The Revelation of Jesus Christ is a “pulling back of the curtain” to reveal both the unseen realities of the present (what is really going on in the world from God’s perspective) and the unseen realities of the future (what God will do as he directs all things to fulfill his sovereign plan). It is at its core a book about discipleship as it calls hearers to stay faithful to Jesus knowing that he is ultimately in control and will one day return to put all things right. (For a fuller introduction to Revelation and how to read and apply it, see the sermon guide for May 15, 2022 on Revelation 21:1-6.)
Revelation 21-22 are the final chapters of the book. They give us a picture of the glorious future that awaits Jesus’ followers when he returns as King and Lord of all. At that time, there will be a new creation, heaven will come down to earth, God will come to be with his people, and all that plagued and pained the human race will be wiped away (21:1-8). Today’s text reveals four more things we can ground our hope in and look forward to in our life with God that is to come.
First, we will enjoy perfect fellowship with God and all God’s people (21:10-27; 22:5). The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, that comes down out of heaven (21:2, 10) dominates John’s vision and is the focus of much of chapter 21. It represents all God’s people for the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are on its gates, the names of the twelve apostles are on its foundations, and its dimensions are multiples of twelve which in Revelation stands for the complete number of those who belong to God (21:11-17). “As wide and high as it is long,” it is the true reality of which the inner sanctuary in the temple—the only cube-like structure in the Old Testament—was merely a copy and shadow (21:16; cf. 1 Kings 6:20).
Its gold and precious stones recall the jewels inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes and mounted on the gold breastplate worn by the high priest whenever he entered the tabernacle (21:18-21; cf. Exodus 28:15-21, 29-30). But whereas only the high priest only once a year could enter God’s presence in the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle and temple, in the Holy City all God’s people all the time will experience God’s presence and there is no temple “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22).
The city’s inhabitants are “the nations” and “the kings of the earth” who represent their various peoples and ethnic groups. That they bring their splendor, glory, and honor into the city suggests that God’s people will express all the best of their varied cultures and backgrounds—thus reflecting God’s diverse creativity—while united by faith in Jesus (21:24, 26); it is another picture of the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language gathered around the throne of heaven to worship the Lamb (7:9-10) and brings to completion God’s plan and promise begun in Abraham and fulfilled in Jesus to bless all peoples on earth (Genesis 12:1-3). The city’s gates are never shut and there is no night for in the fullness of God’s glory and in the Lord’s presence, all God’s people are forever secure with him and forever enjoy the light and life he gives (21:23, 25, 27; 22:5).
Second, paradise will be restored (22:1-2). The Holy City is also a garden in which there is “the river of the water of life” and “the tree of life.” The river of the water of life recalls Jesus’ offer to satisfy our soul thirst for God and his promise that rivers of living water will flow from those who believe in him (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38). The tree of life had stood in the Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve’s sin, however, cut them off from the tree and they were banished them from the garden—an expression of God’s judgment for they had rebelled against him but also of God’s mercy for he would not allow them to live forever in their fallen, sinful state (Genesis 2:9; 3:23-24).
Now in God’s new creation, access to the tree of life is restored: it is huge as it straddles the river of the water of life that runs through the city; it is always fruitful and God’s people will once again eat from it; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations who reside in the city. Together, the river of the water of life and the tree of life are a picture of paradise restored and renewed: just as Adam and Eve once enjoyed perfect relationship with God and with each other in the beauty of Eden, so one day all God’s people will enjoy perfect relationship with the Lord and with one another in the beauty of God’s new creation.
Third, we will have work to do (22:3, 5). Throughout Revelation, Jesus’ followers are called “a kingdom and priests” who serve and reign with him (1:6; 5:10; 20:6). In our life with God that is to come, pictured here as both a city and a garden, the Lord still has work for us to do: for a city implies culture and civilization and citizens who contribute to its flourishing; and a garden needs cultivating and tending to in order to be both beautiful and fruitful.
This too is part of paradise restored. Work was originally part of God’s good creation and his intent was for human beings to work with him in Eden. But because of sin, work, like every area of life, became corrupted and cursed (Genesis 1:28; 2:15; 3:17-19) and thus we presently experience both purpose and futility in our work. In the new creation, however, “no longer will there be any curse” and work will once again be a joy and partnership with the Lord. Knowing this therefore motivates us to serve the Lord in our work diligently and faithfully as the New Testament elsewhere exhorts us to do (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:23).
Fourth, we will see Jesus’ face (22:4). The verse adds that “his name will be on their foreheads” which means we will bear and reflect his character in and through our lives, for in the ancient world a person’s name stood for the entirety of their character. Once more we see the restoration and realization of God’s original intention for us when he created us. God made human beings in his image to be in relationship with him and to reflect him in the world (Genesis 1:26-27).
Sin broke that relationship and marred God’s image within us, so that even as great a leader as Moses was not allowed to see God’s face (Exodus 33:20-23) and no one in the Old Testament could see God’s face and live for God’s holiness and perfection would overwhelm and destroy sinful, broken people. So Jesus came to show us God’s face for he is the perfect image of God (John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3); and when on the cross Jesus bore our sins and died our death, God turned away from him so that God instead would turn his face toward us (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Now when Jesus comes again, at last we will see him, we will fully reflect his character and glory, and we will finally be as we were created to be (cf. 1 John 3:2; Romans 8:29).
To sum up, the text reminds us that life in this world—with all its ups and downs, joys and struggles—is not all there is; there is more, and in Jesus Christ it is gloriously good! Until he returns and brings with him God’s new creation, we are exhorted to love, trust, and serve him faithfully for he is our hope and our future, and one day we will see him.
Gabe Fung serves as lead pastor of Spectrum Church Irvine in Irvine, Calif.
Gabe was born in England and grew up in Hong Kong. He previously served as a missionary in Australia with Youth With A Mission, and as a pastor with churches in Westminster and Irvine, Calif. He has a BA from Seattle Pacific University, and MDiv and DMin degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. His central focus in ministry is helping people trust and follow Jesus in all of life and equipping them to help others do the same. Gabe is married to Maribeth and they have two children, Matthew and Amy.
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
C. S. Lewis
What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into Gods future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008), p.264.
Preaching angle: Revelation shows that there will be continuity between this world and God’s new creation. Our work in this world, therefore, matters—whatever it is we give the bulk of our time, energy, and focus to. As Christians, we are called to live and work faithfully in light of the sure and certain future Jesus is bringing.