Jesus Wins! – Part 40: Light of the World: Gen. 1:1-19; Revelation 21:22-27

//Jesus Wins! – Part 40: Light of the World: Gen. 1:1-19; Revelation 21:22-27

Jesus Wins! – Part 40: Light of the World: Gen. 1:1-19; Revelation 21:22-27

Genesis 1:1-19

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. [1]

Revelation 21:22-27

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. [2]

STRIVING TO GRASP GLORY

We have noted that in Revelation 21 and 22, John pictures God’s redeemed people as four things: a bride, a temple, a city, and a garden. These visions are shown to John to describe glorified believers’ eternal life with God. As such, they are not descriptions of real estate but of relationship. Will all of us who trust into Christ spend eternity in a 15,000-square-mile cubed city with bejeweled walls and see-through golden streets? Probably not. The point of the imagery we have seen is that the redeemed will all live like high priests in the full-time glorious presence of God. Because God will tabernacle with us, the whole of the new earth where we will live will be a temple. We will live on a renewed earth under a new sky, having physical and glorified bodies in a physical and glorified world that will function like the Holy of Holies in Israel’s tabernacle and temple.

The emphasis of these visions is the restored relationship between God and man, not what the new earth will actually look like. St Augustine wrote of God, “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.[3] The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Answer 1, reads, “Man’s Chief End is to Glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.[4] Answer 38 says, “At the Resurrection, Believers, Being Raised Up in Glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”[5] Paul had this in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian believers:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. [6]

Why does God provide these images of a bride, a temple, a city, a garden to describe the restored relationship we shall have with him? He is accommodating our sinful perceptions. We really have very little clue what Adam destroyed by sinning because we were born into the condition of sin and are desensitized to its effects in our own lives and in the world around us. In the same way a person born deaf cannot ever fully understand a symphony, we cannot experience the fulness of eternal glory in this temporal, sin-cursed world. How would you even begin to describe the sound of a violin or an oboe to one born without hearing – much less the way those instruments worked in concert with others to perform a grand symphonic musical piece? All of us are born deaf to divine glory. Trusting into Messiah Jesus begins to restore our spiritual ears, but we will never understand it in its fulness until we are fully beyond the presence and power of sin and face to face with God.

Paul explained it like this:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. [7]

John preached to his congregation in Ephesus:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. [8]

NO TEMPLE

What does life inside the glorified church look like on a new earth under a new sky? In the last passage John described what he saw in his vision. But in this passage, he tells us three things he doesn’t see: a temple, lights in the sky, and sinners. In the opening section of this final vision, we saw last week that this great city is the glorified church of both the Old and New Testaments. The shape of the city was a 15,000-cubed-mile representation of the Holy of Holies in Israel’s tabernacle and later temples – defining the city as the as the place God tabernacles with his people (21:12-14). The precious jewels and pure gold define the preciousness of God’s people to him and their radiance reflects his glory (21:18-21).

Beginning in verse 22, John describes what’s inside this great bejeweled, golden cubed city. More, accurately he says what’s NOT inside the city. When theologians describe God’s attributes, often they speak of what God is not. God is immutable (not changing); God is infinite (not finite, not limited by time); God is immortal (not mortal, undying). So, John the Theologian (as he was called in the early church) tells us there is not a temple in this great city (21:2). Why would that strike John as odd? Every ancient city was full of temples to honor their demon gods. The more temples a city had and the grander the buildings, the greater the supposed chance that the gods would protect and prosper the city.[9] Recall one of the things that deeply grieved Paul about the city of Athens was the huge number of statues and temples devoted to demonic entities (Acts 17:16).

Here in Revelation 21 we have a description of the most splendid city a man has ever seen, and yet there is not one temple to the One True God. That would have been a remarkable thing to John’s first-century readers of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. All the seven churches to whom Jesus spoke at the beginning of this letter lived in cities dominated by pagan temple life. Even Jewish believers, who had been living for almost 30 years following the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple, would have found it odd to have no temple in this perfect new world. Everyone related to the spiritual realm through earthly temples. But on the new earth, there is no need for an indirect spiritual connection to the divine because, John says, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.[10]

John’s description of the city without a temple completes the Bible’s development of the theme of God’s dwelling with his people that began in Eden. The prophet Ezekiel spent four chapters describing the details of the promised temple in the New Jerusalem (Ezek. 40-43). Now, John summarizes and explains that prophecy by affirming that God and the Lamb are the true temple of God’s people. Haggai 2:9 prophesied that “the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,” and Jeremiah 3:16–17 predicted no one would ever speak of the ark of the covenant or remember it when the great final temple was built: [11]

they will no longer say ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The throne of the Lord,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord in Jerusalem.” (see also: Isa. 65:17).

Jesus’ incarnation began to fulfill the replacement of the earthly Jerusalem temple. Jesus referred to his own resurrection as the rebuilding of the temple (John 2:19–22; Mark 14:58; 15:29).[12] Jesus spoke of himself to the Pharisees as the cornerstone of the temple (Matt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10-12; Lk. 20:17-18):

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’”? [13]

That theme is used by Peter in Acts 4:11 and Paul in Romans 9:32-33 and Ephesians 2:20, where Christ is said to be the cornerstone of the church – which is the new temple of God. It’s also found in Revelation 1:12-20 where Messiah Jesus is the central feature of the heavenly temple scene John sees. Greg Beale writes, “In this light, Christ’s earlier promise in 3:12 that he will make each overcomer ‘a pillar in the temple of my God’ might better be translated ‘a pillar in the temple that is my God’ (appositional genitive).”[14] The revelation that God and the Lamb are the temple corresponds to the revelation that the saints are the New Jerusalem; they are its foundations, its gates, its walls, its jewels, and its streets of pure gold. The concept of “temple” has come full circle to Eden where God resided in a perfect land with his perfect creatures. Only now, the Lion-Lamb (the Last Adam) has performed God’s perfect Law perfectly on behalf of sinful Adam and his offspring and has paid the price for his people’s sins by his death at Calvary. The conditional temple-garden of Eden is now an unconditional, eternally-intimate relationship for those in Christ.

NO SKY LIGHTS

The next thing John notices not present in this vision are the sun and moon. “23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.[15] As God’s Shekinah Glory filled the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, so he fills his people and the new earth with the light of his glory. Again, this is a description of relationship, not real estate. Will there be no sun or moon in the new heavens? We can’t say.

If you recall our reading of the first 19 verses of Genesis, you would have noticed that God lit up his creation on day one (Gen. 1:3-4) but did not speak the sun, moon, and stars into existence until day four (Gen. 1:14-19). Many sincere Christians take this as an example of why the Bible’s creation account is non-literal – because there can’t be light without stars like the earth’s sun. But recall that God lit up Mt Sinai with his glory-cloud. He lit up the tabernacle. He lit the pathway for the Israelites in the desert with the glory-cloud. He lit up Solomon’s temple. He lit up the Mount of Transfiguration. He lit up the heads of his disciples at Pentecost with their own personal glory-clouds dancing on their heads as they preached the good news. Jesus will light up the world again when he returns for judgment and blessing (coming with the clouds of heaven, 1:7).

One of the major themes of Johannine literature is the theme of light and darkness. In the introduction to his gospel account, John moves from Christ as the source of creation to Christ as the light:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. [16]

In John 8:12, John records Jesus saying:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [17]

In his final sermon to his Ephesian congregation, John mentioned the concept of light six times. In 2:8-11, he preaches:

…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [18]

John associates light with God’s glory, both as a literal source of lighting up creation before there were stars and as a spiritual condition that flows out of fellowship with God in Christ Jesus by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Who is the lamp of the new earth? Messiah Jesus is the lamp who lit up the dark and formless old earth and shall light up the new earth with his glory.

John’s vision is painted with the colors of Isa. 60:19 (Isa. 60 informs much of chapter 21):

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. [19]

The earth was designed to be a stage to glorify God through the redemptive work of Jesus – which is why Christ’s glory lights earth up at creation. The dragon was destined to enter Eden. Adam and Eve were destined to worship themselves at the dragon’s invitation. Heaven was destined to tear apart from earth. God’s glory was destined to depart and return only sporadically until, at the right time (Rom. 5:6), the true light that gives light to every man (Jn. 1:8) would enter the world to begin returning the light of God’s glory to God’s people for eternity.

When God’s presence was limited to the earthly temple in the Old Jerusalem, the sun and moon were essential for life and prosperity. They also functioned to mark the days of Israel’s worship calendar, determining the time for feast days and sacrifices and the years of jubilee when liberation from debt and slavery were to take place. Israel was called to be light in a dark world, reflecting God’s glory to the earth-dwellers. Isaiah 42:6 says:

I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations….[20]

Ultimately, Isaiah 42 is about Israel’s Messiah who gathers not only Jews but the nations (Gentiles) into the light of fellowship in his holy city. John paints with the colors of Isaiah 60 here in verses 24-26 to explain how the new earth will be for all God’s people regardless of tribe or tongue or race. John’s use of Isaiah 60, with its promise of glory to Israel, teaches that the fulfillment of all Israel’s Old Covenant promises of land, seed, and blessing are fulfilled on the new earth as God’s ancient promise to Abraham finds its fulfillment: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.[21] The Gentiles (nations) bring themselves as worshippers into the holy city, offering up to God an eternal life of praise.

NO SIN ZONE

Finally, John again assures us the presence and power of sin cannot be found upon the new earth where only God’s redeemed people will live: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false….”[22] There will be no earth-dwellers in the eternal city of God. The words unclean and detestable (abominable) refer to worshipping anything other than God in Christ Jesus. There will be no idolatry there. No one will give a thought to their own felt needs and dreams of self-generated happiness because all God’s people will finally and fully be consumed with the joy of their created purpose: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

No one will DO bad stuff – not because they’re too afraid to get caught, or because they will have the power to overcome temptations – but because all of our longings will be fully met in Christ Jesus. No idol will have power in the new earth because no idol can exist there. For every comforting image of God’s people dwelling with God, John includes the waring to all those good “churchy” people who presently show up to worship God on Sundays while entirely giving themselves over to the worship of idols and the demons behind them as the regular practice of their lives. “Included among these are people who may never have had association with the church, but the focus is on those who made profession of faith but contradicted it by their sinful lifestyle, which was the telltale sign that they were false believers and “liars” …. Just as the physically unclean could not enter the temple of the OT, the spiritually unclean will not be allowed to enter the eternal temple.”[23]

Does this mean that the redeemed are saved by their works? No, because “only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life [24] can gain entrance through the pearly gates. As we know from its previous five references (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15), the book of life is a picture for those whose redemption was determined before the world was spoken into existence. All who trust into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial death of the risen Messiah do so because God has written their names onto the registry rolls of the New Jerusalem. No one can remove themselves from this list. And no one, by their attempts to look righteous on Sunday mornings while being completely given over to idolatry, can add themselves to this list.

There is only one way to know if your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. You must give up your pretenses, abandon self-generated personal happiness as your life-goal, and trust into Messiah Jesus and all his benefits. Those who do will find unimaginable glory as God tabernacles with them. Those who do not will face the eternal wrath of God for giving themselves over to the worship of false gods.

We invite you to come to Him whom to know is life eternal. Give up scrounging for pennies in this temporal life and build your hope upon the wealth of eternal glory through Christ – the light of the world.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. [25]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ge 1:1–19.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:22–27.

[3] Augustine, Confessions (Book 1, chapter 1). http://www.piercedhearts.org/theology_heart/teaching_saints/hearts_restless_st_augustine.htm

 

[4] Morton H. Smith, Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession Standards, electronic ed. (Greenville SC: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press, 1996), Answer 1.

[5] Id. Answer 38.

[6] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 2 Co 4:16–18.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 13:12.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:2–3.

[9] Phillips, 653-654.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:22.

[11] Beale, 1090–1091.

[12] Id., 1091.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 21:42.

[14] Beale, op. cit.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:23–25.

[16] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jn 1:1–5.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 8:12.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:8–11.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 60:19.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 42:6.

[21] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ge 12:3.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:27.

[23] Beale, 1101.

[24] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:27.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:17.

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