“Behold, the New Jerusalem!” (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 26, 2019

“Behold, the New Jerusalem!” (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27)

This Memorial Day weekend is kind of the unofficial start of the summer vacation season. If you’re like me, I always looked forward to summer vacation. Maybe go up north, get away from the heat and the stress, relax by a lake, enjoy life. And it’s nice to know some things about your vacation destination–where you’re going, the place. This gives you something to look forward to: the beauty, the scenery, the pleasant temperatures, enjoyable activities, time to relax and unwind with people you know and love. And even though you’re not there yet, just knowing that you are going and knowing what you have to look forward to–this can put a spring in your step and a smile on your face. It lifts your spirits.

Well, today I want to lift your spirits by lifting your sights. I want to lift your sights to a place where you will be going one day. It’s the new Jerusalem, a place we were introduced to a little bit last week, but today we’ll get to see more of it. St. John will show us around the holy city. We’ll get to see the wall, the gates, the foundations–the layout of the city. We’ll see what’s there–and what’s not there. And even though we’re not there yet, just knowing that we will be there, and to have some idea of what to expect–this will lift our spirits, in the midst of all the tribulation of this world. So let’s take a look now, shall we? “Behold, the New Jerusalem!”

Last week we started to hear about the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21. Today we pick it up in verse 9: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’” What a stark contrast we see here! First we see an angel who has “seven bowls full of the seven last plagues,” ready to be poured out upon the earth. What could be more gloom-and-doomy than that? And then this same angel wants to show us the heavenly “Bride,” a way to refer to Christ’s bride, the Church, adorned in beauty and splendor! This old world is going to hell in a handbasket, but we have a heavenly hope to look forward to! The angel lifts John’s sights from the destruction coming on the earth to the glory coming for God’s people.

“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” The angel takes John to a high vantage point, where he sees the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God.” We heard that same phrase last week, didn’t we? “Coming down out of heaven from God.” Because when you’re talking about salvation and eternal life, the direction is always from God to us. You and I cannot rise up to God; he must come down to us.

The holy city comes down, “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” The new Jerusalem is glorious! Radiant, jewel-like, brilliant. Full of color and light, every aspect, every angle, revealing new glories. Beautiful gems, precious stones. In the Old Testament, the high priest wore such stones on his vestments, showing forth the beauty of holiness. In the new Jerusalem, the whole city will be adorned with fine gems.

And there’s more: “It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed.” Just as in old Jerusalem the high priest wore shoulder pieces set with precious stones, engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, so in the new Jerusalem the twelve gates of the wall will be inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes. Judah, Reuben, Simeon, Benjamin–all the faithful from God’s Old Testament church will be dwelling in the presence of the Lord.

“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Twelve gates, twelve foundations. Twelve sons of Israel, twelve apostles of the Lamb. Old Testament church, New Testament church, all present and accounted for. And these twelve apostles of the Lamb–Peter, James, John, and the rest–these apostles of Christ are foundational for the church. They were appointed to be the first to preach the saving gospel, and they have laid it down for all time, in the pages of the New Testament.

So the wall of the city has twelve gates and twelve foundations–both abundant entrance and a solid foundation. But what about this wall? A big, beautiful wall, to coin a phrase. Well, in the ancient Near East, a walled city was a good thing. The wall provided protection from enemies. Now in the new Jerusalem, there will be no more enemies to attack. And maybe that’s the point. A wall symbolizes safety and security. And there is no more safe and secure place to be than in this holy city, surrounded by the might and strength of God himself.

The new Jerusalem will be as radiant as a jewel, with gates of pearl and street of gold. But don’t think of this city as some sort of gleaming ghost town, devoid of life, sterile and deserted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, this city will be teeming with life. The new Jerusalem will be full of joy, filled with people and God and nature all living in joyous harmony. But as we behold the new Jerusalem, what we first see is what John has just now shown us: the wall, the gates, the foundations, all gleaming in beauty and glorious in strength.

What we notice next is what we don’t see, all the things that are not present in the holy city. Starting with this: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” That’s odd, isn’t it, a Jerusalem without a temple? But in the new Jerusalem, what the temple stood for in the old city is no longer needed. No longer will there have to be a specifically located place where God is present for his people. Because in the new Jerusalem, the whole city will be that place! There won’t be any part there that isn’t the dwelling place of God with man! The whole city, every nook and cranny–everywhere you turn, God will be there, present to bless. The only temple “is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” God directly present with man, no intermediate place needed. And we will see God face to face.

Do you have any idea how wonderful this will be? Can you imagine it? Our little minds right now have a hard time trying to fathom this reality that awaits us. We are told enough to know that it will be far better than anything else we have experienced. All our brothers and sisters in the faith–from Abraham to Moses to David, from John to Peter to Paul, Mary the mother of our Lord and Mary Magdalene, Luther and Walther, your sainted grandmother, your departed spouse–the whole church of all times and places, finally together in one place for all eternity! Wow! And an even bigger wow: We will be with God, restored to perfect fellowship, loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, our hearts no longer burdened with the old sinful nature. And we will behold our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, now risen and exalted. We will see his face; we will hear his voice.

The whole city will be the dwelling place of God with man. No temple needed. What else will not be there? Night. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.” No night means no danger: no threat of break-ins, no need to lock the doors or close the gates. A city that never sleeps, yet is never tired. A city full of light, where we will see clearly to walk. “The glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

No temple, no night. And one other thing that will not be present, that will not be allowed in: There will be nothing unclean. And this should give us pause. For “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false.” Nothing unclean? Hey, I might be in trouble! I’ve got this unclean heart, full of unclean thoughts and desires. I’ve got unclean hands: I’ve done things I ought not have done. I have unclean lips: I have spoken thoughtless words, unkind words, hurtful words. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips!” Who will rescue me, that I may enter the holy city?

But here is the good news, my friends, and I’ve saved the best for last: Who can enter? “Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” And that’s us! You and I–our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life! For Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has cleansed us from our sins and put our names in his book. His book is signed in blood, the blood of the Lamb, by which we are cleansed. Take heart, friends, our names are written in that book. This is the basis of our hope; it is in the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his victorious resurrection from the dead–this is what we have working on our behalf. This is how our names get put into the Lamb’s book of life. Your name was written there when you were baptized. You’ve got a spot waiting for you in the holy city. Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He has taken you for his own, dear Christian. Jesus knows you by name, and he has put your name into his book of life. This will be your admission through the pearly gates into the holy city, the new Jerusalem.

Brothers and sisters, today we lift our sights to the city coming down from above. Behold, the new Jerusalem! This sight will put a spring in your step and a smile on your face. It truly lifts our spirits. The new Jerusalem: resplendent, glorious, bright and brilliant, full of life and light. Friends, the gates are open, your name is in the book, and your Lord will bring you home!

Published in: on May 25, 2019 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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