No More Night (Revelation 21:10,22-22:5)

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Riding a motorbike at night can be a challenging experience for a few reasons. Firstly, a rider needs to see where a corner is going in order to take it well. This is difficult at night when the headlight only shows what is in front of the motorbike and not around the corner. Another challenge is that you never know what’s in the dark, beyond what you can see in the headlight. The possibility is always there that a kangaroo, wombat or something else might emerge from the darkness in front of the motorbike and cause an accident.

When I was riding my motorbike home from our District Pastors’ Conference last week along a dark country road, I gained a better understanding of why my children like to have nightlights on while they sleep. The dark can be a scary place. As both children and adults, we are naturally afraid that there might be things in the dark that can harm us. Whether they might be kangaroos jumping out from the side of the road or monsters living under the bed, we have a natural tendency to be afraid of things we can’t see but could still hurt us in some way.

A major idea which runs throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is that the dark represents the place where evil lives. I can understand why ancient people, living without the aid of electric lights of any sort, would see the dark as the place where monsters, demons or other forms of evil exist. It reflects our natural tendency to fear what we can’t see and to be afraid of the dark.

As we continue to read John’s vision of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to establish God’s home on earth, we can see that there are a number of things that are missing from the holy city. John describes how this city has no temple (21:22), no sun or moon (21:23), no night (21:25, 22:5), nothing that is impure (21:27 NIV) or evil (NLT), and no curse exists there (22:3). Each of these are significant and really deserve a message in themselves to explore their meaning properly, but what struck me as I read this passage is that John mentions that there will be no more night more than once. The vision he gives is that there will be no more darkness in the holy city because the glory of God and the light of the Lamb will be the source of its light (21:3).

In one way I’m not entirely happy with this picture of eternity. No night usually means no sleep, and, as a father of young children, I really like my sleep! This makes me wonder, then, whether John had something in mind other than a literal picture of heaven when he described this never-ending day…

If darkness in the Bible represents the place of evil and other things we can fear, then it is possible that the absence of the darkness of night in the holy city can mean that everything of which we can be afraid has been driven out by the glory of God and the light of the Lamb. Imagine what that would be like – a life where there is nothing to fear because everything that can harm us has been driven out by the light of Jesus. There will be nothing to fear anymore because the light of God’s grace, forgiveness and love will illuminate every corner, under every bed, every roadside, every place where darkness lives. In the same way that turning on a light drives darkness out of a room, the presence of God and the resurrected Jesus with his people brings light to the whole city and drives out the darkness. There is nothing to fear because everything is brought to light by the truth of the gospel. All that remains is the goodness of God given by the Holy Spirit.

At this point it is important to recognize that there are two main ways in which people interpret John’s revelation. One is that John is giving us a picture of what will happen at the end of time and the eternity we have to look forward to. However, another way of interpreting Revelation is that John is revealing to us what our current reality looks like from God’s perspective. From the first point of view, we can look forward to an eternity with God where there will be nothing left to fear because the light of God’s goodness will drive away all evil. If we take the second interpretation though, recognizing that God’s presence is with his people now through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, can these words also mean that we can find freedom from fear as the light of Christ gives light to our heats and lives right now?

Fear can stop us from living the life that Jesus gives us through faith in his resurrection and the gift of his Holy Spirit. However, like riding along a country road in the dark on my motorbike, most of the things we fear aren’t actually there. The light of Jesus, the Lamb of God, can actually illuminate our lives to show us that most of what we fear doesn’t exist, and Jesus is stronger than the darkness. He entered the darkness of this world in his crucifixion and defeated the darkness in his resurrection, showing us once and for all that we don’t need to be afraid because of his victory. Through faith in Jesus, the light of his forgiveness, grace and love drives all darkness out of our hearts and lives so there is no place left for evil to hide. We can live every day in the light of the Lamb who was slain and is risen again, and the peace which comes from faith in his goodness and grace.

More to think about:

  • Can you imagine what it would be like to live without fear in your life? Discuss with others what it might be like or write out your thoughts…
  • What is your biggest fear right now? Why are you afraid of it?
  • Does whatever you fear actually exist? Or is it the possibility of something going wrong which might not actually be there, like a kangaroo on the side of the road?
  • How might the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus help you to see what you’re afraid of differently? How might things look in the light of the forgiveness, grace, love and mercy that Jesus gives us?
  • Sometimes, shadows disappear when we get closer to the light. How might you be able to get closer to the light of Jesus so the darkness or fears you experience can be driven out?

Heaven Comes Down (Revelation 21:1-6)

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What do you think heaven will be like?

There are lots of ways people answer this question. If people believe in a life after death – and it’s important to acknowledge that an increasing number of people in our society think that there is nothing after we die – then our picture of what that life looks like can vary a lot from person to person.

When I was growing up in the church, the picture I had of heaven was a kingdom in the sky where we would be living in clouds, singing old hymns with a pipe organ in a vast heavenly choir. To be honest, as a teenager it didn’t sound like the kind of eternity I was hoping for. In fact, if heaven was singing old hymns for ever, I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to be a part of it.

Thankfully, Revelation 21:1-6 gives us a very different picture of heaven to what I had as a teenager. It tells us that in eternity ‘there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain’ (v4) because the brokenness of life in this world will be gone for ever. This is an eternity that we can all look forward to, as pain and suffering of every kind is eradicated once and for all.

What can be challenging for those of us who have grown up with the ‘heaven in the clouds’ picture of eternity is where John tells us we will spend the afterlife. Instead of being taken up to God’s kingdom in the sky, John says quite the opposite. He doesn’t see people going up into heaven. John sees heaven come down to earth.

In Revelation 21:2, John writes ‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven’ (NLT). He then goes on to tell us,

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’ (v3 NLT)

John locates our eternity on earth, not in the clouds. I understand that the Bible gives the impression of heaven being ‘up there’ in passages such as Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9) and when Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica about Jesus’ return on the last day (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). I don’t believe that these writers contradict each other because sometimes the Bible describes the same truth from different points of view. John’s perspective, as he relates his vision of eternity to us, is that God’s kingdom will descend to earth and God will establish his eternal reign, restoring the world to the way God intended it from the beginning.

In the next two chapters of Revelation, John gives us a fuller picture of what eternity will be like. If you’re interested in his vision of heaven, please read Revelation chapters 21 and 22 and let me know if there’s anything in there you would like to discuss or aren’t sure about. For now, though, I just want to focus on the idea that heaven comes down to us and what that means for us as followers of Jesus as we live a life of faith.

For some Christians who have held to a ‘kingdom in the sky’ picture of eternity, the world doesn’t matter. They can see it as a broken and evil place which God will eventually destroy. This idea of the material world being corrupt and sinful has lead people to wrongly think that we don’t need to take care of the world and we can do nothing as we wait for God to take us somewhere better. So over the course of history, some ‘Christians’ have sat around, waiting for heaven to arrive, letting the world get worse and worse.

If, however, we take the message of John’s revelation seriously that God is making all things new (v5), then we need to start looking at the world around us through different eyes. If God’s plan of salvation includes restoring all of creation to its original condition, then we have a part of play in God’s plan. Jesus announced God’s coming kingdom at the start of his public ministry (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus’ miracles were evidence that God’s coming kingdom was breaking into the world through Jesus to make things right again. Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we ask that God’s kingdom would come to us and our world (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). The coming of God’s kingdom isn’t just something that will happen at the end of time, which is the way some people read Revelation. God’s kingdom comes to us in Jesus now. He is the presence of the living God among us (Matthew 1:22,23) who makes his home with us (both John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3 use the same word when talking about God ‘tabernacling’ or dwelling with us).

While we wait for Jesus to return to establish his eternal kingdom, the heavenly city of the new Jerusalem, we have an important role to play in God’s mission to restore the world to its original condition. God’s kingdom of heaven is coming into the world right now, and one of the ways it does that is through us, the body of Christ. God is calling us to participate with him in making all things new as we live like citizens of this kingdom. In Revelation, John gives us a picture of our eternal future. As we wait for its fulfilment, God calls us to live like this is where we have our home, this is where we belong, and this is what we have to look forward to. Our job as the people of God is not to sit around, waiting for him to take us to heaven. Instead, God saves us and calls us to be citizens of the new Jerusalem, God’s presence in the world, making all things new, just like God intended life to be in Genesis 1.

How can you be part of God’s work in the world this week through what you say and do? How can you work with God in bringing his heavenly city into your homes, where you work, your schools and universities, your sporting or social groups, or wherever God might lead you? As people whose home is the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, we are part of its coming when we live now like we will live in eternity, trusting in God’s goodness and grace to us in Jesus and loving others in the same way he loves us. When we live in faith and love, we are part of God’s coming kingdom and we share in its coming reality now and for ever.

More to think about:

  • What do you think heaven will be like? Spend some time reflecting on or discussing your thoughts. If you are more artistic, you might like to draw or paint what you imagine heaven to be like…
  • What surprises you about what John sees in Revelation 21:1-6? What doesn’t seem to make sense?
  • What is similar to what you imagine heaven to be like? What is different?
  • What is you reaction to the picture of eternity being spent on a restored earth which God has made new where life will be what he intended from the beginning? What do you like about that picture? What doesn’t sit comfortably with you?
  • If this is how we can view eternity, how might it change the way you see the world around you? Is it worth restoring? Share your thoughts on why you think that…
  • If we will spend eternity in a world which God has restored to its original condition, how might you be able to work with God in making ‘all things new’… in your home & family? in your paid or unpaid work? in your relationships? in your church? in the wider community? in other ways…?

Looking Past What We See (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)

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One question in particular nagged me as I prepared my message on this text last week:

How do we ‘fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen’?

It doesn’t seem to make sense. If we cannot see something, it is out of our sight. So how are we supposed to ‘fix our eyes’ (NIV) on something when our eyes can’t perceive it in the first place?

I understand the theory behind what Paul is saying. He suffered a lot for bringing the gospel to people. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul describes what he went through for the sake of Jesus – beatings, shipwrecks, various other dangers, hunger, thirst, nakedness and more. However, through it all Paul kept his focus on the glory of eternal life God promised him through the gospel. Paul didn’t go through all of these hardships to gain eternal life. Instead, he endured them because he considered the life he had been given through faith in Jesus to be so valuable that we wanted others to share in this life. He figured that if his suffering meant life for others (v15), then it was worth it.

So he kept his focus on what he had to look forward to and it gave him perspective on what he was suffering. He believed that his difficulties and hardships would one day come to an end. When they did, and he entered into the eternal life Jesus promised him, then the life that would never end would make his suffering seem very small and light in comparison.

So I think I understand the idea. I still wonder, though, how do we keep our eyes fixed on this eternity which we cannot see?

Most of the time, our sense of reality is based on and determined by what we see. One of the basic ideas of a scientific worldview which is foundational to our culture is that for something to exist, you have to be able to see it. If you can’t see it, then you can’t be sure it exists. Which, in the world of science, I understand. However, when what we see in our lives is darkness, pain, regret, disappointment, or suffering of any kind, then that becomes our reality. Sometimes it is impossible for us to see beyond our hardships or suffering. This becomes all that is real to us, and we can’t see anything else. To a small degree, I can understand what it is like to see nothing but the problems we face. At those times, it looks like there is no way out, no future, or no hope. Life can just look dark.

It is good to remember that scientists are continually looking at things they cannot normally see. They use instruments like microscopes to look at things that are too small for the eye to detect, or telescopes that are far beyond what we can perceive with the naked eye. Even from a scientific perspective, it is possible to gaze at things we cannot see if we are using the right lenses.

Maybe the key to what understanding Paul’s words about keeping our gaze fixed on what we can’t see, then, is to view our lives or our suffering through the right lens.

For Paul, that lens was Jesus.

When he looked at his life through the lens of Jesus, Paul saw that God was with him in his suffering through his suffering Son. He also saw that God had overcome and defeated his suffering through Jesus’ resurrection. In Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we can see that God enters into our reality of suffering but also carries us through it to a better future. Like Paul, God gives us the promise of an eternal life with him where ‘will wipe every tear from (our) eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’ (Revelation 21:4 NLT). All we will experience will be love, joy and peace. This is God’s gift to us because of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for us. This is the good news that Paul dedicated his life to bring to others. This is the gospel for which Paul suffered. This is God’s promise to all who need hope.

Just like scientists look through a microscope or a telescope to gaze at what they cannot see, so Paul is encouraging us to look at our suffering, our hardships, our pain, grief, regrets or loneliness through the lens of Jesus. This doesn’t mean we dismiss or ignore the darker realities of life in this world. Instead it means we recognize that our suffering or hardships had a beginning and they will have an end. They are finite and temporary, but what God promises us in Jesus is infinite and eternal. Keeping our gaze on the glory that is ahead of us helps us to keep what we are going through now in perspective. It gives us the confidence to face each day in the hope that what we endure will not overcome us. It does not define us. It will not defeat us because Jesus has overcome the suffering of this life in his death and resurrection. He gives us an eternal future which will be good in every way, where what we suffer now will be a distant memory which pales in comparison to the glory of life with God for ever.

I understand it can hard to hear that when we’re trapped in our suffering or difficulties because we just can’t see it. We might be able to understand the theory of what Paul is saying, but living it out can seem impossible. That’s when we need the Holy Spirit to be working in our lives to give us this focus. As we remain in God’s word, the Holy Spirit can work through God’s promises and the stories of people God brought through hard times to give us faith. As we remain connected with Christian community, the body of Christ can walk with us, support us, and even carry us to give us a glimpse of what is coming. As we hear the stories of how Jesus brought God’s eternal realities into people’s lives, and when we bring the reality of God’s love, grace and hope into each other’s lives, the Spirit of the living God can lift our eyes from the hardships and difficulties we experience every day and give us a glimpse of what God has for us in the future.

So, how can we help each other fix our gaze on the goodness of God in Jesus, even when it’s really hard to see?