Monday, May 10, 2010

The Holy City: The End of Life as We Know It (5)

We’ve been working through the Revelation, and . . . it’s Mother’s Day. I was tempted to do the vision of the cosmic mother – a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars – about to give birth. It is the Revelation’s version of the Christmas story, only without the animals, the fresh manure, the carols, or the chubby-cheeked angels. (And, you can’t find a single chubby-cheeked angel in the Revelation. They all seem quite beyond description, terrible in power, mighty in voice.) The cosmic mother and her child are in danger from a great red dragon, who sweeps a third of the stars from the sky and waits to devour the child at the moment of birth. That part doesn’t typically show up in children’s Christmas plays.

Well, it’s the best explicitly “mother material” in the Revelation, and I was tempted. But since this is our last Sunday in this remarkable book, I thought we needed to end with the climax of the book, the climax of our salvation.

[Sidebar] Not focused on today but beautifully described by Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder, (whose book has provided me with a lot of insight and assistance) p 177 and 183:
The striking visual features of heaven are its symmetry, its light, and its fertility. . . . A holiness that is neither cramped or distorted, but spacious; an illumination that goes beyond the minimum of showing what is true by showing it extravagantly beautiful; a nourishment that is the healthy feeding of our lives, not the frivolous adornment of them.
Symmetry - measurements of the cubic city (over 3 million cubic miles)
Light - beauty in 12 gem foundation, pearl gates, gold as glass
Fertility - water of life, tree of life

Continuity/Discontinuity with “First Creation”
No night
No tree of the knowledge of good and evil
No curse, “Nothing accursed will be found there any more” (Revelation 22:3)
No banishment from the tree of life
River runs through it, and out from it (to those on the outside?)
City, rather than garden (Eugene Peterson)
the Holy City versus Babel (Genesis) and the Great Prostitute Babylon (Revelation) and even the “old” Jerusalem
City as Density ... of people ... of sin OR of glory & grace
Continuity/Discontinuity with Salvation Story:
No temple (see Revelation 11:19 and 15:5, for a temple in heaven). “The Temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22, rather than the people of God/Bride as the temple, see 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19 and 1 Peter 2:1)

Yet, temple/tabernacle imagery:
3 tribes at each compass point, like the layout around the Tabernacle

Jeweled foundation like high priest’s ephod ... yet the 12 stones are marked with the names of the apostles rather than the names of the tribes! (Exodus 28:15-21, the “breastpiece of decision/judgment”; Eugene Peterson, p 180)

Gates - the 12 tribes/sons of Israel; Foundations the 12 apostles ... imperfect persons, unknown persons yet God's work and grace are active (Eugene Peterson), and both sides of our heritage are united in this vision
[On Continuity/Discontinuity, see the discussion of N. T. Wright in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, part II. Several of these themes are also elaborated by Eugene Peterson.]
Continuity and Discontinuity in this vision are rooted in the theology of the resurrection. In that day, we will have new bodies – bodies! But these new bodies are immortal, no longer subject to death, decay, humiliation. And, along with our particular bodies, the earth itself is renewed. This future resurrection day is anticipated by the resurrection of Jesus and guaranteed to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The vision is a vision of the world of resurrection: “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

The vision is NOT a vision of where you go when you die ... this is the NEW heaven! It is a vision of what N. T. Wright calls “life after life after death”. When we think of the reunion of our families in the family of God, it is not – at least, not on resurrection day – the acquaintance of disembodied souls, of ghosts or apparitions. It is being present to one another in bodily form.

In this renewal of the entire creation, we discover what God originally designed and intended for us, for the world and for the human body. God made us for Godself. God made us to be filled with the Spirit and transformed by Jesus and glorified by the Father.

Just as we are made for God, as vessels of the Spirit, so the entire earth was made for heaven, and even now is a vessel just waiting to be filled.

“And the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3).

That’s a day worth waiting for, that’s a day worth praying for. The day when our experience of forgiveness and deliverance will be consummated and extended to our complete existence. The day when the mysterious fullness and encounter and connection of Holy Communion is fulfilled. The day when our filling with the Holy Spirit is worked into every cell of our body and corner of our soul. The day when every evil will be overcome forever and death will not just be defeated but destroyed. The day that we and the world have been groaning for.

“See, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7). It can’t be soon enough. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

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