It may seem a little strange to start off a series on The Jesus Church with a passage like this – all about what the completed church looks like in heaven, as opposed to what it’s like now.
But that’s just the point; the church that is our model isn’t Presbyterian, Church of God, Baptist or Methodist or Roman Catholic. The church of Heaven is the church for which Jesus died! The church Jesus said he would build wasn’t built as the result of a consultation with experts, nor a popular vote on how you should do church; He built the church on the bedrock truth that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah, the Son of the Living God!
Essentially everything about this passage of Scripture is practical, helpful and totally sobering. Jesus did not pull any punches with the straight talk that he told John to write down for us.
It’s much like the mother who moved her family to a new neighborhood; she was registering her 6 year old for school. He was a hyper sort, always getting into mischief.
Mom filled out all the required information on shots, doctor, and previous school; when she came to the large open space for "COMMENTS," she simply wrote in huge block letters: BRACE YOURSELVES.
Well, brace yourselves for what the church will look like in heaven, and what we should be all about here on earth:
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.”
Just like God provided manna for the children of Israel to eat in their desert wanderings, the Lord will provide in heaven. Jesus shows John the flowing waters of a clear, crystal river meandering right through the heart of New Jerusalem, The tree of life is in the center of the city, bearing twelve different kinds of fruit, with a fresh crop each month; what a wonderful picture of our future.
If you do the math, there are twelve different kinds of fruit and a new growing season for each of the twelve months; that’s 144 different kinds of food crop. It’s my belief this is apocalyptic language, symbolic of the complete tribes of all God’s children. It picturesquely reminds us of the 144,000 witnesses (12,000 from each of 12 tribes). This is metaphorically representative of providence being plentiful for all who are God’s family.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. All disease and defect have become a distant memory of history.
In addition to all this the curse of darkness will be removed, because in the presence of the King of Glory there is brilliant and overwhelming perfect truth. While the tree and waters of life speak of the physical completion God will bring to his people, His light and truth speak of the wholeness of spirit and soul. He says it plainly – it’s all trustworthy and true!
“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.” I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!”
Throughout the New Testament Jesus’ second coming is characterized by suddenness. In parables (ten virgins, the unfaithful steward, et al), Jesus cautions his followers to stay awake and keep faithfully serving, as we don’t know the time or exactly how his return will happen.
In the scheme of things time hardly matters; God is above time and space, having created both, and having placed us within. We think in a linear fashion, looking forward to events, or remembering past events.
God isn’t hampered by that; he knows and experiences everything as present, and moves according to what is best for us. He did that when he came the first time:
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. Galatians 4:4(NLT)
And so, obedience to God’s Word and will (His Law) are undoubtedly connected to the conditions under which the completion of the church occurs. I believe this is what Paul meant about Christ’s purpose in growing a spiritually-mature church:
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:27(NLT)
The “suddenness” of His coming will find his true followers obedient!
Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”
This ought to put to rest for all of us the so-called complicated and unknowable reputation of Revelation. John is instructed to leave this prophecy UN-sealed, meaning it is open, understandable and a clear message for the churches.
So what does it mean about letting the one who does harm, and is vile [filthy] continue in it?
One author put it this way:
The word “filthy” [vile] here is, of course, used with reference to moral defilement or pollution. It refers to the sensual, the corrupt, the profane; and the meaning is, that, their condition will be fixed, and that they will remain in this state of pollution forever. There is nothing more awful than the idea that a polluted soul will be always polluted; that a heart corrupt will be always corrupt; that the defiled will be put forever beyond the possibility of being cleansed from sin.
Simply put, God draws a line. For those who continue to stay outside his will, there comes a time when those who will not obey, cross the line and cannot obey. They have knowingly and willfully put themselves beyond any hope of salvation!
It also flows in the opposite direction – those who willfully choose to obey God become more able to obey God.
This is why we are often warned against resisting God. All the prophets warned Israel to be soft towards JHWH; they rarely listened for long.
Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers. Jeremiah 7:25-26(NLT)
God is willing to forgive all sin, but we must not resist him and think his patience is unending.
I heard my mentor, Pat Giffin preach a sermon once about this. He said, There are at least two things God doesn’t know; he doesn’t know a sin too big to forgive, and he doesn’t know an unconfessed sin of any size he can forgive.
Justice, for the church will be completed when judgment of sin is accomplished.
And judgment will have its consequences:
“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.
In Scripture washing is seen as a symbol of purity and innocence. In the early centuries of the church people who were going to join the church were given a new, white robe as a sign that their sins had been forgiven.
These are the ones who are permitted to come through the outer gates of the city of New Jerusalem – those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb of God.
Isaiah said it plainly:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18(KJV)
We sing plenty of songs that proclaim the Gospel’s message that the crimson red blood of Jesus Christ, shed at Calvary’s cross is the sacrifice which takes the dark stain of sin and guilt away.
But what of those who remain in the stain? What of those who never kneel at the cross and ask for God’s forgiveness? This is where the judgment line is drawn – at heaven’s gates.
John’s revelation plainly says that, in the New Jerusalem (heaven), there are insiders and outsiders. The outsiders are a long list – those who prefer sin – wanton disobedience to God’s law. On this “hit-list” are sorcerers (dark magic), sexually immoral people, murderers, worshipers of false gods and all those who love to live a lie.
One caution here – the difference between those who qualify for the list and those who get exempted from this separation is free will. We all choose badly – all are guilty. Those who refuse the forgiveness of the cross are destined to spend eternity separated from the God they chose to ignore. Free will is like that; we are given by our Creator the privilege and responsibility to choose wisely!
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”
Here the free offer of the cross and its pathway to the living waters is repeated; it’s for anyone who will come to God in repentance and humility, willing to confess Christ as Savior. The Scripture is pretty clear about full-inclusion and full-exclusion. Scripture is complete and must not be reduced or expanded; it is intended to be obeyed.
For those who will, the image of God will be completely restored!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!