Scripture: Revelation 21-22
“Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Revelation 22:3-4
The book of Revelation is in some serious need of image rehabilitation. If I ventured a guess, I would bet that the Book of Revelation doesn’t sit atop any of your lists as your favourite book of the Bible, probably not even close. It’s a book filled with cryptic imagery, with beasts with heads and horns, armies, seals being opened and calamities cascading upon the earth.
Even Martin Luther believed that the Book of Revelation was so convoluted that it did not belong in our Bibles because it did not “teach or make Christ known.” – So if you have trouble with the book, you hold good company! All in all, it is no wonder that the book of Revelation has such a bad reputation, and you can be forgiven for not giving it your full attention or skipping over it entirely.
But… if you do that you miss some of the Bible’s richest passages of Scripture, you miss some of the most beautiful and powerful images of God and his grace and mercy, you miss the grandest and most glorious visions of God’s plan for the fullness of time. Revelation is ripe with luscious imagery, it is ripe with visions which show the beauty of the world, the beauty and awesomeness of the God who created the world.
In the book of Revelation, we are given a wonderful vision of God’s future, a wonderful vision of hope, and a wonderful vision of the faithfulness and love of God. A vision that is so much more than the promises that our politicians offer us each election cycle, a vision that is so much more than the escapism offered by the entertainment industry, a vision that is so much more than anything the world can offer us.
In my mind, the last two chapters of Revelation, are truly some of the most beautiful passages of Scripture, the vivid detail John uses to describe the Holy City is staggering in its beauty and splendour. For someone who loves urban life, this is a glorious vision, this is spectacular. Walls built of the finest metals and gems, light streaming from the throne of God, gates perpetually open with the glory of the nations – all the good and beautiful cultural artifacts – streaming through.
Previously in the book of Revelation the kings of the earth were assembled against the Lord, and now they stream through the gates of the heavenly city to worship God, they stream through to experience the abundant grace, mercy and love of God. In the previous chapters of Revelation there was no reason to hope for the kings and the nations, and yet here they are–a sign of God’s amazing grace. There is no need for fancy security systems, and even with the high walls the gates are always open because it is never night, God’s light envelopes the city perpetually and so anyone can come as they wish, no one will feel insecure and all are welcomed in God’s city.
The vision John offers is a breath of fresh air to a world that is hell-bent on security, suspicion and fear. We live in a world where it is necessary to lock up our houses and cars for fear that someone will break-in, we live in a world where we are suspicious of strangers. You need only to look at the vile rhetoric and racism surrounding refugee resettlement, anti-black violence like we witnessed in Buffalo last week, or Russian rhetoric about security which fuels their war in Ukraine, to see that there is little trust or compassion for our fellow human beings. The vision in Revelation, the vision of the end of God’s plan for all of Creation, is a stark contrast to the wars, the injustice, and the bleakness of our environmental future.
In chapter 22, verse 3 we hear that the tree of life, the tree which God gave to Adam and Eve to sustain them for eternity, the tree that was lost to humanity because of our sin – is once more planted amid the city and its leaves “are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation’s medicinal leaves offer a vision of a political economy that heals us all and heals our world. Healing, reconciliation, peace, and joy are at the heart of God’s plan for the fullness of time, this is the hope that we have to share with a world that is so often found lacking in hope.
The hope that this vision offers is not without challenge, not without exhortation: in verse 27 we hear “nothing unclean will enter the holy city, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood” – there will be no unrighteousness in the city, there will be nothing to cause the breakdown of heavenly society.
What is interesting however is that the opposite of the unrighteous or unclean is not “the righteous” or “the clean” it is rather “only those who are written in the Lamb’s book.” It is a reminder that we do not make our lives appropriate for this heavenly city, we do not make ourselves clean, but rather it is by the sheer gift of God that we will be made worthy to live with him in abundant and eternal life.
God’s promise that nothing unclean nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood will enter the city, is ultimately a promise that God will purify us from all uncleanness, will refine us so that we can enter his gates with thanksgiving and go into his courts with praise.
The beautiful images build to a resounding crescendo in verse 4 of our passage. The redeemed will see the face of God and live. We will stand before God in his brilliance, in his glory, in his pure holiness, in his pure love and we will live. This goes completely against what was said to the Israelites during the Exodus, in Exodus 33:20 God tells the Israelites “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see my face and live.” But here, because in Jesus all the stains of sin and death, the stains of unrighteousness and uncleanness have been borne on the Cross, the redeemed can stand in the presence of God; humanity can by the grace of God, reach its ultimate purpose, its intended goal, to dwell in the presence of God forever.
Humanity will stand before God, and his name will be on their foreheads, we will be his, and his alone – the power of sin and death, the power of the “Beast”, as Revelation calls it, will hold no sway over us, we will be free to live in the presence of God’s love and joy forever. Our passage reminds us that in God we find our true rest, we find our true selves, and in God, we know that we are loved and cherished.
As Christians, we are invited to taste the first fruits of God’s heavenly kingdom here and now, we are called to allow our lives to be shaped by the vision of God’s intended goal for humanity.
On the Cross Jesus bore the whole weight of sin, death, unrighteousness and uncleanness; on the Cross, everything that is accursed, everything that is unrighteous, is stripped away so that we might be purified, so that we might be refined like precious gold for the life that God has prepared for us.
In Jesus’ resurrection, the eternal, abundant life of joy and worship is made available to all. In our baptism liturgy – the point where we as Christians acknowledge our mystical entry into Christ’s death and resurrection – there is a point where we say over the newly baptised “I sign you with the Cross and mark you as Christ’s own forever” – this is where God’s name is written on our foreheads, at the font we are claimed by Christ, we are made to experience the life that God promises to us for the fullness of time.
And so as followers of Jesus, as those baptised into his death and resurrection, our challenge is to allow our lives to be shaped by the vision that God has prepared for us, our challenge is to live lives worthy of the heavenly city that God has made us worthy for.
In the face of hatred, in the face of racism and xenophobia, it is our responsibility to challenge hatred, to challenge ignorance, to strike them out from our hearts and to welcome the stranger unequivocally, to welcome them and share the riches that we have received at God’s hands.
In the face of suspicion and intolerance, we must ourselves be trustworthy and honest, we must strike out from our hearts all deceit and duplicity and we must take the risk to trust others even at the risk of personal loss, secure that no matter what happens God will provide for us. We must stand up against politicians, governments and societies that secure power through fear-mongering and oppression, we must stand up to them and share the vision of God’s glorious kingdom of peace, hope and love.
Our world needs people, our world needs a Church that is shaped by this vision of the heavenly Jerusalem; Our world needs people who can share this vision with it, that can share this vision by word and by deed. Let us be a church that is shaped by God’s kingdom of peace, God’s kingdom of healing, and God’s kingdom of light and love.
Let us be a church that shares this vision through our worship together.
Let us be a church that shares this vision through our common life together as the Body of Christ, how we treat one another and care for one another.
Let us be a church that shares this vision through the programs and ministries we offer; let us be a church that shares this vision through our commitment to Jesus, through our commitment to let others know about the riches we have received at his hands.
Let us be a church that offers God’s hope to a broken world, offers God’s hope to a world that is hopeless.
In Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be this church, we can be a community with God’s name written on our foreheads, beloved and claimed by God.
Let us pray, Amen.