Summary: God’s ideal of community in not something we simply wait to happen at some future point – it is a something we strive to create here and now.
Big Idea: God’s ideal of community in not something we simply wait to happen at some future point – it is a something we strive to create here and now.
I must make a confession to you this morning. While engrossed in the exegesis for Rev. 21 I awoke early one morning with the text rolling through my mind. I still remember my first thoughts and words. Before I ever got out of bed I said (to myself) “Drats! Heaven is a city!”
Not only is it a city – it’s a HUGE city. It is approximately 1500 square miles (and 1500 miles high!). That is a footprint equivalent to half of the U.S.A. From Boston to Kansas City is right at 1500 miles. From Kansas City to Los Angeles is right at 1500 miles. From New Orleans to the Canadian Border is 1500 miles! The New Jerusalem is huge! It can hold a lot of people … very possibly more people than have ever lived on the planet (remember it is also 1500 miles high). Did you know that the Time Warner building in New York City only covers 3 1/2 acres? Did you know it is only 1700 feet high and hosts over 40,000 people a day!? That helps put the size of the New Jerusalem in perspective.
I was very sad when I discovered heaven was a city. That may not sound like a big deal to you but, as sad a commentary as it might be, I was genuinely disappointed. I don’t want to live in “the city.” I, like many of us who live here on the north side of the Adirondacks, have made deliberate life choices precisely because I do NOT want to live in “the city!”
The city offers a different lifestyle than we have here in our North Country college town. Rural environments like ours, particularly ours, offer a serene and pastoral setting. It offers time to reflect, enjoy the river, the mountains, and a rhythmic pace of life. It offers a degree of personal space that is not available in the city.
I really wanted Heaven to be a garden – more accurately, a state park.
The city represents evil
When I think of city life I think of dirty streets and murderous alleys, adulterous bedrooms, corrupt courts, hypocritical synagogues, commercialized churches, thieving tax-collectors and traitorous friends. I think of things like fragmentation, stress, poverty, fear, division, violence, insecurity, and loneliness. I think of things like guilt, frustration, disillusionment, hate, and bitterness. When we hear news from “the city” we hear of fraudulent commerce, blasphemous words, and corrupt politics. These daily bruise our ears. You name a negative human emotion-a human experience-and it is found in the city.
Then there is the hubris! Cities constructed by human beings are at worst idolatrous expressions of human pride. It is exacerbated by all the noise and self-assertion, forgetful defiance of God, the battering and abusive persons. The first city, Enoch, was built by the first murderer, Cain, and destroyed in Noah’s flood. The second city, Babel, was built in an arrogant attempt to storm heaven and was abandoned in a tangle of broken languages. When St. John gave us his vision of judgment, it was a CITY that was destroyed: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (Rev. 18:2).
Babylon contrasted to the New Jerusalem
And that’s when it hit me; when I think of the city I think of the Babylon of chapter 18. John’s contrast to The New Jerusalem is Babylon. Chapter 18 is intended to be in contrast with these last two chapters.
John describes Babylon’s depravity well doesn’t he? It encompasses all this is wrong with modern cities.
Then he gives what is the most picturesque vision in his book – the New Jerusalem. Here we discover that sin and corruption have all passed away; have all been sanctified and transformed. Verse 5 of chapter 21 began to make sense. God was not making all new things – he was making all things new!!!!
Finally I realized that this is precisely why God expresses the concept of Heaven as urban. It teaches us very important truths about being the people of God and the kingdom of God.
• Cities require dependency and interdependency – Babylon corrupts this while the New Jerusalem perfects it
• Cities create a specific and unique communal identity – Babylon corrupts this while the New Jerusalem perfects it
• Cities create specific obligations for its citizenship – Babylon corrupts this while the New Jerusalem perfects it
• Cities create privileges and conveniences – – Babylon corrupts this while the New Jerusalem perfects it
The New Jerusalem and the People of God
Few images are better equipped to show us what it means to live as the people of God than a city. Urban living is relational living. It requires cooperation and community to function properly. Have you noticed all the relational language in chapter 21? It is not a coincidence. Heaven is a holy city living in harmony; heaven is a virgin bride, alive in intimacy with God; the city and bride are us.