Summary: As God ushers in a new phase of eternity, John describes it in the form of a city, a wedding, and a tabernacle. All pain, sadness, and death will be stripped away. We will be with God forever, completely fulfilled in him.
Heaven on Earth
The famous Christian author, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “The Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” Today and next week we’re going to think a little of the next world. We’re in week two of a four-week series on some key passages in Revelation. Today we get a little taste of heaven on earth, as the heavenly city of Jerusalem descends into a new heaven and a new earth.
You should thank me. We’re picking up near the end of the book after all the bad stuff has ended: sinners have been judged and condemned; Satan and his evil demons have been thrown into the lake of fire. It’s time now for God to begin the rest of eternity with a redeemed people who have had their sin forgiven and stripped away. That’s us!
The commentator Erik Heen summarizes our passage well. He writes, “As the vision of the new creation continues to unfold in Revelation, the distinction between heaven and earth simply falls away. Heaven quite literally descends to earth, radically renewing it. In the process, all life on earth is restored to God's intent for it.”
Our writer of Revelation, the Apostle John, gives us a couple of images to relate what this new heaven and earth will be like. First, John describes a “city,” but not just any city. This is the holy city of Jerusalem, the capitol city of heaven. God has prepared it in the heavenly realms and God now lowers it down to a waiting new earth. Here is a perfect place for all its kingdom citizens to reside.
John also talks of a “wedding.” Ancient Hebrew weddings included three phases: First, there was the “betrothal” period, what we might call an engagement, except back then breaking a betrothal required a divorce; that’s how serious it was. Next there was the “presentation,” a series of festivities that might last several days, all leading up to the last phase: the “ceremony,” which included an exchange of vows.
Currently we are engaged to Jesus, so to speak. Someday we will be presented to him at what the Bible calls the wedding feast in heaven. And then comes the ceremony itself, which John describes here: the church of all true believers is adorned as a beautiful bride walking down the aisle toward Jesus, the groom. I’ll never forget seeing my bride enter the back of the sanctuary, on the arm of her father, and how radiant she looked as she came down the aisle to meet us. God says his church of believers will be radiant—with all sin stripped away—as we meet our groom, Jesus Christ, at the altar.
Now, according to Jewish custom, the bridegroom would take his bride to live in an extension he built onto his father’s house. (This is still done in certain cultures today.) That’s why Jesus promised, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)
Jesus is there now, the master carpenter, preparing a place for you and for me.
JOKE: Did you hear about the pastor and the taxi cab driver who arrived at the Pearly Gates at the same time? St. Peter came out to greet them and turned to the cab driver and said, “Sir, if you’ll follow me, we have quite the place for you. In fact, you can see it from here, that mansion up there on the hilltop.” As they walked away, the pastor beamed with excitement, awaiting his just reward. St. Peter returned and said, “Pastor, we have this quaint little shack down here off the alley for you.” The pastor was irate! He said, “I’ve been preaching the word of God for 40 years and all I get is a shack, while that taxi driver gets a mansion???” Sadly, Peter shook his head and said, “When you preached, people slept. When he drove, people prayed.”
I’m sure whatever Jesus is preparing for us will be just fine!
Verse 3 carries a third image from John, that of the “tabernacle,” that tent-like house of God that pre-dated the Temple. Remember the tabernacle in the wilderness? Anywhere the nation of Israel went, the Tabernacle went with them. The tabernacle was a sign to everyone that God was with this people.
Here at the end of the Bible God promises to come down with the city. He promises to tabernacle with us. The word as a noun means a dwelling or abode. As a verb, it means to hang out with, to be with. God will live with us.
That makes me think about Jesus’ title, “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” John talked about Jesus’ incarnation at that first Christmas when he wrote in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” That word “dwelling” is the same word “tabernacle.” Jesus came to tent/dwell/tabernacle among us, but then he had to return to heaven so he could send his Holy Spirit to be in believers worldwide. Someday, though, God in his Trinitarian fullness will dwell among us for good. We will belong to him and he to us. To borrow from Song of Solomon 2:16: “My beloved is mine and I am his.”