Revelation 21:1-4, 9-12, 21, 25-27

We have reached the concluding act in the great drama to "the things which shall be hereafter." The number of God's elect is accomplished; the bridal day of the Church Triumphant has at last arrived—the consummated bliss of Christ and His people. It is the clear shining after rain; the morning, without clouds; "the darkness is past and the true light shines." All the apocalyptic scenery regarding the Church Militant (the church on earth) terminates with the previous chapter. All its fierce Armageddons are fought—the great assize is dispersed—the Books are closed—the inquiry hushed, the 'wide gulf' is fixed forever. The Evangelist is now represented standing like another Noah on the heights of Ararat, gazing on a renovated world. After passing through the crucible of its own latent fires, it has come forth, immortal, from its ashes, in new resurrection-attire. On the occasion of the deluge, although a vast aqueous mass rolled over the surface, or part of the surface of the globe, submerging its hills and valleys, this did not involve the destruction of the planet. It rose rather from its water-baptism clad in fresh loveliness and verdure. So, we have strong reason to believe, will it be in this second and last fiery baptism. The earth will be in a state of melting—the elements "melting with the fervent heat." The now imprisoned fires sweeping over its surface, charring its forests, and reducing its rocks to powder. But though there will be displacement, dislocation, decomposition, there will be no annihilation—these will be no more than fiery purifiers, from which it will come forth, newly created—attired in more than pristine beauty.

Travelers, who have ascended Mount Vesuvius, tell us that some of the old lava-channels, which years ago poured down their molten streams of destruction, are now covered with luxuriant vines and purple clusters. So will it be on a vast, gigantic scale, with this world and its thousand volcanoes of living fire. Life and luxuriance will once more clothe its seared and smitten sides. From that tremendous conflagration will emerge "a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness."

One special feature alone is here noted in its altered physical aspect, that there will be "no more sea." These last fires have dried up the watery element—reclaimed those vast solitudes of ocean, which now often form a rampart, preventing the brotherhood of nations. The world's habitable surface being thus indefinitely widened and expanded, room will be made for all "the nations of the saved." Do not think that these picturings of a renewed and renovated earth are too strange and incredible facts for human belief. They are not a whit more so than other Scriptural revelations dearest to our hopes and encircling our every thought of the future. Not more strange, surely, is the astounding truth that the body laid in the grave resolved into its primitive clay—moldering in insensible dust—is one day to rise exultant from the tomb, its pulses beating with immortality! Not more strange is the fact of the unsightly seed or grain, embedded in the ground, springing up in graceful and multiplied form; or the dull, torpid, loathsome caterpillar, bursting its dark prison-house and soaring aloft in varied and brilliant hue. Not more strange or unaccountable are any of these, than that this earth, convulsed, shattered, disorganized—a wreck of matter—shall emerge from its grave in holiday attire—break from its chrysalis shell, radiant with beauty, "like the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold."

In the present chapter, we have brought before us, in succession, what the Apostle saw and what he heard. In other words, we have THE PICTURE, or what was presented to his eye; and THE VOICE, or what was addressed to his ear. In vision, John stands on the bare, naked platform of the new heavens and the new earth, over which we may imagine the morning stars are again singing together, and all the sons of God are shouting for joy. As he gazes—lo! a resplendent city, and one of gigantic proportions, with towers, walls, and gates—reminding him, at a glance, of his own beloved Jerusalem—seems slowly and magnificently to descend from the upper heavens. At first, as if dazzled with the sight, and awed by the majestic voices which accompany and follow, he ventures on no description.

By and by, however, in a subsequent verse, he is conducted by an angel—a bright inhabitant from the spirit-world—to a great and high mountain. From this height he obtains a more thorough survey. He marks that the city has twelve gates, each gate sentineled by angels—that these gates are never shut at all by day, seeing that the city itself is bathed in a flood of everlasting brightness; "for there is no night there." All the costliest material—gold and crystal, and every stone of priceless value, from the jasper to the amethyst, are employed as the earthly symbols and exponents of a glory which cannot otherwise be translated into human language.

What unutterable thoughts must have thrilled through the beloved Disciple's soul at that moment of all moments! For what was that moment? It was the fulfillment, in vision, of all his life-long prayers and longings. It was the birthday of the perfected Church! Amid the crowding reflections which rushed to his mind on the figurative descent of this new Jerusalem, his memory seems at the instant to travel back to the streets of the old Jerusalem. He thinks of solemn words uttered by Divine lips within view of its towers and temples, "Behold the bridegroom comes!" The new city suggests the emblem of this sacred parable. The Bridegroom has come!

The last vision in the chapter preceding, was of the Judge seated on His throne. But now that enthroned Lord has left the judgment-hall for the coronation-hall. The Day of the everlasting marriage has arrived. Make way for the Bride—the Lamb's wife!—the glorified Church without spot or blemish or any such thing. "The new heaven and the new earth" are her royal bridal chamber. "I, John, SAW the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband!" Such, then, was the PICTURE which rose before the enraptured eye of the seer of Patmos.

Having sought briefly to describe what John's eyes saw, let us now turn to what his ears heard; let us turn from the Picture, to THE GREAT VOICE.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, the home of God is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."

And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look, I am making all things new!" And then he said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true."

The evangelist spectator is not now forbidden, as on a former occasion, to "write." When the seven thunders uttered their voices, after the appearance of the rainbow-crowned angel as detailed in the tenth chapter, and when he was about to transcribe, a prohibition was addressed from heaven, "Write not." No such arrest is at present put upon his hand. It is the reverse. He receives the positive instruction from the great Judge Himself, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true." God graciously authorizes him to pen the glorious revelation for the comfort of His Church in every age. "He that has ears to hear, let him hear." The utterance of the unknown Speaker contains a beautiful twofold description of the citizen's felicity. First, we have a positive description of what that bliss is to comprehend; and second, a negative.

The POSITIVE—"Look, the home of God is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them."

The NEGATIVE—"He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."

We shall in the present chapter confine ourselves to the positive aspect of heavenly happiness. The essence of this positive bliss is, yet again, to consist in (what we have had occasion to note more than once as a main characteristic of heavenly felicity set forth in previous visions), the everlasting presence and enjoyment of God Himself! "Look, the home of God is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them." That holy city, new Jerusalem, descends, but it descends not alone. The name of the city from that day shall be Jehovah Shammah—"The Lord is there." The children of Zion are joyful in their King. Farther, does not this passage seem strongly to indicate, that the Great God of heaven designs to make the new redeemed earth the future abode of the Shekinah-glory—His own palatial residence, the special seat of His vast empire, the metropolis of eternity? "Look, the home of God is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them." Just as Jerusalem—the first Holy city—was the sacred capital, the seat of the theocratic government—so this "holy city, new Jerusalem," the home of the Church triumphant, would seem destined to be the future capital of a rejoicing universe. Jehovah is to transfer the pavilion of His heavenly glory to His ransomed world.

There is a throne in the city; "And the one sitting on the throne said, 'Look, I am making all things new!'" In one beautiful sense, indeed, already may it be said, with reference to Christ's incarnation, that the tabernacle of God has been with men. Jesus, the incarnate Son, pitched His tabernacle in the midst of human tents. "The Word," says John in his Gospel, "came and dwelt (or lit. tented or tabernacled) among us." And it is this sublime antecedent fact which disarms the other of any marvel and incredibility; no, which, indeed, would almost render appropriate and befitting the transference of which we speak, of God's manifested presence from the invisible heaven to the visible platform of a regenerated earth.

We cease to wonder at the bestowment of peerless honors on a world that was selected, amid a wide sisterhood of planets, for such a marvelous display of love and mercy as in the atonement and death of the Prince of Life and Lord of Glory! If this is the case (as we know on Scripture authority it is) that God passed by the angels that sinned—and as the word literally means, those, too, highest in state, principal in rank—the aristocracy of heaven; if God passed by them, "For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants;" if He selected this insignificant world of ours on which to uprear that wondrous cross, and make it the theater of His Son's humiliation and death—is there any improbability, rather, is there not the strongest presumptive probability, that He may convert the scene of surpassing abasement and suffering into the scene of honor and exaltation; and to principalities and powers in heavenly places make known by the Church (the Church redeemed and glorified) His own manifold wisdom?

There would, we confess, have been something almost transcending belief, in the thought of this earth being thus marked out for such peculiar and pre-eminent distinction, if we had not the antecedents of Gethsemane and Calvary. But after the great "mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh," we can marvel at no other mysteries; no, we seem to see a sublime congruity in the world where the God-man suffered, being the spot where the God-man glorified is eternally to reign. "Why do you look with envy, O rugged mountains, at Mount Zion, where God has chosen to live, where the Lord Himself will live forever?" Psalm 68:16. But we shall not farther expand this thought. For, after all, the mere locality is comparatively immaterial.

More momentous, delightful, and comforting is the great truth we have found so often reiterated in these visions, as forming the main element in the bliss of the ransomed citizens—namely, that God is in their midst. Twice over in one verse is it here said, "Look, the home of God is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them"—the fully verified meaning and interpretation of "IMMANUEL" (God with us). It has been beautifully said, that just as every lovely and varied tint in field and flower is traced to the one pure, parent, colorless ray—so every gate and jasper wall and sapphire pavement in that jeweled city, owe their brilliancy and glory to the altogether lovely One, "the Light which no man can approach unto."

Oh, wondrous assemblage! Oh, amazing honors! The tabernacle of the great God with redeemed men! As the ranks of the unredeemed cherubim and seraphim gather around the Holy city—hovering with their bright wings over the new Jerusalem—we can picture them exclaiming, in a higher sense than the words ever bore on earth, "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!" The City of the Heavenly Jerusalem, although it is described here as of immense size, is but one House. All will dwell together as brethren, as children of the same Heavenly Father, in one Everlasting Home. 'In My Father's house are many dwelling places.'

We have room for only one other point in the suggestive themes of these verses—the near and intimate fellowship which is to exist between the ransomed multitude and their God, further brought out in the additional strong and expressive language, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." What does this mean? We need not say that there can be no tears in heaven. The symbol must be explained by reference to some earthly feelings. It has been truthfully observed by an expositor of this passage—his remark, we think, furnishes the right key to the interpretation of the figure—that "the most sacred test of affection is to wipe away a tear."

It is indeed the most delicate of all offices one human being can perform towards another, that of offering sympathy in seasons of tearful sorrow. The most experienced "sons of consolation" can testify, that the more they venture to come into personal contact with aching hearts, and to cross thresholds darkened with bereavement, the more do they feel the great solemnity of the ground; that sorrow is a thing of that exquisite tenderness, that no stranger dare intermeddle with it. Every bereft spirit will respond to words of an earnest writer, who evidently knows well what a sacred thing it is to give sympathy; or, in the significant figure now before us, to "wipe away a tear." Oh, the preciousness of silence in the hour of heart-cutting grief! Oh, the misery of the minstrels and people making noise! Oh, the jarring discord of glib sympathy! Oh, the bitter mockery of commonplace condolence! Oh, for those who know how to speak with the pressure of the hand; for those to whom God has given the mute eloquence of the eye; for those who do not pretend to understand our grief! Yes, we repeat—it is no ordinary one—no ordinary friend—who can dare touch these harp-strings of sorrow!

There are indeed such, in seasons of deep desolation, whom we love to welcome into the smitten home. There are hands we love on such occasions, to hold. While drawing back from the cold commonplace contact of ordinary routine sympathy, there are those to whom, in this significant language of John, we gratefully entrust the wiping away of the gathering or falling tear. Such, however, is the prerogative alone of true and faithful, of tried and tested friendship and love. 'Behold,' says John, in the expressive figure of this passage—Behold the endearing relationship which will exist between God and the believer in that Holy city. They will confide in Him as lovingly and tenderly, as the bereft one on earth, who allows the hand of human affection to wipe the tear-dimmed eye!

Are we looking for this city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God? Amid the other gorgeous symbolism, do we keep in mind that which has met us under various figures in previous descriptions, and which is suggested here under a new one, its "streets of pure gold like transparent glass"—that vast as are its dimensions, a gigantic cube, with gates in every quarter, wide open for the admission of every tribe of God's spiritual Israel, yet within it "there enters nothing that defiles." Multitudes of the saved are to be welcomed in—yet there is one badge of citizenship indispensable in the case of every person in these teeming millions—"the pure in heart" alone can "see God."

The sentinel angels at every watch-tower have the old prophetic summons addressed to them, "Open the gates to all who are righteous; allow the faithful to enter." Isaiah 26:2. Over every entrance is the superscription, "This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter." Psalm 118:20. "Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life"—the City which has foundations! There are no permanent foundations for anything here in this present world. Here we have no "continuing city." Earth's most stable social and domestic structures are sand-built, not rock-built. They are at the mercy of every capricious hurricane; and death, sooner or later, will convert them into a mass of ruins! Let us seek to live under the elevating assurance, that we are the soon to be glorified inhabitants of this new Jerusalem! taking as our motto, "Pilgrims and Strangers on the earth!" "Our citizenship is in Heaven!"

Let us live up to our peerless privileges, as those who in the future are to dwell with Him who has promised to be with us and to be our God. If trial be appointed—the loss of earthly friends—earthly portions—be it ours to fall back from the wreck and bankruptcy of the present world, and focus on our glorious inheritance to come! Let us take down our harp from the willows; and sing, it may be amid withered props and perishable refuges—amid rifled homes and falling tears and the shadows of death, "But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a heavenly city for them!"