At the beginning of chapter21, we arrive at the watershed that divides time and eternity. In chapter20 we had the millennium, the post-millennial period, the general resurrection and judgment and the final destiny of the wicked. This twenty-first chapter follows as a continuation of the story. Having consigned the wicked to the lake of fire, described in a few brief words, the writer proceeds in this long passage to disclose the glorious abode and the beatific destiny of those whose names were written in the book of life. Our story therefore leads us beyond the confines of this world or this age of earthly affairs to view things in vastly different conditions from anything we know here. The heart of the church has ever beat in response to this revelation of its heavenly home, and without doubt the heart of the church is right. Moreover if there is any chronological relation between the different parts of this book, and there evidently Isaiah, then the progress of events brings us to scenes that lie beyond the resurrection and final judgment. Besides the chronological progress, the conditions are not earthly, — no sin, no sorrow, no pain, no death, no sea, no sun and moon. Where can such unearthly features find a place?
The first verse of the chapter gives us the key to what follows: "And I saw a new heaven (beside real heavens) and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea."
This reference to the passing of the old earth and heavens is sufficient to show that we are dealing with things beyond the resurrection and final judgment.
We find in II Peter, chapter3, a similar reference. The day of the Lord will come as a thief, the heavens shall pass away, the earth shall be burned up; nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Peter is quite probably referring to this twenty-first chapter of Revelation; however, they agree as to the facts, in placing the new heavens and earth after the first have "passed away," or been "burned up." Here is the evident antithesis between what we call "this world" and the "next world."
That there should be "no more sea," fitly expresses a condition of the heavenly life. The sea to the ancients was not so much expressive of majesty and grandeur, as something dangerous, destructive, restless. Isaiah says: "The wicked are like the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." But that heavenly life will be calm and peaceful, no storms to break, no uncanny dangers to lurk and threaten.
What cosmical changes are involved in the conception here presented, what siderial and systemic reconstruction, is a subject not involved in the interpretation of this book and on which it is wise not to speculate.
Vs2-5. John sees another vision of the holy city New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. There follows a description of conditions in that holy city. God shall dwell with his people, and wipe away all tears from their eyes; no death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain, for the former things have passed away. Here is a scene of supreme beauty and supreme blessedness.
V:6. "And he (God) said unto me, it is done." This expression "it is done" has been used elsewhere in Revelation, where something has been brought to culmination. The meaning is that God has wrought out his purpose in saving his people, and here is the consummation; here is the climax of the long process of redemption. He has brought them home, he dwells among them, they are his people and he is their God. "It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely." — fitting consummation of the story of redemption.
V:7. "He that overcometh shall inherit," not all things as the authorized version has it, but "these things," showing that this is the home and the blessedness of the overcomers, while the next verse puts in contrast the place and fate of those who have their part in the lake of fire, which is the second death.
Verse nine to the end of the chapter inclusive is occupied with a new vision of this holy city New Jerusalem. An angel said: "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb"s wife." And he showed him this holy city the New Jerusalem.
In the nineteenth chapter of Revelation we had mention of the bride of the Lamb, but no vision of a marriage ceremony. In the second verse of this chapter this holy city is seen coming down from God as a bride adorned for her husband and here in the ninth verse she is called the bride, the Lamb"s wife. The union of the bride and her heavenly bridegroom is therefore implied in these scenes that lie beyond the resurrection and final judgment. In chapter nineteen the bride was clothed in fine linen which is the righteousness of saints; the dwellers in that city, the body of the redeemed, therefore, rather than the city itself, constitutes the bride or wife of the Lamb.
Paul speaks of Christ and the church on this wise: "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." The glorified church is the bride of Christ, and the place of their union and fellowship is that holy city the New Jerusalem that descends from God out of heaven.
Now follows a long description of this city with its walls, and gates, and foundations, and streets of gold.
It has twelve gates in its walls bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; three gates toward each point of the compass, perhaps signifying its accessibility to all the world. The sons of the north, and the sons of the south, the children of the east, and the children of the west may find their way to this city that is open toward all quarters. Behold the universality of God"s love, and the universal call of God"s grace.
The wall of the city had twelve foundations and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. We call to mind the saying, that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles; Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.
"The city lieth foursquare" "the length and breadth and height are equal;" perfect symmetry, perfect proportion. The city when measured is twelve thousand furlongs each way, or fifteen hundred miles long, broad, and high; sufficient to indicate the symbolical nature of this description. The act of measuring was doubtless meant to impress on all the greatness and the glory of the city.
But the description of this city is still more wonderful as it proceeds, "And I saw no temple therein;" (different from the earthly Jerusalem) "for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." No need of sun or moon to shine in it "for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
This shows how this city transcends all earthly things, and that God and the Lamb are the supreme objects of admiration, and the source of glory and blessing. "And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; for there shall be no night there." Gates are shut against assault and attack; but these gates need not be shut; there is no enemy to attack, no marauder, or intruder to disturb the peace and happiness of the heavenly abode.
The next feature of this description, in the last verse of the chapter, shows a still more exalted condition of that city, in the perfect purity and holiness of its happy inhabitants. "There shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb"s book of life."
Beyond all the glory of golden streets and jasper walls and foundations garnished with precious stones is the glory of the moral and the spiritual character of the place. The highest tribute to that city is its holiness. The ruling attribute of God is his holiness, and the goal of all God"s redemptive work is the holiness of the objects of redemption, and consequent on that holiness, their eternal blessedness.
Here we meet again those "which are written in the Lamb"s book of life." We saw that book of life at the great judgment scene at the end of the twentieth chapter. There we saw the destiny of those who were not written in that book of life; here we see the destiny of those who were written in it. This serves to vindicate the interpretation we are presenting, that in this chapter we are dealing with the post-resurrection and post-judgment period; that whereas the twentieth chapter ended with the destiny of the wicked as determined by the great judgment, the twenty-first chapter continues the story in the destiny of the righteous as determined in that same judgment. All the human race divided into two classes; the righteous and the wicked; those whose names are in the Lamb"s book of life, and those whose names are not found written therein.
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the Second Week after Epiphany