The Unspeakable Glory of Our High Calling: Part 1

Benedict Peters

Revelation 21:9—22:5 contains the only description of the glory of the city that Abraham had been searching for, the city that God Himself had built (Heb 11:10), and for which we are longing (Heb 13:14) as strangers in this world (1 Pet 2:11). An outlook.

In Revelation 19:1—21:8, John offers us, in chronological order, a panorama of the most important events from the judgment of the Great Whore to the beginning of the eternal state: adoration of God’s just judgments in heaven (19:1-5); the marriage of the Lamb (19:6-10); Christ appearing as King of kings and judging the beast with his armies (19:11-21); Satan’s banishment into the abyss (20:1-3); the beginning of Christ’s millennial reign (20:4-6); Satan being once again released from his prison and, together with the innumerable people whom he seduces, being immediately judged (20:7-10); the eternal judgment of all people who have ever lived (20:11-15); the eternal state (21:1-8). It should be noted that the individual sections are always introduced with an “and,” and thus indicate that they directly follow each other in time.

A Chronological Regression. However, after Revelation 21:9, John does not continue with the description of eternity, but goes back to the beginning of the messianic kingdom and describes the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem, which then descends from heaven to earth. Three observations substantiate this:

First, the account returns to the judgment of the Whore of Babylon. We can recognize this easily if we compare Revelation 21:9 with 17:1. Once again, it is one of the angels “which had the seven vials,” who shows John not only the abominations of the Great Whore, but also the glory of the bride of the Lamb. This is described in Revelation 21:10—22:5.

Second, the fact that it is the heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth at the beginning of the Millennium is also confirmed by the linguistic means by which John connects the visions he describes. The present passage isn’t introduced by the wording “after these things I heard,” or “and I heard,” or “and I saw.” John uses these phrases where he is describing events that follow one another in time (see 19:1, 6, 11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1-2).

Third, the details that follow don’t fit with eternity, but fit very well with the time of the Millennium: We learn that the kings of the nations come to her (21:24). Neither nations nor their kings will exist in eternity; just as anything unclean, which must be kept away from (21:27). In Revelation 22:2, we read about the healing needed by the nations, and that the tree of life (the leaves of which give healing to the nations, or heathen) bears fruit every month. Does anyone need healing in eternity? And can eternity be said to go through time that can be measured in lunar cycles?

The Bride Beloved by the Lord. “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev 21:9). In chapters 17 and 18, the angel had shown John how the Whore had corrupted the whole earth. Here he wants to show how the bride will be a blessing for the whole earth. The bride has “the glory of God” (v. 11). All the perfections of God will shine from her and fill the universe.

It’s peculiar that “the bride” is simultaneously called the “wife” (that is, the wife of the Lamb). In common usage, a bride is not yet a wife, and a wife is no longer a bride. And yet the church is compared to both: to a bride in 2 Corinthians 11:2, and a wife in Ephesians 5:25, 30-32. The people of God, who are loved by the Lord and devoted to their God in love, are both and will remain so forever. “Bride” represents the first love a bride has for her groom, which excludes everyone and everything else. “Wife” represents perfected and persistent love, the love that shows itself true. All this means that the perfected church will never fall away from its first love (Rev 2:4), nor will it ever be unfaithful (see Rev 2:14, 20-22).

The two terms also represent the two sides of the Lord’s love for the church. She is His bride: He loved her with a singular love, a love He has only for her, and He has demonstrated it by giving Himself for her (Eph 5:25) to possess her (Tit 2:14). She is His wife; He loves her so much that He is joined to her forever, and she can never be divorced from His love (Rom 8:35).

The Church Comes from Heaven. “And he carried me away in spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:10).

We have to be “in the Spirit” to understand God’s thoughts. John was in the Spirit when the Lord revealed Himself on the island of Patmos (1:10). He was in the Spirit when he saw the throne of God in heaven (4:2). He was in the Spirit when he was shown the Great Whore (17:3). What’s more, we can only properly understand and evaluate evil when the Spirit of God teaches us (see John 16:8). And we have to be in the Spirit to perceive what the glorified church is.

That John is led up “a great and high mountain” reminds us of Deuteronomy 34. Just as Moses had to be on a high mountain to see the inheritance that God had prepared for His people (Deut 34), we must be led up “a great and high mountain.” From our earthly point of view with our natural mind, we can’t discern anything at all.

Just as “bride” and “wife” represent the relationship of the redeemed to Christ, “city” represents the church of the redeemed in itself. The heavenly Jerusalem is “the holy city,” the perfected church, the completion of the work the Lord began on Pentecost and upon which He is continually building (Matt 16:18), until the day of the Rapture when the construction is completed (cf. Heb 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14).

The bride of the Lamb comes “from heaven.” That is her origin (Eph 1:3-4), and her vocation (Eph 1:18; Heb 3:1) and her goal (Col 3:1-4) is to live there one day. Her true home is in heaven (Phil 3:20). In the same way, the Apostle Peter once saw a vision of how the worldwide communion of saints was lowered from heaven in a sheet and then taken up again (Acts 10:11,16).

The Glory of the Church. And the city had “the glory of God” (Rev 21:11). In John 17:22, the Son of God said in His prayer to His Father: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them.” This is fulfilled here. Let’s pause for a moment. The eternal Son of God became man, lived a life of perfect devotion to His God and Father (John 6:38), and was therefore prepared to sacrifice Himself in obedience (Phil 2:6-8; Heb 9:14). As a man He glorified the Creator (John 17:4), whom man, the crown of creation, had dishonored by his sin. That is why God has exalted Him (Phil 2:9-10) and glorified Him (Acts 3:13). Jesus suffered as a human being and “enter[ed] into his glory” (Luke 24:26). He was the first person to enter into the glory of God and receive the glory of God as a man (Acts 7:55-56; Heb 2:9). And He acquired this glory as a man in order to give it to His redeemed. Who can even comprehend this?

The light of the city is “like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Rev 21:11). In Revelation 4:3, we read that jasper symbolizes the appearance of God, and this is confirmed here. When it says that the city has “the glory of God,” and then that its luster is like jasper, we conclude that the jasper’s brilliance symbolizes God’s appearance, God’s essential features becoming visible. The symbol is very eloquent, as the gem known as jasper in antiquity is our diamond. As the diamond refracts the light into all the colors of the spectrum, so the heavenly Jerusalem will illuminate all facets of the glory of God in all its diversity. The whole of creation will be able to read God’s glory, God’s manifold wisdom and love, power and faithfulness, in the church.

Walls, Gates, and Foundations. “And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:12-14).

How is the glorified church built so that it can reflect God’s glory? And how can the church radiate something of God’s glory now (see Eph 3:10)? How can we now do what we read in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; namely, that an unbeliever comes into the church, is put into the light, falls down and confesses, “God is among you”? This happens when the church has the three things mentioned in these verses. Which three? A wall, gates, and foundations.

The “wall great and high” means segregation (see Rev 21:27). The “twelve gates” represent communication (see v. 24). The “twelve foundations” represent the Apostles’ teaching (see Eph 2:20).

Walls. A wall drawn around a city ensures that no one can enter who does not belong to it. Therefore, it is already said of the earthly Jerusalem: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together” (Ps 122:3). Nobody is allowed to sneak in or steal into the church (Gal 2:4; Jude 4; John 10:1) who does not belong to it. It should be a community of those bought with blood, the saints and beloved of God. Thus, the wall teaches us the great lesson that the church is separate from everything that contradicts the Lord and His nature. If we want to reflect the nature and will of the Lord as a church, then we must be holy, even apart, in word, walk, and teaching (1 Pet 1:16). We cannot share the same yoke as unbelievers, cannot be associated with a church framework that is more and more taking on the features of the Great Whore (2 Cor 6:14-16). We must purify ourselves of the “vessels of dishonour” (2 Tim 2:20)—that is, of unbelievers and false teachers (2 Tim 2:17-18), and of necessity repent of spiritual adultery (James 4:4).

Gates. Why does the wall need gates? So that people can go in and out. We read in the same Psalm about the earthly Jerusalem: “Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps 122:2). All who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 1:5; 22:14) will be received (Rom 15:7). The redeemed should have dealings with the people of the world, go to them, seek them out for the Son of God, and introduce them to the communion of the saints through “the door” (John 10:9). The wall has three gates in each of the four directions. This shows us that the church has the mission of reaching “every creature” (Mark 16:15) and “all nations” (Matt 28:19; Rom 1:5) with the gospel (Acts 1:8). As a local church, as far as it is possible, we should also visit people of all ages and social classes in order to win them over to true life.

A proper city has to have both high walls and functioning gates. Many a church today has so many open gates that no wall is left. Everything and everyone moves in freely and permeates the church with superstition, impurity, and heresy. Nothing is seen of the holiness of God. Other churches, by comparison, have only walls and no gates. They are, then, not separated for the Lord. If they were, they would allow themselves to be sent into the world by Him (John 20:21; Acts 26:17). They are alienated from mankind in every respect. We are to walk through the world as strangers (1 Pet 2:11), because we are traveling to the heavenly city (Heb 11:10), but we must not evacuate from the world (1 Cor 5:9-10). That would be lovelessness. How will the love of God be seen in the church if we are unloving?

Foundations. “And the wall of the city had foundations.” We read in Ephesians 2:22 that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets; that is, on all that they have taught and written. This is what Acts 2:42 calls collectively “the apostles’ doctrine.” Of course, not just the New Testament but also the Old belongs to this. This is shown by the fact that the New Testament writers repeatedly quoted from the Old Testament in order to substantiate New Testament doctrine. So, we can say that the church must have the Word of God Himself as a foundation. A different foundation won’t carry any weight. The challenges of the times cannot be withstood by a church that relies partly on God’s Word and partly on human doctrines such as psychology, management, sales strategy, etc. The foundation will sag, and the house collapse. Didn’t the Lord say so explicitly (Matt 7:24-27)? Therefore, a church that wants to reflect something of God’s glory must orient itself exclusively and radically to the Word of God, relying on it alone (2 Tim 3:15-17; Josh 1:8; Ps 1).

Midnight Call - 09/2019

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