I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And 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. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The New Jerusalem… no Temple. Such a contrast to the Jerusalem that John had known. That city was renowned throughout the Roman Empire, and noted for its Temple, occupying around 20% of the entire city. Jerusalem was not a city with a Cathedral (Canterbury, for example)… it was a Temple with streets and houses outside of it, hence at Passover time it could host all the pilgrims, many of whom sleep overnight outside the city on the Mount of Olives (hence the need for Judas to show the soldiers where Jesus was located). The contrast could not be greater. A Jerusalem without a temple could not be computed, and of course 70AD prefigures the New Jerusalem with the destruction of the Temple. How many mourned for the passing of the Temple, here however John helps us understand why the Temple had to go. There can be no Temple where there is the presence of ‘the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’. Any ‘temple’ is temporary. Tie this to the opening verse of the chapter and we have a vision (understatement!):
I saw a new heaven and a new earth – but no sea… I saw a New Jerusalem – but no Temple.
Today is shaped by what we see for tomorrow; we might work with stepping stones toward tomorrow, but stepping stones are not marking the finish of the journey simply the pathway. Again the vision is of the total transformation of all things, to work with the one who makes all things new.
And wonderful confusion is thrown our way. This city / Temple that fills everything, that is the bride provides light for the nations to walk in a healthy / holy direction (‘disciple all nations’), with its gates never closed (so what is outside the city?) and allowing the glory from the nations to come in, but not allowing anything unclean to enter… Is the bride the city? For sure… Can others enter? Seems that way.
I appreciate what we have here is visionary, apocalyptic imagery; but such imagery is present to communicate what we might term ‘reality’.
The identity of the Bride is for sure those who are ‘in Christ’; there seems to be those who do not get to participate in this future (‘second death’) and there seems to be room for some kind of extremely blurred edges with gates that are closed only to that which is unclean.
I am glad for the confusion! Does me good.
I am challenged by the scale of the vision. A transformed world. If John on Patmos, in captivity could communicate that kind of vision, maybe I in my small world can hold in some way to it too, along with all the ‘what will that look like?’ questions. The future, even when a little blurred to sight, is more than enough to shape me… and the rest of humanity.
Thank you John. Thank you MLK… The dream is alive.