July 24: Revelation 21:1-8
Vintage Downtown: Connect 4 is a challenge to engage in an intentional conversation with someone who is different from you, and its running through August 14. Get more details, including the guided discussion handout, here: vintagenc.com/connect-4.
Straight up, this passage should blow our minds. The imagery is complex and bountiful, particularly because it’s not just referenced but reworked and perfected. We see not just creation but re-creation, not a rebuilding of conquered Jerusalem but a new, unearthly one descending from the heavens. And here, most especially, we see the climax and fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises to his people, the promise to dwell with them for eternity free of sin and the effects of sin, and this promise is realized not simply through God the Father, who spoke those promises to Abraham and Israel, but through the revealed Son, the servant-king, Jesus.
So that’s a bunch to cover, even with a sermon and a CG discussion helping you out. In our discussion we’ll hit some of the high notes, the defining characteristics of this kingdom, to get a sense for its nature. We tend to focus on verse 4, and rightly so. How many of us read this and think of a family member or friend we’ve lost to any manner of illness, or think of how often we sin or are sinned against and long for a different reality, or struggle to get a glimpse of hope through the tears of this life? The nature of Jesus’ perfect coming kingdom, free of death, mourning, pain, and sin, is meant to give us a massive anchor for hope through the difficulties of this earthly life.
However, the lack of sin and death isn’t the focal point of this kingdom—that monumental shift in reality is actually just a secondary benefit to being in God’s presence. God is holy, and sin cannot dwell before him, meaning there simply can’t be evil or suffering where God is. Sadly, this is the same reason Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden of Eden and the Holy of Holies in the Temple had to be closed off by a curtain; on their own, sinful humanity couldn’t be with God. So here in Revelation 21 we see that the true goal of God’s promises, and the real pinnacle of this passage, is God himself.
Track back through God’s covenant dealings with mankind and you’ll find a consistent promise throughout. This was the lost treasure of Eden, the heart of the promise to Abraham (“to be God to you,” Gen. 17:7), the unique aim of the Law and the Tabernacle (“let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst,” Exo. 25:8), and the revealed hope of the New Covenant through Jesus’ blood (Jer. 31:33): that “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”(Rev. 21:3) That phrase, “his people…their God,” is often repeated in the Bible (Exo. 29:45; Lev. 26:45; Jer. 32:38; Eze. 37:37; etc.), but here an important addition is made: God will “dwell with them” as their God. John 1:14 should leap into our minds here, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Immanuel, “God with us,” is the “reworked” and perfected version of the previous covenants; where God could only be most present with his people behind a curtain, now he will dwell with them face to face.
In discussion, we’ll try to hit how this promise draws out our emotions. We might find ourselves in any sort of state, either stirred up to worship, mourning the sin and suffering we still live with today, or suddenly aware of our apathy towards God’s presence. No matter where we find ourselves, hopefully we can receive the grace this passage has for us, that God himself is the goal and the answer for any and all states in which we find ourselves.
Finally, at the end of this text is a re-evoking of that “conquering/victorious” language that Jesus used with the seven churches (Rev. 1-3). This reminds us that we are in a battle. You are being pressed on all sides by something, whether by sin and suffering or by the allure of comfort and complacency. However, the promises of the covenant are for those who persevere—though we must be careful to speak of perseverance not as an individual effort, as if you could keep yourself from stumbling by your own effort, but as a work that is completed in you by Jesus himself (Phil. 1:6). As we’ve been looking at throughout this year, to be a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom, ultimately, is to endure suffering and persevere until the end because Jesus himself is worth it.
• Downtown: Another quick check in, does anyone want to update us on how the Connect 4 challenge is going for them?
• Could someone read Revelation 21:1-8 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• Based on this passage, what are the defining characteristics of Jesus’ coming kingdom?
• What do you think it means that God will dwell with his people?
• When you think about dwelling with God, what feelings does that stir up in you?
• Looking at verse 4, what are the “former things” in your life? How can this passage help us deal with or address those things?
• How can this passage help us know how to live between now and when this kingdom comes?