Week of Sept. 20

Hope for a New City

Read: Ezekiel 40-41; Psalm 128; Revelation 21

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:4, ESV


“He will wipe away every tear . . .” is one of the most chosen passages for a funeral service. I understand why this is the case because of the hope that it inspires in people. R.C. Sproul once said, "Hope is called the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19), because it gives stability to the Christian life” (Sproul, 1-2 Peter, p. 43). This chapter provides not only a powerful closing to John’s vision in Revelation but also a lasting reminder that God’s plan from Genesis forward has been fulfilled. These last chapters of Revelation should in fact bring to mind the vision of Isaiah in the closing pages of his prophecy. He wrote of God’s promise to “create new heavens and a new earth” (66:17, 22). That is long-term hope, is it not?! John writes of this fulfillment in chapter 21! A New Jerusalem, the Holy City, comes down from heaven and takes its place upon a renewed earth.

A Biblical Lens

This final vision, according to Robert Mounce, comprises the last major unit in the Book of Revelation (21:1-22:5). We see a new Jerusalem, a new order, a bejeweled eternal city, and the unspeakable joy of God’s servants who will, at last, see him face-to-face (21:4; NAC). I can only imagine what it will be like. How about you?

John writes that the renovation of the new order, which, by the way, was a common theme in apocalyptic tradition, will be the place where righteousness will dwell. There are a number of images that have been stitched into the fabric of suffering Christian lives from the beginning of the church (e.g. no more mourning, tears, nor pain). I believe that we will miss the point if we only interpret this blessed state as a physical transformation. John, no doubt, was stretched in ways to describe the “glorious reality” (NAC).

Consider this point. How many times have we used euphemisms to put into words the radical difference there will be between earth and heaven? We speak about “the Big Guy upstairs,” “hunting and fishing in the sky,” “dancing on the golden streets,” “singing in the great heavenly choir,” and so much more. The good news is that we will no longer need to stretch our vocabulary to such lengths to describe what will be real and eternal to us. Amen!

First, there will be a removal of everything out of character with the New Creation (v. 1, “sea was no more”; NAC). Long gone will be the workers of wickedness, visible and invisible (Isaiah 57:20). The beast out of the sea will be gone (Revelation 13:1, 6-7). All unbelievers will be removed (Revelation 10:6). Secondly, the new city of Jerusalem will resound with rejoicing (v. 2; Revelation 5:12). Some writers see this as a physical city, while others see it as the church that is now perfected and eternal. I must be honest; I will take either one! Goodness, if the church could be housed in that city, it would be even better for me. How about you?

The new city comes from heaven which reminds us that we do not create the church; God does. God initiates its fellowship and sustains it by his power (Matthew 16:18). John will describe this city in great detail in verses 11-21, but we should note that the earthly city is recognized as a prostitute and the heavenly city as a pure bride. Choose your city well!

Lastly, God fulfills the theme that was announced in the Old Testament and is carried through the rest of scripture. His “dwelling place” will be with us (Leviticus 26:11-12; cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 8:8; NAC). God’s tabernacle, a word that is closely related to the Hebrew “shekinah,” denotes his presence and glory (John 1:14). Jesus came and walked the earth for 33 years. This dwelling will be eternal in nature (vs. 3). “Some glad mornin’ when this life is o’er. . .” I cannot wait, How about you? Let’s make a moral application to our lives.

A Moral Pathway

The horrible dissolution of social order in many American cities grieves me. The tragic circumstances that underlie the ongoing protests in Portland, for example, remind me that much of what John envisions as being erased forever has been carved into the psyche of that city. That city has much beauty, I am sure; however, the murder of a protestor and injuries to police officers (mourning), the agony of the underserved (crying), and the economic trauma due to destroyed property and interrupted commerce (pain; est. to be $23 million in damages and lost revenue) serves as a type of what we will leave behind when the Lord calls a halt to this age.

Alan Johnson's comments on Revelation 21 express well what many of us long for today: “From the smoke and pain and heat [of the preceding scenes] it is a relief to pass into the clear, clean atmosphere of the eternal morning where the breath of heaven is sweet and the vast city of God sparkles like a diamond in the radiance of his presence” (J.B. Moffatt, EGT, 5:477, as quoted in EBC). Morally, the removal of all that is unjust—external social systems and internal hearts—will become reality in the new heavenly city. Actions that benefit and not tear apart social interactions will be the rule of the day. People will value life as a precious gift from God because God will have redeemed all who reside in that place. The moral challenge today is for you and me to pray for cities and encourage humankind to prepare for the eternal city to come. The church needs to permeate, not evacuate, the city (Matthew 5:14-16).

For Your Journaling

1. Begin today by writing down several of the bad conditions in your city or town that need your prayer. They may be violence, widespread poverty, and discouragement that hang like a dark cloud over the city. Commit to pray daily for your city.

2. How about your heart? Find key words and phrases in our focal passage that encourage you this day. Jot them down on a card, or type them into the “notes” app on your phone. Glance at them throughout the day, and ask God to give you hope.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock