The final verse of the book of Revelation—and the completion of my read-through—ended with a double calling: “Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Jesus is the focus of both calls—one that speaks of the future and the other of the present.
In the first call John exhorts Jesus to return. It carries an implied sense of “soon.” In the second he invites “all” to a present assurance based on what Jesus freely shares: his grace. Together they sum up the Bible view of human history: Jesus will return, and we’ve been alerted to be ready for it. In the meantime we can respond to his grace.
He may be here this week, or later this century, or maybe in a few more centuries. Personally I’m hoping for early 2017. But his grace will continue to be with us until then.
I mention the read-through because it brings such a helpful lens to viewing our sequence of years. One benefit of multiple Bible readings in a year is the context they bring to all our personal connections in life. And in watching the evening news.
We elevate each New Year Day because it represents two bookends: a completion of the past year and a start to the coming year. So a reflective pause lets us think back to some of the defining events of the passing year with the prospect of sorting successes and failures.
The Bible invites a similar pause for reflection by supplying its own pair of bookends. We see the second of two bookends in Revelation 22:2&3. John promises believers that when Jesus returns they will have access to the Tree of Life and the physical immortality it represents; so, too, the curse of physical decay and death will finally be lifted from the heavens and the earth.
These promises recall the first bookend in Genesis 3, when God addressed Adam’s declaration of spiritual independence. Before then he and Eve had free access to the Tree of Life. And the earth was free from decay or death. But sin came alive and brought death to the world. Yet God, in his grace, also provided a future solution.
Here’s more of the story. In Genesis 2 God warned Adam not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: eating would bring death. Then in Genesis 3 Adam believed an opposing claim by the Serpent, that he would not die. The Serpent lied, and Adam’s union with God by the Spirit ceased when he ate. His death revealed the truest meaning of death: a loss of communion with God.
But in the lesser sense of maintaining physical life—what Jesus distinguished for Nicodemus as that which is “born of the flesh” in contrast to the life “of the Spirit”—Adam still walked, talked, and had a form of life.
The upshot was that God would not allow his treasured people to continue with their ongoing physical life while living in spiritual death. As Sam, one of my early mentors, put it, “There would be no grace of God in his wrapping an immoral soul with an immortal body!”
So God did two things. He cursed the earth so that it would start to die—and with that, Adam’s body would decay. And he drove Adam out of Eden so he wouldn’t have any more access to the Tree of Life that ensured immortality.
Before these two consequences of Sin could be reversed God would have to solve the problem of Adam’s original Sin.
And that is exactly what the rest of the Bible addresses. In Genesis 3:15 God promised Adam that a coming “seed of the woman” would eventually defeat the Serpent’s offspring. Later, in Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham was selected as the man through whom this promise of “blessing” would come.
The “blessing” finally arrived with Jesus—uniquely born of a virgin—and he conquered Death once and for all on the cross. “For all” meaning all who, by faith, receive the promise and then participate in his death and new life.
Revelation set up the ultimate and final battle of Jesus and the Serpent: Sin and Death are, at last, wholly conquered. And the faith in God and his word that Adam dismissed, we now accept. And through this faith, birthed by the Spirit drawing us to the Son, and after our own resurrection, we get to enjoy what Adam abandoned: complete and unending freedom from both spiritual and physical death.
And the present heavens and earth—as God’s instrument to force humans to face physical death—will be replaced with a new heavens and new earth that will be faultless. Every tear will be dried and every disease ended.
So, welcome to the New Year as a bookend event! And let me encourage you to read your Bible in the next three or four months to see how it makes more sense in light of the bookends represented by Genesis 3 and Revelation 22!