Text: Rev 22:3-5
OT Text: Isaiah 60:19-20
NT Parallel Text: Matthew 27:45-54
Featured Verse: Rev 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Main Idea: The defining feature of this future vision is the life-giving presence of God.
Analysis and Application
There are important OT background texts for this passage. One is listed in the additional scriptures, from Isaiah 60. It is worth reading to see the prophetic background of this image. We also want to remember that the symbolic value of the image regarding the absence of night does not necessarily mean sunsets are removed from the renewed cosmos.* I trust that the Lord will make the new creation beautiful, perhaps in ways that are familiar or in ways we have never imagined.
But today is Good Friday, and I would rather spend time thinking about the significance of this vision. The central feature of this whole section is the presence of God with his people in the New Heavens and New Earth. This is expressed through the age-old symbolism of light and darkness. In 1 John 1:5, we are told that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." In today's text, John shows us a vision in which the light of God outshines all other lights. The moral goodness of God is present and visible. Another way of saying it is, "we shall see his face." The very thing that even Moses could not do. The deepest longing of humanity. After the completion of our redemption, our relational connection with God will be immediate and intimate.
But because it is Good Friday, it is especially important for us to remember how this is possible. We are redeemed because Jesus was cursed. We are brought in, because he was cast out. We are healed, because he took the sin of all his people on himself.
In particular, in the Gospel reading for today, Matthew tells us that during the crucifixion, for three hours "there was darkness over the whole land." (Matt 27:45) We will one day experience the unending splendor of the light of God's glory because Jesus endured the darkness of God's just wrath.
And as he agonized with death approaching, Jesus cried out with the words of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46) We will one day see God face to face, because Jesus endured the isolation of the cross on our behalf.
Tonight, our church will gather for a Good Friday Tenebrae Service. We will read through the passion narrative in the Gospel of John, and accompanying verse from Revelation. My hope is that the juxtaposition of those readings will remind us that our salvation was deeply and intimately connected to the suffering of Christ. As the readings progress and the candles are extinguished, the lights will dim and we will end in darkness. Thankful, that is not the end. A few minutes in darkness will help us remember. But the future is bright. The future in the eternal city is marked by the bright glory of God's unshadowed presence. The cross opens the curtain of the temple (Matt 27:51) and in so doing opens the doors of the eternal city.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
* There is, admittedly, a lot that we don't know about this topic. But here are a few thoughts. First, the paradigm for renewal in the Bible is the resurrection of Jesus. Clearly it is the paradigm for human resurrection (he is the "first fruits"), if not all of the recreated world order. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he was raised with the same body. It was new and "upgraded." It was, after all, eternal and incorruptible. And there is a bit of a mystery in which people didn't fully recognize him. But, he could be recognizable when he wanted to be. And his body bore the marks of the crucifixion. For Jesus, this was a little more straight forward, because his body did not see decay. (Acts 2:27) For other humans, God will have to be more creative to put our bodies back together. And yet, we assume a continuity between our earthly bodies and our heavenly bodies. The symbolism of Christian burial always pointed to this reality in a powerful way. But we also know that God can resurrect our bodies if they are burned or eaten by fishes or scattered to the four corners of the earth. After all, at the resurrection the sea will give up its dead. (20:13) The point is, if this is our paradigm, then the renewed earth will be in continuity with the original creation. It will be renewed and upgraded, but there is reason to believe that it will be recognizable. Not a completely different thing, but a renewed thing. After all, we are told that the newness is for not just the earth, but also the "heavens." (21:1) Perhaps there is no moon or no sun in the New Heavens as a literal reading of Isaiah's prophecy would seem to indicate. Or perhaps, they are just not necessary.