by Scotty Smith
Having read this incredible collage of articles on God’s kingdom in this Advent season edition of Tabletalk, hopefully you’re beginning to wonder how to “bring home” all this rich theology to your context and community. What are some of the telling and timely implications of a sound and lively theology of the kingdom for us in the body of Christ today? How are we to seek first the kingdom of God and the righteous and redeeming dominion of our wonderful, merciful Savior, Jesus Christ? If we’re not anticipating and working for the revelation of Jesus’ restorative rule over all things, then what are we seeking?
I know of no better way to wrestle with these critical questions of application than to marinate our hearts in a small portion of the final vision that God gave His son and servant, the apostle John. Of the roughly 1189 chapters in the Bible, there are only four that give us a picture of God’s people and God’s world free from the influence of sin and death — the first two, Genesis 1–2, and the last two, Revelation 21–22. How incredibly awesome — the entire unfolding story of redemption is bracketed by four chapters of sinless wonder! Doesn’t it stand to reason that we should become as familiar as possible with these four chapters in order to understand how we are to live presently under the “new-creation” reign of God’s grace through His Son?
If the kingdom of God is God’s people living in God’s world under God’s rule, then, certainly, we must soak in these consuming and consoling portions of God’s Word to understand what life in the kingdom means for us today as we take our place in the history of redemption. What did God’s unbroken people and cosmos look like before the intrusion of sin and death? What will the glorified people of God and the transformed universe look like with the return of Jesus?
For brevity and specificity, let’s consider the first part of John’s last vision — Revelation 21:1–5.
In these first five verses, the exiled prophet of Christ and servant of the church saw the fulfilment of the two main kingdom commitments God has made through the work of His Son, Jesus: first, the redeeming of a pan-national trans-generational family to love and cherish forever, and, second, the restoration through recreation of God’s fallen and broken cosmos.
John’s vision guarantees us that there is no possibility whatsoever that Jesus will not redeem a people from every single race, tribe, and people group. And there is no possibility whatsoever that Jesus will not make a new heaven and new earth out of the first creation, so tragically marred and marked by sin and death. The God that called Abraham to count stars, sand, and dust will make good on His promise to create and bless a covenant family from all families! The God who gave Isaiah a vision of lambs lying down with wolves, and kings bringing their splendor into a New Jerusalem, and a perfect world of justice, shalom, and the unbroken worship of God forever — He did not lie! He will deliver! To read God’s unfolding story of redemption is to realize that the garden of Eden was just a preview of coming attractions! And the more I ponder John’s last vision the more I am smitten with the hope that one day a new people and new world will emerge that will be like the garden of Eden on mega-steroids!
How was this vision meant to affect the lambs of Christ under John’s care? The same way this vision is meant to affect you and me! Far from turning our churches into “Fort God,” or ingrown communities of petty, privatized, and paranoid followers of Jesus, John’s vision of a gathered people and a glorified universe is meant to free every generation of Christians to “love not our own lives unto death.” It is meant to empower us sacrificially and joyfully to serve the One who reigns now by virtue of His resurrection, and who will reign forever by the reality of His eternal glory.
How then shall we live and love? First, let us seek to bring the hope and the first-fruits of the new heaven and new earth into every sphere of life where God has placed us. Second, let us preach the Gospel with great passion and with humble astonishment. Finally, let us extend the tear-wiping hand of God to the places and people all around us that cry for justice and mercy endlessly. Until that final day, we the people of God are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God in this day (Micah 6:8). And we who experience the tear-wiping hand of God in our lives are called to extend it to the least and the lost.