The New Order (Cont’d) and Wrap Up
Rev. 22 (cont'd)
The Absence of a Temple in the New Jerusalem (21:22-27)
Starting with Rev. 21:22, John turns his gaze from the exterior of the new city to the interior. What interests us first is that John does not begin by describing the contents of the inside of the new Jerusalem. Instead, he tells us what is not there: “And I saw no Temple in it for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple.” Such a city from John’s perspective would have been strange because all the major cities of John’s day featured temples dedicated to the worship of the god/goddess who favored their cities. For example, on the acropolis overlooking the city of Athens stood the Temple of Athena, goddess of Athens, while the Temple of Artemis/Diana was in a prominent position in the city of Ephesus. We have models of what Jerusalem in the time of Jesus looked like. The Temple dominated that city.
The reason no temple is found in the New Jerusalem is that the entire city itself is a Temple. When Ezekiel describes this new order (Ez. 40-46), he describes it as a new Temple. In this new city, God is not confined to one locale; rather He permeates the entire city. This thought is highlighted in v. 24 where John writes that the nations of the earth will walk “through” the light of God and the Lamb. The idea is like somebody walking through an ocean with the water completely surrounding him. Well, in this new city, God is the ocean which completely engulfs those who walk there. His presence completely fills the city.
Before describing the contents of the New Jerusalem, John again remarks on what is not found in the city. When you first read of John’s description of the exterior of the city, you come away with the impression that any and everybody may enter the city. John describes the city as having 12 gates which are always open. One of the hallmarks of today’s religions is that any and everybody is going to go to heaven: Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, even atheists. Although John claims there are in the wall 12 gates which are never closed, angels guard these gates, thereby preventing the unclean and those who practice abominations and lying from ever entering this New Jerusalem. The reason is that Jesus is the essence of the New Jerusalem. According to John—the most loving of all the disciples, only the people who have a relationship with the Father through His Son Jesus have access to eternal life, that is, to the kingdom.
We as Christians need to be on the alert here. Many Americans seem to be so excited about certain candidates for high office speaking about God all the time. Well, the truth is that as Christians our talk about God is not the same as others’ talk about God. We talk about the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ. Whenever anyone claims to believe in a God who does not have Jesus Christ as His unique and only Son, that person is not speaking about the same God we’re speaking about. We are CHRISTians, and our focus is primarily on Christ.
One final word before leaving this chapter. Notice that it says the “nations” shall walk through its light. John does not say, “Nation,” but rather, “Nations.” Plural not singular. Many Christians live lives which thoroughly contradict the principle expressed in this verse. Unless people are just like us—color, socio-economic backgrounds, intellectual prowess, etc., we want to have nothing to do with them. When I meet such people, I wonder if they are genuinely Christians since they have negated one of the dominant characteristics of heaven—all nations shall be represented there. If we cannot get along with Christians who are different from us while we live on earth, what makes us think that Christ has actually come in and changed us? If we can’t get along with other peoples while we live here on earth, then Christ probably has not come in to live in us and save us. Heaven should not be a unique experience but rather a climax of the relationships we began with both God and His people while we were on earth.
The Tree and River of Life (Rev. 22:1-5)
Next, John describes some of the contents of the New Jerusalem. In the middle of the city ran the river of Life which had its source at the throne of God and the Lamb. On either side of the River of Life stood an arbor which featured the Tree of Life. This tree produced 12 different kinds of fruit, one kind for each month of the year. Whereas the River and the fruit bestowed eternal life upon people, the leaves of the tree bestowed healing upon the nations.
So many of the elements of this city have parallels in the Garden of Eden in Gen. 1-3: the tree of life and the river which flowed in the garden. By drawing these parallels, John is portraying the New Jerusalem as Paradise restored or Eden restored. To a certain degree, the New Jerusalem is going to be everything that God had desired the first creation to be. Mankind is now going to realize all that God had intended him to be when He first created him.
Although so much of this will find fulfillment when Christ returns, the truth is that even today we can experience to a real degree the spiritual truths this passage is portraying. When John speaks about the River of Life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb in this new Temple, we immediately think of Ezekiel’s Temple which likewise features a river which flows from the center of the Temple to give life to God’s people (Ez. 47:1-5). Jesus claimed that this river in Ezekiel finds its fulfillment in Him. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests would bring water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it upon the altar in the Courtyard of the Women in the Temple complex. They claimed that this fulfilled Ez. 47; Jesus, however, on that same day, cried out: “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. As the Scripture says, ‘From His innermost being shall flow rivers of living waters.’ (John 7:37-39)” Although we shall experience this eternal life to the fullest when Jesus returns, we can to a real degree experience it right now if we are in a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, the source of eternal life.
John continues his description of the holy city by again drawing a parallel between the new city and the Garden of Eden. In Gen. 3 after the woman, man, and serpent sinned, God cursed all three. The woman would suffer in child-birth, the man would suffer in toiling the soil, while the serpent would forever crawl on his belly. From that day on, the curse has been operating throughout creation. Each and every living thing—whether animal or vegetable—meets the same curse, death. The curse goes beyond death though. How many of us live under a sentence of condemnation either self-imposed, Satan-imposed, or God-imposed? Satan tempts us to do something bad in the past and we forever feel guilty for it. How many of us have such low self-esteems because of the put-downs we experience in life? I have a sister who remembers a teacher telling her in the third grade that she and her friend would never amount to anything. Can you believe any human being would utter such a remark? If treated animals the way we treat people, the SPCA would be knocking down our doors dragging us off to prison. Yet people do make such remarks which can leave harmful scars upon us until the day we die. Well, the day is coming when the curse will be no more. No more dying and no more condemnation. Just total peace and acceptance because God is completely having His way in this new city. Note that whenever God has His way, there is no curse and condemnation; just pure acceptance and favor. (By the way, my sister now serves as the executive assistant to the president of the one of the major oil companies located in Houston, Texas.)
Finally, John concludes this passage with the promise that we shall see God’s face. This climaxes all of God’s promises. The crystal city is necessary because it provides the necessary dwelling place for resurrected humanity; however, it is not the goal. The greatest fulfillment in life is relationships—with God and with man. John brings this out by saying that we shall see God’s face. You know, whenever anybody enters our SS room, I’m not excited to see their arms or their feet or their dress or shirt. Ultimately, I couldn’t care less about such appendages. What I get happy about is seeing their face because their face is the real them. John is saying the same here. We won’t be seeing God’s cloud or His lightning; rather we shall see the real Him, that is, His face. The most wonderful relationships we experience here on earth give us only a small taste of the wonderful relationship we shall experience with our Father in the New Jerusalem.
As we come to the end of our study of Revelation, I feel like we need to tie down a lot of loose ends. Many times when people approach the Book of Revelation, they think that they are studying a book which basically describes all that the Bible has to say about the end-times. That though may simply not be true. A study of the endtimes from the Bible is like a puzzle with many pieces scattered throughout the OT and the NT. Revelation basically informs us only of the tribulation that Christians experienced 2000 years ago and a glimpse into the tribulation that future Christians will experience right before Christ returns. The role of the Christian though is only one part of the whole study. What I would like to do now is take a comprehensive look at the end-times and point you to other passages which give us more information about the future.
Is there any other example in the Bible which treats a major theme like a puzzle with pieces scattered all over it? Yes. The classic example is the prophecy of the coming of Christ in the OT. The Jews in Jesus’ day had a hard time accepting Him as the Messiah because He did not come riding into Jerusalem on a white charger driving out the Roman dogs. They had latched onto only one part of the OT witness about Jesus—the victorious Messiah and had failed to take into account the other part of the witness which portrayed Him as the Lord’s Suffering Servant. Many Christians fall into the same trap these early Jews fell into. They latch onto one part of the prophecy of the end-times (most notably Daniel) and force the rest of the Bible into that one particular element of the end-times. They either fail to take into account what Revelation says about the role of Christians in the end-times or they simply force it to be nothing more than a rehash of the Book of Daniel. Whereas Revelation harmonizes with Daniel, it does not treat the same specific subject Daniel treats—the role of the Jews in the end-times.
THE PURPOSES OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
The Bible teaches that a period of great tribulation will occur before Christ’s return—The Great Tribulation. What are the purposes of this tribulation? First, it ultimately climaxes the conflict between Christ and Satan which has been raging since the creation of the world. The Great Tribulation is not a unique event but rather the climax of the on-going struggle between Christ and Satan. In Gen. 3:15 after Eve has sinned, God declared that there would exist enmity between her children and the serpent Satan until the day one of her sons would destroy the serpent. We see this conflict occurring when the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites during the days of Moses. In fact, in many ways the story of Exodus gives us good insight into what the Great Tribulation is going to be like. Just like the Great Tribulation, the Exodus event saw God’s enemies persecuting God’s people, while God poured out great wrath upon the enemies of His people. We see this conflict again when Christ personally came to earth and took on Satan. According to John, Judas played the role of the Antichrist as he tried to destroy Jesus (see John 17:12). Paul himself claimed that whereas there was yet to be a final manifestation of the Antichrist, the spirit of the Antichrist was already operating while Paul was writing 2 Thess. (2 Thess. 2:7). The spirit of Antichrist was operating in Hitler as he attempted to destroy the Jews and those Christians who stood up to him. All these are manifestations of the struggle between Christ and Satan; however, there lies yet in the future one final conflict between the 2 which the Bible calls The Great Tribulation.
Next, the Great Tribulation gives mankind one last opportunity to repent. Throughout Revelation, we read that even though people were given a chance to repent, they did not. The reason that they did not repent is not due to God being unwilling to save them; they are so steep in sin that He has to use such drastic measures to wake them up. The reason that they do not repent is that they are so hardened. Nevertheless, the Great Tribulation exonerates God. God has shown that He will do all He can do to bring mankind to Him; the burden for their rebellion lies squarely on their shoulders.
It is also a time in which God moves upon the Jews in a dramatic way which leads many of them to come to Christ finally for salvation. Whereas some try to reduce the entire Book of Revelation to being nothing more than God dealing with the Jews, this Book does in a limited way discuss the role of the Jew in the end-times (Rev. 11:3-13). That role though is ancillary to Revelation since the book itself primarily deals with the role of the Church during that time.
EVENTS OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
At the beginning of the Great Tribulation, 2 elements occur: (1) the beginning of a campaign of persecution against Christians (4 seals—Rev. 6) and (2) the beginning of natural woes. At some point at the beginning of the tribulation, the earth is going to experience a series of natural and physical hardships. According to John, these woes will affect approximately 1/4 of the world. These natural calamities, etc., may affect only that part of the globe which persecutes Christians, or they may affect the entire world. We’ll see when it happens. The only persons not injured by these calamities are Christians (Rev. 7—the sealing of the 144,000).
Also during this time, Christians will start to suffer persecution at the hands of a world figure. (It is even possible that the Jews will play a role in this persecution if Revelation gives us a complete glimpse into the future.) The persecution of Christians may be world-wide, but then again it may not; persecution may be limited to a certain section of the world, for example, in the Middle East or Europe. Even though Christians suffer persecution, they will bear vivid witness to the resurrection of Jesus (Rev. 11:3-11).
Also at the beginning of this time of tribulation, a world figure will emerge who will promise to bring peace to the nation of Israel. He most likely will emerge from what is the remains of the Roman Empire—the European Union. He will guarantee security to Israel (Daniel 9:24-27). This world figure will show himself to be the Antichrist whenever he pronounces himself divine on the Temple mound (2 Thess. 2:3-4).
Persecution of the church intensifies, while natural and physical disasters continue to multiply (the 7 trumpets (Rev. 8-9). At one point, the Christians who are being persecuted will seem to completely lose out in their conflict with this world leader (Rev. 11:7-10); it will appear that Christian witness will completely disappear. Once more, there question remains whether or not the persecution is world-wide or local. I’m not supporting either side; I just feel like we need to keep our options open.
Sometime during this period of tribulation of the church, the Antichrist will then turn on the Jewish nation and break his treaty with them (Daniel 9:27). Persecution of the Jewish nation results. With the victorious witness of Christians towards the end of the Tribulation, a multitude of Jews turn to the Jesus for salvation (Rev. 11:13). Many Christians claim that when the Jews see Christians raptured, they will then turn to the Lord for salvation. Although that may sound logical, the truth is that idea is not found in the Bible. When you look at this a little more closely you will see how illogical this view is. I promise you that if Christians are caught up into the air before the tribulation, there are going to be a lot more people than just Jews turning to the Lord for salvation! When they see us floating in the air to meet the Lord, a lot of people are going to convert to Christianity. Rather, Revelation indicates that Jews will be impressed with the faithful witness to Christ that Christians portray in the face of hostility and that this faithful witness is what leads the Jews to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Antichrist turns on the seat of his power with the support of the European Union (Rev. 17) and begins to launch a massive assault in order to finish off all God’s people—Christians as well as the Jewish nation. This will climax in a major battle to be waged in the area of Megiddo, the battle of Armageddon. The destruction of at least that part of the world which engages in persecuting Christians reaches its climax (7 bowls of wrath). When all appears hopeless for Christians and the Jewish nation, Christ returns and destroys the Antichrist and his followers (Rev. 19:11-21).
The rapture of those who are alive and the resurrection of the dead Christians occur either during or right after the battle at Armageddon (Rev. 20: especially vv. 4-6). Although non-Christians are going to be surprised that this happens, Christians will not be since they understood all along the significance of these events (1 Thess. 5:1-5; 2 Thess. 2:1-4).
Christ ushers in the millennium, that is, His 1000-year reign. Focus will primarily be upon Jesus during this time. Christians reign with Christ during this 1000-year period. Those non-Christians who were not destroyed by either Armageddon nor the rest of the 7 bowls of wrath will enter into the millennial reign of Christ not transformed. When the NT claims that Christians will reign with Christ, some wonder if it means that Christians will reign over the non-Christians who have entered the millennium in addition to the fact that Christians will enjoy the abundant life that God has for them to enjoy. In light of Rev. 2:26-27, both options appear likely. Also during this time, Satan will be bound in the abyss (Rev. 20:1-6).
At the end of the 1000-year reign of Christ, Satan is released from the abyss. He recruits an army from the offspring of those not transformed during the millennium and launches one final assault against Christ and His people. Satan is soundly and finally defeated once and for all (Rev. 20:7-10).
The Great White Throne Judgment takes place during which time non-Christians are thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone and Christians enter into heaven with their rewards (Rev. 20:11-15). Everyone is judged on the basis of their works. Our works reveal whether or not our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. If we are sincerely Christians and have our names written in the Book of Life, then we will naturally produce good works. If not, then we will not produce good works. What kinds of rewards will we receive? Our rewards will not be material since we all will walk on streets of gold. Instead, they will most likely be spiritual. Because of their growth in Jesus Christ during this lifetime, they will have a greater capacity to experience Him than those who were not faithful to Him during this day and age. Or the rewards may be the incredible experience of hearing Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”
The earth is radically transformed to become a suitable dwelling place for the transformed people of God. Just like the resurrected body of Jesus, heaven and earth will become one. Finally, focus will primarily be on the Father in addition to the focus on the Son (Rev. 21-22).
IS THE END NEAR?
Throughout history, Christians have eagerly awaited the second coming of Christ. We read about groups of people in the 50’s selling all their possessions and awaiting atop a mountain for the Lord’s return. Late last year, groups of Christians traveled to Jerusalem where on the Mount of Olives they waited for Jesus to return on Jan. 1, 2000. Although this may sound crazy in light of the fact that Jesus said that no one—not even He—knew the hour of His return, remember that the early church expected Him to return very soon. Paul is touching on this same theme when he claimed that salvation was nearer to us than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11). John claimed that the last hour was actually upon him and the church at Ephesus because of the emergence of antichrists (1 John 2:18). Were they wrong? No, rather they were expressing the Christian hope and belief that Jesus would return during their lifetimes. Whatever else we say, we must admit that we are operating within that same hope and belief.
Many Christians today—including me—feel justified in believing though that the Lord’s return may be very soon. The reason is what is occurring in the Middle East. Although the Jews do not play the only role in the return of the Lord, the Jews and the nation of Israel do seem to have a significant role in the end-times. As was said earlier, the Antichrist is going to secure a treaty for Israel which will insure her security. If we have interpreted Dan. 9:24-27 correctly, then the Antichrist will come from the European Union because 2000 years ago people from the modern European Union were directly responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem. Well, in order for the Antichrist to insure security for the nation of Israel, there has to be a nation of Israel. It was not until 1948 that such a nation existed, having been destroyed in 70 AD. With the emergence of the nation of Israel, one of the major pieces of the end-times puzzles has been put into position.
Moreover, throughout the rest of Revelation and other OT apocalyptic literature, much of Israel’s threat comes from the East in addition to the West. The emergence of the EU takes care of the western threat, whereas the emergence of China and continued hostility from what were once ancient Persia and Assyria (Iran and Iraq) provide for the eastern threat. Israel is surrounded on all sides by enemies. Her existence in the face of such hostility can point to nothing less than God’s intervention on her behalf. In fact, when the British Prime Minister Disraeli was asked for proof of God’s existence, he pointed to the existence of the nation Jewish people. God alone can be the only explanation for their survival. The same applies to the nation of Israel.
I do not want to go any further than this with regards to determining times; however, keep constant watch regarding the nation of Israel and the treaties they are being asked to adhere to. Look at the person who creates peace between Israel and her neighbors. These I believe are vital clues in determining the end.
PASSAGES WHICH DEAL WITH THE ROLE OF THE JEWS IN THE END-TIMES
Daniel 9:24-27: the Antichrist making and breaking his treaty with the Jews
Rev. 11:3-11: Christians evangelize the Jews during the Great Tribulation which leads to the conversion of a multitude of them at the end of the Tribulation
See also Rom. 11:25-36 which predicts the salvation of Jews at the end of time.
HOW TO DETERMINE THE IDENTITY OF THE ANTICHRIST (2 Thess. 2:1-12; Rev. 13:1-18)
BEST WAY TO READ REVELATION (since some of the passages appear to be out of sequence)
Rev. 12-14: An overview of the book which describes the conflict between God and the Dragon, the conflict between the Antichrist and God’s people, the identity of the Antichrist, the ultimate victory of God’s people, the final judgment and harvesting of the world.
Rev. 1-3: Introduction to the Book and the Churches which are experiencing tribulation during John’s Day.
Rev. 4-5: God is still on His throne in spite of appearances, and He will send His Son Jesus to rescue His people and destroy the enemies of His people (in John’s day the Roman empire; in the future the final Antichrist)
Rev. 6: beginning of God’s wrath being poured out upon the enemies of God’s people (7 seals)
Rev. 7:1-8: God seals Christians so that they will not experience God’s wrath during the Great Tribulation
Rev. 8-9: God intensifies the wrath He pours out upon the earth (7 trumpets)
Rev. 10: God re-issues His commission to John to bear the good news of God’s wrath upon the enemies of His people and also salvation upon His people.
Rev. 11: God reassures His people that they are safe (measuring the Temple); a description of the dynamic witness of Christians during the time of the Great Tribulation.
Rev. 15-16: climax of God’s wrath upon His enemies (the 7 bowls of wrath)
Rev. 18:1- 19:6 and also 19:11-21: detailed description of the 6th bowl—Armageddon and the destruction of the Great Harlot. (At this point, insert 1 Thess. 4:13-18 which depicts the rapture).
Rev. 20: the 1000-year reign of Christ, the last battle, and the Great White Throne Judgment. To read the OT descriptions of the 1000-year reign of Christ and the rapture, read Ez. 36-37. Concerning the last battle between God and the forces of Gog and Magog, read Ez. 38-39.
Rev. 21-22: the New Order (at this point insert Rev. 7:9-17 and also Rev. 19:7-10). To read the OT descriptions of the New Order, read Ez. 40-48.