The Holy City (4)

“I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.”
‭Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭22‬-‭23‬ ‭NLT

There will be three things missing from the New Jerusalem. No temple, no sun and no moon. As we think about the implications of this, our minds start to struggle a bit. To Western Christians, the lack of the Temple, or even any churches, would not seem to be too much of a big deal. But to the Jews, the Temple was the focal point of their experience of God. So for there not to be one, in theory it could be a great disappointment for them. 

The lack of a sun and moon would be a problem for everyone. We look at the sun as a celestial body that has always been there, a fundamental object providing us with light and warmth, and the presence of the moon a reassuring constancy during the dark and sun-less hours. But we have to remember that earlier in this chapter John “ … saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.” (Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭1‬ ‭NLT‬‬). We don’t know if all the celestial objects that fill the universe disappeared as well. But we do know that there will be a new Heaven and a new earth. There will be a New Jerusalem there and “the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light”. 

So what does the glory of God look like? If we are thinking of a sun or moon replacement, then we have fallen far short of what the glory of God is. It’s not a natural light and heat source that will be illuminating the Holy City. Our perception of the sun is bounded by our human senses – our eyes for the light and our nerves within our skin to detect heat. If we look in the Bible we can get a glimpse of what the glory of God is. It’s His beauty, and His character, for starters. It says in Isaiah 43:7, that we are His glory – “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them”.  Hebrews 1:3a tells us about the glory of God’s Son, Jesus. We read, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, … ”. And in a sense, His glory is within us. We read in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” There was an intriguing dialogue between Jesus and His Father, that John recorded in his Gospel. Jesus said, “Father, bring glory to Your name.” Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to My name, and I will do so again.”” (John 12:28). But all of this hardly scratches the surface of what God’s glory is. We may be able to have a go at listing all the attributes and adjectives that describe God’s glory, but what will be lacking from our words is that complete experience of what it means to see at first hand the glory of God.

When we pilgrims consider the glory of God I’m sure we agree that it is something far beyond anything we can get our minds around. The Apostle Paul perceptively summed up our limited God-experience, as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely“. 

But we pray that we will get to know God better. One day we will find out what His glory is really like and I suspect we will be saying “Wow!” for all eternity.

Father God. What can we say or do other than fall on our knees in worship to You. words cannot describe Your wonder, Your glory. Amen.

The Holy City (3)

“The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones: the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:19-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

At first sight, there would seem to be a connection between the “twelve precious stones” that were the “foundations stones” of the Holy City, and the twelve gemstones mounted on Aaron’s breastplate, as described in Exodus 28. In both cases each stone represents the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. But the naming of the stones are slightly different. The translators of Exodus 28:17 made a note that the identification of some of the breastplate’s gemstones is uncertain. However, the similarities between the two occurrences of these gemstones was probably very much in John’s mind when he saw the foundations of the Holy City.

The High Priest’s breastplate was there for a purpose. We read in Exodus 28:15, “Then, with great skill and care, make a chest piece to be worn for seeking a decision from God. Make it to match the ephod, using finely woven linen embroidered with gold and with blue, purple, and scarlet thread.” Further down this chapter in verse 29 we read, “In this way, Aaron will carry the names of the tribes of Israel on the sacred chest piece over his heart when he goes into the Holy Place. This will be a continual reminder that he represents the people when he comes before the Lord”. We too can make a connection between our High Priest, Jesus, interceding for us before the throne of God, and forming the foundation to our future home.

There are some significant conclusions we can draw from the use of gemstones, pearls and gold. Firstly, with the gemstones, God was reaffirming His plan to be delivered through Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations. We read in Genesis 17:6, “I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!”. The references to the twelve tribes represented by the gemstones flow through both the Old and New Testaments like a thread, which only ends with the last references in Revelation. God always fulfils His promises.

Secondly, the gates to the Holy City were made from pearls. In our natural world, pearls are made in certain types of shellfish, particularly oysters, and are caused by a grain of sand causing an irritation that the shellfish covers, and keeps covering, with layers of crystalline calcium carbonate. Perfectly formed pearls have acquired great value and the word “pearl” has been used as a figure of speech describing someone as being admirable or beautiful. In the past it has even been used as a Christian name. But there is a spiritual significance as well. In our sins we were a great irritant to God. But He provided a way that covered the irritation through the blood of Jesus, covering us until we became a thing of beauty, a pearl redeemed by Jesus’ blood. So the way into the Holy City will be through gates made of pearls, signifying the beauty of God’s grace and love, and the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, the “main street was pure gold, as clear as glass”. To understand this, we must dig into the word “pure”. A quote from David Pawson, in his book “The Character of God”. “The scriptural use of the word “holy” means far more than supernatural power. It means supernatural purity. It is the very character of God, and when you say “God is holy” you mean God is cleaner than you can imagine. God is utterly pure, and this is something that we have never known, so it is so difficult for us to imagine it“. The clarity of the pure gold used to pave the streets in the Holy City signifies the holy ground upon which the redeemed will walk. We will walk there in communion with the holiness and purity of God Himself.

We pilgrims can only read about the Holy City and marvel. We lack the imagination or the knowledge to really understand what will be there. John’s vision gives us a few hints, tantalising and teasing us with something that will be so wonderful as to be beyond human comprehension. All we can do is patiently wait for that wonderful day when we will be shown to the room Jesus is preparing for us in the Holy City.

Father God. We thank You for this glimpse of our ultimate eternal home. But we have Your work to complete in our world just now. Please help us to remain focused, always in Your presence. We worship You today. Amen.

The Holy City (2)

“The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles. Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick (according to the human standard used by the angel). The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:15-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The New Jerusalem was some place! It was a cube, each side being 1,400 miles long, though possibly open at the top (we know it had a base because we read about the foundations in the last verse). In the conversation between John and the angel, it became apparent that the angel had a “gold measuring stick” in his hand. John saw that it was made of gold, signifying something true and calibrated to be exactly correct. In the natural it would have taken a very long time to measure the three dimensions with a portable ruler. But in John’s vision it would have taken no time at all. The angel also measured the thickness of the walls, and found them to be 216 feet. John wrote an aside here, pointing out that the measurements were “to the human standard”. In other words, the New Jerusalem will be bigger and more substantial than anything we could ever imagine. We will probably never be able to explore its limits when we get there. Rather sadly, I calculated that the volume of the walls alone would be over 250 cubic kilometres. A mind boggling feat of engineering. But nothing to our amazing Creator God! But it gets even more wonderful. The wall is made of jasper. No concrete structure this. Jasper is a semi-precious stone, much valued by the ancient Israelites, especially if green. It featured as the last stone in the High Priest’s breastplate, as described in Exodus 28:20, “The fourth row will contain a blue-green beryl, an onyx, and a green jasper. All these stones will be set in gold filigree.” The type of jasper favoured by the Israelites was very translucent, so the Holy City would have glowed with its inner light, lit up by the glory of God. But also twinkling away as light penetrated and reflected off its surfaces. Perhaps the jasper John saw was so pure that it behaved almost like diamonds.

Inside the city, John could see that it was made of gold. Pure gold. But it was a special variation of the precious metal, because it was “as clear as glass”. The mineralogy behind the Holy City was of a kind unknown on Planet Earth. Perhaps this was how the earthly jasper and gold should have been before the impact of sin and wickedness warped and twisted God’s original creation.

We pilgrims will notice that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is something special because God is living within it. And it will be amazing to be able to join Him there. But God lives within each one of us through faith right now. Jesus said to His disciples, as recorded in John 14:23, “… All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” The God-experience within us is only bounded by our faith and humanity. He is always wanting to do more through us, if only we had the faith to let Him. That same power that could create the Holy City out of jasper and gold is available to each one of us today. I am always impressed and challenged by Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Tapping into God’s “mighty power”starts with a living, breathing relationship with Him, taking small steps of faith. And before long we will find out that we are accomplishing much for Him. Notice the word that Paul includes in this verse. “Infinitely”. That’s quite a lot! There is no limit to what God can do.

Dear Father God. We confess our lack of faith and our timidity, when it comes to doing great things for You. Please help us, we pray. Amen.

The Holy City (1)

So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Revelation‬ ‭21:10-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The old Apostle John must have sensed that he was nearing the end of his Revelation, because the final act seems to be rolling out before him. Jerusalem was a city much revered by the Jews. It was, and still is, a focal point, a place that the Jews attached a religious and national significance to. Over history, it housed magnificent temples, built as a home and place of worship for God. Jesus Himself connected Jerusalem with His mission and, ultimately, His death. He wept over its stubbornness (Luke 19:41) and its impending demise to come at the hands of the Romans just a few years later. Jeremiah prophesied about Jerusalem. We read in Jeremiah 3:17, “In that day Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Throne of the Lord.’ All nations will come there to honour the Lord. They will no longer stubbornly follow their own evil desires”. The modern Jerusalem is a troubled place, tense with religious and racial differences, and the place most revered, the Temple Mount, houses a Muslim mosque. The reverence of Jerusalem didn’t die away with Jesus, and a thread continues through the New Testament, ending with a crescendo of praise as the New Jerusalem appears.

Of course, by this time in John’s vision the earth had disappeared, so the old Jerusalem would have disappeared with it. But the Jews always believed that Jerusalem would be God’s eternal home. Little did they realise that the New Jerusalem would be created by God Himself. No more man-made structures.

The New Jerusalem was designed and built by God in Heaven. And John’s description ran out of adjectives comprehensive enough to fully describe it, as he watched it slowly coming down from Heaven to the new earth. His first impression was that it shone with the glory of God, sparkling in the same way as light does when seen reflecting from, or refracting through, a precious stone. John’s first impression was that the walls were “broad and high”and he could see twelve gates, each of which had a name above it. He saw that “the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates”. This is significant, because God’s chosen people, the Jews, were not forgotten. But we shouldn’t be surprised by that. Scriptures such as Psalm 23:6 made it clear that God would be with His people forever. “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”  The Jews, along with the children of the New Covenant, would be found in the Holy City. All redeemed peoples, regardless of their race or nationality, will be living in the New Jerusalem.

John also saw features of note, underpinning the walls. They were, “twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”. So we have the importance of the foundational Apostolic teaching, from the men who had been disciples with Jesus, recognised forever. John saw the merging of the Old and New covenants in a glorious expression of God’s created new city.

Are we pilgrims looking forward to living in the New Jerusalem? How can we not be? A place shining with God’s glory. A place founded on the principles we have been trying to live by during our Christian lives. We have already read that there will not be any more sin there. Or death or sickness. Our future lives with God are going to be nothing like we can ever imagine. And in the new Jerusalem we will find all the heroes of the faith. Imagine being able to ask Peter what it was like to walk on the Sea of Galilee? Or find out what Paul was really like. There are many biblical and other characters I’m sure we would love to meet. And we’ll have eternity to find out all about them. But will we find everyone we expect in Heaven” Martin Luther summed it all up in this quote, attributed to him, “First, there will be people in heaven I did not expect to be there. Second, there will be people not present in heaven that I was certain would be there. Third is the greatest surprise of all – that I will be there myself!” 

Dear Lord. We thank You that through Your sacrifice at Calvary we are assured of a place in Heaven. We thank You that You are reserving a room for each one of us in the New Jerusalem. We praise You today. Amen.

The New Jerusalem

“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.””‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭21:2-4‬ ‭NLT

As John, in his vision, was marvelling about the New Jerusalem appearing before him, he heard a loud shout. It grabbed his attention and he recorded what was said. The angel’s words were profound. God was going to make His home amongst His people, the people who had been rebirthed into His eternal Kingdom. Are we pilgrims ready to welcome God? Really ready?

Right back in Genesis, it was God’s intention to spend time with His created friends, Adam and Eve. He walked in the Garden where they were, and it must have broken His heart when He discovered their sin. The end of a face to face relationship. But God had no option – He couldn’t stay in an environment that contained sin. But here we are in the penultimate chapter of Revelation, discovering that at last, with the cleansing of sin from His presence complete, He could once again achieve His goal of spending time amongst His people. 

The angel’s shouted message also gave John some reassurance. Don’t forget he had been exiled to a prison on an island in the Aegean sea and he would be no stranger to “death or sorrow or crying or pain”. So the angel telling him about God’s plan reassured him that these human conditions would be eliminated. “Gone forever”

But in a sense, limited by our humanity, God lives within us. He never really left us. We read in Matthew 28:20, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So Jesus has promised to be with us for ever. And there are many other Bible references about God being with us. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 we read, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” But as we read in these verses today from Revelation, “God himself will be with them”, His people. 

A Scripture much quoted in the upcoming season of Advent is Matthew 1:23, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”‭‭ The First Coming of Jesus was announced as “God is with us“. It came to fruition then, and here, in these New Beginning Times (they’re not End Times any more) God is with us in person, amongst His people.

But one thing we must consider is the reference to the new Jerusalem being like “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”. In Ephesians 5:25-27, we read, “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” It was always Christ’s intention to make His Church “holy and without fault” one day. And by so doing, the Church will become His Bride. This finally comes to fruition with the new Jerusalem. 

These are exciting times for us pilgrims. One day we’ll get to explore the new Jerusalem, in all its splendour. And enjoy a new life for all eternity free of “death or sorrow or crying or pain”. How amazing is that?

Dear Lord. We look forward in awe at the coming of the new Jerusalem, where we will find You living with Your people. We worship You today, in grateful anticipation. Amen.

‭‭

The New Heaven and Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The horrors of the scene involving the fiery lake were fading from John’s vision. There was a momentary pause in events, defined by the first word in Revelation 21 – “then”. In a previous part of John’s vision, he saw the Great White Throne appear, and the earth and sky tried to hide from God’s presence. Well, we now know what had happened to them, because we are told that they just “disappeared“. And they took the sea with them. So the scene before John was blank. But then he could hardly believe his eyes. He blinked just to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. A marvellous sight came into view, displacing the darkness. A new heaven and a new earth appeared. New. Did that mean a new creation, as we read in Genesis, or did the new heaven and earth just appear, fully finished and ready to go? 

We consider our current earth and the sky above it. A finely tuned creation of atoms linked together to form an infinite number of different animal, vegetable and mineral products. Products that include and sustain the life we know so well. And to support those products, the physical properties of the sun and gravity, amongst many others, ensure a stability that has sustained the earth in its right place in space since the universe was created. Scientists talk about the “Goldilocks zone”, a planet’s position within a solar system where life as we know it can be sustained. But it’s more than that – we are God’s creation. Our planet and all its contents. And God has removed the old so that He can bring in the new. 

God is always creating something new, though. He didn’t make the world and its contents and then walk away, letting animals or plants get on with life, or not, as the case may be. Just look at our world every spring, when new plant growth spurts out everywhere. And the miracle of a new baby. Even under the curse of sin, our natural world is designed to be able to renew itself. We also have the miracle – yes, that is what it is – of spiritual birth. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Jesus told Nicodemus in that famous conversation recorded in John’s Gospel, that rebirth is essential for entry into God’s Kingdom. We read His words in John 3:3, “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”” Sadly, being “born again” has acquired negative connotations, bing ridiculed by many, even other Christians. But it’s another example of God’s design for His creation.

The old earth and heaven needed to be replaced. Sin and wickedness had trashed it. But not a problem to God, and He started with the new Holy City, the New Jerusalem. John gets a glimpse of it coming down from God’s home in Heaven, and it looks wonderful, made “like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”. In his vision, John gets to view a “spoiler” of what it is like. Just a foretaste of the most wonderful place ever seen.

But back to our spiritual rebirth. Are we pilgrims “born again”? If we’re not sure, a question to God will soon clarify our positions. Being birthed into God’s amazing Kingdom, while we get the chance here on Planet Earth, is an introduction to our new life with God in eternity. We have the opportunity to live in His kingdom, as well as being part of our world’s kingdom, right now. There is a stark contrast. But one day the old kingdom will disappear, and we will fully enjoy being part of the new. Wonderful!

Dear God. There are exciting times ahead for those who have been birthed into your Kingdom. we praise and worship You today. Amen.