In my last post we talked about the bride of Christ. We came to the conclusion that we are the bride and that God has been preparing us to be the bride since the moment that he created us. Now, as Revelation comes to a close we turn our attention to the New Jerusalem.
The theme of this section is simple: IT IS NOT ABOUT THE PLACE IT IS ABOUT THE PRESENCE! This is about to get beaten into your head! It is not about the place it is about the presence. That is the point of heaven, but nobody really gets this. If you poll a typical sample of people and ask them about heaven and what it is like you will hear a variety of responses. People focus on different things. People want to focus on what it’s made out of, for example, the streets of gold. Then they want to focus on what they can do there. Can they play golf? Is there still football? They want to know about the benefits. Like can they finally eat ice cream whenever they want and not gain weight? Everyone has questions like that right? But none of that stuff is important in Scripture. None of that stuff is important in Revelation. What matters to John is not what the place looks like, instead, what matters is that this is the place where Jesus lives! This is the place where love lives! It is not about the place, it is about who is there.
We instinctively know this don’t we? We know that its more about the presence than the place. I bet many of us have a place that we can remember from our past that we loved. Can you think of a place from your past that you loved? Maybe it is a favorite grandparent’s house that you used to love to go to. Think about that place. Everything was better at that place wasn’t it? The food tasted better there. There was always love. There was always laughter. You loved that PLACE didn’t you. Well, let’s think about that. It was a great place, but nothing lasts forever and one day your grandparent or whoever lived there moves out, or passes on, or whatever. Later, when you are older you are passing through the town so you decide to go back, and you look through the window, and the house is empty, and it is lonely, and THE SAME PLACE THAT MADE YOU HAPPY now makes you extremely sad. The same place that you remember as the best place ever, is depressing. All you can think about is how much you miss your grandparent. The place doesn’t matter anymore. . . . You see. . . . IT IS NOT ABOUT THE PLACE IT IS ABOUT THE PRESENCE. . . It was not the place that you loved so much, it was who was there. That is the message that John is trying to tell us In Revelation chapter 21. It is not about the place (heaven,) it is about who is there, (Jesus.)
Let’s start out with verses 9 and 10. This will confuse most of you right off the bat. The bride in the last post was who? It was us. But what does the angel say here? He is going to take John to see the bride which is the New Jerusalem? Wait, so the city is the bride? I thought we were the bride? Confused yet? We will come back to this at the end. Just hold those verses in your memories!
Now we come to the description of this great city. For those of you who have read Revelation carefully you will start to see some similarities between this New Jerusalem and the throne of God. In chapter four it describes God on the throne by saying, “God appeared like Jasper.” Here it says that the New Jerusalem radiates like Jasper. Also, we will see that this city is a square. There are four corners. How many living creatures were there at the throne of God, around him in a square? Four. This place also has 12 gates. Every tribe of Israel has its own gate. So if you enter the New Jerusalem you have to go through Israel. The old covenant is now open to everyone, Jew and gentile, but it all started with the Jews. We all enter through their gates. Israel is the gate, the beginning, the vessel to redeem the whole world. So the whole world enters into this kingdom through Israel.
In verse 14 we have 12 foundations. The 12 foundations are the 12 apostles. The apostles are the foundation that the kingdom of God is built on. They started the process of bringing the Gospel to the rest of the world. See how that works? Israel is the gate, and the 12 apostles are the foundation that bring the gentiles through the gates to be in the New Jerusalem. Paul talks about building upon the foundations of those first 12 apostles. We are starting to see that Paul always echoes what John says in Revelation if you look for it. They are always in harmony. Those first men and women who preached the Gospel after Pentecost are the foundation of the Gospel story. 12 gates for the old covenant plus 12 foundations for the new covenant equals 24. Here is something else to add to our list of similarities to chapter 4. There were 24 elders surrounding the throne of God, casting their crowns. This is starting to be too much to be a coincidence. We now have Jasper, 4 living creatures, and 24 elders around this city, where we had the same thing around the throne of God.
In verses 15 through 17 we measure the city. The length is the same as its width. That tells us that it is a square. It is 12,000 scadia long, and 12,000 scadia wide. But it is also a cube because it is 12,000 scadia wide. This is a huge cube. If you convert it to miles it is almost 1500 miles on each side, and 1500 miles high. This is one giant city. This is a city that could cover the United States and reach to the Earth’s atmosphere. If this city comes down from heaven don’t let this city fall on you! A cube has 12 edges. If you want to find the dimension of a cube you multiply the 12 edges by the 12,000 scadia. If you do this you get 144,000. Does this number look familiar to anyone? Have we seen that number before? 144,000 is the number that is always used in Revelation to say “all of God’s people.” So could John be saying that the dimensions of this cube’s city is the number of people who are there? Then in verse 18 we see another similarity to the throne room. This city is pure gold, yet it is clear as glass. In chapter 4 the throne is surrounded by a sea of glass. This stuff just keeps adding up. Do you get the feeling that John is up to something?
In verses 19 through 21 we are told that the city is adorned with every jewel. Again, John mentions jasper first then he goes on to name the twelve stones that were worn on the breastplate of the High Priest. Also, once again we saw back in chapter 4 that God’s appearance was like Jasper and Carnelian, the first and the last stone, so John sort of encompasses all 12 in chapter four by giving us the first and the last. Here in the New Jerusalem he lists all twelve. In the Roman world these stones were associated with each of the twelve parts of the zodiac, but in Rome these stones were listed in the opposite order. I think John is saying that what God has done has turned the Roman world upside down.
In verse 22 John tells us that in the New Jerusalem there is no temple. For those of you who don’t like to go to church I have good news and bad news for you! The good news is that you never have to go to church, but the bad news is that you never leave church! You are in church all of the time!
In chapter one Jesus is standing around seven lamp stands. Here, at the end we learn more about these lamp stands. The lamp stands represented the seven churches, which was John’s way of saying the universal church. Now we see what the lamps are! The lamp is Jesus and the light is God. We are the stand. Jesus lights up the church. Jesus lights up heaven. Same thing! We hold the lamp up and through the lamp, God’s light shines out into the darkness.
Now, here is an interesting question. Does John say that there is no sun or moon, or is the glory of God so brilliant that you can’t see the sun or moon, kind of like when the moon is out during the day and you just can’t see it because of the sun. Stupid question right? But believe it or not there are pages and pages and pages from theologians who stay up late at night and argue about this kind of thing. But does it make any difference if it is there or not if you can’t see it anyway? Apparently, to some people it does. And this will be what they will check on when they get to this place. We will all be in worship and we will see these people who debate these things looking around and trying to figure it out. The end of this chapter tells us that the gates are never shut. This is great. This means that everyone is welcome. Everyone can come in, but there is a catch, you can come in, but you can’t come in dirty!
Now that we have all of this information take a look at this chart and let’s try to figure out what all of this means.
God’s Dwelling Place (mostly from chapter 4) NEW JERUSALEM “HEAVEN”
|“God appeared like Jasper” on the throne in chapter four.||“Its radiance like Jasper”|
|There are four living creatures in a square around the throne.||The city is four squared.|
|24 elders around the throne, 12 representing the old covenant and 12 representing the new covenant.||12 gates representing the old covenant (Israel) and 12 foundations representing the new covenant (apostles) 12 +12 = 24.|
|There are 144,000 saints.||The city’s dimensions are 144,000|
|In chapter four the throne is surrounded by a sea of glass.||City is clear as glass.|
|12 jewels worn by high priest who could enter into the holy of holies which was God’s dwelling place in the Old Testament.||Walls adorned with the same 12 jewels in the New Jerusalem|
|At the throne of God, his presence was like Jasper and Carnelian||First and last stone used in the New Jerusalem is Jasper and Carnelian|
|At the throne of God there is no temple because God is there.||God is there in the New Jerusalem so there is no need for a temple.|
|Jesus is the lamp, God is the light||Jesus is the lamp, God is the light|
|In the Old Testament God dwells in a cube, in the Holy of Holies.||New Jerusalem is in the shape of a perfect cube.|
Do you see what John is trying to tell us here? The New Jerusalem seems to be the presence of God. John seems to be making a point that this New Jerusalem is the throne of God, it is where God lives. Everything is the same. But remember that back in verse 9 we are the bride, and John is being taken to see the bride, which is the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven to earth. Anyone get what John is saying? WE ARE THE NEW JERUSALEM. We can have the presence of God right now on earth if we ask for it. God lives inside of us. The presence of God dwells in us! We are not just talking about a future city, we are talking about the present. We are the New Jerusalem. John has recreated this throne room and invited us to be a part of it. We can be a part of this New Jerusalem. And it is our job to bring others in through those open gates before it is too late, and Jesus returns, and the last judgment happens. Remember what John said, the gates never close, they are always open. So if we are the New Jerusalem it is our job to bring others through these open gates. John is an evangelist!
Here is something interesting. If you take the 1500 miles that New Jerusalem is supposed to be and you place it around Patmos, where John wrote this, with Patmos in the very center, one side extends to Rome, and the other side extends to Jerusalem. Coincidence? Also, the top part of the cube almost perfectly matches the northern border of the roman empire and the bottom part almost perfectly matches the southern border of the Roman empire. This cube is perfectly located to include every single Christian living when John wrote this. We have no evidence of any Christians living outside of this cube. Do you see what John is saying? The New Jerusalem was the Christians living during John’s’ time. The Roman Empire was the current incarnation of fallen Babylon which we talked about in chapter 18. So this cube fits around all of the Christians and fallen Babylon. It is the job of the Christians to bring more people out of the fallen Babylon world and into the New Jerusalem world. If John had written this today the cube would have been a lot bigger because Christianity has spread all over the world, but back then, this cube, this New Jerusalem included all Christians.
Paul talks about how we have been built into a holy temple to be a dwelling place for God. Paul is saying that the Christian community is the new Holy of Holies as well as the new temple. Paul is saying exactly what John is saying. We are the New Jerusalem. God is with us right now.
So what does the gates always being open mean to you in your life? If you are the bride of Christ, if you are the New Jerusalem, where God’s presence dwells, what is your role?
I believe that John is telling us two things. He is telling us about our current situation, but he is also telling us about our final destination. He is telling us that it is not about the place it is about the presence. When thinking about heaven, a lot of us get all excited because there are streets of gold. Wow, streets of God! And God is going to look at us and say, “What’s the big deal? I had to do something with this gold. It was just lying around everywhere.” It is not about the gold, it is about the presence. The place where we are going to go is the Holy of Holies. We are invited to be the bride of Christ and to live in the Holy of Holies. The most sacred place in the entire universe will be our home. There is no need for a church, or a sanctuary, or a sun, or a moon because the glory of God will drive out all of the darkness, and we will be there in his presence, to worship, worship, worship, and worship some more.
This leads me to a very hard question to ask. Is this where the people of this world are going to want to be? People who don’t read the Bible don’t realize that heaven is not really about mansions, and paradise, and palm trees, and all of that stuff. (Although I am sure it is beautiful!) Heaven is about being with Jesus. It is about the presence. We spend a lot of time worrying about who gets to go to heaven. Who is God going to let in? What do people have to do to get there? That is what we love to argue about. But that is the wrong question to be asking. What we should be asking is who really wants to go there! Because if you don’t enjoy being with Jesus now why would you enjoy being with Jesus then? If you don’t try to seek his presence in this world why would you want to seek his presence there? People say that they don’t have time to pray, that their life is too busy. If you can’t find an hour to worship God each week in this world why would you want to worship him 24 hours a day in the next world? It is an honest question. Heaven might not be heaven to people who don’t want to be with Jesus. So is this place that I’ve been describing, living in the presence of God, somewhere you would really want to be? We have described heaven pretty well, but what about the place that nobody wants to talk about? What about hell? Christians have really distorted this image of hell. We have. It started in the middle ages. We don’t think of hell the right way. We have this image of hell, where God grabs us and says, “You never loved me so I’m going to throw you into hell and you’re going to burn forever!” We picture fire, and smoke, and torture, and atheists look at us and say how can you believe in a God who would do that? How can you believe in a God who would really do that to people? . . . . . .Well, what if the atheists are right?. . . . .What if the REAL HELL is worse than fire and torture?. . . . . What if it is worse than that. . . . What if God lets you choose to go where you want to go?. . . . . You can choose to be with God forever. . . to worship him all of the time. . . to live in his presence. . . . to live for him. . . or you can simply stay outside the open gates. . . . What if there is no fire. . . or torture. . . . .What if hell is hell simply because you choose to stay outside the city knowing that a loving God is waiting for you inside. You are so absorbed with living for yourself, that even in death, you want to keep living for yourself so you stay outside the city. . . . What if that is what makes it hell? It is hell because you chose it under your own freewill. It is what you wanted. Nobody threw you in hell, but you decided you would rather be there then be in the constant presence of a holy God. You didn’t want to enter the city. You didn’t want to be in God’s presence. Once again, if you don’t want to be with God right now why would you want to be with God forever? Does that make sense? If you don’t love God now why would you want to love him forever? If you don’t want to take the time to worship God in this world why would you want to worship him for eternity? Think about it! It is not about the place it is about the presence. Some people are way too familiar with this. They have a beautiful, huge house, but it is not a home. There is still something missing. They have the nicest car on earth, but they don’t have anywhere to go. There is still something missing. Some people have all of the trophies, or awards, or accolades from this world, but there is nobody to show them to. See, it is not about the place it is about the presence. This place, this heaven, this new Jerusalem, this is where love lives. . . . It is where love lives. . . . the question is. . . . is it really where you want to live?