(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your favorite version of the Bible. I use the NIV.)
MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day as we will be better people.
(Part One was covered in last week’s post. Part Three will be covered in next week’s post.)
- The inhabitants of the HOLY CITY.
In 21:7 the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are called the CHILDREN OF GOD. Adoption into God’s family helps us to overcome all of the challenges of life, including persecution by the world, and the shame of the enemy. That’s why the CHILDREN OF GOD are also called OVERCOMERS. (Several promises are made to the OVERCOMERS in chapters 2+3.)
This wonderful promise was first made in Jeremiah 24:7; I WILL GIVE THEM A HEART TO KNOW ME, THAT I AM THE LORD. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, FOR THEY WILL RETURN TO ME WITH ALL THEIR HEART.
In 21:9 and 22:17 the residents of the Holy City are called the BRIDE and THE WIFE OF THE LAMB. These are both names for the Church. This marital language is used because this is the union of God and His people in the fullest and most personal sense. Ideally, the union of husband and wife is an example, an insight, or sample by personal experience, of the profound relationship between Jesus and His Church.
As you might expect, this symbol is not unique to John’s Revelation: Isaiah 62:5 says, “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” Throughout the Bible, the joining of husband and wife is a symbol of great celebration; it is an emblem of joy. In fact, a wedding feast is referred to in 19:6-9 as a means of describing the celebration of the victory of the Lamb.
In Revelation there is a great contrast between the Bride of Christ and Babylon, the seducer of nations, in chapter 17. She is a picture of the glossy side of evil, the lure of temptation. She is destroyed and her downfall is part of the final defeat of evil. The BRIDE OF CHRIST is here polar opposite.
Both chapters refer to the NATIONS gathered within the walls of the New Jerusalem: this points to the multinational make-up of the Church. In 21:24 we read, THE NATIONS WILL WALK IN ITS LIGHT. This is a spiritual truth: salvation will be by faith, not ethnicity. God has made it available to all. This is not a political truth. As 21:4 clearly states, THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY. The OLD ORDER of politics and power has had its day and will be no more. All of the redeemed will be rulers (and PRIESTS) according to Revelation 20:6, a further indication that the old creation ways of power and politics are no more.
The triumph of God over the worldly systems that arrayed themselves against Him and His people was anticipated in the Old Testament as well. Psalms 72:11 describes a very similar scene to what we read in these chapters: ALL KINGS WILL BOW DOWN TO HIM AND ALL NATIONS WILL SERVE HIM.
What is the real GLORY OF THE NATIONS John saw paraded into the Holy city in 21:26? In John’s time this would be a military parade, the conquering army bringing back its spoil and captives and parading down the main street for the home crowd to see. In a spiritual sense, this is exactly what’s intended. The forces of evil have been destroyed and the vanquished enemies of God and His people are being put on display in a victory parade. This imagery may have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote, AND HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS in Colossians 2:15. Of course there will be no military parade down the GREAT STREET of the New Jerusalem, for the enemies of God have been destroyed. Further, of what use would be treasures in a city made of pure gold and precious stones?
NO, in this case, it’s the people! It’s not a procession of vanquished foes and captives, but a procession of God’s people who have come out of the NATIONS. It is a parade of victory, but only the victors are present, none of the vanquished. Indeed, they have completely faded from memory by this time. This is a description of the innumerable multitudes mentioned in chapter 7 coming into the NEW JERUSALEM to bring glory to God. It also made me think of Revelation 4:10, where 24 ELDERS worship God and offer their CROWNS – their tokens of victory – to Him.
In 22:2, the LEAVES of the TREE OF LIFE provide healing for the NATIONS. This is another way of saying – as we read in 21:4 – that God will WIPE EVERY TEAR from our eyes. All the hurts of the old order will be healed and will vanish from memory!
Nothing UNCLEAN or ACCURSED – including people – will be admitted to the New Jerusalem. 21:8 gives us a list of specific examples. We need to remember that biblical lists are meant to be examples, not exhaustive list. It would be silly say, for example, that because “gossip” does not appear on the list, the sin of gossip will not keep someone from heaven. Let’s don’t be legalistic here. It would be more appropriate, following through with this example, to say LIARS represents all sins of the tongue.
Even though the Gates of the NEW JERUSALEM will never be closed, no evil will enter through them. The reason is simple; no evil thing will exist! 21:27 substantiates this truth in with a more general statement then 21:8. Here IMPURE things are excluded from the Holy City, as well as all persons characterized by their SHAMEFUL or DECEITFUL lives.
More exciting is the description of those admitted: ONLY THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE. This is a subject fit for a message all its own. It is sufficient for our purposes to note that it is an image found in Old and New Testaments and to observe that God knows His people by name and not by reputation alone. God knows us and loves us anyway, calling us by name out of the world and into His eternal presence! Wow!!
22:15 is essentially a reiteration of 21:8. There is only one thing on this list of conspicuous sinners that had not already been mentioned: DOGS. As dogs were more scavengers at that time (think “hyena” or “dingo” or “wolf” instead) – less pets – I assume this is John’s way of describing people who prey on the vulnerable members of society. This word was used in the culture of John’s time to refer to people who had fully degraded themselves in sin. We’d call them “gangsters.”
In 22:18-19 John issues two warnings regarding the prophecy; do not add to it or take away from it. This is serious; do not make it say what it clearly does not say. Adding to the WORDS will result in God ironically adding to their life the PLAGUES DESCRIBED IN THIS BOOK (described in the seven trumpets and bowls in chapters 8-18). People add their own rules, traditions, and false notions. Taking away from the WORDS will result in God ironically taking away their SHARE IN THE TREE OF LIFE AND IN THE HOLY CITY. People take away from God’s Word when they want to excuse sin and make easier to sin.
Because the Revelation is written with so much symbolism, it is a bit easier to twist the meaning. Because the subject matter is so important – it exerts an influence on our imaginations and our faith and thereby has power to influence others – it is tempting to misuse it. However, those who attempt to manipulate the Revelation to suit their own agenda are warned with the most severe penalties. Resist the temptation.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can understand Revelation. This will happen as we allow the words to speak for themselves, not as we impose our meanings on them. Those who ADD TO or TAKE AWAY from God’s Word reveal themselves to be unbelievers. This warning sounds a lot like the one Moses gave His people after giving God’s Law to them; “DO NOT ADD TO WHAT I COMMAND YOU AND DO NOT SUBTRACT FROM IT, BUT KEEP THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD YOUR GOD THAT I GIVE YOU.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)
The primary activity of the citizens of the Holy City will be worshipping God (22:3+5).
Worship of God appears throughout Revelation. Every scene of heaven is a scene where God is honored and glorified. He is the hero of every Bible passage and as the highest possible good; it is to our blessing to worship Him.
There are a couple of verses that show what we might call “secondary” activities for the citizens of the Holy City.
– In 22:3, it says that HIS SERVANTS WILL SERVE HIM. From this brief remark we see that we will serve God in eternity as we have served Him in our brief time here on earth. We do not have enough information to know what kinds of activity will be included with this service. But the word translated as SERVE is used to describe religious activity. While you may find work to be a “four letter word,” I believe we are promised that there will be work in heaven. However, unlike earthly work, our eternal jobs will be meaningful and satisfying!
– In 22:5 we are promised we WILL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER. Who or what will we rule over? Is this more of a status than an activity? There simply is not enough information to be specific. What’s important is that the disciples of the One whom the world rejected will be, like Him, raised to rule.
Finally, the eternal residents of the Holy City fully committed themselves to God during their life in this world. One way in which this commitment is symbolized is in 22:4: HIS NAME WILL BE ON THEIR foreheads. (See also Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 13:16; 14:1+9; 17:5; 20:4 for the ways in which a mark on the forehead separates God’s people from the devil’s people. This is clearly important.) In Exodus 28:36, God commanded that the headdress worn by the high priest be decorated with a thin gold plate inscribed with the words, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. The connection here is that Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6 all promise that all the citizens of the New Jerusalem will be priests, wearing the NAME OF THE LORD on their foreheads.
Why the forehead? When God commanded the Israelites to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Moses said, “THIS OBSERVANCE WILL BE FOR YOU LIKE A SIGN ON YOUR HAND AND A REMINDER ON YOUR FOREHEAD THAT THE LAW OF THE LORD IS TO BE ON YOUR LIPS. FOR THE LORD BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT WITH HIS MIGHTY HAND.” (Exodus 13:9) The answer to the question is simply “Because God said so.” We can sentimentalize about head and hand representing thought and action, but there’s no textual evidence to support that extent of detail. It is intended as a symbol of allegiance, a demonstration and reminder of whose we are.
The second way the citizens of the city demonstrated their loyalty was by keeping this prophecy, receiving the blessing mentioned in 22:7. We can be confident about this promise of blessing because, as 22:6 points out, “THESE WORDS ARE TRUSTWORTHY AND TRUE.” The words of this prophecy bless us when we…
… rely on them as a guide to moral living.
… receive hope for salvation.
… learn to love & show grace as God has been gracious to us.
… are drawn into communion with God.