CDPCKL · The Final Resurrection, the Final Judgement, the Final Creation (Revelation 20:11-21:8)

The Final Resurrection, the Final Judgement, the Final Creation (Revelation 20:11-21:8)

More than 2,500 years ago, at the height of Babylonian imperial power, a man named Daniel began to receive a series of terrifying visions, which he wrote down in his journals. 

And the visions Daniel saw revealed that Babylonian imperial power — the most terrible empire the world had ever known! — was really just the beginning of a series of terrible empires that would rise throughout history, a series that would end with an empire that makes Babylon look peaceful and enlightened by comparison. And Daniel’s visions confirmed that this last, most terrible empire would actually trample God’s holy people for “a time, times and half a time,” which would end with a great time of distress when the power of the holy people would be finally broken.  

But then, Daniel says, “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His throne was flaming with fire, and a river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” As Daniel watches, that final, most terrible empire is captured and brought before the judgement throne. There is a trial. But even then this empire refuses to acknowledge the authority of the king. And so it is slain, its body thrown into the blazing fire. 

And so, in this way, Daniel says, “everyone whose name is found written in the book of life will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.“ 

So the prophet Daniel was given visions that outlined the future history of the world, beginning from his time and leading right up to the final Judgement at the end. 

And by this point in the Book of Revelation, it is pretty obvious that John, writing at the height of Roman imperial power — the most terrible empire the world had ever known, an empire that makes Babylon look peaceful and enlightened by comparison! — by this point it is obvious that John has been given the same basic set of visions that Daniel was. Four times now, in four distinct vision cycles, John has outlined for us the future history of the world, beginning from his own time and leading right up to the final Judgement at the end. 

Except that, so far, every cycle has ended before we got to the final final Judgement. 

For instance, the first cycle — the Cycle of the Seven Seals — began with the sacrificed but risen Son of God arriving victorious before his Father’s heavenly throne, receiving the sealed scroll of his inheritance, which gave him lordship over all history. That cycle ended with a great earthquake, the gathered people of the earth begging the mountains to fall and hide them from the terrors of the final Judgement, an angel pouring a bowl of burning coals out upon the earth — 

And then the visions reset, and launched into the Cycle of the Seven Trumpets, which outlined how the Roman empire would be destroyed, step by step, a warning to all mankind that this is what God will do to every nation that abuses his children. Instead of listening, the nations picked up where Rome left off. They continued to trample the earth for a symbolic 42 months. Eventually they overpowered and killed Jesus’ Church. And then suddenly that cycle ended, again, with a great earthquake, global civilization collapsing in terror, a severe hailstorm poured out upon the earth — 

And then the Cycle of the Seven Signs began with the human but divine Son of God arriving victorious before his Father’s heavenly throne, which resulted in Satan getting kicked out of heaven, hurled down to earth, where he inspired the nations to trample the earth for a symbolic 42 months. Eventually he overpowered and conquered God’s holy people. And then suddenly that cycle ended in a war that was really more like a harvesting action than a real battle, the terrified nations gathered together and crushed like grapes in a winepress — 

And then we got the fourth cycle — the Cycle of the Seven Last Plagues — which outlined how Satan’s final, global Babylon the Great will be destroyed just like Rome’s empire had been. And again this cycle ended with a great earthquake, a war involving all the gathered people of the earth, and a world-destroying hailstorm. 

So, throughout these four cycles we have caught some glimpses of the final resurrection that Daniel talked; we have received some hints that there must be a final Judgement with a throne and everything; we have heard rumors of a new creation ready to replace the old…but we have not quite seen the things themselves. 

And then, last week, John’s visions treated us to one last run-thru, one last review of history — beginning with ancient Rome, ending with Babylon the Great — just to make sure we are getting the over-all narrative flow of Revelation. 

And this is the flow: 

From the time of Christ onward, Satan has been inspiring individual nations to trample God’s people for ”forty two months” — a number that symbolizes the tribulations of Jesus’ Church in the wilderness of this world. During the same span of history, however, Satan has also been restrained from uniting the nations into one great Church-trampling empire for “a thousand years” — a number that symbolizes the irresistable expansion of Jesus’ Church throughout the wilderness of this world. 

This is the “millennial age” we are living in now. 

But when Jesus Church has finished her testimony, when God’s Word has been preached throughout the earth, then Satan must be set free for a short time, which he will use to gather all the nations together into one great global urbanized civilization that will surround and overpower and kill God’s people for ”three and a half days” — a number that symbolizes the arrest, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. 

And yet, in the end, fire will come down from heaven and devour the armies of Babylon the Great. The beast and the false prophet and the dragon will be captured and thrown into the lake of burning sulfur; while the the bodies of their slain followers will lie unburied, smouldering, consumed by birds and wild animals. 

That much of the flow is clear! 

But still, so far, we have not received a clear vision of the final resurrection, the final Judgment, the final creation. 

…I think we’re ready: 

So, [11] then, John says, I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 

John is now finally seeing what Daniel saw: the final Judgement, the very end of the Battle of Armageddon. 

Let me pause to provide some historical background here: in ancient times, when a kingdom was attacked, the king would often send his army out under the command of his son, or sons, and other trusted generals, while he remained behind to close up his capital city and defend its citizens. 

Only after the enemy was defeated, the kingdom safe, would the king leave his capital and descend to the battlefield, seated on a throne mounted upon a four-wheeled war-chariot. And he would do three things: first, he would pass judgement upon the captured enemy kings; second, he would count the plunder and distribute it to his faithful soldiers according to how they had conducted themselves during the battle; third, he would decide what to do with the captured enemy soldiers: will they be set free? Sold as slaves? Executed? If they are executed, what will be done with the bodies: will they be burned? Buried? Left to rot? 

And then the day would end with a victory feast, the king eating alongside all his faithful warriors right there on the field where they had risked their lives for king and kingdom. 

So this is the kind of scene John’s visions have been preparing us for ever since Chapter 15. That chapter began with a picture of God’s capital city on Mount Zion, filled with God’s citizens. Then the army was sent out to war — the seven angels with the seven last plagues — and the city was closed up behind them so that no one could enter until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. 

By this point, those plagues are definitely completed. The enemy is defeated. The kingdom is safe. So John is now seeing the king open the gates of his capital city and descend to the battlefield — seated upon a throne shining so brightly that the light actually displaces the old creation. In this moment, the heavens have disappeared with a roar; the elements have been destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it has been laid bare, burned clean by the brilliance of the king’s war-chariot. 

And according to Daniel’s vision in the Old Testament, the first thing the victorious king does is have the captured enemy kings brought before him for judgement. 

But John does not describe that moment here, because he has actually already described those judgements in great detail in previous chapters: Babylon the Great collapsed into fire and ruin back in Chapters 16, 17, and 18; the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon were thrown alive into the fiery lake back in Chapters 19 and 20, unrepentant to the very end just as Daniel prophesied. 

So here John moves on immediately to the next phase of Judgement Day: [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. 

And this is also exactly what Daniel described in his vision: Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. 

In Daniel’s vision, however, we were not told who exactly these people are that stand before the throne on Judgement Day. Are these God’s people we are seeing, or are these God’s enemies? 

In this, John’s book gives us a greater insight than Daniel’s did: in Revelation, the only people we have ever seen standing before the throne is the great multitude that no one could count, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 

In other words: this is us. This is all of God’s people, resurrected, standing in a place where even the earth and the heavens could not survive intact. 

This is the army of God’s faithful soldiers, lined up now before the throne to be rewarded for how they conducted themselves during the war. 

And that is why books are being opened: these are the written records of everything we have done throughout this thousand year-long war to expand Jesus’ Church: every generous act of bravery, every selfish moment of cowardice, every betrayal, every shameful sin…it is all written down in these books. 

And I don’t know about you, but — for me — this brings to my mind some very uncomfortable memories: words and thoughts and actions I really really do not want to have exposed for everyone to see…! 

But then, John says, another book was opened, which is the book of life. 

And I don’t know about you, but — for me — this is where I say, oh…thank God! 

Because this is the written record of every person who was marked on the forehead with the blood of Jesus back in Chapter 7. This is the list of citizens who were counted at the very beginning of our great, multi-generational 42 month-long exodus across the wilderness of history. This is the list of citizens who are guaranteed a spot in God’s capital city when our great, multi-generational thousand year-long war against the dragon is finally over. 

And this is good news! because: The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 

When we stand before the throne, we will be judged according to the record of what we have done in this life…but we will also be judged according to the record contained in the Lamb’s book of life. 

…let me try to explain this using that very popular Judgement Day image of ”the scales” where our deeds are weighed one against the other: 

In the popular notion, our good deeds go on one side, our bad deeds go on the other, and the heavier side tells us whether we are going to heaven or hell, right? 

Now, a lot of people think this is a biblical concept. It is not! Really, that is an ancient pagan idea, it has nothing to do with our scriptures. 

Whenever the bible talks about scales in reference to God’s judgement, the setup is really very different: first, the person is actually allowed to put every single bit of goodness and greatness they’ve stored up on one side of the scale; then God puts every single bit of goodness and greatness he’s got on the other side…and the heavier side wins, and gets to pass judgement on the other. 

The point of those passages is obvious: do not challenge God to a contest of “who do you think you are?”! You will lose every time. And on top of that — if you do not repent — you will be condemned for your arrogance. 

In the Old Testament, two men are explicitly recorded as having this contest with God. One, King Belshazzar of Babylon, was “weighed and found wanting”, and he lost his empire, his life, and his soul in a single night. 

The other one was Job. Near the end of his book, Job literally challenges God to weigh his righteous deeds in a scale, to prove that God is wrong to make him suffer so terribly. 

Then God shows up, and puts his finger on the other side of the scale. And Job’s last words in the book are, “Heh heh heh…I can see I have miscalculated. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” 

And then God very generously applies the weight of his own righteousness to Job’s side of the scale: Job is repaid two times more than he had before. 

So, getting back to Judgement Day now, we could describe it this way: the book of everything we have done will be placed on one side of the scale, while the book of everything the Lamb has done is placed on the other side. And the heavier side will pass judgement upon the other! unless we despise ourselves and repent in dust and ashes. If we do that, then our names will be found in the Lamb’s book of everything he has done. And suddenly, graciously, the weight of Christ’s righteousness will be applied to our side. 

Basically, we will be judged as citizens, not as strangers. And this makes all the difference! As citizens, our deeds in this life are going to be judged according to a very different standard than those who are brought before the throne as enemies of God. 

And we can tell just how different our judgement is going to be because John’s vision now moves on to the judgement of God’s enemies: 

[13] The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 

As we learned last week, when Christians die during this thousand year-long war, they immediately come to life and begin to reign with Christ in heaven, fully conscious of God’s presence. 

But when the unfaithful die, they immediately pass into a kind of living death: awake, but conscious of nothing but darkness, the absence of God. They descend into death and Hades, they descend into the depths of the sea. 

…let me pause here again to provide some historical background for these concepts of “death and Hades” and “the sea”: 

In scripture, Hades is a kind of holding pen where the unfaithful dead are imprisoned while they wait for judgement, and “death” is kind of like the chains that bind them there in the darkness. 

In a similar way, the sea is closely associated with the Abyss, the primordial ocean of elemental darkness and chaos which exists under the earth — the conceptual counterweight to the brilliantly organized heavens above. 

And we are going to touch on these concepts again in a bit, so if you have questions just hold on to them for a few minutes. 

Basically, when John says the sea and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, he is telling us that, on Judgement Day, the unfaithful dead will also be resurrected, brought back back out of the darkness where they have been chained and waiting for judgement. And they will also be brought before the throne, just like God’s people were. 

But with two key differences: first, the unfaithful dead do not stand before the throne at all. How can they, when earth and heaven have been forced to flee? And, second, they really are judged according to every detail of what they had done. Their deeds — both good and bad — are placed on one side of the scale, the Lamb’s book of life on the other…and the results are obvious. They are weighed, and they are found wanting. Even their amazing acts of genuine, generous, self-sacrificing courage and kindness will not be heavy enough to outweigh the courage and kindness of Jesus. What looked like humility on earth will be exposed for the arrogance that it really is: the idea that a human being can store up enough good deeds to win for themselves the authority to pass judgement on God?! 

Okay. So, by this point in the vision, the enemy soldiers have all been sorted out — each name cross-checked against the book of life to make sure no one is condemned by mistake. 

Now, the court must decide what to do with them. Will they be freed? Enslaved? Executed? 

…the court makes its decision. And begins to act: [14] Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. 

As a first step, the court gets rid of the chains and the holding pen: these items follow the counterfeit trinity into the flames. Apparently, the court feels like they no longer need a prisonhouse for the unfaithful dead. 

Why not? 

Because: the lake of fire is the second death. 

Mm. We heard this “second death” mentioned last week, and we wondered what it is. 

Well, here we find out the second death is a place…or a concept, perhaps? After all, “death” is itself a concept — it is not a living spirit or anything like that! — and how do you throw a concept into a fire…unless the fire is also a concept? 

So the first death is thrown into the second death…? 

It is hard to sort all this out sometimes, because we are talking about spiritual things using physical language which does not quite match up to the reality. 

But one thing we can know for sure here is this: the second death is different from the first death, because Hades — the place of the first death — is described as a place of darkness, isolation, chained inactivity. The lake of fire, however — the place of the second death — is described as a place of burning sulfur and smoke that rises for ever and ever, a place of ceaseless, terrible activity. 

In short: Hades is temporary; the lake of fire is forever. The first death was temporary; the second death is eternal. 

But how does this explain why the court thinks they no longer need a temporary prisonhouse for the unfaithful dead? 

Well, because: [15] anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was also thrown into the lake of fire. 

So now we know what the court has decided to do with the defeated enemy: they are to be executed. Removed completely from the equation, so that they will never again be able to threaten the earth with their rebellion. 

And all this simply confirms something the apostle Paul said in another place: “the last enemy to be destroyed will be death.” First Babylon the Great was brought down. Then the beast and the false prophet and the dragon. Now, last of all, the dark chains of death that have bound mankind to the grave for so many ages are gone. 

For those who belong to Christ, those chains have already been cut. So when those shackles go rattling and sliding away over the edge into the flaming Abyss, we will not go with them! 

But those who rejected Jesus’ kindness in this life, those who chose to fight on the side of the dragon instead, will find themselves entangled in those chains once again and dragged over the edge, snatched away to their doom — just like Captain Ahab from the novel Moby Dick, when a loop of the flying rope catches him around the neck and pulls him down into the depths of the sea. 

And [1] then, John says, 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. 

The sea has been a powerful recurring symbol throughout the Book of Revelation. We first saw it in Chapter 4 as just a water feature in God’s throne room, a washing bowl, a mere container for the Abyss, our universe. But a few chapters later we saw it as a place of creation-consuming commerce, which became a place of congealed blood, death and judgement. A few chapters after that it was revealed as the source of all restless evil, the native habitat of the beast from the Abyss. And then, in Chapter 15, we saw the sea once again as just a water feature in God’s throne room — but this time it was glowing with fire. 

In other words: the ”sea” in Revelation has now become the lake of fire, it symbolizes the Abyss under the earth, the chaotic watery — and fiery — counterweight to the orderly heavens above. 

In the beginning, we are told, God filled the heavens with creatures who delight in order and beauty. He also filled the Abyss with creatures who delight in disorder and garbage. However, those creatures were not evil to begin with, any more than a cockroach is evil; in fact, they were good — as long as they continued to do what God designed them to do in the place God designed for them to do it. 

But in ages past, as we know, some of those creatures decided to violate their God-given boundaries: they tried to expand their territory by climbing up from the Abyss onto the earth, and in doing this they became rebels against God’s will. They became evil. And first among them, as we know, is that ancient serpent who violated the boundaries of God’s order way back in the beginning and first bound mankind with the chains of death. 

Well, what we are learning here is that, after the last clinging chains of death and disorder have been thrown back down into the Abyss where they came from, the shaft of the Abyss will be closed: there will no longer be any sea. 

But this does not mean that the new earth will not have oceans, nor does it mean that the Abyss — the lake of fire — will cease to exist. It simply means that the creatures that live there will no longer have access to the earth, they will never again be able to violate the boundaries God has set. They will have to go back to doing what God designed them to do in the place God first designed for them to do it. 

…what is truly terrible to contemplate, however, is that — after Judgement Day — the Abyss will not just be inhabited by creatures that were designed for that environment, it will also be permanently inhabited by human beings who were never meant to live there. 

And we are going to talk more about that in a few minutes. 

But in the meantime: 

Now that the earth is perfectly safe, the enemy removed, now at last John sees the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 

As I mentioned earlier, God’s capital city was closed up for war back in Chapter 15. The angelic army went out, with the Son of God leading them, while the citizens remained behind with their Heavenly Father, sealed up safely behind the walls. This was a good thing, of course! But it was also a kind of MCO, a time of waiting while the virus of evil ravaged the wilderrness outside for 42 symbolic months, for a thousand symbolic years. 

Well, now the virus is gone. Not “endemic” gone, either: gone gone. Really gone. Bottled up again in the lab where it first came from. 

And so, basically, this is another picture of that moment we saw earlier, when the gates of the city were thrown open and the king descended in his throne to the battlefield for judgement — but this time the focus is on the citizens pouring down out of the city behind their king, following him down to meet his victorious Son, their Champion, on a wilderness battlefield that is already beginning to burst with new life. 

This is the Bride of Christ, running to meet her husband, knowing that never again will she be deceived or kidnapped or violated, never again will she worry about whether she is good enough for him, beautiful enough for him, because now all possibility of ugliness is gone. The mental illness of sin that has kept her from hearing his voice clearly for all these ages is healed! Now she knows, beyond all doubt, that she is loved. 

[3] 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. [4] ‘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.” 

And that’s it. That is the summary. That is the ”mission statement” for the whole Book of Revelation: all the uncertainty, all the suffering, all the fear, it has all been preparing for this moment, when God descends to live among his people, to feast with his people on the field of victory. Here, finally, heaven has joined itself to the earth and the Abyss has been banished forever to its proper place as a counterweight for the universe. 

[5] He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” 

Even now, even now, while we are only able to catch fleeting glimpses of glory through the clouds, even now he is making everything new. 

Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] 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 water without cost from the spring of the water of life. [7] Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” 

…and I really think there is no need for me to explain this further. What else is there to say? “It is done.” This is the wedding supper of the Lamb. 

All that remains now is this warning: 

[8] “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” 

And once again: This is the second death. 


And this is a warning for all of mankind: be very careful what choices you make in this life. 

See, there is a God who designed us to be creatures who delight in order. We were designed to bring order to creation, we were designed to worship the God of order who designed us. 

But if we choose to reject the God of order, if we choose to worship one of the rebellious angels of the Abyss, one of the gods of disorder and death, then one day the God of perfect order will ratify our choice. He is not a bully! He will give us what we want: our decision to delight in disorder will become permanent, a life of eternal disorder in an Abyss of eternal disorder. We will find ourselves welded to the dark counterweight of the universe, as necessary to the ecology of the new world as worms and cockroaches are necessary to this one. 

And are we really sure we want that? Jesus is offering us a place beside him in the light, a place of glorious service, reigning over creation. He is offering each one of us a chance to become who we were always meant to be, a chance to live a fulfilling life forever! If we reject that offer, we will still find ourselves serving him, but in the exact same way we have chosen to serve in this life: labouring away in the dark, recycling the garbage of the universe like a human cockroach for the rest of eternity. And that will result in a self-consuming, self-contemptuous psychic fire so terrible that we will wish hell was a place of actual physical fire! — because that would be easier to bear. 

So if you are here today, and you have not sworn loyalty to Jesus, if you have not been baptised into the Body and Bride of Christ, then listen, this is the truth: you are living your life as a voluntary slave to the King of the Cockroaches. Every evil, self-serving thing you do in this life, you do for his glory and his delight, helpless under the stinging whips of his demonic slave-drivers. But even worse, every beautiful, self-sacrificing kindness you do in this life is also spent for his glory — and his delight! And the reason he is delighted by your good deeds on this earth is because he knows they will all count for nothing at the final Judgement, they will actually be counted against you! because they were done in service to the King of the Cockroaches, the shit-eating enemy of all that is beautiful and good. 

And if you do not repent and change loyalties, if you do not turn and begin to serve the great Shepherd, the King of the Lambs, then you will find yourself banished to the basement of the universe to labour alongside your cockroach king in the endless darkness. Now, the King of the Cockroaches was designed for that world; he will live on in a tormenting rage over his defeat, but at least he will be suited for that environment. You were not designed for that existence, and you will suffer terribly as you discover what it really means to love disorder and be loved by it. 

So please, I am pleading with you: listen to the voice of Jesus Christ. He is speaking to you now. He is telling you a truth you do not want to hear, I know! but he is not condemning you to that fate, not yet. He is offering you a way out. So, are you desperately unfulfilled in this life, working away in the basement of society, consumed by jealousy, always looking upward to heights you cannot attain? Then mark God’s words to you here: you will be even more desperately unfulfilled in the next life…unless you admit to your desperation now. 

So, are you thirsty? Then just say it! Cry aloud, “Lord Jesus Christ, I…am…thirsty!” and receive this promise: “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” 

But now, what about the rest of us, we who have already changed loyalties from the King of the Cockroaches to the King of the Lambs? We have already been baptised into the Body and Bride of Christ…here on earth. But how can we know for sure that our names are written in heaven’s book of life? 

Well, way back at the beginning of Revelation, when Jesus talked to the Church in Sardis, he told them that, if they walked with him dressed in white, their name would never be blotted out from the book of life. 

And this concept of ”white clothing“ has also been a powerful recurring symbol throughout the Book of Revelation, a symbol for “the righteous acts of God’s holy people.” And we have seen that, in one way, these white robes are a wedding gift to us as a bride. We have also seen that, in another way, we are responsible to dress ourselves in these white clothes when they arrive. 

Now, sometimes people object to this and say, “hold on! Isn’t requiring us to dress ourselves an example of ‘salvation by works’? For instance, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he says that Jesus is the one who is getting his bride ready for the wedding day. So how can you say now that we are responsible to dress ourselves?” 

Well…yes, it is true that Jesus is getting his bride ready. But it is also true that, if his bride is really his bride, she wants to get ready, and she eagerly participates in the process. 

As I said a couple of sermons ago: I have limited experience with brides, but I do remember what my own bride was like in the days leading up to our wedding. She went out looking for a dress. And when she found it, what did she do? She tried it on, again and again! She wanted to make sure it fit. She wanted to show all of her female relatives what it looked like — and her male relatives also, though they were a bit more indifferent. Above all, she wanted to show me. I remember her asking, “What do you think?” And of course I said, “It is perfect!” 

And here is another important truth I remember from those days: no one else said, “Hey, can I try it on?” Everyone knew who that dress was intended for, and no one else even tried to lay claim to it. 

…to put that in a less flattering light: no one else was volunteering to be my bride. 

The point is this: a joyful bride self-identifies as the bride. And when the day of the wedding comes, even the stupidest guest who has never met the bride will be able to recognize her, because she is the one wearing the wedding dress. 

So this is how we can know for sure that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life: we keep on trying on that dress. 

Or, in a return to the military themes of this passage, we could say it like this: we can know for sure which army we are in by the uniform we are wearing, by the code of ethics that we follow. We are meant to fight by different rules than the other side does. If we do fight by those different rules, then we can be confident about which side we are on. 

And here’s the thing: a thousand year-long war is a massively complicated operation. A nation that must fight its way across the wilderness of history for many generations needs an army with many ranks and roles. We cannot all be front-line warriors; we also need doctors, lorry-drivers, cooks, farmers. Because without support personnel, the war will be lost — it doesn’t matter how fierce the front-line soldiers are! 

So, friends, for my part, I think of myself as a farmer in the army of God. I am part of a family, a church community, I try to sow where I have opportunity, I harvest when I can, I ship the results off to support the war effort — but I am not a front-line warrior. 

Which means that, on Judgement Day, there are going to be people way at the front of the line receiving incredible rewards for bravery, while I will be standing a few tens of billions of names back, just hoping for a little bonus. But I am not going to be resentful of those ones at the front! because the difference between them and me will be obvious. God gifted them with a kind of courage and talent that I don’t even want! They risked everything — and maybe even lost everything — on the front line for the glory of Christ, and they deserve what they get! I will be honoured just to be counted in the same army with them. 

And when the list does finally get down to me…all I really want to hear is, “Ian, you were not flashy. Lord knows you were not especially courageous. But you were loyal: when someone asked which side you were on, you told them. And you stuck to your post, you did your job. So look: on the old earth you were responsible for 5 acres of land; on the new earth you will be responsible for 7.” 

Brothers and sisters, because our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, on Judgement Day we will be happy with our reward no matter what it is. Because, after all, in the end what better reward is there than to continue to be God’s children in the next life as we have been in this one? This is the promise we cling to: “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” 

These words are trustworthy and true. 

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