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Revelation 21:1-6

Near the end of the 5th Harry Potter Book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix comes a scene that has been burned into my memory ever since I first read it. A fierce battle is ensuing in the Ministry of Magic between members of the Order of the Phoenix–good wizards–and a group of Death Eaters–followers of the evil wizard Voldemort. They are fighting over a particular prophecy, contained in a glass orb, that both sides need desperately.

The battle takes place in a room described as sort of an amphitheater, with tiers of rows sloping down to a round stage at the bottom. Although the room is largely dark, on the top tier are several doors that open into a lighted space. The battle is fierce with death curses flying, hexes blocked, and glass prophecies breaking all around. Chaos reigns. While adult members of the Order join in the fight, the side of good is mostly represented by Harry and his school-aged chums, none of whom is yet a full-fledged wizard with thoroughly developed magical abilities.

The battle rages. People are injured. Several Order members barely escape death. For a brief time Harry’s friend and foil, the hapless Neville Longbottom, is even tortured. Things are not looking good for the Order; they are outnumbered and out-powered. But then . . . . then a glorious thing happens.

Dumbledore arrives.

Dumbledore: the world’s most powerful wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts School. Harry’s wise and loving mentor. The most effective force of good in the wizarding world. And the only one Voldemort ever feared.

Dumbledore stands silhouetted in one of the upper doors, wand at the ready. And as Harry looks up at their deliverer, he breathes a sigh of relief: “they were saved.”[1] Now, the battle wasn’t over, and, indeed, Voldemort himself would show up to take on Dumbledore in a later chapter. But Dumbledore’s arrival is the major turning point in the battle and the story. Even though there is more difficulty ahead, the outcome is now certain. Once Dumbledore arrives, everyone, even the forces of evil, knows how the fight will end.

I can’t help but think of this scene every time I read Revelation. For the recipients of John’s vision, the battle was raging, spiritually and actually. They were experiencing persecution for their faith, both in terms of actual physical torture and death, and in the stress and struggle of following Christ in a pagan world. It would have been easy for them to give in to despair. The kingdom of God promised by Jesus seemed a very distant reality, if, indeed, it was real at all. They were fighting a losing battle, or so it seemed.

But the message of Revelation, perhaps nowhere made clearer than in chs 21-22, is that no matter how the battle still rages, it has already been won! The savior has arrived! We can look to Him and sigh in relief. With his death and resurrection the outcome was determined. We are all saved, even if the physical reality of that promise may seem a distant dream.

For the readers of Revelation, this triumphant moment has occurred in chapters 19 & 20. God has been revealed as sitting on the throne and multitudes have sung his praise (19:1-7). Satan, the great dragon and ancient serpent, has been thrown into the Abyss and locked away (20:1-3). And the old heaven and earth have “fled” from the Lord’s presence (20:11), setting the stage for the coming of the “new” heaven and earth (21:1).

The stage is set. The scene is ready. All God’s enemies are defeated. Even the “sea” itself, with its connotations of death, destruction and chaos is no more (21:1). There is nothing standing in the way of God’s triumphant victory lap.

But what is that victory? How interesting that the end of all thing, God’s highest purpose and accomplishment, is creating one dwelling place for both himself and humanity. This is no longer a divided kingdom, with God and his angels somewhere “up there” while we mere humans stumble along down here on earth. The metaphorical gap between God and humanity that was bridged by Jesus’ death is now made quite literal and real: “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” (21:3, NIV).

This, of course, is a fulfillment of an oft repeated prophetic promise: “But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD. I will put My law in their minds and inscribe it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Jer 31:33, NIV; cf. also Jer 24:7; Ezek 11:19-20; Zech 13:9). This would not have been lost on the original audience. These words were a shorthand representing the entire covenant that God had made with Israel. The covenant was at last completely fulfilled. God had kept his end of the bargain. Or, in the timeline of those earliest Christians, he would do so. It was guaranteed.

While they might find themselves crying in despair and pain now, the time has arrived and would soon be with them when “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” (v. 4). However, this should not be thought of as a distant reality: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new’” (v. 5). Note the tense: I am. Not I will. Or I might. It is already happening. Which is why we can believe with certainty as seen in verse 6: “He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.’” In fact, the outcome is so certain that the Revelator says he is instructed to “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (v. 5).

In the midst of the deepest despair, in those moments when victory seems impossible, when you can’t see any way forward, when it seems that the world and its evil is winning, the end of the Book of Revelation (which is, not coincidentally also the end of the Bible), rings out one triumphant message that we can hold on to with absolute certainty: in the end, God wins! [1] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (New York: Scholastic Press, 2003), 805.