Pastor Scott Andrews | May 8, 2022
Two weeks ago, I began with the statement, Jesus is coming back, which is an indispensable, undeniable, inviolable truth of the Christian faith. A truth that ought to impact our lives – to include, among other things, we look for, even long for His return. Now, believers may disagree as to the timing or the circumstances of that return, but with this we must agree – Jesus is coming back. And it is then the kingdom will come in all its fullness. But not until then. In fact, until then, we follow our Christ in the way of the cross, even suffering. Yes, we have the glorious promises of future blessing – even, dare I say, prosperity. We have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, the first fruits of more to come – He is the pledge of our future inheritance.
And therein lies the problem with some American Christianity, particularly within the hyper-charismatic movement. They have what is called an over-realized eschatology. Let me break that down for you. Eschatology is the study of last, final, or ultimate things. It includes the last of the last days – the end time when Jesus will return in victory – vanquishing once for all His enemies and rescuing His own. His followers will then enter the eternal state and receive the fullness of the kingdom of God. We know that, right? We’re very familiar with verses like these:
Matthew 25:21, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Or Matthew 25:34, after separating the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers, “Then the King will say to those on His right [that is, the sheep], ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”
We get the fullness of the kingdom then – after the final judgment. Can you imagine what that will be like? Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am – the place I’ve been preparing – there you may be also. Incredible. And John gives us a little glimpse of that prepared place in Revelation 21:3ff,
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
Stop right there – you understand, this is the greatest treasure of heaven. Not the streets of gold, not the crystal sea, not the mansions, not the family reunions – we get God – He will actually be among us. Listen, if your favorite song is Elvis Presley’s I’ve Got A Mansion,” there’s a problem. I grew up hearing it – it goes like this:
I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined
I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And someday yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold
Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown
Does anyone notice something conspicuously absent in that song? God. That song would be humorous if it wasn’t what so many long for – prosperity, both here and in someday yonder. As if that is our greatest treasure. Listen, I’ve shared this with you before, but John Piper in his book, God Is the Gospel, writes:
“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties
you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”
The first time I read that, it sucked the breath out of my lungs. Piper goes on:
“Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.”
Stunning words. The best thing about the return of Christ to take us to heaven is we get God. Well, that was just a little aside. John goes on in Revelation 21, God Himself will be among them:
4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Glorious. And from there, John is given a vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth, culminating in chapter 22 with a view of the river of life flowing from the throne of God:
1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;
4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. [no inconspicuous tatoos]
5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
6 And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.
7 “And behold, I am coming quickly.
Do we want Him to? We do if we understand we are not living in the fullness, yet. This is what is promised in what is called the eschaton – the finality of all things when Jesus returns, banishes the wicked, receives His people and dwells with us forever.
That is what is coming. That’s where Revelation is taking us – that’s where all history is headed. Now listen, an over-realized eschatology is this: when someone expects that the eschatological hope of Christianity is already here and now. They might say, “Well, if Jesus has come and the Kingdom has come, then there should no longer be evil in the world, everyone should be healed of sickness, there should be no poverty or suffering, and everything should be just the way God designed it to be, and if you believe well enough, or have enough faith, you will experience it.”
This leads to that prosperity gospel, which is an over-realized eschatology which expects something which will ultimately happen for those who are in Christ to happen right now. One of the problems with it is that it places an incredible burden on people by telling them, “If you’re not healthy and wealthy, it must be because you are doing it wrong.” It fails to take into consideration the nature of the world and our time and place in God’s plan of redemption, not to mention the sovereignty of God. It fails to take into account the book of Revelation. Why was it written to suffering believers, promising something better to come?
And listen – if you have an over-realized eschatology, why would you long for heaven? If you have it all now, why long for Jesus to return? Why would the book of Revelation be written to struggling, suffering believers, encouraging them to persevere? To stay faithful? To lift their heads, because our redemption draws near? Here’s a question for you – do you suppose those prosperity preachers who live in mansions now, in prosperity now – do you suppose they long for heaven – or are they experiencing it now? And what of the way of the cross?
Again, an over-realized eschatology expects the blessing of the fullness of the kingdom to be experienced here and now. Health, wealth and prosperity are yours for the taking. I have friend, Dr. Rusty Osborne, who has written a book titled, Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God. As I was talking to him about the book, he suggested the problem with the prosperity gospel is not so much its content – yes, if you’re focused on the gifts and not the giver, the blessings and not the blesser, that’s a problem – but the problem is not so much the content, but the timing. That blew me away. Those who espouse such a gospel are not necessarily wrong in the what of prosperity or blessing, but in the when of prosperity or blessing. I had never thought of it that way before. I imagine the new heaven and the new earth will be better than anything we have ever imagined. Why do we long for the return of Christ? Because when He returns, we get all the blessings promised, we get the fullness of the kingdom, and best of all, we get God.
We remember when Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, He took His disciples to the event and they got a bit ahead of themselves, is it time for You to set up Your kingdom? Is it now – is the fullness of Your kingdom here? Meaning, do we get it all now?
And we have been confused with that idea for a very long time. Christians are always wanting the blessings of the fullness of the kingdom, right now. And yet, we aren’t living in the fullness. It’s this concept of the already-not yet. Yes, we are already part of the kingdom of God – subjects of the kingdom. We are right now priests to His God and Father. We have both access to God and are on mission for God to tell people about how they can be reconciled to the Father through the work of the Son.
Is it now? Many prosperity teachers will tell you yes. But Jesus responded, it’s not for you to know the time of My return – but you be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. At that point, Jesus was taken up right before them up to heaven. Now, I suggested we not miss that a cloud received Him out of their sight. Because, clouds in the Scripture indicate divine presence and majesty. For example, when God delivered His people from Egypt – a pillar of cloud led them by day. At Mt. Sinai – a cloud came down and covered the mountain. So also at the Tabernacle, a cloud covered the tent as God came to the Holy of Holies, and so later the Temple. A cloud signifying the presence of divine majesty. It can be called the Shekinah glory – referring to the glory of His presence.
Well, as He ascended, a cloud received Jesus out of their sight. Two angels appeared and said, this same Jesus who has been taken up from you in a cloud will come in just the same way as you watched Him go into heaven. This same Jesus is coming back, and while His coming will be similar – that is, with the clouds in the sky – its purpose will be different. The first time, He came as Savior – to give His life a ransom for many. But when He returns, He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords, as glorious conqueror and judge – to lead His people to victory.
Matthew said it like this: “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” They will all see Him coming – power and great glory.
Mark said, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth and the farthest end of heaven.”
Luke said, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In other words, we are supposed to be ready, hearts locked on the promise of His return.
Paul said, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, (audible) and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall aways be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
So, Jesus is coming back, and His second coming will be different than His first. And the book of Revelation tells us about it. And the promise of His return with rescue and blessing for His followers should bring courage and comfort to suffering believers. It should change the way we live our lives. Let’s read Revelation 1:7-8.
Here’s the way we outlined this prologue to the book:
- Superscript (or introduction) (1-3)
- The Salutation (4-5a)
- The Doxology (5b-6)
- The Purpose (7-8) – he dangles the promise of His return, which is the focal point of the book – I know you’re suffering – struggling – paying the price and it seems all is lost or God may have lost or is not in control, but know this, Jesus is coming back.
The promise is unerringly, definitively, and conclusively sure: Jesus is coming back. Verse 7, Behold, His is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
Now, I’ve told you the book of Revelation has more OT allusions or references than any other NT book. In verse 7, these are found in Daniel 7 – which John refers to many times, and Zechariah 12. In Daniel 7, after visions reminding Daniel of the empires to come, we read:
9 “I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire.
10 “A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him;
Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,
And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat,
And the books were opened.
This is a glorious vision of God – the Ancient of Days. The text goes on, here’s the allusion:
13 “I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him. (always seen as a Messianic prophecy)
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
One is presented to the Ancient of Days – God Himself sitting on His throne – and to Him was given an everlasting kingdom. And we will serve Him – remember from Revelation 22 – and His bond-servants will serve Him. Now, John takes that prophecy and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit broadens it. The Son of Man is not presented to the Ancient of Days in Revelation 1 – that has already happened. Now John says, behold, He is coming with the clouds. And every eye will see Him. It will be a glorious return.
Now again, this has always been understood to be Messianic. So, remember when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane – He was taken to the house of Caiphas, the high priest. There Jesus was interrogated through the night, but He remained silent. Many witnesses were called against Him, but they couldn’t agree. Finally, in exasperation, Caiphas said to Jesus, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus answered him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” That answer was quote of two messianic prophecies: one in Psalm 110, “The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” And one in Daniel 7:13, which we just read, coming in the clouds of heaven.
Caiphas’ response? He tore his robe and cried, Blasphemy – what more do we need? He knew from that answer Jesus was applying these messianic prophecies to Himself – that He was claiming to be the Christ, the Son of God – eventually coming in the clouds, and so John alludes to that verse, that truth.
Further, and when He returns with the clouds, every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him – that is, those responsible for His death – that’s everyone – and they will mourn – that is, those who have not been freed from their sins by His blood. This is a reference to Zechariah 12:
10“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
In this Zechariah verse, it is Israel mourning for the Messiah. It isn’t clear to them at this point that they are mourning over the one they have rejected and pierced. John also quotes this verse in his gospel – John 19, after they had pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. But here in Revelation, John broadens the prophecy to include all people of all tribes of the earth, responsible for the death of Christ by their sin. And they will mourn – not mourning in repentance, but mourning because they are responsible for the rejection of Jesus, and they will recognize Him, but it will be too late. This is to bring unsettled comfort to those suffering for the name of Christ from those who have rejected Christ.
Remember, Jesus will come to vanquish foes, rescue followers. Those followers have been opposed by His foes. At His coming, there will be a vindication for His followers. This is to bring a certain comfort as we revel in the ultimate righteous judgment of God.
He finishes by reminding us – the first of two times in this book that God Himself speaks, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” – these are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and include the entire alphabet, like we would say, from A to Z. I am first and I am last and I am everything in between. I am sovereign over everything – there is not a maverick molecule in the universe. I know, at times, it doesn’t seem like I’m in control, but I am in control of all things.
God Himself then says of Himself – I am who is and who was and who is to come – we looked at that a couple weeks ago. But He also say, I am the Almighty. The Almighty is used of God ten times in the NT – nine of them in the book of Revelation. He is the Almighty one – do you think this would have been an encouragement to those suffering for the cause of Christ? He is Almighty, He is the Lord of the hosts of heaven, and He will be victorious. Amen.
So here’s the question – Jesus is coming back. Do we long for His return, or are we satisfied with our current prosperity? Have we been distracted? Will His return be the completion of our hope, or will it be an interruption? For these readers, they could hardly wait. So it is to be – may it be for us.