What do we see when we read Revelation 21-22?
“Streets of gold,” “no more tears”—sounds like “heaven,” by which we mean “where we go when we die, where we will spend eternity.” But is that what’s really going on here?
What do we see in Revelation 21-22? What should we see?
In Revelation 21-22, we see the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled.
You probably know the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
There it is, the overarching desire of the whole prayer. Not, “May we enter your kingdom in heaven.” But rather, “May your kingdom come on earth.” God, may you fully reign, may your will be fully realized, here on earth just as it already is in heaven, in your immediate presence.
That’s the goal of all things: God’s kingdom coming on earth, God reigning over all things on earth, God’s good desires for all things being brought about on earth.
Put another way: God does not want to take us from earth to heaven; God wants to bring heaven down to earth.
And this is in fact what we find in Revelation 21—here are the opening verses:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
In Revelation 21 and 22, we see God dwelling among us on earth, God’s immediate presence among us on earth.
In other words, we see heaven come down to earth. We see God’s kingdom come on earth.
We see the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled.
In Revelation 21-22, we see God’s people beatified.
Okay, that word might seem a little strange—but I use it intentionally. The word “beatitude” means “divine blessing,” and it’s usually associated with the eternal blessing of God’s people in God’s glorious presence.
And this vision of Revelation is loaded with language and imagery that points to the people of God in the presence of God.
The new Jerusalem, the city of God come down from heaven, is described as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” It is prepared as a bride on her wedding day, arrayed in beautiful gems and sparkling jewels and glittering gold.
The bride of Christ? This should be enough of a clue what’s going on.
But then we’re told that the city has 12 gates named for the 12 tribes of Israel; its wall has 12 foundations named for the 12 apostles of Christ.
All Israel and the whole Church represented? That clinches it.
The city is not a literal city. The city is not where God’s people live—the city itself is God’s people, Jews and Gentiles together united with Christ.
There is no temple among God’s people, no special place where God meets with them—because God dwells among all of them, among all people on earth. God is immediately present among God’s people, God’s glory shining like a light for all the earth.
And God’s people “will see God’s face,” Revelation 22 says. Think of that: throughout Scripture we’re told we cannot see God’s face, at most we can catch glimpses of God, until Jesus comes and we see the face of God in Jesus. And here, in this new creation, God’s people see God’s face—they are eternally blessed by God in God’s glorious presence. They are “beatified.”
But there’s another reason I use the word “beatified” to describe what’s going on here. I want to recall the “Beatitudes”—Jesus’ specific promises of divine blessing in the Sermon on the Mount. Here at the end of Revelation, we see God’s people “beatified”—experiencing the fulfillment of those Beatitude promises.
Those who were lowly and poor in spirit—God’s kingdom is now theirs.
Those who mourned—they are now comforted.
Those who were meek—they have now inherited the earth.
Those who hungered and thirsted for justice—they are now eating and drinking their fill of it.
Those who were pure in heart—they are now seeing God.
Those who were peacemakers—they are now pronounced God’s children.
Those who were persecuted and oppressed and unjustly treated for the sake of justice—God’s kingdom is now theirs.
In Revelation 21 and 22, we see God eternally blessing God’s people in God’s glorious presence.
In other words, we see all wrongs made right, all injustices overturned, all oppression ceasing, all who have yearned for God’s kingdom being finally and fully satisfied in the immediate presence of God.
We see God’s people beatified.
In Revelation 21-22, we see the nations of the earth healed.
After the people of God are described as this beautiful city, with God’s glorious presence immediately among them, we hear these words:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
“Nations” here doesn’t mean “nation states,” but more “peoples,” “tribes,” all the different ethnic groups of the world with their distinctive languages and cultures. In this new creation, the “nations,” all the “peoples of the earth,” live by the light of God and the Lamb. In this new creation, the peoples of the earth bring their glory and honour into the city of God—the cultural riches of all peoples are woven into the life of God’s people.
And so the nations of the earth are healed.
Listen to the way Revelation 22 starts:
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 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The tree of life hasn’t been seen since the city was a garden, back at creation, in Genesis 2-3. There humans were banned from eating of the tree of life because of their sin. But here again, in this new creation, the tree of life is accessible once more—and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
In Revelation 21 and 22, we see God dwelling gloriously among God’s people—yet this is not just for our benefit. It is for the benefit of all peoples of the earth, who are made whole by the tree of life sustained by the waters of life.
In other words, we see justice and peace and flourishing life for all the peoples of the earth, every tribe and language, from Anishinaabe to Chokwe to Faroese to Han to Kurds to Maori to Tatars to Zhuang—and everyone in between.
We see the nations of the earth healed.
In Revelation 21-22, we see all creation renewed.
Revelation 21 opens with the vision of a “new heavens and earth,” a brand new creation. The “first heaven and earth” are no more—the world saturated by human sin, the world permeated with powers that be gone wrong, that world is gone. Creation needs a new start, a new beginning.
In this new world, Revelation 21 says, “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” In a nutshell: “There will be no more curse.” All the harms we inflict on one another, on ourselves, on our world, all the devastating consequences of our human sin and evil—all this will be done away with.
“Behold,” God says, reigning from the throne, “I am making all things new.”
All things. Humans and nations, persons and peoples. But also rivers, lakes, and streams. Oceans and seas. Mountains and trees and valleys. Fish and fowl, flora and fauna. All renewed, entire ecosystems cleansed from the tragic effects of our human selfishness, pride, and greed.
All creation, made whole again.
What a vision! This is so much more than “where we go when we die, where we will spend eternity.”
This is a vision of heaven come down to earth, God’s kingdom come on earth, the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled.
This is a vision of God’s people eternally blessed in God’s glorious presence, God’s people beatified.
This is a vision of all peoples experiencing justice and peace and flourishing life, the nations of the earth healed.
This is a vision of all creation made new, restored to glow with the glory of God.
And as Revelation 1:19 promised, this is a vision of both the present and the future, both “what is now, and what will be.”
What is now—because, as Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is among you.”
What is now—because, as Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”
What is now—here, right now, heaven can come to earth if we seek it, if we let it.
What will be—because, as Jesus teaches, we continue to pray, “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
What will be—because, as Paul teaches, we groan along with all creation, along with God’s Spirit, for creation’s full liberation and our complete redemption.
What will be—when Jesus comes to finish what he started, to renew all things.
May God give us the strong assurance that we will always be with the Lord, both in life and in death. May there be no doubt about that.
But may God give us an equally strong assurance, an assurance of faith that gives birth to the yearning of hope, that God is at work even now to bring about God’s new creation, God’s reign of justice and peace and flourishing life, heaven come down to earth.
“The one who testifies to these things”—Jesus the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the end which is a new beginning—“The one who testifies to all these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Morden Mennonite on May 8, 2016. All images are
from a mandala of Revelation 4-5 created by Margie Hildebrand. Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.