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A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)

November 1, 2015 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 21:9–22:5

Happy Ever After

A Tour of Our Future Glory
Revelation 21:9-22:5
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
November 1, 2015

 

I. Faith and Fairy Tales

When those who are antagonistic to our faith connect the Bible with fairy tales, they are usually attempting to discredit the historicity of the Scriptures. But this morning, I'd like to make a similar connection, not to discourage your faith, but to encourage it.

As we come to the final vision of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the final vision of the entire Bible, we find ourselves on common ground with almost every classic fairy tale. God's word, which is true, comes to the same kind of ending as all of those cherished, but imaginary stories. You know the ending: “...and they lived...happily ever after.”

And that is precisely what we find here in Revelation 21. Turn there if you haven't already. We will pick up this morning where we left off last time, beginning in verse 9.

 

II. The Passage: “I Will Show You the Bride” (21:9-22:5)

As you can see from your outline, the vision John witnesses here can be separated into four parts: first, we read in verses 9-11 about John's view from afar; second, in verses 12-12 about his view from up close; third, in verses 22-27 about his view from inside; and finally in chapter 22, verses 1-5, we read about John's view from the center.

 

1. The View from Afar (21:9-11)

Let's first look at the view from afar in verses 9-11. This is what John tells us...

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” [10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, [11] having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

You may remember that the center of this book is built around three sets of seven judgments, the last of these being the bowl judgments of chapter 16. So, as in 17:1, we read in 21:9 that “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls” comes and bids John to see, not Babylon the prostitute, but another woman; to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb”. This is the Bride we met back in chapter 19. This is us. This is the church of Jesus.

But as the beginning of chapter 17 does with the end of chapter 16, this final vision simply expands on the more general revelation given in the first eight verses of chapter 21.
And what John sees in verse 10 is simply a restatement of what he saw in verse 2. The church is not only likened to a bride, but more specifically in this section...to a city. This is the new Jerusalem. As I said last week, this is not ultimately a picture of our future home. It is a picture of our future selves.

So what God has given us here in the final vision of the Bible is a vision of our eternal condition. The city is simply a way of expressing this destiny using symbolic imagery. I guarantee you, no travel agent or website can book you a tour package like the one John is about to experience. Let's find out what he sees as he begins the tour and moves in closer.

 

2. The View from Up Close (21:12-21)

From his vantage point atop this spiritual mountain, John begins to move in to see the view from up close. Listen to what he tells us about the new Jerusalem in verses 12-21:

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—[13] on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. [14] And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. [15] And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. [16] The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. [17] He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. [18] The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. [19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, [20] the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. [21] And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

So in this section we learn first about the city's map, second, about the city's measurements, and third, about the city's materials. Let's take a closer look.

In verses 12-14, we are given a kind of map of the city; that is, John describes the layout of the new Jerusalem. And as we see from those verses, the number twelve is the common thread: twelve gates, twelve angels, and twelve inscriptions on those gates containing the name of the twelve tribes of Israel. Similarly we hear of twelve foundations for the walls, and on them, twelve inscriptions containing the the names of the twelve apostles of Jesus, who is the Lamb.

But if we move to verses 15-17, we find a very similar pattern. There we see the city measured.
And when the angel measures the entire city, not surprisingly, the number twelve reappears. Did you notice that? The new Jerusalem is symbolically pictured as a giant cube, 12,000 stadia wide, 12,000 stadia deep, and 12,000 stadia high. How long is a stadion? A little over 600 feet. That means the height, depth and width of this city are all 1380 miles. And according to verse 17, on top of that, or more specifically, around that is a wall that is 144 cubits (or about 216 feet) tall. And of course, the square root of 144 is (?)...yes, twelve!

Now a 216 foot wall around a city that reaches over seven million feet into the sky, and a city that is a giant cube with a footprint stretching from Apache Junction to Portland, Oregon, sounds a little bizarre if taken literally. But we already know this is a picture, not of heavenly buildings, but of a heavenly Bride.

This is why the number twelve dominates this section. It is the number of God's people, isn't it? And in this final vision this city's dimensions, 12 x 1000 x 3, are meant to communicate the incomprehensible fullness of our future; the staggering blessings of the Bride.

And so, in verses 18-21, the materials with which this city has been constructed give us a sense of the radiance of this Bride, the very radiance we read about in verse 11. Just look at some of the precious metals and precious stones mentioned in those verses: jasper, gold, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst, and pearl. But while those materials are connected to the brilliance of the Bride, her brilliance depends wholly on what John discovers as he moves deeper into the city, maybe on the streets of gold he mentioned in verse 21.

 

3. The View from Inside (21:22-27)

Look at what he tells us about the view from inside in verse 22-27. He declares...

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. [23] And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. [24] By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, [25] and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. [26] They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. [27] But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Unlike the earthly Jerusalem, we hear in verse 22 that the new Jerusalem contains no temple. Why would it need a temple when God and the Lamb are in its midst? And because they are, the city is always full of light. It is light radiating from the glory of God. The Father is the flame and the Son is the lamp that spreads His light into every corner of the city.

Now think about that picture of illumination combined with the kinds of materials we heard about in verses 18-21. Can you imagine anything more dazzling, more stunning, more brilliant, more beautiful and awe-inspiring then the vision John lays out for us?

And again, in contrast to the earthly Jerusalem, this city will represent the capital city for all nations. You see, all the authority of all kingdoms, all the beauty of all cultures, every ounce of genuine glory from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (7:9), in the end, all of it will be found in this city. As we heard in 11:15...“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

And of course, since God has beaten and banished all evil, since there no longer is any darkness, the gates of that city will always be open. While the walls of the city might represent strength and grandeur, it is her open gates that speak of true security.

 

4. The View from the Center (22:1-5)

But if this were not enough, John's tour group of one does not stop here. He does not get dumped out into the gift shop. No. Even though it does not specifically state this, I believe John ends up with a view from the center of the city. You'll see what I mean. Look at 22:1-5...

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2] through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its (not surprisingly) twelve (!) kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. [4] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. [5] And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Where else would the throne be but the center of the city? From what other location would “the river of the water of life” spring up? And where else would we expect to find the tree of life? You see, this new Jerusalem must also be the New Eden, for the final vision of the Bible, this vision of humanity in the end, brings us back to the earliest chapters of the Bible, to humanity in the beginning. Life restored. God with us.

This has always been God's plan. We can rest assured it will be fulfilled. Over 800 years before John's vision, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this same destiny for God's people:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you...[3] And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising...[11] Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession...[19] The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60:1, 3, 11, 19)

 

III. An All Access Pass

There are so many things we could explore in this vision about our future condition, about the nature of eternal life in all its fullness. But the symbolism that seems most dominant in this section, even in conjunction with the number twelve, the symbolism that is most encouraging in these verses, is the symbolism of access. Let me give you some examples:

First, the cube-shaped city is almost certainly patterned after the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon, which was a room measuring 30 by 30 by 30 feet. It was the room in the Temple where God dwelt with His people, the room into which only the High Priest could go to make atonement, and that only once a year. But now the whole city is the Holy of Holies. Access!

To strengthen that imagery, the twelve jewels that adorn the foundations for the walls of the New Jerusalem in verses 19, 20 correspond to the twelve jewels once embedded in the breastplate of that same High Priest of Israel. He wore it to represent the people before God. Here, those same jewels are connected to the Bride, to all of us; those that Christ has made (1:6) priests to his God and Father. Access!

Another symbol of access can be seen in the way the New Jerusalem mirrors the new temple shown to the prophet Ezekiel in another symbolic vision in Ezekiel chapters 40-48. As with John's, Ezekiel's vision is given after a vision of Gog and Magog's defeat (chps. 38, 39). As with John's, Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain (40:2). As with John's, a guiding angel measures the temple (40:3). As with John's, the structure that is seen is square (42:15-20). As with John's, the vision reveals the glory of God filling the structure (43:5). As with John's, the new temple represents God dwelling with His people forever (43:7; 48:35). As with John's, there is water that gives life flowing out from the midst of the temple complex (47:1). And that river has trees growing on both banks (47:7); and the trees have healing leaves (47:12). As with John's, the building beheld has three gates on it's four sides, and on those gates are inscribed with the names of the tribes of Israel (48:31-34). Access!

Finally, you may remember that the Ark of the Covenant, the gold covered chest that was kept in the Holy of Holies, represented the very throne of God, the same God we saw in chapter 4 of Revelation, enthroned, as with the ark, in the midst of the cherubim. And it is to that same throne we return in this final section. Look again at 22:3, 4...

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

Do you see? Access. Access! But access to who or what? 22:4...They will see his face. One day, we will have access to God that is so much bigger and so much better than any earthly priest has ever known. One day we will be granted what Moses himself was denied. One day, we find what David so eagerly sought according to Psalm 27:8...You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”

Access. Unrestricted. Unfettered. Unimpaired. Unobstructed. Unmitigated access to the face of God. What will that mean? Again David helps us. He wrote in Psalm 17:15...As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Do you feel satisfied this morning? I mean really, really satisfied? If we're honest with ourselves, we don't. If we did, why would we desire that which is sin? Why would we look to be satisfied in what's around us rather than who's above us? But God knows that. In fact, that's why He gave John this vision. It's why He sent it to the seven churches. He gave them a glimpse of a captivating tomorrow, in order to capture their heart, and our hearts, today!

Remember, this is the same stunning reality Jesus used earlier to call them to conquest:

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
(Revelation 3:12)

How is it that we can come full circle? That is, how is that we can experience re-creation? How we can take of the tree of life? How we can walk with God once again? Paul answered that question using these very same ideas: For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Corinthians 4:6)

But in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul also said this about the face of God:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)

Here's what God wants you and me to understand this morning. It all comes down to this: to see the face of God will be enough. To see the face of God, will make everything better. To see the face of God will answer every question and heal every hurt. To see the face of God is like a bottomless well that will never, ever fail to satisfy us.

What some call heaven, what John has called “a new heaven and a new earth” in verse 1 of this chapter, this fullness of eternal life, this fulfillment of every promise of God for every one of His children, all of it is about God and His love for us. Is He what you want? He most definitely is what you need.

Eugene Peterson clarifies our view of everlasting life when he writes:

To the person who simply wants more, who is impatient of limits, who is bored with what he or she has and wants diversion from it, [John's] vision of heaven will not serve well. This is not a paradise for consumers. [John's] heaven is not an extension of human cupidity upwards but an invasion of God's rule and presence downwards. Heaven in the vision, remember, descends. The consequence is that “the dwelling of God is with men.” If we don't want God, or don't want him very near, we can hardly be expected to be very interested in heaven.

In the end, we can't forget God's reassuring and inviting statement in verse 6: To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (Revelation 21:6) Christ has already made that payment, hasn't He? We can take freely. But we can't miss what that water of life really is. It flows from the throne of God and the Lamb because it is them. God is the water of life. God is life. Jesus is the life.

Wanting Him then begins with wanting Him now. Being satisfied with Him begins with being satisfied with Him now. Only then can we conquer, overcome, endure the trials and temptations of this defiant, but dying world.

What will you be doing for all eternity? Clouds? Harps? Halos? What a sad cheapening of God's blessings. No, we will see His face forever. And because we will, we will worship Him forever. And we will reign forever. No night. No curse. All light. No thirst. We will have all we need. We will have God and the Lamb. We will be happy ever after.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

 

More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)

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Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)

November 15, 2015

I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)

October 25, 2015

The God of New Beginnings (Revelation 21:1-8)