From Glory to Glory
A sermon on Revelation 21:1-8 and 20:1-6 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 8/14/2005
What do you want to be when you grow up? I’m not limiting this question to children. All of us: When you are mature, when you are fully formed, when you have finished developing as a person: What do you want to be?
In 2 Corinthans 3:18, Paul tells us that all who believe in Jesus - all who see Him as Lord, Savior, and treasure - are moving in a wonderful direction:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
Paul tells us: As we fix our eyes on Jesus, as we look in His face, as we see who He is through His Word, He transforms us “into the same image” – into Christlikeness – “from one degree of glory to another.” This last phrase is, literally, “from glory to glory”. We look at His glory, His characteristics, His perfections – and He changes us into His likeness. We receive that glory. We initially become like Him. And then we become more like Him. From glory to glory.
Paul refers to this same process in Philippians 1:6:
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
God begins His good work by enabling us to see Jesus. We respond with wonder, love, and praise, acknowledging our sin and His perfections. We keep seeing Him, and He changes us from glory to glory, completing His work of perfecting us.
When will this work be complete? Paul tells us: “At the day of Jesus Christ”. When is that? That’s what we’ve been reading about in Revelation: The Day when Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords. The day described in the last half of chapter 19, and the last half of chapter 20. The day when Jesus finally destroys all opposition. The day when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. That’s the day above all days. That is the day we most look forward to. That is the beginning of an eternity, in new bodies, seeing more and more of His inexhaustible and infinite greatness and glory.
I hope that is what you want to be when you grow up.
Today’s two texts, 20:1-6 and 21:1-8, give us two pictures of God’s changing us from glory to glory. The first text in chapter 20, on the millennium, has led to no end of controversy and dispute. But all who hold to the Bible as the Word of God agree that the picture in Revelation 20 is not the final goal. It is a glorious picture – but more glory remains. Jesus’ followers have one degree of glory in chapter 20 – but a higher degree is still coming. Chapter 21 shows us the goal, describing the final glory available to all who call on Him. At that point, our change from glory to glory is complete. We are like Him.
We’ll look at this text under three headings:
The Greatest Glory
What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?
Turn to 20:1-6. Of necessity, I will teach my understanding of this passage, and provide you with some of the reasoning behind that understanding. Different interpretations of these verses lead to different answers to the question, “What great glory is offered to believers here?” But those different interpretation do not impact our understanding of the greatest glory for believers found in chapter 21.
As always, my goal this morning is not to get you to agree with me. My goal is to have you search the Scriptures and check me out, like the faithful Bereans (Acts 17:10-11).
Recall our discussion last week, when we concluded that 19:17-21 and 20:7-10 refer to the same last battle that takes place when Jesus returns and destroys all opposition. This is what Paul calls the Day of Jesus Christ. This conclusion has a major impact on our understanding of what is described in today’s text.
Chapter 20:1 begins the description of a new vision, as indicated by the phrase, “Then I saw . . .”. As we have seen throughout Revelation, sequence in John’s visions need not imply the same sequence in the fulfillment of those visions. Thus 20:1-3, the binding of Satan for a thousand years, may or may not happen after the events described at the end of chapter 19.
In 20:4, we find once again the same phrase, “Then I saw,” introducing another vision in 20:4-10. Again, because this is another vision, its fulfillment may or may not follow the fulfillment of the binding of Satan in 20:1-3. However, in this case the vision itself tells us when its fulfillment will take place. Verse 7 begins, “When the thousand years were ended.” Thus, 20:1-10 describe one sequence in time.
Do you see what we can now conclude? The last battle, described in 20:7-10, comes after the events described in 20:1-6. But since the description in 20:7-10 and 19:17-21 refer to the same battle, the fulfillment of 20:1-6 must precede the fulfillment of 19:17-21. That is, the fulfillment of 20:1-6 must precede the return of Jesus.
That leaves us with a puzzle: How can this binding of Satan and reigning of God’s people take place prior to Jesus’ return? So let’s look at 20:1-6 and see if we can figure out how to understand these verses as taking place before Jesus’ return.
In 20:1-3, an angel takes a great chain, then seizes “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan,” and, binding him with the chain, throws him in a pit. He then shuts and seals the pit. We learn why this takes place in the middle of verse 3: “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years are ended.”
So the question facing us is: When was Satan bound? When was he defeated – not finally, but significantly?
Remember that again and again in Revelation John gives us clues about how to interpret visions rightly by using language similar to an Old Testament prophecy or earlier sections in this book. Here we have such a clue. Chapter 12:9 usesalmost identical language describing Satan:
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Context of chapter 12 makes clear that this occurs in the first century, at the time of the incarnation and death and resurrection of Jesus. At that time, Satan was defeated.
Paul speaks of this same defeat of Satan and his allies in Colossians 2:15:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Note: this action is completed at the time Paul writes. It has already happened. It happened at the cross.
So I am suggesting that this binding of Satan for a thousand years refers to the way Satan has been bound since Jesus came. Satan was defeated at the cross. He continues to rebel, and will until the last day. As we read last week, on that day he will be thrown into lake of fire. But even now, his power is strictly limited. He is bound.
Jesus said as much in Mark 3:27. Speaking of Satan, He says:
But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Satan is a strong man. He is now bound. And Jesus has indeed been plundering his house since the resurrection.
But some of you may be thinking, “Coty, you’re saying Satan is now bound, in that God limits and controls what he does. But hasn’t that always been true, even in Old Testament times? After all, Satan had to ask God’s permission to torment Job.”
That’s a good question. Think of it this way: Until Jesus came, Satan had deceived non-Jews completely. They knew nothing of the special revelation of the true God. Note also: Satan had also deceived most Jews! The Jews were God’s covenant people, but they were not functioning as the people of God. God had promised Abraham that “in you all the families of the nations will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). But Abraham’s descendants did not act on this. They did not spread the knowledge of the glory of the Lord among the nations. Instead, they killed many prophets, and then even put to death the Messiah.
So at time of Jesus’ death, all nations other than the Jews are lost in darkness. The Jews themselves, God’s covenant community, are not fulfilling God’s covenant purposes. That is, Satan is successfully deceiving all the nations, Jews and Gentiles alike. There are individual exceptions: praise God, He preserved a faithful remnant among the Jews and saved a few individuals from other nations: Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Naaman. He even apparently saves a whole city at the time of Jonah (despite Jonah, who exhibits the wrong attitude of the Israelites toward other nations). But as a whole, the nations are deceived.
Then Jesus dies and is raised from the dead. He establishes His church, ”and gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That is, the church, the new covenant community, will endure, will effectively reach all nations, even while suffering like her Savior. The church will attack the strongholds of Satan, the church will storm his gates, and by God’s power a thriving church will arise within every people and nation.
Do you remember how the Great Commission begins? In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – (Satan is bound!) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus says, “The time is now! All the families of the nations will be blessed through the seed of Abraham – Me! I have all authority – there is no power which you cannot overcome, not even the power of Satan himself. There is no stronghold you cannot assault and overwhelm, not even the gates of hell. By my power, you will succeed in making disciples of all nations.”
So Jesus also says the fulfillment of this missionary purpose must precede His return:
This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14
For the vision of Revelation 5:9-10 must be fulfilled:
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation Revelation 5:9-10
Thus, Satan indeed is bound today, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer. This binding has enabled the church to spread the Gospel to most peoples, to most ethnicities by 2005AD. A task remains – spreading the Gospel to the remaining unreached people groups. But it is achievable within this generation.
So Satan indeed is bound today. What about the reigning of the saints in 20:4-6? We looked at these verses briefly last week, since they contain the main application point of 19:11-20:15: Share in the first resurrection! Don’t receive the mark of the beast! Don’t lose heart! Cherish Jesus!
Today, we’ll limit our examination of these verses to the question: What is the status of God’s people here? What degree of glory do they attain?
As I indicated last week, I don’t like ESV translation of verse 4. Michael Wilcock’s rendering of this verse is clearer and more literal:
And I saw thrones (and they sat on them, and judgment was given them), and the souls of the beheaded, and such as had not worshipped the beast; and they lived and reigned.
Thus, the souls John sees are on the thrones. That’s pretty clear in the Greek, but the ESV confuses the issue. So it is souls on the throne who, as verse 6 says, are “blessed and holy” and “share in the first resurrection.” Now if John sees souls and not bodies, then the “first resurrection” refers to going to be with Christ at the time of our physical death, prior to our receiving our new physical bodies.
Therefore the “thousand years”, the “millennium”, is our rising with Christ, being with Him, from the time of our physical death until the “Day of Jesus Christ”, when He gives us new bodies.
This first resurrection is what Paul refers to in Philippians 1:23. He has just said, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He then explains why dying is gain:
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better [than this life].
Dying and being with Christ, the first resurrection, is far better than this life. It is a new stage of glory. There is no more sin. No more temptation. We are with Christ
But this first resurrection is not the final state! The old order is not yet gone. The entire creation is still in bondage to decay (Romans 8:23). All things are not yet new. For us, we have not yet received our promised glorified physical bodies. There is great glory here - but the greatest glory is yet to come:
We see this greatest glory in chapter 21. Echoing Isaiah 65, John writes
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. Revelation 21:1
Here is the new creation. At long last! Now there is no more decay. Now there is no longer a second law of thermodynamics.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Revelation 21:2
The holy city – used here as earlier in Revelation for all of God’s people – is now fully prepared for her Husband, the Lamb, Christ Jesus. Who prepared her? God Himself, for she is coming down out of heaven. Her is the church perfected! Redeemed! Fully like Christ!
Consider: At a marriage ceremony, what gives the greatest joy to the bride? Not her dress. Not her hair. Not her friends. Not her bridesmaids. Not her mother or father. The groom gives her the greatest joy! Jesus is our groom! When the church descends, the New Jerusalem, we no longer have any desires elsewhere. He will be our satisfaction!
But think also – at a marriage ceremony, what gives the greatest joy to the groom? His bride! And we are His bride! So, yes, He is our delight. But don’t forget that at that point, we will be His delight! Thus Paul writes in Ephesians 5:27:
So that He Himself might present to Himself the church in all her glory
That’s what is happening in Revelation 21.
Verse 3 echoes Leviticus 26:11-12 as it elaborates on this idea. We become God’s people, His delight. Indeed, God dwells with us! God fulfills the promise in the name Immanuel, God with us. We are His people. He is our God.
· No longer are we a stiff-necked, stubborn people.
· No longer are we chasing after idols.
· No longer do we value God’s gifts more than we value the giver of the gifts.
He is our gracious King; we are His loyal subjects, delighted in His rule.
So verses 1-3 describe the positive side, what will be present in the new creation. Verse 4 tells us what will not be present:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
Some Bible teachers argue that we can live lives free of sorrow and pain today. They say, “Claim the promise! God doesn’t want you to suffer! Name it and claim it!” Such people are false teachers. We conquer today in part through suffering, as the book of 2 Corinthians (and many other parts of Scripture) make clear.
But God does promise us that He will end all suffering! God does promise that He will deal with all evil, and all types of pain. When? On the day of Jesus Christ! On the last day!
Do you see the series of pictures John paints here?
Now we have a fourth picture: Us, being held, having our tears wiped away. What is the image here? When does this happen in our experience?
This is a picture of a hurting child with a loving mother or father. Do you remember as a child when someone made fun of you, or hurt you, and you ran crying to your mother? Do you remember how she held you, how she wiped your tears away, how she perhaps did not say anything but just hold you, and you knew, “I am loved! I am safe!”
God will do that for you. He will comfort you Himself! For all your sorrows. For all your pain. For all the causes of mourning. He will hold you. And never again will there be cause for tears.
This is the greatest glory:
On that day, Zephaniah 3:17 will be fulfilled at last:
The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
That’s the end of the vision. Verses 5-8 give us the application of the vision. Note who is speaking in these verses: “He who is seated on the throne”. Who is that? God Himself. Note that God is speaking to John not from vantage point of a future time when the New Jerusalem appears, but in the present. This is the first statement since 1:8 that is clearly ascribed to God Himself. In that verse, He said,
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
And here, near the end of the book, He makes a similar statement:
"Behold, I am making all things new." . . . "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.". . . "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Revelation 21:5-6
In Greek, there is a strong emphasis on the word “I”. We might render this, “I, yes, I am the Alpha and the Omega.” God is making a promise here. He says, “I am before all things. I am after all things. I thus am in charge of all that happens in between. It may not look that way; things may seem to be getting worse. It may even look like I am not in control. But I am making all things new! I am the mighty one - so this statement is faithful and true. Rely on it. Indeed, It is as good as done!”
So we’ve seen this picture of the greatest glory. We’ve seen the subsequent picture of God in control from beginning to end. God then closes the application with pictures of two types of people, based on their response to these truths. Many times in Revelation we’ve seen all humanity divided into two types. Here as always the question is: What type of person do you want to be? There are only two options:
Revelation 21:6b-7 describes the end for the first type of person:
To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without cost. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
What does God promise here? He offers you to drink from the spring of the water of life! That is, the satisfaction of your deepest desires. The psalmist says,
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. Psalm 42:1
That desire of desires is now satisfied! We can have intimacy with God. That’s the end for one type of person.
On the other hand, verse 8 describes the end for the second type:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Who is included here? Let’s look at these words:
First, the cowardly. Jesus uses this word in Mark 4:40. Jesus has been asleep in the stern of the boat. A large storm arises on the lake. The disciples, many of them professional fisherman used to storms, cannot handle this one. They despair for their lives. Yet Jesus still sleeps! So they run to Him, and cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!” Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and a great calm settles over the lake. Then He says to the disciples: “Why are you so cowardly? Do you not have faith?”
Who, then, are the cowards? Professed Christians who do not have true faith. Professed Christians who do not conquer or overcome. Professed Christians who give in to the cares or temptations of this world.
Thus, some to be thrown into the lake of fire are professed Christians – but their cowardice proves they are not genuine.
Who else is in this group? Four descriptions are pretty straightforward: “Detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers” – these are obvious sinners. We expect them to end up here.
But the other two words are key. The second word in the list is “faithless” or “unbelieving.” Just as Jesus said in Mark 4, this includes professed Christians who have no faith. But “faithless” also includes anyone who has no faith in Him. We must believe! Whoever believes in Him will not perish!
The final word in the list is “liars”: For John, the ultimate liar is the one who lies about the most important truth: The person of Jesus Christ:
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? 1 John 2:22
My friends, this is the ultimate question: What will you do with Jesus? Will you truly say and believe, “He is the Christ! He is all glorious! He is coming back! He will wipe tears from my eyes! He will right every wrong!” Or will you say, “He’s interesting. Sure, I enjoyed that Bible Study. But, hey, let me tell you about my real passion!”
What do you want to be when you grow up? Ultimately there are only two choices:
First choice: You will change from glory to glory. You will see Jesus more and more clearly, thus become more and more like Him. At the Day of Jesus Christ, you will be rid of every sin, every hang-up, every disease, every flaw. You will become a delight to God, a delight to others. You will be comforted by God Himself; He will rejoice over you with loud singing.
Second choice: Having rejected Jesus Christ, God the Father rejects you. You will never see the redeemed creation. Your end is in the lake of fire, where you will be tormented for all eternity.
Those are the choices. What do you want to be?
My friends, there is great hope here! God does not randomly, capriciously assign people to one fate or the other!
No. Verse 6 tells us who receives the water of life: The thirsty! The requirement is to thirst! To thirst for God! Then, by His power, you will overcome temptation and opposition.
Satan is bound. You need not submit to Him. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus. Jesus has broken Satan’s power of deception over every tribe and tongue. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, when Jesus calls, you can respond.
So thirst! Aim for true life! Want Him and Him alone! May He be Your delight, and You be His delight! Then, be the true covenant community of God. Fulfill the promise to Abraham. Bless all the families of the nations through Jesus. Go. Make disciples from among your neighbors, friends, colleagues; make disciples from among the nations who have come to Charlotte; make disciples from among the nations that walk in darkness.
Come, everyone who thirsts. And share that life-giving water with the nations.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 8/14/05. Greg Beale’s The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1999) was helpful. Michael Wilcock’s translation of 21:4 is found in The Message of Revelation (Inter Varsity Press, 1975), p. 191-92.
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