I blogged yesterday about what we find at the end of the Bible–the wedding of Jesus and his bride, the Church. I tried to make the point that this heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21 and 22 is actually us. It’s not a city at all; it’s just a picture of the new people of God.

The picture is meant to be contrasted with Rome, the “Eternal City” and source of persecution against God’s people. John measures the heavenly city to show that it is incomprehensibly large, and far greater in every respect than Rome. In other words, Rome loses. The enemies of God lose; and the Church, those who persevere through trial and persecution and hardship–the Church wins because our Husband fights on our behalf.

The good news of all of this is that we have a Husband, a Conquering King-Groom, who is, even now, fighting on our behalf. All of the powers of evil that rage against us are not, themselves, without an enemy. Jesus is waging war for you. He is destroying “all dominion, power and authority”, and he is putting all of his enemies “under his feet”. This is what he is doing, right now, for us, in us, and through us.

Wherever you may be right now, you are headed for a wedding. That’s how this story ends and the next story begins. The wedding of Jesus and his Church. And your Husband is not simply waiting around for you to arrive; he is actively creating a world that he deems suitable for your eternal presence. He is preparing a place for you by waging war against evil and darkness and sin and idolatry.

The Greeks loved drama. They had, basically, two kinds of dramas they would write: tragedies and comedies. The way to tell the difference was in the ending. Tragedies end with a funeral; comedies end with a wedding. You are in a comedy. Live, therefore, in the hope that this story–your story, my story, our story–ends with a wedding.

All this talk and blogging on Love Wins, and the fact that the world is clearly going to end on May 21, has got me thinking about the end times. Or, to be more accurate, it’s got me thinking about the end of the Bible.

Revelation is a tricky book. It’s difficult to understand and interpret because of it’s apocalyptic nature. The images are extreme, the language is deeply biblical and often coded, and the timeline seems to skip around a bit. Some of it is clearly in the past, while other parts of it seem to be yet in the distant future. That’s what I want to write about today: the future parts.

Revelation 17-19 deal with the fall of Babylon, which is probably a code for Rome. You have to remember that the people to whom Revelation was first written (the seven churches of Asia Minor in chapters 2 and 3) were under severe persecution from Rome. Rome and her emperor stood against Christ, and often waged a violent war against the followers of Jesus. So, for those saints, the fall of Rome meant the destruction of God’s great enemy on earth.

In the middle of chapter 19, we get this wonderful song:

Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.

Babylon falls. People rejoice. And a wedding is coming. But we don’t have the actual wedding; we only have a song. The wedding is coming between the Lamb (hint: Jesus) and his bride. And as chapter 19 continues on into chapter 20, we see Jesus portrayed as this conquering King who throws Satan and his minions into the Abyss for a thousand years. And then his people rise from the dead and reign with him for that thousand years, after which the devil and his crew come out of the Abyss and wage war against Jesus again, only to be defeated again, and cast into this awful, horrible lake of burning sulfur to be tormented for ever and ever.

Thus the groom. The twice-conquering King. But do you know who hasn’t shown up yet? The bride. As in weddings today, the bride doesn’t show up until she’s ready. And in this wedding, she doesn’t show up until chapter 21.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. …One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

Thus the bride. But what does this mean? Does Jesus marry a city? That can’t be right, can it? Maybe this is another one of those parts in Revelation where the language shouldn’t be taken literally. Maybe the New Jerusalem is something else—someone else. In fact, the bride is us, the Church, all who have called on the name of Jesus and overcome the world. You and I are the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, beautifully prepared for the wedding by God, and being escorted down the aisle, from Heaven to Earth, by God himself.

And this “Heavenly City”, the New Jerusalem, which is us, dwarves the “Eternal City”, Rome. By a lot. And not just in size, but in grandeur. There is no temple because God Almighty and the Conquering King-Groom are the temple. As Jesus declared from the throne,

“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. ‘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.”

There is no need for the light of the sun or moon, because God himself will give us light. The gates will never be shut, not because it is all-inclusive, but because there is nothing to fear. The night and its terrors have fled away, and there is no reason to hide behind city walls and closed gates. And “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Why? Because God has already prepared the bride. He has already brought his people through tribulation and great trial, and they have overcome by the blood of the Lamb. God’s work of preparing the bride for the wedding is done. She is ready. She has gone down the aisle.

The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is not heaven; it’s us. We are being made ready for a wedding, our wedding, where God walks us down the aisle and gives us over to his son, the Conquering King-Groom, the Lamb, Jesus Christ. We are far, far greater than Rome or any of God’s enemies, because we are being made suitable for the Son of God.

At the end of the book of the Revelation is an invitation—a wedding invitation. But it’s not simply an invitation to the ceremony; it’s a call to participate, to be the bride.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

This is how love wins.

I try not to pay attention to the comments sections when I’m reading news articles online. It can only infuriate you. But sometimes I allow my curiosity to get the best of me, and, predictably, I read something that infuriated me.

The state of Florida is preparing to pass the Andrew Widman Act, which will close a loophole in the state’s law regarding probation restrictions. Andy was a friend of mine (I’ve known him since 3rd grade), and he eventually became a police officer in Ft. Myers, FL. He was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2008. The man who killed him was on probation, had been arrested on a felony charge just a few days before, but was out on parole. This is the loophole the law is hoping to clear up. (If you’re new to the blog, please go back to the archives of July, 2008 to read more. Andy was an incredible man of God who is greatly missed.)

Apparently it’s passed both the House and the Senate in Florida unanimously, and now just awaits the signature of the governor. This is good news. But not to everyone, apparently. One moron, lowlife, scumbag left this comment on the news article:

Forget the Widman, better training!!! and maybe if he held his gun up instead of the cross, he be aljve?????????????

My first reaction was seething rage. My second reaction was even greater seething rage because this person is clearly an over-opinionated idiot who can’t spell and doesn’t know how to write, and he’s denigrating my faith and the faith of my deceased friend.

My third reaction was to smile, because three years later, Andy is still remembered as a man of the cross, even by ignorant imbeciles. Yes, Andy chose to bear the cross rather than the gun. No doubt Andy would have used his gun if he had to, but he wanted to show perpetrators the agape love of God more than the business end of a weapon.

There was a story circulating about a man who came to Andy’s funeral. A reporter approached him and asked him, “Why have you come to Officer Widman’s funeral?” He replied, “Officer Widman arrested me twice this year, and both times he was so kind and friendly. I just had to come and pay my respects.”

The truth of what happened that night in 2008 is that Andy didn’t have time to raise his gun. He was shot in cold-blood by an evil, cowardly man. But in his death, the cross he held up each day–the cross of Jesus Christ–was lifted up for millions to see. So thank you, idiot commenter, for reminding me that Andy is still remembered, first and foremost, as a man of the cross.

The news cycle on Osama bin Laden’s death is waning, which means that, as a nation, we’re pretty much over it at this point. The Facebook statuses have moved back to the trivial and mundane. Christians aren’t tweeting and posting scriptures at each other anymore.

Yesterday I tried to collect my thoughts on his death, but, like many of you, couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on in my own heart or mind. I wasn’t happy, but I certainly wasn’t sad. He needed to die, I think. But it wasn’t a tactical strike, as far as I can tell. It was justice. America needed a blood avenger.

As I laid awake in bed last night, I began to wonder what the gospel is for Osama bin Laden. Not what he thinks it is, but how he needs to hear it. Yes, I know he’s dead, and I don’t want to go all Rob Bell on you…but the question wouldn’t leave my mind. What is the gospel for Osama bin Laden. So here’s my attempt at an answer. This is how I would communicate the gospel to him.

You are a fraud. You are a deceiver. You are the son of a billionaire, and yet you rail against the evils of capitalist America and prey on the hopelessness, ignorance, and illiteracy of poor young men. You use them as pawns in your sick game. You are a sociopath. You don’t even see these young men as humans, and you use women and children as shields. You are a coward. You are a false prophet, and you seek to serve God through violence and terrorism. You approach God through a false system of beliefs. You are a megalomaniac. You hope to be saved by your acts of violence. You are a murderer–the worst kind because most of the murders you committed were by proxy, through brainwashed servants whom you convinced were doing the will of God, but they were really just carrying out your sick perversion of justice.

And yet, Osama bin Laden, the perverted desires of your heart are no different than the perverted desires of my heart. The only difference between me and you is Jesus Christ. You thought he was just a prophet; he was is so much more. He is the Son of God, the King of Creation. You thought he merely swooned on the cross, or that a substitute died there; he was the substitute for you, and for me. You have just died for your sins, but he died for your sins 2,000 years ago. And then he rose again from the dead, conquering it once and for all.

As hard as this is for me to say to you, Osama bin Laden, Jesus loves you. He paid the divine penalty for all of your murderous rage. All of your murders, all of your lies, all of your manipulation, all of your violence are eternally forgiven at the cross of Jesus Christ. When the towers fell on 9/11, and the rubble was finally cleared away, do you know what was left? Two iron beams in the shape of a cross. That cross is for you, Osama bin Laden.

Let me tell you something: You deserve hell, and there are millions of people on this planet who hope you get it. You are in a select group of criminals against humanity, and the human race stands ready to condemn you. Your only hope for salvation is not in pleasing Allah through violence, but in clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ with a repentant heart and a humbled spirit. Only Jesus can save you. You must drop your agenda of violence and take up his agenda of grace. This is your only hope. Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the King of Creation.

‎Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? -Ezekiel 18:23

And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind. -Genesis 9:5-6

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them. -Proverbs 24:17-18

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel? -Ezekiel 33:11

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. -Matthew 5:21-22

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. -Matthew 5:38-39

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:43-48

You shall not murder. -Exodus 20:13

The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. -Numbers 35:19

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. -1 John 3:15

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. -Revelation 21:8

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. -1 Timothy 1:8-17