There is only one place you can finish a series on God’s heart for the nations and that’s with His glorious vision of the New Heavens and the New Earth. In the book of Revelation John envisions a multitude from every tribe, language, people and nation. The Bible is clear that end will be include a cumulation of people from every multitude from across all of time.
For most of us seeing the end goal helps motivate us in keeping in going in the here and now. Randy Allcorn, in his book ‘Heaven’ picks up on this theme with a story about a young swimmer from the 1950’s :
“In 1952, young Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island, determined to swim to shore of mainland California. She’d already been the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways. That day it was so foggy that she could hardly see the boats accompanying her. Still, she swam for 15 hours. When she finally begged to be taken out of the water along the way, her mother, in a boat alongside, told her she was close and that she could make it. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she stopped swimming and was pulled out. It wasn’t until she was on the boat that she discovered the shore was less than half a mile away. At a news conference the next day she said, ‘All I could see was fog…I think if I could have seen the shore I would have made it’.”Quoted by Randy Alcorn in ‘Heaven‘
As we go about our daily lives, in order to keep the nations in view we need to keep in perspective this glorious vision that puts the nations at the heart of what awaits us in eternity. Sometimes life is hard and it would be all to easy to give up along the way. The reality, all-be-it an unseen reality that we are presented with in the Bible, will one day become clear to all when God remakes the Heavens and the Earth. Even when we get bogged down with the stresses and strains of this life we need to keep this glorious future in perspective!
1. Living with the end in view (Matthew 24-25):
Jesus talks a lot about the End Times and specifically about Heaven and Hell. In Matthew 24 Jesus was leaving the temple and his disciples draw attention to the buildings. Jesus however tells them that one day every stone would be thrown down. They ask him about when this would happen and what would be the sign of its coming and Jesus begins a long section in which he warns them against those who would seek to deceive them and He tells them of what must first happen. The nations are mentioned a number of times in this chapter. First, Jesus describes a world at war with one another, saying that; “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (v7). Two verses later Jesus says that they would be handed over to persecution, death and they would be “hated by all nations because of me” (v9). The final verse in this section is about the Gospel being preached across the whole world as a testimony to all nations (v14). Then Jesus says that the end will come.
In the following chapter Matthew records Jesus telling a number of parables the last of which is about the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the parable, Jesus has come a second time and is now sitting on His glorious throne before the gathered throng of nations. Like a shepherd, His task is to separate the sheep from the goats.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Matthew 25:31-33
The rest of the parable explains the criteria for how Jesus will make this separation. Jesus equates the way that people have treated others (e.g., fed the hungry, supplied the thirsty, clothed those in need, cared for the sick or visited the captives) with how they had treated Him. Jesus says “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v40). It is challenging to think about the nations being judged. His message is clear that it matters what we do now and how we treat others. Where we spend eternity depends on it!
2. Before the Throne of God (Revelation 4-5):
The second scene is before the throne of God in Heaven and it is part of a great vision that God gave to the Apostle John as recorded in Revelation. The scene in chapter 4 focuses on the throne of God. There are twenty four elders sitting on their thrones and four living creatures around the throne of God. Day and night they never stop saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). In v10-11 the twenty four elders are seen laying their crowns before the throne and saying:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”Revelation 4:11
But a problem arises because there is a scroll which cannot be opened. An Angel asks who was worthy to break its seals and open it but no-one worthy can be found. Then however, one of the Angels spoke words of encouragement saying that the Lion of Judah had triumphed and was able to open the seals of the scroll. John then saw the lamb, looking like it had been slain and standing at the centre of the throne. The elders and living creatures worship the lamb:
9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.Revelation 5:9-11
The scene depicts a huge multitude of people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Once again God’s people are described as a Kingdom and as priests in service to God who reign on the earth. The diversity described here tells us quite a bit about continuity in the New Heavens and the New Earth. The Bible describes much that will be made new when Jesus returns, but that does not mean that we will lose the things that make us who we are. There is no hard reset! Our cultural, relational and experiential differences are a big part of that and they are plain to be seen here in this glorious vision of this multitude in Heaven. If anything our differences will serve to fuel our praise of the Lamb!
3. Glory, Honour & Healing of the nations (Rev 21-22)
The final scene comes at the end of the book of Revelation. This time John sees a New Heaven and the New Earth and then he saw the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven. This city is prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband and a voice from Heaven declares that now God’s dwelling place was among the people.
“3 … Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘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.”Revelation 21:3-4
What an encouraging scene and there is a real sense of the struggles of this life having been done away with. In the City John says there was no temple because God Almighty and the Lamb are that temple. Neither does the City need the sun or the moon for God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations walk by its light and the Kings of the earth bring their splendour, glory and honour into the city. The only people who enter this City are those “whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27).
After the description of the Holy City (21:9-21), we now see the river flowing from the throne of God. On each side of the river stood the tree of life (last mentioned in Genesis 1-3) and it “yielded fruit every month” (v2). John writes that the “leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (22:2b). The meaning of this word healing may well be as some have argued health-giving but either way the sense is that there is harmony, unity and life about the nations in this vision of the New Heavens and the New Earth. All that is wrong with our world will be changed!
Growing a Heart for the nations
As we draw this series in the Nations to a close, I wonder how this vision helps you to get excited about playing your part in God’s big story of Salvation? The nations have always been central to the heart of God and it is fitting that the nations retain prominent in this vision of our glorious future. We will spend eternity surrounded by people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Once we have a clear picture of the end, the challenge is to live accordingly. We should be investing in growing a heart for the nations because that what is on God’s heart. We should be reaching out to those living around us who are from other nations as well as taking opportunities to travel and experience more of the world God has created. We should be playing our part in God’s big story of Salvation worked out among the nations.
See other posts in this series
- Blessing the Nations (Vision)
- A Chosen Nation (Love)
- The Rise and Fall of nations (Idolatry)
- Hope of the Nations (Saviour)
- Heart for the world (Disciples)
- All Nations (Eternity)