At the conclusion of their last supper together, Jesus gave new significance to the elements of the Passover Feast: As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:26-28).
This was not a celebration. It was a wake. And there was great anxiety and great fear in the room.
During the meal, Jesus told them that one of their own number would betray him to death. They each asked, “Lord, is it I?” Understanding the possibility for treachery within their own hearts, not one of them pointed a finger at any one else. No one suspected Judas. Jesus told them he would be with them only a little while longer. And he told Peter, “Before this night is over you will deny three times that you even know me.” Is it any wonder that their hearts were troubled?
It was at this point Jesus spoke words of incredible comfort and hope: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3).
Thomas spoke with fear and frustration. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” He did not pretend to have a faith he did not have, but in answer to that honest question, a question of disagreement, Jesus said, “Thomas, I am going to Father’s house. I am going home.”
Home. What thoughts and images come to our minds with the mention of that one little word. We understand what J. Howard Payne meant when he wrote, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like Home.” When Dorothy Gale clicked the ruby slippers together she woke up in her own bed, clutched her dog, Toto, close to her, and cried, “There’s no place like home.” When the prodigal son came to his senses he thought of home. Or was it thoughts of home which restored him to his senses?
Home. Bonnie and I have lived at 21 different addresses as a married couple. As to childhood homes, I count two more, she adds four. In college, before we were married, she had one address, I had two. That makes 26 for Bonnie, and 25 for me – so far.
Let me tell you about two homes that are special to me. First, 117 Shenandoah Avenue, Loch Lynn, Maryland, where I grew up. The place where my Mom and Dad taught me about God. The place where my brother, Kyle, and I shared a bedroom and became best friends. The place where all the memories are happy. Second, 4214 Cap Chat Street, Hephzibah, Georgia, where Bonnie and I lived with our children for ten years. The place where Jennifer, Amy, Michael, and Matthew took refuge from the outside. The place where, no matter what, there was always someone to tell me, “I love you.” The place where all six of us last lived together.
There is one more move that I look forward to with anticipation – Heaven, where I will live, and live forever, a permanent abiding place. The place where Father is. The place my Elder Brother is preparing for me. The place of untroubled hearts. Home!
“I am going,” Jesus said, “to prepare a place for you.” If it needs Jesus to prepare it, what a wonderful place heaven must be! Jesus could not delegate the work of preparation. He could not perform the work while he was here. He had to go back home to prepare a place for his people.
Try to imagine the glory of Jesus’ return to the Father’s place. One day he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a borrowed animal and crowds of thousands welcomed him. He borrowed nothing when he arrived triumphant back at the Father’s throne: it was solely on his own merits. Imagination cannot picture the glory of our Lord’s return, the homecoming afforded the Conqueror as he presented his own blood, a sacrifice once and for all. We do understand, however, that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). In that place of exaltation he is preparing another place, a place for us.
The word Jesus used to describe Heaven’s mansions is literally “abiding places.” The promise of many abiding places would have been of great comfort to the disciples. For the Twelve, their world was becoming smaller. As the hostility of their enemies increased, there were fewer places of sanctuary, fewer places where they were welcome. But, says Jesus, “There are many abiding places in my Father’s house.” Centuries have passed and a place has been made for everyone who has fixed their personal trust in the Savior’s word, and still there will be room for the very last person who will place his personal faith in God’s Son.
Revelation 21-22 portrays the bride of Christ – who is both a person (all of the redeemed saints from all of the ages) and a glorious city where the glorious fulfillment of God’s great promises to are revealed.
First, we note that the Holy City comes down from God and shines with the Lord’s glory. In other words, the beauty is derived. Nothing inherently worthy in God’s people makes them fit to be the bride of Christ, but we are transformed by his relationship with us and made into the jewel that Revelation describes.
This emphasis is underscored by the frequent use of the symbolic twelve in these verses, for that number always stands for the people of God. The Lord had made the twelve tribes of Israel his people by his special election and not because they were so worthy. They were a weak nation, not very successful, and not large in numbers, yet God chose them to call them his own. The derivative nature of our beauty as Christ’s people is an important part of our future – and of the present. There is no place for pride in the Church, for all that we accomplish is by God’s hand among us and through us.
Quite mistakenly, some modern biblical translations and paraphrases try to put the measurements of the Holy City into literalistic modern figures. Changing the original word stadia into miles or kilometers, however, drops the significance of the number 12,000 – a number that represents the people of God (12) times a number of thoroughly (and divinely) multiplied completion (1,000). Furthermore, the thickness of the wall is 144 cubits or 12 times 12 – a doubly reinforced emphasis that this is indeed the city of God’s people. Such a 12 by 12 wall suggests God’s great care for his people, his thorough protection and possession. To modernize that figure into 216 feet or 72 yards makes it just seem ludicrous to have a wall so thick or a city that is so incongruously cubed.
Notice again the use of all kinds of precious stones (some of which can’t even be precisely identified anymore) and the predominance of gold and pearl. This piling up of glorious images gives us the opportunity to enter with John into his attempt to comprehend a beauty that is not comprehensible. How could we describe that which is beyond description?
There is a story about a man who can’t accept the idea of a life after death in the presence of God. He says to a believer, “Do you mean to tell me that there is really going to be a city where the streets are paved with gold?” His believing friend answers, “I just know that when we are finally with God all the right values will be restored. Do you think gold is important? After we die and learn the true meaning of it, we’re just going to walk on the stuff.”
John’s description causes us to realize that our conceptions are grossly inadequate and that our human values someday will be put into proper perspective. What we think most worthy of praise now is but a mere foretaste of the true reality of God’s creative glory.
All the dimensions and jewels and gold of the beautiful city prepare us for this central climax: there is no need for a temple in the New Jerusalem because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. We will no longer need a place to worship, nor a time set aside explicitly to focus on God. Similarly, not even the natural lights of the heavens will be required, much less human means of enlightenment and artificial fixtures, because all darkness will be gone – cast into the lake of fire – and the radiance of God’s presence will illumine the city, and the lamp of the Lamb will enable us to see clearly and to understand.
All these images work together to create a tremendous hope and to stir up longing in us for the abundant life. If this is what the kingdom is going to be like when we experience it fully in God’s own presence, then our life now, which is to be a reflection of Christ’s reign at this time, must seek the same ends. The trouble throughout centuries of history has been that Christianity has not found the proper balance between heaven and earth in its perspectives. To be too heavenly minded is to be no earthly good. We need to ask ourselves, “How are we becoming the holy city right now?”