“But Keith, what about the Millennium? Are you Pre-Mill or Post-Mill or A-Mill?” If you have no idea what I just referenced in the above hypothetical question, you might consider yourself lucky. If you do know what I was just referring to and are curious, well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I do have beliefs in that area, but I couldn’t get into them without a long drawn-out discussion on why I interpret Revelation 20 a certain way instead of another. There are Christian teachers I respect greatly who disagree amongst themselves as to how to interpret chapter 20 (John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul are good friends who agree on most things but disagree on eschatology). In the two days we have left, I’m going to try to keep the discussion centered in areas in which most Evangelicals could agree.
One of the best books I ever read was Between Heaven and Hell, a fictional conversation between C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John Kennedy (who all died on the same day). The book centers around a debate re: who Jesus is. Lewis obviously presents the traditional Christian viewpoint, while Huxley comes from an Eastern mystical mindset. Lewis and Huxley take a quick diversion from the main topic into one of the key areas of difference between Christianity and the Eastern religions (Buddhism and Hinduism). The Eastern faiths believe that history is circular, and they’re trying to return us to the innocent garden, before we got corrupted. Christianity believes that history is linear, heading from the beginning towards an ultimate goal, and it’s not trying to return us to anything. I’ve heard well-meaning Christians say that God’s been trying to get us back to the Garden since the Fall, but they seem to be slightly confused. We started out in a Garden with innocence. We end up in a City. And my ultimate goal in this life—which’ll be fully realized in the next one—is not innocence, but righteousness. Innocence just means that you haven’t chosen between good and evil; righteousness means that you’ve been presented with the choice, and you’ve chosen the good. In a sense, a baby is innocent. I need righteousness.
I think that everything we see described in the last two chapters of the Bible can be summarized in the wonderful promise in vs. 5: “I am making everything new.” There’ll come a day when the Heavens and the Earth are reduced down to their composite atoms and swept away so that he can create a new Heavens and a new Earth. If anyone is constructing a building or an empire, they should know that one day, sooner or later, it’s going to be dust and ashes and blown away like a house of cards in a hurricane.
But he’s not destroying everything just for the sake of destroying it. He’s removing it so he can re-create it.
Now, as I’ve warned before, good Christians can debate how literally we can take passages like today’s. A few days ago I gave the hypothetical example of an African who’s never encountered anyone from civilization, and you’re trying to explain an airplane to him. Let me take that a step further, one which I think is even more appropriate. Take that hypothetical African who’s never been exposed to any sort of modernity. Up to this point he’s lived among his tribe, and he’s never encountered anyone or anything in the modern world. And suppose that you magically transport this man to modern New York City. He sees people wearing modern clothes, he sees electric lights everywhere, he sees cars everywhere, and he sees all sorts of modern appliances and gadgets. How would he interpret a man talking on a cell phone, for example? He sees all this for about an hour, then is magically transported back to his tribe. As soon he returns, he tries his best to explain what he saw. In this analogy, the tribesman is John, and we’re his fellow tribesman, and he’s trying to explain what he saw, doing his best to stay within his own frame of reference, which is all he possesses.
Having said that, I tend to interpret Scripture as literally as I can unless I have a really good reason to think otherwise, unless the context suggests that the author wants me to think otherwise. For an incredible (and short) article on taking Scripture literally, see this piece by Greg Koukl.
Like that hypothetical African, John plumbs the depths of his limited human experience to try to explain the unexplainable to us. But to me, it’s not just what he describes as what is there that’s so striking. What’s especially poignant to me is what he says is missing: “death or mourning or crying or pain.” Every tear will be wiped away. Something else that’s not there is fear. We live in a world where people live in fear all the time. Why do we lock our doors at night? But this City will never lock its doors or gates, because there’s nothing outside it to cause us to fear anymore.
Another thing that’s missing? Sin. Remember this little summary: In justification we were saved from the penalty of sin. In sanctification, we’re saved (day by day, as we cooperate with him) from the power of sin. And in glorification, we will be saved from the very presence of sin. That sinful nature that I’ve been struggling against for all my Christian life will be gone. My new nature will be the only one I have, and not only will I never want to sin again, there won’t be anything around me as a temptation to sin again.
But more than what is there (streets of gold, etc.), and what is not there (death, crying, sin), what’s most important to me is who is there. We won’t need the light of the sun anymore, nor the moon. Why? Because our Savior God will be the light we walk in. Have you ever basked in the sunshine on a warm Spring day after a long winter? That’s just a tiny foretaste of what we’ll have in basking in the immediate Presence of our Lord. The face before whom angels dare not expose their faces will be nothing but a warm light to us, warming us from the inside-out for eternity. It’s as intimate as you can get.
But I have to point out that nothing impure will enter this City. Ever. My sin can’t be allowed into the city. If you didn’t understand from this passage how much God hates sin, you haven’t been paying attention. I know that I’m saved by grace, but if I want to prepare myself for my Home, the best way to do it is to work on the lingering sin in my heart and life. As C. S. Lewis put it, "[If] we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” That begins now, today. As we come up to the New Year, let’s commit ourselves to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in making us more like Christ in the ways we think, talk, and act. Love God more, and hate sin more. That should be on everyone’s New Year’s resolution list.
Lord Jesus, I can’t wait for my new Home. But I can bring a little piece of it down here right now, by basking in your presence, and letting you deal with any lingering sin inside me. Please help me love you and hate sin a lot more than I do already. By your grace.