Connections 05.26.2019: Seeing and Being Seen

Revelation 21:22–22:7

Darkness can be frightening because it can keep us from seeing things that are there. That’s why if we get up in the middle of the night and don’t turn on a light, we might stub a toe on a piece of furniture.

Darkness can also be frightening because it can cause us to see things that aren’t there. Our imaginations can produce shapes and movements in the darkness that wouldn’t exist in the light.

So the absence of darkness in the new Jerusalem of John’s vision communicates that we will have nothing to fear there. Considering how much fear we live with here, that’s very good news. The light of God’s presence that will drive the darkness away.

We should remember, though, that we also have the light of God’s presence here and now. The Holy Spirit lives in and among us, so God’s light should drive away a lot of the darkness of fear that we experience in this life. It’s not possible to fully experience God’s light while we’re in this world. Too much stuff obscures it. But we should never forget that we do walk in God’s light, even when we can see just a little of it.

My family and I once visited Mammoth Cave. Our tour through part of the cave system brought us to a large room. Once our group was situated in the room, the tour guide turned out the lights. The resulting darkness was the darkest I have ever experienced. Then the guide struck a match. It was amazing how much light that single flame produced. Just a little light drives away a lot of darkness.

In the new Jerusalem, God’s light will drive away all darkness forever. Here in the old earth, even a little light from God will help us find our way through the darkness. We need to do all we can to put ourselves in a position to walk in the light.

Once, when I was a boy, I did one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. My father was doing some yardwork. He had retrieved something from his car’s trunk and left the lid up. I decided that it would be fun to hide in the trunk. So I climbed in and pulled the lid down. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be very dark in the closed trunk. But it was.

I commenced to kicking and screaming. When my father opened the trunk, I leapt into his arms. I was glad to see the light, but I was even happier to see his face.

The best result of the perpetual illumination in the new Jerusalem will be that we will always see Jesus’ face (22:4a).

There may be times when we prefer the darkness to the light. We might prefer that people not see us as we really are. We might even prefer not to see ourselves as we really are.

But in the new Jerusalem, we will always be in the light, so we will be seen as we really are. Who are we, really? We are Jesus’ people. As we walk around in the light, everyone will see his name on our foreheads (22:4b), which means that we belong to him. We will forever be his because of what he has done to make us his.

It will be obvious to us. It will be obvious to everybody.

All the people present will belong there.

I wonder: when God’s light shines so that we see everyone who belongs there, will we be surprised at some of those we see? Will we be surprised at some of those we don’t see?

God’s light will likely reveal that many more than we expected are there. It may also reveal that many fewer than we expected are there.

God’s light will reveal who we really are. Whoever is there will belong there. Whoever is there will be there because of Jesus.

Discussion

  1. Why is there no temple in the new Jerusalem? Why is there no sun or moon?
  2. Why will the city’s gates never be shut?
  3. Why do you think the tree of life is in the new Jerusalem? What does it symbolize?
  4. How should the hope expressed in our lesson text affect our lives in the present?
  5. What do you most look forward to when God makes everything as it should be? Why?

Reference Shelf

John says of the new Jerusalem that “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. . . . People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (21:24-26). This is one of the most astounding passages in the Apocalypse. The “kings of the earth” and “the nations” have throughout the book of Revelation been those who have resisted the claims of God on their lives and have instead followed after the beast. Although John has recorded the destruction of the kings of the earth (19:17-21) and the nations (20:7-9), now they too enter the holy city to “bring their glory into it.”

Several passages in the Hebrew Bible (including Isa 60; see also Dan 7:14; Zech 2:11; 8:23) express confidence that in the glorious future when Israel is a mighty kingdom with Jerusalem as its magnificent capital, then the Gentiles (the nations) will come to the city and pay homage and reverence to the city and its God. John is clearly following that tradition here. The difficulty arises in trying to determine what John intends to say by his use of this tradition. Some interpreters see here a clear indication of John’s belief in universal salvation—ultimately all people will enter the new Jerusalem and be a part of God’s people.

Other interpreters argue strongly that such a reading misstates John’s intention, claiming that to understand this passage as supporting universal salvation is to read “far too much theology into incidental references that are more easily explained in another way.”1 John does not really expect any nonbelievers to be on the renewed earth at this time. Thus “the kings” and “the nations” are simply a part of the tradition John is adapting. The terms do not have the same meaning they do elsewhere in Revelation. Here, they represent the people of God. Jürgen Roloff has explained, “The fulfillment of the promise of the end-time pilgrimage of nations serves him [John] merely as a symbol of the universal unity, free from distance and fear, of human beings in the light of the presence of God.”

Both of these views—exclusive and universal salvation—are overstatements in regard to the book of Revelation. On the one hand, John does hold out hope for all people to become a part of the kingdom of God. That seems to be the message of 21:24-26 (cf. 5:13; 11:13; 15:4; 21:3; 22:2). Yet John also warns (even in this scene; see 21:27) that certain actions and practices are not consistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Those who persist in rejecting God and living apart from God face God’s judgment. These two views are held in tension in Revelation—promise and warning. Can all people and nations be saved? Definitely. Can some people be excluded—exclude themselves—from God’s presence? John knows that possibility as well. At the very least, John’s passages that seem to speak of the salvation of all people “express hope that the truth embodied in the church will one day be recognized by the whole world.” Recognizing that God’s judgment falls upon human sinfulness and rebellion, we can still hope that ultimately God’s grace and mercy will overcome even human resistance.

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 409-11.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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