The Spiritual Architecture of the New Jerusalem (Revelation Sermon 42 of 49)
April 08, 2018 | Andrew Davis
We come to the description of the New Jerusalem, with words that boggle the mind and stretch the imagination. How do you describe indescribable, inexpressible wonders? The Apostle Paul was caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, where he heard inexpressible things that man is not permitted to talk about. He was forbidden to write anything about what he saw there. The Apostle John, on the other hand, had a vision through the Spirit which he was told to write down and make known. John’s vision was of the New Jerusalem, the coming city, with buildings — giving us a spiritual architectural image.
All of my adult life, I have enjoyed excellent architecture. I am an architect wanna-be. I was a mechanical engineer — boring, though needed and can get a job. Architecture, on the other hand, is an amazing combination of science and art, function and form — crafting buildings with a combination of engineering skill, for safety, and artistic beauty, to be aesthetically pleasing, designed to draw and transport in an artistic way.
The science of architecture includes the materials and the strength of structural members, like the I-beam. It may be boring to most of us, but very essential, something for which we are all thankful even if we know little about them. The science ensures that the building will stand firm through all weather and conditions. In Japan and other locations, architecture must take into account seismic shifts and other environmental factors.
The artistry of architecture has undergone many shifts over the centuries with different schools of architecture, different artistic approaches to building design — classical, baroque, colonial, Victorian, gothic, renaissance, Romanesque, oriental. Our church building is in the style called Greek Revival — it looks like a Greek temple with the pillars out front.
I have seen some amazing buildings around the world. Prague is a beautiful city with many awe-inspiring buildings. I love the St. Louis Arch. It was built in the 1960s to commemorate St. Louis as the Gateway to the West. It is truly a magnificent piece of architecture, soaring hundreds of feet above the ground, made with steel and a glistening aspect. It is quite elegant and beautiful. The Capitol building in Washington DC was finished during the American Civil War. The Eiffel Tower, which I saw last summer for the first time, was considered a monstrosity when it first went up, but now it is a landmark and an icon of the Paris skyline. In London, I have seen Big Ben, the Parliament, and many other iconic buildings. I have been to the spectacular Osaka Castle in Japan, and the Forbidden City in Beijing.
I have never visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, which integrated the mountain stream and the woods and the rocks with the house in an amazing and new way. Many of you have toured the Biltmore mansion in Asheville. It seems odd to have a beautiful French château in the Black Mountains of North Carolina — an example of elegance, ostentation, expanse.
On the other hand, on various mission trips in countries that had been behind the Iron Curtain — Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic — I have seen buildings that were built during the Cold War era that seemed to be ugly by design. They have no special form, just structures built of cinder block. I felt that they could suck one’s life out through the eyes to behold them, and much more so for one who had to reside or work in such ugliness.
The Radiant Glory of the Holy City (v. 9-11)
In Revelation 21, God gives John the task of describing what it will be like for all of us from every tribe and language and people and nation to live together. The image here is architectural, a spiritual structure that stretches human language and imagination. In the end, we merely say we can hardly imagine what that radiant city will be like, perfect in form, perfect in function. This is a city whose architect and builder is God, as we are told in the book of Hebrews.
Revelation 21:9-11 tells of the radiant glory of the city: “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.”
The Angelic Guide
The account begins with an angelic guide, as often happens in the book of Revelation. This angel is identified as one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues. The backdrop of this radiant, spectacularly beautiful account is human wickedness and rebellion and sin that has been judged by the overwhelming wrath of God. We have seen His wrath throughout Revelation, like the seven bowls of the seven last plagues, and in the verse immediately before this one, Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur, this is the second death.”God’s wrath is kindled because of the wickedness of the human race.
There is a strong parallel between this and the earlier description of the great whore of Babylon. As we looked ahead when we studied Revelation 17, now we will look backward for the comparison, at the nearly identical phrasing. Revelation 17:1 says, “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters.’” The prostitute is described in Revelation 17 and 18. Contrast that with Revelation 21:9: “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.’ The angel will show us the bride’s glory. The parallel is clearly intentional, with identical language — the bride of Christ is the direct opposite of the great whore of Babylon, dressed in spectacular, shimmering, gaudy jewelry, and luxurious clothing, with an outward seductive allure. She is drunk with the wine of immorality and with the blood of the saints. She is a creature of pleasure and a vicious violence against the people of God. The bride of Christ, in contrast, is depicted as radiant with a different kind of sparkle and glory. The light of the glory of God is shining in her. It is the difference between perhaps a rhinestone and a perfect diamond.
Yet every member of the body of Christ has been rescued out of the great whore of Babylon. Every one of us was being sucked into the whirlpool of the world system of wickedness and sin. We were drawn down by it, until the sovereign grace of God reached down and rescued us out of it. We have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought over into the kingdom of the beloved Son. That is how we became part of the bride of Christ. There, but for the grace of God, go I, as we look at the great whore of Babylon. We were part of that system.
The symbolic bride language, the city that is a bride, generates an amazing combination of images. The bride language flows from the Old Testament image of Israel as the bride of Yahweh, depicted in many places. Sometimes the people of God were depicted as God’s Son, whom he carries, and in other place, as his bride, whom he marries, especially in the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, this image is perfected in Ephesians 5:25, 31-32, where Paul commands Christian husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. … ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.” We have the fulfillment of that image in Revelation, the new Jerusalem descending from God, out of heaven, like a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband, prepared for the wedding celebration and the eternal marriage. The Triune God — Father, Son and Spirit — has been preparing her in the heavenly realms for this final display of her glory.
A Great and High Mountain
John is carried away by the Spirit to a mountain, great and high. Whereas the angel carries John away in Revelation 17 to a low-lying plain, where he can see the great whore of Babylon, here he is carried to an elevated lofty perch where he can look at her. It is not implied that the New Jerusalem is built on a mountain, but rather, that John is observing from this visionary mountain.
“The Holy City”
Jerusalem is called the holy city. What an incredible expression. The word holy means separate unto God, as His special possession, free from all darkness. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. So she has been perfectly separated from all wickedness and all darkness, and she is radiant with God’s glory. She is holy, separated unto God as His special possession.
The beauty of this image is that throughout history, cities have been the seat of great wickedness. The Tower of Babel shows the beginning of that link between human rebellion and sin and urban wickedness, crime and ugliness. The people of Babel said, “Come, let us build a tower that will reach up to heaven, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the earth.” It is a direct affront to the lofty glory of God, like Satan who says in Isaiah 14, “I will ascend, I will make myself like the most high. I will sit on the throne and I will rule over all things.” The people of Babel were trying to do the same thing with this tower made of brick, thoroughly baked and covered with pitch. They started to build this lofty tower in direct defiance of the God of the universe.
Human cities have continued, from that spirit of Babylon, to be cesspools of human wickedness and rebellion and pride, technology, achievement, wealth, arrogance. Think about “the city that never sleeps”, and how “nothing good happens after midnight”. Think about the red light district or back alley drug deals, a lurking stalking sleepless malice, the smell of human filth, the danger of human violence. It is reasonable to associate these things with cities. In certain places, in certain cities, you will be warned to not go out at night unaccompanied. Augustine called this the City of Man, in all of its rebellion and ugliness and wickedness.
However, there is nothing intrinsic to cities to make them wicked. Human sinfulness is responsible for that. But we will be forever in a radiant, spectacularly beautiful city. How marvelous is the holy city Jerusalem. In Isaiah 1, she was called a harlot, and defiled. She who was once a faithful city has become a harlot. Now, she is radiant and holy and beautiful. That is the power of the cleansing and atoning work of Jesus Christ. He gave himself for his bride to make her the holy city, and she is shining with the glory.
Glory = Radiant Display of God’s Perfections
Revelation 21:11 says, “It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” This city is shining, radiantly bright. There is a spiritual glow to it. That is the essence of the holiness of God and the beauty of God.
When God created the heavens and the earth, he said in Genesis 1:3, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’…,” Light is a complex physical phenomenon that scientists have been studying throughout the history of human science. Isaac Newton set up a prism and discovered the spectrum and white light, and the science of optics was born. Isaac Newton was the father of three Sciences. Albert Einstein studied what light is made of. Is it a particle? Is it a wave? The quantum theory of physics came about at the beginning of last century. People have been studying light for a long time, but we will see light forever and ever. This city will be radiantly glowing with the light of the glory of God.
It is marvelous that God created light before He created light-bearers, creatures that give off light. I once had a discussion with an atheist, a visiting scholar at Duke. We were having Bible studies, and he informed me that there was a flaw in the book of Genesis. He pointed out that there was light, but no sun, moon and stars until the fourth day. He looked at me as though it were a mic drop, a gotcha moment. I asked if there were laboratories at Duke, which he confirmed. He admitted, when I asked, that some were in the basement, and that the basement had no windows, but the labs were not in total darkness because there were lights in the room. I asked, “How is it that humans can do light without the sun, the moon and the stars, but God, in your opinion, cannot?”
God does light very well. He will do light beautifully forever. He does not need the sun, the moon and the stars. He says, “Let there be light!” and there is light. This New Jerusalem shines, it glows with the light of the glory of God. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the radiance of God’s glory. All of the light that we see, that is God, it comes to us through Christ. Christ shines the glory of God to us, so this New Jerusalem will shine with the glory of God administered to us through Jesus Christ.
We should not imagine that the brilliance of this light will be blinding. It will display the perfection of sight and the perfection of light. Seeing Christ as he really is will be the clearest we have ever seen anything, and it will be the most pleasing seeing we can possibly imagine. It will bring us a perfect pleasure to see that light. In this world, brilliant light can be painful, actually destructive, but in that world, there will be no more pain. Rather, the radiant beauty of the new universe and the New Jerusalem will be perfect pleasure, the most pleasing sight, the most beautiful sight we can ever imagine.
This radiant glory illuminates everything in the New Jerusalem. The materials of the city are all translucent or transparent to shine the light through, so everything shimmers and glows and radiates with the light of God. All the precious stones in the foundation of the wall would be totally dark, were it not for the glory of God. They would have no light to show themselves. The streets of gold, which are mysteriously called transparent as glass, would be black and dead, were it not for the glory of God. Though these things are not mentioned in Revelation 21 or 22, except the Tree of Life, any growing thing that will flourish in the new earth — flowers, plants water, rivers, lakes, ponds — will shimmer with the light of the glory of God, where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The lights of that place all around us will flow into our perfected eyesight. We will be in resurrection bodies and have resurrection eyes, and we will see eternal glory.
Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be filled with light.” There is no “if” here — our eyes will be good, and therefore our whole body will be filled with the light of the glory of God. It says in Matthew 13:43, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
Like a Clear Jasper Stone
This New Jerusalem will be like a clear jasper stone. The glory of the New Jerusalem is said to be precious, valuable, like a precious gem, so it is likened to a jasper, clear as crystal. Jasper is a form of quartz, usually appearing in a reddish color, often with streaks or spots that make it interesting, appealing, fascinating. It is formed by mineral-rich volcanic sediments coagulating in unpredictable patterns.
Like many physical aspects of John’s description, this is a different kind of jasper, since it is perfectly clear as crystal. We could liken it more to a diamond with no inclusions, a perfectly radiant diamond, with no flaws. Despite the fact that the new Jerusalem is made up of redeemed sinners, the purification of the bride by the blood of Christ is so complete, the radiance of the glory of God will be undimmed by any spot or blemish in us but will shine with the glory of God.
The Wall and Gates and the Holy City (v. 12-14)
Revelation 21:12-14 details the wall and the gates of the city: “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.”
Ancient cities had walls for protection. At night, the gates would be shut to keep wild animals and wicked people out, brigands, marauders, bandits, and especially invading armies. If there were an invading army, the safest place for the populace would be inside the walled fortress. It is a picture of absolute safety, before gun powder and artillery made such fortresses obsolete in the 15th century. Behind the mighty high wall of stone was the safest place to be to face an enemy or any threat. This wall is a surprising feature of the New Jerusalem, because it seems unnecessary. All the enemies of the city will have been thrown into the Lake of Fire, from which there can be no escape.
We are told later that the gates of this city will never close. Revelation 21:25 says, “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.” The gates are always open, just as Isaiah 60:11 predicted about the future glory of Zion: “Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations — their kings led in triumphal procession.” This wall is said to be great and high, a massive barrier, impenetrable. Many commentators believe that the entire layout is symbolic and spiritual, not literal. They struggle with the interpretation, wanting it to be one or the other, literal or symbolic. Why could it not be both? They point out that the wall is impossibly short compared to the height of the city, which is impressive, 12,000 stadia or 1400 miles up. The wall is measured at 144 cubits — whether that is the thickness or the height, I do not know. I drew it proportionally — the wall is practically invisible compared to the city.
The wall is symbolic in that it depicts being outside and entering; and ultimately, Jesus is the doorway for the sheep. We must enter the Kingdom of God — no one is born into it — and only by Christ can we enter this city, being born again by repentance and faith in Christ.
Revelation 21:12-13 says, “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 gate of the city is the way by which one enters and leaves. It is the place where official business was transacted in that ancient near eastern setting. People went to the city gates to be honored to do business.
Adam sinned on behalf of all of us in the Garden of Eden when he ate from the forbidden tree. He and Eve were evicted from the garden. So that he would not reach out his hand and take from the Tree of Life and live forever, God put an angel, a cherubim, with a flaming sword flashing back and forth, to guard the way to the Tree of Life. But now, Christians have been given the right to enter and to eat from the tree. Revelation 22:14-15 says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Outside are the wicked; inside are the redeemed who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
I want to appeal to those of you who know you are on the outside, not a Christian, you have never come to faith in Christ: the doorway is open for you. All you need to do is repent and believe, trust in Christ, and you will enter now by faith spiritually and later physically. Trust in Jesus; repent of your wickedness, of the ways you have violated God’s laws. When you trust in Christ, His blood will cleanse you from wickedness, and you will have the right to eat from the tree and live forever. Jesus is the gate for his sheep. He said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
In John’s vision, there is not only one gate, but twelve — three in the east, three in the north, three in the south, and three in the west. Each gate is labeled with one of the sons of Jacob, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. This shows a continuity of God’s covenant work. God made a promise to Abraham that through his offspring, all peoples on earth would be blessed. Abraham is called therefore the father of many nations. We who have repented and believed in Jesus, though we are from many different ethnic backgrounds, are counted sons and daughters of Abraham through faith in Christ. Galatians 3:7 says, “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.” These names honor the grace shown to Israel and through them, grace shown to us — sinners saved by grace.
At MIT, where I was an engineering student, there is a courtyard called Killian Court, a series of buildings built in 1915, dedicated and inscribed with the names of some of the great figures of science up to that point. They polled the faculty and came up with the key names that would be in really big font, and then many other names in smaller font. MIT students walk under those names day after day to get to their classes. The big font names include Aristotle, Newton, Lavoisier, Franklin, Pasteur, Faraday, Archimedes, Darwin, Copernicus, and da Vinci. That what passed for scientific greatness in 1915. Their names are there as an honor for their accomplishments; by contrast, the names of the patriarchs, the sons of Jacob, are on the gates because they were sinners saved by grace.
Why the points of the compass? East, north, south, west — three on each side times four is twelve. Until very recently, I had no thought that it was anything but random. We are not looking for any kind of symbolic configuration. But the book of Revelation is continually working in my brain. I wake up in the morning thinking about it. Jesus said in Matthew 8:11, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” The four points of the compass indicate that this gospel has spread to the ends of the earth, and people have come from all over the world to enter this new Jerusalem.
The Foundation of the Wall
Verse 14 says, “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” This gives a feeling of massive stability. It is not moving; there is no concern for earthquakes or plate tectonics; it is eternal and permanent. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the household of God is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The Old Testament is represented by the twelve descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the New Testament believers are represented by the twelve Apostles. That shows continuity of the people of God, all together. It also shows that the Apostles’ witness to the life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus is the basis on which the rest of us are saved. They were eyewitnesses of his glory. They wrote Matthew and Mark and Luke and John. They wrote down what they saw with their eyes and handled with their hands and heard with their ears. Because they wrote it down, our faith is based on something that is not moving but rather on historical truths that can never be shaken.
The Dimensions of the Holy City (v. 15-17)
The Angel Did the Measuring
The dimensions of the holy city are described in Revelation 21:15-17: “The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man's measurement, which the angel was using.” The angel measures, similar to the elaborate measurements that the angel conducts in Ezekiel 40 and 41, in which the angel takes a rod and measures the walls, the gates, the porticos, the alcoves, and the courtyards, everything to do with the visionary temple in Ezekiel 40-4
This angel has a rod of gold to take these measurements. He measures the entire city, especially its gates and its walls. This act of measurement is scientific and mathematic, but it gives a sense of the reality, the physicality, of this place. It also gives a sense of its limitations, its boundaries. We will be radiantly glorious in our resurrection bodies, but we will not be gods and goddesses. There is a limit to us. We are creatures, and even in our perfected states, we will have limits surrounding our eternal lives, living within boundaries that we are assigned by God. The boundary lines have fallen for us in pleasant places, Psalm 16 says. There is a limit, a finiteness, and a reality, fixed by the purpose of God.
The Layout and Dimensions of the City
We see a little bit of the layout of the city here. Urban planning is a major science. When leaders change or extend a city, they turn to civil engineers and urban planners who know how to lay out a city. My hometown of Boston was very poorly laid out. Some say that the roads are paved cow paths or deer paths. I do not think there is a single perpendicular intersection in the Back Bay section, at least where I lived. There is somewhat of a grid for a while and then it becomes jumbled. Washington DC, in contrast, was laid out scientifically and mathematically according to President Washington’s instructions for a capital city. He contracted a Frenchman named Pierre Charles L'Enfant in 1791, who made the Mall the center of its egalitarian vision of human government.
This eternal city, the new Jerusalem, the capital city, has been very well planned by the ultimate urban planner, the ultimate architect, God. We do not know much about the streets, but there is one wide main street, going right down the center of the city.
The dimensions are mind-boggling. The city is laid out as a perfect square in its footprint, but it is also massive in scope. No city in human history comes close. It is 12,000 stadia on a side. A stadion, singular, is about 607 feet, or two football fields. 12,000 stadia is just shy of 1400 miles on a side for a city. I superimposed this over the United States. If I placed a corner here in the Triangle, it would extend to Northern Canada, so to keep it all in the United States, I put one terminus at Orlando, Florida. 1400 miles west ends around El Paso, Texas. 1400 miles straight up from El Paso is the Canadian border around Montana or North Dakota. 1400 miles east to finish the square lands in a small place in Canada north of Ottawa, called Val-d’Or, Quebec.
The footprint would take up effectively half of the Eastern Continental United States — one city. That is massive. Even more amazing, John tells us, is that it is a perfect cube. Length, width, and height are 1400 miles. Some people think that it is patterned after the Holy of Holies. 1 King 6:20 details the construction of the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was, where the blood of the sacrifice was placed: “The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high. He overlaid the inside with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar.”
The height is incomprehensible. The International Space Station orbits the Earth 150 miles above the surface of the earth. This city rises about ten times higher than that, way out into outer space. At ten feet per floor, a skyscraper would be 700,000 stories. An elevator taking you to the top floor would take a long time. Imagine the buttons. The fastest elevator in the world is in Shanghai, traveling at 40 miles an hour, borderline uncomfortable. Imagine traveling 1400 miles at 40 miles an hour. Driving at that speed from Orlando to El Paso would take 35-hours. My son Calvin commented, “They’d better have some good in elevator entertainment!
Henry Morris, in his book Revelation Record, presented a different possibility: the new bodies of the resurrected saints will be like those of angels, no longer limited by gravitational or electromagnetic forces. It will be as easy for the inhabitants to travel vertically as horizontally in the New Jerusalem. Consequently, the streets of the city may well include vertical passageways as well as horizontal avenues, and the city blocks might actually be more like city cubes.
How do you take this both literally and figuratively, or spiritually? John McArthur said, “Human language is inadequate to fully describe the unimaginable magnificence of the believers’ indescribable eternal home. Unwilling to take the language of Scripture at face value, many seek for some hidden meaning behind John’s descriptions. But if the words do not mean what they say, who has the authority to say what they do mean? Abandoning the literal meaning of the text only leads to groundless, futile speculation. The truth about the heavenly city is more than is described, but it is not less and not different from what is described.” [Commentary on Revelation 12-22, p. 280] Just because the numbers are symbolic does not mean that they are not also literal. 12,000 is a symbolic number, twelve times ten cubed. The wall, 144 cubits, is twelve squared. God can do both literal and symbolic together.
The Building Materials of the Holy City (v. 18-21)
Precious Translucent Building Materials
The building materials of the city depict the radiant glory of the people of God. Revelation 21:18-21 says, “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. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 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.”
Everything here, all this precious valuable material, has as its essence translucence or transparency. It is all about the glory of God in us. With transparency everywhere, there will be no privacy in the city, but we will not need it, not having the same bodily needs we have now. Marriage will have been fulfilled by then and we will be like the angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. We will have no dark secrets to hide from anybody, so we will live transparent lives, shining with the glory of God.
The preciousness and variety of these building materials speak to the amoral cultural diversity of the people of God. We come from every tribe, language, people and nation. We look different from each other and we have different creative answers to problems like architecture, food and clothing. This beautiful amoral diversity — rescuing the word diversity back from the way the pagans have grabbed it — will shine in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The visible spectrum is beautiful — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Each of these colors is represented in these precious stones with each of those colors. Some time ago, I preached a sermon entitled, The Cross: A Prism for God’s Glory, Like Isaac Newton’s experiments with white light. In the same way, all of the glory of God is visible in the cross. Every individual attribute of God is represented: justice, wrath, patience, love, power. We see the same thing in the Church of Jesus Christ. We will shine radiantly, but differently from one another, together making up the beauty of the New Jerusalem.
Finally, we consider the astonishing pearly gates. Pearl is made of one of the most precious substances in the ancient world. It results from some particulate, like a grain of sand, getting inside an oyster. The oyster protects itself by covering it, layer by layer, with a shimmering hard substance called conchiolin, like the rings of a tree. It testifies to the suffering that has gone into building the Kingdom of God.
First and foremost, Jesus suffered, but Paul said in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions…” The blood of martyrs is seed for the church. There have been all kinds of labor and suffering that have gone into building the place. Every time we walk by those massive pearly gates, we will be reminded of the beauty that came from suffering.
Meditate on Heaven and Share the Gospel
First, meditate on Heaven in your own way. Friday morning, I went with my daughter, Daphne to Hillsborough to get some coffee and hot chocolate. Then we went for a walk in this reserve called Ayr Mount, a beautiful place with a pond and a river and some woods. It was a shining shimmering morning. We walked down a path called the Poets’ Walk. I was thinking about the book of Revelation, which I do all the time, and we came to a clearing, a field. The sunlight was shining, so I stood by Daphne’s side, held her hand to pray. We closed our eyes and could see the sunlight through our eyelids. I prayed about the New Jerusalem, when Daphne tapped me. There was a woman standing there with a dog watching us. I do not know how long she was there because we had been praying for a while. It was an awkward moment. But she said, “You looked so prayerful. I didn't want to disturb you.”
Could we have our hearts and our souls filled with joy and hope at where we are going? Could that drive out sin? Could it drive out depression? Could it drive out worldly sadness and discouragement? Could it be a light that attracts people who are right now on the outside, who do not have hope, who do not have forgiveness? Could that attract people to Christ, if we would be more filled with a joy and inner light of this beautiful place to which we are going?
Be active as witnesses. Share the gospel. The workplace may be one of the best places to do evangelism in America. People get to know you and see the way you live. It is a good place to do some gradual witnessing.
Lord, thank you for the time we have had to walk through these verses, to look line by line at each of the aspects of this New Jerusalem. We may never have this opportunity again. Father, I pray that you would please strengthen our imagination, strengthen our sense and our faith, so that we may shine with the glory of hope, so that people who are without hope and without God in the world may see something different in us and ask us to give a reason for the hope that we have. In Jesus’ name. Amen.