The Final Shadow: When Christians Cross Death’s Door

The Final Shadow: When Christians Cross Death’s Door

 

Since the days of Adam, death and decay have been our constant companions. Even a casual observer will note that death surrounds us.

In Ecclesiastes 1, the Teacher uses the word hevel which most translations, unfortunately, render as “meaningless” or “vanity.” However, hevel is best translated as vaporous and few words better describe the human experience. Vaporous, vaporous; life is utterly vaporous.

“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14 ESV)

That death must be a part of our reality stems from the curse in Genesis 3. The Man had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and now, in Adam, all men die. He is our Federal Head (representative in God’s Covenant) and his failure has been imputed to all of his offspring.

In our reading as a congregation, the Psalmist referred to walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and this is truth; we walk, as it were, through a dark valley full of the decay, despondence, and death that sin brings. Thankfully, there is verse 1 in that Psalm. The Lord IS our Shepherd; He is guiding, leading, sometimes carrying us along on our journey to that glorious home that awaits us at the end of this life.

For most, death is sudden whether in slumber, or some form of accident, or the body just gives up the ghost. For others, our translation out of this world is accompanied by prolonged illness. I cannot imagine the unique trial that those brothers endure as they watch their bodies fail but look forward to the day they are welcomed into the presence of the Lord. Before we come to our text, I want to share this thought with you:

We are assured that life eternal in not just life unending. Instead it is life that can never be diminished. As a joint heir of Christ, we are lent His glories and one of them is a life that can never be taken away from. For all of us, when death comes let us not meet him with weeping. Remember, he is no more than God’s butler who receives us at the door. Yes, he must take our coat (body) but when we lay aside that pitiful rag, we will be ushered before the Throne and will then be robed in splendors you can’t imagine in your wildest fantasies. Perhaps your coat must be a little more worn out so that you might better appreciate the robes to come. Looking to 2 Corinthians, we see the words of Paul…

 

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

 

Now, let us come to our text, so that we can see what awaits the believer after passing through that final shadow. Revelation 22:1-6 “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.”

 

Death is the final shadow that we must walk through and having walked through that fleeting shadow, we rise to worlds unknown and behold the glories of the risen Christ. In that first instant after we put off the pitiful rag we call a body, we will behold such wonders that every superlative we can think of will be beyond insufficient to describe.  Christ, Himself, will welcome us into Heaven’s grand throne room and He will present us to the Father. I am taking a little license for a second, but I can imagine Jesus presenting us to the Father and saying, “This is my beloved whom I have welcomed home. We will delight in each other forever.”

 

For the remainder of our time, let us look at what we will enjoy with our Christ forever and ever.

22:1 river… of life. This river is unlike any on earth because no hydrological cycle exists. Water of life symbolizes the continual flow of eternal life from God’s throne to heaven’s inhabitants.

22:2 tree of life.

Word Study: the tree of life

(Gk. xulon zoes) (2:7; 22:2, 14) Strong’s #3586; 2222: The term in Greek denotes “a tree that gives life,” that is, eternal life (see John 20:31). This tree symbolizes the eternal life God has made available to humankind. The tree of life was present in the Garden of Eden, but its fruit was not eaten because Adam and Eve had fallen into sin (Gen. 2:9; 3:24). Jesus came to earth to restore humankind and to again offer them the tree of life (2:7). Those who are in the new paradise, the New Jerusalem, will partake of the tree of life forever (22:2).

(For emphasis) A symbol of both eternal life and continual blessing, this vision brings the opening imagery of Genesis to a close. The tree of life, which was forbidden after Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is the very tree that will unite humanity with one another and with God. That there are 12 different kinds of fruit speaks to the abundance of Heaven. In the new Heaven and on the New Earth, lack of resources will be no more. Famine, pestilences, all manner of plague are gone and mankind will eat of the abundance of the fruit just like was intended in the beginning, at Eden

 

22:3 no longer be any curse. The curse on humanity and the earth as a result of Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience (Ge 3:16-19) will be totally finished. God will never have to judge sin again, since it will never exist in the new heaven and new earth. No more curse means that the affliction of sin, especially on the human race and creation (Gen. 3:14–19), will be erased. As God had fellowship with Adam and Eve before their fall into sin (Gen. 3:8), so the Lord will again be with His servants eternally. In turn, His servants will worshipfully serve Him (Rom. 12:1).

Let me drive this point home for you: This verse, Revelation 22:3 is why I say that life eternal is a life that cannot be diminished. Now that the curse is removed, there is nothing left to take quality away from our lives. Blind eyes will see, deaf ears will hear the Lamb’s praise, crippled feet and legs will dance with all their might before the Throne, lungs that gasped for air will be filled to capacity never to struggle again. Every horrible disease you can imagine will be stripped away when we pass through the final shadow and catch a glimpse of our new home! For ages, there has been mention of a “mansion just over the hilltop” and what a rich metaphor that is. Paul referred to our bodies as a tent, in our earlier reference, and now we see that the human body, now glorified and celebrating the Resurrected One is indeed worthy of the metaphor of a mansion as it will now be glorious and fully equipped with every perfection you can imagine so that we can properly glorify Christ upon His Throne.

 

22:4 see His face. No unglorified human could see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20-23). But the residents of heaven can look on God’s face without harm because they are now holy (John 1:18; 1Timothy 6:16; 1Jn 3:2). When I read this verse, the words to the old hymn always ring in my ears: Oh, I want to see Him, look upon His face, There to sing forever of His saving grace; On the streets of glory let me lift my voice, Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice.

His Name…Beloved, in the Promised Land, we shall finally have our longing fulfilled; God will be OUR God and we will be His people. He, Himself, will be our treasure, the priceless gift without comparison and the just reward for a life well lived. His Presence is our gift to enjoy forever and ever. There is a Greek phrase used here that I think is most helpful. It is eis ton aiona tau aiono, into/unto the age of the ages. That is how long we will enjoy our God. The hymn just barely begins to do justice to the concept. “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”

Beloved, if you have bowed your heart before Christ’s Throne, death has no teeth. He is an old hound that barks loudly but he cannot bite. Your body will sleep, this is a truth, but the part of you that is really you will not die. You will be translated into a glorious new home where you will find that after 500 lifetimes, your living has only just begun. We cannot begin to imagine what comes next but I can promise you two things:

  1. Once you see the face of Jesus, no amount of suffering in this wretched body will matter any more.
  2. The trials you have overcome will give rise to the praises you will offer to the King.

The body decays because of the curse of sin, but my friend we have no idea what awaits us. A river of life, a tree so full of abundance that the nations will eat of its fruit and be satisfied, and, even better than that, the omnipresent God will walk with each of us. We will have one on one communion with the Creator. For ten thousand times ten thousand years, we will behold His glory and never grow tired of it.

If you are suffering, lift up your head, the King is coming and when He calls you unto Himself, your suffering shall be no more.

22:5 they will reign. “Once more we are assured that there is no more night there (21:23, 25; Zech. 14:7) and that God gives them light. The section culminates with the assurance that they will reign for ever and ever. It is not said that they will reign over anyone, and, indeed, it is difficult to see who their subjects could be. The term indicates a blessed and exalted state. They share in royalty.” (Tyndale NT Commentary Revelation)

This is a marvelous mystery that the Holy Spirit lays out before us in this verse. We, the redeemed will reign, with Christ, forever. Who, or what, will we reign over remains a question that can lead down all sorts of rabbit trails if you overthink it. I think that the Lord is reserving that to be a surprise for us on the day of our coronation. Perhaps, whatever we shall reign over will be our “wedding gift” so to speak since the Church is the Bride of Christ.

Shall we stand and shall we sing.

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