Speaker: Chris Seay Passage: Revelation 21
Here at Ecclesia we are starting out the year talking about heaven. Chris gave a number of reasons why but probably the most dominant is that what we think of heaven will affect how we live our lives here on earth. So over the next weeks, we will be looking at scripture and see what it says about heaven.
Probably the most vocal passage on heaven is in Revelation 21. John is seeing a vision of things to come and one of which is that heaven descends to earth making all things new.
Here’s the excerpt from Revelation 21 from the Voice translation:1-2 :”I looked again and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything above me was new. Everything below me was new. Everything around me was new because the heaven and earth that had been had passed away, and the sea was gone, completely. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride on her wedding day, adorned for her husband and for His eyes only.” 10-16: “He took me away in the Spirit and set me on top of a great, high mountain. As I waited for what I thought was a bride, he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It gleamed and shined with the glory of God; its radiance was like the most precious of jewels, like jasper, and it was as clear as crystal. It was surrounded with a wall, great and high. There were twelve gates. Assigned to each gate was a messenger, twelve in all. And on the gates were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’s sons. There was a beauty and symmetry to its perfection. On the east wall were three gates. On the north wall were three gates. On the south wall were three gates. On the west wall were three gates. And the city wall sat perfectly on twelve foundation stones, and on them were inscribed the names of the twelve emissaries of the Lamb.My guide held a golden measuring rod. With it he measured the city and the gates and the walls. And the city is laid out with four corners in a perfect square, the length the same as its width. He measured the city with his measuring rod, and the result was that its length and width and height are equal: 1,444 miles, a perfect cube.” 22- 27: “And in the city, I found no temple because the Lord God, the All Powerful, and the Lamb are the temple.And in the city, there is no need for the sun to light the day or moon the night because the resplendent glory of the Lord provides the city with warm, beautiful light and the Lamb illumines every corner of the new Jerusalem. And all peoples of all the nations will walk by its unfailing light, and the rulers of the earth will stream into the city bringing with them the symbols of their grandeur and power. During the day, its gates will not be closed; the darkness of night will never settle in. The glory and grandeur of the nations will be on display there, carried to the holy city by people from every corner of the world. Nothing that defiles or is defiled can enter into its glorious gates. Those who practice sacrilege or deception will never walk its streets. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter.”
In the painting above you see the new Jerusalem descending onto earth. Now there is a lot of visual information describing the new Jerusalem (cube) and there is a lot of visual information to describe the earth (circle)… so I chose (“I chose” is a loose description here since it’s what I saw in my head) to represent things very minimally. We have two different colors coming together to make something new. A new place. A new existence.
So that describes the paintings this last Sunday.
There are a few other things that are going on in this painting that might not be totally obvious. This passage is actually really important to me. This new Jerusalem, the cube coming down, is actually an image i have used a lot in previous artwork.
I actually have it on a tattoo on my upper arm.
This isn’t anything that Chris said on Sunday but let me expound on this passage. A heard a great talk on this from a teacher up at Regent University name Rikk Watts. The fact that the walls of the city is a cube is important. The only other time we see a cube in scripture is in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple (1 Kings 6:19-20). The Holy of Holies was where the ark of the covenant rested and represented the presence of God. So here we see the new Jerusalem coming down, which has no temple cause God dwells throughout the whole city. Now it’s a cube and it’s 1500 miles on each side. Now it’s impossible to attach a 15oo mile city to the surface of the earth. The base of the city and the top would have different gravitational pulls and speeds and would rip apart. And the weight of it would throw the earth of its axis. So it’s probably not a literal vision although it has some precise measurements. One belief that Rick has, which I think is brilliant is that at that time in history, the known world in the mediterranean are was around 1500 miles. Inferring that belief into this passage would mean that the new jerusalem would engulf the entire known world… making the whole world dwell in the holy of holies, the presence of God.
This resembles the garden. This resembles the way things were meant to be. The world no longer separated from the presence of God.
This is what we are heading towards. This is my hope and what I always want to keep in mind.
The other thing that I love about this passage is that heaven comes down…. not we going up. A lot of our language about heaven is that we leave this place and go up somewhere else. Because of this, this has fostered some belief that it doesn’t matter what we do to the earth cause it’s all going away anyway. So litter and burn trees and destroy the ocean cause it doesn’t really matter eternally, right?
Wrong. Really wrong.
A couple thoughts.
One. About us being here on earth.
German philosopher Meister Eckhart said
“If human beings could know God without the earth, then God would have never created the earth.”
To view the world as a go between place is wrong in my opinion. Earth didn’t become a place to be after the fall. It was the place where we were originally created to be in and forever. The place where the infinite Divine and the finite created could dwell together. How could us, created beings, possible know and even understand an infinite being? He created this universe to help us understand him. From the vastness of the universe to the detail of cells…. it’s all here to tell us about Him (Romans 1:20).
So why would He discard it? More to the point, why would we believe we don’t need it anymore? This world matters. Heaven comes here permanently. Not the other way around.
Two. Heaven and Earth passed away and the process of restoration. Let’s look at the beginning of chapter 21 again…
1-2 :”I looked again and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything above me was new. Everything below me was new. Everything around me was new because the heaven and earth that had been had passed away…” The Voice Translation
Here’s the NIV translation for those of you who are apprehensive of the Voice…
1″Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”
The first thing here that just occurred to me over the weekend was the passing of the first heaven and the first earth. I guess I had always pictured a kind of throwing away the heaven and earth and there appearing magically a new one. And I guess I had just thought that everyone and everything just got magically transformed over to the new heaven and earth. But doing the painting made me realize that that idea in my head probably wasn’t well thought out. The painting shows something new when the new jerusalem envelopes the earth. Their two separate colors become something else. The passing of the 1st heaven and earth doesn’t necessarily mean a destruction of the two, but a transformation of the two into something new… that the old passes and the new comes.
The second thing I have been thinking about in the restoration of earth is the longevity of that process. Let me explain. In my experience, almost always restoration involves a process. Relational. Mechanical. Physical. Emotional. Most everything that is broken has a process of restoration. So my question to myself and to everyone else is do we assume that restoration of all things will be without process or with it?
I ran this by Chris and he said we don’t really know. Scripture doesn’t really tell us how it will be, just that it will be. So we have two options to think about and live by….
1. God restores all things instantly by his infinite power and without our help.
2. God brings the broken world through the process of restoration by his infinite power with our help.
The second one is more frightening and glorious the more I think about it. It’s frightening because all the things we consciously or unconsciously did to destroy each other and the world we would be responsible for fixing. With God’s help of course. It’s glorious because in that process we would grow in” wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil”…. we would become fully aware of how our selfishness/greed/sinful nature destroys and bring about death and we would see how selflessness/love/good can bring beauty/joy/rightness into the world.
(Side note: have you ever thought that when adam and eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we, the offspring and children of them, have been living in that journey for humanity to see the breadth of good and evil in reality? That the summation of the human journey will represent that knowledge… and when we enter into communion with God, we will have that knowledge and we will choose His ways for our communal future? just a thought….)
I think my only major push back to this process is that it would suck and I wouldn’t want to go through it. Why? Cause I’d have to come to grips with the truth of my selfish life – the amount of trash i create, the unforgiveness i hold onto, the apathy i let live in me. To be a part of the process to restore all that brokeness would mean i would have to be fully aware of sin. My sin.
But God’s goal with me isn’t to make me comfortable. It’s to mature me. To make me more like Him. To make me whole. I can’t bypass the paths He lays before me to grow. Growing is process-oriented by nature. This process, especially the proces of restoration, is a normal part of my spiritual life now. Not even spiritual life, but all parts of my life. Do we believe that wisdom is gained through process intrinsically, or will it one day be instantly imparted? Isn’t there a process of forgiveness? Process of healing?
I’m not trying to make a point to be right and smarter than other people. In thinking about these things, I first and foremost think about how it applies to my life. In getting back to the sermon this last weekend, Chris said that thinking about Heaven changes how we live our lives now.
Being part of the process of restoration makes me consider my life now. Not that all things will be instantly changed like with a stroke with a magic wand, but that I can partake in the work of God and by his power bring about restoration in the world now. I can gain wisdom. In fact I am asked to pray for it! I can seek forgiveness with those i’ve wronged and those who have wronged me. I can consider my life or consumption and waste and think about my role in the world that God called humanity to care for. This seems like the path of wisdom and faith that God would put me on.
Heaven is not just the place or reality where all things will be made right and we will be happy. It’s the knowledge that one day sin will be gone and all that is broken will be restored. We are headed toward there. We are on that journey now. We are in that process now. Let us live with the knowledge of Heaven and seek to make all that is wrong in the world around us right…. through God’s infinite power.