Sunday, July 19, 2015

REVELATION 21: 9-26 - “THE NEW JERUSALEM “

And so we come  to one of the loveliest portions in the Revelation given to John by the Lord Jesus – the vision of the holy city, the  new  Jerusalem (21:2,10), the bride, the wife of the Lamb . The vision began in v. 2. We have already considered  the first 8 verses.  In the detail to follow  (21:9- 22:5) John  is  given further  information  concerning this vision.  

Vv. 9-10:  "Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…”.   The angel  who shows John the vision,  is one of those  angels  we had met before in Chapter  16 – those  who poured out the 7 bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth. There is a connection between those judgments and the appearing  of the New Jerusalem, after all it is these  judgments and the final destruction of Babylon  that  open the way  for the  renewal of the heavens and the earth and  of the coming of the New Jerusalem.
This angel carries John  away in the Spirit, and in that state he is shown the New Jerusalem from a great, high mountain. Again we remember  that   John did not see a literal city here. The  context makes that  clear.  John is shown spiritual things (i.e. in the Spirit), and these heavenly things can hardly be described in human words.  The language  used here indicates this.  This new Jerusalem is  a metaphorical city. She  called "the bride, the wife of the Lamb".  This is as we know, a reference to the church of the new creation. She is literally indescribable, breath-taking in beauty, and so  it is that symbolic  descriptions must suffice for the time being!   From that great high mountain  John is able to  get a perspective of this new city, just like  the  current  spacecraft  called “ New Horizons” , sent to explore  Pluto  sends back perspective of Pluto by way of images from  a current  distance  of approximately 146 000 kilometres  above  this  dwarf planet. In the same manner  John is  able to  view  this  new Jerusalem, the church, as it descends  down from heaven (21:2,10).

We observe  that the shape of the city is a perfect cube - twelve thousand stadia  each way. Just to get some perspective on this:  A stadia  is about 185 meters  long. If we multiply this  by  12 000 we  shall find that the city  is 2200 kilometres long, wide and deep.  To further illustrate: It would  be roughly  the  distance  from Namibia’s  northern border  with Angola down to Cape Town, and  from our West coast (Walvis Bay)   across to Maputo in Mozambique!
Around the city is a wall  which is said to be 144 cubits high. A cubit is approximately  45 centimetres, making the wall  about 65 metres high. In the wall  there are 12  gates, three on each  side. At each  gate there is  an angel, and on  the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The wall has twelve foundations and the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are written in the foundations. The 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles are symbolic of the entire church of the OT and NT. The wall is made of jasper stone, while the  city itself is constructed of pure gold which is transparent  like glass.  The  foundations were decorated with precious  stones of various kinds. The gates were made of pure pearl.  The street of the city is also made  of pure gold, and transparent as glass. The overall impression of this  enormous city is one of  striking  beauty, summarised in v. 11… “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”

THE MEANING OF THIS SYMBOLIC  VISION

We make the point once again.   What  John  sees here is not a literal city. It is a metaphorical description of the church.    After all, houses and buildings are not what makes a city. It is people that  constitute  a city. And the fact that  the church is described  as a city is to  show that this is a community, a place where people  live closely together.    The church, the New Jerusalem, will be  a new perfect society where  the saints of God from all the ages  will live together.
This is a vision  “in the Spirit“. It  is a vision described with human eyes and  with human language.   It is a vision  of the bride, the wife of the Lamb. This is not a picture of heaven. Remember that this church is coming down from heaven. Many times we  hear  people speak of heaven   as  a place with streets of gold  and  with pearly gates, and where there is  no night, etc.  There is no doubt that heaven will be glorious, but remember that this is not the description of heaven. It is a description of the church, the dwelling place of God.    The church is not in this city; but this city is the church.[1]  This city, the bride of the Lamb  is  intimately connected  to  the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have seen the picture of  a  marriage taking place  in Ch. 19: 6-10. This city – this  great multitude of  people loves Christ  greatly and Christ  greatly loves her! 

What about the  names of the apostles in the foundations of the city ?  In Eph. 2:19-21  we read this : “So then  you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints  and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles (NT) and the prophets (OT)  , Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in  whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”  

THE PERFECTION OF THIS CITY:

1.      This perfection is seen  by the fact that the city is in the shape of a perfect cube. The church here is so to speak  ‘in perfect shape’.  She has truly  become holy  Jerusalem  - the perfect, holy  and suitable  dwelling-place of God. Incidentally, the most holy place in the  tabernacle and in Solomon’s temple  was  a perfect cube of  20 cubits ( i.e.  9 cubic metres ) ! [2]  
2.       Concerning the wall  we may say that  it is certainly not  for protection, and the angels at the respective gates do not function as  guards. Besides that  fact we read that the city gates  are never shut (v. 25). There is no need for guards  or for  protection, as is the case here in our world, where  the church has to be constantly guarded  with  sound doctrine  where she  has to be  constantly  under the  watchful leadership of her elders.[3]  In the new creation  there  will be no enemies. So what  is the wall for?  It is  a perimeter, a place of  inclusion  for all  those   of Christ’s sheep  that have been   gathered throughout the ages  and who have been brought into  that city.  And the angels at the gates?  Do you remember that at the end of time the work of the angels will be to bring in the human harvest? The angels  standing at each of the twelve entrances of the city are the angels who have served in the ingathering of the citizens  of the new Jerusalem . “The sons of  Israel” in v. 12   are all those spiritual children  from all the ages , who like Abraham were called by God, and who in time  believed.   Israel here is more than a nation. It  here indicates  the  entire church of God, made up of Jews and Gentiles. [4]  In Christ  there is neither Jew nor gentile (Gal.  3:28,29). There is one only people – spiritual Israel  -  loved by her bridegroom , the Lord Jesus!
3.      The number 12  -   12 gates , 12 angels , 12 tribes, 12 foundations, 12 apostles signify  the number of  perfection, completion  and accomplishment.  The church is  now perfected. The  complete number of God’s elect people  have entered  through the gates, and all are within those walls.  If we consider the size of the city,  then we understand that this is indeed  a  multitude  like sand on a seashore – a great multitude which no man can number.
4.       The dazzling  glory of  the new Jerusalem :  The materials  i.e.  gold , jasper , precious stones , pearl  furthermore indicate  this perfection. We do not want to fall into the trap  of allegorizing  these  details .  We are interested in the principles.  To the eye of John  all this appeared to be glorious, for this was the reflection of the glory of God in  the lives of these redeemed  people of God. This  city bought with the blood of the  precious Lamb of God  reflects  the expense at which  her people  were  bought. Righteousness  and holiness  and love  and purity  shine  from these people as they with unveiled faces[5] reflect the glory of  God, and what can John  do but to describe all this in terms of the most stunning materials given to us on earth? This , dear brothers and sisters  is  the reflection of the glorified church - “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”   This church is beautiful  and precious , and this is exactly what the apostle Peter spoke of, when he wrote  of the “ tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:7) .

The  Quality of Life in the  New Jerusalem ( vv.  22-27)
 Again , remember the symbolic nature of this vision: 
1.      No need for a temple ! (v.22) And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” The text does not mean that the temple-idea is done away, but rather that it has come to its highest and fullest realization. The whole city is in a sense a temple.  The  fact of the matter is that  the temple of God will not be a building. The building is  ….”a spiritual house made up of living stones….offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (see 1 Peter 2:5).  Not a special building will be His temple, but the  whole city, shall be His dwelling place.
2.      It is in this context that we must  also consider v. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” The light spoken of here  is not  the illumination  given by  sun and moon , but the illumination  given  by God  the Almighty and the Lamb  whose word is   a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). The reference here is not to the new creation, but to the  church, the bride of the Lamb.  At that time we  shall no longer  see in a mirror dimly, but face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). We shall see  the glory of Christ directly and immediately.
3.      In that context we shall be busy: (v. 24)  “By its light will the nations walk[6]…” . The Greek word  denotes activity.  We  shall be active. In the new creation there will be work  that will never make us tired. Our work will be of such a restful nature  that we do not  need a night  to  catch up with sleep.   
4.      This city , this church  is  made up   out of all nations. (vv.  24,26) . The church is  made up of nations – not in the sense   that we shall be separated  by language and  culture – but  the glory of the church shall be seen in the fact that all the redeemed among the nations  having appeared from  one common root   are able to get on with each other.  The mentioning  of  the “kings of the earth(v.24)  does not mean that  structures in heaven  will be simply transplanted from this earth, for many of our kings and structures are very evil, and such cannot inherit the kingdom of God[7].  These things will be destroyed by fire.  It seems  however that there will be  authority  structures  found in the new Jerusalem. There will be great and small. There  are ranks in the  world of angels. The apostles shall sit on twelve thrones. The doctrine of rewards  teaches that there are some who will be given greater rewards &  positions  etc.  However,  all conduct of  such  shall be pure  and in humble submission to the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
5.      There will be no fear  and there will be no night  : the city gates will be open   and never closed for fear – there  will be a constant activity and flow -  a constant fullness of life and joy.  There will be no night to make us afraid , and there will be no evil.
6.       There  will be no imperfection  (v. 27)  Only those  who are written in the Lamb's book of life shall have a place there.  The possibility of  sin  and corruption is forever gone. The reason is that Christ will be at the centre of this new community .

 What a  wonderful picture. What a wonderful promise.  Can you imagine living  in  such a surrounding? What a  contrast there is between  Babylon,  the symbolic city of man  bound in sin and its end in outer darkness, and the New Jerusalem, the church, with its everlasting light and perfection, happiness , satisfaction and glory!

Remember  that you can only be the citizen of one city.   If  you  participate in  Babylon's corruptions, then  your name is  not  written in the Lamb's book of life.  But if all your hope  is in Jesus  your bridegroom, and if you serve Him with  all your heart, despite many challenges and weaknesses, then  continue  to  persevere. Remember  that the Day of  the  Lord   is now nearer than when you first believed. Amen !





[1] A.H. Hoeksema : Behold He cometh
[2] See  1 Kings 6:20 ; Ezekiel  41:4
[3] See Acts 20 :17- 32
[4] Ephesians 2:11-3:13
[5] 2 Corinthians 3:18
[6] Gr. peripateō. This word is used in the scriptures  to signify the whole round of the activities of the individual life ( W.E. Vine)  e.g.  in newness of life (Rom 6:4) ,  in honesty ( Rom 13:13), by faith (2 Cor. 5:7),  in good works (Eph. 2:10), in love ( Eph.5:2), etc. 
[7] Galatians  5:20,21

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