Summary: Jesus Return will see a new heaven and earth established where the patterns of the garden are restored, but in a city where God is central
What is your picture of heaven - fluffy clouds with angels perched on top, playing harps? Endless rounds of singing holy, holy, holy? Is it something you look forward to with great longing, or do you never give it a thought?
We live in an age when people avoid thoughts of death and mortality. We’d rather kid ourselves that nothing can hurt us than think about the fact that this fragile existence is going to end some time soon. Even those people who embark on various risk taking behaviours, driving fast cars too fast, binge drinking, drug taking, extreme sports, etc., give little thought to the possible outcomes of their behaviour. I guess it’s because we have such a fear of death that we prefer not to think about it. After all, as Peanut’s Linus concluded, nothing is so bad that you can’t run away from it.
On the other hand it could be that our great advances in medical science have given us a false hope that life might go on forever, that there’s no problem that medicine can’t fix. So we don’t need to worry about what the future holds for us
Whatever the reason, the result for many Christians is that we stop looking forward to the great promise of our future that lightens up the horizon the way the sun brightens the sky just before sunrise. And when we begin to forget the great promise of eternal life with God our life becomes just that much darker. It becomes just that much harder to persevere in our faithfulness to God.
But let me remind you what Paul thought about the prospect of dying. Here’s what he says to the Philippians as he writes from a prison cell in Rome. (Phil 1:20-24 NRSV) "It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you." It’s interesting how people in previous ages had a far more realistic view about death and dying. It was just part of life. And for Paul the chances of him being killed either by the Romans or his Jewish enemies were fairly high. But there’s no fear there, is there? Rather there’s an anticipation of what lies beyond death, of the glory of being with Christ in heaven, in the presence of God for eternity.
Well let’s think about what that life with God might be like.
Let me say before we look closely at Revelation 21 & 22 that what we find written here is really only an outline; a shadowy description of the reality. The real thing is beyond human description. It’s beyond words to describe it.
You begin to realise that when you read the section before the part we just had read for us. Look at vs 16-21. First of all the city is a cube 1500 miles long and wide and high. Now that’s pretty high! But you see, the first thing to notice isn’t the actual dimensions of the city. Rather it’s the fact that it’s built as a cube. This is the way the Holy of Holies was built in Solomon’s temple. In other words this new city of God is in fact the new Temple. This is the real place where God has his dwelling. The original temple was just a foretaste, a model of what the reality would be like. The 1500 miles is one of those translations that loses the point of the original. The original measurement was 12000 stadia. When you read Revelation, numbers are always significant. In this case 12 is the number of the tribes of Israel and of the apostles. 1000 is 10 cubed, the perfect number. In other words the dimensions represent the perfect total of God’s people, gathered together in God’s place. And the sheer size of the image is meant to convey the idea that this city is large enough to house all who will come to it.
Again, the wall is measured: it’s 144 cubits. Not very high for a city as large as this one. But 144 is 12 squared. So perhaps it represents the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles, so both covenants are included. In any case the wall being so small compared to the height of the city perhaps indicates, at least, that it’s not built for defence because the last enemy has been destroyed.