Trevor Morrow was born in Lambeg. He ministered in Lucan Presbyterian Church for 31 years before his retirement in 2014. He has worked across the communities in Ireland and was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Ulster for his services to reconciliation. This week, Trevor was speaking at three of the evening celebrations. Here the NH Media team brings you a summary of his final message on Friday 12 August.
There are so many references to heaven in popular culture. Even among those who are most hardened, there is a longing for something more. In this secular society, people imagine that when you are dead, you are dead and nothing matters any more. They think those of us who long for life after death are escapist.
Is it escapist for an unborn baby to wonderful about life after birth? Is it escapist for a caterpillar to dream of being a butterfly? We have been created to love and be loved and our longings have never fully been satisfied in this life.
What we are hoping for, what we are expecting, will determine how we live today. I want to look clearly about where our final home is to be found. Where we are going if we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom.
Reading from Revelation 21: 1 – 5
This book of Revelation is full of pictures and symbols. It would be crazy for anyone to seek to interpret it in a literal fashion. We are brought into something akin to an art gallery where we see images and metaphors. Don’t be afraid of thinking pictorially – Jesus did this all the time (He is the “Lion of Judah” and the Lamb of God).
Let us look at some of the images and pictures in Revelation. I know that when you speak about the future life you talk about going to heaven – a new sense of peace, a new body. Heaven is the dwelling place with God. When we die, we are absent from the body and present with the Lord.
Here is the problem. Much of our thinking in the church has been more influenced by a Greek philosopher called Plato than by the Bible. Often we think that the most important part of us is our “soul”. That is the total inversion of how we have been created. God stretched down into the mud of the earth. He molded a body with muscles and sinews and then He breathed life into the body.
The Greek influence has so affected us that we have squeezed the scriptures. We forget about Revelation 21 and 22 and we think first and foremost about heaven or hell for our souls and our Bibles conclude with the final judgement.
If you turn to Revelation 21, you cannot read it without echoes of Genesis 1. The new creation is a reflection of God’s creation. In Genesis 2, God is present with His people, walking in the garden.
Our final destiny is the new earth.
We have been made for this, body and spirit. God created us for planet earth. He created us in His divine image. What He created was very good. In the creation mandate, God gave mankind the responsibility to live all of life in worship to Him so that the earth becomes a cosmic temple where God dwells with His people. It is a place of fellowship because that is where God is present.
The people of the Exodus were taken out of Egypt with a promise of being given a new land. During the exile, the longing of their hearts was to return to the Promised Land.
And then Jesus comes. In the manifesto of His kingdom, He says, “The meek will inherit the earth.” He teaches His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth.” He commands His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.
What we have in Revelation 21 is the culmination of God’s promises for the re-creation of what is to be our home – the new earth.
On this new earth, the curse that has been so destructive to everything and everyone we have been engaged with has been removed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the world is not as it is meant to be. We carry this guilt and shame of separation from our Creator.
God tells us in Genesis that the curse will be the stress of work, the pain of childbirth and the oppression of patriarchy (resulting in slavery, murder, abuse and terrorism, etc.) this is all the result of the curse.
But in Revelation 21, the curse is lifted and the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven and in it there will be no more evil, there will be no more “sea”… this is pictorial language. The brokenness of this world in which we live is because of the principalities and powers of darkness so that we are held captive by “monsters from the deep” but that will come to an end.
And there is no more fear. In all cities, during the daytime it is relatively safe but at night it is not safe. In the New Jerusalem, the gates are open wide. There is nothing of which we need to be afraid.
And there are no more tears. I cannot imagine in a gathering of this size, how many tears have been shed. Tears of experiences that are almost beyond explanation. The pain of loss. The death of children.
In the New Jerusalem, God Himself, will in this most intimate way, wipe away every tear from our eyes because there will be no more death. We are going to be death-proof because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He has secured for us a resurrected body.
We are going to have bodies like Christ’s resurrected body. It is a spiritual body but it will be more solid, more real and more substantial than we can ever imagine. It will not be subject to death.
The New Jerusalem we find in Revelation is carefully measured. It is ornately decorated in precious jewels. It is magnificent.
Salvation is complete
Our salvation secured by Jesus Christ. It is called a new heaven and a new earth. He chooses a word, which means a radical renewal (paradise restored). Jesus had spoken about this in Matthew 19 – it is the renewal of all things. In fulfillment of the vision that came to the prophet Isaiah. What is being described here is the cosmic salvation that has been secured through Jesus Christ. Even though it is so comprehensive, not everyone is going to share in this.
The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murders, the idolaters… there are those who will not share in the salvation.
Two groups of people are excluded from this quite specifically. The cowards are those who will not take up their cross. The liars are those who have heard the lie, believed the lie and lived the lie that they are in charge.
We have been made for love at a deep level of intimacy that we have never known before with God Himself – this is the fullness of our Salvation. In the new Creation, we will be perfect in our intimacy. We will be able to identify, listen and respond to those we love.
There will be utter satisfaction
We live in a culture that has created an environment in which we are never satisfied. Capitalism tells us we always need something new and something more and you have to buy it. The truth is that in this life we are never, ever satisfied.
We have been made for fellowship with God. There is a river flowing through the city. It is the water of life that Jesus talks about. If you drink from this river, you will never, ever thirst again. At that time, we will never be unfulfilled. We will never be satisfied. wE will never feel we need more. When salvation is complete all inter-racial, inter-ethnic, inter-tribal conflict will be no more. The leaves of the tree of life will be for the healing of the nations including the island of Ireland.
It is the fulfillment of Isaiah 60 in which the kings will bring the cultural inheritance of all the nations and place all their riches on parade.
The kingdom has already come because the king has come. We are simply living in expectation of what will be in . We are to live now as the children of a new day, of a new age which is to come. The greatest thing about this new Jerusalem is at the centre, the primary focus is the Living God and the Lamb who has secured our redemption.
There is no temple in the New Jerusalem
John says, “I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” God is simply present with His people. The fall destroyed our intimacy with God but this is restored in the New Jerusalem.
When the people of Israel disobeyed, God told Moses He would not go with them. But Moses pleaded with God. God did go with them and was present with His people in the tabernacle and the temple, until Jesus came and the Word became flesh. He describes Himself as the temple – God Himself with His people. He was our priest and our sacrifice.
Now we, God’s people, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God is in His holy temple, as He lives in us.
But in the new Jerusalem, there will be NO temple – we will not need one because God Himself will be present with His people.
God is my Lord and Saviour in Jesus Christ and I have had moments of extraordinary intimacy with Him during my life but this has been difficult for me, it has been a struggle. I have tried many spiritual disciplines because I long to know Him and be with Him. And in the new Jerusalem there will be no more temple, no more sermons, no more spiritual disciplines, we will be forever in the presence of the living God who has loved us with an everlasting love and redeemed us through His son.
You don’t want to miss this.