What is new about the New Testament Part 4

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By Rob Lampard

Recap

This blog concludes my series entitled What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament?  In part 1 we considered why this is an important question for us and looked briefly at how the New Testament itself answers our question.  In part 2 we took a more detailed look at the following topics: the new authority with which Jesus taught, the new covenant, and the new life which his ministry to people results in.  And in part 3 we considered the answers which the book of Hebrews supplies.  In this part we’re going to consider the answers which the book of Revelation supplies.

What’s New in Revelation?

First, Jesus’s personal assurance to believers who overcome is new:

 

“To him who overcomes … I will give a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” (2:17; cf 3:12)

 

Second, there are two songs specifically declared to be new (5:9 and 14:3).  This is an idea first introduced by the Psalmist:

 

Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.  (Psalm 33:3; cf 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1)

 

It is picked up later by Isaiah:

 

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. (42:10)

 

And finally, it resurfaces again here in Revelation.  Chapter 5 begins with John seeing a scroll in the right hand of God.  It seems important that the scroll be opened and its message read, for eager search is made for someone who is worthy to open and read it.  When no one is found, it causes John to weep uncontrollably.  But then one who is there present consoles John:

“Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,[1] has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll.” (5:5)

 

Jesus comes and takes the scroll.  The effect of him doing so is like that of a huge stone being thrown into a lake: the ripples spread and spread, getting bigger and of greater intensity the further they go.  First the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down in reverence (v8).  Then they sing a new song (v9-10).  Next millions of angels join in (v11).  Finally, every living creature ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea’ takes up the refrain, declaring their ultimate praise to ‘Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’ (v12-13).  In contrast, the words of the second ‘new song’ of Revelation (14:3) are not recorded.  Indeed, they are only known to and learnable by ‘the 144,000 who had his (the Lamb’s) name written on their foreheads’. (14:1)

 

Third, there is ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (21:1).  This is something foretold by the prophet Isaiah:

‘See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create,

for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;

the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.’ (65:17-19)

 

We note that this new heaven and earth will incorporate a renewed, delightful Jerusalem, marked by the absence of crying.  John sees the fulfilment of these things (Revelation 21:2 and 4).  He also hears a loud voice declare:

 

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (21:3)

 

Here is the fulfilment of the ancient promise which, throughout history, has consistently marked the covenants God has made.[2]

 

In summary of all this, John hears the voice from the throne declare, “I am making everything new.” (21:5).  One might think that such a declaration would be a fitting one with which to end the book of Revelation and the Bible.  But that’s not what we find.  Instead, John’s vision goes on for another two chapters.  In the remainder of chapter 21, the focus turns to ‘the bride, the wife of the Lamb’ (v9).  We know from other parts of the New Testament that the bride of Christ is his church (Ephesians 5:25-27, 32).  And we know from many New Testament passages that the Lamb is Jesus Christ.[3]

 

These connection chains, wherein one title is connected to another to another, are typical of Revelation.  From one point of view this makes the book less than straight-forward to follow.  From another however, it gives its teaching a greater strength than a series of simple statements would.  The huge beams which supported the ceilings or roofs of ancient buildings are impressive.  But they are only capable of supporting up to a certain distance – may be 30 metres.  The vast roofs of modern community building, sports halls, and especially stadiums (which might span a distance of 150 metres or more) require a different support structure, a lattice.  Such a support structure, though more complex to design and construct, is actually far more elegant and effective.  This is so of Revelation’s teaching, especially it’s teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s with a consideration of this that we’re going to end.

 

The books known as ‘The Gospels’ (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) present us with a developing picture of Jesus.  Exploring this theme in any detail would require a separate document.  But briefly, Mark begins with Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist (1:9-11), his calling of his disciples (1:14-20, 2:13-17, 3:13-19), and various healings and deliverances (1:21-45, 2:1-12, 3:7-12).  Various teachings are interspersed.  Despite all this, when, in 4:35-39 Jesus calms a storm whilst in a boat on a lake, the disciples’ reaction is to ask, “Who is this?” (4:41).  It’s not until 8:27-29 that Jesus directly asks his disciples who they think he is.  Peter replies that he is the Messiah.  But when Jesus goes on to start predicting his rejection, suffering, execution and resurrection (8:31, in line with the prophecy of Isaiah 53), Peter rebukes Jesus for entertaining such a notion (8:32).  Jesus in turn rebukes Peter (8:33).

 

It’s clear from all this that the disciples did not receive a brain-dump revelation of who Jesus was.

Instead, they experienced progressive revelation.  In line with this, Jesus deliberately employed the enigmatic title ‘Son of Man’ to designate himself by – to the bafflement of his hearers (John 12:34).  The reasons for this are several, but one of the key ones is this: no one presenting themselves as man amongst men, which Jesus obviously did, would be received credibly if, from the outset he went around explicitly declaring, “Hey folks, I’m God you know.”  (Imagine how we would react if someone did such a thing today!)

 

All this changes however in the book of Revelation when Jesus speaks to John, not as a man on earth, but as a man in heaven.  As such, he unreservedly designates himself by multiple exalted titles.  He is the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is alive forever more.  He holds the angels in his hands and walks among the churches.  He is the Son of God.  He is holy and true.  He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.[4]  He is the root and offspring of David and the bright morning star.  He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords![5]  To those who ask, “Where in the Bible does Jesus say he is God?”, the clear answer is, “In the book of Revelation!”

 

[1] We know this is Jesus because he explicitly tells us later that he is ‘the root and offspring of David’. (Rev 22:16)

[2] This idea is first expressed in Genesis 17:7 and is repeated at least 18 times in the rest of the Bible.  See the footnote in our section about the New Covenant for a fuller list of these references.

[3] John 1:29, 1Corinthians 5:7, 1Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:5-13, etc.

[4] To see that this is a direct declaration of divinity compare Isaiah 41:4, 44:6-7, 48:12-13 and Rev 1:8.

[5] Revelation 1:17, 2:1, 2:18, 3:7, 3:14, 22:13, 22:16, 19:16.

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