As a pastor, I officiate in plenty of weddings. From my pastoral vantage point, I get the best view of the ceremony. For example, I am able to see the bride as she first appears and begins to walk down the aisle. I see her in all of her bridal glory as she gazes into the eyes of the groom while he waits anxiously at the front of the church (or wedding venue, as is so often the case these days). In her stunning dress and with her emotions surging, a bride almost seems to glow with a supernatural light.
I grew up in a Christian culture that talked all the time about having a personal relationship with God. Or, more often, we would speak of our personal relationship with Christ, through whom we also had relationship with the triune God. The greatest thing about being a Christian, we believed, was having a personal relationship with Christ. Because of this, we could talk to God freely. We could love God and receive God’s love. We could be assured of God’s forgiveness. Jesus was our friend, our teacher, and our loyal companion. All of this was part of our personal relationship with God.
In the last couple of days, we’ve seen that God promises to give us an astounding inheritance. When the Lord creates the new heaven and the new earth, he will entrust us with it, much as he once did with the first heaven and the first earth. We will become co-owners of all things with God, if you will, called to steward all things for good. This is, indeed, an amazing inheritance.
In Revelation 21:7, we are promised an inheritance from the Lord. Literally, this passage says that “those who are victorious” will receive the inheritance. Those of us who remain faithful to the Lord, in spite of life’s challenges and battles, will one day share in God’s victory through Christ. We will be numbered among “those who are victorious” and will receive an astounding inheritance.
Revelation 21:7 begins by referring to “those who are victorious.” This is a clear echo of several verses in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. In each of these letters, the risen Christ identifies tests and temptations that challenge the faith of Christians in Asia Minor. Yet, if they persevere, if they are victorious in the face of such challenges, then they will receive generous blessings in the age to come.
One of the popular songs of my Sunday school experience was the classic American spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Part of what was fun about this song was the chance to add new verses easily. The standard verses – “He’s got the whole world . . . . He’s got the little bitty baby . . . . He’s got you and me, brother. . . . He’s got everybody here” – invited creative additions: “He’s got everyone at camp . . . . He’s got Mark Roberts. . . . He’s got the people of China . . . .” And so forth and so on.
During my years in Texas, I was amazed by the power of rain to renew the land. We might go for weeks or even months with very little precipitation. The grasses would turn brown. The bushes would be covered with dust. The trees would droop with thirst. The air would feel heavy and sad. Then, a series of thunderstorms would blow through the Texas Hill Country and everything would change. New green grass would sprout up. Bushes and trees were clean and vigorous. The air was fresh and filled with the scent of a world reborn.
So far, we have been prayerfully engaging with John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth as found in Revelation 21. In his vision, the holy city, that is, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven. God dwells in the city among human beings and is fully present with them. Moreover, in verse 4 we learn that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
For the most part, today’s English translations of Scripture do a wonderful job rendering the ancient languages of the Bible into readable English. But translators do not agree on some of the details. For example, when you read Revelation 21:3 in the NIV, you find the phrase, “They will be his people.” The ESV concurs, though adding a footnote: “Some manuscripts peoples.” The NRSV and the CEB prefer the plural, “[T]hey will be his peoples.” So we have a curious inconsistency. In Revelation 21:3, does the voice from the throne say “They will be his people” or “They will be his peoples.”
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that Revelation 21:3 uses camping metaphors to depict God’s dwelling with us in the future. The Greek word translated as “dwelling place” has a basic meaning of “tent.” “Dwell with them” could be more literally translated as “set up camp with them.” Of course, we’re not supposed to think that God will actually pitch a tent when he dwells with us in the age to come. Rather, as he once was present with Israel in the Tabernacle (an actual tent), so God will be truly, gloriously, and fully present with us in the new Jerusalem.