(An excerpt from the sermon Good News About the Future.)
There are things that have been so much a part of our experience that we cannot imagine life without them. Fear is one. Even people who have no cognitive apprehension of fear are nonetheless restrained and unsettled by it. Fear was the first emotion Adam and Eve experienced after the rebellion, and it has been the quintessential human emotion ever since.
When the fear we have carried all our lives is gone – and it will be – we will feel a heavy load has been lifted. We’ll be buoyant, as if gravity itself has changed. Like Neil Armstrong bounding across the face of the moon; like the man crippled from birth who was healed at the temple gate, we’ll go “walking and leaping and praising God.”
There are other things that will not make it into God’s future kingdom. Revelation 21 and 22 mentions some of them. One, according to Revelation 21:1, is the sea. How could there be no sea?
It is important to remember that The Revelation belongs to an ancient (now extinct) genre of literature called apocalyptic, for which symbolism is its stock and trade. The symbols in Revelation are drawn largely from the Old Testament, which is the key to understanding them. One example is the sea. John says in verse 1: “And there was no longer any sea.”
This makes sense when we understand that in Old Testament symbolism the sea regularly represents chaos and evil. For example, in the Book of Daniel (which belongs to the same genre), the beasts that devastate the earth arise out of the sea. When John says that there will be no more sea, he is telling us that the source from which chaos and evil arise will be gone. There will be no more turmoil, disorder, and confusion. That is good news.
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Look at verse 4: “There will be no more death.” Death is an intruder. It was smuggled into our world, our lives, and even our bodies through Adam’s sin. If you have been around for any time at all, you know The Book of Common Prayer is right: “In the midst of life we are in death.” But it is even worse than that: not only are we in death; death is in us. But through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our ancient enemy has already been defeated and at our resurrection it will be obliterated – expunged from the universe. That is good news!
There will be no more mourning or crying – no more tears. The inconsolable hurt that resides in the depths of the human soul will be gone. The bitter spring from which those tears flow will be dried up. In the words of Isaiah, “sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
There will be no more pain. Can you imagine? No more arthritic pain. No more pain from disease or injury. No more emotional pain. For some people, pain is the “enemy that is closer than a brother.” It keeps them awake at night, haunts their sleep, and meets them first thing each morning. Pain too is an interloper, but it will be stopped at the border. It will not enter the age to come.
There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain because there will be no more sin. Imagine walking into a room you’ve never been in before. Every inch of you is dirty. You are bedraggled, weary, and sad, carrying a weight that nearly buckles your legs beneath you. But as you cross the threshold – you don’t even know how it happens – the weight is lifted; the dirt is gone. You not only feel good, you feel better than you have ever felt, better than you knew it was possible to feel. That is what the future holds for those who belong to Jesus Christ. That is good news!
There will be no more sin (verse 8) because there will be no more sinners. And that includes you and me. We will be changed. Sin, and the devastation it has caused, will be gone. The world will be changed. No more greed. No more hatred. No more violence. No more lies. No more preying on innocent people. Sin will not be around us and it will not be in us. That is incomprehensible. That is incomparable. That is good news!
There will be no more darkness and night (21:25). In the Bible, darkness and night symbolize confusion, deception, and sin. But in the age to come, there will be light, transparency, and truth, for “the glory of God gives it light” (v. 23) “and the Lamb is its lamp.” That is good news!
There will be no more shame (21:27). Since our first parents’ sin, the black thread of shame has been woven into our very nature. It caused Adam and Eve to hide, and we’ve been hiding ever since. They hid their shame in the trees of the Garden. We hide ours in distractions and work. But shame will not enter into the age to come. No more fear of what others think. Even the possibility of shame will be removed. That is good news!
Another thing that will be missing – a very consequential thing: There will be no more curse (22:3). Adam’s rebellion brought a curse that has affected every aspect of life on earth. But the curse will be no more. And this because of Christ who, in Paul’s words, “became a curse for us.” He made all this possible. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Jesus Christ.