Easter 5 • Revelation 21:1–7 • April 28, 2013
By Charles Arand
The last chapters of Revelation provide a fitting bookend to the first two chapters of Genesis. It moves from the first creation (Gn 1–2) to the new creation (Rv 21–22). In this regard, a preliminary note is in order. Our text speaks of the first heaven and earth as passing away. It is best not to take this as an annihilation of the current cosmos with the new cosmos being created out of nothing (after all, it is our present bodies that will be raised). Instead, it should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:21. What passes away is the creation’s “bondage to corruption” so that the current creation enters into the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.” God doesn’t simply throw away his first creation. Instead, he purges it of sin and brings it to a greater glory than it originally had. In turning this text into a sermon, one might consider the following outline.
Introduction: In one episode of the television show The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon expresses fear of dying too early from an illness. So he locks himself in his room and “embodies” his mind in a mobile screen. In our culture we often describe our final hope in terms of escape from our frail bodies when they break down, escape from creatureliness, escape from this world into a non-physical spiritual or rational realm (see also “Q” of Star Trek: The Next Generation).
Our story’s direction: Note how the new Jerusalem is described as coming down from heaven to us. This can provide the opportunity to remind people that the Christian story is fundamentally not a story of our ascent to be with God but of God’s descent to be with us. It is a story where the movement is downward from God to us (see Luther’s hymn: “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”). The entire story is about a God who comes down to dwell with his people here on earth. Jesus comes down to dwell bodily with his people (Jn 1). And now in Revelation 21, the heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven to us. God does not lift us out of creation or out of our creatureliness. Instead, he restores it.
God comes to dwell with us: The heavenly Jerusalem brings the Lamb who will dwell with us here on earth. Here it may be valuable to explore parallels between the garden of Eden, the temple, and the heavenly Jerusalem. The garden of Eden served as a temple where God dwelled with Adam and Eve. So when Solomon built a temple, what did it look like? It reflected Eden. The walls were made of cedar (carved with gourds and flowers) and the floors of cypress. Palm trees, flowers, and pomegranates adorned it (1 Kgs 6–7). And now the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth as the permanent dwelling of the Lamb. The garden has become a garden city (note the imagery of Rv 21:9–22:7).
Where God dwells there life flourishes: And what happens when God dwells among his people? The old creation with its corruption to sin, evil, and death passes away. Life and joy take their place. Here one might look ahead to Revelation 22:1–7. Revelation 21:6 already mentions the “spring of the water of life.” Chapter 22 opens with the “river of the water of life” flowing from the throne of the Lamb through the streets of the city. That river waters the twelve trees of life that line the road, each bearing its distinctive fruit in due season and the leaves giving healing to the nations. The new Jerusalem surpasses even Eden. Think of your favorite national park or city and imagine it being incredibly more delightful and beautiful in the age to come.
Conclusion: Ascending to an ethereal realm of white clouds, white robes, and white harps is hardly attractive to the average teenager or young adult. One of the challenges for us is to describe our hope in images that are attractive. Perhaps capturing the imagery of creation can provide some impetus for doing so. We start with the goodness of creation and imagine it infinitely better!