Revelation 15 of 16Listen
We’re in the home stretch now—Revelation 21 today.
Have you ever struggled through
something long, something painful,
but then on the other side of it you’ve thought:
“Oh man… all the struggle, all the pain
just can’t compare with this.”
“It was worth it.”
Maybe it was losing those last 10 pounds before that special event,
maybe it was paying off those credit cards and getting out of debt,
maybe it was learning new skill—that musical instrument, that new language.
It was hard, it was difficult,
but at the end you said:
“Man it was worth it.”
For a large percentage of the human race
the long, painful struggle of pregnancy
perhaps comes to mind.
After the pain and struggle and danger
of pregnancy and labor and delivery
we’re suddenly confronted by something new.
There’s a baby.
Whatever the scariness and difficulty,
in the end… none of it can compare with this.
It was worth it.
Maybe that’s one of the closest metaphors
we can imagine for the end of Revelation—
and ultimately for where all human history is headed.
An early Christian leader once wrote
“our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed” (Rom 8.18)
…and that’s what John is finally glimpsing.
Over three months,
we’ve journeyed with John through Revelation
and it’s been something of a struggle.
A bit like our lives at certain seasons.
Sometimes painful. Sometimes long.
Sometimes wondering where it’s all headed.
But now here we are…
confronted by something new in Revelation 21.
In his vision,
John catches a glimpse of a world where the forces of evil—
everything working against goodness and love—
even the mysterious Enemy himself—
all of it has been eternally destroyed (20.10, 14-15).
For anyone who has ever struggled—
ever experienced pain or long, difficult seasons—
for anyone who has ever wondered where it’s all headed—
John is about to tell us.
It’s like Christmas morning,
it’s like a new life being born,
it’s like the sunrise on Easter,
it’s like a bride walking down the aisle—
It’s like every best day of our lives
rolled up into one unthinkable, unspeakable reality:
(Rev 21) Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
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 without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
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 he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
(22.1-5) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
It’s always worth reminding ourselves
this the grand vision “going to heaven”
we’re given at the end of the Bible
isn’t a grand vision of anyone going to heaven.
It’s a vision of heaven coming here.
That’s the hope of Christians.
That’s the hope of the Church.
That’s hope for John’s churches.
As they’re enduring some of the hardest kinds of
hardship and struggle and mistreatment and abuse,
John’s vision doesn’t tell them:
one day God will one day take us all somewhere else—
to some other world, to some other lives…”
No—the vision is a vision of heaven and earth being united—
of the great paradise city of God coming down
and transforming the world.
God is going to save
this place, this world, these lives.
What you experience, what you see,
what you’re going through right now—
all of it matters.
God is NOT hitting the reset button—
he’s transforming and saving and rescuing
We said it earlier in the year at Easter,
but it’s worth saying again:
Any kind of spirituality that makes you
less interested in this world
is not a truly Christian spirituality.
Christians are resurrection people.
Christians are the people who believe
that God raised Jesus from the dead—
that he is alive, that he is Lord.
And the ultimate—the final—hope of the Church
is NOT that one day everyone is going to heaven.
The ultimate hope of the Church
is that one day Jesus is going to share
his resurrection with the entire universe.
The ultimate hope of the Church is that
one day heaven is coming here.
It’s certainly true that
some kind of elemental transformation has taken place1—
a transformation to the point where John can say (v1):
“the first heaven and first earth had passed away.”
But what John is seeing is new—
it’s different—it’s cleansed—it’s remade
but it’s still recognizable as heaven and earth.
It’s like the entire universe itself
has passed through the pain of Good Friday
and is now emerging from the tomb on Easter morning.
Make no mistake—accept no substitutes—
Christians are resurrection people who believe
that God is going to save and transform
and make sense of and give a future to
this world, this place, this existence.
This vision is just as good of news for us as it was
for John’s original readers in those seven churches.
What you’re going through matters.
Your struggle matters.
Your pain matters.
God hasn’t forgotten.
It all matters.
God doesn’t forget this world—
doesn’t forget his creation, doesn’t forget Jerusalem.
Whenever Revelation was written,
Jerusalem had recently been devastated and destroyed
by the brutality of the beast called Rome.
And yet here—here at the end of Revelation—at the end of all things—
(or maybe better yet: here at the beginning of all things)
we see Jerusalem dazzling and transformed.
Jerusalem isn’t forgotten.
God recreates Jerusalem (v2).
and John catches a glimpse of it
reclaimed and rebuilt and transformed.
Part of what it means to be the people of God—
is learning to hold all the ruins and rubble and heartache and pain
of our lives and of this world before God
and trust him with it.
Whatever the ruins,
whatever the rubble,
it is not forgotten.
Nothing ever is.
And so the last words—the final words—from heaven’s throne
that we’re left with in the witness of Scripture
are the words are the words of verse 5:
“I am making everything new.”
God is NOT promising,
“I’m making a new everything—let’s just start over.”
No—“I’m making everything new.”2
And with that declaration,
John is invited on a tour of a different kind of city—
a different kind of life, a different kind of reality—
Something different from anything
human history has managed to build.
The best we can manage is Babel.
The best we can manage is Rome.
The greatest cities that we build without God
inevitably, eventually become monstrous…
like that prostitutes in Revelation 17 riding high on violence (17.18).
The greatest lives that we can manage without God
inevitably, eventually become monstrous…
like that list in verse 8:
shells of our truest selves.3
Lives that aren’t truly human—
we’re just empty husks of humanity.
And John gives us good news—
that kind of empty life doesn’t have any future—
it doesn’t have any kind of place in this new reality.
God’s future is the place
where the shells and the husks are burned
and life eternal flourishes forever.
An angel (v9) says to John:
“Let me show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
(You’ve seen all kinds of counterfeit life…
let me show you the real thing.)
And it’s really interesting that John’s tour guide
to the recreated world of God is one of the angels of wrath.
That’s what verse 9 says:
John is led on his tour of paradise
by one of the angels involved in
dumping out the bowls of wrath.
Because that’s always the point
of what the Bible calls “God’s wrath.”
“Wrath” is always actually love
burning away whatever refuses to be love.
And that’s the kind of world that is left in Revelation:
a world that goes with Jesus.
A world called
“the wife of the Lamb.”
And so John begins his tour of the world remade
through the picture of—through the symbol of—the New Jerusalem.
It’s a gigantic golden cube of a city (v16)
built on glittering gems and jewels (v19)
surrounded by a jasper wall (v18)
with twelve gates made of pearl (v21).
Which (of course) COULD be a literal physical city
that will one day in the future literally descend to the earth
like a holy and sacred alien mothership.
There’s nothing stopping God
from doing whatever God wants to do
in the future… so that could be.
But it seems more likely (to me anyway) that
John is straining language to the breaking point one final time
to talk about the future that God has for the world.4
As incredible as language is,
it often has a difficult time
conveying really important things.
Human language can’t even properly do justice
to the wonder and complexity
that is a well-cooked steak…
If words have a difficult time talking
conveying the deliciousness of a steak,
I think it’s safe to say that
the goodness of God’s good future
is going to be a stretch.
John experiences this vision—
this splendor, this bliss—
What possible words could convey
the beauty and goodness and wonder of
what God has prepared for his creation?
Well, the images John gives us of the New Jerusalem
are probably some of the best words we can hope for.
Like a lot of the language in Revelation, I think these descriptions are meant
to overwhelm our senses—to boggle our minds—to fill us with wonder.5
There are an almost indecent amount of jewels and gems,
a city made of gold (v18) with a great golden street (v21),
and a size and scope to this place that’s almost limitless.
When the angel measures the city,
it turns out to around 12,000 stadia,
which just sounds like a delightfully symbolic number.6
And that converts out to be a staggering 1,400 miles across.
Imagine if the city of Denver reached
from Kansas City to San Francisco
Oh and since the city is laid out like a square (v16) it also reaches
from the southern tip of Texas to the Canadian border.
Yeah. That’s a big square.
There’s a lot of real estate in this city.
For the first hearers of Revelation,
it’s the size of the known world.7
But then this city goes up 1,400 miles too—
it’s just as high as it is long and wide (end of v16).
This city makes a cube
that reaches space.
For all intents and purposes,
there’s an entire world in within this cube.
A world of order, of logic—a coherent world—
where things make sense.
It’s a cube.
A cube like that ancient space at the center of the Temple
where the presence of God dwelt… the holy of holies.8
The New Jerusalem is like that—
it’s an entire world where God dwells.9
But this world has a perimeter too—
John describes gates (v12) inscribed with
the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.
That’s the wall—that the boundaries of this city—
the Old Testament gives it the shape.
When you come to into God’s new world,
you’re entering into Israel’s ancient story.
And then John describes foundations (v14) inscribed with
the names of the twelve apostles of Israel’s Messiah.
The testimony of the apostles—
that’s what this new world is built upon.
Again—this is NOT a reset button—
this is NOT making “a new everything.”
God’s new world
is still this world.
It’s a world basically without walls—
the walls of the city are paper-thin
in comparison to the size of the superstructure.10
And they’re basically just there for decoration11
because verse 25 tells us that
the gates of the city never shut.
In an unimaginably hopeful detail,
“the kings of the earth” (v24)
who were intoxicated with Lady Babylon
and marching against God himself
are now pictured as coming and going from the city.12
This is a city with no security
because—if you hadn’t caught on—
this is a world with no threats.
When John says (v1)
that there is “no longer any sea”
that’s what he’s getting at.
It’s NOT that God hates trips to the beach.
It’s that there’s no longer any chaos—
no more disorder.
There’s “no night” (22.5) NOT because
God hates sitting out under the stars,
but because in a world without LED bulbs or artificial light,
night is when you’re vulnerable, when you’re threatened.
And there’s none of that here.
No chaotic sea,
no threatening night,
no curse of any kind (22.3).
This is a world without worry.
There are no threats,
no tears (v4), no rat race, no hunger—
I mean, you’ve got the tree of life giving fruit year round (22.2)
This is world where—imagine this with me for a moment—
we don’t worry about what’s coming.
That’s what we spend most our energy worrying about, isn’t it?
Worrying about what’s coming?
Worrying about the future?
Worrying about what things will look like?
Worrying about how it will turn out?
But by the end of Revelation—
when the future has arrived and the future is good—
there’s literally nothing left to worry about.
For us today, how would our lives change,
if we trusted the good news of John’s vision—
if we trusted the words from the throne?
There is a future that is coming
and the future is good.
Nothing is forgotten, nothing is lost,
nothing has slipped God’s mind.
There is a day coming—as unthinkable and unbelievable as it is—
the ruin, the rubble, the pain of this world—of this life—
and we’ll see God rescuing it.
God redeeming it.
Not God resetting this world.
God resurrecting this world.
There is a day coming
when we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief together
and say, “It was worth it.”
Until that day comes,
we should probably remind ourselves
that we don’t make the future.
The future—reality remade—the world without worry—
is not something we make or build or secure…
it’s something that comes down out of heaven.
John tells us that twice (v2 and v10)—
it’s like he really wants it to sink in.
God’s world made new
just as much a gift
as God’s world right now.
The future is a gift.
As we’re coming to the table this morning,
I’d like you to do me a favor: close your eyes and think back:
I want you to think back
and try to remember a particular moment:
I want you to remember the moment
you create this world.
When was the moment
that you started your life?
What exactly did you do
to secure this moment right now?
The same thing as me—absolutely nothing.
This world, our lives,
this present moment—
it’s all a gift.
And the future will be too.
And the good news of Revelation
is that God has got unthinkable, unspeakable gifts
better than anything we can dream
wrapped and ready.
Gifts that will make it all worth it.
Gifts that will make all things new.
So may the City we receive
grant us humility and rest
with the cities build,
may the news of God’s good future,
sustain us in the rubble of the present,
and may the Spirit open our lives to this future,
and fill us with faith and hope and excitement
and—above all things—love.
- The lens of death and resurrection is an incredibly helpful lens through which to read 2 Peter 3.3-13 talking about “the elements” being destroyed and the earth and everything in it being “laid bare” (v10). The Christian vision of last days (which could also be called “first days”) involves a radical destruction of all that corrupts creation, but the world of the future is still recognizable as earth. “A new earth” but still earth.
- Eugene Boring: “God does not make ‘all new things,’ but ‘all things new’” and therefore “the advent of the heavenly city does not abolish all human efforts to build a decent earthly civilization but fulfills them” (220).
- A similar list shows up again in 22.14-15. Those who have defined their lives in anti-God ways are here depicted as “outside the city” rather than “in the lake of fire.” This is another evidence that—as tempting as the siren call for certainty is—we must not push John’s images for precision they were not meant to give.
- “Although a few writers take the New Jerusalem in John’s vision to be an actual city, it is far better to understand it as a symbol of the church in its perfected and eternal state… it comes down from God, that is to say, the church is not a voluntary organization created by human beings but a fellowship initiated and given by God” (Mounce, 382).
- It’s worth remembering that Revelation is a circular letter that would be an exclusively audible experience for almost all of its original hearers.
- It’s complete and apostolic (12) and really big (1,000).
- “The figurative nature of the perimeter is apparent from the fact that, if it were taken literally, it would be 5,454.4 miles… the size of the city is apparently the approximate size of the then known Hellenistic world” (Beale, 1074).
- “This particular shape would immediately remind the Jewish reader of the inner sanctuary of the temple (a perfect cube, each dimension being twenty cubits; 1 Kgs 6:20), the place of divine presence” (Mounce, 392). Beale observes that the Jewish apocalyptic work of Jubilees (8.19) “refers to the ‘garden of Eden’ as the ‘holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord,’ which is noteworthy since the new Jerusalem and the temple in Rev. 21:9-27 are also spoken of as a restored Eden in 22:1-3” (1076).
- Revelation 7.15 had said that the martyrs “serve [God] day and night in his temple,” but 21.22 says there is no longer any temple. Mounce remarks, “The purpose the statement is not to describe the architecture of heaven but to speak meaningfully to a people for whom the temple was supremely the place of God’s presence” (395, emphasis added).
- “When the angel measure the wall, it is found to be 144 cubits. It is not clear whether this measurement is to be taken as the height or the thickness of the wall. The NIV says ‘thick’ but adds in the margin the alternative, ‘high.’ In either case the wall would be hopelessly out of proportion for a city some 1,400 miles high!” (Mounce, 392).
- “The wall is simply part of the description of an ideal city as conceived by ancient peoples accustomed to the security of strong outer walls” (Mounce, 390).
- These royal “characters” have functioned so far in Revelation (6.15; 16.14-16; 17.2, 18) as estranged enemies of God that Jesus nevertheless rules over (1.5). His kingship now expresses itself in prosperity for and generosity towards them and the nations of the earth (21.24, 22.2).