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05.30.10 John’s Final Vision, Revelation 21:9-27, Sermon Summary

by on June 8, 2010

If you’re looking for the presence of the Holy Trinity in the book of Revelation, you might have a hard time finding the Spirit—unless you know where to look.

John’s final vision culminating the book of Revelation is of the heavenly paradise that awaits the people of God. In this passage, John sees the Holy City, what he calls the New Jerusalem. According to the description, it’s a cube, and you can find a picture of it online. But that’s only if you’re a literalist, which John obviously is not.

John’s description of the Holy City of New Jerusalem is metaphorical. It has 12 gates named for the 12 tribes of Israel. This is a reference to the people of God of the Older Testament. It has 12 foundations named after the 12 Apostles. This is a reference to the people of God of the Newer Testament. He describes it as a square facing the four cardinal directions. We infer that the people of God consists of people welcomed from all over the world.

The Holy City is brilliant with God’s glory which illumines the New Jerusalem. Because God is it’s light, the implication is that the Holy City is a lamp stand. This has important implications for us as the church in the world today, for throughout the book of Revelation churches are referred to as lamp stands. We in the church are supposed to be, in other words, a provisional and preliminary example of heaven.

The New Jerusalem is beautifully adorned with jewels and gold because it is the bride of the Lamb, who is, of course, Jesus. God’s people as God’s bride occurs often in both testaments.

God, known in Trinitarian perspective as the Father, is not hard to find in the book of Revelation. In this passage, for example, God is the King ruling on the throne. God is the light of the city. God is so present to the people of God, that the New Jerusalem does not have a temple. There’s no need to go to a place to find God, because God is everywhere. God is the temple in the Holy City.

Jesus Christ, known in Trinitarian perspective as the Son, also is not hard to find in the book of Revelation. In this passage he is the Bridegroom of the people of God. He is the Lamb that was slain. He is also the owner of the book of life, something like the phonebook for the Holy City—if you’re in there, you live there. He is also the Lamp of the city, which, recall, is but a lamp stand. So God is the light that shines in Jesus who illumines the people of God—first in the church, then in the Holy City.

The book of Revelation as a whole develops the visions of God and Jesus that are forecast in the first chapter. Revelation 1:5-6 gives us the definitive description of God and of Jesus. God is the great LLC: our Lover, Liberator, and Commissioner. He loves and liberates us in order to commission us.

Jesus is the first and definitive “faithful witness.” He is also the “firstborn of the dead.” Being firstborn is a reference to the resurrection, which occurred on the eighth day of creation, which is in effect the first day of the new creation. This is why Revelation 21 says there is no night. The dawn of the new creation in Jesus’ resurrection is eternal.

Jesus is also the “ruler of the kings of earth.” Revelation 21 returns to this theme by depicting the kings of the earth bringing their splendor and the glory and honor of their nations into the New Jerusalem. Matthew presents this same theology with the arrival of the Magi from the east bearing gifts. It’s a depiction of the vision of Isaiah 60.

But where is the Spirit? In the book of Revelation, the prophet John was “in the Spirit” only four times. The first was in 1:10 when Jesus first appears to him on the Lord’s Day. The second was 4:2 where he witnesses heavenly worship. The third time, in 17:3, John sees Rome oppressing martyrs. Later he sees that these martyrs “will rest from their labors” (14:13), but not during this third time in the Spirit. The final time is in our passage, in 21:10 when he sees the New Jerusalem.

If we hope to find the Spirit in the book of Revelation, we have to look where John was when he was in the Spirit. And every time he was in the Spirit, it was in the presence of the people of God: during worship on the Lord’s Day, during heavenly worship, in the presence of martyrs, and in the New Jerusalem. It seems the Spirit of God, and thus God himself, is manifest in the life of God’s people.

In a world that has difficulty seeing God, and in a world where even people of faith sometimes have difficulty seeing God, we just have to know where to look. We have to look to the people of God. There we are gathered to share the testimony of God’s presence among us. We are gathered to remember God’s faithfulness to deliver us. There we are gathered to empty ourselves in order to be filled with the Spirit, that we might bear witness as the Spirit shapes our lives.

And especially as we gather around the Table to receive the bread and the cup, we remember that we are the Body of Christ in the world today. If we and the world will know the saving grace of the triune God, then we have to look to the church, for God is on the throne with the Lamb, but the Spirit is with the people of God.

Thoughts for Further Reflection

  • If it is in the church that the Spirit resides, and if the church is the provisional example of God’s kingdom on earth, how might this require us to change the way we “do” church? In your own life, how might you manifest the kingdom of God?
  • If it seems like a lot of pressure on the church or on you to manifest the kingdom of God, remember that Jesus is the faithful witness (example) and the firstborn (the power). In the power of his Spirit, we can live as he lived, and thereby manifest the kingdom.
  • If you desire to “prove” God to others, don’t argue the Bible with them. Instead, live according to the Spirit. The Spirit’s presence is the presence of God. Arguments are merely intellectual engagements.
  • Revelation is obviously meant to be interpreted metaphorically. How many other passages of Scripture would be meaningful beyond the literal if we opened them up to metaphorical interpretation?
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