Tonight we come to the end of the Bible in Twelve Words series. Before we can move forward we need to quickly return to the very beginning. Genesis, the first book in the Bible, sets the tone for God’s epic story with humanity.
In Genesis, God creates everything and calls it good. That includes you, me, people everywhere, plants, animals, everything. God creates it and declares it good.
After creation, God and humanity live together in the Garden. Humanity, living in community, is also living directly with God. Yet humanity messes things up when they defy God and God expels humanity from the Garden and sin — separation from God — is created.
The rest of the Bible is the story of God attempting to reconnect with humanity to once again walk in the Garden together. This brings us to tonight.
Our scripture tonight is from the Book of Revelation. This is the final book in the Bible and one that is highly symbolic. It’s not my favorite book because of how symbolic the language is. Revelation can be confusing, which is why I was thrilled to see this was the scripture for tonight. But, as Pastor Shelly told me, there’s Good News to be heard out of Revelation too. So here we are!
Let’s set the scene for Revelation. Revelation is written by the prophet John. Throughout the Bible, prophets are people who speak for God. Sometimes they receive visions of what’s to come, sometimes God gives them words to say.
John was a prophet writing to a people in a time of turmoil. They were distressed and looking for hope. We can relate to this. Our world is not perfect. Turn on the news and you’ll see dark images and signs of sadness. Hope can often be difficult to find.
Revelation includes John’s four visions depicting the final restoration of God and humanity. In the introduction to Revelation, my Bible explains that hearers of the text “are urged to share in John’s experience of the (Holy) Spirit, not only in understanding what is written but also in their Sprit-led worship of the risen one.” So let’s take a moment to experience the Holy Spirit through the symbolism of Revelation.
Our scripture for tonight is the end of John’s final vision. Leading up to this point, he’s seen the vision of a New Jerusalem. This is the place where God and humanity again walk tighter. This time, instead of a Garden, it’s a city. Tonight’s scripture describes this city:
1Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb 2through the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. 3There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always. Revelation 22:1–5 CEB
Every line of this scripture is symbolic in some way and also relates to passages throughout the Bible.
The people who received John’s Revelation would have been very familiar with the context and descriptions contained in this passage. But we’re reading it 2,000 years out of context. We aren’t as versed in the symbolism, so we’ve got to spend some time exploring its meanings and letting the Holy Spirit guide our understanding and interpretation.
This vision of New Jerusalem describes a great city where humanity and God coexist. This is not a place in heaven or on a cloud somewhere, but here on earth. New Jerusalem is the restoration of Genesis’ Garden. More importantly, with humanity no longer separated from God, sin has ceased to exist.
New Jerusalem is described as having a beautiful river of life flowing through it. This reminds me of that old children’s song, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me… makes the lame to walk and the blind to see…”. This river of life extends from God’s throne and eliminates curse — there is no more disease as everyone is healed.
The river is flanked by trees of life, which refer back to the trees in the Garden from Genesis. The Garden contained trees of life containing all the knowledge in the world. So here, New Jerusalem is described as similar to the original Garden where humanity’s needs are met. God provides for them all that is necessary to live.
The city’s people are also described as seeing God’s face and speaking his name. This would have been a huge deal for the people reading John’s Revelation. For us, we’re used to calling God many different names but for Old Testament Jews and early Christians, God was not one to name or see.
After humanity is expelled from the Garden, the Old Testament describes people being fearful of seeing God’s face. Even those who spoke with God — Moses, Noah, Abraham — did so through another medium or were forced to hide their face as God passed by. In addition, God’s name was so great that even speaking it was forbidden. Yet, here in the restored city, God is with humanity again and his face and name available to all.
The city is described as being full of bright light. Darkness doesn’t exist in this restored city. This reminds me of the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
In New Jerusalem, in the restored relationship with God, hate and darkness and violence and toughness is eliminated and all that remains is light and love and peace.
This passage is one of ultimate hope. No matter the things we’re dealing with, no matter the darkness that may seem to pervade our world, no matter what happens God ultimately wins. Darkness and sin are defeated and God’s love and light win the day.
At the beginning of the Bible God creates all things and here at the end God makes everything new again. Everything is restored.
We’re at the beginning of a new school year. It’s the perfect time to look at our own lives and explore where new life and restoration can be found.
Where is hope found in your life? Where do you find restoration?
Through John’s Revelation, we see that God restores all things. The city of light where humanity walks with God is our future, and not just after death but here on earth.
John Wesley believed that it was our responsibility as followers of Jesus to bring the Kingdom of God here to earth. He instructed people to live in a way that fulfilled Jesus’ teachings and brought restoration and hope to all.
As we move into a new school year, it’s important to look at our lives and see if we’re living in a way that welcomes others into this city of light or if we are living in a way that perpetuates separation from God. We have the ability to live in a way that brings the Kingdom of God here and now.
The Good News is God restores all things. The Good News is light will always win out over darkness. The Good News is humanity will no longer be separated from God.
We can live our lives in a way that fulfills these visions today. We can live our lives to reflect Good News. We just have to choose to do so.
Let’s choose light.
Let’s choose life.
Let’s choose love.