are not right with the Lord, now is the time.
Vile people who refuse to accept God’s forgiveness will continue to be vile. But John reminds the righteous to maintain their integrity. This verse (11) is a warning to evildoers. It also calls on the righteous to recognize the crucial significance of Christ’s return relative to their commitments and actions. Christ is coming soon to repay people for their actions, be they good, bad, or indifferent. Not every statement of belief is genuine, and faith will show itself in actions. We are indeed saved by grace and the power of God in Jesus Christ. Our works do not save us, but they indicate the seriousness of our confession and provide a just basis for our ultimate reward or punishment. Verse 14 brings the seventh and last beatitude. In response to the connection between actions and ultimate results, this beatitude promises acceptance for those who wash their robes. These are those who have been purified by trusting in Christ and following Him faithfully. These folks will enter the gates of the holy city and eat of the fruit from the tree of life.
Outside the city gates is a very different story. Verse 15 lists those not allowed into the city. This contrasts with those who enter in listed in verse 14. These unrepentant sinners remain outside the city, though it is unclear just where outside the city. It is yet another warning to those who do not repent that they will not be allowed to enter the city of God. The reference to sinners as dogs was a familiar Jewish designation for rejected outsiders. Jews still used this term for Gentiles in John’s day. Jesus sent the angel to bring John this message for the church. Jesus validates the message of the Book of Revelation. He is both the root and offspring of David. He is also the bright morning star which was a prophetic name for the Messiah. Come! Is a repeated invitation. The bride is the church, the Lamb’s wife, the people of God. The thirsty can drink freely from God’s provision. Verses 18-19 are a solemn declaration. John issues an oath to protect the integrity of the Book of Revelation. He declared a curse upon anyone who alters the contents of the book or message. The curse contrasts with the statement of blessing on all who read aloud, listen to, and obey the prophecy. At the time Revelation was written, scribes would sometimes alter books to suit their own viewpoint. Early Christians quickly developed their own means of authenticating both messages and messengers. Here is the promise: “I am coming soon!” The response is amen, meaning yes it shall be so. Revelation closes with a benediction similar to those in Paul’s letters. The fitting final sentence invokes the grace of the Lord Jesus, the foundation of our forgiveness and the basis of our eternal hope. Amen
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.