In John's vision of the Holy City, 21:9-22:5, he symbolically describes the "new Jerusalem", "the bride, the wife of the Lamb." In symbolic language, John pictures the assembled people of God, the gathering of God's children in the heavenlies. By the use of descriptive metaphors, John reminds his readers of the inevitable glorification of those who stand with Christ.
v9. There is a sense where Revelation is the tale of two cities, the Harlot and the Bride. The angelic visitor had shown John the harlot-city and its end, and now he shows him the bride-city. The bride of Christ is the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the assembled people of God, the redeemed. John is using picture-language throughout the book and here the metaphors are striking indeed.
v10. The city represents the people of God, in all their splendor, assembled before the throne. It is the glorious realization of the kingdom of God - a people of God under the rule of God. The city is "come down out of heaven from God." John means by this that it is a creation of God; it proceeds from God.
v11. John goes on to describe the city, the assembled people of God, the body of Christ, using beautiful picture language. He first tells us that the city radiates brilliantly, for it radiates the glory of God.
v12-13. Its walls are high and its gates protected by angels - ie. it is impregnable and thus can no longer be violated by the powers of darkness. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel are on its gates, for it is the fulfillment of Israel's hope. The city is the final realization of the kingdom of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
v14. The foundation of the city is the apostles. It rests on the Word of God mediated by Christ and preserved for the church by the apostles.
v15-21. John sees an angel setting out to measure the city. This measuring is to define its grandeur and strength and thus, the security of the city for all who resides within, cf. Zech.2:1-13. Its size is 12 by the cube of 10, a perfect number. This indicates that it is the sanctuary of God as well as the habitation of all Israel. Its walls are thick and thus, impregnable. They are made of Jasper, a God-like jewel. They are covered by many precious stones, displaying the presence of God within the walls. The city glows, its gates are of pearl and its streets of gold. The splendor of the city is glorious indeed.
A classic image of evil is found in the story of Lot's stay in Sodom. "Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar....... So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan." He chose the easy path and soon found himself within the city of evil - sucked in and compromised. His daughters were about to marry men of Sodom. He nearly had to give them to a crowd to spare the angels of the Lord, and when the city was in its death-throws, Lot "hesitated" in his escape. In the escape, "Lot's wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt" - she had yearned for the ease of the city of evil.
The book of Revelation images the difficulty of dwelling in both Babylon and Jerusalem at the same time. Like Lot of old, maybe we should flee Sodom without looking back, disengage, renunciate the one to experience the other. Yet, joining Francis in flight is rarely an option. So, we face the seductive nature of the "whore" and her determined abuse of the "Bride of Christ", and employ extreme dexterity in straddling both cities at the same time.
Like Lot, we find ourselves living within the secular city and dependent upon it for our existence. Again like Lot, we don't find ourselves under a direct threat from the State. The dangers we face are more subtle than that. In the West, the secular State is increasingly socialist, hedonist and humanist. We face a society with new puritanical values in social behavior, education, vocation and recreation. As if planned by the powers of darkness, the very business of living locks us into the productive and consuming cycle - a lifetime of home repayments, a life "sold to the man."
To survive, the vision of John must be our vision. We must look beyond the Whore of Babylon to the Holy City and so wend our way through this age of shadows. Such a vision would certainly encourage us if we were undergoing persecution, as were the Christians in John's day. Yet, our problem is not that we are violated by the State, rather that we are gently sucked into the games of the secular city. Although we are bound to both cities we don't have to be loyal to both cities. The city of Babylon claims our all, but the city of God claims our all as well. Which do we choose to give our loyalty to?
One foot in heaven and one foot on earth; this, for the moment, is the state of play. So, it comes down to a matter of weight; where we put our weight, where we set our mind. Let us shift our thoughts from the Whore and her glories, and look to the Holy City, what we will be in Christ. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about these things", Phil.4:8.
Given that this is a vision of what it will be like, what impact can such a vision have upon us now?