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Easter Revised Common Lectionary Year C

 

Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 15, 2022

Highlighted Text:  Revelation 21:1-6

The Revelation of Jesus Christ can be overwhelming to read and difficult to understand due to its heavy use of imagery and symbolism. However, the opening chapter introduces us to the main themes of the book which guide us in reading, interpreting, and applying it to our world and to our lives. First, it is a revelation (1:1). The Greek apokalupsis means an unveiling or uncovering. It is a “pulling back of the curtain” to reveal ultimate and spiritual realities of what is happening in heaven and what is really going on in the world from God’s perspective and in terms of what God is doing.

It does this through images and symbols which convey an overall message and are not intended to be overly analyzed in every detail. Second, it is a prophecy (1:3). While Revelation speaks about the future, it is not a timeline for figuring out when the world will end. Rather, just as the biblical prophets heard from God and then spoke for God to their contemporaries, Revelation is God’s word for his people in their present day and situation. Third, it is a letter (1:4).

The traditional view places it around 95-96 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian who claimed for himself the title of “Lord and God” and insisted on being worshiped as divine. The Apostle John, by now an old man and himself in exile for his faith (1:9), therefore wrote to seven churches for whom he had spiritual responsibility to strengthen and encourage them to stay faithful to Jesus in the face of growing pressure and persecution.

While these were seven actual, historical churches, the number seven in Revelation is associated with perfection and completeness; the seven churches therefore also represent every church in every age, and the message of Revelation applies also to all believers. Fourth, and most importantly, it is all about Jesus Christ. It is the revelation of Jesus (1:1), from Jesus (1:5-6), and about Jesus the risen, glorified, and returning King (1:7-8, 12-19). As such, Revelation is concerned with discipleship to Jesus: the fundamental questions it addresses are, “Who will we worship? Who will we give our allegiance to? Who will we follow and serve? Who will we live for?”

Revelation 21:1-6 begins the final section of the book. Chapters 19-20 revealed the day when Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords and fully and finally defeat his enemies and those of his people—Satan, sin, evil and wickedness, all the powers of darkness, and death itself. Chapters 21-22 now reveal the great hope, joy, and glorious future that await Jesus’ followers when he returns.

The passage gives us three great encouragements. First, we can look forward to God’s new creation (vv. 1, 5). The story of the Bible has often been summed up as creation, fall, redemption, and restoration; here that restoration is pictured when Jesus returns and brings with him the fullness of God’s new creation, “a new heaven and a new earth.”

Recall that the beast, one of Satan’s agents, came out of the sea (13:1); but in God’s new world “there was no longer any sea” (v. 1) for all the forces of evil have been vanquished (19:19-21; 20:10). Note that God says, “I am making everything new!” (v. 5)—present tense—so while we look forward to this final vision, it is already happening, at least partially, and we as Christians are participating in it right now (2 Corinthians 5:17). Note also that God does not say, “I am making all new things,” for God is not going to abandon this world but he intends to renew and restore it. This continuity has implications for how we treat and care for the environment; but as beautiful and breathtaking as creation and the natural world is right now—and here preachers might paint for hearers or invite them to picture in their minds their favorite scenes of natural splendor—God’s new creation and his world remade will be unimaginably more so!

Second, we can look forward to being with God forever (vv. 2-4). The centerpiece of the new creation which dominates much of chapter 21 is “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem” that comes down from heaven. It is not built by human effort or ingenuity but something only God brings and gives to his people. Indeed, the Holy City is his people since it is described as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (v. 2) which in Revelation is a picture of Jesus’ church (19:7-8). The declaration that “God’s dwelling place [more literally, “the tabernacle of God”] is now among his people” (v. 3) recalls both the Old Testament tabernacle which was the visible sign of God’s presence with the Israelites (see, e.g. Exodus 40:34-48) and Jesus the Word of God who put on flesh, made his dwelling among us, and revealed the glory of the Father to us (John 1:14). Thus what God did when Jesus came the first time, God will do on a cosmic scale when Jesus comes again: God will come to be with his people, he will heal all that plagued and pained the human race and wipe away “the old order of things” (v. 4), and his glory will be everywhere (vv. 10-11). Preachers might at this point invite hearers to imagine what that day will be like when all that ails them will be no more.

Third, we can look forward to being fully satisfied in God (v. 6). In the Bible, thirst and thirstiness is often a picture of our need for God (e.g., Psalm 42:1-2; 63:1; Isaiah 55:1). God made us for himself and only he can quench the soul thirst we all have deep inside. But because of our sin and prideful rebellion against God, we drink from other wells and try to quench our soul thirst with other people and other things, only to find that they do not ultimately satisfy. But when Jesus came, he promised the living water of eternal life, and that those who believe in him will never thirst again (John 4:13-14; 6:35; 7:37-38). Now upon his return, that promise will finally be fulfilled for we will be with God forever in the beauty of his new creation, never again threatened or separated by the old enemies of darkness, sin, and death. This security and satisfaction is all by God’s grace—it is given to us “without cost”—for Jesus already paid the price for us on the cross (Revelation 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 19:13).

The central thrust of the passage—indeed, of the entire final two chapters of Revelation—is that something better is coming! More specifically, Someone better is coming and he will bring with him something better! This future hope shapes how we live in the present by reminding and reorienting us to center our lives on Jesus: just as Revelation gave John and the early Christians great hope and strength to stay faithful to Jesus in their situation knowing how things will ultimately turn out, so we are urged to love, trust, and follow Jesus faithfully in ours—for he is the risen, exalted, and returning King and our destiny and the life that is to come will revolve around him for eternity.

Gabe Fung serves as lead pastor of Spectrum Church Irvine in Irvine, Calif.

Gabe was born in England and grew up in Hong Kong. He previously served as a missionary in Australia with Youth With A Mission, and as a pastor with churches in Westminster and Irvine, Calif. He has a BA from Seattle Pacific University, and MDiv and DMin degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. His central focus in ministry is helping people trust and follow Jesus in all of life and equipping them to help others do the same. Gabe is married to Maribeth and they have two children, Matthew and Amy.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

God is not going to abolish the universe of space, time and matter; he is going to renew it, to restore it, to fill it with new joy and purpose and delight, to take from it all that has corrupted it. … New creation has begun in Jesus. There is a pilgrim highway leading all the way from the cross and the empty tomb right through to God’s new creation.

N. T. Wright, The Road to New Creation, Sermon, Durham Cathedral, Durham, UK, September 3, 2006

 

Key Illustration

Chapter One of the Great Story

In the epic conclusion to the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis attempts to express the absolute joy that will come as our earthly lives come to an end and we are reunited with our God for all of eternity:

The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

 

Additional Sermon Resources

Liturgical Elements

Call to Worship

Adapted from Revelation 15:3-4

Leader:            Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.

People:           Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.

Leader:            Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?  For you alone are holy.

People:           All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

All:                  Let us worship God!

Submitted by Chip Hardwick

Prayer of Confession

Adapted from Revelation 15:3-4

Leader:            Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.

People:           Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.

Leader:            Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?  For you alone are holy.

People:           All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

All:                  Let us worship God!

Submitted by Chip Hardwick

Assurance of Pardon

The good news is that Christ calls us to new life and enables us to begin again and again and again and again.
Leader: Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!