If we are to understand the book of the Revelation, the best way is to read its closing chapters first, and then move backward to the beginning. As in so many matters, the end explains all, for the end - the goal - governs all; so it is here, in the all-inclusive purpose and movements of God. These closing chapters, in their sublime symbolism, gather together all the elements and features of the Divine intention, and see them consummated in full and final ascendency and glory.
If we were to try to concentrate all the symbolic meaning into one definition, we should put it somewhat in this way: The end to which God has always moved, and is moving through all that the Bible - as concentrated in the book of the Revelation - contains, is to have a certain expression of His nature and character, His virtues and excellencies, represented and expressed governmentally in this universe. To see that organic representation is to see what God is like and what God ever intended should be in His creation.
That statement immediately demands a contemplation - if not exhaustive, certainly sufficient - of that consummate representation. So, we begin at the end.
The final feature in the Bible corresponds to the first in Genesis, it is -
The Supremacy of Life
"He shewed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal..." Life, Divine Life, has been the supreme and all-dominating issue of all time. The battle of the ages has been between life and death; their respective causes and sources, and their ends. To see how true this is we only need to note what is the connection here in Revelation 22.
1. It is the consummation and finality of all that has gone before.
2. It is associated with the
two major factors in history -
a) The Throne; i.e., supremacy, dominion, authority, government;
b) The Lamb; i.e., redemption, salvation, sin's destruction, righteousness triumphant, and love victorious;
also with -
c) The Tree of Life; i.e., health, sustenance, reproduction or propagation "after its kind";
d) The removal of every barrier to perfect fellowship with God (vs. 3-6).
We can never make too much of Eternal Life, for, amongst and including all other things, this is what Christ is, what He came to give, and what He died to secure.
The next step back (chapter 21) brings into full view -
"The Holy City, New Jerusalem"
Here we have a perfect galaxy of symbolisms.
The concept of a city is that it is the governmental centre and heart of the kingdom. In it there are to be found all those features and characteristics which are true of the kingdom. It is the summation and representation of all the elements which constitute the realm over which it reigns. In this symbolic representation of God's end we have the nature of world-dominion as God ever intended it to be.
Here we must pause and carefully adjust our mentality to the fundamental reality. We must escape from the finality of symbolism in our imagination and come down with both feet on what lies behind that symbolism. We are not really dealing with things as such at all. We are in the presence of spiritual character, and God's character at that. Albeit, it is the character of the Lord disseminated, distributed, inculcated, and manifested in as many aspects as a universal metropolis can contain. A few of these we can note.
a) Heavenliness. "The Holy City... coming down out of heaven."
Into this clause and its implication we need to gather all that weight of emphasis laid by the Lord Jesus on His essential heavenliness of origin, mission, nature, relationship, direction, government and resource. So largely this is characteristic of John's Gospel.
Then we need to note His teaching on the essential heavenliness of the Church, as not being of this world. John, Paul and Peter have a great deal to say on this truth and fact.
"They are not of this world, even as I..." (John 17:16).
"Seated together with him in the heavenlies..." (Ephesians 2:6).
"The Jerusalem which is above, which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26).
"Ye are come to... the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22); and so on.
This City is the embodiment of the heavenly nature, order and way of things.
Yes, the City is not a thing, it is a nature!
b) With this nature there immediately goes its Stability. Read the description in general and note how substantial this city is. How massive, weighty, strong, dominating, and immense. It is indeed the Eternal City. This says simply and forcefully that the enduring, time-outlasting, impregnable, indestructible thing is Divine character. No wonder that God is more concerned with conformity to the image of His Son, with heavenly nature, than with anything else. This explains so much of His dealings with His spiritual people.
c) Costliness. "Costly stones".
If the stones mentioned suggest beauty and glory, this is the fruit of a great cost:
The cost of redemption. The cost of sanctification. The cost of service. The cost of souls. The cost of "the fellowship of his sufferings".
The pearls which form the gates - the ways in and out - bring this costly anguish into concentration, for the pearl is something formed by the vital fluids of the organism.
From the Tree in the City the nations derive their health. 'The nations walk in the light thereof.' The gates are on the four sides, and four is always the number of creation. Paul prayed that the Church might know "what is the breadth and length and height and depth" of "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:18,19). Here, indeed, that prayer has its answer. All-comprehending and no exclusion, when things are for ever as God will have them. Then, all that cannot be will have been banished for ever. Here we have the many times repeated "all things" of Paul's revelation.
The city is as "a jasper stone, clear as crystal". The river is clear - or bright - as crystal. And "the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass."
What is spiritual is transparent. What is carnal is opaque. "Nothing that maketh a lie" can come in here. The Liar and the lie, with all deception, insincerity, dishonesty and duplicity, will have been burned up. The people of God who form this City will have been purified and refined. The Spirit of Truth will work to produce this feature of singleness, purity and crystal-clearness in our hearts. We must be suitable to the presence of God. The above are but a few hints and pointers regarding the so-much-more at the end, to which God is working. If the City speaks of eternal government, as the number twelve indicates, then, shall we repeat, the eternal Kingdom will be governed by what is true to God's nature.
It is not our intention to trace back through this great book all the movements and activities which have this end in view. It will be seen - in the light of the end - that the judgment of Satan and his kingdom, the destruction of satanically energized world-hierarchies, and then, as a first realm of purification, the interrogation and arraignment of the churches - as representative of the whole Church - is governed by that end.
That first sphere of judgment is shown to permit of no merely comparative or partial rightness. The good is noted, but the activity of "the seven spirits", i.e. the Spirit in sevenfold expression, is on the line of spiritual completeness, perfection.
Thus we return to the first message in this series, and see how God's end answers to His beginning. Christ is the First and the Last.