THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
The New Jerusalem and the Coming of God
The Principle of Birth-Pangs Touches Our Deepest Human Needs
Whenever a person creates something, he creates it in such a way that it says something about the creator. For example, the disfigured people in Picasso’s paintings say something about him and his view of life. On the other hand, the majestic sculptures of Michelangelo say something about his view of life and beauty. In the same way when God created the world and mankind, He created them in such a way that they reveal to us something about God. As a result, look at people and you will see a hint of the fact that they are created in the image of God.
For this reason it is not surprising to find the principle of birth pangs leading to something wonderful operating in people. People feel very drawn to the principle that catastrophes lead to something wonderful. Look at the most successful movies of all time. The principle of catastrophe leading to something wonderful operates in each of these movies. In Gone With The Wind it takes Rhett Butler walking out on Scarlet for her to come to herself and realize that she truly loves Rhett. In Star Wars the great battle between the empire and the rebel forces, in which many of the rebel fighters are killed, leads to the destruction of the Death Star and the freedom of the rebel forces. In Titanic the sinking of the ship and Jack’s dying for Rose leads to their reunion at the end of the movie in a much better place. In E.T. the death of E.T. leads to his resurrection and great joy for Elliot and his family. On and on it goes. These movies with this principle have touched a deep human need and feeling. It demonstrates that God has placed this principle within us so that we will be prepared for the eu-catastrophes in our own lives and for the eu-catastrophe at the end of history..
This principle though is not found simply in the arts. It is woven into the very fabric of nature. Each year we see this principle operating in nature with the death and resurrection of nature each year during the winter and spring seasons. God gives us glory; however, that glory is always resurrection glory. In order for resurrection to occur, death must occur first. This is God's way of instructing us about the very way He operates. It should not surprise us when when history climaxes not simply in a catastrophe but in a catastrophe which brings about a new world and new age.
In the Future We Are Even More Real Than We Are Now
Before we look at John’s description of the New Jerusalem, we want to look at the nature of the future. Most of us were taught that when we died, we went to heaven and lived in a bodiless state floating around on clouds and playing harps in one long worship service. One noted Christian stated that if this was heaven, he would prefer hell.
Heaven though is not puffy wisps of clouds, with everybody being prim and proper as depicted in Heaven Can Wait. In heaven we are not shadowy figures. The resurrection makes us more real than we have ever been in our lives. C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce depicts the realness of the future world by having a non-transformed person visit the future world created by Christ. In this future world the river is so real that when the un-transformed man tries to cross it, he slips and slides all the way across the top of the river. The grass is so real that whenever the un-transformed man steps on the grass, the blades hurt his feet. C. S. Lewis is not saying that this present life is not real; it is real. He’s trying to get across the point that the future is real too; it’s not just some shadowy place where nothing is real.
Having said this, as we look at John’s description of the New Jerusalem, we need to admit that John is speaking in symbols. In fact in Rev. 1:1. he stated right off the bat that he was using symbols to communicate his message. This does not mean though that there is nothing behind the symbol. When some people say, “That‘s just symbolical,” they act as if there was nothing to the symbol. For a symbol though to be valid, there must be a reality behind it that corresponds to the symbol. As we look at the symbols in these last 2 chapters, we will try to discern what reality lies behind the symbols.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NUMBERS IN REVELATION
Several numbers have significance in the Book of Revelation: 6, 7, 12, 144, and 1000. Seven is a divine number symbolizing perfection, while 6 symbolizes evil since it falls one short of perfection. Twelve, on the other hand, symbolizes the people of God, for example, the 12 tribes of Israel (the OT people of God) and the 12 apostles (the NT people of God). One hundred and forty-four is 12 x 12, or the number for God’s people squared. One thousand has the idea of completion. For example, when John says that Christ reigns for 1000 years, Christ may literally reign for 1000 years; or it may be that he means that Christ will reign until His reign is consummated. (It could mean both.) The number 144,000 (the special people of God in Revelation) may refer to 12 x 12 x 1000, that is, the complete people of God. The numbers 12 and 1000 will play especially large roles in John’s description of the New Jerusalem.
DESCRIPTION OF THE NEW JERUSALEM (Rev. 21:1-22:5)
What Will Not Be in the New Jerusalem
According to Rev. 21:4 what will not be present in the New Jerusalem?
Why does John list these first? Because they play such a dominant role in life. John wants to reassure us that these will not be present in the New Jerusalem before he informs us of what will be there.
It is interesting to note that the older we get the more we appreciate what John is saying here. Young people have a much different and unrealistic view of life than older people do. Older people appreciate the fact that sorrow is woven integrally into the fabric of life. To understand this, just look at the 2 pietas which Michelangelo sculpted, one in his 20's and the second towards the end of his life. The first pieta is that of a young man who has not been touched by sorrow. Mary seems to be about 20 years old without a wrinkle on her. Jesus is totally at peace as He lies dead on Mary's lap. It is a work of great beauty. The second pieta sculpted towards the end of Michelangelo's life has Mary an old woman, looking really haggard. Jesus' body is concorted from pain. Did the event of the cross change? No. Michelangelo's understanding of life and its sorrow changed. John is an old man when he writes Revelation. He has seen the church persecuted and several Christians put to death. He understands this element in life. He wants to assure us though that it has absolutely no place in the new age.
A Description of the Exterior
According to Rev. 21:11 the brilliance of the city was like that of a very costly stone. What stone does John compare the city to?
A lot of the stones mentioned in Rev. 21 are unknown to us today by these names. Most think that this stone resembles our diamond. Later you will see that light comes from within the city, not outside it. As a result, this city looks like a radiant diamond, shining from the inside out.
According to v. 12 how many gates are in the city wall?
How many angels stand at these gates (v.12)? Why do you think these angels are standing at the gates?
Different interpretations have been offered regarding the purpose of the gates and the angels at the gates. The angels may serve purely in a ceremonial capacity. The angels may keep out the abominable persons and liars mentioned later in the chapter. Most likely though the angels and the gates point to the security of the city. The Christians of John's day were suffering terrible persecution at the hands of the Romans. Safety was one thing they were not experiencing on earth. John tells them though that there was no need to fear. A place was waiting for them in which there would be no need to fear; God was going to take complete care of them in the New Jerusalem.
According to v. 12 what is written on the gates? Why do you think these names are written on the gates?
According to v. 14 how many foundation stones are there and what is written on the foundation stones? Why do you think these names are written on the foundation stones?
According to Paul (Eph. 2:20) the apostles are the foundation of the church. By this he means that everything we know about Jesus comes from the apostles. We base our faith upon what the apostles have told us about Jesus.
In vv. 15-17 an angel measures the city. What is the length of the city wall (not in miles but in stadia)? What is the breadth and height of the city wall (in units of stadia, not miles)? What do the #'s 12 and 1000 help us understand about the city?
What kind of shape does the city have according to these measurements--a square, a rectangle, a circle, a cube?
The ancients considered this shape to be a symbol of perfection. By describing this New Jerusalem as this shape, John is claiming that the New Jerusalem is perfect.
According to v. 17 how wide is the city wall (in cubits, not feet)? According to these numbers how secure should God's people feel living in this city?
The ancient city of Babylon was considered one of the safest cities in the ancient world. Its gates were so thick that 2-3 chariots could race on top of the city wall. In fact the Babylonians thought their city was impregnable because of these walls. The Persians were able to conquer the city by damming up the river which flowed through the city and then entering the city beneath the city wall. The wall of the New Jerusalem is so thick that at least 25 chariots could race on top of it. It is truly impregnable.
According to vv. 19-20 how many stones made up the foundation of the city?
|3||Chalcedony (greenish)||9||Topaz (yellowish)|
|5||Sardonyx (reddish)||11||Jacinth (purplish)|
|6||Sardius (reddish)||12||Amethyst (purplish)|
Again, these stones by these names are unknown to us; however, from what we can tell, these stones were highly valuable in John's day. He is inferring that this city is overflowing with God's abundant riches.
The impression you get is that the city is beautiful beyond description. When it is all said and done, you must remember that John is limited to using human words to describe something divine. To me the closest thing I can get to describing this is by referring to the scene in Jurassic Park in which the scientists see the dinosaurs for the first time. They have been talking about the dinosaurs, but nothing prepared them for what they were about to see. When Dr. Grant sees the various herds of dinosaurs, his knees buckle. He is so awestruck that he can't even look at them. It is like he is completely overwhelmed by what he has just seen. In the same way it may take us the first million years just to get over what God has prepared for us--at the cost of the death of Jesus.
According to v. 21 how many gates are there to the city and what are the gates made of?
According to v. 22 is there a temple in the New Jerusalem? Why or why not?
In v. 23 why does the city not have need of a sun or moon?
In v. 24 what shall walk in the light of the city?
It's interesting to note that v. 24 can be interpreted "they shall walk in its light." In other words, it is as if the holy city is this huge container and God's glory is like a sea filling up the container. It is as if we are going to be submerged in God's glory as we walk in God's new city. Everywhere we go God will bathe us with the sunlight of His glory.
Note also that John does not say that the nation (sg.) will walk in its light but that the nations (pl.) will walk in its light. He says the nations will bring their honor and glory into the holy city. It is the idea of the pagentry the various kinds of races--black, yellow, white, brown--will bring into the holy city.
Moreover, John says that the kings will bring their glory into the city. By all this John is meaning that there is going to be great diversity as the procession of the nations enter into the holy city. Can you imagine how boring it would be if a parade was made up of only one kind of band or float. What makes the procession so wonderful is the diversity of the bands, floats, etc. The nearest thing we have to this is the Olympic procession in which the representatives from the different nations parade in front of the grandstands. God is glorified not in that just a bunch of lily-white folks claim Him to be God but in all nations acknowledging His lordship.
According to v. 25 when will we have access to God's new city?
According to v. 27 who will not be able to enter the city and who will be able to enter the city?
Are these literal descriptions of the New Jerusalem? I don't know. I do know though that Jesus is preparing for us a literal place to live (John 14:1-3). Whatever this new city is literally like, the symbols of Rev. 21-22 inform us that it is going to be spectacular, awesome.
A Description of the Interior
John next describes the interior of the city. According to 22:1 what flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb?
According to 22:2 what lives on both sides of the river?
David Driver states that this tree of life resembles the aspen tree. When you see a grove of aspens in Colorado, you may be looking at just one tree. The Aspen puts out a massive root system from which spring numerous trunks. Since the numerous trunks are from one root system, they all form one tree. David says that one root system runs 500 miles.
What does the tree of life produce, how often does it produce it, and what are its leaves used for (22:2)?
According to v. 3 what shall no longer exist in the new Jerusalem? What does this refer to?
What other place on earth resembled the interior of the New Jerusalem?
By describing the interior of the new city this way, John is telling us that at long last God's original purpose for mankind is being fulfilled. We started out in a garden (Eden) and we end up in a garden. Unlike many of us, God sees His goals and His purpose through.
This holy city comes down from heaven and dwells upon the earth. We see heaven and earth becoming one in this new Jerusalem. This city is not all there is to the universe; however, it is the center of the new universe. In the church of the middle ages churchmen taught that the sun, moon, etc. all revolved around the earth because the earth was so important. When Copernicus proved that the rest of the universe did NOT revolve around the world, people started claiming that the earth was NOT the center of the universe. Revelation 21 and 22 though teach us that the earth and the human race are the focal points of the universe NOT because the rest of the physical universe revolves around it BUT because God's hand has been upon the earth and its inhabitants. God and not the sun, etc. has given significance to the race of Adam.
THE GOAL OF HISTORY—SEEING THE FACE OF GOD (Rev. 22:4)
Verse 4 informs us of the goal and conclusion of human history as we know it? According to v. 4 what shall we see with the coming of the new Jerusalem?
Our Catholic brothers take this very seriously. They believe that only the baptized can see the face of God since baptism removes Adam's sin. In order to make sure that these babies see the face of God, Catholics will go behind abortion clinics and baptize the aborted fetuses. Whereas I disagree with their view on this matter, I am impressed with their heart-felt dedication to these innocents.
According to C. S. Lewis this concludes human history as we know it. This does not mean though that it is all said and done, that we live in a state of permanent suspension in the air. According to Eph. 2:7 what is God going to show us in the future?
It is not that God hits us just one time with one great big wave of grace. The Greek text gives the impression that God's grace comes to us in successive waves. It's like standing on the beach with wave after wave coming upon you. Although the waves may differ from time to time and although some hit you with greater force than other waves, the waves keep on coming. In the same way we may experience God's grace in different ways in the future age; however, His grace will come like the waves of the sea, wave after wave after wave after wave, etc.
C. S. Lewis puts it this way: everything we have experienced in this life is merely the title page of the story that is now about to unfold, a story in which every chapter is better than the one before it. It is a story in which they can truthfully say, "And they all lived happily ever after."