The New Jerusalem – Pt. 2 (Rev. 21:22-22:5)
I wondered whether we should take a week to consider how the Bible might encourage us during this Coronavirus pandemic. The response from people around the world has ranged from sheer panic to complete indifference. We certainly want to avoid both extremes. We also need to prepare to show compassion to those who are vulnerable and in need during this time. And we cannot allow this virus to become our all consuming passion. A lot more could be said about that, but this morning I would like to stay the course in our sermon series because I believe it is entirely relevant to our situation.
What better way to fight the fear of panic, than to meditate upon the goal and consummation of our faith! Rather than worry about things that are largely outside of our control, we want to strengthen our faith with a view of our eternal destiny.
We are in the final cycle of Revelation looking at the reward of the saints. This description of the New Jerusalem began at v.9 and concludes at 22:5, which pictures our eternal state and the benefits that accompany that state. The more we meditate upon heaven the greater we will long for it.
Read Revelation 21:22-22:5
This passage encourages believers by focusing on what is and is not included in the future kingdom. The glory of heaven includes what is absent as well as what is abundant.
So let us begin by considering…
I. What Is Absent (21:22-27)
John’s vision portrays the absence of four things:
1. No temple (22)
God and the Lamb are its temple. God’s presence was always what the physical temple represented. Communing with God is the aim of all worship. The temple simply represents the physical space where the gathered saints met with God. There will not be a need for a designated location to gather, because we will always be in communion with God.
Some make so much of this concept, that they minimize the importance of gathering together in a church community. They emphasize the fact that we can commune with God on our own. And, for a season that may be the wise thing to do. But Scripture never suggests that as the ideal situation in this life.
We ought to long to gather for corporate worship now, and at the resurrection on the last day, when we receive our glorified bodies, our faith will become sight. That is when the symbol of the temple will become the reality of God’s abiding presence.
The Garden of Eden represented this very same thing. Adam was instructed to “work and keep” the garden (Gen 2:15). The same Hebrew words are found with reference to the priests who “serve and guard” the tabernacle and temple. Surely Moses understood this and was making an intentional connection. What Adam lost in the garden, was partially restored in the temple, and will be finally and fully recovered in glory.
2. No Light (23-24)
Isa 60:19 prophecies a time when the light of the sun and moon is replaced by the Lord’s “everlasting light”.
Light is provided by God’s glory so that all of the nations are able to walk by that light (24). This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 60:3, 5 which anticipates “the wealth of the nations” coming to Jerusalem.
Revelation adds the idea of the kings of the nations bringing their glory into Jerusalem. It highlights the universal apprehension of the gospel as worshipers from every tribe, language, and nation offer themselves to God (Isa. 2:3).
This contrasts the earthly glory that is brought into Babylon throughout this present age. Those who have been redeemed from the nations, will bring with them their cultural identity that has been purified. All their unique diversity, without any sense of superiority, will serve to magnify the God we worship for eternity. The infinite facets of the grace of God will be on display forever.
And God’s glory is placed on display by the Lamb, who is the lamp. The Lamb’s deity is emphasized. Again, we must keep the symbolic nature of this apocalyptic book in mind. This isn’t really about how we are going to see as we move about in eternity, but that God’s glory will be on display as the light of lamp (Christ) shines throughout the city (the bride).
3. No Night (25-26)
This is a reference to the fact that the gates would always remain open (Isa. 60:11). They will never fear invasion from foreign armies in night time raids. Access to the light of God’s presence would never be interrupted.
The nations will enter through the gates with their glory and honor (26). This is not a reference to physical riches, since those will all be burned up. The only thing they bring into the New Jerusalem is that which does not burn–their good works that reflect the glory of God (14:13; 19:8).
4. No Sin (27)
The final negative term described in this passage is the sin that is forbidden. There will be nothing unclean (27a), and no detestable or false people (27b). Those who remain in their sin will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Anything that might hinder access to God and worship of him is forbidden.
This also warns those who have grown comfortable with sin in this present life. Nothing unclean or detestable will enter eternity, so why would we invest our time in such worthless pursuits? These questions ought to serve as a wake up call to compromised Christians. It should lead them to repentance that they might better reflect the glory of their bridegroom in the present.
Only those whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life, those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, will enter into the New Jerusalem (27c). These are those who have turned away from their sin in repentance, and by the grace of God, desire the holiness without which they cannot see God (Heb. 12:14).
This is the glorious picture of our future “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pt 1:4). And yet, how often is our understanding of that vision clouded over by suffering and confusion?
Jonny Gibson tells of how his wife delivered their second child. He brought his son to the hospital to hold his baby sister, but she didn’t move or make a sound. She was stillborn. As Jonny wrestled to explain everything to his son, he wanted him to know that God is always good. And yet, in moments like this, it was hard for anyone to see that goodness, let alone his young son.
So he taught his son to think about it like the moon. The moon is always round, even though much of the time, we can only see a partial form of it. It oftentimes looks like a crescent, but it is always round. In the darkest of times, you need to remember that God is always good, even when you can only see a sliver of his goodness.
This past week might have stirred up such a fear that your recognition of God’s goodness has become clouded. Or, maybe the news of panic and dread has given your children nightmares. All of us need to be reminded that God is always good. He is always working all things for his glory and our good, even when we cannot understand how.
God is always moving us toward the end for which we were created. In eternity, all is the temple, all is the light of God’s glory, the darkness of night flees away, and sin finds no entrance.
In heaven, all the covenant signs and symbols become reality. We won’t need to gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper because we will enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. In eternity, there will be no need for the means of grace. They will be unnecessary because the benefits will already be ours in abundance.
And that is the second aspect our passage reflects upon…
II. What Is Abundant (22:1-5)
After considering four things that are absent in glory, the vision provides a picture of three things that are abundant:
1. River of life (1-2a)
The river is as bright as crystal, representing its pure quality. The river will forever serve as a reminder to us of God’s cleansing power shown to us in the forgiveness of our sins.
It will flow from God’s throne through the middle of the street of the city (2a). This could be another metaphor of God’s presence throughout the New Jerusalem, or more likely, it represents the gift of eternal life that remains central in our worship.
2. Tree of life (2b)
The tree of life now grows on both sides of the river, just as Ezekiel prophesied (Ezek. 47:12). It yields twelve kinds of fruit each month. And its leaves heal the nations. How does this make sense if this is a place where there is no more pain and death and suffering (21:4)?
Again, we should not take the description of these leaves literally. God is not going to be continually wiping away the tears of the saints. Nor will there be a need for ongoing healing. Both concepts will be fully supplied upon entrance.
The presence of the tree of life is God’s promise that there will not be any pandemics in heaven. Nor will there be mass hysteria or panic-stricken hoarding or health official recommendations for social distancing. All of the things we presently hate about our situation will be gone.
This brings the Bible full circle. We are back in Eden. However, this Eden is far superior. In this future Eden, we will belong to a kingdom that can never be taken away or lost. The tree of life will never be guarded from feeding the inhabitants of the new heaven and new earth (Gen. 2:9; 3:22, 24).
Meredith Kline plausibly argues that God’s instruction to Adam included the responsibility to extend the boundaries of Eden. As he cultivated the ground and it multiplied its abundance of fruit, Eden would have filled the world. The presence of God would have extended throughout the world too.
Where Adam failed, Jesus Christ succeeded. Christ has already accomplished the work, and he will bring it to completion upon his return. In fact, “in Christ we gain more than Adam lost” (Beeke, see 1 Cor. 15:45-49). Adam was innocent and under the probation of perfect obedience. By faith, believers possess the righteousness of Christ which can never be taken away (Rom. 8:38-39).
3. Throne of God and Lamb (3-5)
Nothing accursed (3a). Nothing that might contribute to suffering of any kind will be allowed to enter. Nothing will exist that might hinder our worship of God on his throne (3b). Servants will see his face, worshiping in him in purity, having been transformed into his likeness at the resurrection (4a).
His name will be on their foreheads (4b). Intimate fellowship is represented in the same fashion of the Old Testament priests (Exod. 28:36-38). They will perfectly reflect God’s character in heaven (1 Jn 3:2), which they have begun to do imperfectly on earth (2 Cor. 3:18).
Once again, as the previous section concluded (21:25), there will not be any night or need of lamp/sun (5a). God is their light and nothing will be able to diminish it. Nothing will hinder the saints access to God’s glory.
Finally, saints will reign forever (5b). Throughout eternity those who have been united to Christ in this present life will share in his offices. As prophets they will proclaim God’s salvation. As priests they will worship unhindered in the unmitigated presence of God. As kings, they will enjoy the rule and reign that Christ accomplished when he conquered all his and our enemies.
Every sign and symbol that we receive now by faith will become reality in the New Jerusalem. God’s life-giving presence will be the possession of the saints in abundance.
Beeke: The only place in the Bible where Jesus Christ used the word paradise is when He was on the cross. He said to the dying thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The only way to the paradise of heaven is through Christ’s death. At Calvary, God’s Son in human flesh, in the place of sinners, allowed that sword of justice and God’s anger against sin to fall on Him. Now, for all who come through Him, the crucified Savior is the way into God’s Paradise.
May our meditation upon these truths fill us with great hope and anticipation of Christ’s return.