Monday, January 13, 2020

A Forever Home Pt. 2 -Revelation 21:18-27

If you were designing your dream home, what features/extras would you want to add to it? Would a mudroom be helpful? What about an extra bedroom for invited guests? Would you want a pool in the backyard? What about a covered patio? Would a finished basement be nice? Though some of these features might intrigue you more than others, none of these match the characteristics of the forever home believers will one day occupy in eternity. Though last week we were able to enjoy the exterior (curb appeal) and learn about the measurements (square-footage) of the New Jerusalem, today we are going to take a closer look at two more features of the believer’s permanent residence. I think you will find that the features of what is coming are very different from many people’s preferences today when it comes to where they live. That said, these features tell us much about the One who will reside with us and ought to inspire hope and excitement for what is in store.

1. The Materials-21:18-21

Again, last week we looked at the exterior and the measurements of the believer’s forever home. In verse 18-27 of Revelation 21, the reader continues the tour of the New Jerusalem with an examination of the materials used to construct this impressive residence. First, John reports “the material of the wall was jasper” (21:18a). As noted in 21:11 and earlier in 4:3, jasper is associated with the radiance of God’s glory.

Revelation 4:3-“And he who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.”

Revelation 21:10-11-“…and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.”

In other words, the resplendent walls of the New Jerusalem betray the wondrous glory of the King who resides inside.

The theme of glory and resplendence is carried over in the description of the city within the calls when John says, “and the city was pure gold, like clear glass,…” (21:18b). The gold (along with the shape of the city introduced earlier) is reminiscent of 1 Kings 6:20-22 where Solomon overlaid the interior of the sanctuary and the altar in the Holy of holies with gold (Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1079). However, more than simply being “overlaid” with gold, Revelation 21’s description of this new city reveals that it is constructed of “pure gold.” Even further, this gold is unlike any gold known currently to mankind as it is “like clear glass” (21:18b). While this transparency suggests to some that this gold is especially pure—so pure it is see-through (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 469)—others believe the transparency theme that began in 21:11’s “crystal clear” jasper reveals that both the walls and now the city itself allows the glory of God to shine through, thereby illuminating everything around it (Osborne, Revelation, 754).

Next, John goes to great lengths to describe what the foundation stones were made out of—the same foundation stones introduced in 21:14, “and the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Each stone labeled with the name of each apostle is associated with its own precious gem: “The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz. The tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst” (21:19-20). Precious jewels have already been used to portray God’s presence (see 4:3) and his dwelling place (21:11), symbolizing the Lord’s majesty and splendor (especially in contrast the fleeting and false splendor of the idolatrous world in places like Rev. 17:4; 18:12, 16) (Osborne, Revelation, 755). The concepts of majesty and splendor are here extended to God’s people, represented by the apostolic foundation envisioned here in reference to the church. “Now that these foundation stones are ‘adorned with every kind of precious stone,’ the people of God are portrayed as sharing the divine glory” (Osborne, Revelation, 756).

In addition to glory, the jewels, twelve in number, also may connect the church to the faithful believing Jews as twelve jewels were used in Exodus to symbolize the tribes of Israel (see Exod. 28:17-21; 39:14). In fact, twelve jewels of differing colors adorned the breastplate of the high priest. Therefore, it is possible that the bejeweled ornamentation of the New Jerusalem connects both the Old Testament and New Testament saints in glory.

While the number of the gates and their location has already been reported (see 21:12), in verse 21, the reader learns what the gates are made out of—“and the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl.” Interestingly, one of the reasons Caesar tried to conquer Britain in the ancient world was the reports about its pearl fisheries. “Among many ancients, pearls were ranked highest among precious stones because their beauty derives entirely from nature, improvement by human workmanship being an impossibility” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 473). It was one of the most precious and valuable items known in the Roman world of the first century and here, ascribed to these gates, these pearls demonstrate something of the value associated with access into God’s presence in the coming future kingdom.  

The last building material to be described involves the streets—“and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (21:21b). Like the city of pure gold mentioned earlier, the gold streets illustrate the glory of God which is accentuate and seen through these transparent thoroughfares.  
As in any dream home one may walk through today in which no expense is spared and no corners are cut, the future home for God’s people is of the highest quality and craftmanship that heaven can afford. After all, God is its designer and builder.

2. The Features-21:22-27

The exterior, measurements, and materials associated with the New Jerusalem afford this residence some important functions and/or highlights. The first of these is that there is no temple—“I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). While a temple was necessary in the Old Testament as a set-apart sacred space for the Shekinah glory of God among his people, here, no such place is necessary. The Holy Lord will reside freely in this new residence among his redeemed people because there is no longer any stain of sin nor corruptible thing upon the earth. In fact, the whole city (a 1500X1500X1500 gold cube) is itself one humungous temple with openings on all sides that offer access to the glory of God.  One commentator has said “just as the NJ [New Jerusalem] is more than a place, i.e. denoting the community of God’s people, the temple is more than a place, i.e., denoting the presence of God and the Lamb in the community of his people” (Park, More than a Regained Eden, 209-10). Because God abides with and among his people freely in the New Jerusalem, there is no need for a separate temple structure.

However, not only does God the Father serve as the temple (as conceived in the Old Testament), the Lamb is also associated with this new arrangement—“for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). This demonstrates the unity of God with the Son in glory and continues the apocalyptic emphasis on the equality there is between these two members of the Godhead. In 4:2 and 5:6 both Father and Son occupy the same throne space. In 4:8-11 and 5:9-14 both are said to be worthy of worship. In 14:17-20 and 19:11-21 both act as judge. And here, both are understood as the temple in the Holy City—the locus of God’s presence (Osborne, Revelation, 761).

Another highlight of this forever-home for God’s people is its lack of a sun or moon—“and the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23). The apostle John has made it his habit to describe God and the things of God in terms of light and those things that are against God as existing in the realm of darkness. All the way back in his gospel John says of Jesus, “In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn. 1:5). Whether witnessed in the first created thing (“let there be light”), or in the pillar of fire leading God’s people in the Exodus, or in the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John, God has consistently been portrayed as light—i.e. anti-darkness, revelatory, illuminating, truth. In the New Jerusalem, the light of God will so-saturate the world that there will no longer be any need for other light sources. Reflecting on this coming reality one commentator has concluded, “if the light of God the Creator has dawned, of what use are the celestial lights, the sun and the moon? Of what good is their pitiful reflected light when he who is light (John 1:5) itself is present?” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 40-66, 557).

Taken together with the transparency of the walls surrounding the city and the clear-gold the city is going to be made out of, the light of God will not be covered hidden away by anything. One wonders if there will even be shadows given how awesome the light of God will be and the transparency of the building materials used.

James 1:17-“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

The light will allow for clear and uninhibited access to God as it illuminates the way to his celestial city for all—“ The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it…” (21:24-26). “The nations” described here are those believing peoples from every nation and tribe that have repented of their sin and followed Jesus as Lord and Savior. These have overcome the fallen world of sin and death in Christ and now enjoy glory with their God in heaven. This glory they may experience by means of the “open gates” of their forever home. This open access appears to complement the prediction of Isaiah 60:11 which reads, “Your gates will always stand open; they will never be shut, day or night.” Because there are no longer any threats, pollutants, carcinogens, worries, or deception, this forever home will be literally perfect (and here, literally literally means literally, 😊), allowing believers from every tribe and nation to enter without fear.

One final highlight of this glorious forever home is its cleanliness—“and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life,…” (21:27). After all, the only ones, other than God, that are allowed admittance into this city are those whose names are found written in the Lamb’s book of life, i.e. those who have been saved by grace through faith (made righteous before God and perfected by the power of the Spirit because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished).

The presence of this book appears to be modeled after the roster of citizens that existed in ancient cities, especially the Old Testament register of the citizens of Israel in places like Psalm. 9:5, 87:6, and Isaiah 4:3. Just as these ancient cities possessed registers of who belonged in their respective jurisdictions, so too will the New Jerusalem.

So What?

While clear walls, golden streets, and pearl doors may not be your style, one day, for believers, it will be reality. What a glorious place believers will be allowed to call home! However, the greatest feature of all concerning the New Jerusalem is the uninhibited access to God—our Creator, Sustainer, Savior, and Lord. That is good company!

The question for us today is this: is your name found in the register of this coming forever city? Is your spot reserved in the New Jerusalem? Those who will one day enjoy the full presence of God are those who are in relationship with him today. These are those who have recognized his light (Jesus) and have been led by that light out of the darkness of sin and death?

For those of us who already enjoy a relationship with Jesus, ask yourselves this: has the light of God’s glory been muted in your life? Has a preoccupation with the things of this world created a fog that is keeping you from enjoying the hope and anticipation of what is to come? My prayer is that God would use this brief tour of our coming forever home to lift the fog and recapture our imagination and expectation for the things to come as we live our lives as carriers of light in the darkness.

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