And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 21:22–25.
I believe that God provides signs in our daily lives for the ultimate joys He has prepared for us. When he talks about things in His Word, He isn’t just speaking in vague generalities, even when what we’re learning about isn’t easilly thought of from our perspective. He is using metaphor, but metaphor isn’t a pseudonym for “not true”.
Part of our confusion stems from our inability to understand metaphor. We imagine that something being spoken of metaphorically is less real than what is seen, touched, tasted and experienced, when in many cases, what is being spoken of is a deeper truth, one so deep that we can only think of it metaphorically, because what is concrete fails us. The concrete is the language of eternal truth, but it isn’t the deepest truth.
This is especially the case when God speaks in Revelation about the glories He has prepared for eternity to come. In the above quote, we see God telling us about a strange city where its light and its temple are God Himself. In a world that imagines us secular, I suppose we think we can imagine a city without a temple, but if what we’re talking about is the central works around which a city is built, and in which its people spend most of their time, it’d be like saying a Church without shopping malls or sports stadiums, as God is that ultimate value which now we often place in sports or in purchasing power.
This week I am attending meetings at a Church I once attended in South Korea: Sarang Community Church, Seoul. They have graciously asked me to talk about my work as a lead mentor for the learning community in St. John’s, and our work planting Churches in Newfoundland and Labrador. Probably in a later blog post I’ll explain just how important the English ministry at Sarang was for my life, but for now, it means that I’m visiting a city I once knew fairly well.
Since I got to Seoul yesterday, I’ve been hit by a strange feeling of both familiarity and strangeness. I am not Korean, and my Korean is barely at survival level. I do not look like a Korean even slightly, and yet as I’ve had experiences I’ve missed for years, from using the subway, to drinking ludicously overpriced coffee in Gangnam, to eating foods that are either unavailable or crazy expensive back home in Canada. All of this teaches me something about Revelation 21. I feel both familiar and alien.
In the city to come, while everything will be new and exciting, there will also be a safety and familiarity to it, as the center of that great new city to come is God Himself, who we know now in Christ. In essence, when that great day comes, and we are in the new kingdom, we will be in a great place we can only be in because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, so in one sense, we will be alien, present not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of God imputed to us in Christ, but we will also be fully welcome, and in a very real sense that no city on earth can emulate, we will be home.