Heartfelt hope and bone-deep sobriety – Revelation 19-22

My last Scripture meditation essay (ever!) for my theology class with Dr. Bruce Ware. This time Revelation chapters 19-22.

On the one hand, the writings of these four chapters cause me to reflect upon the tremendous hope that we have in Christ. Again and again, John announces and describes that Jesus wins. And his triumph includes the full and final restoration of his elect  people and, indeed, all creation. It means the end of misery and wickedness. All human longing for justice is fulfilled at the judgment seat of Christ (20:11-14). All our longing for wholeness and love and joy are completed when Jesus returns to “make all things new” (21:5). What enduring bliss! What living hope!

Moreover, John again and again presses the astonishing truth that it is all of our Lord’s grace. Upon Jesus’ return with the new Jerusalem, he boasts, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (21:7). And again toward the end of chapter 22, John urges, “[Let] the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price” (22:17). So those who will benefit in this eschatological redemption do so not because of their religious competency and their heightened spiritual sensitivity. Rather, it is by recognizing our thirst, our bankruptcy before Jesus and freely indulging in the mercy held out to us in Christ.

Furthermore, throughout these passages Jesus is again and again referred to as “the Lamb” (19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22, 23 27; 22:1, 3). This language of course harkens back to the cross of Christ where he was slaughtered in the place of sinners. So not only does John’s writing impress upon us the costless fee to drink deep on the mercy of Christ, but John also informs us that this grace is rooted in the cross-work of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

The hope- and assurance-inducing effect of these chapters is immense. My life following Christ is not one of incessantly despairing and groaning. But we live and suffer in this present life knowing that on the horizon there is a tidal wave of justice and grace that will ultimately crash down with the coming of the Lord Christ.

On the other hand, these chapters are exceptionally sobering. Along with “making all things new”, Jesus’ return will also include him “tread[ing] the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (19:15). Numerous times John states the dreadful end of those who refuse to repent of sin and trust in Christ: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (21:8; cf. 20:14-15; 21:27; 22:15). It seems, then, impossible to escape the reality that the eschaton, along with rejoicing and shouts of acclamation, will also include weeping, moaning, and gnashing of teeth.

Even the thought of this impending doom is deafening and stifling. If the reality of hell and “eternal punishment” (Matt 25:46) does not give me deep pause, then I have not come close to perceiving the truth about it.

So Revelation 19-22 is cause for heartfelt hope and bone-deep sobriety. The hope this text breeds is cause for me to endure trials with an eye toward the end. It stirs me to await our Lord’s return with eager anticipation as justice will be established and aching will be undone. The sobriety this text creates is cause for me to flee sin, to pursue righteousness, and to hold to “the testimony of Jesus and the word of God” (20:4).

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