Yom Rvi'i, 26 Shevat 5777 — יוֹם רְבִיעִי כו שְׁבָט ה' תשעז Wednesday, 22 February 2017
Revelation Message

Yesterday, I performed my first funeral for the husband of Louise Bizarro. Some of you may know her; she is a Jewish Believer who came here for Rosh Hashanah and a few other times. And just last week there was the passing of Helen Berman. I think, perhaps, there are a few of us who have been thinking about eternity and heaven a bit more often these days. So I thought to speak on it tonight.

The Bible really doesn't give us a lot of information about Heaven. Rather, it gives us a lot of imagery and metaphors. But I think it makes sense that God uses those devices, because I don't think we can conceive of Heaven really. It would be like trying to explain the internet to a tribe of people living in the jungle who don't even know about electricity, much less computers. How would you begin to explain the Internet? Well, you would try to find some things that they did understand in their lives, and say, it's kind of like that. I think that is what God does for us with heaven.

I am going to speak from the Book of Revelation tonight. Now, the book of Revelation can be very controversial to interpret. And people have disagreed over all kinds of details in it. I have always appreciated what a friend of mine, David Mishkin, once said in regards to interpreting the book of Revelation. He said something to the effect, "after much careful study of the book of Revelation. I have come to the firm conclusion that God wins."

I do not mean to make light of people's study and convictions on these passages. It is important to study the bible to show oneself approved to God, rightly diving the Word of God. And it is my hope and prayer that is what we will be doing tonight. But, I am under the conviction that the main point of this passage in Revelation is what we are supposed to understand about Heaven. I think that can be understood and agreed upon by almost everybody. And that is what I am going to deal with tonight.

So tonight we are going to look at the beginning of Revelation 22 that we read, and really ask ourselves, what is being communicated to us here, what are we supposed to be seeing? I am going to divide the talk into three sections with three questions. Firstly, we are going to ask ourselves, where are we? Secondly, we are going to ask what has happened? And Thirdly, we are going to ask, who's there and how did they get there?

So again, where are we? What has happened? And who is there?

So where are we?

Let's read Revelation Chapter 22:1-5

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of god and the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yeilding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

The beginning of Chapter 22 is directly connected to chapter 21, where the new New Jerusalem has descended. If you to talk about imagery, here you have giant city descending in a wedding dress. And the pronunciation in 21:3, "the dwelling place of God is now with man, and he will dwell with them." God is now dwelling with us. Now, as we come to Chapter 22, our main text, it says there is a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne itself through the middle of the city, and there on both sides of the river, is the tree of life, Ayts Chaim.

Okay, does all this sound familiar. River, tree of life, God's dwelling with man... That's right, we are back in the Garden of Eden. As we read in Gen 2 earlier.

The river of the water of life is flowing from the throne here. This appears to be a fulfillment of so many pictures we see throughout the Scripture.

The prophet Joel speaking of the future says,

Joel 3:18 '... A fountain will flow out of the LORD's house and will water the valley of acacias.

In Zechariah 14 (vs 8-9) he describes the Lord's returns,

8On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. 9The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and His name the only name.

Here Zechariah says when the Lord comes back, there will be living water flowing out of Jerusalem, half over to the Eastern Sea, the Dead sea, and half to the Mediterranean, all year long. In Joel, it is actually flowing out of the Lord's house.

Ezekiel in his vivid description of the third temple also has some of the similar imagery and description (Chapter 47:1, 6-12):

1The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.

6He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?" Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. 9Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because the water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds-like the fish of the Great Sea. 11But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."

Ezekiel sees this water bubbling up from the temple and becoming this huge river, which flows down through the land, bringing the Dead Sea to life. In En Gedi, what is now a desert, it says it will bloom with fruit trees, and the Dead Sea with abundant fish, and there will be the spreading of nets. In verse 7, he says there are trees on both sides of the river.

Here, in Revelation 22, we have the fulfillment of these promises. All that Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah promised has come true. Now there are some issues I don't want to glaze over about the nature of the Millennium, and it may be that these prophets are referring to the temple in the Millennium, and Rev 22 is the New Heavens and New Earth. But I want you to see that for our purposes, the big picture, I don't think the distinction is important. Because they are all communicating the same thing. What is this water all about? We are not simply describing a bit of future geography.

Look closer here at one of Ezekiel's verses (Ezek. 47:9):

Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.

Wherever the river flows there is life. That is the point here. The water brings life, here it is described as the Water of life. And it flows from the Throne of God. The Dead are being brought back to life. Creation itself is being re-born. Where there were deserts, now there is greenery.

In Namibia, where Nici is from, it is almost all barren desert. You have never seen such a brown landscape. As far as the eye can see, and the car can drive, brown. Her hometown is Swakopmund, named for the Swakop River, which passes through the town. When I was there the first time, to get married, they showed me the great Swakop River; in fact I was standing in it, it was dirt, brown dirt. A drop had not flowed down it in 7 years. They said when word comes that there is actually going to be some water coming down it, the whole town excitedly gathers, and people try to help the trickle make it through the city to the ocean.

When I was there this past February, her stepfather described to me that the year before there were enormous rains all across the land, and not only did water come down the river but flowed down the river. He said the most amazing part was to see these giant brown plains of desert, suddenly come to life. They were covered in green. Beautiful and lush. Where there was no life, now there was life.

That is the picture in Zechariah and Ezekiel. Creation itself is rejoicing. Remember the trees of the field will clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12).

We live in a society that has gotten too comfortable in taming our environment. We forget the value of water. Put yourself in the shoes of Ancient Israel. No water, nothing to drink, no crops to grow, nothing for the animals to eat. No water, no life. I really doubt many people complained about rain back then; they were happy for it. Water meant life.

That is also why in Scripture God uses water as a spiritual analogy. As water brings life, so my spirit brings true life. You see it's not just that God is bringing water and life to the deserts, but it is an analogy for what God is doing in our dry and barren souls. Even the Psalmist describes his need for God in these terms.

Psa. 42:1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

And God describes his provision in these terms as well.

Is. 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

As water is poured out on a desert, so is my spirit and blessing will be poured out on your offspring.

And this imagery is all over the bible.

"With joy, I will draw from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:3)

God even describes himself as the spring of Living water.

As Jeremiah says:

Jer. 17:13 O LORD, ... Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.

Think of the way Y'shua interacted with the Samaritan at the well (John 4:13-14):

13Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

And at the great celebration of Sukkot at the water drawing ceremony (John 7:37-39):

37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit,

So, here we are in the dwelling of God, and from the Throne itself is flowing the water of life, through the land. Back in the Garden of Eden, that water split into the four rivers and flowed throughout the land, bringing life. The Garden of Eden, where God dwelled, was the source of the Life. It is wonderful to note, that it says in verse 2 of Rev 22 that the tree of life is bearing fruit every month, all year around, the same stress as in Zechariah of the water. Always available, no more seasons of drought or famine: Life will always be available; Life is eternal there.

Okay, so the creation has been reborn, and we are restored again to the Garden, that is where we are, but...

What has happened? What has happened to get us here?

Well, for me, the key part comes in verse 3. There is no longer any curse. The leaves of the tree of Life are for healing. The curse from Genesis 3, when man was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, is gone.

That is really the story of the Bible. Here, in Genesis 2 and 22, you have man in fellowship with God in paradise. Those are the bookends of the Bible. In Gen 3, Man and creation are cursed and he falls from that Paradise. The Bible is the story of how God got us back; how he redeemed us; how we would again eat from the tree of life and be with God as we were created to be.

That's the main story of the Bible. The story of redemption, or as some would see it, re-creation. That is what the choosing of the Jewish people is about; that is what the Law is about; and that is what the coming of the Messiah is about. Ultimately, when you approach any of the Bible and try to understand, make sure you stick in this broadest context. Think of the Tabernacle for example. As the book of Hebrews says,

Heb. 8:5 They (the priests) serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.

As you study the Tabernacle, that is what it is all about. Let me give you an example. There, in Genesis 3, is our first appearance of these angelic beings known as Cherubim, the guardians with the flaming swords keeping Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden after they had sinned and had been cursed. Well, do you know the next place Cherubim show up? They are to be placed on top of the ark over the mercy seat. The Holy of Holies, the ark containing God's holy standard, the Law, pictures of Eden. They are guardians of God's holiness.

Some people may get annoyed, or say, "what is the big deal about Adam and Eve eating an apple anyway." I don't buy this "fall" thing. This is a sermon in itself, but I think it is worth a couple of minutes in this context.

Adam and Eve sinned against God, essentially because they didn't believe or trust him. They believed the serpent who said God was withholding something good from them. The ultimate accusation was that God's intention towards them was not good. Remember the serpent's words (Genesis 3:4-5),

4"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

The serpent is saying God is holding back. What a twisted thought! After all, it was God who had made them, and had given them everything, set them in the Garden, was in Fellowship with them. Who doesn't care for the things they make? How could God not want what was best for them? How could Adam and Eve believe the serpent's lie? But they did, and they disobeyed God. In that moment their relationship with God was shattered.

It is the nature of relationships to be founded on trust and belief. Think of what happens to a marriage, the second you begin to entertain the thought that your spouse is lying to you or withholding something from you. The relationship itself begins to strain. Think about when you act on it. Think about when a spouse cheats, all trust is shattered, and it can never be regained. The relationship explodes, the closeness and trust is gone. Everything after that is trying to bandage the wound, but you both know the scar will never be gone, the trust will never be fully restored.

So it was in Eden. The first emotions Adam felt immediately after he took from the tree were Fear and Shame. He looks down, and sees 'I am naked', he runs to try and cover himself. Then he hears God walking in the garden, he runs and hides. He is terrified of the one who has cared and loved him. The relationship is severed. But here, all of creation was rocked. Man was put over creation by God to watch and care for it. When man broke with God, creation itself broke. God said to Adam, and to eve and to the serpent, cursed are you. Both a consequence of what they had done and a judgment.

They could not now continue to eat from the tree of life, under that curse. Because if they did they would live forever, and forever in enmity with God. That would be a heinous cruelty, so in God's mercy he removed them from the Garden of Eden and put flaming Cherubim to guard the way to the tree of Life. And as they could not eat from it, so they would die. It's incredible to think of death as merciful, but this is no world in which to live forever. We are built for eternity, but not in a world like this.

But the story of the Bible is how God has won us back.

Here, in the final chapter of the Bible, we again can eat from that tree and live forever with God. But again, this garden is really a picture of heaven.

Heaven is not some amorphous concept. It's a real place. The Garden here is a picture of that dwelling place with God. Heaven is where God makes known his presence most fully, as it says here in verse 4, "we will see his face." It is not a place in the sense that we normally think of; it is not a location with spatial boundaries. It is a real place that includes more, not less than that.

What is it really like to be in God's presence? It is difficult to know, but this much we can say: as it says in Rev 21, there's no more sorrow, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain, because the curse is gone.

Some actually fear that heaven will be a boring place with boring people doing boring things. Far from it! In Psalm 16:11 King David said, "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Time itself may be a broken concept. I don't think we will even worry about time or boredom. Think about the most incredible view of nature you have seen, the one that filled you with so much wonder that it practically hurt. Or the most moving piece of music you've ever heard, where you just wanted to close your eyes and lose yourself in the rhythm, soar with the melody, unite with the harmony. Reflect on a moment in your life when you were absolutely certain that someone you love loved you completely and without reservation. If you can relate to even one of those experiences, you know in those moments, you didn't worry about being bored, time was irrelevant. I think if you can imagine even one of these, you have a starting place to imagine a fraction of the pleasure that awaits us in heaven.

In this world we have a perpetual sense of not fitting, of not finding, of grasping after tiny tastes of joy, small samples of peace, pursuing little snatches of happiness. Those things, which seem so fleeting, now are the things that God wants us to enjoy in full, in ways we don't yet understand, throughout eternity.

Ok, so we are in heaven, and the curse has been broken,

So who is there?

Well, in v. 3, there is the throne of God and of the Lamb, and His servants are there worshiping him.

A throne is a familiar image in Scripture for God in heaven. For example: (Isaiah 66:1a) Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is My throne. . ."

When we think of a throne, we think of the seat of majesty; that place in which a ruler is present in all of his or her regalia. The throne symbolizes supreme authority. All of heaven is God's throne. There is no part of heaven that is not subject to and in agreement with God's will. As the Lord's Prayer says, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Because, right now on this earth, the Lord's will is not being done. The place is cursed and it's under the power of the evil one. Why is there suffering in the world? That is what happens in a world in rebellion to God.

You remember Jesus saying, my kingdom is not of this world, and then he talked about the ruler of this world having no power over him (Jn 14:30)?

And you remember the verse in Handel's Messiah as he quoted Revelation:

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord (and of his Christ) and he shall reign for ever and ever."

The Kingdom of this world has not been where God is King, but it will be, and that is heaven. Now who is here with God on the Throne? It says, His servants! People think it's terrible to talk of heaven and hell, and to say people will not be in heaven. But those people do not understand what heaven is. Heaven is the place where God is.

That is where his servants spend eternity with him, worshipping and serving him. If you do not want to spend eternity doing that, why would you want to go to heaven? If you want nothing to do with God here, why would you expect to suddenly have the desire to do that after you die? Hell is the place where God is not. It has been said, heaven is the place where we say to God, your will be done. And hell is the place, when God finally says to us, fine, your will be done.

The Bible is full of invitations from God to be with him. God wants everyone to be with him, to turn from their evil, to make him the Lord of their life. But God doesn't force anyone.

Throughout Scripture, God is calling to us, saying, "I want to invite you to real peace. I want to invite you to real joy. I want to invite you to a life with no fear. I want to invite you to a life with no shame. I want to invite you to leave all these things behind and fill yourself with the good things I have provided for you."

Ultimately, God will take those of us who belong to him to that place, the place where we do fulfill our ultimate meaning, our purpose, our ultimate joy, our ultimate peace.

Here in Rev. 22:17 it says: The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

And in Rev. 22:14 "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

Those who come, have their robes washed. The water is also a symbol of cleansing and purity. Cleansing of your sin, made pure and holy again to be with God.

Do I need to believe in Y'shua? Don't you see he is there, he is the Lamb. 'The throne of God and of the Lamb.' It's by his pierced hands that you can be cleansed. He is God's means of redeeming this world. If you are in heaven, you will spend eternity with Him, worshipping Him. You are not going to be in heaven and not bow your knee in adoration to Y'shua!

I hope our look at heaven tonight has helped some of you. Perhaps it has given you a better understanding of the Bible's big story, and that we can see that Heaven is not some side issue, it's the main issue. I hope we also have some better handles on what heaven is.

Death is a reality we live with now. But I believe that God wants us to anticipate heaven now. He wants us to live our lives in light of this eternity. God invites us to come, to have this hope, to even begin to experience a taste of it now. It's amazing to consider that the most blessed moments of communion with God we have right now, the most amazing moments of peace and joy are just the smallest foretaste of what God has in store for us when we will see him face to face.