The Heavenly City, a New Jerusalem

The Heavenly City, a New Jerusalem

In today’s reading from Revelation on this 6th Sunday of Easter, we hear the third and part of the fourth vision of the astral seer.  He sees a heavenly Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.  The city is so massive that he has to be taken to a mountain top to see it in its entirety.  Such visions are common in Mesopotamian, Phoenician and Greek Literature as well as in Jewish Literature.  Usually twin peaks are stationed at the east and the western edges to facilitate the seer. 

There are several interesting attributes about this heavenly city.  First of all, it was endowed with the splendor of God.  In order to describe this splendor in human terms, the sacred writer references the gem stones with which this people would be familiar.

Secondly, it is built in such a way as to incorporate both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.  The sacred writer attributes one of the twelve tribes to each of the gates leading into the city, his way of declaring that the children of Israel were the first to receive the revelation of God’s name and presence in their midst.  The names of the apostles are used to delineate the twelve layers or courses of stone that serve as the foundation of the city.  Here again, the sacred writer is declaring that the holy city is founded upon the preaching the Twelve, the first to hear and the first to preach the Good News of Jesus.

Unlike earthly cities, this city has no temple.  God lives among the people in the city.  So they have no need of a place in which to gather to worship the Lord.  God’s presence is manifest in the people and among the people.

Finally, there was no sun or moon to light the city by day or night.  This detail is the most interesting to me.  In the Book of Genesis, God creates light on the first day.  However, the sun and moon are not created until the fourth day.  How could there be light if the sources of light were not created until later?  The answer for this problem posed in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible is answered in the last book of the Bible.  God is the real source of light.  The sun and the moon are but substitutes for the brilliance that is God’s.  Because God dwells in this city, there is no need for the sun or the moon.

As we listen to God’s Word this Sunday, we look forward to the day when we will dwell in this heavenly Jerusalem, where we will not only dwell with all who have gone before us in faith but with God as well.  To prepare ourselves for that day, we need to strive to live in the light of God, to conquer the darkness of sin in our lives.  When we allow Jesus, the Lamb who was sacrificed for our sakes, into our lives, he dispels the darkness caused by our sin. 

In the reading from St. John’s Gospel today, we hear Jesus telling his disciples of his need to go away for a time, but He promises to return.  After the Ascension, the apostles and disciples of Jesus gathered all those who had placed their faith in Jesus into the community which grew into the Church we know today.  However, the hard life of the first century began to erode the confidence with which the people had come to believe in Jesus.  One of the tremendous blows to the early community was the death of the apostles.  The presence of the eyewitnesses in their midst were able to interpret and apply the teachings of Jesus to new situations in which the community found itself.  When the apostles began to die, the community could not help but wonder “Who would help us now?” 

Then at the end of a four year war, the Roman armies, led by Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple sometime between 70 and 76 A.D.  Both Judeans and Messianists were deeply affected by this calamity.  They had lost God’s special dwelling place among them, the key place where God could be encountered.  Messianists had expected that Jesus’ return would accompany God’s wrathful judgment on the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus did not, however, return at the destruction of Jerusalem. 

Finally, the Death of the Beloved Disciple was another blow because they fully expected that this last eye witness would be alive at the time of Jesus’ return.

The vision we hear in Revelation is one answer to the difficulties that began to erode the faith of the early Church.  As was so often the case, they had obviously misunderstood what Jesus was saying and had expected his imminent return.  When that didn’t happen, the astral seer provided them with a new source of hope.  Just as Jesus had come among them in a way that they did not expect, God would return in a new and heavenly Jerusalem, a city unlike the one on which they had pinned their former hopes, a glorious city that would shine with the splendor of God and which would one day come down out of heaven from God.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator


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