Big Idea: John is presented with a picture of the promised paradise; and it’s perfect.
Google photos and FaceBook have been reminding me lately that it is almost 9 years to the day that I visited St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.
No matter how many other church buildings you have looked in before St Peter’s is special and awe inspiring. It has that WOW factor that Real Estate agents talk about. Been dealing with Real Estate agents recently so I’m up on the lingo.
St Peter’s is one very impressive church building. It has actually been built over the Apostle Peter’s grave, so it’s even got LOCATION – another Real Estate agent term.
And this building is HUGE!!! Two football fields long. There are brass markers embedded in the floor tiles showing how far short other famous church buildings fall.
Its floor plan is in the shape of the cross. At the intersection point of the cross, there is a dome which is two football fields high.
The place is decked out in marble, gold, stucco, mosaics, columns of stone, and pillars of light.
One travel writer calls the art and the architecture “cheery propaganda… a glimpse of the heaven that awaited the faithful.”
I want you to understand that talk of heaven is not propaganda but a promise. You can be sure that there is a place of grandeur and glory that awaits the faithful.
Jesus says to his disciples in John 14:2-3
… I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
What will heaven be like? The place that Jesus prepares for his people. What will it be like?
That’s the question that our passage answers today. And what it has to say is not propaganda. But a promise. A promise which presents the picture of perfect paradise pledged to people who persevere.
In this final vision of Revelation, the closing chapters of the Bible the angel draws John’s attention, our attention to three things which give us a picture of the place Jesus has prepared for His people: A city, a cistern and a call
Let’s take a look …
And what John sees first is …
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.
We have five engaged couples in our church at the moment. Five weddings being planned. On each of those five days, guaranteed, everyone will be straining to see the bride as she walks down the aisle.
John strains but instead of a bride he sees a city.
It’s not what he was probably expecting; but it is marvellous to look at … Read v11-16.
It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 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.
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.
Here comes the bride, 12 000 stadia wide. She is a woman of some area. Not a great line for the groom’s wedding speech.
But what we see here is that the bride is a city. A huge, spectacular city shining with the glory of God.
It’s built with precious materials – gold, gemstones It’s safe and secure with its very great walls and angels guarding all its the gates (v12). The bride is a city, spectacular, secure and safe.
And the city is a bride; The city is the cherished, chosen people of God. In Revelation the number 12 symbolises God’s people. And 12 pops up everywhere. 12 tribes have their names inscribed above the gates. 12 apostles have their names inscribed in the foundations – Peter was here in the foundations! Those guys at St Peter’s weren’t original in that respect!!!
This city is 12000 stadia long And 12000 stadia wide And 12000 stadia high. It’s a cube, a 12 edged shape. The walls are 12×12 cubits thick (v17b). 12’s everywhere. The city is the people of God.
Notice the 12 gates (v13). Three gates on each side of the city. East, North, South, West.
I imagine it’s like the Gabba or Suncorp Stadium. Gates designed to get people in.
Everyone is welcome. North, South, East or West. Come from wherever you are.
Ps 100. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise.
I heard of a tourist in Ireland asking a local how to get to London. The local responds, “If I were going to London I wouldn’t start from here!”
Not helpful. Not the message of the gospel.
Come from wherever you are. Don’t need to be good enough before you come, don’t need to cleaned up enough before you come, don’t need to get sorted out before you come. Come from wherever you are. Come in, come in. The gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to bring people in. Come in. The plan of God is that people from every nation and tribe and people and language would gather in his heaven.
This is a picture of mission isn’t it.
If we are a church on about waiting well then Mission must be close to our heart. Going out to bring them in.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.
All the nations represented, all the nations coming in from the four corners of the world.
(1 Kings 10; 2 Chron 9) Like the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon; bearing gifts and tributes and arriving to be blown away by and delighting in his wisdom and the splendour of his kingdom. Never seen anything like it and praise the God of heaven for his love and wisdom.
But there is something else about this cube.
There is only one other cube in the Bible. Do you know what it is? The most holy place. The Holy of Holies. The room in the tabernacle/temple that housed the ark of the covenant, the earthly throne of God; the place where only the High priest could enter and then only one day a year – the day of atonement.
In the tent – 4.6m3 In Solomon’s temple – 9.2m3 (twice as big) In this heavenly vision – 2200km3 (240 times larger than the temple, 480 larger than the tent)
This vision is mind blowing. A cube that would stretch from Adelaide to Darwin; that would cover SA, NT and WA. It’s not going to land in Israel as some people think. The Middle East is literally not big enough. This is imagery.
I thought St Peter’s Basilica was huge. Seems I’m too easily impressed.
There is very strong temple imagery here. But what John notices is that there is no temple Read v22-23.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
God’s glory emanates from the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are in the city. There’s no need for a temple – the symbols of God’s presence among his people – because God is there, with His people.
Jay Smith is one of Britain`s best known and bravest Muslim evangelists. Once he was speaking in the open air at Hyde Park Corner in London. He said to the crowd that had gathered, ” I want to talk to you all about Muslim Paradise- it says in the Hadith that there will be 72 virgins for every faithful Muslim- Fantastic! Plenty of women in Muslim paradise. What else? Well it says there will be palaces for everyone and rivers of wine. And then he paused- Wait a minute, girls, palaces, alcohol – that`s not Paradise – that`s Las Vegas!
And then he said- “Do you know what`s not in Muslim Paradise? According to your own book, do you know what`s not there? God`s not there! God is not there! Allah can never dwell with his people according to Islam – the idea of him wiping away our tears is a blasphemy.
But according to the bible, according to our passage that is the whole point. It stands behind everything that God has ever done. The whole entire story of the Bible.
Read 21:3-4 “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes… “
There is no better offer, no greater goal, nothing of more pressing, important nor sure than the promise of God’s people being with him, in that Celestial City, basking in his unveiled presence for eternity.
The concepts are huge, the city is huge but there is a real intimacy.
St Peter’s enormous. Two footy fields long, two footy fields high. Bigger than any other church building. But built to feel intimate as well. Canopy over the ‘alter’ under the dome (seven stories high I think). Statues set into the walls. At two different levels. The lower ones are 9 foot high, higher ones are 12 foot hight. There is a statue of Jesus as a baby which is 6 foot. But it gives the impression of intimacy. Lettering, around the whole perimeter. Jesus’ words to Peter in Latin. 7 foot high. You feel close.
The glory of the promise to come is huge but it’s intimate, personal. It’s for you.
City – room for everyone Bride – the most intimate of all human relationships.
Please know that this is not propaganda but a glorious, personal promise.
The second thing that the John’s attention is drawn to is …
A life giving cistern. Ok, it’s a river but I am given to alliteration.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
I grew up where the rivers, when they were not a string of muddy puddles, ran an opaque brown. Looked like hot chocolate, tasted like wet dirt. Good preparation for moving to Brisbane really.
But on one property we had a sub-artesian bore. Out of that bore came clear cool water, and for a fair way you could see the bottom of the channel. Nothing better on a hot day than to take off you hat, stick your whole head on the flow of water and drink from that bore; then fall into the clear channel flowing from it, work clothes and all. Water meant life.
That’s the image I get as I read v1-2, LIFE. The river flowing from the throne watering the tree of life. Commentators are not sure how many trees of life there are. Is there a tree each side of the river of life? Is their one tree that somehow straddles the river?
Whatever it looks like, it is very fruitful (v2b). A crop every month. And its leaves bring healing. Enough for everyone, all nations. Maybe it’s a whole orchid.
This is a vision of LIFE, it speaks of God’s abundance for his people, overflowing, ongoing, eternal blessing to those in the new creation. Eternal Life.
Jesus said the the woman at the well that the water he gave meant she would never thirst again. Here it is.
BUT notice too that it is also the undoing of the curse of the fall … read v3a
No longer will there be any curse.
At the centre of the curse lay death. The lie that we bought – you will not surely die. The lie we are sold – this is life, the here and now. The promise from God in the new creation, the curse with its death and pain is gone.
The Bible starts in a garden and now it ends in a garden.
The way to the tree of life is now open. The thought of the presence of our God is no longer terrifying, we will no longer seek to cover up and hide.
One writer says, “Our knowledge of God can never exhaust the infinity of his being.”
He means that it will be our eternal pleasure to grow in and delight in the knowledge of our Saviour and the intimacy of his love.
This is what we were created for and what we long for at our very core – even if we can’t express it.
CS Lewis said “a baby feels hunger – well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well there is such a thing as water. We feel sexual desire; well there is such a thing as sex. And if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”.
This vision of Heaven is it. This is the World we all want. Paradise restored. God walking with His people in the cool of the day. No fig leaves, no fear. Delighting in our Heavenly Father and basking in his glory.
Even though it’s 500 years old St Peter’s Basilica that stands today is the new one. The old one stood from 329-1500, about 1200 years. It was built by Emperor Constantine when Christianity became trendy. The new Basilica was built around and over the top of the old one. When the new one was at a stage where it could be used the old one was dismantled and carried out.
That’s a great picture of this vision. The old being replaced by the new. But we are not there just yet.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We long for it, although we don’t see this yet but we will. We yearn for it, although we don’t experience it yet, but we will – if we persevere. The Christian response to troubles is faith and perseverance; longing for the promise of the glory to come. Push on brothers and sisters.
I remember being so thirsty while we were working on the farm. And just looking forward to being about to stick my whole head in that bore water. The thirsty sensation is not pleasant at the time but it does build a sense of expectation and longing. And when you get to drink – it is sooo good.
Let what Paul calls these light and momentary troubles create that thirst.
Troubles in the here and now will feel bigger while you live them out. Push on; maintain the struggle; persevere under them. Look forward to the weight of glory that is to come, the life that is to come.
God’s promise is that they are light and they are here to set our appetites and our longing, our thirst for the true and lasting.
The Queen’s funeral. A faith shaped life. Steve McAlpine said for that moment the world became porous; open to the message of the gospel by a life undeniably shaped by it.
That attitude and mindset takes faith. A trust in God’s word and commitment to his promises.
And so it is appropriate that we end with …
We are in the last days. We are in the time when at any moment the Lord Jesus could return in all his promised glory.
v6 … the things that must soon take place v7 I am coming soon … v10 the time is near … v12 I am coming soon … v20 Yes, I am coming soon …
Be ready. John hears this and falls at the angel’s feet (v8-9). That’s not the correct response… worship God.
Do what he says. Put your faith in Jesus Read v14.
“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… “
To wash your robes is a metaphor for repentance and belief. To be cleaned from your stain of sin.
Repent, acknowledge that you are a sinner – simply agreeing with God about your sin. Believe Jesus’ claim that through faith in him your debt is cleared and his right standing before God is credited to your account. And that from now on instead of walking away from him you will follow him.
On my first visit to St Peter’s Basilica I wasn’t allowed in. I didn’t meet the dress code, I had shorts on – it was the middle of a Roman summer! I was spewin’. You let guys with dresses go in but not me because I’m wearing shorts. The next time I turned up – 16 years later, I made sure that I had the right gear on.
The point is there was a sign on appropriate dress and if you did not meet it you could not enter.
The dress code for eternal life is Jesus; faith in Jesus; faithfulness to Jesus; being clothed in his righteousness. Being found on that last day to have maintained the testimony to Jesus – a life of faithfulness to his word and not compromise to this world.
Have you washed your robes through placing your faith in Jesus so that you might enjoy the fruit of the tree of life? That you may go through the gates into the eternal city?
And the CALL IS TO COME. Read v17
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Come to the city that is a bride. Room for everyone, but everyone is known. Come to the cistern, the river and tree of life. Come to Jesus.
Facebook event – Interested. Maybe. Going. Are you going? Click the button. Accept the invitation. What is heaven like? A life free of fear and fig leaves. Delighting in the presence and basking in the glory and favour of our King.
You are invited into the new heavens and the new earth, are you going? The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” the one who hears say, “Come!” – So will you come? Spurgeon (1834-1892) says –
“This invitation is placed at the very end of the bible because it is the sum and substance, the aim and object of the whole book. It is like the point of the arrow and all the rest of the bible is like the shaft and the feathers on either side of it.
This book has missed its mark if it doesn’t lead you to come to Christ.
All the books of the bible, all the prophets, apostles, threatenings and promises gather themselves up onto this point. Come to Jesus”