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Jul 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapters 21-22:5 – 06/30/2024



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community!        Grace and Peace to you!

Have any of you read the book Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Dr. Eben Alexander?  We read it with our Chaplain a few years ago and went to hear him speak.  It’s come to my mind a few times since we’ve been in the Book of the Revelation.

Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are controversial. Thousands of people have had them, and many in the scientific community have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Alexander was one of those people.  He was a highly trained neurosurgeon who had operated on thousands of brains, and he “knew” that what people of faith call the “soul” was really just the fantasies produced by the brain. Then his own brain was attacked by a rare bacterial meningitis, and the parts of the brain that control thoughts and emotion shut down completely.  He was on a ventilator and in a deep coma for seven days, his imminent death was predicted, and then he came back.  A medical miracle—perhaps, but here’s the real miracle.  While his body was in a coma, he tells that he journeyed beyond this world, encountered an angelic being, and was guided into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. 

We may or may not believe it; it is his experience to tell.  But here’s the bottom line, before he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul, because he was only trying to understand with his intellect, his brain.  But then he had a different experience that changed everything for him.  He wrote, “True thought is not the brain’s affair.  But we have been so trained to associate our brains with what we think and who we are that we have lost the ability to realize that we are at all times much more than our physical brain and our physical body.” 

We have another RefleXion friend who experienced Heaven and has found a deep, deep sense of love.  Maybe you know Michael, or someone else who has experienced an NDE.

Maybe, since we’ve been visiting John’s Revelation Vision, we’ve become more open to the contemplative mind and  to more of what’s here and what’s Real and what we’re invited to know about ourselves and God, and not only what we know but how we know.

Back to Dr. Alexander—his latest book is Living in a Mindful Universe. He says that direct experience is key to fully realizing how we are all connected through the binding force of unconditional love and its unlimited ability to heal.  His experience certainly changed him; our experiences will too.  Richard Rohr says , “Contemplation gives us access to our birthright waiting within us.”  Let’s keep at our contemplative practices.  Pray with me:

Thank you, Lord, for being with us and for us.  Let us know our rightful place in the family of things and let us be conscious of your call to us.  We call to you, too.  The Spirit and the Bride say “Come.”  Thank you for welcoming us in to your presence this morning.  We will keep our eyes on you.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
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

Intro: Once again, John begins to describe an event with “I saw”

We are reminded that this entire book is a mystical vision and uses the strange language of images and symbols
– however, we could be tempted to read last two chapters differently,
• as if John were describing events in a literal future
• but when, once again, he says “I saw,” we know this is the same as the rest of the book
– so we turn our imaginations toward what he saw;
• namely, something that had been predicted in prophecy of Isaiah
For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind (Isa. 65:17)
◦ “heavens and earth” refer to all of creation
“In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” (Gen. 1:1)
• but now what John saw was a transformed landscape, entirely different than what it was before
◦ sky and earth have been totally renovated
◦ they have become new and uncontaminated
according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13)

John adds something that upsets surfers and sailors “and the sea was no more”
– Israel’s feared regions were haunted by unknown and unpredictable powers
Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up . . . (Ps. 69:14-15)
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and you waves
have gone over me (Ps. 42:7)
– in dream symbols, the sea can represent the unconscious mind
• we cannot see into its murky depths
◦ the unconscious is perhaps the greatest mystery of human beings
◦ our dream reservoir, forgotten memories, fears, conflicts, and the source of all of our nightmares
• can you imagine no more need for a separate substrata of the mind?
◦ nothing so horrible it has to be stashed away
◦ instead, we could be in a constant state of awareness

A moment when God’s dream comes true at last
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 their God.” Revelation 21:2-3

[God to Moses] let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting . . . . I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God (Ex. 29:43-45)
– from the time God chose a people for himself, he wanted this; to be near them, to live among them
• they would then have God, not exclusively for his gifts, but for God himself
– everything is perfect in this new environment – there are no residual effects of the curse
“He will wipe away ever 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” Revelation 21:4
• I do my daily reading of scripture in my iPad so I can add my own notes
• here is what I wrote last year when I came to verse 4:
“He will wipe away every tear”—this lovely statement is so down to earth that we may fail to see its actual depths. The physical gesture of wiping tears expresses themes of caring, comfort, and consoling, but the literal act in this instance is a symbol of something far deeper. God will not be running around heaven with a hanky wiping tears off of cheeks. Instead, what will be wiped away is every cause of pain and sorrow. These deep and relentless and excruciating feelings of loss, emptiness, loneliness, futility, meaninglessness, and hopelessness will be removed from our being, our existence. We will not weep tears of grief or sadness, because, as James Brownson has written, “all our experiences of intimacy, fruitfulness, and communion in this life will be seen as only hints and foretastes of a deeper intimacy, fruitfulness, and communion that our present experiences of faithfulness, love, and intimacy in this life can only suggest and prefigure, as the old creation gives way to the new.”

God explains the scene John has just witnessed
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 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.” Revelation 21:5-8

There are two “I am” statements in these verses and two “I will” statements
“Behold” refers to the previous verses
• I follow Jesus’ ministry in the gospels and everything he says and does is new, is surprise
◦ new wineskins and new cloth; new teaching and with authority;
◦ a new covenant and a new commandment;
◦ a new life, and a new world that is yet to come
Jacques Ellul, “Grace establishes new moments in each life.”
And, new “implies, a love that does not wear out, does not fall into habit, always as full, as stirring, as surprising as on the first day.”

The vision rewinds to verse 2, but with more detail
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb Revelation 21:9-14

The original founders of Babylon (at Babel)came together to build a city,
– and in the city a tower on earth with it top up in the heavens
• now God delivers the city, New Jerusalem, down from heaven to earth
– culmination of all the centuries of preparation
• first with the twelve tribes of Israel, then twelve apostles
(twelve is a key number throughout this section,
including the measurements of the city)

There is another contrast with Babel worth noticing
– the people began as one, but were divided and scattered
• in New Jerusalem, the divided people of the nations are united
Ellul, “. . . in this New Jerusalem all races, peoples, nations, tribes meet. But while the tendency was always toward unity by the disappearance of diversities, now unity appears (in God) in the communion of existing diversities, and human plurality is maintained.”
• the New Jerusalem is the end of all racism

Unlike old Jerusalem, there’s no temple in New Jerusalem
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. Revelation 21:22-26

No one needs to go to a certain place at a certain time to seek God or worship him
– in New Jerusalem God is everywhere and all the time
• I wonder if this moment reminded John of Jesus and Samaritan woman?
◦ first, there is the promise of a spring of living water
◦ second, there was her question about the correct place to worship God
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:21-24)

This incredible stage of the vision concludes in chapter 22
Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever Revelation 22:1-5

I’m going to shift gears here, and present my thoughts differently than I have been
Jacques Ellul was a brilliant scholar and his writings are profound
– he was not what we would consider a “popular” author — he did not write for the masses
• I want you to keep that in mind
– in going over these verses,
• Ellul made a couple of observations that I want to emphasize
◦ first, something he perceived about heaven: everything is living
◦ second, everything is love
Ellul, The New Jerusalem “is not a museum but an integration into a living whole and a re-creation for development. Because everything here is living and not closed preserved.”
• regarding the river that flows from the throne:
Ellul, “this is a river of living water, a river of life . . . . This is not life that flows (and disappears) like a river. This is a continual giving of life effected by the river . . . it is a springing up of life itself. . . . There is a continual current of life, the very clear symbol of the immediate relation of ‘God with men.’”
• Ellul perceives New Jerusalem as a city without mayor or city council
“There is no directing authority. There is only and exclusively Love. . . . [because] each is with and with all in a perfect relation of love . . . . And there is no repetition because love is permanent, constant invention, and there is no limit to freedom, because love is freedom and freedom cannot exist without love.”
◦ we’ve got this, right? Everything regarding heaven is life and love
– I have a friend who survived a near death experience
• I am certain that Michael Herbert has never read Ellul
• but as a result of a motorcycle accident at eighteen years old, he was left in a coma for a month
◦ during that time, he had an experience that he describes as being escorted to heaven
“. . . I noticed everything within and around the City was alive. We think of stone, bricks, and mortar as inanimate objects, but nothing in Heaven is lifeless. . . . Imagine approaching a stone wall and realizing that it recognizes your presence, knows your voice and emits the warmth of a smile as it welcomes you.” “Merely being there was sufficient to feel as if life itself flowed into and out of my being like a river . . . .”
“It ‘seemed’ that I could now hear Love living, flowing, vibrating in everything as the very life of Heaven.”
◦ for him, as for Ellul, everything in heaven was life and love

Conclusion: Isn’t this strange?

Two very different people living ten thousand miles apart, arrived at identical conceptions of heaven
One reasoned his way to those conceptions from his rich background of law, logic, and history
The other who traveled to heaven in a comatose state
This doesn’t prove anything,
but it does make me less concerned about the things of this world
And, it fills me with hope for our future

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