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A. We continue this morning on John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Rev.21. This is the second of five sections of this vision in Rev.21:1-22:6.
B. Revelation 21:9-14 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
C. Five questions to answer this morning
II. Why are the people of God referred to as Jerusalem?
A. 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,
1. Here new Jerusalem in v.2 is shortened to just Jerusalem.
B. Why is the saints glorious home in the new earth referred to as Jerusalem?
1. Well, it obviously has connection with the Jerusalem on earth, but not today’s Jerusalem. It is connected to the OT Jerusalem, the city of God, where God dwelt with His people.
2. It was the city where God’s temple was located. And in the temple, there was a room called the Holy of Holies. And in this room there was kept a large golden chest, called the Ark of the Covenant. And on the top of the Ark of the Covenant was the Mercy Seat. And the glory cloud of God Himself hovered over the Mercy Seat.
3. Jerusalem was the city where God’s people came from all over the middle east to draw close to Him during the time of the holy festivals, to offer sacrifices for their sins, and offerings of thanks.
4. Sadly, Jerusalem didn’t live up to its calling. Idolatry crept into their hearts and their city, and God had to deal with them severely.
C. But, the darkest moment of Jerusalem’s sad and sordid history was in the NT.
1. When God finally sent the promised Messiah, God’s people Israel did not welcome Him.
2. In fact, when Jesus came to Jerusalem, He wept over the city as He entered it (Luke 19:41).
3. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37) Later, it was Jerusalem which crucified our Lord.
D. But Jerusalem was not just a piece of real estate on Mt. Zion or the people who lived there. There was a remnant of true believers whom God considered to be the true Jerusalem. You see, in the mind of God, the true Jerusalem was the community of those who truly loved Him, whether they were blood descendants of Israel or not.
1. And so that’s the Jerusalem referred to here. It has virtually nothing to do with the modern city.
2. It is the community of true believers throughout the ages now glorified in their new bodies and purified from all sin.
III. Why 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of the Lamb?
A. 12 (The new Jerusalem) had ...twelve gates...and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed...14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
B. The tribes are the gates of this new Jerusalem, the apostles are the foundation.
C. What do these things mean? Let’s start with why the gates are identified with the 12 tribes of Israel.
1. On the east three gates, the north three gates, the south three gates, and the west three gates.
2. We just talked about the idolatry in Israel and in Jerusalem.
3. Well, the idolatry got so bad that God blew up the whole land, including Jerusalem & the temple. He raised up the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to scatter the people and destroy the city.
4. As a result, Israel’s people wound up all over the Mediterranean region, even in north Africa.
5. But through the prophets Jeremiah (Jer.23:3-8; 24:1-7; 29:10-14; 32:37-44; 46:27) and Ezekiel (Ezek.34:11-31; 36:8-38; 37:11-14; 39:25-29), God promised to regather His scattered people and return them to the land in glorious fashion.
6. People assumed this was going to happen after the Babylonian exile. But when groups eventually returned to the promised land from Babylon, what happened didn’t come close to living up to God’s promises (even though there were times when righteousness surged among the resettlers, and even though literal idolatry was mostly resisted).
7. This shifted the expectation of the people of Israel to think that the fulfillment of these promises would be realized when the Messiah came.
8. But when the Christ finally came, by and large the Jews rejected Him.
9. But when God made it clear that the Gentiles were to included in His church, and when the apostle Paul made clear that Gentiles were actually children of Israel by faith, it became clear that the promises of Jeremiah & Ezekiel were not going to be fulfilled in the way the people expected.
10. Turns out, just as Christian believers are the new Jerusalem, so they are also the new lost tribes of Israel being gathered from the four corners of the earth to this celestial city.
11. And THAT’S why in the new Jerusalem the twelve gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them. For into those twelve gates the twelve tribes of Israel will stream through those gates of pearl into that glorious city from the four corners of the world.
12. And the gates are on each of the four sides of the city, open to those from north/south/east/west.
13. Our hymn (For All the Saints, John Fawcett, T358) describes it beautifully, “From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
14. Most of them we have never met before, of course, but they are our forever family, and we’ll meet them all and know them very well someday, the most beautiful and precious people who ever lived, men and women of whom the world is not worthy. And they’ll have many amazing stories, and every one of their lives will sing of God’s grace & faithfulness.
15. On that day there will be no more division, no more racism, no more nationalism, no more suspicion, no more elitism. We will dwell together in perfect harmony.
D. Why do the foundation stones have the names of the 12 apostles on them?
1. We might have expected the 12 tribes of Israel to be the foundation, but the prophets of Israel only predicted Christ, and that often mysteriously.
2. It was the apostles who knew Him and touched Him and heard His teaching (1John 1:1-3); they were the eyewitnesses of what He did; they received the Spirit to guide them in understanding Him (John 16:13). So, it is the apostles who are the foundation of the new Jerusalem.
3. The idea of the apostles being the foundation is based on idea of the church built upon Christ the cornerstone – Ps.118:22-23 (Acts 4:8-12, Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17; 1Pet. 2:7)
4. The first step of constructing a house in the ancient world was to establish a corner stone, perfectly cut, perfectly straight, and perfectly level. This stone served as a standard according to which the rest of the foundation stones were laid. The house then was built on this foundation.
5. In this analogy, Christ is the perfect cornerstone from which the foundation stones (the Apostles) were aligned, the Apostolic foundation laid in faithful correspondence to the perfect cornerstone.
6. Then the household of faith (the Church itself) is built upon this solid and true foundation.
7. It not only says this here, but also in Eph.2:19-22. “You are... members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
8. And you remember how Jesus said to Peter as the first apostle to really get who He was,"Upon this rock I will build My church." – Matt.16:18. See also Acts 4:8-12, 1Corinthians 3:10.
9. The person and message of Jesus, as carried forth by the Apostles, is the foundation of the Church. The Church's one foundation is Christ Himself: in, through, and with the Apostles.
10. How do we know what to believe about Jesus? From the apostles.
11. How do we know what Jesus means for the church going forward? From the apostles.
12. It’s not popes, it’s not this denomination or that denomination, it’s not the Spirit speaking to us in our hearts, it’s not contemporary messages received from someone who claims to be a prophet, it’s not this church or that church, it’s not me or any other pastor. It’s the apostles.
13. And we have their teaching and their testimony in the books of the New Testament.
E. But here the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Lamb are now part of the same structure. So this passage also shows that there is no separation between the OT people of God and the new.
IV. Why does the city have a great wall?
A. 12 It had a great, high wall,
B. In Bible times, the most common form of warfare was siege warfare. Big cities were fortified with great walls, so big that there were apartments built into them, and large gates of the city were kept open during the day. And watchmen would stand on duty – on the walls above the gates – and if they saw any threat coming, they would call for the gates to be closed so, when the enemy showed up, they couldn’t get in.
C. But armies were always trying to devise methods to get into the city. The story of the Trojan Horse is famous, of course. But more ordinary means were: ladders to scale the walls, wooden siege towers they would carry or roll up to the wall, and built up ramps of dirt soldiers could walk up to the top of the wall to enter the city.
D. In the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the walls of Jerusalem were insufficient, of course, and the whole city was ruined. And when they returned from exile, one of the first things they did was rebuild the walls under Nehemiah.
E. The experience of Israel has almost always been one of danger and attack. They have experienced a lot of fear. In 70AD they were attacked and massacred by the Romans.
F. And the persecution of first century Christians is well-known.
G. And a common theme of the prophecies of their return would be that they would dwell in safety and security when they returned to their own land (e.g. Ezek.28:25-26; Jeremiah 32:37, 46:27).
H. Well, v.17 says the wall was 144 cubits, which is about 216 feet high.
1. The tallest walls around cities or forts we know of were around 40 feet.
I. We too live in a dangerous world. It’s scary just to watch the news. But that is going to change.
J. Our heavenly home is going to be very secure.
V. Why is the church called the bride of Christ?
A. 9 “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
1. Here’s the first time the church is called not only the bride of Christ but the wife of Christ.
2. This is the reason God created marriage in the first place, as Paul says in Eph.5:31-32 “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
3. He is talking about how a man and wife become one physically and how that is a picture of how we become one with the Lord spiritually.
4. 1Corinthians 6:16-17 Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
5. There is nothing sexual about our relationship with Christ, of course, but God invented this kind of oneness in marriage to give us a glimpse of the beauty, intimacy, power, ecstasy and wonder of our oneness with Him.
6. We are engaged to the Lord now, but when He returns we shall be wed and move in together.
7. And there will be no end to the honeymoon. We will never get tired of it, for in our new existence, delights will never fade, never grow old. Familiarity will never breed contempt. We shall grow in our knowledge of Him every day, and yet it shall be eternally new.
8. This should transform the way we think about that great day to come, but it should also transform the way we think about marriage now. For instance, does a person need to be married to be happy? Marriage is a wonderful gift of God, but the only thing you really need to be happy is marriage to Jesus. But there’s something else here...
B. The wording of v.9-10 is almost identical to that in 17:1, 3, where Babylon was first introduced.
1. Revelation 17:1, 3 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters,” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.
2. Rev.21:9-10 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
3. The great harlot Babylon and the bride of the Lamb Jerusalem: both are adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls (17:4; 21:18-21). And yet they couldn’t be any more different.
4. These are worded so similarly, it seems, because God wants to draw our attention to these two women so we notice the contrast between them, & see Satan the great counterfeiter’s work again.
5. Here are these two women again: the harlot, representing human culture in opposition to God; the bride, representing the redeemed community faithful to God.
6. Babylon is immoral and unfaithful whereas the bride of Christ is upright and faithful to the end.
7. The harlot lures the simple into her house with seductive speech and smooth talk. And those who follow her, go into her house as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a deer get tangled in the branches until an arrow pierces its liver. He didn’t know it would cost him his life. – Prov.7:21-23
8. The bride of Christ calls out the gospel to the simple of the world, and those who accept it become a part of this holy and eternal family which will live in the glory of the new Jerusalem.
VI. Why is the new Jerusalem so beautiful?
A. 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
B. This shows us how God will see His people in eternity.
C. There will be no more question or doubt as to God’s attitude toward us.
D. No matter how low or unworthy or ashamed you felt in this life, no matter how lacking in beauty you think you are now, in that day you will glisten with beauty and glory that no one on earth ever had. No matter how rejected you’ve been, no matter how unappreciated, no matter how many evil things have been said of you falsely, in that day you will be so beautiful in the eyes of the Lord that it will more than make up for ten lifetimes of disdain.
E. “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For...as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” – Isaiah 62:4-5
F. You know, in spite of things people say, it doesn’t really matter how good-looking we are in this life, what really matters is that we treasure the beautiful One who is making us – and on that day will finish making us – His beautiful treasure.
G. It’s really not worth our time to fight for approval from others. We have all the approval we’ll ever need waiting for us in the arms of our heavenly Lover. And there will be no one there to make a snide remark or belittle us or mock the Lamb’s fondness for us.
H. C.S. Lewis said that our fellow believers will one day be so glorious that if we saw them in that state now, we would be tempted to worship them. That’s what each of us will be too, who have faith in Christ.
I. Right now our house is in the process of being prepared to be put on the market. It’s a mess! There are still some really nice things about it, but the thing which grabs your attention is the chaos. It looks like a bomb went off. It’s hard even to walk around in it. Mary Ann and I can’t get to our bed so we’re sleeping on a smaller bed in another room – a room which doesn’t even have a door. And it’s dangerous! There are screws and tools all over the place. But that’s what it’s like when things are under construction. Hopefully in a little while it will not only be better, but it will be beautiful – and ready for presentation to potential buyers.
J. That’s the way it is with us too – and with Christ’s church. We are a mess – because we’re under construction! But there’s a day coming when the work will be completed and we will be ready for presentation to our Lord – without spot or wrinkle, breath-takingly beautiful, glowing with glory.
K. One of the most important things we learn in the book of Revelation is that the church of right now is beset with problems and struggles. We see this in Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Rev.2-3. But then at the end of the book, in Rev.21-22, we are given a glimpse of the spectacular future of Christ’s church, when it gleams with jewels and precious stones and divine splendor.
L. Where we are now is not where we will be then. But the Master Builder is at work. And when He is done, there will not only be rest and relief, there will be resplendence and radiance.