Revelation 21
by Bruni Wolters, Vineyard Church, Hamburg/Germany

We will be surprised!
God's New World will amaze us!
We will be at loss for words, hardly be able to describe
what we will be seeing!

How would someone from ancient Roman Empire, who all of a sudden appears in our time, describe a cell phone or a computer? How would someone from medieval times describe a microwave or a coffee machine? They would compare things with what they know are familiar to them. We, in turn, would not always understand what they are talking about, there would be hilarious confusions!

We will be having exactly the same problem when it comes to eternity, to God's New Wold - the same as it happened to John, when he was allowed a peek into this eternity. He described what he saw with terms of his own time.

Let's read Revelation 21:1-8:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jeruslam, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

6He said to me: "It is done. I'm the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the veil, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolators and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the secon death."

When talking about God's New World, we are talking like a blind person is talking about colors. We talk about a reality that no person has seen until now. And even a person who has had a near-death-experience can't really help us with his reports on what he has seen. For we have learned that the New World will not come unless Jesus returns, it does not come in the moment of the death of a person.

So we are talking about things of which we know nothing. Our fantasy is aroused the same as it is overstrained. Yet still, we are talking about it. Why? Because God expects this of us, He trusts us to do it and because He Himself is talking about it.

In these verses, something real unexpected and unique concerning Revelation is happening: God Himself is talking! Up to that point, John had received all instructions by an angel. Now God, who is sitting on the throne, appears Himself. Three times we read: and he said. This stresses the significance and credibility of these verses. What you are reading here, will happen 100%ly for sure, und the counseling aspect for everybody reading or hearing these verses, cannot be missed out.

The knowledge about the future should not only calm us down, but it should move us at the same time. After the promises, a warning is being spoken out. Nobody skids into God's New World just by "coincidence". It is all about conscious decisions here and now, today and next week. We read about overcomers and cowards. An overcomer can only gain victory when moving toward the goal and a coward knows exactly where he chickens out.

John sees images. First, it is spoken about a city, then about a bride and finally, about the dwelling of the Lord. These images are mutually exclusive. A city is no bride, a bride is no dwelling and a dwelling is no city. When going on, we learn that the angel tells John, I will show you the bride and then he describes the new Jerusalem, the new city, in details. The images are flowing into each other here!

This is weird and confusing. We cannot proceed with our try to explain, when taking these images literally. Therefore, we must ask ourselves: what are these images telling us, what are they to reveal? And we must also ask: are we filling these terms the way John did, or did our thinking, our comprehension change? Will we have to change our way of thinking?

All three images describe God's new people and how a living together with God in eternity will look like. I have found three titles for this "how": perfect security, perfect beauty and perfect fellowship.

Perfect Security
What do you have in mind when thinking of a city? Many people, jobs, good shopping facilities, movies, discotheques, theaters, museums, life & joy around the clock? Or are you rather thinking of disadvantages? Many people - yet many are lonesome. Jobs - yet not for all. Hectic, criminality, noise and air pollution. Not all modern people like to live in a city. Not everybody wants his kids to grow up in a city. The word "city" does not always produce positive feelings in people.

How was it in John's times? Greek people did not have buildings in their minds when thinking of "city", they rather saw an orderly living together in their mind, a progressive constitution, education and culture. Jewish people were more interested in the measures of their city walls. Israel's history shows that threats were always coming from the outside. So a thick city wall promised protection, security and safety. Both - greek and jews - were longing for security. For the greek people, this meant inner security, for the jews it was an outside delimitation.

The city wall that John sees, is very thick and very high. It's quadratically and has three gates on each side. Each gate consists of a single pearl, and on the gates, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written.

Whoever wants to enter the city, will have to pass through those gates. What does this mean in an interpreted way? Whoever wants to belong to God's people, will have to pass through the history of Israel. We cannot dodge the Old Testament, but we will have to enter through it. The pearl indicates how precious the Old Testament should be for us. The Old Covenant God had formed with His people through Moses, is the requirement for the New Covenant. God's plans for the redemption of mankind begin with Abraham. We cannot simply say, I'm not interested in the Old Testament. I will start off with Jesus. There is no New Convenant without the Old Covenant. Israel's history is also our history.

There are not only gates, but also a city wall. This wall has twelve foundation stones. On each stone, the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, of Jesus, is written. Though the Old Convenant is the requirement for the New Covenant, the New Covenant is the requirement for the New Jerusalem. The New Covenant is more basic, more crucial, more important. Without Jesus' acting death on the cross there would not be any new people of God.

And now it is not being spoken any longer of God's people, but of men. This means all men of the earth. Did you notice this in verse 3? They will be His people. A jew would have pricked his ears. All of the Old Testament is speaking only of the one people of God, and now, all of a sudden it's men in general. All people living in God's New World will be made up of believers deriving from the Jews and those of the heathens of all nationalities and skin color. Together they will be forming the new community.

The gates are always open. Such city wall gates usually are made to keep the enemy from entering the city. This is no longer necessary. There are no enemies, there is no threat, there is only perfect protection, perfect security and perfect safety.

Perfect Beauty
Every bride is beautiful, even if she doesn't meet universal beauty standards. Every bride is beautiful. On the outside, because she wears a nice dress, make-up; hair and jewellery fit the occasion. Every bride is beautiful, because she radiates from the inside! A bride is in love, she is happy, she is full of happy anticpation. She is radiating happiness.

Beauty has also to do with proportions. The city is being measured and it has the form of a cube. Length, width and height are equal. For the people of that time, this equity into all directions was a picture of perfection. That also goes for the number twelve, which always pops up; twelve thousand stadions are the measures of the city, the city wall is 144.000 cubits high, which also contains the number twelve. Symbols for perfection.

We notice that also here, our way of thinking changed comparing to the way of thinking back then. I guess that not too many of us would enjoy the thought of living in a city that has the form of a giant cube. But maybe it is not literally a cube, but a picture for perfection.

The finest materials are used for the city: gold and gemstones, yet they are transparent, clear as glass. Here again, symbolism is evident: in reality, gold is not transparent. The whole city is light-flooded, everything is bright, there are no dark corners and niches, no disorder or chaos.

Perfect beauty and perfect purity!
Let us transfuse this picture on us people. I cannot talk of myself of having a perfect and pure character. I know my dark sides, my negative thoughts and my weaknesses. I am longing for change and have to experience back slides into old patterns that are harmful to myself and others. Sin is still very present in my life and in my relation to others. A life totally without sin is still beyond my imagination - but it is just that what is expecting me and all of us with God. God will remodel us. We will receive a character resembling Jesus, perfectly pure and perfectly beautiful. We will not harm ourselves or others any longer. There will be no more tears, mourning, pain!

Perfect Community
"Now the dwelling of God is with men". Whoever knows the Old Testament, will know the meaning of "dwelling" at once. There was a time where God dwelled amidst His people of Israel in a tent. The correct term for tent is "tabernacle". When Moses wandered through the desert with the people of Israel, redeemed from Egypt's slavery, on the way to the promised land, God was amidst them. Yet no-one could see Him. When the people camped, God took residence in the tabernacle - covert behind curtains. Migrating, God went before His people, yet covert either in a cloud or in a fire pillar. No man has ever seen Him.

In the New World, no veil nor a curtain will sperate us from God. We will see Him face to face. Also this is symbolism, for God is Spirit, He has no face. It means there will be nothing seperating us from God. We will be living in an immediateness to Him which has never been possible for people before.

God will be our undisputable center, the absolute ruler, the Number One. Our hearts will be devoted to Him undevidedly. There won't be anything distracting us, nothing more important than God Himself!

It is difficult also for me to imagine this, because my every-day-life looks so very different. I try to pray, but my thoughts are running around in my head like a herd of monkeys turning wild. I begin with Jesus, but all of a sudden, I find myself planning for dinner. I try to read in the Bible, but suddenly, I nod off. I come into the church service, but my thoughts are far away - maybe with a quarrel in my family.

It is my deep desire to live undevidedly, undistractedly for God, but I only achieve so little. What a hope knowing it will be different in heaven!

The New World has already begun!
Will everything be new and strange? I don't think so. The New World has broken into our history with Jesus' resurrection, though not completely yet. This new life exists in part already in the church. We are already experiencing people coming into church saying, it feels so good being here! Here I can be secure, even if my errors come to light.

Even today, people enter church in a sad mood, someone gets aware of it, approaches him/her and consoles. Even today, sick people enter church and experience God's supernatural healing - sure, we'd like to see much more of it, but it does happen. People experience getting free of addictions - not everybody, but some!

There is a goal to those precious moments, where the glory of God's Kingdom shines into our lives: they are to quicken our appetite! What we are experiencing here on earth, is a starter and we may anticipate the big wedding feast in heaven!

I would shortly like to draw the attention to the counseling aspect of these chapters. There is a warning following the promises: cowards and infidels will not enter this beautiful New World. This is a serious warning. It is a word against resignation and also against complacency. Hunger and thirst for God's work keep us in motion - cowardness is paralizing, unfaithfulness is distracting. It is imperative to take up the fight. Now is the time to wake up. Now is the time to bring order into things. Everything we do has an influence on eternity. The same goes for everything we don't do. Whoever expects God to first give us assignments and then turn a blind eye, if we don't achieve things, because we were so passive or distracted - we will be surprised! But this won't be a nice surprise - it will be a rude awakening.

"The Spirit and the bride say: come!" Here it becomes very clear that it is exclusively about an assignment in this world. What does the bridal couple do when planning their wedding? They arrange a guest list. They think about finances, who will be invited, and who maybe not.

We may invite without thinking about short money or lack of space.

The church of Jesus shall be an invited fellowship. And the invitation is for everybody. Not everyone reacts positively on God's invitation - we see this so often - but God's heart longs for all lost people. Also we are requested not to become cowards or unfaithful, but to stick to it.

We will be surprised! And hopefully, not only we but also many others who still don't know about Jesus, but who join us because of our testimony and invitation. We all will be surprised!


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