Expository Sermon on Revelation 21
Bellevue SDA Church 1/13/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the triangular “Play” button on the line below.)
Please open your Bibles to Revelation chapter 21.
While you’re turning there, I will let you know that today’s sermon is actually the last sermon in last year’s series. Most of you know that last year my Sabbath sermons, or most of them, were based on the Bible reading plan found at the back of the Andrews Study Bible. I was going to preach today’s sermon back on December 30, but then we had the opportunity to listen to Japhet De Oliveira, and I immediately seized it.
By the way, for this year’s sermon series, we’re going to look at the very words of Jesus Himself. In Matthew 28’s Great Commission, Jesus urged His disciples to go into all the world, making disciples of as many people as possible, and teaching them to observe everything He had commanded. So I figure we’d better review these things He said, so that we can not only be personally renewed by them, but we can then share them naturally and tactfully with other people as the opportunity arises.
So if you’d like to read ahead, a week from today we will be looking at the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5. And then in subsequent weeks we’ll be moving through the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, and out into the other parables and stories and pronouncements He made. We will be studying Jesus’ direct quotes.
The today’s sermon is from Revelation chapter 21. It’s called “Some Revelation Reassurances.” Back when I was in seminary, one of the teachers told us something really interesting, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned from the pulpit before.
He said, “If anyone ever asks you what the Bible is all about, here’s what you could say. The first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1 and 2) tell about God’s perfect world that once was. The last two chapters of the Bible (Revelation 21 and 22) tell about God’s perfect world which is still to come. The third chapter in from the front of the Bible, Genesis 3, tells how sin began. The third chapter in from the end of the Bible – Revelation 20 – tells how sin will finally end. In between those bookends is the story of what God is doing to save humanity.”
Well, Revelation 21 is the first of those two “perfect world which is still to come” chapters. And to me, it contains several powerful reassurances. I can find at least four of these reassurances, and I believe they can give us hope for the year ahead. And as I mention each one, I’m also going to suggest some New Year’s resolutions you and I can make in response to them.
So here in Revelation 21, let’s start right at the top, with verse one. Jesus’ disciple John is speaking. John has just shown us, in chapter 20, some pretty traumatic events, which describe how the devil and everyone who still clings to him will finally be destroyed.
But now the mood changes.
Revelation 21:1 [NKJV]: Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
What is Revelation 21’s first reassurance? If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One.
God will start everything over.
I had never really thought of it this way before, but what an amazingly loving thing this is for Him to do. By this time in the story of Revelation, of course, the righteous have been resurrected, plus those who were living when Jesus returned, so we will already have experienced “starting over.” We will have received perfect, brand-new bodies and minds.
And, in a way, this “starting over” will have already happened in the hearts of those God believes will be safe to save. Jesus promised His disciples the Holy Spirit to guide us back to Him if we are willing to follow. As you’re sitting here this morning, if you love Jesus, and if you have recognized that He is the one who can save you, and you can’t save yourself, and if you have committed your life to Him and asked Him to be your Lord and Savior, then this “starting over” has already begun within you.
And can you imagine how anxious God is for the time to come when you and I can watch Him start over with creation? Here in verse one, John not only mentions a new earth – and how badly we need one! – He also mentions a new heaven. What He’s probably talking about here is the atmospheric heaven, the air which has been so badly polluted and enfeebled.
Earlier this week I was up at Sunset Lake Camp just beyond Wilkeson, attending a pastors’ seminar. I talked with a pastoral couple who had just come to this conference. Both of them had been born here in Washington, but a few years ago they took a call to pastor three churches in South Dakota.
We talked a little bit about the weather back there. The wife told me that they had arrived in South Dakota in January. She told me that at that point she hated the weather, and the way everything was so snowy and so drab. But then she said when spring arrived, her attitude began to change. The weather warmed up, and the grass started turning green. Nature was coming alive, and you could hear birds singing again.
Maybe that’s something like it will be when God re-creates the earth. Of course, the Seattle area contains quite a bit more varied beauty than the Great Plains states. So we still have natural beauty to remind us of Eden.
But imagine watching God create a perfect world again, with every part of nature newly fine-tuned to be a delight and a nourishment for us. No more fighting animals. No more devouring locusts, no more dying crops, no more frosts and freezes which wipe out a whole season’s worth of fruit. None of that. This will be a new earth, and a new atmosphere.
Glance down at verse five. Notice how God reinforces what He said earlier.
Verse 5: Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
It’s like He is saying, “Go ahead! Write this down! Get it on record! This is true – and I’ll stand behind it!”
If you follow the news at all, you know that a good deal of the turmoil we hear about has to do with verifying, or trying to verify, whether or not something is true. If there is a paper trail, or an email trail, that helps with the verification, and if there is an audio or video version, that’s even better.
But here, God wants to make sure that there will be no question, no debate, about what He is planning. “Write this down,” He tells John. “This is true! This is going to happen! I will make everything new!s”
So now that I have been reminded that God will start everything over, what sort of New Year’s resolution should I put into practice?
One resolution I’m going to keep in mind is to remember how temporary everything is here. Do you have a nice house? It’s nothing like the place Jesus went to prepare for you. Do you have a nice car? Yesterday I heard about a driverless car which won’t even have a steering wheel! (Guess who’s never going to be a passenger in that car! Me!)
But no matter how nice your car is – even if you might eventually own one of those cars they are planning which is able to fly you from place to place – I’ll bet your car can’t levitate you straight up into the presence of a returning Savior!
Are you hoping for a successful career? Turn this matter over to the Lord, because again, things are so dreadfully fragile and temporary down here on earth. Keep in mind that God promises to restore Eden, and restore us. Let’s try to remember that the God who gave us potential and ambition for projects down here has much more exciting possibilities for our next billion years of future.
Now let’s look for this chapter’s next reassurance.
Verses 2 – 7: Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
There are a lot of reassurances in these verses I just read, but here’s the one I focused in on this week:
Not only will God start everything over, but God is planning to marry His bride.
A lot of people are concerned about whether or not God even cares for them. But God’s words here are incredibly encouraging. God doesn’t just want to be my Creator. He doesn’t just want to be my acquaintance. He doesn’t just want to be my friend. He doesn’t just want to be my close friend. He wants to be my spouse!
God of course created the human family to have this kind of close relationship with each other. And of course He is God, and we are human beings. But in order to express how much He loves us, and how close He wants to come to us, He uses the analogy of marriage. He is the groom and His faithful beloved people are His bride.
Shelley and I have told the story many times about how we got acquainted. She was teaching in a logging camp in Alaska, and I was teaching at an Adventist College in Nebraska. The assistant editor of an Adventist youth magazine we both wrote for thought it would be interesting to introduce a single teacher in Alaska to a single teacher in Nebraska. She suggested I write Shelley a letter, and on March 15, 1977, I did. We didn’t know each other, but Shelley wrote back, and I wrote her another letter, and she wrote me back another letter, and we ended up with about 50,000 words between us.
When we finally met face-to-face for the first time, on July 17 of that year, we were already friends, and we were already in love.
And that is precisely how we fall in love with God. We read His letters. Shelley and I wrote 50,000 words, but God has provided us with 750,000 words in His Bible. Some of you followed the Andrews Study Bible reading plan this past year, and some of you are planning a different way of reading the Bible this coming year. I myself am using a little Bible chapter chart, and when I read a Bible book I mark it off. Since the first of this year I’ve already read through Ezra, Nehemiah, Hosea, Joel, and Amos. And since I’ll be preparing sermons on Jesus’ words, I’ll be reading through the Gospels as well.
There is no other way to get deeply acquainted with God besides your Bible. You can look at nature and see some beauty there, but you also see cruelty and destruction, which are the results of sin. You can look at the life of a Christian friend, and you will see something of God, but you will also see an imperfect human being. You can read a book by another Christian which tries to tell you what God is like but it would be like a friend of Shelley’s writing me letters telling me what Shelley was like. I’d rather read letters from Shelley!
The bottom line, if you would like to get better acquainted with the one who calls Himself your future spiritual spouse, you need to read His letters.
Now let’s hunt for Revelation 21’s third reassurance.
Verse 8: But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Wow. Okay, where is the reassurance here?
Here’s what I came up with.
Not only will God start everything over, and not only will God marry His bride, but God will incinerate predation.
The latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives two definitions for “predation.” Here’s the first one: “The capturing of prey for food.” This refers to animal predators.
But notice the second definition: “The act of robbing, victimizing, or exploiting others.” Every one of the bad qualities mentioned in verse eight is predatory in some way.
But the thoughtful student of the Bible says, “Wait just a moment. I can think of otherwise good Bible people who had moments of cowardice, for example. What about Peter? He denied even knowing Jesus. But he’ll be in heaven, right?
“And what about the unbelieving? Wasn’t Thomas a doubter for a while? And what about murderers? Wasn’t David a murderer, and Saul who became Paul? And David could fit into the sexually immoral category as well. What about Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8? He stopped doing witchcraft, and believed in Jesus and was baptized, even though he had to learn that the Holy Spirit could not be purchased with money. And pretty much everyone in the cities where Paul and Peter and the other apostles traveled, who they converted to Christ, had originally been idolaters.”
The answer is that those predators who will eventually meet their fate are ones who have held onto these predatory qualities, and have not released them and allowed the Holy Spirit to change their hearts from within.
But isn’t it a bit shocking what God says He will do to these people who won’t let go of their predatory nature? It’s probably not shocking to those who have been victims of these predations, or who have had children or grandchildren or friends who have been victims.
You see, when God says He is going to make all things new, it means that He is going to utterly reject anything or anyone who hurts and destroys. Time is up for this kind of thing, forever. And that lake of fire, as it says in Revelation 20, is where the devil and his angels will be incinerated. And anyone who holds on to the devil’s predatory instincts, in any way, will join him there.
Did you notice the final predation in that list? It says that “all liars” shall join the rest of the predators in that fiery lake. That is the only evil in this list which has the word “all” in front of it. God didn’t say “all the cowardly” or “all the murders,” and so on. But He does say “all liars.” There are many different kinds of liars, and many different kinds of lies. But the God of whose Son is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” finds lying in any form abhorrent.
So what new year’s resolution can I adopt this year now that I know how God will deal with predators?
Well, I must not behave in any way like one of these predators. As you know, certain kinds of predatory behavior have received a bright and merciless public spotlight in recent weeks. Anything I may be doing that uses other people for my own pleasure, or exerts unfair power over people because I happen to be in authority over them, must stop.
I need to pray David’s familiar prayer in the last two verses of Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23 – 24)
As I say, there are probably many more reassurances here in Revelation 21. I’d like to close with just one more.
Verse 9: Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”
Before I mention this last reassurance, I can’t resist pausing to talk about something that really blew me away about the verse I just read. Do you notice that angel? That’s not just any angel. That’s one of the angels who had one of those seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues.
Back in Revelation chapter 16 this angel, along with six others, poured some very terrible plagues out on the earth. I’m not sure how literal or how figurative those plagues will be, but they are terrible plagues. Yet here is this angel – no plague-bowl in sight now – getting ready to act as John’s tour guide to the New Jerusalem.
You know what that says to me? (You could almost call this a “bonus reassurance,” because it wasn’t in my original list.) The fact that this angel no longer is dispensing his plague and instead is acting as a tour guide reminds me that in heaven there are no SWAT teams. Not even right now. In heaven there is no designated militia. In heaven there is no army with angels on military bases constantly on the alert for attack.
True, God is always vigilant for us. And He does give each of us at least one guardian angel. But in heaven there is no standing army, and there never will have to be. Instead, God calls on angels to do what He says to do, and then to do something entirely different such as to guide John through that vision of the holy city. Anyway, this was very interesting and encouraging to me.
But now let me tell you what I think is a good final reassurance from this chapter. Let’s read verse 10:
Verse 10: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
Here’s my last reassurance:
Not only will God start everything over, and not only will God marry His bride, and not only will God thoroughly incinerate predation, but God will bring “home” to us.
I think that if you are looking for supreme evidence that God loves us, you can look right here. Back in the Old Testament, God called Abraham to the promised land. But here, God brings the promised land – a promised city – to us. God relocates the capital of the universe to this very planet. I can almost sense the emotion in God’s voice earlier in the chapter as He continually dwells on the idea that He will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and He will be our God.
And there’s still another evidence of God’s faithfulness. Glance down at verse 12.
Verses 12 – 14: Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Do you notice the names on those gates and those foundations – the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 apostles who follow Jesus? God never forgets his friends. Each era, each generation, isn’t a throwaway generation. We are not just shoulders for the next generation to stand on. God remembers us. He cares for us. He knows us all by name.
So what’s the obvious New Year’s resolution I should make which grows from what we just read?
Here’s mine: I’m going to be ready to enter that city. This year I will do what it takes. I will ask the Lord to search my heart. I will read His love letters to me. I will pray for His Holy Spirit to change me to be more like the Savior whose words I’ll be preaching about this year.
Would you like to resolve to join me in this, this year? Let me see your hands if this is your plan.