Audio Library

The Reimagining Power of Advent: New Reality

Revelation 21:1-5

It may seem odd to talk about Advent from a passage like Revelation 21. However, what I want you to see is that the entire Bible is about Jesus, so any book or passage we turn to will ultimate show him to us. In particular, Revelation 21:1-5 shows us that because of what Christ came to do in the past, he replaces our past, anchors us in his future redemption, and revolutionizes our present.

I learned about this theme from a conversation Ed Clowney had with a man to whom he was witnessing. During his life, Clowney was the president of Westminster Theological Seminary and made many great contributions to the church, but it seems to me that the greatest contribution he made was helping us to see that the whole Bible is one theme. The Old Testament and the New Testament both point to Christ and are fulfilled in, motivated by, and enabled by Christ. 

Clowney was witnessing to this man and urging him to put his faith in Christ as his lord and savior. This man was a skeptic and told Clowney that the problem he had with Christianity was that it happened so very long ago. If Jesus had only been born, say, a hundred years ago, he said, then he could see the relevance. But he was born thousands of years ago. How could it possibly be relevant for today?

Clowney, with his conviction that all the scriptures point to Christ, said this: “those events that happened so long ago have not ceased to be current, rather, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to us again and again in the person of the Holy Spirit to bring Christ's accomplishment of salvation to the individual.”

Because of what Christ came to do in the past, he replaces our past, anchors us in his future redemption, and revolutionizes our present. Jesus does this for every person who puts their faith in him as lord and savior. 

Jesus says, through the apostle John who was exiled to the island of Patmos for his preaching of the gospel, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1). Some people look at those texts and say that this is predicting the time when Christ comes back and all of the cosmos as we know it will be annihilated, and God will have to recreate everything from nothing. That understanding, however, is usually based on a mistranslation of a passage in 2 Peter 3. There is a word in that passage that has been taken to mean “burned up” or “annihilated.” However, the word used there in the original Greek language is heurethēsatai (εὑρεθἡσεται), which means “revealed,” “made clear,” or “unveiled.” 

Secondly, we find the pattern for what God is going to do in the cosmos by observing what he does in Christ's body. Christ's body is the paradigm for everything that is going to happen to our resurrected bodies and everything that is going to happen to the resurrected earth. When Jesus was raised from the dead, his old body was not annihilated, requiring him to be recreated. Instead, the hindrances of his old body were taken away and he kept the human characterizations of his body – he ate, drank, and walked. He even kept the scars of his crucifixion.

This is a paradigm for the way our bodies will be raised. We will be raised from the dead and given an incorruptible body. But it will still be our body essentially. It will still be very human. What both John in Revelation and Peter in 2 Peter are describing is not so much a structural change to the world but an unleashing. The marring of sin in the world and its redeemed people will be stripped away and humans and the creation alike will be released from their bondage to decay. It will be revealed as that which is good. 

What difference does that make for you and me presently? What difference does it make that Jesus Christ came in the past in order to guarantee the future and begin bringing it in right now? It means that you and I not only must, but can, start living according the principles of real reality – God's reality. We can start right now by living out the principles of God's word in this world.

It doesn't matter how the world will redefine relationships, people, and things; how much pressure the culture will put on us to conform to its mold; what temptation comes that seems too powerful to resist; how you might be ostracized; how it might seem that everybody around you is conforming to the so-called realities of this world, living, they say, on the "right side of history." It doesn't matter, because you are anchored in Christ and therefore you know what real reality is – the reality defined by Jesus Christ who is bringing his kingdom to bear on this world. 

The reality that Christ defines is the only true reality. No matter how much this world denies it, one day it will be brought perfectly into view. Christ coming in the past as a baby, taking on flesh, and announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God has forever changed our lives and guarantees our futures. 

Christ's past life also cancels and replaces our past. Verses 4-5 say, “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Rev. 21:4–5). Jesus promised when he left this earth to start this process of making all things new. And he explained to his disciples and followers that the way he is going to make all things new is by making them new through us. The Holy Spirit is going to bring the life of Christ inside of us, and we are going to do those works of the savior.

This is what Mary saw when she was told that in her womb would be conceived Jesus, the Christ. She looked in a new way on her past, as she said in Luke 1:48: "for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." Despite her heritage, she would be a blessing to generations (50). In the latter portion of her song, she sings, "he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things” (52-53a). She is so confident of these things, she speaks of them as if they have already occurred. You can repeat these words with Mary too. 

Mary was a young revolutionary. This Magnificat, as it's called, was and is a threatening passage to despotic rulers throughout history. Some have forbade its reading lest the "common" people take as reason for rebellion against tyrannical rule. Young Mary saw that Jesus came to make her a revolutionary. He comes to revolutionize your life as well.

Recently, I read an account written by Antoinette Harrell, an historian in Louisiana. She discovered that some African-Americans in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama were kept in slavery until the 1960's, even after being officially emancipated. They were not given the news of emancipation and, as a result, were kept in bondage. In Harrell's research, she met a hero named Mae Louise Walls Miller. As a fourteen-year-old girl, Miller decided she was not going to be abused any longer. She didn't know about emancipation, but she decided nonetheless that she was not going to live in it, so she ran away. During her escape, she was attending to her wounds in a bush in a Louisiana swamp one evening. A white family came by and noticed the bush shaking. They found it odd so they investigated and found her. They nursed her back to health, learned of her story, and went into the plantation from which she had run away and liberated her entire family, including her father who lived to be over 107-years-old. 

Some in her family were afraid to tell their story, thinking they would be taken back into captivity. Mae Louise, however, was not. She said, "I told you my story because I have no fear in my heart. What can any living person do to me?" 

Some of you are living in the slavery of a label, a name, a past, a slur, an injustice. Some of you are still living in slavery to your own sin or the way sins have been committed against you. Some of you are living in slavery to fear. But God has always been a redeemer! God came right after the fall to a shaking bush and found Adam and Eve and he declared to them that his son would crush the head of the serpent and release them from their bondage to sin. God sent his son into this world to become flesh, get into the imprisonment with us and lead us out of it! God comes to you through Jesus Christ and tells you that because of what he has done in the past, he can replace your past; he can anchor you in the future of his redemption; and as small and insignificant as you think you are, he has come to make you a revolutionary in this world to the praise of his glorious grace. 


Devotional Questions

  1. Why is it appropriate to talk about Advent using a passage such as Revelation (or any biblical passage for that matter)?

  2. How might you live according to an alternate reality or in slavery to something from which Jesus has set you free?

  3. How does your new identity in Jesus change the way you can and should live now?

  4. What does it mean to be anchored in our future redemption? What does this have to do with hope?