6.7 God: The Final Reality
Exposition Of Revelation 21, 22.
Mystery is a feature of false religion. To ease and
justify our natural inclination towards unbelief, we tend to take
refuge in the idea that spiritual things are a mystery.
I want us to think about the reality of God. I don't
want to repeat here what I've often said and written about the fact
that God is a personal, corporeal being; He is not an intangible
essence drifting about in space (1) .
God is real, and He should be a reality in our lives.
We should have a real concept of relationship with Him now, and
be able to look forward to a future relationship with Him.
He shouldn't be a 'black box' in our brain which we label 'God'.
The reality of God slipped away from Israel, and all that happened
to them is likely to happen to us, individually and communally.
After their return from Babylon, the Jews translated the Old Testament
into 'Targums', written in Aramaic. These chose to substitute
the phrase " the word of God" for the inspired descriptions
of God as a personal being. The following are a few
of many examples:
31:13. The Sabbath " is a sign between me and
Between my word and you" .
9:3. " God is a consuming fire."
The word of God is a consuming fire"
48:13. " My hand laid the foundation of the earth."
By my word I have founded the earth"
Early Christianity was likewise corrupted by Gnosticism, which
reflected Eastern philosophy in which spirit was regarded as essentially
good, and matter as evil. This false philosophy resulted in the
rejection of God as a material being. The idea that God is
a personal being was once clearly proclaimed as fundamental by many
Christian writers (2) .
But now it seems we place little emphasis upon this.
And as Israel made God more and more abstract, mentally distancing
themselves from Him, so we, too, can distance ourselves from the
reality of the Father.
The final chapters of Revelation describe our ultimate destiny,
and they have a lot to say about our relationship with God.
You may have noticed that most expositions of Revelation tend to
skip over these last two chapters; as we read them twice a
year, perhaps we, too, would rather gloss over them as altogether
too fantastic to get to grips with. But we are called
to high things, things which God surely wants us to at least try
to enter into.
Revelation 21 and 22: The Second Coming
The first question we need to tackle is whether the events of Rev.
21 and 22 occur at the start or finish of the Millennium.
Well, let's present the conclusion before giving the evidence:
these chapters refer to the position at the start of the Millennium.
Consider the strong evidence:
- Revelation of the situation after the Millennium would
surely be inappropriate, if not impossible, for us to receive
in this dispensation.
- The context of Revelation 21 and Revelation 22 is set
in chapter 20. The earth and heaven flee away when
Christ sits on the throne, " and there was found no place
for them" (20:11). This is almost quoting Dan.
2:35 concerning the establishment of the Kingdom(3) .
- In place of this heaven and earth, a new heaven and earth
appear in Revelation 21:1. This is the language of Isa. 65:17
and 2 Pet. 3:13 concerning the second coming.
- In this context, John sees " the bride, the Lamb's
wife" (Revelation 21:2,9). The church is only
a bride at the time of the second coming, seeing she marries Christ
at the marriage supper.
- At this time, " God shall wipe away all tears from
their eyes; and there shall be no more death" , sorrow
etc. (Revelation 21:4). The church will not be afflicted
by these things during the Millennium; this must refer to
Christ's return. Likewise the gift of the water of life (Revelation
21:6) is at the judgment at the second coming.
- The idea of former things (e.g. death, tears) passing
away in 21:4 is one of many connections in Revelation 21 and Revelation
22 with Isaiah's prophecies of the second coming (Revelation 21:4
= Isa. 60:20; 65:19; Revelation 21:25 = Isa. 60:11,20).
- Revelation 21:7 speaks of the time when the faithful
believer will receive his inheritance. This surely
refers to the judgment at the second coming (Matt. 25:34).
- Revelation 22 has a number of connections with Revelation
21 which would indicate that we are to see Revelation 22 as also
referring to the start, rather than the end, of the Millennium
(e.g. Revelation 22:14, 21:27; 2:7). " The leaves
of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation
22:2) is another obvious example.
- " They shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation
22:5) is the language of Dan. 7:18,27 concerning the judgment
at Christ's return.
The Literal Presence of God
Now I want to analyze some verses in these chapters which seem
to teach that God Himself, in person, will descend to earth with
Christ. This might sound altogether too incredible.
But think about the idea.
The King Himself (= God) comes to see the guests at the wedding
of His Son (= Jesus; Mt. 22:11). " The tabernacle of God is
with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people,
and God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Revelation
21:3). " God himself" here either means God
Himself or God manifest in Christ. Some years ago in
our community there was a tendency to over-stress the humanity of
Christ. Then the pendulum swung the other way; now,
I'd suggest, we're taking the concept of God manifestation in Christ
too far, to the point where the wonder of Christ's personality is
obscured and one almost makes Christ a puppet of the Father (4)
. " God himself shall be with them"
seems to me an odd way of describing Christ's second coming.
God will " be their God." I would just about
be willing to concede that this might apply to God manifest in Christ
- but for one significant fact: this Revelation 21:3 is packed
with O.T. allusions which explicitly refer to God the Father.
Old Testament Allusions
" The tabernacle of God" being God's people; He
being our God; God living and walking with us, is evidently
alluding to Lev. 26:11,12 and Ex. 29:45,46 concerning the ultimate
blessings of the covenant after Israel's final repentance.
The shadowy fulfilment they have had in the past through God's manifestation
in an Angel doesn't mean that these promises can and must only be
fulfilled by some form of God manifestation. Surely
Revelation 21:3 is saying that at the second coming the principle
of God manifestation will change in that God will personally be
with His people. Because we have so far lived under
the paradigm of God manifestation, let's not think that it's not
possible for God to personally be with us. Let's really
try to be broad-minded enough to take this on board.
God promised Abraham that through Christ, His seed, blessing would
come on people from all nations, with the result that God would
be the God of Abraham's multitudinous seed: " To be a
God unto...thy seed...I will be their God" (Gen. 17:7,8).
The seed is Christ, and the " God" is Yahweh.
Let's not confuse them. Now in Revelation 21:3 this
fundamental promise is alluded to; God Himself will be our
God then; we will see Him and have a personal relationship
with Him. This would mean that this idea of personally
being with God is a fundamental part of the Gospel preached to Abraham.
" God Himself" is difficult to refer to God manifestation
in Christ. Long ago John Thomas urged us to settle for the simplest
interpretation of a passage if it was supported by other verses.
The other references to " God himself" are to Yahweh personally,
rather than to Christ: Isa 45:18; Jn. 5:37; 16:27;
2 Cor. 5:18,19; Eph. 1:5. Indeed, those N.T. references
seem to point a difference between " God himself" and
Christ. So isn't it lack of spiritual vision - perhaps
even of faith - that makes us wriggle against the idea of God Himself,
in person, living with us?
The idea of God Himself dwelling with men in the tabernacle (temple)
of the new city of Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2,3) is a clear reference
to Eze. 48:35, which says that the name of Jerusalem in the Millennium
will be " Yahweh is there" . These ideas doubtless also
have reference to Yahweh's promise to David to build an eternal
house for Yahweh's Name.
Let's pause to stress something. The promises to Abraham
and David (i.e. the New Covenant) and those found in the Old Covenant,
are all alluded to here in Revelation 21:3. This would
indicate that the ultimate fulfilment of God's plan is to have a
full personal relationship with us for eternity. Now
that's something to really chew on.
The City And Temple
Revelation 21:2,3 describe a new city and temple coming down from
Heaven at the time God Himself descends. This city and
temple is evidently that of Eze. 40-48 - chapters few of us have
difficulty in understanding literally (5)
. The tabernacle, upon which the temple was based, was
a pattern, or reflection, of things in Heaven itself (Heb. 9:23),
i.e. " the temple which is in heaven" (Rev. 14:17).
The structure and furniture of the tabernacle was an " example
and shadow of heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5); " the
holy places made with hands...are the figures of the true...the
true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man" (Heb.
9:24; 8:2). For this reason we read in Revelation
about the Jewish feasts being kept in Heaven (6);
of a heavenly incense altar, holy place, most holy place, incense
etc., with the Angels acting as the priests. Thus Priests
and Angels are both called 'Elohim'. There was a clear understanding
by many Jews that the layout of the tabernacle on earth was a direct
reflection of the physical organization in Heaven (7)
It is stressed in Heb. 9:24; 8:2 that this Heavenly temple was
made by God not by human hands. The Kingdom of Christ
is symbolized as a stone cut without hands (Dan. 2:44).
Likewise Abraham looked forward to the Kingdom in terms of a city
" whose builder and maker is God" ; and God, we
are told, has prepared that city for Abraham and his seed (Heb.
11:10,16). The coming down of that city/temple from
Heaven in Revelation 21:3 is the fulfilment of Abraham's hope.
The city/temple from Heaven has foundations (Revelation 21:14),
just as Abraham expected (Heb. 11:10). Surely Abraham
was looking forward to the literal realities described in Eze. 40-48.
So I suggest that we read the account of the new city/temple coming
down with some element of literalism bout it - although, of course,
there is much symbolism too. There is no hint that the
temple of Eze. 40-48 is built by human labour; it appears
on the scene straight after the Gogian invasion and the judgment
of Eze. 37-39. If it literally descends from Heaven,
a lot of practical problems are solved (8)
Throughout Revelation 21 and 22 there is a distinction made between
God and " the Lamb" . This further suggests
that the references to " God himself" are not
to God manifestation in the Lamb, but to Yahweh Himself.
" They shall see his face; and his name shall be in their
foreheads" (Revelation 22:4) indicates that " his face"
and " his name" refer to the same being. The
Name which will be in our foreheads will be that of Yahweh, the
Father, not Christ (Rev. 3:12; 14:1). Therefore
it is His face which we will see. Of course
there is some reference here to 'seeing' in the sense of
understanding, which is how we see the Father now. But
then our fuller mental comprehension of the Father will be reflected
in our physical vision of Him. Is. 25:6-9 speaks of how God's
people will enjoy a feast in Jerusalem at the Lord's return, the
veil will be withdrawn from their eyes, all tears will be wiped
away, and then " It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is
our God...this is Yahweh" . There is a parallel between
physically seeing God and having the veil of our present incomprehension
removed. The fuller understanding which we will then have will be
reflected in our literal seeing of God.
The Son's present relationship with the Father includes physical
sight and proximity (Christ's physical relationship to the Father
is referred to in Hebrews several times). And
His present relationship will then be shared with us. Let's not
just see these relationships in purely abstract terms. Job,
in the depths of depression and intense abstraction, could look
ahead to the wonder of seeing God's face (Job 33:26 NIV).
God dwells in light (1 Tim. 6:16), and this new city will have light
from God, through Christ (Revelation 21:11,23; 22:5) - because
Yahweh Himself will be there. Perhaps some of the intensity
of that light will spread out to the surrounding world (Revelation
21:24), so that the nations call Jerusalem the place where Yahweh
is (Eze. 48:35). The utter literality of all this was perhaps emphasized
to John, when he was told: " Write: for these words are
true and faithful" (Revelation 21:5). The almost fantastical
description of God Himself wiping away all the tears that are in
(Gk.) the eyes of men...this really is true and faithful.
God And The Judgment
In the context of the judgment seat, we are told that God the Father
will be revealed then (1 Thess. 3:13; 1 Jn. 3:1,2).
That the Father will then " appear" separate
from the Son would add weight to the idea that Yahweh will physically
appear then. This is the scenario of Dan. 7:9-13 where
" the Ancient of days" sits enthroned at judgment (see
Dan. 7:9 RV), and the Son of man comes before him with the clouds
of Heaven (cp. Lk. 21:27). At the judgment, Christ will
confess the names of the faithful " before my Father"
(Matt. 10:32,33) - as if they are both there. Christ
will confess us before the Father and the Angels (Rev. 3:5), surely
alluding to Dan. 7:9-13. The Father Himself
will reward men at the judgment in the sight of others (Matt. 6:4,6).
Again, note that " the Father Himself" refers elsewhere
to God Himself. Then, at the day of judgment, we will finally come
Perhaps all this is a challenge, intellectually and spiritually.
Perhaps it's how you've always seen it. But we will
each meet the Father, our Father. He is our Father.
Elihu encouraged Job to trust God, because one day he would see
Him at the judgment (Job 35:14). Of all the endless trivia which
fills our brains now, the wonder of these things is utterly eternal.
(1) See Bible
(2) John Thomas, Phanerosis
p.25-27, 32,33; Eureka I p.95-98; Robert Roberts,
Christendom Astray p.118-121; Is There A God?
p.149; Percy White, The Doctrine Of The Trinity p.129-132;
Dawn Booklet No.1 p.12; Dawn ('Light') Bible Correspondence Course
p.12 (All available from CAT, 49 The Woodfields, South Croydon CR2
(3) Rev. 20:11 appears
to be an amplification of 20:4.
(4) Taken too far and
misunderstood, the concept of God manifestation can lead the weaker
Bible student to think there is little wrong with the 'Jesus is
God' and Trinitarian position.
(5) The objection that
God cannot live on earth amidst a mortal population is analyzed
in some depth in The Last Days Ch. 31 (2nd Ed.).
(6) This idea is clearly
developed throughout G. & R. Walker, The Revelation of Jesus
(7) See Midrash Rabba,
Numbers Vol.18.104.22.168 (Soncino Press, 1961): " The position
of the terrestrial Sanctuary corresponds with that of the heavenly
Sanctuary and the position of the ark with that of the heavenly
throne" . Likewise Leon Nemoy, ed. The Midrash on Psalms
(Yale University Press, 1959), p.386: " The sanctuary below
is the counterpart of the sanctuary above" .
(8) The differences between
Ezekiel's temple and that of Revelation 21,22 are reconciled- to
some degree- in The Last Days pp. 342-351 (2nd Ed.).