The Return of the King (Part 6)
This post is the conclusion to a series exploring God’s Story: God’s Story (Part 1) | Another One Bites the Dust (Part 2) | The Long Pause (Part 3) | It Is Time (Part 4) | The Already and Not Yet (Part 5)
The image above is a fresco from Etrurio, Italy. Painted during the Renaissance and later covered up, this tremendous piece of art was discovered at a winery and restored only a few years ago. There’s a fascinating timelapse of this fresco’s restoration that I encourage you to watch, wherein you can see how much work went into the restoration of this piece.
What started as a seemingly decrepit wall was eventually restored to its former glory. And that’s just how restorations work: they take something work out, broken down, or covered up, and return it to its original condition and glory.
We love a good restoration. Our culture is permeated with restoration projects and shows. But even more than that, many of us practice the art of restoring things: we buy fixer-upper homes, have project cars, hold on to that random family heirloom or piece of furniture. Whether it’s people, homes, cars, artwork, or something else entirely, we love to see things restored—we love to see broken things fixed and returned to the glory of their former condition.
There’s something beautiful about a restoration project. Maybe it’s seeing something returned to wholeness or seeing a wrong righted that gives us pause. Maybe the restored item helps us remember days gone by and reminisce. Or maybe there’s a small part of us that’s awakened by the restoration of an item, something that reminds us that one day, everything that’s broken will be restored.
The End of the Story
I want us to get in the mindset of restoration as we begin this article, because restoration stands as the final chapter of God’s Story. Over the last several articles, we have been exploring the grand, overarching story that the Bible tells about how God is working in history for the salvation of the world. So far we have walked through Creation, Fall, Waiting, Redemption, and the Already and Not Yet. And we have seen that God’s Story goes something like this: In the beginning God created the universe, but humanity brought distortion and death into creation. So God chose a people, who He shaped through time and circumstance, and when the time was right, He sent His Son Jesus to live, die, and rise from the dead. To continue His work, God gave the Church the mission of proclaiming Jesus as King….
This is where we ended in our last article: in the tension of the already and the not yet, where Jesus is reigning as King, but His kingdom has not yet come in its fullness. This is our part of the story—this is where we are right now, waiting for King Jesus to come again and bring about the full and final restoration of creation. To borrow a phrase from one of the best stories of all time, we’re waiting for the Return of the King.
Revelation and the Return of the King
While most of the New Testament tells us about the life of Jesus and the practicalities of doing life in the Church, there are several passages that talk about the return of the King. Perhaps no part of Scripture is more important for this part of the story than Revelation, the last book of the Bible. But there are a couple of key things to know about the Return of the King and the book of Revelation before we just dive in.
First, Scripture does not tell us a specific time of Jesus’s return. In fact, Jesus is adamant that no one knows when He’s going to return. Stay awake, Jesus says, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…. Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24.42, 44) No one knows when the King will return—and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something and is not to be trusted.
Second, there are not a bunch of overly specific events leading up to the Return of the King. It’s become common practice today for people to claim geopolitical events or sequences of events as the precursor to the return of Jesus. But Scripture doesn’t outline a specific series of events; there are going to be troubles before the Return, absolutely. But when the writers of the New Testament talk about the Return of the King, they’re mostly interested in making sure that you and I are prepared for the end. In Luke, for instance, we hear, You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12.40) Likewise, the Apostle Paul writes, For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5.2, 6) So be ready—but don’t go looking to predict the end.
Finally, know that interpretations of Revelation are highly contested. For thousands of years, Christians have discussed and debated the meaning of eschatological passages—passages about the end of the story—like those in Revelation—and come to sometimes widely different conclusions. In our mere Christian approach here at Arise, we don’t adopt a specific view other than to say that King Jesus will come again. But if you want to learn more about eschatological views, a resource like Steve Gregg’s Revelation: Four Views is a good place to start.
Whatever the manner of things prior to the Return of King Jesus, the story of Christianity says that one day He will return. And that return is going to do some very important things—including bringing about the full and final restoration of creation.
The last chapters of the Bible paint a picture of what this will look like. In Revelation 20-22, John records his vision of the beautiful end of God’s Story. There’s obviously a lot in these chapters that we won’t have time to delve into, but here are some of the highlights:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end…. 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 20.11-21.6a, 21.22-22.5, ESV)
This is it—this is the restoration of creation and the arrival of God’s kingdom in its fullness! Jesus returns, the dead are resurrected, judgment day occurs, and all things are made new! Now, there’s obviously a lot going on here, so I want us to consider some Story Highlights: what do we see happening in this chapter of God’s Story?
First, the end begins when Jesus returns. When Jesus returns to earth, the tension of the already and not yet ends and the conclusion of God’s Story begins. Everything else about the end of the story follows from the sudden arrival of the King.
Second, the arrival of the King marks the end of Satan, sin, and death. When Jesus returns, He will completely defeat any force or entity opposed to God. This includes, as Revelation 20.14 tells us, Death itself, which will be ended forever. This is literally the death of Death!
Third, the dead will rise. This is what’s known as the general resurrection: everyone who has lived on earth and died will be raised from the dead for judgment. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one according to what they had done. (Rev 20.13) Judgment day comes for everyone in the end—whether they follow King Jesus or not.
Fourth, creation will be restored. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, John records. The old is done away with, the brokenness and distortion of the Fall are eradicated. John goes on to say that God now lives and reigns with His people: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. All of the sickness, sin, and suffering that surrounds us will be gone—forever. Not just out of sight or out of mind—restored. The language in this section conveys that, “The restoration of creation will be comprehensive: the whole of human life in the context of the whole creation will be restored.” (Bartholomew & Goheen, 232)
Look again at verse 5: Behold, Jesus says, I am making all things new. NOT “I make all new things”—I make all things new. All those bent and broken things, all those relationships that have been distorted by sinfulness and selfishness, all the good things in the world that have been damaged or destroyed by evil: I make all things new. For the past couple of years, I’ve been having some fairly significant back problems. And when things are bad and someone asks what they can do to help, I’ll often joke, “a new back would be nice.” But here at the end, Jesus isn’t going to give me a new back: He’s going to restore this one to wholeness! He’s going to make this one new! And He’s going to do the same thing with every part of who we are that’s corrupted by the Fall—every physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational wound that we carry. Behold, I am making all things new.
Finally, King Jesus reigns forever. No longer will there be anything accursed…. And the night will be no more. They will need no lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22.3, 5) The King reigns—and His reign is good and His reign lasts forever. And notice where this reign takes place: beside a river of the water of life and the tree of life. King Jesus reigns in a garden. Remember all the way back at the beginning of the story, with creation, where the story began? There was a garden and God walked with Adam and Eve. And here at the end, there’s a restored garden and God reigns with Adam and Eve and all their descendants. The creation that was broken has been restored—it has been returned to its original state and all things have been renewed!
The Conclusion of the Story
This is the end. This is how God’s Story ends. And so the fullness of the story looks something like this: In the beginning, God created the universe, but humanity brought distortion and death into creation. So God chose a people, who He shaped through time and circumstance, and when the time was right, He sent His Son Jesus to live, die, and rise from the dead. To continue His work, God gave the Church the mission of proclaiming Jesus as King until He comes again in glory to fully restore creation. This is how things will be at the end of all things.
The Christian life is built upon God’s Story, on the realities of creation, fall, waiting, redemption, the already and not yet, and restoration. This is not just information to be known; this is a story to embrace and live out. Even when things seem bad, God’s Story reminds us that the end is not yet here. And it reminds us that, even when the end does come, we can hope. Christian hope is founded on this promise of God: that one day, Jesus will return and restore all things. It’s this hope that sustains us when things are difficult. It’s this hope that enables us to live lives filled with the Spirit, to restore broken relationships, and to do work in our pockets of the Kingdom today.
Do you have that hope? Do you have Christian hope—the confident expectation that King Jesus reigns and one day, He’ll return and make all things new? If you don’t, let me challenge you to pledge your allegiance to King Jesus today—to follow Him and live in the hope of His story. Don’t give up, don’t try to make it through life on your own. Keep looking for the Return of the King—and the restoration of all things.