We’re looking at the end and the beginning in Revelation 17-22; the end of things as we know them and the beginning of a new world to come!
People obviously have different understandings of Revelation. Some say it’s mostly about things yet to happen. A few say it’s mostly about things already happened. We’ve understood it as describing the whole time period between Christ’s first and second time on the earth.
But these final chapters are absolutely about things yet to happen. The end and the beginning! The end of things as they are, and a beginning of a new era.
We’re going to simplify our thinking into three words: Detach, Tremble, and Yearn. For each word, I’ll give you a statement for us to chew over as we look at the text.
Detach (Revelation 17 & 18)
Our first proposition is this: If you saw this world as it truly is, you wouldn’t be so attached to it. Detach.
Chapter 17 has as many interpretations as interpreters. It’s such a messy, complicated vision that it defies simple description. I love it. It seems to me to be a perfect way to describe our messy, complicated world.
Revelation 17:9 says, “The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules. They also represent seven kings.” There’s nothing literal about any of this: It’s all symbolic, and all the symbols are lifted straight out of the Old Testament.
The vision John saw was all over the place – overwhelming.
There’s the sea – which is all the people of the earth.
Then there’s a beast – a representation of rulers, authorities, influencers, riding on the sea (the people).
On the beast is a great prostitute – desirable, alluring, but repulsive and abusive too.
She represents two images in one: Mostly, she’s the world and all its values. The kings (the beast’s heads) are in turmoil and conflict, always battling with each other, always in turmoil against the prostitute. Some kings will value liberty, some religion, some democracy, some socialism, some despotic rule. They disagree with each other, and can’t settle on why. The one thing they do agree on is their opposition to Jesus. She’s also the apostate church, a Jezebel.
Read Revelation 17:14.
And these world powers and authorities hold the entire world under their sway. Satan is pulling the evil strings. When John saw the world in this way, he was amazed. He was overwhelmed – maybe even taken in and attracted. But Read Revelation 17:6-7.
No, John: Be appalled.
The world is doomed
Revelation 18 then looks at the world, labelled Babylon, and speaks of her doom. She’s finished. Her end is certain. We’re in that world, of course.
So we’ll be called out of it: Read Revelation 18:4. Reminiscent of Jeremiah 51:6 calling God’s people out of Babylon before that nation fell under judgment.
The world has her pleasures and indulges in them. But a time is coming when she will be destroyed.
When you read parts of chapter 18 it almost sounds like a shame: Read Revelation 18:21-23.
- What about all that loss of culture?
- What about that loss of humanity?
- Are are we being like John, amazed at what we see but not seeing it truly, as God sees it.
What is the world really like? Does it deserve to be wiped away? Read Revelation 18:24.
Years ago we got two cats from a rescue centre in a place in Wales. It was all very rural. The yard to the area where the cats were kept was covered in muck. You couldn’t avoid it. To get to the cats, you’d have muck on your shoes. You have to ignore it and walk on. Here’s the point: You’ve spent so long walking through the muck of this world you don’t see it, or smell it. You can’t avoid it, and you’re in it.
But this world kills Christians because they’re Christians. It freely sheds blood to acquire land. It kills unborn children for convenience. This world cares nothing for you, for God, for love.
So: If you saw this world as it truly is, you wouldn’t be so attached to it. Detach.
Tremble (Revelation 19 & 20)
Our second proposition: If you truly grasped the certainty and finality of Jesus’ impending victory, you’d tremble either with fear or excitement.
To begin with, read Revelation 19:1-2.
Babylon (the world of sin and rebellion) has been judged and condemned, and the vast crowds of heaven cry out in praise of God – Hallelujah, praise the Lord! For those who know God’s presence by rich experience, there’s only joy at seeing his enemies destroyed. God is glorified when he saves and when he destroys, glorified in grace and in justice.
And these final chapters give a sense of final events – a specific time when everything you know will disappear. And the picture we’re given for God’s people on that day is particularly exciting: It’s a wedding day!
- Read Revelation 19:7-10.
- John had been overwhelmed by a vision of the prostitute, Babylon.
- But now he’s so overcome with the prospect of the wedding feast of the Lamb he even falls down at the feet of the angel speaking to him!
His bride (as we’ll see in a moment) is his church. Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificed to atone for your sins, is looking forward to his Wedding Day! “Let us be glad and rejoice!” (v7).
Any bride gets excited about her wedding day. And we’re his bride – it’s natural to get excited about that day! And what a bridegroom!
- The lion of the tribe of Judah.
- When he returns to earth, he will come in judgment and grace. Grace to his bride, but devastating judgment to everyone else.
- Read Revelation 19:11-21.
- Bad news for Satan & Co. Their attempts to fight their Creator will be swamped in a completely one-sided battle.
A Thousand Years
Chapter 20 then speaks of Satan being bound for 1,000 years:
- Some say that’s a symbolic number for the period of time between Christ’s first and second coming.
- Some think the world will get better and better for a thousand years, after which Jesus will return.
- Others say that Jesus will return and reign for 1,000 years before the final end judgment.
But however you view it, there is an end-point. Jesus will return and, at some point, remove all sin, impurity and rebellion from the earth. Satan (the dragon) and his beasts will be thrown into a lake of fire. It doesn’t matter how literal or symbolic you take the phrase “lake of fire” – it’s terrifying in every way.
But at that time, everyone will rise from the dead. Everyone who has ever lived and died.
And most of those will then suffer a second death. Read Revelation 20:11-15.
Make no mistake: You’ll be there.
Everyone you’ve ever known will be there. Your old school friends, work colleagues, family members, people you vaguely know through clubs, at the shops, etc. Mostly, they’ll be terrified. They’ll be shocked to discover that all this stuff was real after all. And they’ll see the judgment seat and know that the Judge finds them guilty.
Is your name in the Lamb’s book of life?
If it is, you’ll praise God on that day for delivering perfect justice in his creation. And you’ll know that the only reason you’re not suffering that second death is that Jesus suffered for you. He took the punishment you deserve. God’s justice is served by his Son dying in your place.
And while most people will face the horrors of the Lake of Fire, you will buzz with the bliss and delight of being counted among the Bride of Christ. And you will praise him, won’t you? Like you never have before!
So: If you truly grasped the certainty and finality of Jesus’ impending victory, you’d tremble either with fear or excitement.
Yearn (Revelation 21 & 22)
Finally, If you glimpsed that eternal joy in God’s presence, you’d yearn for it every day and cherish every moment in the Lord’s presence with his people.
Chapter 20 marks the end of the old. Chapters 21 and 22 are about what comes next. The start of the new. The first two books of the Bible are about God’s perfect Creation and now the last two are about God’s perfect New Creation. And it will be even better than the first; better than Eden.
Read Revelation 21:1-2, 9-14.
- The Bride of Christ is also a city, the holy heavenly Jerusalem.
- She shines and sparkles with the glory of God himself!
We’re told the city is cube-shaped, just as the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple was. Because God will be in this city, among his people. Read Revelation 21:22-24.
- There will be no need for a priesthood or mediation.
- No more need for sacrifice to purify you.
- That is all done, all finished.
- God will dwell among his people forever.
When Adam sinned in Eden, he was banished from God’s presence. Death is the curse that came to us all. We were cut off from the Tree of Life. But that will change: Read Revelation 22:1-2.
The end of the story
So we’re seeing the conclusion of the story arc of the whole Bible. The curse of death resulting from sin will be removed, and God will again dwell on the earth with his people.
Read Revelation 22:3-5.
Now, when we looked at Leviticus I suggested that the peak moment was a bit of a surprise: It’s the description of the placement of the lamp and the table of bread in the Holy Place. The light of the lamp was to shine forward onto the 12 loaves of bread on the table – an image of God’s face shining on his people in blessing.
Here in Revelation 22:5 that comes to full fruition! “The Lord God will shine on [his people]!”
We’ll be together forever in Christ
Notice the collective nature of everything we’ve seen.
- The Bride; the city; his people.
- The joy of that day will be to gather with all his people and praise him, even as he shines blessing on us all.
- Gathering for church is a dress rehearsal. Gathering any time, anywhere with his people is.
And so yearning for that day should be as natural as breathing.
Read Revelation 22:16-17.
- Yearn for that day. And drink the living water now.
- Turn to Jesus now, be with him often. Know him.
- If you saw this world as it truly is, you wouldn’t be so attached to it. Detach.
- If you truly grasped the certainty and finality of Jesus’ impending victory, you’d tremble either with fear or excitement.
- If you glimpsed that eternal joy in God’s presence, you’d yearn for it every day and cherish every moment in the Lord’s presence with his people.