A New Life - Revelation 21-22:5
Father Muphy walked into a bar and said to the first man he met, “Do you want to go to heaven?”
The man said, “I do Father.”
The priest said, “Leave this bar right now!” He approached a second man. “Do you want to go to heaven?”
“Certainly, Father,” was the man’s reply.
“Then leave this den of Satan!” said the priest.
Father Murphy then walked up to O’Toole and asked, “Do you want to go to heaven?”
O’Toole replied: “No, I don’t Father.”
The priest looked him right in the eye and said, “You mean to tell me that when you die you don’t want to go to heaven?”
O’Toole smiled, “Oh, when I die. Yes Father. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now.”
How many of us are waiting to go to heaven? How many of us picture this as some day that we will never see until we die or until Christ returns and we are whisked away into the sky…you know, “some glad day, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.”? And so we just wait…and while we wait, many will come to this passage from Revelation 21 and say, “some day, some day, we will see all this…”
My brothers and sisters, I want to suggest to you that this passage from Revelation is not simply about a day that has never come, but a day that some have already seen, some are seeing, and a day that we will one day see.
While there are passages, such as 1st Thessalonians 4:16-17—“For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever…”—that give us an “I’ll Fly Away” image. However, in this image from Revelation 21, we don’t have any image of anyone ascended to anywhere…in fact it is the exact opposite: “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. And then I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
We know the familiar words that we often hear read, even by me, at a funeral: “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 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.” 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.”
It’s a beautiful picture of something to wait for, isn’t it…that accompanied with the description of New Jerusalem in verse nine through chapter twenty-two verse 5:
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 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 lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; 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.
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.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Awesome…amazing…breath-taking…and we have to wait…right? Not necessarily. How much of Revelation, as we have been in it for twenty chapters now, and spent since January 2nd, has been wholly and completely about events that we are still completely waiting to happen? It is God’s Word of Hope to people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow…and if it was going to provide any home for the people of yesterday, then they would still not be waiting for it to happen. I want to suggest to you that Revelation’s description of the New Jerusalem is not simply a future event, but something that has happened and that we can be part of right now.
“But wait preacher, this is about the end of time…when we get to this, history has already concluded hasn’t it?” That’s what we’ve heard from many who would offer us a future hope. The only trouble is that a careful reading of the text suggests that history has not ended…that it continues on around this New Jerusalem. Verses 22 through 26: “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 is no night there. People will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations.” Chapter 22, verses 1 through 2: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” If history has ended, then why would there be nations to walk in the light of New Jerusalem or kings of the earth bringing glory into it…if history is ended there would be no need for the healing of the nations.
In this passage, history has not come to an end, history continues on, and New Jerusalem plays a major role in this new era of history. New Jerusalem continues the covenant made with Abraham: “Go from your country and you kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[i] This promise is continued in the post-Exodus community: “[God] said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”[ii] Jesus continues this same thinking in the Gospel of Matthew: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. IN the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”[iii]
New Jerusalem will give guidance to and bring healing to the nations. So where is this New Jerusalem and what does it look like? Listen to key parts of the description: “It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites…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 width; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia…its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits…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…” Do you hear a constant theme? The number twelve…and in apocalyptic literature twelve symbolizes…the people of God. The New Jerusalem, in which God dwells, is made up of, composed of, none other than the People of God…God’s Church….
It is through the People of God that God offers guidance and healing to the world. God has proved his faithfulness…the sea is no more…why is the sea gone? Remember that throughout Revelation the sea has been a place of jeopardy for God’s people…particularly as the beast, Satan’s servant, emerged from the sea in chapter 13. There is no need for sun or moon to shine on it, for God has taken the darkness of the persecution away. The gates of the city will never shut because God has removed the danger from His people. Death is no more…there will be no more martyrs…there will be no more mourning, crying, pain…the persecution has passed away…
The persecution of the Roman Empire would come to an end, and God’s presence would be revealed to the world through the faithfulness of his people who had endured and remained true to God…they would experience a new life…God had created them anew… “See, I am making all things new”…
Some of us may struggle with this understanding…some may want to cry out that is no fair…it’s too simple…but there are some to ask if it is too simple of an understanding of what it means to have a new life. If we think that is the case, think of the holiday that is being celebrated around the country this weekend. For those who had lived under British tyranny, a whole new life…a whole new heaven and earth came about as independence was declared…even prior to that was the new life that began when many came to “the new world” to escape religious intolerance.
If those seem to simple, then we need to stop and ask those who have come out times of trouble as bad or worse than those under Roman rule… those who have experienced a real hell on earth…those who have experienced the fear of being burned alive or shot simply because of who they were…those who were forced to work, even when sick, not for their own well-being, but so that others could live in luxury…those who were deprived of food, not because there was a shortage of it, but because they were not deemed worthy…read the memoirs of a German holocaust survivor…read their reaction to the gates of the concentration camp swinging open and their liberators entering…read them describe how freed, that “Death was no more…mourning and crying and pain were no more…that life, that persecution, that torture had passed away.” They will tell you that they walked out of those gates into lives that were completely changed forever...freed from their oppressor they began a new life…they went from hell on earth to heaven on earth…and many of them have used their experience to bring new life to those around them…to offer hope and bringing healing to the nations…
This week, as many of us celebrate the freedom that we have in this country, we need to stop and ask ourselves about a greater freedom that we have been given. What has God freed us from? What oppression or persecution? Maybe God has freed us from real persecution because of our faith…Maybe God has freed us from addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, eating…Maybe God has freed us from abuse…Maybe God has freed us from debt…God has definitely freed us from slavery to sin and death…As the people of God, as those who live in and compose the New Jerusalem…our lives are to reflect freedom…that independence…we are to live in that love and grace which is God’s presence with us…and to show the world this new life…that the tree of life may produce fruit through us, that all may come to know God’s presence dwelling with them and sustaining them and offering them hope, offering them a glimpse of a new heaven and a new earth descending and remaking their lives…
And, my brothers and sisters, if you have not yet experienced that freedom…if you are still being persecuted…if you are still struggling against any oppressor…here this word of hope…God is there in your life…God will sustain you…God will intervene…and He will give you a new life…if you simply become or remain faithful to God, He will free you from whatever hell you find yourselves in the midst of and bring you into His New Jerusalem…where “He will dwell with [you]…he will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…Amen.