A key to understanding Revelation is to keep in mind that John assumes his readers know their Old Testament. Oftentimes when a new concept or symbol is presented, an interpretation is immediately provided (like the explanation of the seven stars and seven lampstands in Revelation 1:20). However, when describing the throne room of God in Revelation 4:3, John states that a rainbow…surrounded the throne. He doesn’t interpret the rainbow’s significance; he expects that you already understand it from knowing Genesis 9:8-17.
Last time we started to look at this verse:
The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.
Since this is the only time the word inherit is used in Revelation, to understand what is going on here, we’ll take a look back to the Old Testament.
Throughout the Old Testament there were two kinds of inheritance – an inheritance of God himself (e.g. – Psalm 16:5) or an inheritance was the right to a possession. However, with this possession-inheritance, the ownership wasn’t automatic, there were conditions involved. The land of Canaan was the nation of Israel’s promised inheritance. However, the ability of a particular Israelite generation to actually inherit, or physically own, the land was dependent upon their obedience to God’s commands.
After God rescued the Israelites from slavery and bondage to Egypt, they rebelled and grumbled when they got their first look at the work to be done in order to possess the promised land of Canaan. They even claimed that the Lord hated them and that they were better off back in Egypt. Moses recounted this event:
“When the Lord heard your words, He grew angry and swore an oath: ‘None of these men in this evil generation will see the good land I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land on which he has set foot, because he remained loyal to the Lord.’
“The Lord was angry with me also because of you and said: ‘You [Moses] will not enter there either. Joshua son of Nun, who attends you, will enter it. Encourage him, for he will enable Israel to inherit it.’
The easy response to this passage would be to say that the generation of Israelites that died in the desert must not have been “saved”, or they weren’t “true believers”. But…that can’t be the case, because these were the same people that trusted God and performed the first Passover. They took the blood of a perfect lamb and spread it on the doorposts of their homes – doing so demonstrated their trust in God’s promise that they would be passed over when the destroying angel came by to take the life of the firstborn son. The Passover prophetically foretold of Christ’s perfect blood sacrifice for mankind on the Cross. This was also the same generation Paul later used as an example for other believers:
1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.
According to Paul, the people of the Exodus generation of Israelites were right (positionally) with God, on the basis of their faith in the foreshadowed Christ. However, their disobedience later in life marred their relationship with God and prevented them from physically inheriting the Promised Land.
Now that we have the Old Testament context for the word inherit, we can see that God takes possession-inheritance very seriously. Fortunately, a believer’s potential inheritance is also discussed in the New Testament. While there are many passages we can look at (and perhaps that’s a future study), the following selections help us understand what God is talking about in Revelation.
1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
Notice that Peter says God the Father has given us new birth into two things – a living hope and an inheritance. Some have argued that heaven will be a Christian’s inheritance; however, Peter is indicating that this inheritance is something found in heaven. So this means that the inheritance can’t be heaven itself…either it is a part of heaven or something else, in addition to heaven.
Jesus also gave similar instructions during the Sermon on the Mount:
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.”
Jesus states that the treasures are in heaven, and not heaven itself. Also important is the contrast Jesus presents here (store up treasures on earth OR store up treasures in heaven). He wouldn’t give us these directions if they weren’t necessary. So from this we can conclude that it is possible for a believer to not store up treasures in heaven, and whether or not we have treasures in heaven is dependent upon our choices here and now.
So what is this inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade and these treasures in heaven that cannot waste away or be stolen?
I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Having a relationship with God can be had without cost to us because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins. Remember that to inherit these things refers back to the New Jerusalem. And from looking at other scriptures, we understand that inheriting New Jerusalem is dependent upon the choices we make here and now.