For the Glory of God
A sermon on Revelation 21:9-22:9 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 8/21/2005
Why do you exist? Why are you alive? Is there a purpose for your existence? These questions begin to defines your worldview. How do you answer them?
Those of us who are Christians should get our answers to such questions from the Bible rather than from our own heads. For the Bible is God’s Word, inspired by Him, so that we might know Him - indeed, so that we might even know ourselves.
The Bible gives us a very clear answer to these questions: There is a purpose for your existence. And that purpose is NOT to achieve the greatest pleasure; that purpose is not even to help others. What is that purpose? Isaiah 43 tells us:
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth,everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory. Isaiah 43:6-7
Mankind was created: for the glory of God. But what does that mean? “Glory” is not a word we use often in everyday speech. Verse 21 helpfully gives the same answer in other words:
the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
Thus, to glorify God is to declare praises of God through our thoughts, words, and deeds. The Bible uses the word “glory” to mean:
God created mankind to display to others what God is like, to praise God with all of our being.
Has mankind fulfilled that purpose? When you look around world, when you look at man, do you see mankind as a whole living lives that praise God? Do you see people living like Christ, acting like Him, showing what He is like?
No. Some men, some of the time, show what God is like. But as a whole mankind has failed in the purpose for which we were created. Each of us individually has failed to live up to that purpose with all of our life.
The Bible explains that too, showing how the first man and the first woman rejected God, and all mankind subsequently is stained by their sin. But God set in motion His plan of redemption to right this wrong. Working across thousands of years, He sent His Son Jesus into the world to pay the penalty for all the sins of those He would redeem, and to create new men, with new hearts, who will indeed throughout eternity glorify Him.
And that is what we see in today’s text. Man – at long last – fulfilling the purpose of his creation: Living to glorify God, and glorifying Him fully.
Look at Revelation 21:9-11, which brings out this truth clearly. One of the seven angels who had poured out the bowl plagues in chapter 16 invites John to come with him to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb”. He takes John to a high mountain, and shows him – not a bride, but a city. We’ve seen something similar before many times in Revelation: a person expects to see something, but is shown something completely different. Do you remember chapter 5, when John hears about the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but then sees the Lamb? In all these cases, John uses different, complementary images to more fully describe the person or object in question. Jesus really is both Lion and Lamb! Just so, the Bride of the Lamb is indeed the city, New Jerusalem. Both Bride and Jerusalem are pictures of all redeemed humanity of all time.
As at the beginning of chapter 21, the city is coming down out of heaven, prepared by God. But look at verse 11. This is key: The city has “the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” The city has the glory of God! At long last, God’s people have God’s glory! God’s people are shining through with God’s glory! Ever since the fall, man has failed to live up to the purpose of His creation. But here, in this picture, redeemed humanity is living up to that purpose, glowing with the glory of God.
Most of the rest of today’s text explains how redeemed humanity glorifies God. Four key words will serve as outline: Unity. Intimacy. Transparency. And Purity.
May we rejoice today as we see the picture of what God is creating among us, and may we live today in light of these truths:
Verses 12-21 describe the size of the city, along with its walls, foundations, and gates. What does this have to do with unity? Let me make a few observations about the city, and then the point should become clear.
The city is square, 12,000 stadia on a side. We looked at these numbers briefly in the introductory sermon on Revelation. Twelve thousand stadia is about 1,400 miles, longer than the distance from Charlotte to Minneapolis. So this is a huge city!
But the most spectacular direction is vertical rather than horizontal. For the New Jerusalem is a cube; its height also is 12,000 stadia. This is incredibly high. How high is Mt Everest in miles? Less than 6 miles; this city is more than 250 times as high as Mt Everest. So let’s consider a higher comparison. What is the height of the orbit of the Hubble telescope? 360 miles. So the city is almost four times as high. If the Hubble telescope were still orbiting when this city was being built, the telescope might plow into the cranes!
John’s point is not that the city is really, really tall. Throughout Revelation, numbers are symbolic. Our task as readers is to understand the symbolism. What is being symbolized here
Even a casual overview of verses 12-21 shows the prominence of the number 12. This number appears nine times. There are 12 gates, 12 foundations (or probably “buttresses” – supports for walls that are partly above ground.), twelve jewels, and twelve pearls. Furthermore, the height of the wall is 144, which equals 12 times 12. I don’t think that is a coincidence.
Indeed, verses 12 and 14 tell us why all these twelves appear in the text. The 12 gates are inscribed with the names of the tribes of Israel, and the twelve foundations or buttresses are labeled with the names of the 12 apostles. This city thus is a picture of the coming together of all of God’s people, all of redeemed humanity from all time.
We’ve seen a similar picture before: The 144,000 in chapter 7 and chapter 13. There, the 12 times 12 times 1,000 are another picture of all redeemed humanity from all time, including the faithful remnant of Israel from Old Testament times, believers in the first century, martyrs during the reformation, and believers today: all those redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ across the centuries.
John emphasizes this even more in verses 19 and 20: The foundations or buttresses are adorned with 12 jewels. Those 12 jewels are almost identical with the jewels the High Priest wore over his chest whenever he entered the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or temple. Exodus 28:15-21 describes this breastpiece as having 12 precious stones; each stone is engraved with the name of a tribe of Israel. So when the High Priest entered the temple, when he symbolically entered the presence of God, he carried on his heart this representation of all Israel. In the list of 12 jewels in Revelation, seven stones are identical to those in Exodus and the others seem to be equivalent stones, described by different words.
Why is this important? Aren’t the names of the tribes of Israel already inscribed? Read the text carefully. Are these stones on the foundations or the gates? On the foundations. And whose names are on the foundations? Not the names of the tribes, but the names of the apostles! The jewels representing the tribes of Israel adorn the foundations labeled with the names of the apostles!
This is the point: There is no distinction in the eternal kingdom between Israel and non-Israel, between Jew and Gentile. We can take this further:
We are all one! One bride, one city. All types of people are now fulfilling the purpose for which God created mankind. Not only one people group, one ethnic group, or one type of ethnic group, but those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, together built into one city radiating the glory of God.
This is exactly what Paul says at the end of Ephesians 2: Speaking to Gentile believers, he writes:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Ephesians 2:19-21
In Revelation 21, we see that completed holy temple. New Jerusalem, blazing with the glory of God. Redeemed humanity, united in fulfilling its purpose: to declare the praises of God.
We glorify God through our unity across ethnic differences. That’s the primary reason we include “diversity-loving” as one of our core values. That’s why we had a racial harmony seminar in May. That’s why we’ll have a racial harmony roundtable discussion starting around the end of September. When we show through the local, present-day church what the final, heavenly church will be like, we are glorifying God. Unity. To the glory of God.
This brings us to our next heading:
Do you remember what the tabernacle and the temple represented to the Israelites and Jews? God’s presence among them. They knew God was not limited to any physical building, that the tabernacle could not contain or limit God. But God chose to represent His presence among them through these structures. God pictured His being their God, they being His people by placing the tabernacle in the midst of the camp. The tabernacle and temple, therefore, were pictures of intimacy between God and man. In contrast, when God allowed His temple to be destroyed by Babylonians in 586BC, He pictured His abandonment of His people for a period of time.
So what does a temple have to do with the New Jerusalem? The entire New Jerusalem is a temple! Why do I say that? First, as we noted in verse 16, the entire city is a huge cube. Where else have we seen cubes in Scripture? The Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the tabernacle and temple, the ultimate picture of God’s dwelling place, was a cube (1 Kings 6:20). Thus the entire New Jerusalem is the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God.
Second, throughout today’s text, there are numerous allusions to Ezekiel chapters 40-48, his vision of a future temple. Let me note a small subset of these allusions:
Ezekiel describes a temple in these chapters. John makes clear that his vision is a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophesy. Thus, he too is describing a temple: the presence of God with His people.
Upon hearing this, you might say, “Oh, so Revelation 21-22 is all figurative, all symbolic.” No. That’s not what I’m saying. This is the reality that every physical temple represented. This is the real thing; the physical temples were symbols!
This important truth is brought out clearly in 21:22:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (emphasis added)
The temple was a picture of God’s presence. There is no need for a picture of God’s presence when you have Him with you in reality, when you see Him face to face!
Think of it this way. From 1985 through 2000, I traveled frequently in my job, sometimes for three to four weeks at a time. I would take pictures of Beth and the children, and would enjoy looking at them while on the trip. That is normal and good. But imagine that I have arrived home after a long trip; my wife and children are around me. They are eager to tell me about all that happened while I was gone; they want to hug me and play with me. But I ignore them, instead staring at the pictures, saying, “What wonderful pictures of my children! I’m so glad I have these pictures!” How foolish! The reality is with me! I don’t need the pictures!
Just so, when God is in our midst, when we can know Him intimately, we don’t need symbols of His presence. We have Him!
Look ahead to 22:1-4. Here John paints a deeper picture of intimacy with God. The river of the water of life flows from throne of God and the Lamb. (Do not that this is the throne (singular) of God and the Lamb. There are not two thrones. For God the Father and God the Son are One.) God’s presence is the source of life-giving water. This water is available for all in the city – for it flows right down the middles of the street! That sounds dirty to us – and if you had ever seen the actual streets of ancient Jerusalem, it would sound even dirtier. But John emphasizes that this water has no impurities at all; it is clear as crystal. God provides for our every need. There is no more thirst. This true, life-giving water is free to all.
Then the tree of life is on both sides of the river. This tree was in the midst of the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God expelled them from the Garden and blocked access to it (Genesis 3:22-24). But here it is; all in the city can eat of it freely. Now, God blocked access to this tree for centuries. How can He simply grant access now? Verse 3 tells us:
No longer will there be any curse.
(Note that the ESV renders this phrase “no longer will there be anything accursed”. This is a possible translation of the Greek word, but John is here drawing an allusion to Zechariah 14:11, which clearly concerns a curse, and Revelation 21:4, which says there will be no more death, no more crying, no more pain. So from these allusions it is clear that John intends to say that there is no more curse.)
No more curse! Jesus got rid of the curse for all the redeemed on the cross. So there is no more impact of the curse on our bodies or on creation. The curse that has been in effect since the Garden is now gone. So the barrier between God and man is destroyed. Intimacy with God is now possible. God can open the way to the tree of life.
Note the contrast between the first and second parts of verse 3:
No longer will there be any curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
If there is a curse, God cannot show Himself completely to people. His presence is destructive. But with no curse, God and the Lamb are with His people. This is the real temple!
Verse 4 completes the picture of intimacy:
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Moses could not look at God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20). But all redeemed mankind can.
He is God. They are His people, united under Him. Intimate with Him. Husband and Bride, fulfilling the purpose of creation.
Let’s turn now to third heading, after unity and intimacy.
We talk today about the need for government to be transparent, meaning that the country’s citizens need to know how decisions are made. They need to know how tax money is spent. They need to be able to see into the inner workings of government. The word “transparent” is thus used in a figurative sense.
But what we see in Revelation 21 and 22 is more like a literal transparency. Glass is transparent because can see through it. And the city is described as transparent! Did you catch that?
This seems strange. Why should a street be transparent? Why should a city be transparent? Indeed, in our world, we want our walls to be opaque. One purpose of walls is to keep others from seeing inside.
But verse 23 explains what’s going on:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Do you see the picture? God is in the city. The light of His glory spreads everywhere, enlightens everything. And nothing is opaque! Nothing blocks the light! Not the walls, not the streets. His light shines through everything, permeating everything.
Now, extend this image to its ultimate conclusion: We, all of redeemed humanity, are that transparent city. We are transparent! That is, the light of the glory of God shines in us and through us. We receive the radiance of the glory of God and we shine forth with the glory of God. We are fully displaying God’s glory.
No other glory can compare to this. So verse 24 says even the most glorious of mankind – the kings of the earth – will bring their glory, and deposit it before Him. Once they see God’s glory, they know all they have is relatively worthless. They only want Him! They only want to have His glory!
As our Fighter verse of a few weeks ago said:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you!” Psalm 73:25
God is the object of our joy, of our affection. We have intimacy with Him. But also, His light shines on us, fills us and shines forth from us. That is glory indeed.
Thus, as Revelation 21:25 tells us, there will be no night. No darkness. No hiding. Chapter 22 verse 5 reiterates this. Echoing Isaiah 60:19,20, John writes:
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Transparency. Eternal light flowing from God through all His people, shining forth from them. Man fulfilling the purpose of His creation, fully radiating the glory of God.
Finally, purity. The original creation was stained by the sin of the first man and first woman. They believed Satan’s lie that God did not have their good at heart. They failed to live up to the purpose of their creation. They sinned, and ever since, all of mankind has been sinful from birth.
But 21:27 notes that the effects of the fall are ended:
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
No evildoer will enter the city. We might well react, “Great! There will be no thieves, no murderers, no child abusers! There will be no one there to harm me, or steal from me, or make fun of me. I will never have to be on my guard again!”
Yes, but this leads to the question: “How can I ever get in? Nothing unclean may enter – and I’m far from perfect!”
Indeed, if God’s standard for entrance is perfection, complete purity, what hope do we have? For Paul tells us, “None is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).
Look at the verse again. John makes a contrast between two types of people. The first type is “the unclean”, anyone who does “what is detestable or false.” But how does he characterize the second type? Does he say, “but only those who are perfect will enter”? No, that is not what he says. What does he say? “Those who are written in Lamb’s book of life.”
So the contrast is not between those who do evil and those who are perfect. If that was the case, none of us would be in the city. The contrast is not even between those who mostly do evil, and those who mostly do good. God could never stand for that. As this chapter shows, He is pure light! Only those who are transparent can shine forth with His glory, can fulfill the purpose of their creation! And even Moses couldn’t look in the face of God – he was too sinful.
Instead, the contrast is between those who reject Christ, and those who by God’s grace believe in Him, those who admit their sinfulness, who confess they deserve nothing, but God, having written their names in the book of life, makes them alive in Christ. God gives them the position of Jesus Himself before Him, and then makes them practically righteous.
This is the Gospel, my friends: By grace alone, God enables His people to see Jesus, to believe in Him. Then, as they are united with Christ, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to their account. And finally He makes us like Christ. He will shine His glory through us.
Skip ahead to verses 8 and 9 of chapter 22:
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God."
The vision is so glorious that John begins, once again, to worship the messenger. But note what the angel says: “I am a fellow servant . . . with those who keep the words of this book.” Thus, if you keep the words of this book, you are a fellow servant with the angel!
Thus, in this passage John is not only showing us a glorious picture of the future of God’s people. That’s marvelous; but John’s intention in writing, Jesus’ intention in revealing this book, is to change you today! This is what 22:6 and 7 tell us:
And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place." "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
He shows us “what must soon take place” in order to encourage us to keep “the words of prophecy of this book” (echoing 1:3).
Are you keeping the words of the prophecy? Are you heeding these words?
The promise is glorious:
Though all of these promised are fulfilled ultimately only in the eternal state, God offers all of this in measure now. That’s what this book is about.
So keep the words of the prophecy of this book!
This is not a message simply about the shape of a future city. This message is for you, today!
Why do you exist? You exist for the glory of God. God offers you the opportunity to fulfill that purpose by being part of His redeemed creation.
How will you respond?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 8/21/05. Greg Beale’s The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1999) was helpful. I follow him particularly closely in the discussion of 22:3. Michael Wilcock’s The Message of Revelation (Inter Varsity Press, 1975) was also helpful.
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