Don Carson, “Home at Last: The Spectacular God at the Center”
Revelation rarely quotes the rest of the Bible but nearly every verse alludes to it.
Symbolism needs to be viewed on several axis. Imagine attempting to explain electricity to a primitive pre-Stone Age culture. The problem is they have no categories for understanding these things. So how will we talk about the throne room of God? One reason God uses so much symbolism is because we are so dead to God, so blind, so unable to understand, so without categories. Inexpressible because we haven’t been there. Forced to resort to symbolism and apocalyptic and past images of kings and priests. These are the categories God has chosen to open our eyes to begin to understand the glory of what is yet to come.
In the Sermon on Mount Jesus taught His disciples not to store up treasure on earth but in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy for where your treasure is there your heart will be also (aphorism). We often take this to mean that followers of Jesus should guard their hearts or they will be focused on earthly things. What Jesus says is choose your treasure because what you treasure the most is where your heart will go. If we are to treasure the new heaven and new earth, it’s important for Christians to maintain a high evaluation of our destiny. Why don’t we treasure heaven all that much? Maybe because of biblical ignorance, seduced by treasures of this world, subjected to visions of new heaven/new earth that are pathetically small. In Scripture there are a multitude of images of the life to come: for example the parable of talents (“I will make you ruler of many things, come enter Master’s happiness”) involves happiness but also work, fantastic opportunities for growth and service. We think heaven means we will suddenly know everything but omniscience not communicable.
what is new
what is symbol laden
what is missing
what is central
What is new, 21:1-8:
A new heaven and a new earth and then a new Jerusalem
New heaven, new earth. Is. 65:17ff
2 Pet 2:3 Such a renovation of everything that language fails to describe it!
Rom. 8:22 Massive transformation.
Exactly how old and new are interrelated can scarcely be articulated. Yet there are hints and they are spectacular. No more sea. Not speaking hydrologically. A symbol laden picture of utter destruction of absolute chaos and all its moral implications.
This is Jerusalem, the center of religious activity. In NT church gathered to “new Jerusalem” city of great king, city of sacrifice. A social vision. Two cities in book of Revelation: Babylon (representing all that is evil) and new Jerusalem. It’s a tale of two cities: the harlot and the bride. A social vision, a city vision, where people come together. David’s city. Background of the image of the temple. Here the city likened to a bride, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Lev. 26: I will put my dwelling place among you…I will be your God, you will be my people…I broke bars of your yoke…
Ezek 37: my dwelling place with them
Now, v. 3: Look! God’s dwelling place is among them, they will be his people…
Same language used but pointing forward from the framework of the old covenant and now in terms of the structure of the new covenant ultimately coming to culmination with God and His people brought together in dramatic climax: there will be no death, mourning, the old order of things has passed away. This is not how things are now. When we get there we will be so perfected that death itself can’t survive, no more tears. That is the old order cursed by sin, characterized by decay, stamped by death despite common grace. And now old order is gone!
Here eternal blessedness still couched in negation: a glimpse into what will no longer be there. This language derived from OT
Is. 25 God will swallow up death forever
Also 1 Cor. 15
21:5ff Every clause separately introduced as if to give reader time to pause and think about it.
It is done! Christ: it is finished! All needed sacrifice is accomplished. No more payment for sin needed. Wrath ultimately, finally, completely satisfied. Does not mean no more struggle. See Rev. 12. Satan filled with fury because knows his time is short: our struggle has been against principalities but now it is done. All gospel promises we have enjoyed in taste though in powerful reality have now come to consummation! It is done!
The voice declares himself the Alpha Omega Beginning and End. He is the only one who could bring this to pass. Emerges from center of throne. It is the Lion-lamb who is solely qualified. He has brought it to be and it is done.
Addressed to people who hear this announcement and hear the gracious God saying to the thirsty I will give water without cost. Again echoing language from OT: Is. 55
Without cost to those who receive, but not without cost to Him who provided.
21:7 is rightly translated in singular tense and mentions a son
In our culture sons do not end up doing what father does vocationally. But in ancient world you had heritage of father’s name and job if you were a boy. Leads to an array of biblical metaphor: “son of worthlessness”. In the Beatitudes, the peacemakers are called sons of God: God is supreme peacemaker and insofar as we are making peace we act like God and show ourselves to belong to His family. Why Abraham the father of faith. Jesus in John 8 disputed the Jews who claimed to be children of Abraham. Not denying their genetics, but He is saying they are of their father the devil, a murderer from the beginning. In ancient world, the father gave identity. So “son of God” language is remarkable.
Now no footnotes or sidebars. To the one who overcomes I will be his Father and he will be my son. We who are christians will so perfectly reflect God (originally made in his image) will come into a fullness that is even greater in every way humans can/ought to be like him. We are sons already by adoption; it has started. We are His sons now! But there is so much tension yet and one day all tension gone, no more sin, sorrow, no hypocrisy. We will never have to ask forgiveness again. For we will be his son!
Contrast is painfully desperately shocking in 21:8. Second death. Destruction of fire mentioned in 20:10 in reference to devil and his cohorts. No hint anywhere scripturally that people in hell genuinely repent. Even in parable of rich man and Lazarus. Hell is not filled with people deeply sorry for sins but of people who for all eternity still shake their fist in rebellion against God. The separation is absolute and determinate. The very sharpness of the polarity makes the glory of new heaven new earth all the more superlatively attractive.
21:9-21 Symbolism of new Jerusalem
The bride is the city. Mixed apocalyptic metaphor. Word pictures, not painting pictures (images). Word pictures that you’re not supposed to paint or would end up with something laughable. But the word picture is so powerful as you bring all components together. Wedding supper of Lamb: massive typology throughout scripture. Example: apostasy identified as spiritual adultery.
Bride of Lamb: another mixed metaphor. Bride also the church, also the city. What do we see/learn in each component?
What do we learn about the city?
God providing this. Shone with glory of God. God manifesting Himself, the epitome of all of His promises to reveal His glory. Sparkling, spectacular, wonderful. Its as if Scripture is trying to explain electricity to pre Stone Age animist.
1400 mile cube. Cannot possibly be Jerusalem in middle east
One way to look at the end: new heaven new earth. Another way: new city, built like a cube.
Only one cube in OT: most holy place. Only high priest could enter, and then once a year. But now veil is rent, it is finished. Now the entire city is the holy place. No need for mediating priest. No outer court. No court for Gentiles, women, foreign tribes. The whole city is the place where God dwells, the most holy place and it is MASSIVE. Room enough for all!
12,000, 144 cubits (12×12), 12 tribes, 12 apostles. Must not always think numbers symbol laden but virtually always symbol laden in apocalyptic genres. Here the numbers are clearly symbol laden. This is the place where OT people of God, NT people of God brought together.
What is missing from this city? See 21:22 There is no temple. No mediating structure necessary anymore, actually in presence of God so mediation is gone. All that God has brought about is through the gospel, through the Lamb!
No sun or moon, not speaking of astronomical features. Symbol: all that we know of light is mediated light but now in unqualified light of God. No cycles of light, no night. Because the glory, God’s disclosed presence, all that He is, gives light.
Gates not shut: this place is secure. Nothing impure will enter.
What is central:
1. Water of life from throne of God and of Lamb. Everything finally coming from God and the cross. Utter transformation.
2. The beatific vision: the blessed vision of the blessed one. They will see His face. The seraphim in Isaiah had to cover their faces and could not look on face of God. Other instances of seeing God in Bible are limited in some way, removed. But now can you believe it? Something angels can’t do? The saints of God see His face and won’t die, won’t be ashamed, won’t be consumed. As much like God as his image bearers can be without being God: his “son”!
Are you eager to get to heaven so you can see your long lost relatives? The culmination of everything is to SEE GOD. We have some wonderful tastes now but one day we will see His face!
Heaven centers absolutely on the ONE. Every joy will be perfected, every ecstacy beyond measure, every intimacy supberb, exploring God’s magnificence for all eternity.
This book ends in spectacular invitation. I beg of you, will you not say “God be merciful to me a sinner! I perceive I deserve this lake of fire but I hunger for new heaven and new earth. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” The Spirit and the Bride say “Come, let the one who wishes to take the free gift of hte water of life, Come!”
Come, Lord Jesus!
Note: these are my notes that were hastily typed during the presentation. Any and all error in transcription is mine and not the instructor’s. Also, please excuse the multitude of grammatical errors!