there came one of the seven angels... and he spake with
me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the
wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to
a mountain great and high, and shewed me the holy city
Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation
are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living
God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22).
the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our
mother" (Galatians 4:26).
going to occupy the first part of our time with trying to
see where we are, and those passages do tell us quite
precisely where we are. The Word says: "Ye are come
unto... the heavenly Jerusalem", and that "the
Jerusalem that is above" (that is, the heavenly
Jerusalem) "is our mother". Well, that says
where we are, but it does not explain, and this week we
are going to be occupied with that to which we
you read these last chapters of the book of the
Revelation you are inclined to think that it is all in
the future. "The holy city, new Jerusalem, coming
down out of heaven from God" - surely that belongs
to some future time? Well, it may have a future aspect,
but these Scriptures say that we have come there already.
I know that that sounds rather mysterious, but in these
hours which we spend together I think we shall be seeing
exactly what it means. At the beginning, then, we must
lay the foundation for our studies.
WHY WERE THESE CHAPTERS WRITTEN?
all, we must understand why it was, and when it was, that
the Apostle John wrote all this about the new Jerusalem.
This was written at a time when Christians were
undergoing very severe persecution. The great wave of
persecution of the Christians was proceeding, and
Christianity was being subjected to very strong
opposition from this world, so that Christians were
finding that it was a matter of very great cost to be
faithful to the Lord Jesus. As you know, the Apostle John
himself, who wrote this, was in exile on the isle of
Patmos for the testimony of Jesus.
very first thing makes these chapters very contemporary.
A new wave of persecution of Christianity has already
begun on this earth, and it is spreading from the east to
the west. While we are here in this place quite a number
of the Lord's servants are in prison for the testimony of
Jesus. So this book does not just relate to something
which happened centuries ago, nor to the future, but we
are going to see that it has a very real application to
our own time.
second thing about the writing of this vision of the
heavenly Jerusalem was that it was written in a time when
the churches were losing their first love. A change was
coming over them, and the first chapters of this book
show us what that change was. The first love, the first
life, the first glory were being lost. Surely we all
realize how true that is in many places in our own time!
The great cry today is: 'Let us get back to the things of
third thing that led to the writing of these chapters was
this: It was a time when many false prophets and teachers
were bringing confusion into Christianity, and the faith
which was 'once for all delivered unto the saints' was
losing its purity. One Apostle, who wrote a very short
letter, said he was constrained to write in order
"to contend earnestly for the faith which was once
for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Is that
not another condition in which we are living today? Many
false teachers are bringing the people of God into
confusion so that they hardly know what to believe.
there is no book in the Bible which is more confused than
this book of the Revelation. Many Christians have given
up reading it, saying: 'I don't know what to think about
it. This Bible teacher gives this interpretation, while
that one gives another.' If I tried to do so, I could not
tell you how many different interpretations of the book
of the Revelation there are!
that is how it was in the time when John wrote. You know
that in his Letter he said that many false Christs had
arisen (1 John 2:18). We must remember that this
revelation of the heavenly Jerusalem was given because of
all these conditions.
us note one more thing. This book was written at a time
when judgment upon this world was beginning. You have
only to read through it to see the judgments that were
coming upon the world, and they began at the earthly
Jerusalem. I think there is nothing in literature so
terrible as the account of the destruction of Jerusalem
given by the historian Josephus! But when the earthly
Jerusalem is destroyed and removed, the heavenly one
comes into view.
judgment upon this world began at Jerusalem, and then it
came upon the Roman Empire, and upon Rome itself. The
time was not far ahead when great and wonderful imperial
Rome would be devastated. From all its wealth, its luxury
and its plenty it was reduced to famine and pestilence,
and the economic situation became so bad that the most
wealthy people were begging for food. And so you read in
this book of these pestilences, famines and wars, and all
these conditions which were coming upon the world. The
judgments of God upon this world were beginning - and who
shall say that those judgments are not beginning in our
world today? We leave that for the present.
have here conditions of suffering and corruption and loss
of glory, the decline of the Lord's people from their
first love, a state of falsehood and spiritual weakness -
and when things were like that, and are like that, the
heavenly Jerusalem is presented and is the answer to all
those conditions. It is just exactly the opposite of all
leave that for the moment and move nearer to the heart of
these last chapters in the book of the Revelation.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
to know what is the meaning of this holy city, and I
think that before we get very much further many of your
ideas are going to be thoroughly upset! We are going to
spoil many of the hymns that you sing, but we are going
to have something better, and I hope that you will be
singing a new song before we have finished.
Christian who takes his, or her, Christian life seriously
is always seeking for something which will explain his
experience. Such Christians may not be actually searching
for this, but in their hearts they are asking for
something which will explain everything. In our Christian
lives we are asking: What does it all mean? What is it
leading to? Men in the world are asking the question:
What does it all mean? When I was in hospital some years
ago there was a man who had both his legs amputated, and
I heard him groaning in his bed almost every day: 'What
does it all mean?' You remember that in the eighth
chapter of his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul
speaks about the groaning creation - "the whole
creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together"
(verse 22) - and if you put your ear to the groaning
creation, what do you hear? I feel sure you would hear
this: What does it all mean? And then the Apostle Paul
goes on to say: "We ourselves groan within
ourselves" (verse 23). We have a deep question in
our hearts: What does it all mean? What does all this
difficulty, trial and suffering in the Christian life
mean? What is it all leading to?
course, it is the business of the Christian teacher to
provide the answer to that question and so to help God's
people to understand what it means. So we have to ask
this question: Is there an explanation which can be found
in the Bible which will provide us with light upon the
THE KEY TO EVERYTHING
to say that there is an explanation, and I think these
last chapters of the Bible are the best explanation in
the Bible. If only we understood these two last chapters
a great light would break upon our hearts, and we would
say: 'And now I see. I have the key to everything.' Now
that is making a great claim for two chapters - the key
I am not
just using words. I have dwelt upon this for many days
and weeks, so that these are not just empty words. What
is the explanation of everything? There is one thing
which governs everything in the Bible, and it is that
which comes out in fullness in the last chapters. What is
that key to everything? When I put it into a short
phrase, of course, you will not grasp what it means, but
the more you think about it the more you will see that it
is true. The thing which governs everything in the Bible
from beginning to end is the nature of God. Have you got
that phrase? The nature of God governs everything, and by
'the nature of God' we mean the very constitution of God
Himself. We say about people: 'Well, he, or she, is
constituted that way. That is how he thinks, how he feels
and how he speaks, and because he is made like that, he
speaks and thinks like that. That is just his
constitution.' It does not matter what you do, you cannot
get away from your own constitution. It is your
constitution that makes you behave as you do.
what we mean by 'the nature of God'. If I may put it in
this way: It is just how God, because He is what He is,
looks at everything.
now, one of the real lessons of our Christian life is
that we learn that God looks at everything quite
differently from ourselves. He looks at things from the
eyes of His own nature. If anything satisfies the nature
of God His eyes fill with life, and He says:
"In whom I am well pleased", but if anything
does not satisfy the nature of God and He does not accept
it, His eyes become dark. God judges everything according
to His own nature, and He decides everything according to
His own nature. The value of anything is always decided
by God as to how it answers to His nature. God determines
destiny for eternity on the standard of His own nature.
Is that too difficult for you to grasp? You will never
understand this city until you understand that, and you
will never understand why Jesus Christ came into the
world until you understand that. God is deciding the
destiny of this world from the standpoint of His own
nature, and His Son Jesus Christ is His standard of
one question which stands over everything, and that is:
Does it satisfy the nature of God? The Bible begins with
the FACT of God and ends with the NATURE of
God in perfect expression, and this perfect expression of
God's mind and nature is presented to us in the symbolism
of a city and a garden. Do you notice the word that I
have used? The SYMBOLISM of a city and a garden -
and this is where we upset your hymns and you have to
have an absolute revolution in your mentality. Have you
the idea that you are going to the heavenly Jerusalem as
to some thing and some place? I am sorry to tell you that
you are wrong! When you sing:
"Jerusalem the golden!
With milk and honey blest,"
What do you mean? When you sing:
"We're marching upward to Zion"
What do you mean? When you sing:
"We shall tread the streets of gold"
What do you mean? When you speak about "drinking at
the river" and "taking of the fruit of
life", what do you mean?
If I did
not see the real meaning I should be very sorry to spoil
all your lovely pictures! There is no such thing as a
literal new Jerusalem and there is no such thing as a
literal heavenly city answering to John's vision, but
there is something very much better, and that is what we
have to consider more fully.
WHY THIS SYMBOLISM?
just close by telling you why all this book of the
Revelation, especially the last chapters, was written in
symbolic terms. This book throughout is almost entirely
symbolism. Why? Because so much of it was not only
prophetic as to a more distant future but had to do with
the history of those times. Supposing that, instead of
speaking about a great dragon or a terrible beast coming
up out of the sea, John had said: 'Caesar is an awful
dragon and wild beast. Caesar is like THAT.' Well,
you know what would have happened! So these historic
truths were presented in symbols, and the Christians
understood. You know that Peter called Rome 'Babylon'.
Well, the Romans, in reading that, would have said: 'Oh,
he is talking about Babylon. Where is Babylon?', but the
Christians understood that Peter's Babylon was Rome. So
it was all written in symbols and the Christians were the
only ones who understood, and that is true of the holy
city. It is not something literal; it is something which
represents something spiritual, and it is for Christians
to understand that this is not some imagination but some SPIRITUAL
reality. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples:
"Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the
kingdom of God: but to the rest in parables" (Luke
8:10). That is: You understand, they don't. So these
chapters are for spiritual understanding. This city, this
heavenly Jerusalem, is that which fully answers to the
nature of God. Every detail about it represents something
of the Divine nature, so the writer of the letter to the
Hebrews says to Christians: "Ye are come unto... the
introduction was very necessary. It might not be very
inspiring at the moment, but we must understand what it
is that we are having to deal with, and why this has such
an important message for our own lives and our own times.
If you forget all that I have said this morning, try to
remember one thing and take it away with you, think about
it and keep on thinking about it: All God's work in our
lives is on the basis of His own nature. We are called to
be "partakers of the Divine nature", and when
God has finished with us - if we let Him have His way -
we shall be a full expression of the nature of God. Then,
when you have a great multitude of people like THAT, a
full, living expression of God's heart, then you have the
can sing again, if you like, "We are marching to
Zion", but be sure of what you mean!