Rev 21: 1-2; 9-14
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband....
....One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
OK, this is the bit about Heaven that blows most people away. Heaven is not up there in the sky, the place we go when we day, where we will spend eternity.
The Bible teaches very clearly, that one day there is going to be a merging – that Heaven and Earth are going to fuse together. That there will no longer be two dimensions – visible and invisible – but God’s heaven, God’s dimension, God’s life - will permeate every part of earth. There will be no separation.
We will have a renewed, transformed, re-created, perfect earth.
What this means is that for us, ultimately when we talk about spending eternity in Heaven - it will not be us going to spend eternity up there somewhere – but rather, God and His realm of existence comes down here and lives with us on earth in His new Creation. Belinda Carlisle was right, "Heaven is a Place on Earth."
We will not ultimately spend eternity up there as spirit beings in heaven but as resurrected physical human beings here on a new earth, with God dwelling among us. We’ll see more about that next week.
WHAT WILL THE NEW CREATION BE LIKE?
This is important. We need to remember that Revelation uses imagery and symbols to covey spiritual realities. That a lot of what John saw in his vision and recorded isn’t literal, like the number 144,000 or a beast with 7 heads and so on. It’s telling us something deeper. It’s symbolic, it’s a metaphor for a reality beyond itself.
We need to bear that in mind when we read these chapters about Heaven. What we read about heaven isn’t literal in every aspect, but it’s trying to put into human language and understanding something so much beyond our comprehension, it’s more than our finite minds can handle.
Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:9:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"
It’s a bit like if you’ve ever been overseas for a long period of time in a country totally different in geography and climate and culture to Ireland. After 6 months you come home, and someone says- what was it like? They’re expecting you to sum up something in a sentence or two that for you has all sorts of emotions and images and relationships and experiences attached to it. You just shrug – you can’t answer it. It’s too much to explain.
I think heaven is like that. At least what John sees is. We can’t even begin to imagine what God has prepared for us. Every idea we have and picture we use will be totally inadequate. It can never convey accurately the reality which awaits us. But we can interpret what we’re told and be sure of a number of things.
IT IS STUNNING
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (v. 2)
First of all, John says he sees a city, a new Jerusalem. For John and the readers of the letter in the first century – all they knew was city life. They all lived in cities like Ephesus and Sardis and Laodicea. They also were very conscious that the centre of the Roman Empire which was persecuting them was a city, Rome. Or as we saw last week, Rome was pictured as a harlot or prostitute called Babylon.
In fact some have called these last chapters in Revelation a Tale of Two Cities. On the one hand, you have Babylon the harlot, the prostitute who seduces you with temporary pleasure but at a high cost. And then you have the new Jerusalem, described as a pure, beautiful bride.
The readers, including us are presented with a choice – which one will you pick – the harlot or the bride. Babylon or Jerusalem. The temporary or the eternal. The one who offers fake love at a cost or the one who offers covenant commitment without cost.
We must make our choice.
I love officiating weddings, and one of my favourite moments is when the groom turns around and sees his bride for the first time. She has been locked away for 18 months getting ready! There’s the dress – but then there’s also the hair, make-up, tan, nails, shoes, flowers, veil, jewellry and other things men probably don’t even know about. We get up, have a shower, put a suit on and turn up. The bride spends months getting ready. Why? Because it’s the biggest day of her life and she wants to look beautiful for her groom. And for the photographs. And all her pass-remarkable friends.
But seriously, brides are beautiful on their wedding day. There’s nothing out of place. That’s what the Bible here is trying to convey – not that heaven looks like a woman in a white dress, but that this new creation, this city God dwells in among His people is absolutely stunning, it is breath-taking, it is beyond description, it’s perfect.
What else does it tell us?
“One of the seven angels…came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride…”
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (vv. 9-11)
"The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.” And then it goes through the various stones." (vv. 18-19)
And then in verse 21 we get to the famous pearly gates and golden streets:
“The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.”
A bride, once the dress is picked, decides what jewellery she is going to wear.
This bride, the new Jerusalem, has all of the most precious jewels and valuable metals we can ever imagine. They are abundant and lavishly displayed. Her wealth and majesty and glory can’t be described.
Subtly again I think it’s saying – compare this bride, Jerusalem, to the beauty of the Harlot Babylon. Remember what we read about the Harlot a few chapters before:
“The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” (17:4)
Gold, precious stones, pearls.
And what do we have in the New Jerusalem. Gold, precious stones, pearls – but here everything is supersized. The harlot has Gold. Big wow wee. The New Jerusalem has so much of gold they tarmac the streets with it.
Babylon has precious stones: so what? We decorate the walls with those stones round here.
She has pearls – big deal. We have pearls as big as gates here in Heaven.
To John the first readers, and to us today who are so easily seduced by all that our culture offers – what God is saying is this: 'Don’t be impressed too easily by the stuff this world has. Don’t be enticed to give yourself away to something because it looks good. It’s nothing compared to what God offers. It’s a cheap imitation, it’s a fake, pitiful, temporary substitute for the real thing. It will only disappoint, it will leave you empty and dead.'
But when you say yes to what God offers, you will discover beauty that is breath-taking, glory that is unimaginable, awesomeness that leaves you speechless, and commitment which lasts forever.
The choice is between temporary pleasure, or eternal bliss.