Heaven (14): The City of God, Rev 21-22, Pt 2Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, eschatology, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Kingdom
Heaven (14): The City of God, Rev 21-21, Pt 2
“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 HolyCity, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven” (Revelation 21.1-2, cf. v.10 and 3.12).
In our previous post we explored the some of the positive imagery of the word “city” in the ancient world, including in Scripture. City is a major image in Revelation 21 where the term occurs 10x. We noted how the city offers refuge and gives permanence to the unsettled, both great values in the ancient world (no less today I would imagine).
A Named and Significant People
Yet we learn of more wonderful graces of the City of God. The promise made to the disciples in Philadelphia which we cited in our previous blog, also promises: “I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name” (Rev 3.12). We should also note in Rev 22.4 that the inhabitants of the city a promise is made, “they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
In the New Jerusalem, the City of God, we will be people with a name. This is of enormous significance in the social context of the time and more importantly in the drama of the biblical narrative. The story beneath the surface is that of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. In that sad episode we see what humanity has always done, sought a name established on its own grounds and achievement. “Come, let us build for ourselves a CITY, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a NAME for ourselves” (Gen. 11.4). Here is the source of much of humanities rebellion against the sovereign of the universe. We desire, in fact we crave, and ironically we need worth and status. We want to matter, to count, and to be thought of as unique. This motif fills our contemporary culture from the ego driven athlete to the politician who seeks the lime light to the preacher who yearns for the “big” pulpit.
In the midst of this human activity comes the word of divine grace: “I will give you a special and holy name!”
In the City of God we are freed by grace from our senseless egos. We are given a name. In the City we are shown to matter to God because he has pursued us and makes us his own. We are released from building towers and reputations. Significance is a gift. We have “little strength” (Rev 3.8). So he invites us to the liberty of being named by him.
Thus in the City of God, Jesus places upon our foreheads a name that signifies that belong to him. We are no longer resident aliens, anonymous folk, in the world stage. We are secure, safe and valuable as residents of the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven to the new earth.
Restoration of That Which Was Lost
The City is a place of gracious refuge. The City is a place for aliens to find residence and a permanent address. The City is a place where we are named and find we “belong.” Yet I believe the greatest of all things we shall have in the City of the New Jerusalem is that we shall see the resurrected Jesus.
This is the height of intimacy with our Abba. In the City we regain what was lost in Eden. In the City we have what the entire biblical narrative tells us that God is attempting to restore. Since Genesis 3, Yahweh has been in costly pursuit of his human creation to bring us back into his holy Presence. We see it in the smoking pot. Jacob feels his grip at Peniel. The great I AM was in the bush. The pillar of cloud and fire was with Israel in the wilderness. The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle and Temple. With each of these movements Yahweh progressively restores and reclaims his intimate relationship with the Creation that he loves. Finally, we read that God crossed the ultimate bridge and “tabernacled” in creation itself … he encased his limitless Self in the finite flesh. He did this we are explicitly told to redeem “all things” in heaven and earth, things visible and invisible. He became flesh in order to redeem creation … we humans are after all simply “earthlings!” Yes, Earthlings … of the earth. Adamah. Paul assures us that God had gained that great cosmic victory through redemption of blood.
We wait for the fulfillment of our hope. That hope becomes reality in Revelation 21 and 22. The purpose of God since Genesis 3 is fulfilled in Revelation 21 and 22. In the City of God, the New Jerusalem, what we have by faith now will become sight. That glorious face that was hidden from Moses, the one that David longed to see in Ps 27 … the intimacy that Adam (the Earthling) experienced in Eden … we will see! This beloved is the entire point of the Bible. The point of the Bible is not baptism, the Lord’s Supper, a cappella music … the goal of the Bible is the restoration of fellowship and life in the Presence of God. In fact baptism, Lord’s Supper and Lord’s Day all point to and proclaim that greater goal of God … they serve the goal.
In the City of God, that comes down out of heaven, we will be experientially the bride. And one wonders, because we are living in the City of God, which comes down out of heaven, if this helps make sense of passages like Revelation 5.10, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
In the City of God we have all the hopes and dreams of God and the righteous fulfilled. I think John has given us a powerful vision. It is a vision that ties in with many other themes and passages in the Bible. It is the vision of the Resurrected People, filling God’s wonderful Resurrected Creation, enjoying unimaginable fellowship with the Resurrected Lord. In short the New Jerusalem brings back what was so tragically lost. It is not a mere return, rather it everything is made even more glorious than before. I long for it. Come, Lord Jesus.