Studies in the book of Revelation
Study 5: the Holy City, New Jerusalem (chapters 21 – 22)
The prominent feature of the city, in contrast a household or village, is that of:
- Structured community
God is not taking us back to Eden, into a monastery garden. He wants large communities of his people – his city within the world’s cities. We must train our minds out of cosy village mentality and the wish to be the unnoticed ‘underground church’.
- With apostolic foundations (21:14)
It becomes clear by reading through the New Testament that churches in the earliest days were structured. And of first importance was their foundational understanding of ‘the apostles’ teaching’ to which ‘they devoted themselves’ (Acts 2:42). We are left in no doubt that the main features of that teaching was the gospel revelation of Christ’s atoning death, his burial and his resurrection on the third day in fulfilment of the Old Testament scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
- Ministering the full variety of all extremes
John saw the heavenly city laid out as ‘a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles’; and ‘The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones’ (21:16, 19-20).
A church that is evangelistic, teaching, pastoral (=caring), prophetic and apostolic (= sent forth, Ephesians 4:11-12) is not merely a rescue mission, or a conference centre, or a healing group with just one emphasis.
- Separate from the world (hence ‘the wall’, 21:18)
‘But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them’ (Acts 5:13). They are distinct in their behaviour from the worldliness of society, but not hidden or aloof.
- They are transparently honest
‘The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass’ (21:18).
- Open to all outsiders
‘Its gates will never be closed’ (21:25).
In fact, Zechariah 2:4-10 represent God’s city as one without walls of suspicion, distrust, fear or anxiety, God’s presence being the invisible ‘electronic’ hedge of defence. Anyone who opposes us pokes his finger in God’s eye! Those who abuse us will feel the fire of God’s protective presence surrounding us.
Interestingly, Zechariah 2:4 in the Revised Standard Version says Jerusalem will be like ‘villages without walls’, so we need not fear that we will become lost in the crowd of our huge city church; we should each know to which smaller group we are joined within that church.
- Radiant with God’s glory
John hears a loud cheer from the throne itself: ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them’ (21:3); ‘they will see his face’ (22:4); ‘a river with the water of life, clear as crystal,[is] flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the centre of the main street’ (22:1-2); ‘the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light’ (21:23).
- Full of joy and peace
God ’will wipe every tear from their eyes’ (21:4), because ‘in [his] presence there is fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11 English Standard Version). ‘No sea’ (21:1) contrasts with the wicked who resemble the troubled sea that cannot rest (Isaiah 57:20-21).
- Enlightening the nations
‘The nations will walk in its light’ (21:23-24).
The authentic church is the light of the world, a city set on a hilltop that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). To this day much of the world still walks in spiritual darkness including fear of spirits that hinders creative social progress.
Because the gospel of the kingdom makes individuals into whole persons it can therefore transform nations.
The law will go forth from Zion in the last days (Isaiah 2:1-4).
- A triumphant society
‘They will reign forever and ever’ (22:5).
‘This is the victory that has overcome the world – even our faith’ (1 John 5:4 New International Version).