The Book of Revelation: Heaven, Hunger Games and The Kingdom of God
Imagine you’re at work and receive an email saying you’ve won a free movie combo from your local movie theater, complete with ticket, popcorn, and drink. You show up with your date and find out the only movie playing that week is a new release called, The End. You grab your popcorn and Dr. Pepper and hesitantly walk in, not knowing what awaits you. As the trailers end and the movie starts, you realize that The End is not a romantic comedy about a New York City relationship gone wrong. Instead, for the last two hours you have been watching a Tarantino-like movie filled with blood, death, suffering, prostitutes, violence, murder, deception, and dead bodies lying on the streets.
Not the best date night movie.
Now imagine reading a review afterwards that says this movie was based on the book of the Bible.
Is that even possible? How could this movie be based on something that is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God?
We are currently walking through the book of Revelation as a church. We’ve seen dragons; the sun and moon darkened with smoke from the abyss; angels with swords coming out of their mouths; and thunderous flashes of hail and fire mixed with blood. There’s a reason most people stop reading after chapter 5.
How can the book of Revelation be relevant to any of us, let alone our youth?
I think there is more for our church and my students in Revelation than a blood-soaked, Bible-themed version of The Hunger Games, where everyone kills everyone else while waiting for someone to finally “win.” Here are two things I desperately want my students to know through our study of Revelation.
1. The Gospel is not about “getting to heaven when we die”
By the end of this intense, apocalyptic vision from the Apostle John, we’ve seen something of utmost importance. First, we identify with Jesus’ reminder in Revelation 3 that we (like the church of Laodicea) are indeed wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Then, in chapters 21 and 22, we read clearly the message of the gospel.
Revelation 21 says in The End, God’s judgment is no more (21:1), the bride for whom Jesus died (Eph. 5:25) is ready for her husband (21:2), God can finally dwell with His people and be their God (Rev 21:3), and that ultimately death has been forever defeated (Heb. 2:14-15; Rev 21:4).
We are reminded in Revelation 21 that God’s ultimate purpose in saving us is not “so that we get to heaven someday” (as we frequently mention in our evangelism efforts). Rather, God’s purpose in the gospel is to both deal with our sin and restore the entire world back to Himself through the person and work of Jesus (21:5).
When we think back on the whole story of Scripture, we see in the beginning that God made the world and everything in it, and it was very good. Our relationships with God, each other, and creation were the way He intended. But we rebelled and chose to define right and wrong for ourselves. This choice shattered our relationship with God. But God in His grace pursued us, clothed us in our nakedness, and promised that one day, a seed of the woman would come and take the curse upon Himself, and would make all things new (Gen. 3:15).
We know that Jesus did eventually come. He hung on the cross, gave up His spirit and cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus has forever accomplished what we could never accomplish on our own.
But of course, the work of cosmic redemption was not yet complete.
Jesus’ work of fully bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth (Matthew 6:10) has yet to be finished. It’s already, but not yet.
As we see throughout the book of Revelation (and is made even clearer by this weekend’s events in Orlando), our world is still filled with sickness, injustice, slavery, sin, and death. But Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection means more to us than only the forgiveness of sins. Jesus death and resurrection is not just a “get out of hell” pass. Revelation 21 and 22 remind us that God’s purpose in saving us was to restore His people and His creation back to Himself. In Revelation 21 we see that in the end, God’s dwelling place will be with man, and Jesus will make all things new: 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.
The text of chapters 21 and 22 is saturated with Genesis 1 & 2 imagery – which is no accident! God’s redemption plan is to ultimately make all things new, and to dwell with us as we partner with Him to create a city where God and man can live in perfect harmony with Jesus on His throne. A place with no weeping, no cancer, no hurt, no shame, no mass shootings, no injustice, and no curse. God’s purpose in the gospel is to bring His world back to His original design – not just “get us to heaven.”
2. Who we are now, matters in The End.
What’s even more amazing in Revelation is that we see Jesus calling us to partner with Him as He makes all things new.
God has made each of us with distinct gifts, abilities, passions, and desires (Psalm 139). His desire is to see us use those things to bring about His glory and bear His image to the people around us – this is so important for students! Their gifts and abilities in graphic design, music, art, business, writing, speaking, culture, athletics, cooking, social media, dancing, and academics aren’t given by God simply to be accepted into a good college, get a job, and earn a decent salary until they retire and die. Their gifts and abilities were given specially by God for Kingdom purposes. We see at the end of Revelation 21 that the kings of earth (John’s poetic way of reminding us of the garden) will bring their “glory” into this new Holy City (21:2, 22:14). Meaning, what we do now has purposes in the age to come. What we do now, matters!
Our mission each day is to partner with God as we use our gifts and abilities to see our cities, schools, and neighborhoods filled with the glory of God, just as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). God has called us to be ambassadors of the message of the gospel. He has entrusted His glorious message of grace, forgiveness, and complete cosmic restoration to us (2 Cor. 5).
But Revelation 21 and 22 remind us that life is still not about us. It’s not even about our church, our ministry, our glory, our success, or our fame. It’s definitely not about “getting to heaven when we die.”
It’s about Jesus.
It’s about leveraging what God has already graciously given to us, that we may see our friends, family, and communities come to an understanding of who Jesus is and what He’s done for them.
Revelation 22:14 says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” May we be a people who find that tree of life by washing our robes in the blood of Christ. May we enter that Holy City by grace alone through faith in who Jesus is and all He’s accomplished on our behalf.
Don’t be scared of the book of Revelation. It is meant to be a book of encouragement. John’s readers would have listened to these incredible words and walked away both strengthened and securely confident in their good, loving, and sovereign Creator. Though our world seems to be falling apart around us, we are reminded that God is good, His purposes are sure, and in The End, God will dwell with us, and we will be His people.
Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.