Meditations on “The Big Picture” 17. The End or the Beginning
Rev 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
The fact that there are various schools of theology in respect of the end times suggests that everything is not as clear as we might like to wish it to be. Time is coming to an end, the day of the material world that we know is rapidly coming to an end. History as we know it is about to be wound up. Apart from the return of Jesus again (see Acts 1:11, Mt 24:30,31, 1 Thess 4:15-17, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16) which is quite explicit, the details of what will happen at the end leave us with questions. Are some of the things figurative or literal?
The book of Revelation is almost our only source and it is prophecy which means very often the language used is figurative rather than literal. But what does it say?
- Jesus comes down and subdues his enemies (Rev 19)
- Satan is subdued for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3)
- Those who had been martyred will reign for that thousand years (Rev 20:4-6)
- At the end of that period Satan will be released to deceive and war against God’s people but his followers will be destroyed (Rev 20:7-10)
- Then will come judgment, all before the throne of God (Rev 20:11-15)
- Then comes a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-5)
- Judgment is imposed on all unbelievers (Rev 21:6-8)
- The bride of Christ (see Rev 19:7-9) is revealed as the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2,9-26)
- There is the throne of God (Rev 22:1-5) dwelling with His people
To summarise those things, Jesus is coming to wind up the world as we know it. There appears to be an interregnum, if you like, where the world continues but without Satan’s influence, then a releasing to show nothing has changed with him or with sinful mankind. This is followed by a final judgement where Satan is subdued and all created beings stand before God for an accounting. Those who have not received the Lamb go to judgement. Those who are his followers enter into a new experience, a new heaven and a new earth and they, as a people, will enjoy the Lord in their midst in a new unlimited way for eternity. Shortening it even more, the end of evil and an eternity for the followers of the Lamb in the glorious presence of God.
And that is it. The end of what is now and the beginning of the experience of eternity with the Lord. Everything has been working towards this. The whole history of the Bible has been about revealing God to His world and looking for response to Him by people. Many reject, many receive Him. Those who receive Him have an inheritance in eternity that is really beyond our understanding or explanation. Perhaps that is why it is so limited in scripture. There is a plan. There is a beginning and an end to it and yet the beginning and the end refer only to the material existence part of the plan which is limited. It is the bit we are largely concerned with today and it is the bit that takes up 99% of the Bible, and yet it is only part of existence. There is also a spiritual dimension, another existence that somehow exists without time, outside of time, beyond time, and yet an existence that can be comprehended, understood (when you are in it) and communicated.
The present material world appears massive to us, in fact beyond our imaginations even as we try to comprehend millions of galaxies, billions of light years and so on, and yet in comparison to the real existence is so limited. Solomon caught a glimpse of this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) The psalmist also caught it: “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.” (Psa 93:1,2)
There is a material world existing in time-space history and there is another dimension called eternity, and God is Lord over them both. In Proverbs, wisdom personified, revealing the Son, begotten of the Father, declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” (Prov 8:23) The son stepped from eternity into material world existence as he stood alongside the Father creating the wonder of the world that we know: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Father and Son and Holy Spirit together from ‘the beginning’ but then eternity doesn’t have a beginning.
But this is their book, this is their history, in brief sketchy outline at least, this is their account and they are in it from the beginning when “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) through to the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 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.” (Rev 22:12-14) Amen! Hallelujah!