The End of Our Story (Revelation 21:1-8)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation today comes from our second lesson, from Revelation especially where John records, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
It’s no small thing to say that, for all humanity and especially for us Christians, Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday was the pinnacle of all history to this moment. His resurrection changed everything about everything, especially for His disciples. They went from being sorrowful cowards … to fearless, confident proclaimers of His resurrection from the dead. So convinced, so insistent were they that Jesus was alive and had conquered death, that all were willing to be martyred. In fact, of the Twelve, only John the brother of James was not executed for proclaiming the work of Jesus Christ; instead of martyrdom (though not for lack of trying from the Romans), he was exiled to the Greek island of Patmos.
After Jesus’ ascension forty days after His resurrection, His “sent ones,” His apostles, those formerly pusillanimous disciples, began their work of proclaiming the kingdom of God to all people. Guided by the Holy Spirit, they taught the faith, oversaw others who taught, and went to various places as missionaries. But their greatest contribution was writing and overseeing the writing of the Gospels and the other books that make up the New Testament. Today, all faithful pastors and Christian teachers teach under the authority of the Apostolic Scriptures, the New Testament, and it is upon their confession – of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God – that the Church is built.
But let’s be real: these are not Peter’s churches, or Paul’s or Augustine’s, or even Luther’s. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and He is still continuing His mission, His ministry through His servants. Using His Scriptures—both Old and New Testaments—He teaches us about God and His kingdom. He calls us to repent of our sin and return to Him, He confronts error and purifies the teaching in His Church. He makes disciples, baptizing and teaching them through Word and sacraments. He forgives our sins, strengthens us in our weakness, comforts us in our grief and sorrow, and assures us of His return.
That last part … assuring us of His return … is not a point to be overlooked. When we die, Jesus brings our spirit to be with Him in paradise to await the Last Day. For a long time, the focus of the Christian life was on this life-after-death: forever floating on the clouds strumming our harps in an endless church service. But Scripture makes it clear that this is not the end of the story. We human beings were created to be whole persons, spirit and body. No matter how wonderful it is to be in paradise in the presence of Christ, the heavenly Father, and the glorious angelic band, it will be infinitely better when Jesus raises and restores your body to immortality and life. That’s right: this body, which you have now, but made new, powerful, completely intact for all eternity.
That restoration will be made on Judgment Day. Jesus will return in great power and glory with His angelic hosts. He will raise all the dead without fail. It doesn’t matter if that body lies frozen at a mountain summit, entombed in a ship at the bottom of the ocean, vaporized in an explosion, or cremated with the ashes spread upon the four winds. Christ will raise every dead person. When that happens, every human being who has ever lived or ever will live will stand before Christ for public judgment. Those who rejected Him, who trusted in something other than His salvation to save them, will be banished to hell forever.
If you have trouble reconciling the idea of a loving God creating a place like hell, much less sending His beloved creatures there, there are a few things to consider. First, remember God is holy and perfectly just. He considers not only the sinner, but also the victims of the sins those sinners commit. Second, no one goes to hell by accident; at some point in life, they chose to reject God’s grace in one way or another. Third, hell is the natural final destination for fallen man, and our base standing before God is one of condemnation. It’s only by His grace that any of us is saved at all! He shows His great love and mercy by providing a way for every sinner, even the vilest of transgressors, to escape hell: through His Son’s cross. We sinners all deserve death and hell, but Jesus carried every sin of every sinner, and those who trust that He paid that price receive exactly what they believe: forgiveness.
Thanks be to God that the Spirit has created saving faith in us! By that gift, we are able to cling to the precious gifts given to us in baptism: Christ’s perfection and righteousness, and the promise that we will live with Him in eternity. In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John describes that great day in our future: “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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. 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.’”
The wonders to be seen in the life of the world to come are unfathomable. The new creation that will surround us will be an unmitigated delight. Beholding the angels, seeing them, talking with them, enjoying their presence, admiring their unceasing loyalty to God and their faithful service to us. Knowing and loving all those who have gone before us in the faith. Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Chemnitz, Pieper, Sasse. Your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents—all who trusted in Christ during their earthly life, we will see them, know them, love them, serve them all. Perfectly. Sinlessly. Think of it: being able to actually keep the Ten Commandments!
Greater than all of that, greatest of all … we will bask in the glory of the eternal God, who shines upon us from His royal throne, stands alongside us, walks and talks with us as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Truly, that is the greatest part of eternity—to be in the presence of our Creator as He eternally fills our hearts and minds. To see our Lord and our God, face to face, and remain. That is our future, through Jesus Christ our Lord. To Him alone be all glory and honor.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.