The Light of the Glory of God | Revelation 21:22-27

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 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. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 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.

Revelation 21:22-27 ESV

 

Having now studied and celebrated Christ’s first advent, we shift our focus toward His second advent. Jesus defeated sin and formed His church through His first coming. Upon His return, Jesus will establish His physical and visible reign as King over the new heavens and earth that He will create. In Revelation 21, the Apostle John describes his vision of the new creation by focusing upon the New Jerusalem that becomes God’s dwelling place on earth. Within our text of study, we find, therefore, the conclusion of our theme of light and darkness as well as the climax of the Bible’s story.

NO MORE NIGHT // VERSES 22-23

Revelation can be a scary book to read. Composed of visions given to the Apostle John while exiled onto the island of Patmos, it contains copious amounts of apocalyptic imagery, which can be quite intimidating to read. Yet the message of Revelation is meant to be one of joyful hope since it foretells how God will right the wrongs of sin, evil, and death once and for all. Revelation is all about reminding us that God ultimately wins and Jesus will return and reign supreme.

The final chapters of Revelation drive home that message by providing the mirror image of Genesis 1-3. The symmetry of these bookends of the Bible is astounding.

Consider Genesis first.

Chapter one, as we studied in week one, gives us the account of creation, particularly emphasizing the means by which the world was created: God’s words. Chapter two (along with the ending of chapter one) gives us our only glimpse of pre-sin life in the Garden of Eden. Chapter three, of course, is where everything unravels, explaining how our sin broke both creation and ourselves.

The final three chapters of Revelation mirror this layout. Chapter twenty foretells the final defeat of Satan and the great day of God’s judgment. It is the final undoing of Genesis 3, the permanent defeat of evil. Chapter twenty-one (along with the beginning of chapter twenty-two) provides our only glimpse of post-sin life on the new earth. Finally, chapter twenty-two turns our attention to the means by which all things will be recreated: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

Our present text closes out chapter twenty-one. The beginning of the chapter describes the new earth and, particularly, the New Jerusalem, which descends from heaven onto earth. Within this heavenly city, God Himself chooses to dwell with His people.

Revelation 21:3–4 | And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

There are two primary views concerning New Jerusalem. The first is that it is a literal city that will essentially serve as the New Eden upon the remade paradise. The second is that it is symbolic for God’s people, the church. I tend to lean toward the second, but both are plausible and biblical, and on that day, I will not be disappointed in the slightest if I am incorrect. Here is my (brief) reasoning.

First, the angel who guides John’s vision of the city begins by saying this: “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), which is a title used of Christ’s church. The descriptions are then highly symbolic for the church, such as the twelve gates containing the names of Israel’s patriarchs and the twelve foundations listing the names of the apostles. It also fits with Babylon in chapter seventeen representing those who reject Christ. Therefore, as our text describes the city of New Jerusalem, I believe that this description is of God’s people in our glorified and eternal state.

The first description that we will note is the absence of darkness in the heavenly city. Once again, this is mirroring the original creation from Genesis. In that text, God brought matter into existence without light or order. He then brought light into the darkness. The opposite happens here. In the new creation, God permanently dispels all darkness, so that the cosmos is forever basking in eternal light.

And notice the source of that light. Just as God created light on the first day but created the objects of light (sun, moon, and stars) on the fourth day, God Himself provides the light once more. To be more specific, God’s glory will be the light of all creation.

What is the significance of this? Why does John specify that the glory of God is the light? First, we should arrive at some level of understanding what glory means. Glory, when used in human terms within the Bible, is often linked to boasting. For me to glory in something means that I boast and celebrate its value and worth. Glory, therefore, seems to be related to the outward manifestation and celebration of an object. God’s glory (and His zeal for it throughout the Scriptures) is the visible display of God’s holiness.

The term holy is a description of God’s very Godhood. To be holy is to be distinct and different. We saw this distinction last week with John displaying the divinity of Christ by emphasizing that Jesus was never created. God alone is the Creator, and all other things are created. God alone is, thus, truly holy. Our holiness is secondhand, a marker of God reserving us exclusively for His purposes.

“God’s glory is the radiance of His holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections” (Piper). His glory is the visible display of Himself and His presence. To say, therefore, that God’s glory will be our light means that God’s manifest presence is our light. The very light by which we behold all things will be the rays of beauty emanating from God being in our midst, which means that heaven, our eternal paradise, is not a gift from God; it is the very presence of God.

The significance of this eternal daylight is found in verses 3-4. The casting away of all darkness is symbolic for the removal of evil, sin, and all their effects. “And death shall be no more.” Pain will be vanquished because its use will have expired. Violence, disease, and mishaps will no longer be existent. Tears and mourning will be things of the past, distant memories lingering vaguely upon the horizon of eternity. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

THE LIGHT OF THE NATIONS // VERSES 24-26

Although the description of the new world clothed with the light of God’s presence would be sufficient enough to arouse our longings for that day, John’s vision continues still. In verses 24-26, John beholds the nations bringing their glory into the New Jerusalem. What does this mean?

This is God pledging to fulfill His promises. Which promises, you might ask? For the sake of time, we will only focus on the Great Commission (although God’s promise to Abraham practically begs to be remembered as well). The mission and goal of Jesus’ church, the people of God, is to make disciples of all nations.

Recall that God’s purpose for the nation of Israel was to be a light for the other nations, a kingdom of priests. Yet Israel repeatedly failed at that job. Instead of influencing the world, they were constantly influenced by the world. This mission continues today through the church, the collective number of Jews and Gentiles who worship God through His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s people, therefore, is no longer a physical nation; rather, we are a spiritual nation within all the nations of the earth. And our goal is to keep expanding, to have disciples of Jesus within every single nation (or ethnicity).

This task is daunting. According to the Joshua Project, 41.5% of the world’s population remains unreached, which means that they “lack enough followers of Christ and resources to evangelize their own people.” With currently 7.6 billion people alive, this means that 3.14 billion have not heard the gospel and probably still do not even have a means of hearing it. Of the 17,014 people groups (or ethnicities) in the world, 7,063 remain unreached.

The Great Commission is far from complete. We have much work left to do. Jesus told us, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14), so that our wait for His return would not be a passive action. Instead, we reveal our longing for Christ’s second advent by proclaiming His good news to those who have yet to hear it.

This is Revelation’s message as well. Twice in the middle of the book are we called to endurance in our mission. “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (13:10). “Hear is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (14:21). This endurance of God’s people is found in the continued expansion of Christ’s kingdom, His church, despite the oppositions that come.

The nations bringing their glory into New Jerusalem is an assurance that the Great Commission will one day be complete. God’s plan will ultimately triumph, so we can have hope as we live through the process of their fulfillment now, a hope that springs us into confident action rather than comforting our sitting on the sidelines.

THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE // VERSE 27

The chapter and our passage end by informing us of who is able to enter the New Jerusalem and partake in all of its glories: only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. What is the Lamb’s book of life, and how can we know if we are written in it?

First, we must point out that Jesus is repeatedly referenced throughout Revelation as the Lamb, which is pointing to the Passover. As we’ve noted previously, the tenth plague upon the Egyptians in Exodus was the death of the firstborns. God once again differentiated between His people and the Egyptians by sparing the Israelites as long as they painted the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb. This imagery was continued by God commanding the Israelites to sacrifice two lambs each day, one in the morning and the other in the evening (Exodus 29:38). The sacrificed lambs were meant to remind God’s people that they were only spared from God’s justified wrath at their sin because God willingly accepted innocent blood instead.

Of course, the blood of lambs was never sufficient to cover sin. A greater sacrifice needed to be made, and Jesus was that sacrifice. Freely suffering an unjust death on the cross, Christ’s divine and innocent blood now perfectly cleanses our sins. Jesus, therefore, is the Lamb that was slain, the One who rescued His people by His own blood.

The people saved by Christ’s sacrifice have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. Whether that book is literal or symbolic, it is essentially the full listing of the universal church. It contains the name of every follower of Christ who ever lived. And access to New Jerusalem is their exclusive right. They are able to enter because in Christ, they are no longer unclean, detestable, and false. They are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Himself, which offers them unfettered entrance into the presence of God’s glory.

Does that describe you?

Make no mistake, even though those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life are never blotted out, the assurance of that inheritance is only found through daily walking with Christ. Do not place your hope in a decision made or a prayer prayed once upon a time. The Lamb’s book is a book of the living, and the evidence of life is a heartbeat, not a birth certificate.

Place your hope in your walk with Christ today, and do the same thing for as long as breath still fills your lungs. Then when you breathe that last breath, commit it in faith to Lord’s steadfast love that endures forever.

Revelation 22:17 | 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.

Jesus Christ, the water of life, is free for the taking, but doing so means admitting our neediness and insufficiency. It means losing your life in order to find it. Bring your own glory and honor and lay them down at the feet of Christ. God’s glory is infinitely better.

THE STORY CONCLUDED

At Christ’s second coming, we will watch the final chapters of the Bible unfold into reality before our very eyes. Toward this destination, our brothers and sisters in the faith have looked for two thousand years in the midst of triumphs and failures, crowns and swords, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow. We stand upon their shoulders with faces likewise set toward our Lord’s return. Let us, therefore, work as they worked, repent as they repented, and die as they died. May we wait upon the return of Jesus with hands set to the plow.

Throughout Advent, we’ve been tracing the storyline of the Bible and of humanity, but this is where our story will end. But that ending is also a new beginning, the beginning of a story beyond what can be captured in our tiny thoughts and words. Yet Lewis seems to come the closest with his final paragraph of the Narnia series:

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (The Last Battle, 228)

Revelation 22:20 says, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” And we shout with alongside John and all of our brothers and sisters throughout time: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

Here is a section of my study notes from my sermon on Psalm 19, 2 Reasons for Worship. I pray they are helpful.


“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of the them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The psalm opens with one of my favorite statements throughout the entire Bible. The heavens preach the glory of God and proclaim His handiwork. There is much to consider within those words, so let us first define our terminologies. The ancient Hebrew concept of heaven consisted of three tiers, or a three-leveled heaven. The first tier of heaven is, what we would call in English, the sky. We now call the second level of heaven the cosmos, or outer space. Finally, the third heaven is what we might think of conceptually as being Heaven, the spiritual plane in which God dwells. Thus, the psalmist is not merely speaking of the spiritual realm that we would call Heaven; rather, he is much more referring to the physically viewable heavens above us.

Next, we must understand what is meant by the word “glory.” Glory, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it, is “public praise, honor, and fame” or something that brings “praise or fame to someone or something.” Thus, giving glory to God is about giving to Him honor, praise, and distinction that we believe is owed to Him or is worthy of Him. Our worship of God brings glory to Him because we are acknowledging that He is entirely worthy of our adoration and devotion. It makes sense then how a person might glorify God through worship, but how do the heavens declare and proclaim the glory of God?

Consider stars. They emit light, in part, because they are centers for thermonuclear fusion, and they only remain spherical because of gravitational confinement.

The previous sentence is a fancy way of saying that stars (including our sun) are constantly exploding outward with the unimaginable bursting of thousands upon thousands of nuclear blasts and are held together only by the sheer strength of gravity. That is, by far, the craziest game of tug-o-war ever!

Each star must then be nothing less than a miracle, but then let us think upon the number of stars in the universe. Obviously, this is scientists providing their best guesses, as no one is able to truly count the number of stars. Nevertheless, it is thought that most galaxies contain anywhere from 100 to 400 billion stars and that there are certainly more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe. This would leave us with anywhere from 10 to 200 sextillion stars in the universe. Just for effect, here is what 200 sextillion looks like written numerically: 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. In his very awesome YouTube video[1], Fraser Cain estimates that there are anywhere from 2.5 to 10 sextillion grains of sand in the entire world. This makes it very likely that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth. Furthermore, he points out at the end of the video that there are still more atoms in a single grain of sand than stars in the universe.

This is not even to consider the amazing things upon the earth or the beautiful terrors within the sky. For instance, there is a special type of shrimp called the pistol shrimp. It has one greatly enlarged claw that makes the whole creature look lopsided. However, the giant claw has a very specific function. When the shrimp is hungry, it will open its claw and wait for a fish to swim in front of it. The claw will then snap shut with such force and speed that it creates a loud bubble of sound that stuns or even kills the fish. In fact, the snap of its claw actually causes an effect known as sonoluminescence, which is when sounds emit a short burst of light.[2]

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”[3] The apostle makes the same point there as David: God’s creation proclaims His glory, “namely, His eternal power and divine nature.” We are meant, as creatures, to look upon the glories of God’s creation and understand that God must be infinitely more glorious than it because He created everything.

We first ponder the vastness of the universe, and then how much more immeasurable is our God. We marvel at the miracle that is our sun and every star, but also at the power of the God that spoke each of them into existence. We struggle against the complexities of quantum physics, only to take joy in understanding that nothing is too small for God’s care and guidance. Creation screams the enormity, supremacy, grandeur, meticulousness, and excellence of God’s glory.

Are you listening?

The Voice Always Heard

Verses 2 through the majority of 4 here describe the declaration and proclamation that the heavens are making. In each of the three verses, David makes the same point but in a slightly different manner. This triple repetition is important to note. In Hebrew, the Old Testament writers did not have many of the literary devices at their disposal that we have presently. For example, they had no italics, underlining, or bolding of words for added emphasis. Of course, this did not stop them from emphasizing particular points. One of the more common forms of adding emphasis was repetition. Throughout Old Testament poetry, one will notice that many things are said then repeated in another way. This was all to accentuate the point stated. If regular repetition was common, triple repetition was like italicizing and underlining the same words. A repetition of three highlights even further the importance was what is being said.

What then is the point that David is making here? He is stating the same case that Paul made in Romans 1:18-20. The metaphorical voice of the heavens declaring the glory of God “goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” As creatures that dwell within, and are ourselves, God’s creation, we cannot run from creation’s proclamation of God’s handiwork. In fact, David states in verse 3 that not hearing the voice of creation is an impossibility. The best we can do is to ignore the sky’s preaching, but we are too steeped in God’s designs to claim ignorance. In fact, David claims that day and night are pouring out knowledge of our God’s greatness.

At first, I read verse 2 as being a direct continuation of verse 1, meaning that day to day and night to night the heavens were declaring the glory of God. However, that is not how the verse reads; it reads that day to day and night to night pours out speech and reveals knowledge. Day and night happening at all declares to us the greatness of God. We understand this even more today than David did then. We know that the earth is at the exact point in our solar system where life is sustainable. If our planet’s orbit were to shift toward the sun, we collapse under the unbearable heat. If it drifted away from the sun, the earth would perish under a sheet of ice. Each day is miracle and a testament to the supremacy of Him who “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”[4]

The Illuminating Sun

Finally, David ends this first stanza by turning toward the sun. The poet-king apparently views the sun as the crowning achievement of the heavens, since he describes the heavens as its tent. He provides wondrously poetic imagery of the sun’s rising being like a groom coming down the aisle on his wedding day. There is here a picture of rapturous joy and triumph to the sun’s rotation. Perhaps, we can glean from the David’s writings a challenge for us to revisit our appreciation for the daily and the ordinary. Because the sun has given us light throughout our days (both as individuals and as humanity in general), we can take its beauty for granted.

Furthermore, just as the sun provides heat to all the earth, so to does its proclamation of God’s glory cover the whole earth. No one is entirely hidden from the effects of the sun, and likewise, no one can outrun creation’s declaration of God. Once more, it is from this idea that Paul draws his thought in Romans 1. The apostle essentially declares that there is no such thing as an atheist. We see this thought when Paul claims that God’s invisible attributes “have been clearly perceived”. This leaves all men without excuse. On the day of judgment, no one will have the plea of ignorance, as God has clearly made “His eternal power and divine nature” known to all men. In case we try to argue that God did not give humanity a sufficient about of time to listen to creation, note that Paul says God’s glory is perceived “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Or to say it another way, there has never been a moment or circumstance in which a person was not able to perceive something about the character of God from His creation. It “is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”

This also fulfills Paul’s words in Romans 10. We might look at Romans 10:13-17 and wonder how God can condemn people without them ever hearing the gospel preached. However, this psalm and Paul’s words in Romans 1 show that nature preaches the glory of God. The LORD has woven into the fabric of existence itself a begging for us to look beyond creation and its beauty toward the God of all beauty.

Nevertheless, for all the glory that God reveals in nature, they still give only a partial revelation of God. Creation only reveals enough concerning God to condemn us before Him; we need further revelation for salvation. That special revelation comes in the form of God’s Word, which is David’s next topic in verses 7-11 of this psalm.

[1] Cain, Fraser. Are There More Stars Or Grains of Sand?

http://www.universetoday.com/106725/are-there-more-grains-of-sand-than-stars/

[2] Read all about the pistol shrimp on Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpheidae

[3] Romans 1:18-20

[4] Hebrews 1:3