Revelation 21:22-27

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.

Revelation 21:9-21

Then 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 in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names that are the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.. The city has four equal sides, its length the same as its width, and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

We come to the identity of the bride that has been prepared. ‘In the spirit’ is the fourth time we read this phrase in the book of Revelation. First time is in the opening chapter that sets the whole book in motion: a vision of the resurrected, glorified Jesus… second time is a big overview vision of the throne room of God, a vision that stands in total contrast to the throne of Caesar with his 24 advisors around his throne; third time is a vision of Babylon and her judgement… and here is the final ‘in the Spirit’ marker. Jesus – throne – the battle and opposition – and the eschaton.

Twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve apostles, twelve tribes, twelve foundations. Twelve… always symbolising government, understood not as ruling over in a dominion sense but being the means through which the ‘kingdom’ of God comes. ‘Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ is now fully fulfilled.

Two remarkable aspects are noted about the ‘size’ of the city. It is cubic – length, breadth and height are the same. That points us back to the only other shape in Scripture that is cubic – the very holy of holies; and the size is the size of the then known world – more or less the size of the oikoumene, the Imperial kingdom that was offered to Jesus by the ‘devil’. The Temple in Jerusalem was a compromise… courts for women, for Gentiles, and ultimately a ‘holy of holies’ marked out as sacred. All exposed (exploded) by the death of Jesus, with a curtain ripped in two. And here the ultimate – no more courts, only a holy of holies, the presence of God in fullness throughout all of creation. Truly a parousia (an appearing) of God, a making visible of the reality that is hidden. Little wonder we will read ‘I saw no Temple’ in the city!

The measurement used was of gold – symbolic of wealth that comes from creation – and the measurement was both a human and an angelic one (I think a better translation would be ‘by human measurement, which is also an angel measurement). Angels and humans at last in harmony; both servants of God working together. We tend either to ignore the angelic, or we colonise their activity. Imagine if both are free to work their side of the partnership!

The one story of Scripture comes together. The foundations from the apostolic work; the gates from the call of the twelve tribes. Gates that protect, that allow for prosperity and release; foundations that are for the total transformation of the world. Again we come to see that the work of the kingdom is not to be reduced to ‘hands up for salvation’ and then we ‘plant a church’ but to work for the total transformation of the world, with a focus on the foundations.

Revelation 21:6-8

Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the sexually immoral, 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.”

What a great way to start verse 6: ‘It is done’. A completion… what began with ‘in the beginning’ has a ‘in the end’ conclusion. The idea that God began meticulously dealing with the chaos, through a process of shapes and filling them, to commission humanity to continue the work, and then at the end it all burns up is both crazy and so against the story of Scripture. The seven day creation account is parallel to the 7 days of preparation for the final coming of God into the OT Temple… here in this chapter we read of the coming of God into his/her Temple – what began as a possibility in Genesis is a definite in Revelation; a God coming to a couple in the evening into a piece of creation now comes to (redeemed) humanity permanently in the whole of creation. ‘It is done’, followed by the two ways of tying the start to the finish – alpha and omega, beginning and end. Such a way of presenting it underlines that we are dealing with one story from Genesis to Revelation, and once we deviate from the story, simply taking verses out of their place in the story we will end up with some major deviations. Hence, we have to develop some form of narratival understanding of Scripture rather than textual adherence.

The goal for humanity is termed the eschaton, from which we get our word eschatology; there is another word for ‘end’ – telos; this is not used for our destiny, only God is (in verse 6) the telos. A little speculation but maybe the eschaton is not the telos, is not the final, final, final state. The creative God might just continue to create? Speculative, for sure.

The translation I am using says that those who overcome (a consistent theme in the book) will be ‘my children’; the text actually has ‘my son’. I think here is surely an echo to Jesus as ‘my beloved Son’, and before that to Israel as ‘my son’. ‘In Christ’ is so important in the NT; I consider it gets us round (actually I consider it straightens us up!) common concepts of ‘election’. Jesus is the elect one… if we are in Christ we are elect in him and hence from the foundation of the world. This is not arbitrary election of some (and damnation of others). Jesus is the elect one and the location for our election. If I am in him I am elect.

There is a second death in Revelation, prepared for the devil and his angels, and here we do not have a Universalist hope – a sidenote there are enough ambiguities in Scripture that prevent us being the one who sits on the throne and draws a line of ‘in / out’. Assuming this is speaking of a future for some it seems to me that the future is not one of eternal punishing (something ongoing) but of eternal punishment (a judgement passed after which there is no more life). I hold that conditional immortality – only God has immortality (‘It is he alone who has immortality’ 1 Tim. 6:16) and that immortality is given to those that he gives it to, as the immortality of the soul is not found in Scripture; post-Eden there is a barrier to the tree of life ‘so that they may not live forever’, etc… – is what fits best here. The fire and sulphur is a reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. All that went in the fire was destroyed, the end was final, this was a second death after which there is no more life.

That then is my take on it… As for God’s take on it?

Revelation 21:2-5

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

After the sight of the new creation John records that he saw the New Jerusalem, again he uses kainos to describe it, though when he describes it this is not an earthly Jerusalem that is renewed. It comes down from the throne of God and occupies space beyond any earthly city (and as later we will note unlike the earthly Jerusalem there is no temple within it). This New Jerusalem is the bride ready for her husband – Jesus. Later we will look at the identity of that bride.

Then comes the outworking of all persistent movement in Scripture… to put it in our language, God changes post-code. The dwelling place (tabernacling verb) is with humanity. The language used is of movement from heaven to earth, whereas so much of evangelical faith has been of a movement in the other direction and the hope being expressed of the so-called ‘rapture’. So opposite of Scripture and would be so unknown among the Jewish faith expressed throughout the Old Testament and during the time of Jesus.

There is a little quaint aspect with ‘God being their God and they will be God’s peoples’; peoples (plural:  λαοὶ) might simply be a way of saying ‘people’ (as translated in many English versions) but maybe there is a little insight here into what is somewhat mysterious – are there different people groups that God identifies with? Does the in / out division ultimately fail us?

The list of what is no more also gives sight to what is here now but then those aspects will have gone. The first things, the things we are acquainted with will be something of the past… when God makes all things new… and even the tense used indicates how God acts; he is making all things new. This is God by nature, the God we partner with. And it is not making new things as if there was no value on the experiences of a former era, but God is continually renewing all things, and in the vision there will be such a transformation that what taints experiences will be no more.

A future vision… but a present focus.

A run through Revelation 21

Been thinking a bit about Revelation 21 (actually also been thinking would love a tattoo with:

Καὶ εἶδον οὐρανὸν καινὸν καὶ γῆν καινήν (I saw a new heaven and a new earth) combined with:
‘I have a dream’).

Anyway, tattoos or not, the words have been spoken out by John and MLK has echoed them, and they are eternal words with power. Of course we can suggest Revelation is future but only in the sense that in critiquing political / Babylonish power structures we are still longing for the full outworking of what John saw. The book is prophetic not predictive.

I am of the camp that we await a very specific appearing of the age to come through the Person of Jesus, and in that sense I am very conservative, but I am also very cautious in that ‘who knows’ and are we going to be more right in our expectation than the Jews of the first Century were? And whether conservative or cautious the one thing that seems clear (I hope it is clear!!) is that we are to pray for the kingdom to come, the will of God be done on earth as in heaven. So maybe this is to be the future , it certainly has to be the way we pray – hence I have no time for ‘AntiChrist will come with a one world government’. I have no time for it primarily because to make that idea work one has to combine all kinds of scriptures one with the other, and it is certainly not clear that they are all speaking of the same thing.

If the above is unclear let me try one more time… I expect the fullness of the ‘new creation’ to only be manifest when we have what we term ‘the return of Christ’… but given that we are to pray ‘let your kingdom come’ maybe we have misunderstood the return of Jesus, and that the return of Jesus is the restoration of all things. Either way we pray, long for and work for a transformation of this world… not through domination but through going wherever the Lamb travels.

[And a little ‘footnote’ I don’t think this has anything to do with replacing those in power with some good little Christians so that they take over and make all things nice (meaning crush nasty people and dictate that only things God likes will prevail and be implemented! As well as being as un-kenotic as it comes such an approach also assumes too much that the shape is OK and all we need what fills it to be different. There are three steps in creation – CHAOS, shape and fullness. We have shapes – shaped from Babylon, and we pretty much have fullness of those shapes. A future must first go back to CHAOS, so that we can find some shapes that are worthy to be filled, that can be viewed by the God who hopefully will then say ‘that is good’.]

The first verse of Rev. 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 

‘Heaven and earth’ here and in Gen. 1 is a merism for ‘all creation’. It takes the two end points with an inclusion of everything in between: ‘I searched high and low’ does not mean I did not search anything in between! So John saw a new (kainos) creation. Jesus is the firstborn through the resurrection of creation; creation has a hope because of Jesus; indeed part of material creation has gone ahead, for his body (material physicality) is not to be found in the grave. The resurrection is the hope for us all… and the hope for all of creation. This was a central theme in Paul (and something he insisted was a present and not simply a future reality)… the only thing that counted was ‘new creation’, and this changed everything. To hold on to old ways of being holy simply meant that the person was now a transgressor(!) and that our sight of everyone (not simply those who were ‘in Christ’) was transformed; and that all old categories were abolished.

John uses the kainos word for new, not neos. Kainos newness is not ‘I destroyed the old thing… look here is something totally new’, but rather carries the sense of ‘re-newed’, or we might use the term ‘transformed’. The transformation of the whole of creation – a vision beyond one that we carry, for sure, but one that includes everything we hope for.

And in this newness he did not see any sea, for it was ‘no more’. In the original creation we have three elements: heavens, earth and the middle element of ‘waters’. Waters above and waters below. Everything from heaven could only come to earth through the element of the waters. The waters / sea were symbolic of resistance, of everything that was not controllable. The disciples were amazed at one who could control the waves (‘what kind of human is this?’); Jesus walked on the water… The beast that arises out of the earth follows the beast that arises out of the sea in Revelation; the sea was the means by which trade took place in Babylon / Rome; the trade being unjust and also involved trading in ‘human souls’.

For us now there is a sea… there is a resistance… we pray for heaven to come but we have to deal with the unruly for it come… Maybe even we can read in this verse the need for and a vision of the transformation of all trade. It is for this reason we need to take note of ‘they will not be allowed to trade (buy and sell)’ with caution about all we are involved in economically but also to realise that there is another interchange in Scripture, that of giving and receiving. It is more blessed to give than to receive, so the shift has to be into ‘what I have I give to you’, rather than how can I earn money (and using such an approach we have to radically redefine how Scripture uses the term ‘work’)… and in that we discover that God gives an increase to the giver, hence of the increase of his government there will be no end. The giver receives and there are no losers!!

A new creation – where ultimately all who have passed away and are in Christ will be resurrected (hope was always in Scripture for the receiving of the blessings of God here… not there) is what we pray for. We live in the light of it, so our actions are to be a witness to the hope that is in us; it is not here yet… maybe we await for the parousia, maybe the parousia awaits this to happen… either way we need our vision corrected on a daily basis (what do we see?) and we pray ‘let your kingdom… the fullness of creation come… on earth as in heaven’.