What is the greatest city you’ve ever visited? Not everyone likes them, but cities certainly have their allure.
Last week, I talked about a couple of intertwined metaphors, focusing on the one where God is groom and the church is his bride. This week, I want to focus on how our future with God is depicted as a great city. Actually, the way it’s described, this city is almost ridiculous, until we remember John of Revelation is giving us a symbol to describe what our sin-clouded human minds cannot fully grasp.
Let’s look at how the city is described, not only in our text today but in some other descriptions in Revelation.
- Occupies the same space as a cube, a really big cube. It would cover most of the United States; imagine a Rubik’s cube balanced on a soccer ball. One mathematically minded-person points out that the city being a cube, and the earth being a sphere, the center of the city’s base could touch the earth—but the bottom corners of the city would hang miles in the air above the ground! The top corners would be 800 miles beyond where earth’s atmosphere ends.
- Shines with God’s radiance and is clear as crystal, although made of gold.
- Has streets paved with gold, again, gold so pure it is clear.
- Sits on walls adorned with precious jewels.
- Has 12 gates, three to a side, each made of a single giant pearl. These gates always stand open. (I want to hear more about the oysters!)
- Is constantly lit by the glory of God.
- Has a river flowing from beneath the throne of God, watering the tree of life.
Lesson 1 in interpreting all of this: Stop being so literal. John probably thought the earth was flat and was communicating to people who also likely thought the earth was flat. We also can assume they didn’t have a clue how far the earth went, or the atmosphere. (I do have to be careful with some of these assumptions; by the time of Revelation, some philosophers and mathematicians, particularly in Greece, had been arguing for centuries the earth was a sphere.) The symbols John chose simply reflect his understanding of the world.
My first symbolic takeaway is that God is expecting a lot of people to turn to him by professing faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is room for all!
Also, “purity” is a key word to describe life with God. We’re told rather directly that “nothing unclean will enter [the city], nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” For things not pure, where they ultimately end up is debatable—will it be eternal torment or annihilation?
The lake of fire is scary to consider, but since we plan to be inside the gates, perhaps we’ll just dwell on the joy of a life free from sin and its pain and distractions. It clearly is good to be right with God, made right not through our own work, but because of Christ’s sacrifice.
The city sounds inviting, right? It is. The presence of our loving savior and his holy light make it inviting. That’s why the gates are always open, which reminds us of another Bible story—in fact, John has pointed to that other story before. After Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, the way back in was closed, guarded by a mighty angel with a flaming sword. But now we get to Paradise and find the gates wide open.
And yes, we are to see the Paradise of Genesis in this vision in Revelation. The tree of life is there, Revelation tells us. We are to eat freely from the tree God denied Adam and Eve after their descent into sin.
The image of God’s garden within the city means a lot to me because I’ve always enjoyed the more pastoral images of life with God. In my mind, there will be trees and mountains, rivers and lakes—all of those places that give us joy now, except more so.
That’s the real lesson of Revelation. Life with God is perfect joy, the final, complete fulfillment of all of this life’s holy desires, which simply are cravings for the presence of God. We are called to live a life of holiness and purity as much as possible now, knowing we will experience the full joy of such a life for all eternity.
God calls you to this place, this life. Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”
See you in the city.
The featured image is “New Jerusalem,” a folio from The Bamberg Apocalypse, c. 1000.