The new Jerusalem

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Revelation 21:9-22:6

The guided tour

Have you ever visited a city and gone on the guided tour of the city?

Sydney

 

Here in Sydney, as in lots of cities around the world, you have the big red bus that takes you around to all the landmarks around the city. The tour allows you to hop off and on along the way and it takes you to all the must-see places like the bridge, the opera house, the botanical gardens, the rocks, the cathedrals and town hall, Darling Harbour etc. You get shown all the things that make Sydney what it is.

Hong Kong

 

I’ve personally never been on a Big Bus tour here in Sydney, only the one in HK that takes you around the island seeing things like Queens Road, the convention centre, Victoria Park, and to the Peak Tram Terminal. But what is good about such a tour is that you not only get to see all the landmarks of the city, but you get the commentary as you go around. You get someone (be a recording) telling you what you are looking at.

Ho Chi Min

 

One better than a Big Red Bus tour is more personal tour where you get your own guide all to yourself to take you around and show you the sights of the city. This is what we had for a day or two when we visited Ho Chi Min city a few years ago. It’s a lot cheaper there to do this sort of things in Vietnam or at least it was. We had our own personal guide (someone who knew what they were talking about) to take us around and give us the tour of the city.

The new Jerusalem

 

In the passage today, John gets the guided tour of the city of God.  Last Sunday we looked at verses 1 to 8 of chapter 21 in which John saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as bride beautifully dressed for her husband. This was clearly just no make-over or do-over of the old Jerusalem. It was no fixer upper or renovation rescue. The older order of things had passed away. It was a whole new beginning, a new creation.

At the centre of this new creation wasn’t just a garden as with Adam and Eve in the beginning but a city, the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells with his people forever and there will be no mourning or crying or pain[2].

The tour of the city

In the passage that we are looking at today/tonight in chapter 21 John gets the guided tour of what he, and others like him, would one day inherit. He gets shown the new Jerusalem, the city of God and like us in Vietnam he gets a personal tour where the guide took him around and showed him all that he really need to see. The tour guide is introduced in verse 9 and he takes John to where he can get a view of the city, a mountain great and high.

Revelation 21:9-10

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.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.[3]

John’s tour guide is identified as one of the seven angels that had poured out the bowls of God’s wrath on the earth. This angel invited John to come and told him that he would show him the bride, the wife of the Lamb which is usually a reference to the people of God (19:6). What John sees is the new Jerusalem which now is more than just the place where God dwells with his people but is a symbol that represents the people of God themselves for now God’s dwelling place is with them. He will live with them.

The view from the mountain

John tour starts off with a big panorama view of the city. When we were on the tour around HK island one of the places, you go to, of course, is the Peak. You ride the Peak Tram to the highest point on the island and from the viewing platform on Peak Tower you get a great view of much of the island. You look down on the dazzling cityscape with Victoria harbour on one side and from memory I think it was the south China sea on the other. You go up the mountain to try and take it all in. John is taken up to this great mountain so that he could look up[4]  and take in the panorama of the whole city as it was coming down out of heaven to this great mountain[5].

Revelation 21:11-13

11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

 

The city shone with glory of God

 

Before going and stopping off and looking at the landmarks of the city in more detail John tells us what he saw when he took in the view of the whole city from the mountain. Firstly, he made clear that the city shone with the glory of God. The brilliance or the radiance of that glory John likeness to that of very precious jewel, like jasper clear as crystal. John is making clear that the city reflects the glory of the Lord for in chapter 4 when John saw God sitting on throne he likened the appearance of the one who sat on the throne to the appearance of jasper and carnelian (4:3). Before the throne also was a sea of glass, clear as crystal (4:6). These things that were associated with the glory of the Lord are now reflected in this city which now has come to reflect the glory of God in all its brilliance.

God’s people reflect his glory

 

But it is not so much just a place that reflects the glory of God, but it is the people who reflects that glory. The new Jerusalem is more than just a place it is the symbol for the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the people of God and this can be seen in the overall description of her walls and gates. John sees a great high wall with twelves gates. In the ancient world the walls of the city with its gates were there for security and this is at least partly what they symbolise here. The security of God’s people in the new creation is guaranteed. But John also sees that on these gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel representing the Old covenant people of God. The walls of the city were built on twelve foundations and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The names of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles are not just some plaque or monument to the past. These names tell us something about this city. What these names highlight is the fact that this city represents and symbolises the people of God spread across the ages who are now part of this city and who are now reflecting the glory of God.

What we look forward to as God’s people is one day we will all perfectly reflect the glory of God[6]. Paul wrote to the Romans that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). What John was shown in this vision is that one day the bride of the Lamb will perfectly reflect the glory of God.

The Walls and gates

 

Having had the view from the mountain, John gets back on the bus so that he can see a few things up and close and in greater detail. His next stop is at the city’s walls and gates where his tour guide (the angel) brings out a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its walls and gates.

Revelation 21:15-21

15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

 

Here the city and its walls are measured up and the precious stone and metal out of which it was constructed is examined.  The dimensions of the city are measured to be 12, 000 stadia in length, width and height. Like the holy of holies in the temple[7], the city is a cube but a cube so big that although the angel was able to measure it, it’s vastness is beyond all imagination[8].

What these dimensions and the cubic structure are suggesting is that the city is just one vast holy of holies. As far as I know this is the only other cube like structure mentioned in the OT. In the OT the High Priest could only enter the holy of holies one day a year, the day of atonement, after having dressed specially for the occasion and having made sacrifice for his sin and the sin of the people. But, the new Jerusalem is just one vast holy of holies where God’s people constantly dwell with him in complete safety and security.

The material that the city and its walls and its foundations were made of also highlight the splendour and greatness of the dwelling place of God among his people. Although John mentions again that the walls of the city were made of jasper, he spends most of his time describing the twelve precious stones that decorated or perhaps were themselves the foundations. These stones are very similar to the twelve stones that were worn by the High Priest on his breastplate that had the names of the twelve tribes engraved on them. Now they decorate (or perhaps have themselves become) the foundations of the walls of the city of God and testify to the people of God because they have the twelve names of the apostles engraved on them. These stones, and the pearls that make up the gates, and the city of gold with its gold streets all testify to the glory and splendour of God who dwells among his people. The city itself is the dwelling place of God.

The fact that John didn’t see a temple in the city confirms this. There is no temple for there is no longer a need of one in this city for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb dwell among the people of God. It is the holy of holies. There is no special place required for this to happen.

Light and lamp

 

But the temple isn’t the only thing that John says wasn’t needed. John went on to say that the sun and moon wasn’t needed to shine for the glory of God would be the light of the city and the Lamb its lamp.

Revelation 21:23-27

23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into  it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Again, this is symbolic language highlighting the fact that the people of God will never again walk or live in the darkness of this world for the glory of God will be their light and the Lamb their lamp. It isn’t necessarily saying that there literally won’t be a sun or a moon in the new creation, but that God’s people will never again spiritually wander around in the darkness because they will see God’s glory and the Lamb will be their light and the lamp by which they will see to walk. The nations will finally live by the light of this city and bring their splendour into it.

The city centre

 

John’s last stop on the tour is the city centre. Like many cities and towns there is a main street which is the centre of everything in the city. In the English-speaking world these streets would often be called “High” or “Main” street. In Australia “High Street” is the fourth most popular name for a street for we follow the English tradition of calling the principal street for shopping and business the “high” street even though it may have nothing to do with how high or low it is compared to others[9]. In the new Jerusalem the principal street of the city is referred to as the great street of the city for it takes you to the throne of God and of the Lamb and it has the river of life running down its middle.

Rev. 22:1-5

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

The throne that up until now has been in heaven is now in the city among God’s people. There is only one throne for the throne is a symbol for the rule of God and the Lamb[10]. It’s this rule of God now rightly placed at the centre of everything in this world which gives life to the city and to the new creation.

Earlier I said that in the new creation that the garden wasn’t at the centre of it but a city, but that wasn’t strictly correct for the garden of Eden or at least the most important elements of it are here at the centre of the city. In Eden a river watered the garden and flowed from it (Gen 2:10) making the garden fruitful. In the city of God, the river of the water of life flows from throne of God and the Lamb down the middle of the street with the tree of life standing on both sides of the river yielding its fruit all year round and its leaves providing healing for the nations.

This is Eden restored. Adam and Eve were sent from the garden so that they might not eat from the tree of life but now there is no more curse and the city is the garden and the tree of life is available to all who live in her[11]. It is paradise and life regained through the throne of God and the Lamb now being in its right place at the centre of the city and creation. Finally, people will love and serve God as they should, and we shall see God’s face and share his glory and his reign forever. This is our inheritance. It is what we are waiting for and longing for.

The end of the tour

 

This is where the tour ends with this vision of the end and the city of God.  The angel in verse 6 told John that these words are trustworthy and true. He could depend on these things that he had been shown and told for God had sent him to show his servants the things that must soon take place. The fact that he uses the plural in verse 6 and refers to his servants means that this tour that John has been taken around on has been for all of us. Every time we read this chapter we do a virtual tour of the city. These are the things that we must see and understand. We need to see what is coming so that we don’t hold on to what is passing away.

What is passing away we have seen is Babylon, the city of this world and all who belong to it. Babylon pretends to be at the centre of everything in this world. It makes out that it is all that we need to get ahead in life and make something of ourselves.  As we saw in chapter 17 Babylon dresses itself up in purple and scarlet and with glittering gold and precious stones and pearls wanting you to drink from her cup, but she isn’t the beautiful bride. She is he great prostitute and her cup isn’t filled with the waters of life but with abominable things, the filth of her adulteries (see 17:1-4). She intoxicates the inhabitants of the earth. They are intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries (17:2).

Why John sees this vision of the end is  so that realise and remember the city that we really belong to so that we aren’t tempted by the fleeting glory and the short life that Babylon and the cities of this world who are her offspring offer us. What Babylon offers us is fleeting glory that pales into insignificance compared to the glory of belonging to the city of God. It’s like lighting a match on a sunny day, the light of that match is nothing and it soon goes out. What life we can have now here is nothing compared to the life that goes on with God in the city of God forever and ever. You can shine here in the glory of Babylon or shine forever with the Lord.

This vision reminds us that nothing this world can offer us compares even for the slightest moment to the glory that awaits us. It doesn’t matter what inducement that Babylon offers us to drink from her cup and share in her luxuries and pleasures, it doesn’t compare with splendour and beauty of the glory of the new Jerusalem. It doesn’t matter what she even does to us or takes away from us even be it life itself for this city is worth enduring and losing it all for.

Have you lost sight of the city that you are meant to be waiting for?

As the letters to the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation highlight for many the problem will be Babylon’s riches and luxuries that will be the temptation. The church of Laodecia was lukewarm for they thought they were rich and needed nothing (3:14-22). The church at Sardis had gone to sleep and needed to wake up (3:1-6). The church at Ephesus had forsaken her first love and needed to repent and do the things that they had done at first. They were in danger because Babylon was drawing them away from their devotion to Jesus. She does that by tempting you to make your whole life about something else rather than first and foremost loving Jesus. You end up making other things your idol because you value them more than you valuing following Jesus. You can do it by making your whole life about being good at your work, or being secure, or having enough, or being happy and dare I say about you and your family. It too can become an idol. Serving Jesus just becomes something you do in your spare time and how much of that do you have? Following Jesus isn’t what life is all about.

But John is given this vision to remind us where belong to and what is our inheritance. Don’t give up all this, this inheritance for what you can have here and now here in this world. It would be like Esau who gave up his birthright so that he could smash down a tasty bowl of stew because he was famished and just couldn’t wait. You read that story and you think, ‘how could he have possible given away his inheritance up to just momentarily fill his belly?’ Well, how indeed, brothers and sisters? But it is what many are doing and it’s what we are all be tempted to do – to fill our belly now with whatever we think will satisfy us – success, work, pleasure, money, and more and more things. We are tempted to live for the fleeting glory of what we can have here now and pass up on inheritance where we share in the glory and life of God forever.

But it just isn’t worth it. You’ve done the tour now and you ought to know this. It doesn’t matter what is on the table or what it is that might be taken away from you, you are to live for the glory of God and for the city that goes on forever. This city and everything here is passing away. Don’t become intoxicated by drinking from the cup that this world keeps thrusting before your noses but wait patient for Jesus to come. The one on the throne is making all things new and he says

Revelation 21:6-7

To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will by my son.

 

 

 

 

[1] Prepared by Philip Calman for Sunday 10 June 2018 at Chatswood Baptist Church.

[2] Last week we also saw who got to live in this city with God and drink from the water of life flows that flows in it. It wasn’t those who had succumbed to Babylon and her charms or threats and who had drunk from her cup. It was those who overcame by holding on to the testimony of Jesus despite sometimes losing everything that they had in this world even life itself. These were those who would inherit all this.

 

[3] Except where otherwise indicated all Bible citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[4] Gordon Fee gives the impression that it is a “higher mountain”” from which John looks down and is shown the city of God” (see Fee page 296). However, most commentators believe that the city is itself descending on to this mountain in fulfilment of Isaiah’s words about the mountain of the Lord’s temple being established as the chief among the mountains and in a similar way to Ezekiel’s vision in Ezek 40:1-2)..

[5] In the ancient world mountains and high places were not only revered for the magnificent views that they offered those who were willing to scale their peaks, but they were thought to be places that you were closer to heaven and believed to be points at which heaven and earth touched. Many nations built their temples and made their sacrifices on the tops of mountains and hills for this reason. At times the Israelites were inclined to follow the example of the nations around them and sacrificed at high places. Although Jerusalem was built on mount Zion it was a relative small hill, just a bump on landscape. It is a little like Mount Kosciusko which isn’t tall compared to other mountains and just is bump on the ranger. However, Mount Zion is much lower than even Kosciusko being 765m above sea level. However, it was referred to as God’s holy mountain and the city of God (see Psalm 48). The prophet Isaiah said that in the last day that the mountain of the Lord’s temple would be raised up above the hills. It would be established as the chief among the mountains and all the nations would stream to it (see Isa. 2:2). This image seems to have been one among many that have been included on the OT palate from which John’s vision of the new Jerusalem had been painted by the Lord.

[6] In the old creation people had exchanged the glory of God for the glory of what they could have here in this world, the glory of created things. The light went out in this world and people groped around in the darkness. But the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and John wrote that light shone in the darkness and that they beheld his glory, the glory of the one and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Paul tells us that now through the light of the gospel shining in our heart that we too can all behold the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4) and that even now we are being transformed into his likeness with every increasing glory which comes from the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). In the new creation that transformation will be complete, and God’s glory will be perfectly revealed in us.

[7] The inner sanctuary in Solomon’s temple was 20 cubits long and 20 cubits wide and 20 cubits tall (1 Kings 6:20).

[8] 12,000 stadia, if you were to take it literally would make it a city of that would measure 2200 kilometres by 2200 kilometres which would make it 4.84 million square kilometres. Australia is 7.6 million kilometres, so it would fill more than half of Australia and it would be so tall that the large majority of it would extend beyond the earth’s atmosphere which is mostly contained within the first 16 kilometres of the earth’s surface and completely peters out by 480 kilometres according to Space.com (www.space.com/17683-earth-atmosphere.html).

[9] This information about common street names in Australia come from and article by Alice Bradley, “Australia’s most & least common street names” 13 July 2016 on realestate.com https://www.realestate.com.au/news/weird-and-common-australian-street-names/

[10] See also Revelation 3:21 where the Lord Jesus said that he sat down with his Father on his throne.

[11] See also Rev. 2:7 where the promise is made to those who overcome that the Lord Jesus will give the right to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God