Saving Revelation: Jerusalem’s Bride
We’re in the book of Revelation these days, streaming through this thing, talking about end- times stuff and how that’s not what the book of Revelation is primarily about. What we’re seeing is that the book of Revelation, at least the perspective I’m taking on this, is that it’s mainly about events that are happening in the first century that sets patterns throughout history. It’s primarily about first century events but it also communicates, in the context of first century events, cosmic realities and warfare that’s going on all around us so it applies to all of God’s people from the cross to the very end of history. But the last three chapters of Revelation are primarily about the end; it gives us a vision of how this whole thing wraps up, how God’s purposes for world history are consummated, and we’ll see here this morning that it’s absolutely glorious. But even this vision of the end is not just a vision about the end. It is a vision that is there; it’s beautiful but it’s there to motivate us to live right now a certain way. And it’s not just a vision that we’re supposed to be waiting for, it’s a reality that has already coming into being and it’s something that we are to partner with God in bringing about; that God’s will will be done now on earth as it is in heaven. But it’s oriented towards the end and like everything else in the book of Revelation it’s full of rich symbolism. It’s not the kind of thing you should take literally; this is an apocalyptic book and they’re always using symbols.
So for example, in the chapters that we’ll be looking at here today, chapter 21, you’ll find starting with verse 10, a bunch of numbers given for the measurements of the city. But the measurements, the numbers—remember in apocalyptic literature the numbers are never numbers or are rarely numbers; they’re usually concepts. It’s a Picasso-like symbolic way of saying something. And if you just know some of the basic things of what numbers meant to these folks you can easily figure out what John is saying. For example, just remember that 3 is the symbol of perfection and 10 is a symbol of completeness because it’s the highest number you can get to without having to start repeating numbers. A thousand stands for something that indefinitely long or indefinitely large. Four stood for comprehensiveness—they talk about the four corners of the earth and so it means it’s all-inclusive. And all the numbers you find in Revelation 21 are multiples of those numbers I just gave you. And 12 of course stands for God’s people, the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve apostles, and so most of the numbers in Revelation break down along those lines. John is communicating something in a very symbolic way and it’s powerful if you understand the symbols there.
Now the vision we’re going to be looking at today in chapter 21 centers on this city and this bride. In fact it centers on a city that is a bride and a bride that is a city; figure that one out! We’re calling this The New Jerusalem Bride, and it’s got some powerful things to teach us.
I’m just going to get through four verses today. Most of the message will be taken up with the first two verses but I’ll just read the verses and make a couple comments or a couple hundred comments as the case may be. Okay, here’s what it says in 21:1:
“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.” (NIV)
Now this new heaven and new earth—and I want to be clear that this is a renewed earth it’s not a replacement earth. It’s not like God is going to destroy this physical world and then create something brand new; it’s rather the renewed earth. It’s the same earth but in a renewed state. Some people read 2 Peter 3 where it says that God is sort of going to scorch the earth with fire, they take that to mean that God is going to incinerate this world and then create a brand new one and that [new one] will be heaven. I’ve heard people say it won’t be a physical creation like this one is, like there’s something wrong with the physical creation so they have a replacement earth. But see, fire in scripture is usually used as a metaphor for purification. It does burn up stuff, it does consume stuff, but it consumes stuff in order to salvage what God wants to salvage; it burns away what should not be there and so it’s a purifying sort of thing. Paul says that we’re all going to pass through this purifying fire. In fact in Hebrews it says that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). God is a consuming fire; it’s about the fire of his passionate love; the fire of his true character. And Paul says that on the Judgment Day when that true character is manifested we will all pass through that fire on the way to our eternal dwelling place. And he says that whatever there is about us that is built of wood or hay or straw or stubble will be burned up but whatever about us is precious stones and gold and silver and things like that, will be purified (1 Cor. 3). And now we’re fit to go into the kingdom; nothing unclean goes into the kingdom so it’s like the shower we take before we get into the kingdom. It completes the process of sanctification and discipleship. We all pass through that fire; our God is a consuming fire.
So this is good news for those who have a heart for God and bad news for those who are dead set against God and will not return and repent; they’re going to hold out to the bitter end. Wood burns up because it’s not compatible with the fire but stone is compatible with the fire so it gets purified by it. If you have a heart that is compatible with the character of God then that very character, that very love, is going to purify you. But if you are dead set against it then you’re incompatible with the reality of who God is and that is your judgment and the natural consequence of that is to be consumed. So its good news to those who are for God and it should be a word of warning to anyone who is resisting God. This is the time to yield and bend and start to make yourself compatible with that character and trust in Jesus Christ. So everything is going to be purified on the day of judgment; whatever needs to be burned up is going to be burned up and whatever can be salvaged will be salvaged and purified.
What I want us to see is that it’s the same us at the end of the fire process that is there at the beginning of the process; it’s the same us, we’re just perfected. There will be a perfected Buck Cueni-Smith in heaven but it’s still going to be me. I’ll have the same identity but it will be perfected. You probably won’t even notice a difference, really. That is a good joke isn’t it? My wife will be choking right now! But there’s a continuity there. It was the same Jesus after the resurrection as before the resurrection but he was transformed. He now had that transformed body. So we’ll be transformed; we’ll be perfected and purified but it will still be us. In the same way the earth is going to be perfected but it will be the same earth. This isn’t a replacement earth this is a renewed earth.
And then John says on this renewed earth there’s no more sea. First of all this isn’t a literal sea and secondly what it refers to is that throughout the Old Testament you find that the sea stands for forces of evil that threaten the world. They’re like the forces of chaos that want to undo creation. So you find many places in the Old Testament where God has to set boundaries to the sea or he has to rebuke the sea or the raging waters or he tramples on the sea or he divides the sea, and it’s all referring to an ancient Near Eastern way of referring to the reality that the environment of this world is hostile to us. We live in a spiritually polluted world; we’re under the domain of the principalities and powers. What we call principalities and powers they called the sea. John says there’ll be no more sea and that’s good news folks; that’s good news. No more bondage, no more hostility, no more temptations; none of the evil, the sickness, and disease that Satan brings. There will be no more sea. It’s one of the reasons why it’s going to be a renewed earth.
And then John goes on to say this in Rev. 21:2:
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (NIV)
Interesting passage; I’ve got four things to say about this. First of all notice that the bride comes down from heaven to earth. Now remember in Revelation, and I’ve said this several times in this series it’s a battle between truth and deception, right? And the victory has already been won on Calvary; the only battle that is fought is the Calvary battle. All the battles that are fought in the book of Revelation are about the truth that Calvary wins versus the lie that it doesn’t; that Babylon power wins. So it’s the truth versus deception thing here. So what’s being revealed here—remember the word apocalypse just means ‘unveiling;’ it’s all about unveiling truth in contrast to lies. Here is the unveiling of God’s bride, the unveiling of the fulfillment of God’s plan for creation. This is the unveiling of God’s victory; this is what he’s been after all along. Here it shows the beauty of the bride. What’s significant about that is the time we’re in now, the smog world we’re in now, we don’t always see the beauty of the bride. You look at me right now and despite what I just said a minute ago I don’t look like a beautiful bride. Not because I’m a man but because I don’t fully have the character of a bride who would be compatible with Jesus; he’s looking for a bride that has his character and can sit on the throne with him. The church doesn’t often look, or usually look, like a radiant bride. We’ve got all sorts of stuff on us that needs to be burned away. We still believe lies, we still have wounds that need to be healed, and there is still stuff to be done in us. But Revelation is here telling us that someday it won’t be like that. Folks, someday, someday we’re going to shine and it’s going to be beautiful. We’re going to have the radiant character of our Heavenly Groom.
I love what John says when he writes in 1 John 3:1-3; one of my favorite verses in the whole bible.
“See what great love…
It’s not just love, it’s great love.
the Father has lavished on us…
He doesn’t just sprinkle it, he lavishes it. And the effect of that is this:
that we should be called children of God!”
Because of His great love lavished on us we are called the children of God and that is what we are, John is saying. God isn’t pretending, he’s not just calling us that. No, we really are that. He goes on:
“Dear friends, now we are children of God,…
He’s got to just keep driving it home because we often forget this.
and what we will be has not yet been made known…
Look at that! We are the children of God; it just doesn’t look like it right now. It’s all concealed. We’re so far from looking like we’re going to look that we can’t even imagine what we’re going to look like. It hasn’t yet been made known. Now we’re getting a little glimpse of it here in the book of Revelation, a little glimpse of it, but it’s just a glimpse. We don’t yet conceive of what we’re going to look like when our real ‘child of Godness’, if you will, is fully manifested. But then he goes on to say this:
But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him,…
Somebody say amen!
for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (NIV)
When Christ appears, the [Greek] word there means ‘to manifest’ or ‘to unveil,’ so it’s talking about the same thing that’s going on in Revelation 21. When Christ is fully manifested we’re going to see him as he is for we shall be like him. Folks that is good news! When he fully appears—the real Jesus comes out, the smog is gone and we see the true character of God— that very character is a consuming fire and it’s going to burn up everything about us that’s not compatible with him. It’s going to burn away the sins, the scars, and the wounds. It’s going to burn away all the failings, all the guilt, all the condemnation; it’s going to burn away the cataracts in our eyes and it’s going to burn away the callouses on our hearts so now we can finally see him as he is. He’s burned away everything that’s not of his nature so that now we share his heavenly nature. We are like him and therefore we share his vision, we can see him as he truly is and now it’s clear what we truly are; we really are the children of God and it is beautiful! It is beautiful! Right now there’s a bride but it’s like she fell into a pig pen and got manure all over her but someday she’s going to take a great shower and man she’s going to smell great. Maybe it’s hard to imagine when you’re right next to her; now she stinks to high heaven but keep in mind she’s going to take a shower. Sooner or later she’s going to get cleaned up; sooner or later she’s going to look beautiful.
Why that’s good news is that this is a promise of God. If you are sincerely seeking Christ and have surrendered to Christ, the promise is that someday the stuff that plagues you now is not going to be there. The promise is that—and you maybe can’t conceive of it now—but you’re not always going to be an alcoholic; you’re not always going to have that addiction, you’re not always going to be falling into the same pit, you’re not always going to be laden with fear or condemnation or despair. You’re not always going to be carrying this stuff. Someday all the crap on us is going to get washed off, praise God; it’s going to get burned away. The wounds are going to get burned away, the sins are going to get burned away, the fears are going to get burned away, and so what it means is that when you fall—and we all fall—you get up again.
You get up again because you’ve got this promise. You’re not going to lose if only you just keep hanging on to him because he’s hanging onto you—if you’ll just keep taking baby steps in that direction. When you fall keep getting back up because someday you’re going to be free, someday the bondage will be gone, someday you’re going to shine; you really are. Maybe right now you look in a mirror and all you see is the muck you fell into but someday you’re going to shine, and if you believe that you’ll keep getting up. We sing around here all the time that ‘a saint is a sinner who got up.’ You get up and God continues his work in you but you’ve got to keep on getting up to give him a chance and you keep moving down that road, praise God. Someday we’ll see the full truth and it won’t be covered up with a bunch of deception. Someday we’ll see that God has forgiven everything, we’ll see that he’s made us whole, we’ll see that he’s redeemed us, we’ll see that he’s brought good out of every evil thing, out of every feeling, out of everything we regret, he’s brought good out of it.
But when you get up don’t just sit on your butt and wait for that future to come to you; ‘Ok, I’m just going wait for God to take [this problem, this difficulty] away.’ It doesn’t work like that. No, you get up and start moving [again] in that same direction. This vision of the end isn’t just a vision of the end; it’s a vision we’re to be bringing into reality now. And so however many times you’ve fallen you get up again and now you call out to him to help you and get people around you to help you start walking free from that. And you may fall again and you get up again but you don’t sit and wait. No, he wants us to take authority over stuff; he’s training a bride to rule, right? And the first thing we’ve got to rule is our own minds and our own hearts and our own lives and so he empowers us to do that but there’s still a role to be played. We’ve got to say yes to it and participate with it so you get up, and that’s what discipleship is all about. That’s why John says in 1 John 3:3:
“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (NIV)
Look at what it’s saying there. Because you know you’re a child of God don’t just sit around not looking like a child of God waiting for that manifestation of the end. No, this is the time to start thinking like a child of God, speaking like a child of God and acting like a child of God. He’s purified you so therefore this is the time to start moving in the purification process. You have a new holy redeemed nature so believe ‘holy redeemed nature, ’think ‘holy redeemed nature,’ speak ‘holy redeemed nature’ and start living ‘holy redeemed nature.’ And yeah, you fall in the pig pen but then you get up, get washed off, and keep on going. Alright? But incarnate now, manifest now as much of the future kingdom as possible; that’s what discipleship is all about. It’s about becoming who we know we are. It’s about becoming who we know we are destined to be. We have this marvelous promise of God. That was the first thing I wanted to say about this passage.
Here’s the second thing: notice the city-bride comes down to earth. The bride doesn’t leave earth to go to heaven; no, the city-bride comes down from heaven to earth. This is the revelation of disclosure of the true bride here on earth and this is where she stays. This is such an important point and it’s one, I think, most Christians don’t get. The reason why is that in the ancient world there are a lot of groups, a number of groups—philosophy groups and religious groups—that had a prejudice against matter. They thought matter was at least inferior, if not evil. So they thought a human being was a soul trapped in a body. The body is a bad thing. You can blame all your problems on your body. And then when you die then your soul is finally set free and you go to heaven and that’s the end of it, or sometimes you got reincarnated or whatever. But they looked down on the physical world. In fact we know that this began to creep into the church at a very early time; you even find it in 1 John when he says ‘anyone who denies that Jesus has come in the flesh is not of God.’ (1 John 4:2-3) There are people who thought God was too holy to ever participate in matter. They couldn’t believe in the incarnation so they thought Jesus was sort of a phantom. He pretended like he was human but he wasn’t really human. It’s because they had this disparaging view of matter. Unfortunately, some Christians have adopted this view and I think it’s quite widespread. Not that Jesus wasn’t incarnate, but they think that the earth is something that’s dispensable; kind of a little prelude thing that God’s going to do away with. Then we’re going to have a purely spiritual heaven; disembodied souls floating around the clouds, playing harps, wearing diapers, or whatever. But see folks, it’s just not a biblical view.
In Genesis 1 God creates the physical world and he says it’s good; he sees that it’s good; it is good! He sees human beings, physical human beings and he sees that it is good! God loves the physical world, he must love it. God loves his physical beings. God loves your body. Now maybe you don’t love your body but God loves it, at least insofar as it’s just a physical body right now. Right now it’s all corrupted, isn’t it? It’s not the way it was supposed to be. So our bodies, the physicality is good, but man they age, they get sick, they get flabby and wrinkly and achy. You get aches; I used to really know where all the aches came from but now they’re just there, you know? I don’t even need an explanation anymore; I’ve decided to ache, that’s all there is to it. They get old, you get cancer, you get diseases, eyesight starts to go, hair starts to grow where it’s not supposed to be and then you die. That’s human life.
But it’s the reality of the situation that our bodies are in this corrupted state; we’re under the bondage of principalities and powers; even nature is messed up. You have animals devouring animals, weather patterns that kill people, Ebola, aids, and a million other diseases and parasites and stuff that plague us. The creation is not the way it was supposed to be. See, right now it’s kind of miserable but that doesn’t mean matter is bad; matter is good, God loves matter, it’s just that…it’s like what’s the matter with matter, you know? It’s in a corrupted state. God’s not giving up on it; God loves your body and he wants to redeem it. God loves the earth and he wants to redeem it and someday, praise God, the promise is that someday we will have a resurrected body, an incorruptible body, a body that will not age, hallelujah! A body that will not sag, a body that will not be bulging, a body that will not be wrinkly and shriveled and going through all sorts of aches and pains because there will be no more death; that will be a good body. And the creation will be made new, hallelujah! That is why every verse in the bible that deals with the future state of God’s people puts us here on the earth. But it’s not like this earth; it’s a perfected earth where there’s no more violence.
But it’s not only going to be our home and here’s the point I want us to see: it’s going to be our kingdom because this was part of the plan from the beginning as well. And see, four times in the book of Revelation we find passages like this:
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:10, NIV)
Four times in Revelation it says that and twice in other places in the New Testament; it’s an important theme. Twice it says we’re going to reign with Christ. He’s looking for a bride that sits on the throne, so we’re going to reign on this earth. This is why this is important: this is the bookends of human history. We’re finding at the end we’ll be doing what we were told to do at the beginning. We were told in the beginning to reign on the earth; to rule over the earth and the animals and now in the book of Revelation we’re finally doing it as we sit on the throne with Christ. And this is a very important point. I know we talk about this a lot but I do it because it’s centrally important and the church hardly ever talks about this.
I want us to see how we rule; this is a main point of the book of Revelation. We’re going to be reigning on the earth but we reign in a particular way, and the way that we reign there is the way we’re supposed to be reigning here. Remember the secret of the scroll we talked about a couple weeks ago, which is really the key that unlocks all of Revelation? It’s a question of how does God rule and how does God win. What kind of power does he use? And the answer to that is that he uses lamb power. The whole book of Revelation is the disclosure of the victory of Calvary. He rules and he wins by self-sacrificial love demonstrated on Calvary. That’s the truth that confronts the lie that says Babylon power wins; domination, coercive power, violent power [wins]. [The truth is that] its lamb-like power that rules.
And so we’re reigning on the throne with Christ which means we’re going to be reigning in a lamb-like way. We’re to reign with lamb-like sacrificial love. Think about this. That means if we’re practicing this now that we are called to sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing the earth and sacrificing the animals for our own purposes, we’re to be sacrificing ourselves for them. Think about that. And this is so kingdom; you’re always hearing about how God cares for the least of these and what you do for the least of these you’re doing unto him. It’s the little things that God thinks are supremely important. We’re to be sacrificing for them. So instead of exploiting the earth and exploiting the animal kingdom, as if they’re just there to serve us and meet our needs, we’re supposed to be serving them and meeting their needs. Now if we do that there’s a reciprocal blessing that comes back; it comes back and blesses us.
But as the leaders of this earth and animal kingdom we’re to take the initiative, right? That’s what leaders do. That’s how Christ is our leader; he took the initiative in redeeming us. He came under us and he gave his life for us so we’re to be sacrificing for them and in turn they bless us. ‘Whatever you do to the least of these’ (Mt. 25:40).
And then notice this and this is the third thing I want to say: the city is adorned like a bride. How do you have a city adorned like a bride? If you take the book of Revelation literally, someone draw a picture of that. New York City is dressed up like a bride that’s fit to get married to her groom. In fact, not only is the city dressed up like a bride but the city is a bride. If you look at verse 9 of chapter 21 the angel says I want to show you a bride and then in verse 10 John turns and he sees a city. Then you have eleven verses that spell out the measurements of the city. What’s going on here? It’s like everything else in the book of Revelation; if you try to take it literally it makes absolutely no sense.
The city-bride. The city is the New Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem in the Old Testament is the City of God. It’s the place where God dwells; God’s dwelling place. And the bride, of course, is the people of God so this is just a symbol of God dwelling with and in his people and this is the eternal state that we’re going to be in. It’s the city-bride where God dwells with us and among us. This idea of the bride is very important. You find this throughout the whole bible so it’s not surprising that we find it here at the end because it’s found throughout the whole narrative of scripture. God is a god who’s portrayed as a god who wants to have a husband-like relationship with the people and so that makes us the bride. So when Jesus comes he says I am the bridegroom, the groom looking for a bride. I’m the bridegroom; I’ve come looking for a bride and that’s why the church is called the bride of Christ. God wants a marriage-like relationship with his people that’s passionate and vibrant and fulfilling where his love is replicated among us.
Now a lot of you know because we’ve taught this here before, but in ancient Judaism they had a two-fold stage to getting married. First a couple were legally married and then about a year or two later they’d have a wedding. That period is called a betrothal period and you’d have to get an official divorce to get out of it. It wasn’t like our engagements where you can just call it off; they were legally married but they didn’t consummate the marriage until they had the wedding. When they became betrothed they would have a little ceremony and a little feast but it was a foretaste of the big ceremony and the big feast that they have when they had the actual wedding. During the betrothal period the husband would usually go away and get gainful employment and build a house and do whatever was necessary to prepare for a family and the wife would usually be taken under the wings of the other wives in the village and she’d be taught how to be a first century Jewish wife. It was a time of preparation for both of them.
The church is now in this time. When you surrender your life to Christ, the way this works in the New Testament is that you have a ceremony, an initiation ceremony, and that’s what baptism is; it’s welcome to the bride, you’ve joined the bride. And we have a feast; it’s the sign of the covenant; we take communion. So when we take communion we ought to be looking forward to the time when we’re going to be sitting down to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb; it will be a major feast, but it’s a reminder of the terms of our covenant. And this is the period where Jesus goes away. He says:
If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3, NAS95)
And that’s the place he brings back here in Revelation (21:2). We don’t go up there and stay there; no, he brings it here. And during this time, and here’s the main point, we are to be making ourselves ready. This is the main thing you do in the betrothal period, you make yourself ready because that wedding is coming folks and we need to be ready. This is why we find all throughout the New Testament, about a dozen times passages that say we’re to make ourselves ready because when Jesus comes back he wants a bride that’s without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27). We find a number of passages warning us to watchful and ready because we don’t know the day or the hour (i.e., Matt. 25:13).
So this is the period where we are to be acquiring the kind of character that’s befitting the bride of Christ and the kind of character that is is the character of Christ; a bride who’s compatible with him. What it means in a nutshell folks is this: in the kingdom life discipleship is not a negotiable thing, it’s not an ancillary thing, there’s no time for coasting. If you think you’re coasting you’re actually going to be turning downward. We are always to stay hungry; hungry for more of him; hungry for more Christ-likeness. We all have areas to grow in and there’s no place where we should stop and say okay I’ve had it, I’m going to coast from here on in. No, the main point of the betrothal period is for us to be getting ourselves ready. And so discipleship— being involved in spiritual disciplines, always trying to grow—is a central thing we’re supposed to be doing now; getting ourselves ready so that when he comes he’s got a bride that’s fit for the kingdom. He doesn’t want to have to burn away a whole lot of mud. We grow in our authority as we get rid of it here and now and so discipleship is a central thing.
I also want us to notice this: the bride is a city as I said, and the city is a people group, right? The bride is the corporate whole. It’s not just you or me individually, it’s us together. It’s the togetherness of God’s people that constitutes the bride. Now it’s important for us—listen to this because some of us need to hear this: in our individual relationship with God I think it’s important to have him love you as if you were the only bride because he loves you as though you were the only bride. He loves you as much as if you were the only one he ever created. And I just get jazzed when I go to God and I can really get into that kind of love where he loves me and I don’t have to compete with anybody for his love. All of his love is towards me because he doesn’t have to spread it thin; he’s got an endless amount of it. And the same is true of you so when we sing that song, I’m God’s Favorite, that’s because we all should feel like that, alright?
So he loves you as though you’re his one and only bride but we need to understand that from a New Testament perspective the bride is the whole of us; it’s the community, it’s the togetherness of God’s people that constitutes the bride of Christ. And the reason why that is so central is because it means that the idea of an individual Christian being out there on their own, not connected to a larger body, is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. It contradicts the very concept of what it is to be a bride.
To be a follower of Jesus is to belong to a larger body. I know there are a lot of folks out there, and I’ve talked to them, who don’t have time for people; they think there are all these hypocrites and all those bothersome people who go to church. They love Jesus so they have their own private time with Jesus and listen to a podcast or watch a program and that way they can choose the kind of program or podcast they listen to and do it on their own schedule. It’s all so convenient—and they don’t have to be hassled by a bunch of people. But see, that’s religion American style. It totally fits into our consumerism and our individualism; the two hallmarks in America. You get to have it your way: when you want, how you want, who you want. There it is; tailor-made private religion. And it is easy; it is convenient. People are difficult. Anytime you get around people it’s going to be difficult. Books are a whole lot easier to get along with I’ll tell you. But I can tell you this: if it’s easy it’s not kingdom. Who said the kingdom was supposed to be easy? This is how we grow; putting up with people, learning how to deal with folks is how we get refined.
The reality folks is that we’re part of one bride and we need each other; we need each other. There’s no way we can grow the way we’re supposed to grow without one another; there’s no way we can be the bride that we’re supposed to be. I can’t see all the spots; I need somebody to be watching my back. I need somebody who’s involved in my life, who can tell me when they notice I’m starting to cool off because I won’t notice it. We all have these blind spots; we don’t notice it but we need people who care about us enough and are close enough to us who do notice it and can call it out when they see it. We need each other to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together and to look forward to our wedding ceremony. We need each other to get ready for the wedding. We need each other to be romancing our groom in corporate worship. We need people who are there when we’ve fallen down. We need people who are there when we’re messed up and confused. We need people who are there when our marriages are dying. We need people who are there when our kids are acting out. We need people who are there to celebrate the good times. We need people in our life! We’re supposed to belong to a larger body. And I’m not just talking about a weekend service. I’m talking about people who know you, who care about you, who are invested in you, and you’re invested in them. And they’re close enough to you to notice when your marriage is getting screwed up or notice when you’re starting to cool off or backslide or fallen into something or other. We need one another. No Lone Rangers in this thing.
While the husband and wife consummate their marriage by having a one-flesh relationship we consummate our marriage with God by having a one-spirit relationship. Paul says we become one spirit and so what’s happening here is God is with us and we are with God. There’s a mutual indwelling going on that mirrors the mutual indwelling of the Trinity. He’s our God, he’s our temple; his glory becomes the light that we walk by. We are in him and he is in us and this has been the goal all along. This is why Jesus became a human being, this is why the world was created, this is why Jesus died on the cross and why he rose from the dead; it’s all about acquiring a bride. From all eternity God just wanted to pour his whole self into a bride who would pour her own self into him so his love would now be replicated in his relationship to this other race and that is us.
And so folks, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have opened up their fellowship to include the bride. We’ve married into the family of God. You talk about marrying up; well we married into the family of God so all the wealth and joy and ecstasy that is true of God now becomes ours, hallelujah, and that’s the consummation of the whole program and it’s absolutely beautiful. Paul indicates in Ephesians 5 that the union of the husband and wife in the one flesh relationship is just a symbolic foretaste of the ecstasy that will be true of us when our marriage to God is consummated. The one flesh union is just a symbolic little foretaste. Now I would have been happy just to have that symbolic foretaste be the whole thing; do that for eternity sounds great to me; I can’t imagine anything better than that, but it’s actually going to be better than that! It goes beyond what the mind can imagine. Whatever has entered into the mind of a person can’t comprehend it. It will be beyond anything we can imagine.
Here the betrothal period finally has come to an end; the waiting period has come to an end. This relating to God from a distance has come to an end. Finally being under the oppression of the principalities and powers has come to an end. Finally the sin struggles have come to an end and now we see him face to face because we are like him. Now all the stuff has been burned away; the scars have been burned away, the wounds have been burned away and the sorrows have been burned away. No more heartache, no more violence, no more disease, no more destruction, no more cancer and no more weather patterns that bury people alive. We will be who we were always created to be and the world will be what it was created to be and most importantly we’ll see Christ as he truly is and it will be magnificent and it will be glorious.
The final thing I want to say about it is this: John is sharing this with the folks in the first century because they’re likely facing death, maybe martyrdom. So he gives them this picture, this vision of the end. Why that’s important is that you’ll only be able to lay down your life if you’re sure that there’s another life coming that’s better. You’ll only be able to let go of this world and all the things of this world if you know that the real show is still coming. And the more real that is to you the more willing you are to let go. I’m convinced that one of the reasons American Christians so frequently cling to stuff is that we want our best life now, we want our stuff now, we’d like our toys now. Why we have such trouble giving things away is because on some level we suspect that maybe this is all there is; we want to hedge our bets. We want our best life now and later, so it’s like just in case death ends it all at least we’ve enjoyed this time here. That’s also why so many people have trouble taking seriously Jesus’ teachings to love your enemies and not take up arms against them because this might be all there is and I want to make sure I hang onto as much as possible. But when you get a vision and believe and trust that God’s telling the truth when he gives us this vision of this glorious, unfathomable, incomprehensibly beautiful end of things; when you get a vision of that and believe in it it frees you up; it frees you to live the kingdom life.
You can only live the kingdom life where you’re giving yourself away if you believe that this life is not all there is. No, the real show gets started when you die. Only then does it become good news. If you get a vision of this it’s good news. So you don’t have to cling to anything. You don’t have to cling to stuff; you don’t have to cling to your life and the irony is when you are able to see that vision and therefore stop trying to have your best life now you start having your best life now because this is the best life. The best life is a free life, a life that’s not burdened by trying to grab onto stuff. All of our grief comes because we clutch. MINE…IT’S MINE! We’re like little kids; you can’t have it, it’s mine and I want more of it too! That’s what makes us miserable. When you die to that because you know the best thing is still coming, now you’re free and that’s when the joy starts coming; the joy of giving it away and the joy of serving others. That’s the best life now so you really do get to have your cake and eat it too, but only if you’re willing to give away the cake. Give away your cake and you’ll have your cake and eat it too!