The City that's a Bride audio (3MB)
Well, we’ve spent the last three months working our way through Revelation, so I guess we all have a pretty good idea what it’s about, don’t we? But now that we’re finally at the end, at the account of the last day, at the revelation of the new heavens and earth I wonder whether this what you would have expected? Is this your picture of heaven?
I have to admit that I have no idea what heaven will really be like. I actually think it’s so far beyond our human experience that we have no way of comprehending it until we actually get there. But God, as always, is gracious and so he gives us pictures of heaven that give us an idea, even if it’s only another set of moving images, of what it will be like.
What we’re shown here is heaven, but we discover heaven is in fact the world remade, now a world where only God and his people dwell. I guess you’ve noticed that Revelation is a tale of 2 cities. There’s Babylon, the city of those who serve Satan and there’s Jerusalem, the city of God. We saw Babylon destroyed last week along with its people and the armies of Satan and now all that’s left are the people of God.
And as John watches he sees the birth of a whole new universe; a new heaven and a new earth. What we find as we read through these 2 chapters is what’s new, what’s old, what’s missing and what’s central in this new world.
1 What is new (21:1-8)
What’s new is the new heaven and the new earth. This is a whole new universe. The old has passed away and the sea is no more. This isn’t a scientific description. You’re not meant to think about the geographical details that are described. Don’t be disappointed because you can’t go surfing any more. No, the sea was the symbol of chaos, of all that’s opposed to God, perhaps even of all that separates us from God. What’s left in this new creation is everything that’s in harmony with God.
And, as in the rest of Revelation, as he looks, he sees a mix of images. Coming down out of heaven is the holy city, the new Jerusalem. But hang on. It’s not a city, it’s a bride, adorned for her husband. Here are the 2 great pictures of God’s people from the Old and New Testaments, combined into one. Jerusalem in the OT is the home of God, the place where God dwells with his people. The people of Israel were commonly referred to as the bride of God. The prophets speak of the way God wooed his people, they speak of him winning her back to himself again. In Isaiah 62 the 2 images come together as God speaks of taking Jerusalem and making it his wife to vindicate her in the sight of her enemies. In the NT the Church is pictured as the bride of Christ. And here John sees the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Then a voice calls out: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Again, the Scriptures are finally brought to fulfilment. When Israel was brought into the promised land it was meant to be a place where God would dwell with them forever. He’d be their God and they’d be his people. Well it never worked out that way did it? But now at last it’s come about. And it’s come about because there’s a new creation put in place. The old has passed away. Now everything is new. And so he says “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” God’s entire plan for history has now come to it’s end, it destination.
Here there’s no more sadness, no more death, no mourning or crying or pain. Those things belong to the old creation. Now everything is renewed. In their place he says he’ll give his people water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. He will be their God and they will be his children. This is the Garden rebuilt. Except that now it’s no longer a garden. Now it’s a city. Now it’s a community of those who worship God.
But notice who’s not found in this new city: “8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” I take it the cowardly aren’t just the wimps. These are those who failed to withstand persecution; who denied Christ rather than face suffering for his name. They take their place with the others who refuse to do what God requires. Notice too, that along with all those you’d expect to be excluded from heaven: the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers and the idolaters, are liars. In fact this category ends the list 3 times in these last few chapters. That’s a scary thought isn’t it? Who is there in this world who’s never told a lie? Who doesn’t habitually tell lies even? Well there’s a solemn warning there isn’t there? Satan is the father of lies, so his children can’t be there.
2 What is old (21:9-21)
What comes next isn’t old in the sense of something that’s been around for some time. Rather it’s those elements of the description that point us back to what’s come before.
As John looks at this great city coming down out of heaven what does he see? Well, first he sees that it radiates with the glory of God. It glitters like a bright crystal. But it’s a city that radiates symbolism. It has 12 gates, each watched over by 12 angels. The 12 represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The angels remind us of Is 52 and its picture of watchers rejoicing over the return of the Lord to Zion. The wall has 12 foundations, representing the 12 apostles, on whose teaching the Church has been built.
Then the picture begins to get really weird. The angel who’s showing this to John has a measuring rod and he measures the city for him. And it turns out to be 1500 miles long and wide and high. Now I don’t know about you but I can’t conceive of any city being that wide or long and I certainly can’t imagine a city that’s 1500 miles high. But again, it’s not meant to be a literal description. This is symbolic language again.
So what does this city built as a cube represent? Well, what’s the only building in the Bible that’s a cube? In fact it isn’t even a whole building. It’s the Holy of Holies in the Temple and the Tabernacle before that. (1 Kings 6:20) It’s the place where God dwells, that no-one can enter apart from the high priest. So the whole city is the Holy of Holies. Those who dwell in this city enjoy God’s presence with them forever.
And the city is overwhelming in its glory. Walls of jasper; gold so pure it seems transparent; foundations adorned with every jewel imaginable; gates that are great pearls. Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the pearl of great price? It was about the gospel do you remember. So entry to the city is via the preaching of the gospel.
3 What is missing (21:22-27)
There is no Temple there. Why, because as we just saw the whole city is the temple. Its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. If you want to worship God in this new city, where do you go? Directly to the Lord - in whose presence you’re dwelling.
There’s no sun or moon. The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. In the Scriptures day and night are symbols for good and evil. In a world without electric light, night is a time of darkness when people can do all sorts of things without being detected. Night was the time when the city gates were closed for fear of attack. But here in the new Jerusalem it’s always day. The light shines permanently. In other words evil is banished. There is only good present. The gates of this city are never closed. On the contrary they’re always open to the people of the world. “24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
And as we saw a moment ago, there is nothing there that would affect the purity of the place. No-one who practises abomination or falsehood. There it is again: no liars. Imagine being in a place where people could only do what is right. Where there was no temptation to lie or to cheat, or to be envious or to hate or backbite. Where you never had to wonder whether someone was telling you the truth. Imagine a place where you were enabled to love God the way he deserves, to worship him without fear, to wonder at his glory for as long as you wanted. That’s what heaven is like. There’s no crying or pain because there’s nothing there that would cause it.
4 What is central (22:1-7)
There are three things that are central.
The river of the water of life. The river of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the centre of the city. The life that God provides is freely available to all who live there. Do you remember what Jesus said to the woman of Samaria? “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
The tree of life. Just as the Garden of Eden contained the Tree of Life, so here in the new city there is a tree growing that offers life to all who eat. “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” The picture here comes straight out of Ezek 47 where Ezekiel sees in a vision the river of life flowing out of the Temple to both feed and to heal.
The throne of God and of the Lamb. The vision is summed up with this simple statement: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Here is what heaven is like: God and the Lamb are there. We will see his face and worship him. And we’ll belong to him and to him alone. It’s a picture of indescribable pleasure and joy and peace and security. It’s a picture that’s meant to encourage us to persevere even when times are tough.
And that’s how the book finishes.
Well, it would have been nice if it had stopped there, but that would be to forget the reason the book has been written.
A warning and an Encouragement (22:8-21)
No, the book finishes with both a warning and an encouragement. The word of God is given to John again: 7"See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." Jesus will return. This prophecy is given to warn and to encourage us. This prophecy is not to be sealed up. It’s to be an open book, because the time is near. It needs to be accessible to all who need to hear it as the days go on. He says don’t expect things to change “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” But I’m coming soon and my reward is with me.
So what should our response be? “14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” In other words remain constant in your faith in Christ. Avoid the evils he mentions in v15. And respond to the word of the gospel by repeating it’s call: “Come.” We saw on Good Friday that Jesus’ death and resurrection provide us with the motivation to give up our lives to serve him and here the call is similar. Remain faithful against all odds. Peter puts it like this in 2 Pet 3(:11-14): “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.”
The prophecy ends with a gospel call to all who will hear: come and receive living water from the river of life; and with the promise that Christ himself is coming soon.
To which we all respond “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”