Revelation 22:1-5, Paradise Regained.

1] And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  2] In the middle of its street,and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3] And there was no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  4] They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  5] There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever.  (NKJV)

These verses continue and finish the description of “the new heaven and the new earth” begun in chapter 21.  So far we’ve seen something of the New Jerusalem and of the inhabitants of the new earth.  Now we see something of the blessings of that eternal life.

In Psalm 46:4, the Psalmist wrote, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.  We believe this is a prophetic reference to “the pure river of water of life” John described in v. 1.  By the way, this river flows “out of,” not “by,” the throne, as one religious song used to put it.

However, John describes some things the Psalmist didn’t mention.  V. 2 might be translated, “Between its avenue on this side and its river on that side was the tree [or, wood] of life bearing fruit twelve times, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree [or, wood] were for the healing of the nations.”

John describes what we would call a lush, beautiful park.  The Greek word is, “paradise,” hence the title.  As in the beginning, God fellowshiped with our first parents in a park, so throughout eternity He will do so in the New Jerusalem.

The leaves of the tree are for the “healing” of the nations.  The Greek word is where we get our word, “therapy”.  I don’t understand what might be involved in that thought, but Adam and Eve ate before the Fall.  Our Lord ate in His resurrected body, though it wasn’t necessary to His well-being.  Though the saints will have glorified bodies, there will be others who, though perfect and sinless, will have ordinary physical bodies, which perhaps will need some care.  As I said, I don’t really know.

V. 3-5 gives us the reason why eternity will be perfect for God’s people:  “there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.”  Never again will the glories of Heaven be marred by the intrusion of rebellion.  “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”  Only once or twice in Biblical history have men been allowed anywhere near to the God of heaven and that was only very briefly.  Here such association will be forever.

There are records of men having been caught up into heaven and telling their stories.  I make no judgment on these stories, but after being caught up into the third heaven, Paul wrote that he heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful to utter, 2 Corinthians 12:4.  The ESV translates this, he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.   There is only one source of “heavenly things” and it’s not the minds or experiences of mere men.  Besides, these things “cannot be told.”  How could we?  What do we have in this life or world to compare?

It will be a time of continual day, with no need of artificial light, v. 5.  Cf. 21:23.  We will have the “true light,” that One who said, “Let there be light…,” Genesis 1:3.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.

We live in a time when Christians are increasingly disregarded, even despised.  In some countries, the tag is a death sentence.  Somewhere in this world, a brother or sister may be killed while you read these words.  We won’t read or hear about them because, in the world’s eyes, they’re not important, maybe even deserve to die.

The time is coming when that won’t be true:  “they shall reign forever and ever.”  The devil will not forever have his way in this world.

This verse closes our view of the future.  Vs. 6-21 deal with other things.  We only have a brief glimpse of things which must shortly take place, v. 6.  Again, we don’t believe the angel was telling John that these things would happen soon, as we’ve said elsewhere.

But…

They will happen.

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Revelation 10: The Bittersweet Word.

1] I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud.  And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.  2] He had a little book open in his hand.  And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, 3] and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.  When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices.  4] Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.”

5] The angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his hand to heaven 6] and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer, 7] but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.

8] Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.”

9] So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.”

And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”

10] Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.  But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.  11] And he said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.” 

In chs. 10 and 11, we come, as it were, to a break in the action.  The sixth angel has sounded his trumpet, but before the seventh trumpet is sounded, there are some things the Lord wants us to know about these judgments.  We are introduced to a mighty angel and a little book, vs. 1, 2.

Who is this angel?

Some believe it’s another appearance of the Lord Jesus, but the fact that this angel is another angel leads me to believe that it is not.  There are two words in the Greek language for “another.”  One word means “another of the same kind,” and the second word means “another of a different kind.”  The first word describes this angel:  he is like others “of the same kind.”  With whom may the Lord Jesus be compared?  The truth is, there is no one else to whom He can be compared.  Because of this, we believe that this angel is simply another of the mighty host who serve God.

In addition, seven thunders have something to say, vs. 3, 4, but when John is about to write down what they said, he is forbidden, v. 4.  We don’t know what they said, but that hasn’t stopped Bible teachers from trying to figure it out.  I have no idea what they said; it is the only thing in this book of “unveiling” that is still hidden.

There is something we can know, though, and that is the message of this angel.  Pay attention.  It’s very important.

The angel has an announcement about the seventh trumpet.  He says that “there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished.”

What “mystery”?

What’s this about?

I think this announcement will be the answer to the questions, “Why doesn’t God do something about evil?  Why did He permit it in the first place?”

As to why He permitted it in the first place, He hasn’t told us.  I don’t know that He ever will.  Whatever we might say about it is just uninspired speculation, finite creatures trying to understand an infinite Creator.

Romans 1:20 tells us that creation clearly reveals God’s eternal power and Godhead.  It tells us that there is a God, a very powerful and wise God.  It doesn’t tell us a lot of other things about Him, though.

Satan was one of the angels created, even before Genesis 1:1, cf. Job 38:1-7.  We don’t know how long it took, or even really why it happened, but Satan decided one day that he would be like the Most High, Isaiah 14:14.

That didn’t work out very well for him, and he, and all creation with him, learned about the justice of God.

Time passed, though we don’t know how much, and God created our earth, with two people as its sole inhabitants, not counting all the animals and lesser creatures.  And, no, we are not simply more highly-evolved “animals”.  Satan saw this happy couple fellowshipping with God, cf. Genesis 3:8, and thought, “Aha!  If I can get these two to sin like I did, God will judge them and they’ll be thrown out of His presence.”

Surprise.

God did judge them, Genesis 3:16-19, but He did something else as well.  He clothed them with coats or tunics of skin, thus foreshadowing the truth of salvation by faith in the death of a Substitute, and promised them a Redeemer one day, Genesis 3:15, though speaking to Satan and pronouncing a final judgment to come for him, cf. Hebrews 2:14.

God revealed His grace.

I don’t give these thoughts as inspired or any such thing.  They’re just my thoughts on a difficult subject.

There is coming a time, though, when perhaps not all will be made clear, but sin will most certainly and finally be taken care of once and for all.  There will be no more “delay”!  We see this in Revelation.  The “mystery” will be finished.

What about “the little book”?

We’re not told what it is, just what John was to do with it.

Like Ezekiel before him in a somewhat similar situation, Ezekiel 3:1, 2, he was to take it and eat it.

Let me make an application here.  God has given us a book, as well.  Granted, it’s not “little,” but it is His.  In His grace, He’s give it to us.  Yet how few professed Christians really read it, really digest what it says, like Ezekiel and John digested the books they were given.  How do I know that?  Just look around at the perversion and wickedness, the false teaching, that’s promoted even by many in “the church,” let alone those outside the church.  Christ has His “little flock,” Luke 12:32, to be sure, but the description of Israel in battle against the Syrians is certainly apt here:  Now the children of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, while the Syrians filled the countryside, 1 Kings 20:27. Those who oppose the Gospel “fill the countryside.”

There is something told to John about his “little book” that is applicable to our own study of Scripture:  “it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth,” v. 9.

How can that be??

As we read Scripture, we see many precious promises:

The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea, Isaiah 11:9.

Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.

Wonderful promises.

These are just three of many such promises.

But there are some “prohibitions” as well.  Revelation 20 describes the ultimate end of all those who do not know the Lord Jesus or who have rejected Him in this life:

11] Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  12] And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and the books were opened.  And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. … 13] …And they were judged, each one according to his works.  14] Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  15] And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire,  Revelation 20:11-15.

Contrary to popular thought, everyone is not headed to “a better place.”  Apart from the Lord Jesus, there is no such thing after death.  This life will be as good as it gets for those who don’t know the Lord Jesus, those who aren’t trusting His life and His death for their salvation.  We’ll have much more to say about this when we get to this point in our study.

And don’t be misled by the idea that the dead will be judged according to their works.  That does not mean that we’re saved by our works, as so many teach.  According to Isaiah 64:6, our very best, our “righteousnesses,” those good things we do, are no better in the sight of God than “filthy rags.”  That phrase describes the cloth used by a menstruating woman or by a leper to cover his sores.  Not a pretty picture, but descriptive of what our very best is when compared to the absolute purity and holiness of the Lord Jesus.

No, there is no salvation, no “better place” apart from Jesus.  It is indeed a “bitter” thought, the judgment that awaits sinners.

Oh, do you know this One who came to take the place of sinners, that One who endured the wrath of God you and I deserve?  Have you bowed before Him?  Is He your Lord and Savior?  Oh, that I had the heart of a Spurgeon, to plead with you to flee from the wrath to come!  Without Christ, eternity will be bitter beyond our ability to conceive of it.  Without Him, there will be no “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Reflections on the Death of a Sister.

A sister in Christ, that is.  I was an only child.

Her memorial service was this morning.  “Viewing” was Sunday.

The morticians did an admirable job preparing her.  Meaning no disrespect at all, I thought it was a little like fixing up a vacant house.  She doesn’t live there anymore.

But we came together to remember and honor her, not the mortal remains she left behind.

I was thankful the service wasn’t just some rote thing out of some “minister’s manual.”  It was from the heart, both the minister officiating and those who spoke of her.  There were a few tears, but there was a lot of laughter.  That’s the kind of person she was, a joy to be around, and a shining light for the glory of God in this dark world.

She was a shining example of what Paul meant when he wrote, For to me to live is Christ…, 

Jo suffered from Lupus for more than forty years, and came down with ALS just a few months before she died.  Though she was paralyzed and unable to speak at the end, yet someone’s comment during the service said to me that she had more joy in life than most of us who enjoy good health.  My wife and I visited her before she lost the ability to talk, and her cheerful demeanor and spirit blessed us more than we blessed her.  I’m sure of it.

A comment someone made while we were leaving the service struck me.  Like other comments I’ve heard over the years, it showed me how much we’ve been influenced by the thinking of the world.  This person said, “It’s good to be alive.”  My response, “Jo’s more alive now than we are.”

Another comment often heard, especially when someone is very sick:  “Well, that’s better than the alternative.”  No, it’s not, not for the Christian.  The rest of the verse from Paul quoted above is, …and to die is gain, Philippians 1:21.  There’s an interesting nuance in the original language missed in our English translations.  What Paul actually said was, “to have died is gain.”  His is the viewpoint of looking back at death and what’s on the other side of that door, not just at the door itself.

In spite of what the world wants to think, to die is not better than to live if the one dying doesn’t know the Lord Jesus as Savior.  There is no “better place” out there apart from Him.

But Jo was more than ready to go through the door, not because of her own efforts or goodness, as she herself would point out, but by the grace and mercy of God.

So, Jo, as we come to the end of the events of the day, we don’t say “goodbye.”  We just say, “Auf Wiedersehn, dear one.”  ‘Til we meet again.

Miss you.

On Approaching 75

Next year, Lord willing, I’ll be 75.

I’ve always known it was coming if the Lord let me live that long. It’s just that it struck me the other day that next year, I’ll be 75.

This is the latest in a series of what I suppose you might call epiphanies about growing up or growing old.

I have a vivid memory of my mother telling me I was getting too big for her to hold.  I don’t remember how old I was or what my reaction might have been, just that it happened.

When I was 8, for some reason I was thinking about being 21.  I have no idea why.  I was probably too young to be excited that I would be legally old enough to get drunk.  That idea has never appealed to me. It’s something I’ve never experienced. Can’t say I’ve missed it.  I’ve never understood how the morning after justified the night before.  Anyway, that was 13 years away – forever!

Several years later, I was thinking about when I was eight, and I literally and actually had to sit down at the realization that in 13 years, I would be 60!  I was 47 at the time.  That 13 years didn’t seem nearly as long as the first 13 years had seemed!

Now, next year, I’ll be 75.

Granted, that’s actually two birthdays from now, but still, it’s just next year I’ll be 75.  No big deal.  I suppose it is a landmark of sorts.  Still, it’s not nearly as “traumatic” as the idea of turning 60 had been.

A lot of time, a lot of memories.

55 years since high school.

48 years since Bible college.

43 years since I said, “I do.”

5 kids, 9 grandkids.

A lot of time, a lot of memories.

Still, in a way, it’s seems like no time at all.

James asked the question, For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away, James 4:14.  For all the years I’ve lived, in the light of eternity, they’re nothing at all.

Eternity.

Eternal life.

A magazine I get recently had the article, “So You Want to Live Forever”.

I suppose a lot of people do.  They go to great trouble and expense to have their bodies frozen and preserved in the hope that down the road someone will figure out a cure for whatever ails them, and they can be revived and cured and live happily ever after.

I don’t think I’d like to live forever in this old body.  Too many kinks and creaks…. Glasses,  hearing aids, more face to wash….  I’m not complaining,  it’s just the way it is.

Even if they could “cure” all that, there’s still what’s on the inside – not organically, but spiritually.  No pill can cure that.  I wouldn’t want to live forever with the struggle between what I’d like to be and what I am.

Though I don’t put myself on his level, Paul struggled with this.  Romans 7 bears eloquent testimony to the war that raged in his soul.  I know there are some who believe that once you’re saved, you become sinless.  For them, Romans 7 describes Paul’s pre-conversion life.  But no unsaved person can say, …I delight in the law of God according to the inward man, Romans 7:22, or, So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God. but with the flesh the law of sin, v. 25b

But there is still triumph in this melancholy chapter:  I thank God  – through Jesus  Christ our Lord, v. 25a.

And he had thoughts about this elsewhere.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  Then in 5:2, 7, he wrote, For in this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….  For we walk by faith….

“Faith.”

Faith isn’t just about the “now,” that is, what we can get out of God.  He might be pleased to make us healthy or wealthy, but that’s not the primary purpose of faith.  Just in passing, on this “wealth” thing – in America, even a poor person is “wealthy” in comparison to most of the rest of the world.  There are a lot of statistics on this, but I remember reading a post from a college student who makes about $5,000 a year.  She said this put her in the top 20% as far as the world is concerned.

$5,000.

And now there is agitation in this country [the US] for a minimum income of $30,000+ a year  [figuring the minimum wage at full-time].  *sigh*

Faith isn’t so much about the the present, though it is that, as well.  It’s about the future and when we stand before God to give an account of the years He’s given us on this earth.

And Paul wasn’t alone in this.  Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,… 

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

This is the basis, the only basis, for that “living hope” Peter referred to.  That and the death which preceded it.

You see, that spiritual struggle I wrote about earlier?  Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do anything about it.  We might be able to turn over some sort of a new leaf, but we’ll mess that one up, too.

It is faith in His death, in His payment for sin, in who He was and what He did that gives poor sinners like me any hope at all for when these 75 years, or whatever God gives me, are over.  He took a place on the Cross that I might be able to take a place in Heaven.

How I long for that day when, in the words of the old hymn, “Nothing between my soul and the Savior.”

“Nothing between” and I will be able to worship and serve Him as He deserves.

Will you join me?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,.., Acts 16:31.

…Continued

My last post, which was also the last post of 2013, was about TV shows which had been cancelled or shows which had been brought to a conclusion and so were finished. As things developed, though I was wrong, I thought that post might also be the concluding post for this blog. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of views which the blog has continued to receive, even though there has been no new post for about six weeks.  Also, I have been amazed at the number of views a particular post has received.  My post on the daughters of Zelophedad has received 50 views just this week.

That last post of 2013 mentioned three shows, not by name, that were ending, or so I thought.  We’ll still never know what happened to “A” and “B” and the show that concluded satisfactorily has still concluded satisfactorily.  However, the third show, I was surprised to discover today, has a new season on Netflix.

Thinking about all this, I decided that these shows are a little like life, not that TV ever shows anything truly life-like, especially “reality shows.”  But some things turn out satisfactorily, some things don’t, and there are “surprises” quite often, like we recently had here at home when the furnace and the hot water heater both went on the fritz at the same time. 😦

We live in an age of increasing skepticism.  Traditional, that is, Christian, beliefs and morals have largely been jettisoned.  The Bible is illegal in schools and government [at least here in the US], and we’re pretty much just circling the drain.  Even many churches don’t really believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  They’re quite willing to “dialogue” with other religions which deny or contradict Biblical teaching.

Many people deny any such thing as an “afterlife”:  “Once you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s nothing beyond the grave.”  Believing that, many people spend their lives trying to find some “meaning” to their otherwise drab lives.

In contrast to this view, the Bible clearly teaches that “…it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment,” Hebrews 9:27.  In other words, there is something beyond death and the grave.

There is some discussion among Biblical teachers about what the Bible says about judgment.  That discussion isn’t important here.  The point is, there IS judgment coming!  Revelation 20:11-15 graphically portrays it:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face earth and heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great [that is, whether famous or unknown], standing before God, and books were opened.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.  The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to their works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.  

This is not a favorite portion of Scripture.  Many people simply cannot agree with the idea that a “God of love” would do such a thing.  However, the God of Scripture isn’t the God of popular thought.  He is a God of righteousness, justice and holiness – as well as “love.”  Sin must be punished.  Sin will be punished.

One of the local TV stations has a news segment on “cold cases,” that is, crimes which have never been solved.  There are several TV shows with this as their theme – the solving of “cold cases.”  There will be no “cold cases” in eternity.  Every murder, every rape, ever crime, will finally be “solved.”  Those who have “gotten away with it” in this life, whether because they were never found or because of some legal maneuvering, will discover that they didn’t really get away with it.  Those who are guilty of gross or multiple crimes – like a Hitler or Stalin – which human justice really can’t adequately deal with, will discover that there is One who can.

We will finally find out, so to speak, what happened to “A” and “B”.

Yes, but not everybody is guilty of some crime or other.  That is true, however, we are all guilty of sin.  We may not have broken man’s law – we always drive the speed limit – but we have broken God’s law.  I doubt there’s a single person alive who would say that they have ALWAYS lived as they think they should.  If that’s true of us in our own sight, how much more is it true of us in God’s sight?

The issue in Revelation 20 isn’t whether or not one is “good” enough to make it into heaven, but whether or not one’s name is in the “Book of Life.”  Those whose names are there have repented of their sins and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They haven’t joined the church or been baptized or done a hundred of the other things men say must be done in order to be saved; they have simply rested on who the Lord Jesus was and what He did for sinners.  In short, they have “believed.”  They, and they alone, will enter heaven.

Hebrews 9:27, which we quoted above, also says, Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  In other words, He endured the punishment sinners ought to endure.  He paid the price for their sins, though He had none of His own.  Indeed, if He would have had sins of His own, He could never have paid for the sins of others.  But He lived a perfect and sinless life.  That perfect life is credited to those who believe, because we have no such perfection of our own and can never achieve it.  That is the only way we will ever “make it” into heaven.  His is the only goodness, or righteousness, that God will accept.  His is the only payment that can ever be made for sins.  We could never pay for even one of our own sins, let alone the myriad of them of which we are guilty.

Though there is much more I could say about all this, I’ll close with this.  There is a “new season” beyond the grave.  Are you ready for it?