This Tuesday, we will be reading through Revelation 21-22. We have reached the end. The teleological, eschatological, conclusion to not only the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John but to the entirety of Scripture and the story of God and humanity.
Remember the story. God, in the fullness of the Trinity, creates everything. He is the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. He creates humanity in his image and likeness. He forms us from the dust of the ground and placed us in a Garden – a paradeisos. The serpent, however, comes and deceives us. Writing in the 4th century, St. Athanasius states “Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion.” The whole story of the Scriptures is how, through the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, of Jesus, our corrupted nature is healed, death is defeated, and we are once more in the presence of the Glory of God in the Garden. Revelation is John’s extraordinary and graphic depiction of this victory where ultimately the deceiving, accusatory Serpent, the Beast of injustice and oppression, Death, and Hell itself are consumed in a refining restorative fire.
John’s Final Vision:
John’s final vision is of a new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, for the sea was no more, and the new Jerusalem descends out of heaven prepared as a Bride for the Lamb. John’s vision ends with a marriage – a wedding feast between Christ and his Church. It is a joyful occasion and the very union of God and his Creation. It is a vision of magnificence, beauty, and incredible scope and depth.
As we read through John’s extraordinary final vision, pay attention to what is absent in his vision. There is no sea. v.1. In Judaism, the sea is the personification of chaos and disorder. It is no more. There is no Death or mourning because the very cause of Death which is sin and evil is not present either. vv.4, 8. There is no Temple. v.22. The Temple was that specific locality where God dwelt. 2 Chron. 6:2. It was the place where sacrifices were made and prayers offered to bring a fallen people into a right relationship with God. Lev. 16. Here, in the perfect end, it is no longer possible to localize the presence of God, for God is everywhere; and there is no need for sacrifice and prayers for the full and final restoration is occurring. v.5
There is no night nor need for the sun, moon, or any other light. v.23. “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” John 1:5. Finally, there are no closed gates. v.25. City gates were necessary to keep out the threat of invasion and to keep evil men at bay. Evil, however, has been consumed in the pit of fire. Rev. 20. Therefore it no longer exists and can longer threaten God’s holy city.
Ultimately, this final vision shows us the absence of negation. All that which is not good, not of God, not holy, not in accordance with God’s plan and vision, and anything and everything that prevents us from becoming fully human and realizing the image and likeness of God within us, and between us, and among us, is no more. In this final vision, whatever keeps you from being absent from the very presence of God is itself absent. See what is not present.
John’s vision and all of Scripture do not end with all of the good people ascending into some quaint or disembodied heavenly realm up there. John’s vision is not of a place where your soul goes when you die. It is much more than this.
John’s vision is that the old heaven and the old earth (and its occupants) are being made and transformed into something new. John is not telling us what awaits us when we escape this reality, but about what awaits us when this reality becomes transformed. The world of the Beast has been refined into the world of the Lamb. A culture of violence, exploitation, and death has been remade into a culture of peace, justice, and life. Paradise (the garden) is restored, not abandoned. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is not about escaping this world to go up yonder, but about making this world new here and now. v.5.
The Glory of the Transformed Church:
Think of how you would describe the splendor of the Church, that is without spot or wrinkle, holy without blemish, that had been washed in the water, the word, and the blood. Eph. 5:27. How can we begin to describe the transformed glory of the bride of Christ? John puts this ineffable description in his depiction of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, the fully cleansed and redeemed church.
The Church reflects the radiance of the glory of God. v.11. In Revelation 4:3, he who sits upon the Throne is described as appearing like a jasper. This is the same appearance as the New Jerusalem. v.11 The Church looks like and reflects who God is.
The Church has perfection. It has the perfection of the number 12. There are 12 gates (which remain open) representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and it rests upon 12 foundations of the 12 apostles. The height of the walls is 144 (12×12) cubits, and the size of the City is 12,000 stadia (or about 1500 miles, which is the approximate size of the Roman Empire). The City is a cube of equal breadth, length, and height reflecting the trifold perfection of God and of the ancient Holy of Holies (see, 1 Kings 6:20).
The Church is beautiful. The walls are jasper (reflecting the description of God). The crystal sea of glass in Revelation 4:6 is now transparent gold. The twelve foundations are the twelve precious jewels drawn from Ezekiel’s description of the Garden of Eden. vv.16-20, Ezek. 28:13. And the twelve gates are made of pearls. v.21 (Unlike in cartoons, however, these pearly gates are always open in John’s vision. v.25).
The Church is at one with God. God’s glory fills the entire space, and God’s glory is the only light needed. There is the perpetual perceptible presence of God throughout the City. The firmament between heaven and earth (God’s abode and ours) is permanently removed. The entirety of Creation is now the Throne Room of God.
The Church is Life and Healing. The river of Eden (Gen. 2:10), the living water itself, flows from the Throne. vv. 22:1 The Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9) bearing 12 different fruits is there. vv. 22:2 And this tree and its fruit and leaves are given for the healing of the nations.
This is the promised reality for us, the Bride of Christ. John gives us a vision of a redeemed and transformed creation from which all manner of evil and ungodliness are absent and the church is that beautiful, life-giving, at-one-ness with God.
- Beginning September 6, we will be reading excerpts from Fr. Robert F. Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – The Parables of Jesus. I encourage you to purchase the book, but I will have the relevant excepts available. I will be using Fr. Aidan Kimel’s commentary on this book as my outline.
- Please remember Messiah’s noonday Eucharist each Wednesday.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is an Italian Wedding Feast. Discussion about 7:15. We hope to see you here.
The strife is o’er, the battle done;The Strife is O’er, 1979 Hymnal 209
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.
The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions has dispersed.
Let shouts of holy joy outburst.
He closed the yawning gates of hell;
the bars from heaven’s high portals fell.
Let hymns of praise his triumph tell.
Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.