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THE HEAVENLY GLORY
Revelation 21:1-6. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done.
THIS passage is supposed by some to refer to the millennial period. And it is certain that that period is elsewhere spoken of under the image of new heavens, and a new earth [Note: Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22.]. But others interpret it as relating to the eternal world; which sense accords best both with the text and context. Of the millennial era, it cannot be said that then “all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes, and that there shall be no more death;” for most distressing times will follow it; and, after it, death will proceed in its work of desolation with uninterrupted sway. Moreover, as the state of the wicked in the day of judgment is spoken of in the preceding context, it is reasonable to suppose that the state of the righteous should be mentioned also; whilst, if it be not adverted to in this passage, it is omitted altogether, notwithstanding this book of revelation was intended to make known the future destinies of the Church, as well as of the world, to all eternity. Understanding therefore the vision as relating to the eternal world [Note: Yet, as the words used by the Prophet most unquestionably relate to the millennial state, they may be so interpreted here. Perhaps the one being typical of the other, as the redemption from Babylon of our redemption by Christ, the words may be interpreted of either, as circumstances may require. Accordingly the Author has so applied them in his Discourse on Isaiah 65:17-18.],
I will proceed to consider,
The vision itself—
The Apostle saw “a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth having passed away: and, in that new creation, there was no more sea;” all storms and tempests having ceased, and all occasions for tumultuous agitations having for ever vanished.
He saw also the holy city, new Jerusalem, that is, a model of it, “coming down from God out of heaven:” and this city was in all respects fitted for the habitation of the most high God in the midst of all his redeemed people; “its foundations garnished with all manner of precious stones;” “its walls great and high,” “its gates of pearl,” “its streets of pure gold;” and “God himself and the Lamb enlightening it with their glory [Note: ver. 10–23.].” In a word, it was fully “prepared for its glorious inhabitants, as a bride adorned for her husband.”
This vision seems to have been somewhat of the same kind with that which had formerly been given to Peter, when “a great sheet, filled with all manner of living animals, descended to him from heaven [Note: Acts 10:9-16.].” But together with it “he heard a great voice out of heaven,” proclaiming to him the blessedness of those who should inhabit that holy city. And this calls for our more particular attention.
We see here,
The source of that bliss—
[God dwelt, by a visible symbol of his presence, in his tabernacle and temple of old. He was in a peculiar manner the God of Israel; and they were in a peculiar manner his people. In his Church, and amongst his true Israel, he dwells also at this time; manifesting himself to them as he does not unto the world; and communicating to them a fulness of all spiritual blessings. And as by this glorious distinction his people of old were elevated above the heathen, so are his spiritual Israel now distinguished above all other people upon the face of the earth; possessing a knowledge of God’s will, an enjoyment of his presence, a sense of his love, and an experience of his power, which no other creature out of heaven does, or can possess.
But in heaven God displays all the full radiance of his glory. He is seen there, not in a mere symbol, like the bright cloud, nor through the dim vision of faith; but clearly, as with our bodily organs we behold the sun in the firmament. Nor are his communications there any longer partial, scanty, and occasional; but constant and full, according to the measure of every one’s capacity to receive them.
The consciousness which every one will then have of his interest in God; of the relation which he bears to him; and of the indissolubleness of that bond which has united him to God; O! what a source of joy will this be! But on a subject like this, “we only darken counsel by words without knowledge.” We have no conception of the presence of God. A new-born infant is not less capable of appreciating the sublime exercises and enjoyments of spiritual perception, than we are of comprehending the felicity of beholding God face to face.]
The perfection of it—
[The negative felicity of heaven comes more within the grasp of our feeble minds. We know here, by sad experience, what pain and sorrow mean: and frequent are the occasions on which tears flow down our cheeks. Death too, that king of terrors, warns us of the pains which we shall speedily endure in our conflicts with him. This whole world is little else than a vale of tears. At best it is a checquered scene, and sorrows are continually intermingled with our joys. But in heaven there will be no more pain, or sorrow, or crying: our happiness will be uninterrupted, and without alloy. Nor will there be any termination of it; for “there will be no more death.” Whatever tears bedewed our cheeks in our departing hours, they will all be wiped away by God himself; who will, from the instant of our entrance into his presence, seat us on his throne, and put a crown of pure gold upon our head, and invest us with all the glory and felicity of his kingdom. When joy and gladness have thus taken possession of our souls, not only will “sorrow and sighing flee away,” but all occasion for them, all scope for the exercise of them, will vanish for ever. O beloved, what a state will this be! Would to God we were able to speak of it as we ought! But we feel the subject far too great for our feeble grasp.]
Lest this vision should appear to exceed what will ever be realized, let me draw your attention to,
The confirmation of it—
“God, in giving us his covenant, confirmed it with an oath, in order that we might have the stronger consolation:” so here, he confirmed this vision to the Apostle by an audible voice, declaring that the things which he had seen,
Were really true—
[“Behold, I make all things new. Write; for these words are true and faithful.” God would have this vision recorded for the benefit of the Church: nor would he have any part of it doubted: for every thing which had been spoken respecting it was true, and might be fully relied on.
Now this at first sight appears to have been superfluous: but it was in reality no more than what our necessities required. When the soul is bowed down with pains and sorrows, it needs support: and there is no support equal to that which this vision affords. Our trials are but for a time: and eternity is near at hand: and the very troubles which we are called to endure, are subservient to our best interests, and conducive to the augmentation of our happiness to all eternity. Look at the saints of old, and see what supported them in all their trials. What enabled the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to leave their country and kindred, and to live as pilgrims and sojourners on the earth? “They looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God [Note: Hebrews 11:10.].” What enabled the martyrs of following ages to sustain their accumulated afflictions? They “looked forward to the resurrection,” when they should possess “a better and an enduring substance [Note: Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 11:35.].” It is to that period that our blessed Lord teaches us to look, as affording us a rich compensation for all that we can now endure for his sake [Note: Matthew 5:12.]. And it is the prospect of that time which reconciles all the Lord’s people to the diversified afflictions of this present life. Hence it was necessary that we should have the fullest testimony respecting the certainty and the excellency of that future state.
Know then, that state does indeed await you: know, that “light is sown for the righteous:” and “though weeping may endure for a night, joy will come in the morning.”]
Were in actual existence—
[The voice which attested the truth of these things, added also, “It is done.” The very glory of which the vision spake, is actually begun. Thousands and millions are already in possession of it. What a blessed thought, to those especially who have been bereaved of pious friends or relatives! They are already joined to the general assembly and Church of the first-born: their spirits are already perfect; perfect in purity, and perfect also in felicity. Think of the dying thief, when, on the very night of his crucifixion, he was received into the presence of his Lord in Paradise! We wonder not that “Paul desired to depart and to be with Christ,” accounting that infinitely better than the happiest state on earth. Nor do we wonder that he made light of every thing which stood between him and the consummation of his bliss [Note: Romans 8:18. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4.]; and longed for the dissolution of his earthly tabernacle, that he might have it reared anew in that better world [Note: It being delivered on the night of the funeral of his late Majesty George III. the audience were here led to contemplate the blessed exchange which his Majesty now experienced. And the same may be done on occasion of any one who dies in the Lord. See Revelation 14:13.] — — — Let us only think how near we are to that blissful state, and nothing will be able to damp our ardour, or retard our progress, in the pursuit of it.]
Contemplate heaven, then, I entreat you: contemplate it,
As an object of pursuit—
[What is there in the whole universe that is worthy to be put in competition with it? O! blush that you can have your heart engaged about the vanities of time and sense, and that these eternal realities occupy so little of your attention — — —]
As an object of expectation—
[Can you really believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has given you a title to this blessedness, and ever be weary in the pursuit of it? The wonder is, how you can be content to live in this poor wretched world, when there is such blessedness awaiting you at your departure from it. Go and survey it from day to day: take Pisgah views of it: anticipate it: get such a sense of God’s presence with you, as shall be a foretaste of it: and be daily “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day,” when you yourself shall be privileged to say, “He hath made all things new.”]
As an object of actual fruition—
[Ask of “those who came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and are now in the immediate presence of their God:” ask them, Whether they regret any labours or sufferings which they ever endured in their way to that bliss. Ask them too, How, with God’s help, they would live, if they were again permitted to begin their course on earth? Ask yourselves too, what thoughts you will have of your present conduct, if ever you should reach those realms of bliss? These will be profitable considerations to you: they will place all present things in their just point of view: and will aid you greatly in running the race that is set before you.]
GOD THE LIGHT AND TEMPLE OF THE NEW JERUSALEM
Revelation 21:22-23. I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
“GLORIOUS things,” says the Psalmist, “are spoken of thee, thou city of God [Note: Psalms 87:3.].” This was true of Jerusalem, as it existed in the days of David: but far more applicable is it to the new Jerusalem, which yet remains to be built, at a period that is fast approaching; the foundations of which, indeed, have been already laid these eighteen hundred years! Whether it is of that city that St. John is here speaking, or of heaven itself, has been, and still is, a subject of controversy amongst Christian divines. It is not without a great appearance of truth that this whole vision is considered as referring to the millennial age: for “the holy city which St. John saw, the New Jerusalem, came down from God out of heaven [Note: ver. 2.];” and therefore could scarcely be heaven itself. Its foundations, and walls, and gates, are described by the very terms which are confessedly and exclusively applied by the prophets to the Church which shall be established at that period: and the flocking of all nations, with their kings and all their wealth, to this city [Note: ver. 24, 26.], is the very event predicted in all the prophecies, as now fast approaching, and as ordained to continue for a thousand years. On the other hand, it is not without strong reason that others interpret this vision as relating to heaven itself: for the order of prophecy seems to require it. The day of judgment, and the punishment of the wicked, having been foretold in the preceding chapter, it seems reasonable to expect that the felicity of the saints should be next described: and to come back from the day of judgment to the millennium, is to introduce confusion, where we should naturally expect to find order; and to cast a needless veil over prophecy, which, in itself, is necessarily involved in much obscurity. It is also said by these persons, that some of the expressions which are applied to this city—such as, that “there is no night or death there,” and that “all former things are passed away [Note: ver. 4and 22:5.]”—appear to determine the sense of the whole as pertaining, not to this world, but the next. But perhaps the exclusive application of the subject is not right on either side: for it is indisputable, that the prophecies in general have different periods of accomplishment. Numberless passages had somewhat of a literal fulfilment in the Jewish state, and afterwards a spiritual accomplishment in the apostolic age; and are still to receive their full and final accomplishment at a period yet future. And sometimes these different events are so intermixed (as in our Lord’s description of the day of judgment, which was shadowed forth by the destruction of Jerusalem [Note: Matthew 24:0.]), that you are necessitated to separate them according to the terms by which they are designated, rather than by any broad line of distinction observable in the prophecies themselves. Whilst, therefore, we suppose the state of the glorified Church to be primarily intended, we apprehend that its glory is considered as commenced on earth, and completed in heaven: for, in truth, the millennial age will be heaven, as it were, begun; and the heavenly glory will be the reign of Christ and of the saints consummated.
Understanding then our text in this view, I shall explain it,
In reference to the millennial age—
The voice of Scripture, whether in the Old Testament or the New, declares, that the period which is usually called the millennium will be a season of universal piety and most transcendent bliss. In this light it is described in my text: the saints being then pre-eminently distinguished by,
The spirituality of their devotion—
[In the Jewish Church, there were, a material temple, a visible glory, and splendid ordinances; and by these was God chiefly honoured; though, in comparison of real piety, even then the outward ceremonies were of no account. But, under the Christian dispensation, the place and manner of approaching God are matters of comparative indifference: the spirit with which he is approached is the all in all [Note: John 4:23.]. Even now, at this time, God and the Lamb may be said to be the temple of our Jerusalem, by reason of the near access which his people enjoy to the more immediate presence of their God. But, in that day there will be such an abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit upon them, that they will be brought into far nearer communion with God than has fallen to the lot of believers, either in past ages or at the present time. So devout will be their worship, that they themselves will be, as it were, the sacrifices that shall be offered, yea, and the priests too, that offer them; whilst the Lord Jesus Christ will be the altar on which they are presented; and the Holy Spirit, the fire that will inflame their souls, and cause odours of a most grateful smell to ascend to heaven; their prayers and praises going up at the same time as incense before the mercy-seat, and God manifesting his acceptance of the services that are so offered. Then will be experienced, in all its fulness, that mutual indwelling of God in man, and man in God, of which the Scriptures so frequently speak, and which is surpassed only by the union of the Sacred Three in one glorious and eternal Godhead [Note: John 17:21.].]
The sublimity of their joy—
[Under the Jewish dispensation, much stress was laid on worldly prosperity; which, in fact, constituted a very considerable portion of the blessings that were promised to God’s obedient people. The influences of the sun by day, and of the moon by night, were engaged to them for their good, that no earthly comfort might be lacking to them. But, in the millennial Church, there will be no need either of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, since “God himself and the Lamb will be the light thereof.” There will be wonderful discoveries of God to their souls, and such manifestations of the Saviour, as now we have no conception of; so that the saints will be superior to all earthly joy; their delight in God being as great as mortality itself can either exercise or endure. Of this the prophets speak most copiously, and with the utmost plainness, particularly specifying that this is to distinguish the millennial age: “The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun be seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound [Note: Isaiah 30:26.].” In another place, speaking expressly of that period, he uses yet more closely the very language of my text: “The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory [Note: Isaiah 60:19.].” So again, in another place, with still greater force he says, “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord shall reign in Mount Zion, and before his ancients, gloriously [Note: Isaiah 24:23.].” In the whole of this we cannot but see, that, as knowledge will be marvellously increased in relation to heavenly things, so also will be the happiness of those who are instructed in them. Even at the present hour there are some persons who are thus favoured with the manifestations of God and of Christ to their souls; but at that day “the knowledge and enjoyment of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth, as diffusively and as deeply as the waters cover the sea [Note: Habakkuk 2:14.].” And, whereas it is thought that the expressions of St. John respecting there being “no pain in that city, and no night there, and no death,” are too strong to be applied to the millennium, I must say that these very expressions are, in fact, cited from the Prophet Isaiah, who says of the millennial Church, “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and thy God thy glory [Note: Isaiah 60:20; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 49:10.].”]
In somewhat of a similar, though doubtless a more exalted, sense, the words before us may be explained,
In reference to the heavenly state—
In this view they may be understood as intimating,
That all external mediums will then be abolished—
[We must not forget, that the whole of this is, if not a literal citation from the Prophet Isaiah, yet so exactly corresponding with his words, as to be in fact his language; in which he conveys truths relative to the Christian Church in terms taken from things existing in the Jewish Church; and that, consequently, we must refer to the Jewish Church for our explanation of them. Now, under the Mosaic dispensation, the temple and ordinances were the necessary means of approaching God, and of obtaining acceptance with him. But in heaven they will be altogether superseded. There will be no need of the word to inform us, or of ministers to instruct us, or of ordinances whereby to serve God. As the Jewish ordinances, in comparison with the simpler worship of the Christian Church, were mere “beggarly elements,” so the Christian ordinances will be of no account in the eternal world, by reason of the intimate and immediate communion which we shall then have with God. The high-priest within the vail had no sight of God in comparison of what we shall have; nor had the Disciples, who beheld Christ transfigured on the holy mount, any conception of his glory, in comparison of that with which our souls shall be filled, when we shall behold him face to face. Now, we are in a measure dependent on others, as “helpers of our joy:” but then, not all the angels in heaven can augment our enjoyment of God; nor can all the fallen angels in hell impede it. Our knowledge of God and of Christ will be clear, certain, continued; for we shall “see them as we are seen, and know them even as we are known.”]
That all created glories will be eclipsed—
[The stars, which afford a brilliant light by night, are no longer visible when the sun is risen, because its radiance has extinguished their fainter beams. Thus the light which has been afforded by Prophets, or Apostles, or common ministers, will be to us no brighter than a glow-worm, when He will be then seen by us, not through the slow inductions of reason, but by an intuitive perception of his glory: and the Lord Jesus Christ, in all the glory of his person, and in all the wonders of his love, will be made clear to us, as the sun at noon-day. The angels who abide around the throne have not a more distinct view of the Godhead, nor a clearer conception of his perfections, his purposes, or his works, than we shall have, when once we are admitted to those realms of bliss; every one of us being filled according to the measure of the gift of Christ, and filled according to the utmost extent of our capacity.]
What enjoyments we should now affect—
[I am no enemy to the pleasures of sense, when they are pursued with moderation, and enjoyed with a due subserviency to the interests of our souls: for we are expressly told, that “God has given us all things richly to enjoy.” But we are born for higher things than this world can afford us. Not even the sun or moon, nor any creature-comforts whatever, should so fascinate us with their charms, as to hear any comparison with those sublimer enjoyments which God has ordained for us, in communion with himself, and with his dear Son Jesus Christ. Would to God that we all acted up to our professions in this respect! We are too prone to rest in external things, instead of aspiring to the possession of God and his Christ. Our worship is, for the most part, of too formal a cast, and our happiness is too much blended with what is carnal. To soar above the world to God, and to apprehend Christ himself, with all the heights and depths of his love—alas! alas! this is an attainment possessed by few, and even by them only at some more favoured seasons. But we should rise more above the things of time and sense: we should go forth with more ardour to our God and Saviour: we should soar more to heaven, and refresh ourselves with draughts of living water from the fountain-head. I pray you, brethren, be not satisfied with any thing that this world can bestow. Be not satisfied without bright discoveries of the Divine glory; and especially of “the glory of God, as shining in the face of Jesus Christ:” let your fellowship with the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, be daily more familiar: and let every communication you receive from them cause you to pant after yet more abundant blessings at their hands, till you shall be satisfied in their presence, wherein alone will be found the fulness of joy for evermore. Let God and the Lamb be your heaven upon earth; and they shall be both your temple and your light to all eternity.]
What is the true state of the believing soul—
[Truly, with him the millennium is begun; yea, and heaven is begun also: for where God and the Lamb are our temple and our light, there is the millennium, and there is heaven. And is it I who say this? Saith not the Scripture the same? Yes; respecting the whole body of believers it saith, “Ye are come (not, ye shall come, but, ye are come) unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born that are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel [Note: Hebrews 12:22-23.].” I know, indeed, that there is yet much amiss, even in the best of men; that their sun is darkened by many a cloud; and their worship debased by much deadness and langour. But still, the believer has “joys with which the stranger intermeddleth not.” He is, in fact, a child, instructed and disciplined, by heavenly exercises, for heavenly enjoyments. He is now tuning his golden harp, whereon he shall play before the throne of God; and rehearsing, as it were, those heavenly songs in which he shall join with all the choir of saints and angels to all eternity. In a word, his knowledge of God, and his enjoyment of Christ, are progressively advancing under all the diversified occurrences of life: and when he dies, he will change his place only, but not his company or his employment. “He now dwells in God, and God in him:” “he is one with Christ, and Christ with him:” and, when taken hence, it will only be, that his union with the Deity may be more entire, and his communion with him more complete.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Revelation 21". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany