Note that we’re not ‘beamed up’ somewhere, but that God’s reality comes here. Day by day, and week by week we pray, “thy kingdom come,” and in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation that prayer becomes a reality.
The kingdom comes.
When God says, “behold I make all things new,” this is what he means. This is what that looks like.
Like Jesus risen from the tomb – he is the same, and he is wholly different – so is heaven and earth the same and different.
The astute reader will recognize in this reading, from the second to last chapter in the Bible, imagery from the second chapter of Genesis, and the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the River flowing on either side of it. Here, in this phase of John’s Apocalypse, we return to the cool of the garden – that wonderful time when humanity walked with God in the cool of the day. That time when we spoke to God as casually as we might speak to one another. That time when all was right in the universe, and all was right in our relationship with God. Paul would call this righteousness.
But, it’s not that the ‘unpleasantness’ of the fall never happened. Or the unpleasantness of Cain killing Abel. Or the unpleasantness of drunkenness, sordidness, the golden calf, David and Bathsheba, war, strife, hatred, idolatry, unfaithfulness blah, blah, blah – it’s not that all that didn’t happen. It’s that it’s all taken care of. The tab has been paid.
The tomb is empty. Jesus is made new. And now the full ramifications of the Resurrection of Jesus can be seen: Eden is made new. Eden has returned – but! It’s also remade. It’s new.
Now Eden is in a City. There are streets. There’ s a throne. And there’s not just two people there. We’re all there.
And the spiritual-religious landscape is so altered by this Resurrection that the Temple is no longer there. It’s interesting because Temple imagery saturates the Book of Revelation. And yet explicitly in Revelation there is no Temple – because the Presence of God IS the Temple.
Understanding the place of the Jerusalem Temple in Old Testament theology is so very important to understanding this. The Temple wasn’t just some big church – and it especially wasn’t just another-big-church-sitting-on-the-corner-of-another-big-city-intersection. In our religious context churches are everywhere. With a slingshot I could literally hit three churches from where I’m sitting right now.
But, the Jerusalem Temple was the ONLY sacred place in all of Israel where the ritual worship of God was allowed to happen. Period. It was it. After the Babylonian captivity synagogues became a secondary source of religious focus – but they were only places of religious instruction and prayer. No sacrifice was ever allowed there. That took place only in the Temple.
And, it was the place where God dwelt with His people. Our God’s house was on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. In Temple theology, the Temple was THE spiritual focal point of the world. It was the one place where God’s Presence specifically resided.
So, in the vision of John – there is no Temple. There is no longer one specific place where God would dwell with His people.
That place is everywhere. Heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and all reality has been altered and made totally new by the saturating Presence of God. Because all things have been made new. Because the tomb is empty.
God’s Presence is available to all, and God’s life (manifest in the Tree of Life) is also once again available to all. The gates to Eden that were once closed are once again thrown open. And it’s all there – and it’s all different.
Over the past few days I’ve been conversing with some people in various ways about the emerging younger generations and the emerging ‘new media.’ What we’re finding is that people in Generation X and the Millenial generations have an insatiable desire to be connected. Connected to each other. Connected to the causes that they believe in. Connected to the world. Suddenly, when tragedy strikes a Caribbean island people on the ground – and those literally under the rubble – are connected via tweets. People in the US are tweeting with people in Haiti and then the US Airforce tweets back and clears airspace.
What a point of intersection to serve as evangelism to those who have experienced ‘religion’ as a series of walls to keep some people in and other people out. The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word ‘religare‘ which means ‘to bind, or constrict.’ And, while there’s something to be said for binding oneself to God the Creator of the Universe – the imagery of binding doesn’t always carry with it the best connotations.
And, what we find in the 21st chapter of Revelation is that in this penultimate vision of John, and in the wake of the Resurrection of Jesus, God and the Life that God offers will be offered to all without boundry – without walls. There will no longer be a place where we can say that ‘God is HERE’ and then point to another place and say ‘God isn’t THERE.’
We will all be connected – each to God, and each to one another, and each to all Creation. Forever. And ever.
And, honestly, that’s what it was supposed to look like from the beginning. When we walked with God in the Garden. And we talked with him. And we knew His voice, and he knew ours. When we were naked, and it didn’t matter – in fact we didn’t even notice.
And that’s what it means for this Kingdom to ‘come on earth as it is in Heaven.’ It looks like a Garden. It looks like a City. It looks like a Temple without walls.
And – dare I say it? – it looks like a tweet.