1971 Years Later (after Jesus' Ascension)
Dear Jesus, the world runs and rushes doing its own thing as if You’ll never return. So many scoff at the truths of Your Word and at the certainty of Your return. Yet, Your ascension reminds me that You will return in the same way as You ascended, even though it seems like a long time that You have delayed. I know that in our weaknesses my fellow Christians and I can get caught up in the world’s mentality and focus. Forgive us and renew us; and now, please bless us and strengthen us in worship today. Amen.
The world scoffs, “Where is this Jesus you say is returning?” What they see as reason for doubt is really a testimony to God’s grace. It is God’s patient mercy that delays Jesus’ return so that more and more may hear God’s Word and be saved. While we wait, be steadfast, rely upon the words and promises of your Savior, and by the Spirit’s blessing through the Gospel, grow in the grace and knowledge of your Lord.
On the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father for all who would come to faith through the words of the Apostles. In other words, Jesus prayed for all believers including us. Jesus’ prayer was that we would behold His glory, put our trust in God’s Word and live eternally with the Triune God in heaven. Our ascended Lord now has all power in heaven and on earth to accomplish this blessed goal for us!
Text: Revelation 22:12-21
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
In Christ Jesus, our triumphant and ascended Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
“What are they doing now?” From time to time that is the question that is intended to grab our attention to hear current stories of people who were famous in the past. What is the professional football player doing now, fifteen years after his retirement at age thirty-five? What is that child actress doing now that she has turned twenty-five?
This past Thursday we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension—His visible return to heaven forty days after Easter. It is the last event of Jesus’ time on the earth. Jesus’ ascension was 1971 years ago. What is He doing now?
We know from Scripture what Jesus is doing now. He is sitting at the right hand of God ruling over all things and preparing a place for us in heaven. The reason for Jesus visibly ascending was so that we would know without doubt that He is in heaven doing what He said He would do. But it has been a long time. Where is He? What is He doing? Is He really coming back?
This morning we consider: 1971 YEARS LATER We find that I. Jesus still has all power II. Jesus is still returning and that III. Jesus’ Word is still life
Among the times that Jesus appeared to His disciples between Easter and Ascension, one time occurred on a mountain in Galilee. While Jesus was gathered there with His disciples, Jesus spoke the words we recognize as the Great Commission: “Go, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This is the commission that Jesus has given, not only to the disciples gathered with Him on the mountaintop, but also to you and to me and to all disciples of all time.
“Go!” Jesus said, and “make disciples of all nations,” but Jesus did not leave the disciples nor us without direction on how to go about doing this. If Jesus had simply stopped His words right there, where would we go? What would we do? So Jesus went on to say, “Go, make disciples, and do so by baptizing and teaching.” “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20). Now, we have the method of making disciples. We share the Gospel through baptism and also by declaring His Word, teaching the Gospel truths to all who will hear.
This is the method to fulfill this commission, but again, we would be lost if left on our own because “Jesus, how could we ever be successful in making disciples by baptizing and teaching? How will we ever be brave enough and able enough to do this in a world that hates You?” To this Jesus replies, “Lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That promise coupled with what Jesus had said before the commission, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth," gives us courage and the promise of help to accomplish this work.
Here is the comfort and courage to do the commission that Jesus has given us to do. Those words of Jesus, “All power is given to Me…I am with you always,” were so crucial to the mission of the early Christian Church. They remain crucial to us as well. That power and glory is what Jesus set aside for a time so He could humble Himself to be our servant. But when that time of humbling was done, when our salvation was won, all of that honor and glory was given back to Jesus and showered upon Him as our victorious Savior. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “[Jesus] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (Philippians 2:8-10).
God the Father has glorified Jesus our Savior. He has given the Victor the eternal honor, and power and glory which He had, but set aside to be our servant, and now has again for all time! That Victor, that One, 100% God and 100% man in the person of Jesus Christ—He has declared that He has all power and still rules with that power today.
We now go forward in time from the mountainside in Galilee to the time of our text, roughly seventy years later when John wrote the words of Revelation. The whole book of Revelation was given as encouragement to the children of God as they make their way through these last days to eternal life. Throughout Revelation we find messages of God to reassure us as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ commission to share the Gospel, resist temptation, and go about every aspect of our Christian lives. In this context of encouragement, Jesus says the following to close the book of Revelation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last…Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” [v.13]
Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. The New Testament was written in Greek. If we were to put Jesus’ words into an English equivalent, we would say that He is the A and the Z. Jesus says this three times in three different ways to impress upon us “I am God! I am Jesus, your Savior, the eternal Son of God who became man to be that Savior and now I live on in eternity with this power, with this might, with this glory that only the eternal God could possess.”
Jesus goes on to say, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” [v.16]When Jesus describes Himself as the Root and Offspring of David and the Bright and Morning Star He is telling us that He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. In the book of Numbers, God foretold, “A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult” (Numbers 24:17). This Star, this Scepter would arise and utterly defeat the enemy—a promise of the Savior. In Isaiah, God said, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). This Rod, this Branch, was the Messiah who would be born out from Jesse, King David’s father’s, family line. Jesus identifies Himself as this Promised One—the Savior.
Therefore, in these closing words of written Scripture, Jesus assures us, “I am the eternal Son of God. I am the One who has fulfilled all that God said would be done through the Savior. I am He, and I have all power because I am the beginning and end, I am eternal God and what I have will not change!” The eternal nature of Jesus and the fulfillment of the prophesies is intended to assure us that yes, He still has all power.
Revelation was written also for us. We have these words of encouragement, but then we look around in the world and people may raise the question: “How much power and control does your Savior really have. Just look at what’s going on in the world! Does He really control all things? There’s war, trouble, misery, hardships. Why doesn’t He stop it?” So the world scoffs and snickers, “Jesus has all power…hmpf…that’s a lie.”
God has something to say about this. In Psalm 2 we read, “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’” The people of the world rage and say, “Enough of God! We’re going to get out from under God and His Son and His Word and all its nonsense!” But, the psalmist continues, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.” (Psalm 2:1-4).
It would appear to human eyes that the world is out of control. The world is not out of control because Jesus doesn’t have all power. Rather, the sin of mankind is out of control because at times God simply releases all restraint and lets sinners freely pursue their sin to their own destruction (cf. Romans 1:24ff). So when we see the world going in such a wild and catastrophic spin, it is not Jesus who has lost control, it is sin that has taken control in people’s lives.
Our Savior, Jesus, still has all power. He is still the Son of God sitting at the right hand of God and He is still returning. In our text, Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work…He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’” [vv. 12,20]
In Old Testament prophecy, in Jesus’ own words, and in the epistles, Jesus is compared to a bridegroom and we, the believers, are His bride. Before Jesus died He told the disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions (rooms)…I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you to Myself; that were I ham, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). Again, Jesus drew on the customs of the day when a bridegroom would go back home and add a room onto his parents’ home which would become the new couple’s home. When the room was ready and the time was right, the groom would go to his bride’s home and bring her to her new home. Jesus is now preparing a place for us, His bride, and He will come again.
Jesus promised by the power and authority and truthfulness of His Word that He would come again to take every one of us home. He is still returning. His Word is sure. We have the clear promise of Jesus that He is not going to leave us here. As we heard in the epistle lesson, this earth will be destroyed, but Jesus will first come to take us home to the place He is preparing for us in heaven. We know from Scripture that the day of Judgment Day will come as a thief in the night—unexpected—but He will come (cf. epistle lesson et. al).
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples stood there, staring where Jesus had been. While they gazed up into heaven, two angels appeared and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus Himself promised His return and God repeated the promise through the angels. He is still returning!
It is absolutely true, Jesus will return, but, why is He taking so long? Since Jesus’ ascension into heaven there have been many people who have had a misunderstanding about His return. Many have tried to pinpoint a specific day and when that day comes and goes, either they recalculate a new date, or give into skepticism which questions whether Jesus will ever return. Peter reminds us that God’s timetable is not ours. It has not even been 2000 years since Jesus ascended and to a God who is timeless, a thousand years is as if a day (cf. epistle reading). A day comes and a day goes within our time frame. When Tuesday comes you won’t think anything of it…it’s a mere two days since today. So too, 2,000 years for God is as nothing.
Peter also shows us that the reason for Jesus’ delay should fill us with joy. Rather, than be taken down a trail of doubt, we can lift up our hearts in ecstatic joy because Jesus gives us day after day and new year after new year to spread the Gospel, to take that Gospel to all nations, to make more and more disciples with that powerful Word of God. Jesus delays so that more souls can be saved. There is no reason to doubt! There is no reason for skepticism in that truth. It is reason for celebration because Judgment Day hasn’t come, there are souls yet to be won.
Earlier in Revelation, this same truth was emphasized as John saw the six seals of a scroll being opened. As part of the opening of the sixth seal, John saw an “angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God.” That seal of the living God was representative of being a child of God. So, the messenger of God was going forth with this seal to seal other souls to God, to bring others to faith and to eternal life. That messenger “cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads’” (Revelation 7:2-3).
Earlier in this vision, God portrayed the various influences going out into the world—war, famine, disease, death. Yes, these things will take place. Yes, there will be evil and harm in the world, but that will not lead to final destruction until all those whom God has chosen are sealed to Him and those souls saved for all of eternity. Again, this delay is cause for joy as the Gospel goes out to seal more and more into our Father’s family.
Jesus is still returning. As we wait for that time, we find comfort that His Word is still life. John writes in the text, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” [vv.14-15]
God brings many illustrations from the Old Testament into the book of Revelation. The Tree of Life is one of these. The Tree of Life was originally one of the trees in the Garden of Eden, but here it is used as a picture of eternal life—spiritual life now and eternal life in heaven. John writes that those who do God’s Commandments putting their trust in Jesus, have the right to that Tree of Life and they enter into the city of God. Outside of this city are the dogs, sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. These are not the only sins of those on the outside, they are just representative of them. In other words, those outside the city of God who have no part of the Tree of Life are those who are condemned in their sexual immorality, in their murdering, their hating, their unkind acts, words, and deeds and all the untruth that lives and reigns in a sinners life.
Apart from Jesus we are those outside the city of God. The Law of God condemns us, showing us that we are the sinners. We live and practice and at times love deeply the lies of this world. We convince ourselves that those lies are true and we think that we are doing fine by following them, but when they are put up next to God’s Word they are revealed to be lies that lead to death and destruction. Those lies, the sins we fall into condemn us and leave us outside and apart from the tree of life.
The Word from our Savior gives life to us who were dead and outside. Jesus’ Word comes and tells us that all the immorality, all the hatred, all the lies are washed away in the blood of Jesus—the Lamb of God. Our sins are forgiven! The Gospel message is the power of God for salvation. That Gospel message is what tells us what Jesus has done and creates the faith in our hearts to believe it and gives us that life through the forgiveness of sins. It is the Holy Scripture—the Gospel—“which is able to make us wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The Spirit calls out through the Word, and Jesus calls out saying, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” [v.17]
That water of salvation from the Gospel is brought to sinners everywhere and the invitation goes out, “Come and drink deeply and have eternal life.” That Word of God which gave life at the time Jesus preached on the earth is still the Word of Life for today. The invitation goes out.
The formula for the Water of Life is something that God guards very closely. We hear in our text, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book (and if you’ve read through the book of Revelation, you know that those plagues are severe and destructive); and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” [vv.18-19]
God announces a curse on those who would add to God’s Word. He will add to them the plagues of destruction that are described in Revelation. He withdraws the Tree of Life and the life giving message from those who would take away from His Word. God is serious about what He says. He speaks very strongly against anyone who would change His Word in any way because it is the life-giving almighty Word of the holy, almighty God. We ought not tinker with God’s Word because who are we sinners to change what the holy, almighty God has said?
God defends the holiness and truth of His Word so that it is upheld and He is glorified, but there is another reason why God guards the truth of His Word so closely. If someone changes the Word they are changing the Word of Life. God is so intent on the salvation of sinners that He has given His Word to be that Word of Life. He is so intent on people being saved that He does not want anyone to change or alter the Word in any way because an altered Word of Life cannot give life.
God’s desire for the truthfulness of His Word is ultimately His desire to save sinners. That desire is why the Bible—God’s written word—closes with a prayer that Jesus would come quickly and that in the meantime He would continue to come into our hearts and that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. That grace is what works in our hearts and lives to keep us firm in the conviction that even though it is almost 2000 years since Jesus ascended, Jesus still has all power, He is still returning, and His Word is still life.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt