Zach Zehnder takes us into the final week of our series The Unveiling.
Well, if you knew how everything ended, I wonder if that would change how you lived today. That's the final question we're exploring in the final message of the final chapters of the final book of the Bible. We're wrapping up our series today on Revelation and opening up this vision that God gave to John, that he gives to us, in imagining the end, picturing the end and as we picture it. If we know it all ends well, would that change how you live today? To remind you, the primary purpose of Revelation, which has been our primary goal in this series, is to give you hope for the future. That will bring courage to your present day and I really believe that if you do know beyond a shadow of a doubt how things end, that that does change how you would live today. I believe this vision of the end was hyper-important for the first century Christians that the Apostle John was writing to, that were scattered and being persecuted. This unveiling of the vision gave them a glimpse into the end, to remind them to stand firm and that things will end well for those that are in Christ Jesus. It was important for them. It's important for us today. We may not be dealing with the same intense persecution because we follow Jesus, but we still battle obstacles from the enemy today. And all of us are called to live with courage for today. And the more we look at the end for our hope, the more we're filled with courage today. So, to close up our Revelation series, we're going to tackle the millennium, the thousand years controversy, along with the final defeat of Satan and God bringing the new heavens and new earth when he returns for his second coming. So you know just some minor stuff this morning, so I don't have time for an opening illustration. We're getting right into the text. If you want to follow along, you can follow along on the screens. Or if you brought your Bibles, here's what you do Turn to the end and then flip back a few pages and that's where we're starting. What would be, what is the last thing that God imparts in his word to his people Without the vision of the end? So let's find what God says today. Revelation 20, verses one to three. If you see a word in a different color, you'll see it sporadically today, both campuses. I'd love for you to say those words out loud as they come. John writes in chapter 20, and I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He sees the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it over him to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. Verse seven when the thousand years are over, satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and to gather them for battle. In number, they are like sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them and the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. We looked, if you remember, last week, at the beast and the false prophet last week. This week the dragon, the devil joins them and together that unholy trinity of dragon, beast, false prophet, are no more. It says. They will be tormented day and night, forever and ever. Amen. Enemies destroyed, enemies destroyed. You read a couple of words out loud. What were they? A thousand years, a thousand years. So what is the thousand years, the millennium, in reference here? What is this millennium? It's a hotly debated topic. It may be the most hotly debated topic amongst those of the Christian faith, because there's so many different ways to take reading the verses. We just read, and you can't have a revelation series without talking about the millennium. And so here we go. Dr Lewis Brighton and I'm not over exaggerating when I say this, who was a man that devoted his life to the book of Revelation, says this the thousand years referenced in Revelation, chapter 20, have been mishandled more than any word of Scripture. So I'm going to try to unmishandle it in seven minutes. You ready? What is the millennium? What is it in reference here? There is a large camp that believes this section represents that there will actually be a literal one thousand year reign of Christ, and there is another large camp that believes this thousand year reign is figurative or symbolic. Some believe it will happen, some believe it is happening, some believe it's already happened. And so is it literal, is it symbolic? Are we in this time period now? Is it, has it already happened or is it coming in the future? And we're looking at different current events now that need to take place before it happens. Lots of questions and what you think about the millennium, literal or symbolic, now or future. It is important, but here's the truth that I wanted to talk about. First is that all camps agree on more than we disagree. And here's what we agree on Jesus wins, christ returns, the dragon is thrown in hell forever. Those that believe in Jesus will reign with him and there will be a new heavens and new earth coming for us. Amen. If you agree with that, come on, say amen. Both camps tend to agree on all of those things. Now, I myself and the church body tend to land in the camp that takes this section of scripture as largely figurative and symbolic, not believing in a literal 1000 year reign, for a couple of reasons. First, and we've said this every week, it is the style of literature that we are reading that you must interpret in the way that in which it was written, and this is again called an apocalyptic literature. Apocalypse does not mean end time or doomsday. It means unveiling, it means vision, it means we're going to give you symbols and images and metaphors and colors and numbers that do mean something, but they don't mean a literal something. And if you just look at the language in the verses, I read to you, like what do we have? Angels, dragons and abyss, a key, a fire burning, sulfur, beasts and so on, like there's a lot of figurative words that are very common in apocalyptic literature, and so we have to say, like this was written in an apocalyptic literature book. That's number one. Second reason why we would tend to land in that camp is the number 1000. So here's what it's also really crazy this is the only place in all of the Bible that the thousand year reign takes place. So all the controversy over the millennium is from firmly revelation, chapter 20 in the verses that I read to you, and that's it. It's nowhere else. And so you have to look at that squarely at the end of an apocalyptic book. And then the number 1000. In and of itself, it's the only time again the thousand year reign is mentioned and actually the only time the word a thousand is referenced. With God and all of the Bibles is in two other places, and both of them say the same thing that with God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day which sounds pretty symbolic to me. The number 1000, in that time period as well, was a number that in their world, was so massive that they couldn't even fathom it Right In our context today. It would be like if we were to say the word it's like a bazillion, like it's so much, and so it figuratively means a lot. Now, having said all of that, here's the one thing, after the bazillion different controversies on blogs and message boards that are out there, like here's the truth. If we all get up into heaven and someone landed in a different camp than mine on the literal side and they were right, I don't think I'm going to be for eternity like oh dog gone, I missed out on that, you know. Like oh man, I think I'll be like dude, brothers and sisters, like good for you. How did you know that in a symbolic, figurative book, that that one section of all of them was literal? You were right, that's amazing. I'm going to celebrate with them like how'd you know? Actually, I think, as we're in eternity, I don't actually think any of that will happen, because I think all of our differences will fall by the wayside in the light of something even greater. And so it's not something to fight and argue about. It's something to take comfort in, because the primary point of Revelation 20 reminds us that when Jesus returns, known as his second coming. His first coming is what we're celebrating next Sunday on Christmas Eve, but when Jesus returns, his second coming, satan will be fully and forever destroyed. We all agree on that. Amen, amen. Now, the view you have of the millennium is important because it has implications on how you live. It does shape you and form you. For instance, go with me. If this is figurative and symbolic where we tend to lean, then here's likely what it means that the thousand year reign is happening right now, because the things that we read in this text, what's happening in this text? You have Satan bound up on a leash. The word he says is imprisoned. And when could you argue that this has happened already in history? We believe that this happened because of the first coming of Jesus, and it happened when Jesus defeated and conquered him and conquered death on the cross, when he paid the price for your sins and my sins. And there's all sorts of language throughout the Bible verses that tend to lean this way. Colossians 2.15 is one of them. That says, and, having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross. So, friends, if this is true, it means that the enemy is chained up now. He's bound up presently. And if he's bound up, what are we free to do? Plunder the enemy. That's what God calls us to. It means that we're not on our heels. He's on his heels. It means that when Jesus says to Peter, I will build my church and the gates of hell won't prevail against it, it means we don't cower and live in fear. He cowers and lives in fear. He's bound up presently, right now. Here's what it's like. If you need another image or picture and I'm not going too far on this, because Revelation 20, verse 7, even uses the word in prison here's what Satan is like right now. He's currently attacking the world, but he's bound up. He's like a once powerful mafia boss that's sitting in a prison cell and all Satan can do? He can't do jack except make phone calls from the cell. That's all he's doing right now. And even if you look at the book of Revelation, it's actually been about seven chapters since we've even seen the dragon do anything, because all he's doing is he's calling upon his lackeys, he's calling upon the beast of the earth and the beast from the sea and the great prostitute. In Revelation terms, in earthly terms, he's calling on the kings of the earth and the false prophets to join together to distract us from the end. And the fact that he who was once powerful is now bound up, making phone calls but at one point nobody's going to answer his phone, which means, if Satan is bound, church, the world is ours for the taking now, because there will come a time when it's not. That, by the way, is not bad news. That's good news, because when that comes, that means the enemy will fully and forever be destroyed and God's bringing His new heavens and new earth to invade our reality. That's where we land in the last two chapters. Verse 1 of chapter 21 says then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband, and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying look, god's dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them, they will be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said I am making everything new. And then, if we flip to chapter 22, we get even more detail. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing 12 crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord. God will give them light and they will reign forever and ever. Wow. So what do we see in this vision that God wants us to know that eternal life with God is about God coming down into this world and he is restoring and recreating the world, the earth and everything in it. In the final chapter which I just read those verses, chapter 22, he points back to the tree of life which was found where In the garden in Genesis, at the very beginning, and now at the end of the Bible, we get a return to the garden, full circle, back to the tree of life. In other words, every description of what you see in Revelation 21 and 22 is God redeeming and restoring His creation, not like blowing it up into smithereens and starting over. No, no, he's making it better. And some would say I thought the Bible uses language about the earth being destroyed by fire, but that's not the way it goes. It talks about the earth being refined by fire, not destruction, making all things new. I love the way the scholar NT Wright says it About the second coming of Christ. He said it is not we who go to heaven, it is heaven that comes to earth. Indeed, it is the church itself, the heavenly Jerusalem, that comes down to earth. It is the final answer to the Lord's prayer that God's kingdom will come and is will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And there's some that have, like this, thwarted view, even in the church, of the second coming of Christ, of like getting snatched up into the heavens and going somewhere else. But the Bible clearly shows us that God comes down and when he does, he makes all of this that we're currently experiencing even better. It's a redeemed and restored creation that, my friends, has incredible implications on how we live today, in the present world. And so what is God wanting you to see in this revelation, in this unveiling that eternal life with God is a literal place, with physical people in the presence of the Creator God, that heaven comes to earth when Christ returns again, and we are in Advent now waiting for that second coming. But in that moment, all of what's happening do you remember back in Revelation, chapters four and five, where there are angels and elders around the throne praising and worshiping God presently on that side of the clouds like all of that comes down and invades our reality. We are not going to get rescued out of this broken world. This broken world will be redeemed and you will stay, but it will be in the presence of a perfect God and in a perfect world. You see, many live with the misconception of eternity again being this place that we just get snatched up to, this ethereal place where we're just riding on clouds and playing harps day and night forever. Like, where do we get that from and where do we get that? That's a good idea to share as good news with others, right? I think many are like oh, that's a cute picture. I wouldn't mind riding on a cloud or knowing how to play an instrument for like an hour, but I never get out of that. Like, no, that's not what Revelation 21 and 22 is saying. Don't you like the language of 21 and 22 better, that God is coming down and redeeming and restoring. You think God's going to blow this up into smithereens? Do you think for a second, the God of the Bible is going to concede anything to the enemy, to Satan? You think he's going to give anything over to that dirt-backed dragon we've been talking about? No way, god's not conceding anything to Satan. Do you know who the God of the Bible is? Not the feathered-haired white Jesus or the eight-pound, six-ounce baby Jesus. Like the real God of the Bible, you think he's going to start over Uh-uh. He's saying I'm taking everything the earth and everything in it is mine right now and it will be mine forever, and I'm making all things new in the way that they were always intended to be from the very beginning. That's pretty cool because that has implications on how you live, and I really believe there's two amazing truths that reign supreme if that's the future. Two truths that reign supreme. Number one your future is better than you can imagine. It's better than you can imagine One of the things that's been fun in the book of Revelation. It's John writing about a vision that God gives him. But every now and then he inserts himself and his emotion into the experience of seeing and hearing this revelation unfold in front of him. And we get another one of those right here and I think it's really cool. Like after seeing everything in chapters 21 and 22, like John is so blown away that look at what he does. He says I, john, I'm the one who heard and saw these things. And when I'd heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who'd been showing them to me. But the angel said to me don't do that, I'm a fellow servant with you. Worship God. Can you imagine, like holy John again, who's been with Jesus and lived with Jesus, and he gets so taken aback and loses his breath and twisted up that he's doing something that he didn't even want to be doing? He's worshiping an angel because he's so amazed and marveled at what he's seeing that the angel's like come on, buddy again, snap out of it. I'm just an angel. I can't imagine if John the John lost his wits when he got a glimpse of glory. I can't imagine what we would do if we got a glimpse. He's so twisted, worshiping an angel. How good it's going to be because, honestly, even in a broken world, there's some pretty amazing, beautiful parts of this creation. When St Augustine, who's one of the early church fathers, was retired and he was writing a book, it might have been his final book, called the City of God, and in it he was looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. I've never had a chance to visit or look out over the Mediterranean Sea, but those who have, it's stunning, it's beautiful, it's incredible. And so St Augustine is staring out over the Mediterranean Sea and in the book he's comparing the city of man, rome, which is where they were getting a lot of their persecution. In those days he's comparing the city of Rome to the city of God, which is what we're hearing about in Revelation, and as he looks out at the beautiful Mediterranean, he says if these are the beauties that God afforded to sinful men, what does God have in store for those who love him? Wow, we can only imagine Like someone should write a song like. I can only imagine what it would be like when for oh, I'm gonna stop. And then we should play that song over and over and over again on every Christian radio station. So we're tired of it, even though it's a beautiful song. I can only we can only imagine even John he's gonna continue writing in verses I didn't read to you, and he's gonna use like words like the gates are made with pearls and the streets are paved with gold. And again, this is symbolic, it's figured out. Could God actually do that? Yeah, he could figure out a way to do that. But what I just think is really cool, the implications of that is like I just love the fact that God is that John is comparing some of the best of our world gold, and in heaven, that's pavement. Like what do we have that awaits us? I can only imagine. I mean, we get glimpses in this world, glimpses here in Nebraska. We get some beautiful sunsets in Nebraska, don't we? We get glimpses, like there are times when we'll experience national championships for women's volleyball over Texas longhorns. We'll get glimpses, and what awaits, though, is so much better, and not just because of what it will look like, but because of who we'll be with, because there is one good thing in this world now that actually isn't found in the new heavens and the new earth, and you want to know what it is the temple, the temporary place that we've built in this world where God dwells. In fact, john shares this. He says I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord, god Almighty, and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and the honor of the nations we brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. There is no temple, because the Lord is there and his light shines bright for all to see. There is, as many times in Revelation says, no more night, no more darkness, no more crying, no more tears, no more pain. And so it's so great, john saying I really can't use any words to describe it better than like streets of gold and pearls on gates and the best of this world plus then, biggest point of all, god and all of His glory is there and this is the future that awaits. For what Revelation says, for those who have their names written in the book of life, I hope you can see that we are not snatched up to be eternal cloud writing harpists. What are we? We are co-heirs with physical bodies raining in a real physical place, working in a beautiful, perfect city, without any problems, darkness or suffering, and I don't understand all of that. I don't know like what if this world will get up there? I don't know like is there golf in heaven? I hope so. Are there pets in heaven, like my wife would sure love if Ziggy's there to join us. And even in all the excitement. You know what won't be there. Excitement drips from a dog, and so all we can pray for now is that God, your kingdom, would come now into Ziggy and into this world. Right, I don't know. I don't know what all that's like, but when I know that God is redeeming and restoring what we currently have, even in its broken state, and even though I can see glimpses of beauty, but there's something better that awaits, it means you and I, our future is better than you can imagine. And the second truth that reigns supreme is your present is more important than you believe. And why? Because, number one, if Satan is bound right now and the world is ours for the taking, and, number two, god will not ultimately destroy anything of this world, but renew it. It means that everything that you and I do in the Lord, for the Lord, through the Lord, is not in vain, and it matters In a way I can't explain and I can't fathom and I can't put in words for you. It just matters for the future that God won't destroy your work here. He's only going to make it better, and the work you do in the present will somehow gain its full significance in the future. Along those lines. The Protestant reformer, martin Luther, was once asked if you know that God's kingdom, like the second coming, is tomorrow. What do you do today? And Luther said that's easy, I plant a tree. Why, I don't know, because somehow, some way, god will make that beautiful in its redeemed and renewed state. Borrowing once more the words of scholar NT Wright, this is the golden that God will build his kingdom and I will build for his kingdom. That everything you and I do in this present world through Jesus' resurrection will be celebrated, included, renewed, redeemed, restored. And that means that God has created you, he's created me with intention, not a general way, but like in a very specific way. God has put you in this world right now for a reason and declares to you that your life is important, your days are significant. I've given you special gifts that, right here in this world, you're meant to do something with, and even though you may not see all the things that you do in this world, there will be one day when it will be in its better state, whatever that looks like, and so step into the gifts that I've given to you. You are made to be where you are right now. You were made to plunder the enemy's camp and to build for my kingdom. So the question is are you doing that? Are you building for God's kingdom? Are you tangibly plundering the enemy's camp? Because, truthfully, it doesn't always feel like that. It doesn't always feel like Satan's bound up in America or even in Omaha. Sometimes it feels like Team Jesus is losing ground, not gaining ground. Collectively, we are the ones that, for whatever reason, are cowering and feel like we're on our heels and individually, sometimes it doesn't feel like my days are significant and what I do is important. And why is that? If this is true, why is that? And here's what I would contest? I would contest it this way because we are not keeping God's vision at the forefront and epicenter of our lives. I think that's why we're not doing that. I'm using the word we very intentionally because I want to make sure I include myself in this. I've had a blast kind of going through Revelation and the four, like I've had more study on this book than I ever had before, and I would tell you that I've never been emotionally as invested and moved as I've prepared sermons, as I have been going through the book of Revelation. And there's a reason for that and part of it is like the excitement and awe and wonder of like what is in here. But the other part is like there's a deep conviction that I felt in my own life of how infantile my understanding of the final book of the Bible is and I've never like considered I think I'm growing in this series myself to be a huge fantasy fiction fan. Like I'm always drawn to like literal facts, data driven, nonfiction type of guy. Like I like preaching, like the books of the Bible and the Bible events that I know like are factual, historical, like I know how to preach those books. If I'm honest with you, they're way less preparation each sermon, but but here's the reality, revelation. It's convicted me. Why has it taken me 13 years of my public ministry to truly do a deep dive, to bring before the people? Why am I, 40 years old, as a follower of Jesus and for the first time I mean I've read it many times but for the first time truly seeking to understand all that is in here? Shame on me. As I've gone through it and I've reflected on it, I've realized my own error as a pastor, that when we as pastors, when I I'm just putting myself myself, when I avoid this book, or when I misinterpreted or don't understand it. What am I really doing? I'm not putting the greatest vision of all before the people, and I have to imagine that if I'm in this camp, maybe you are too. And when we avoid this vision, we get distracted, because this world, broken as it is, still has a lot to offer. The enemy, bound as he is, stills a great deceiver, and when he calls, there's still some people, some lackeys, that are saying yes, for now. You know, in business and leadership circles, it's almost impossible to go to a conference without somebody talking about the importance of casting a clear and compelling vision. And when you don't do that, they'll use a phrase like vision leaks. Like vision leaks. When you don't, continually, over and over and over and over, repeat the vision, they'll quote the prophet Solomon and his words where there is no vision, the people perish. And so, as I've been reflecting, part of my conviction is we've got the single greatest, clearest, most compelling vision of all right here, and are we keeping it at the forefront and epicenter of our lives? If we don't, vision leaks. And when it leaks we get distracted and we go sideways. If you don't keep the end in mind, this vision will go quickly, quickly by the wayside as life just happens to you. It's like you come in today and it's a Sunday and we'll fill you with vision and your bucket is full. That's really awesome. But then you know what life does it has a way of just punching holes in your buckets all week long. It's like a couple of weeks ago and I'm preaching to throw in the scroll and the lamb and I'm feeling my bucket is full on Sunday at about 1230. And then a cop pulls me over and gives me a speeding ticket and punches me in the bucket. My vision leaks and some of those punches are more serious than others. Some of you you've lost a loved one's life way too early in this season. Reminds you of that punch in the bucket. Some of you are dealing with illness, sickness, disease or a frustrating, stubborn medical condition that you don't even know how to tackle. Punch in the bucket. Some of you are looking ahead and you're not honestly sure where your rent or mortgage payment is going to come in a week or two. Punch in the bucket. Life, the enemy, attempts to pull you away from the desired future by just having you focus on the present alone. But, friends, this is the end. And how amazing that at any time and any day, first century persecuted Christians, 21st century Omahaans, can look and see how everything ends. And it ends well for those the Bible says whose names are in the book of life. That's where we've got to land the plane. How do you know if your name is in the book of life? How do you know? Amazing news about our God is he's not only declared to us that this is the reality, but he's given us the answer and the passageway to get our name into the book of life. And it's not through anything you do, it's through what his son did on his first coming. What we celebrate on Christmas Eve that if you believe Jesus came, if you believe that he was sinless and perfect and died on a cross for all of your sins and rose from the dead and is coming back one day to make all things right, if you believe that the Bible says, then you two are saved and your name is in the book of life. And that invitation is open to anybody and everybody. It's a gift called grace and in a world filled and in a month filled with a lot of presents and gifts, it is the single greatest gift and it's open for you. That's what the end says. It says the spirit, which represents God, and the bride, which represents the church. Together, the spirit and the bride say come and let the one who hears say come, let the one who is thirsty come and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. So, friends, is your name in the book of life. If you have received God's grace, praise God. This is your end. If you haven't, today is your day and I'll ask you at the end of the service if that's for you and some of you, as I've been going through this series, you're like I believe in all this and I'm so amazed and excited, but I've got friends that I'm not sure where they're standing. I know where they're standing. They're not in the book of life right now. And that's why your present is more important than you believe, because just receiving it today could change your eternity. What changes here today? And sharing that good news plunders the enemy's camp and brings heaven to a fuller, more beautiful place, because friends and family are there. So let me close with the final words of the Bible he who testifies to these things says yes, I am coming soon. Amen, come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen. And so, lord, let it be. Thank you for the vision you've given, for the invitation for all to receive. May we keep your vision at the forefront and epicenter of our lives. May we plunder the enemy's camp. May we build for your kingdom that we would bring your kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. Let it be Amen.