Revelation Questions: Beginning or the End?

As we arrive in the final month of Summer and close out this short series on Revelation, it seems like the most appropriate place to end would be… well, the ending. As we do, its important to remember that the fate of creation and humanity in a Biblical worldview is not a destruction of matter and evacuation to Heaven, but rather a restoration of all things that ushers in a new age of life and glory. (I’ve already discussed this in an old blog back in April).

Once we have that down, the legitimate question still arises: what will life look like in this new age? Many of us have been taught to think of it as a cosmic retirement home. Due to some poor translating on the part of the King James Bible and a misunderstanding of the vocation that humans were given, we often have this picture in our heads of sitting in mansions, lounging around doing nothing particular, and if we are really spiritual, maybe singing songs about God all the while. At the core of it, we see Revelation 22 as the end of the God-human story, and the afterlife just as a sort of epilogue with no real excitement to be noted.

So “what will my cosmic retirement plan look like" may not be such a good question, but if you want to get an idea of what the future in the kingdom of God holds, Revelation is a great, if brief, glimpse.

In order to understand what Revelation has to say about our future life, we have to go all the way back to the beginning- to Genesis. Once we understand that passage, we can go to Revelation and compare the two and understand its message.

Genesis 2 famously depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Popular imagination simply pictures them frolicking about, eating fruit and never working, but the narrative is much more robust than that. We learn that Adam and Eve have been given this Garden not simply as a home, but as a home-base. God has appointed these two to be icons of his rule: his images (Genesis 1:27). They will rule creation alongside God, taking all of the order and goodness of the garden and cultivating it throughout the entire new and wild world just as he did in the garden (Genesis 1:26,28; 2:19-20). Notably, the text says that the creation is good, but not that it is perfect. (This is not to say it was morally corrupt- it is exactly as God intended, but it is also full of potential for new and exciting creations). These humans will have the opportunity to rule and create alongside God. Taking what good things he has made and cultivating new and good things. This is all followed by failure, as the first humans rebel and determine to create apart from God’s wisdom, bringing chaos and pain.

Against this backdrop, there is a striking comparison to be made between Genesis 1 and Revelation 21-22.
“...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…

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. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life....
Then the angel 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 with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations....”
The vision John is given at the closing of the revelation is not one just of a garden, but rather of a garden-city. Clearly Eden is present in this picture as evidenced by the tree of life, but it has been integrated into a beautifully ordered city of flourishing communities and cultures. In other words, humans, in the pattern of Jesus, have resumed their vocation of ruling and creating alongside God, and thus are going about bringing all kinds of beauty and newness to the redeemed creation. Best of all, all of that redeemed goodness is flowing out like a river into the rest of creation, bringing life and goodness wherever it goes.

The picture that Revelation leaves us with is the picture of ideal humanity fulfilling its vocation from Genesis. God’s kingdom is one where art and beauty and likely even technology will all be made to the glory of God alongside his wise guidance. We will not retire, but instead will live as we were always meant to live- ruling and creating alongside God, making for a world more robust, beautiful, and exciting than we could ever imagine.

In the end, There is really just one tool for interpreting revelation: when we read it, our focus must always remain on Jesus. The Gospel is that Jesus was the human king that humans failed to be, and that in dying and loving his enemies, he defeated death, overcame the world, and took his place with the father as the ultimate co-ruler. Revelation is a reminder that this is our fate: if we die with Christ, we will also live and reign with him. (2 Tim 2:11)

Dan Vandzura