I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
Fr. Bill’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Book of Revelations: 21:1–5a
May 15, 2022
The Book of Revelation, as we have seen repeatedly, makes extensive use of the Old Testament. John the Seer’s audience would have included a substantial number of Jewish-born members and many second-generation Christians with a good Jewish pedigree. They knew the references we have quoted very well. Gentiles from the Greek-thinking world would have been expected to learn the Jewish background. The Jewish scriptures are alluring and helpful but were not their immediate thought world and some areas would be difficult for them to emotionally connect. If that is so for them, it is more a problem for us.
We see that very clearly in today’s reading in which we examine the afterlife.
Our natural way to look at the afterlife is that when we die our soul leaves the body and is judged immediately. We can either go directly to heaven or hell, but most often will go to purgatory. This is called the “Individual Judgment” and it is a spiritual, non-bodily experience. There is another judgment at the end of the world called “the General Judgement.” All humans who have ever lived will rise from the dead and in their bodies be judged in front of the world so that all will know that God is just. God will then set up his kingdom and rule it here on earth. This is a bodily experience but with risen bodies.
It is intimated in the Book of Daniel:
In the lifetime of those kings
the God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed
or delivered up to another people;
rather, it shall break in pieces
all these kingdoms and put an end to them,
and it shall stand forever
It finds its clearest expression in today’s reading of Revelations. That the LORD would establish an earthy kingdom was good Jewish teaching. Indeed, that was in the Messiah’s job description. The important things for the readers of Revelation are that it would be done by Jesus, the lamb, would not be immediate and would be accomplished through the resurrection. (See below for references from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)
John the Seer begins today with:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more
The original readers were expected to remember:
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
They expected that the Messiah would do something new but Jesus wishes to show them that his plans are beyond our imagination:
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God
Isaiah saw Jerusalem as holy as well:
put on your strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for the uncircumcised and the unclean
shall enter you no more.
Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter Zion!
It would have been holy, because it was pure and not violated by hostile nations. Far greater the intervention of the LORD. We need first observe that the new Jerusalem is coming down from heaven, it will be holy, but it will be earthly. It will be a gift from God. We will not build it. When New Jerusalem comes to us, besides receiving back real but radically transformed bodies, we will live on a transformed earth.
Our relationship with the LORD will be an intimate one:
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Nuptial imagery is always a sign of a real and physical union, The Lord will not be distant from us:
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.
Once more the author will emphasize that he will come down and join us on earth.
Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them
and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them
as their God.
This we have seen with the incarnation of Jesus, but it was promised in the Jewish Scriptures:
Then you shall live in the land
that I gave to your ancestors;
and you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
Note however that Ezekiel promises this to the Jewish people through their ancestors, but Revelations is to the entire human race – literally “the peoples.” A characteristic of the book of Revelations is that what is promised to the Jews is expanded to the world.
The Jews expected that the LORD would be actively involved with his people in his kingdom:
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people
he will take away from all the earth,
This is a political prophecy; the Lord will restore the position of Israel among the other nations. The author of Revelations knows that the LORD will do so much more:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.
This is a radically new and different world that contains neither death nor sorrow. This goes beyond every promise no matter how extravagant it might have seemed.
Our passage today concludes with:
The one who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”
Then he said, “Write these words down,
for they are trustworthy and true.”
This is very formal language to emphasize what was said before. He assumes that his hearers remember the language of Isaiah:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
He has shown himself to be even more generous and powerful than that. He is doing more than giving life to the desert, the most miraculous thing a desert people could hope to experience, but he is recreating the world: all things are made new.
All things, just not everyone. It is not enough for you and me to be transformed but the world as well. The New Jerusalem is a gift but the way we await it is to work in however small a way for the love and justice that will fill it.
Although this is solid Catholic teaching you may find it unfamiliar and wish to check out the appropriate sections of the Catechism:
- Heaven: 1023–1029
- Last Judgement: 1038–1041
- Hope of a New Heaven and a New Earth: 1042–1050)