We had the windows down, the sunroof open, and the radio off. Out of the silence, my niece asked this question: “What do you think happens when we die?” I admit to being caught off guard. I gathered my thoughts and rambled on and on for a few miles about existential possibilities, philosophical abstracts, and unproven theories about the afterlife… Glancing at my niece, in the midst of my rambling, I was convinced I’d complicated things with all my words… “Good grief!” I thought. “I broke my niece!”
The bridal and marriage imagery highlights not only the brilliance of the people of God, but also our intimate relationship with Christ, who is the Lamb. We are not just people he saved from sin. We are not just his servants. But we, as the people of God together, are the beloved bride, the cherished wife of Christ. As a wife with her husband, we are deeply unified with and intimately joined to Christ. We are in covenant relationship with him forever.
One day, I was talking with an older Christian I’ll call Dave, a man for whom I had the greatest respect. When I said something about having a personal relationship with God, Dave looked at me intensely and said, “You know, Mark, the Bible never talks about having a personal relationship with God. Nowhere in Scripture can you find that language.” I was taken aback… I was deeply troubled by what Dave had pointed out to me. I wondered: Can I actually have a 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. But there is even better news in Revelation 21:7.
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. What is this 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.
Yet God’s claim to be the Alpha and the Omega implies more than simply that God was around at the beginning of time and will be around when history is completed. By identifying himself with the first and last letters of the alphabet, God is claiming sovereignty over all things. He is not merely a transcendent observer of history. God is the Lord of history, its initiator and primary actor, its director and its ultimate end.
In this series of devotions, we’ve looked at the importance God placed on the “very good” creation that he made, the way that Christ took on flesh and lived in it, the promise of God’s redeeming all things. From beginning to end, the Bible suggests a straightforward and happy truth, that the seemingly ordinary world we spend our days in is not marginal to God’s story, but central to it. A constant thread, from Genesis to Revelation, is the narrative of God’s good creation… and where it’s headed.
For those of us who work with the “things” of this world each day, the fact that God cares about these “things” can renew our sense of our work’s purpose and value. We realize that what we do each day truly matters to God. We wonder how we can do our work in a way that gives pleasure to God and contributes to his purposes. Though we live in a world that has yet to be renewed by God, we can live in light of the renewal that is coming.
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.”