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When the saints go marching in…

Revelation 21.9 – 22.6


05 December 2010
Introduction

In today’s reading we heard of a fresh vision is seen by John which


compliments that described by Rob last week, a vision of what is
known colloquially as ‘heaven’. In 21.1-8 it was a bride. In 21.9-22.5
it is a city.

I wonder what your idea of heaven is?... Perhaps this ad will give one
or two of you some ideas….

If only Carlsberg made flat mates…

It strikes me, if I’m honest, that this sort of vision of ‘heaven’ can
make a lot more sense than the vision of ‘heaven’ frequently offered
by Christians – though maybe not to those who dislike football.

o For a start, it used language and concepts that were easily


understood e.g. football, beer and girls (didn’t you love the German
accents?). By contrast, the language Christian’s use is frequently
remote and usually incomprehensible

o For another thing, it portrayed activities that many of us would


regard as pleasurable. Sadly, I’m not sure if that can be said of
traditional descriptions of the heavenly life.

o Lastly, what we saw in the advert, although clearly exaggerated,


fell to some extent within the realm of the achievable. OK you’d have
to go some to buy a flat overlooking a football pitch – Qatar anybody?
– but a big screen TV and a slab of lager within most people’s grasp.
Spending eternity in ‘heaven’, by contrast, seems about as likely as
locating El Dorado or finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of
the rainbow.
How can this gap of language, desire and reality be closed and if so
how?

o Part of the problem lies in understanding what the bible is actually


saying. ‘What colour is the equator?’ is not a question we usually ask,
but so too are many the questions we ask of the bible text. What we
are taking about, particularly in the Book of Revelation are visions of
what is to be and not exact plans. Not that ‘heaven’ isn’t real, its far
more real that we have commonly thought it to be as the bible
repeatedly speaks not of ‘heaven., but of the Kingdom of God which
is as real – more real – than the world we inhabit now! (c.f. last week)

o Part of the problem lies with the time and the place in which we
live. Put to the test, many of alternatives on offer in our world are far
more illusory as those on offer in the world that the Christian faith
describes. For example, adverts are usually filled with young,
attractive people and not older, overweight and not especially good
looking like most of us appear to be? There’s certainly no mention of
death.

o Part of the problem lies with us. We are generally people who are
happy to live in the present – que sera sera – and are reluctant to think
much about the claims of faith, especially with regard to the future.

Schott’s Survey
I. Heaven is…. the place where GOD is revealed

o When God’s Kingdom comes, He will be known as Lord

The world was made to revolve around God and not you and me and,
when His Kingdom comes, that right order or balance will be restored.

Your kingdom come


Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven

We might not much like the sounds of this, but given a) who God is
and b) how the world is doesn’t it make perfect sense?

c.f. Tea times at our house

I think that one of the reasons that we maybe don’t ‘get’ the Kingdom
of God is that most of us are doing so well out for of the current
system which has more in common with Babylon than the City of God
(the city with which the heavenly Jerusalem is contrasted c.f. Ch.17 ).

Remember that this letter was written to a group of people who were
being brutally repressed for their faith in Jesus by a state that would
allow no deviation from the norm. Christianity is no friend of the
status quo.

Some say this world of trouble,


Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.

Oh When the new world is revealed


Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed
o When God’s Kingdom comes, He will be seen in all His glory

Most people, in my experience believe in God’s existence, but they


don’t get much beyond that. How come? Because the God they
‘believe’ in is either rather distant and frightening or rather dull and
uninteresting. But this is a travesty. If the Universe reflects God’s
glory – did you hear, by the way, that scientists have miscalculated the
number of stars and that there are three times the number they
previously thought there were – then He must be very wonderful
indeed. Like Rembrandt, Steve Jobs. Paul McCartney and Sir
Norman Foster rolled into one. Likewise, if God, as Christians
believe, is most perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, He is neither distant
and frightening nor dull and uninteresting.

I think that this sense of wonder at God the Father and Christ the Son
is something that John has worked hard at conveying in his
description e.g.
18
The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19
The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious
stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the
fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth
beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth
amethyst.[f] 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single
pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

Jewels and gold and pearls don’t do it for me, but you can see what he
is trying to say in 21.18-21. Similarly in 21.22-24
22
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the
Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will
walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. 25
On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there
Traditionally, we Protestants have made our churches plain and simple
– no bad thing you might say – the logic being that what matters is the
word of God not the building. There is a certain logic in this, but the
danger is that God is linked simply to the intellect and never the
senses.

“What no eye has seen,


what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived—
these things God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2

The other thing to say about the Kingdom of God as the place where
God is seen in all His glory, is that as well as being amazingly
beautiful, the glory of God will be intensely personal

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will
serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light
of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever
and ever.

c.f. no temple
c.f. cube like shape
c.f. we will see his face

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13.12
II. Heaven is… the place where COMMUNITY is restored

Jean Paul Sartre famously said that ‘Hell is other people’ and I
suppose that he was right up to a point. However, the truth is that
people are essential to happiness (c.f. Genesis 1)

Hence the significance of the fact that the Kingdom of God is pictured
not primarily as a garden, but as a city – though the garden ‘paradise’
is in there in Ch.22 The point is that cities are social places, inhabited
by people.

People matter – hence the Prayer Diary!

o When God’s Kingdom comes, there will be no more separation

We are trav'ling in the footsteps


Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,

You may recall that early on in the bible the people of Babel tried to
construct a city that reached up to heaven (Genesis 11). That
arrogance was thwarted and the human race divided into the various
languages and races. In Revelation 21, 22, after heaven comes down
to earth and people have once again been joined together as one
(21.10)
9
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one
could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the
throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were
holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Perhaps that is another angle on there being no sea? (21.? )

The greatest thing that separates people is, of course, death and in the
Kingdom of God that will have been utterly defeated, the great sign of
that defeat being the death and resurrection of Jesus on which all else
is built (c.f. Revelation Ch.5)
o When God’s Kingdom comes, all may find a place

Some religions are extremely narrow in their focus. Sadly, this


continues to be true of even of some Christians. However, according
to John, the Kingdom of God is a very big and broad place. There is
room for any who wish to enter, a truth conveyed by

a) the shear size of the city = 12000 x 12 = 144.000h is reflected in


the ‘gating’ policy.

b) the ‘gating’ policy. Typical cities in the ancient world had one
main gate this city has three on each side. The point being that
not only is security not a problem, but access is from all sides.

We would have expected nothing less from the man who wrote
John 3.16!

c.f. William Barclay

Not that anybody can simply walk in. Alongside his emphasis on the
capacity of the Kingdom of God and the welcome it extends to all,
John is equally emphatic that only those who wish to be there may
enter. This is after all the City of God whose foundations are the
twelve apostles – there’s an encouragement – and whose gates
represent the twelve tribes. In other words, there is a link between
what we do now and what happens then. Jesus was quite clear about
the fact that all of us are called to repent and believe the good news of
the Kingdom of God.
27
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful
or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
III. Heaven is… the place where HISTORY is concluded

It is mere coincidence, but immediately before Christmas we are


looking at the last two chapters of the bible, whereas immediately
after Christmas we are looking at the first three. Take away either and
the story is robbed of pretty much all its sense for these chapters, on
the one hand, set the scene for the story that is to follow and, on the
other hand, provide the conclusion to what has gone before.

It doesn’t happen much in these digital days, but when all we had
were VCR’s (without Video Plus), if you got the timings slightly
wrong or, more annoying still, the BBC or whoever, changed the
schedule, you would have 95% of programme, but not have the very
last bit, which in the case of a film was very disappointing. The bible
doesn’t suffer this problem. Difficult as the Book of Revelation is, it
does provide the conclusion that is needed. Imagine, for example, if
the last book had been Jude?

Revelation 21 is like the author coming on stage to announce the final


scene of the play. Indeed, Revelation 21 is the first time that the Lord
speaks in person
o When God’s Kingdom comes, the story of salvation will be
complete

What began in the Garden of Eden, before history proper began is


concluded in the City of God which will continue long after history,
so called, has concluded
1
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great
street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve
crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for
the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of
God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They
will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no
more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the
Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

c.f. Nine Carols and lessons

Life has a purpose and a meaning


o When God’s Kingdom comes, all good will be gathered in

There is a prayer that we say at all funerals which I find very moving.

..for all that was good in his / her life and for the memories we treasure today….

It is a prayer which raises several theological questions, but its instinct


is surely correct in tracing back to God all that is good in this world,
whether or not the person in whose life that good was expressed was a
Christian or not. It seems to me that Revelation 21.24,26 is saying
much the same thing about human history.
24
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their
splendour into it….. 26 The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into
it.

All that has been good – and there has been much that has not been
good hence the need for a new heavens and a new earth – will be
gathered up and brought into the Kingdom of God – art, literature,
architecture, knowledge, scientific discovery etc etc.
o When God’s Kingdom comes, His wisdom will be vindicated

There is so much that we don’t know and understand about life. So


may unanswered questions. So many unresolved issues. So much
unhealed pain.

c.f. the glass at a Jewish wedding

Christians, though, believe that God has it all in hand, that there is a
purpose and a meaning in even the deepest suffering and that One day
God’s name and plan will be vindicated. The church, Then, is in the
business of telling God’s story and waiting hopefully for the end
Conclusion
We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,

Oh, when the saints go marching in


Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

And when the sun refuse to shine


And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine

And when the moon turns red with blood


And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood

Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call


Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call

Some say this world of trouble,


Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.

Oh When the new world is revealed


Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed

(I used to have a playmate


Who would walk and talk with me
But since she got religion
She has turned her back on me)