Sixth Sunday of Easter – The Reality of a God-Centered Existence

Utopien 04, Makis E. Warlamis,
2007, Daskunstmuseum (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
It gleamed with the splendor of God.
Its radiance was like that of a precious stone,
like jasper, clear as crystal.
(Revelations 21:10–11)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Rev. 21:10–14, 22–23
May 22, 2022

Last week, John the Seer told us that the effect of the resurrection of Jesus would be not only individual transformation but also that of our entire world. Everything and everyone would be new. Today, he will show us what this means and will once more demand that we pay great attention to the Old Testament. This week, our attention will be drawn to Ezekiel and to Isaiah.

The sentence before the one that starts this week reads:

One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls
filled with the seven last plagues came and said to me,
“Come here. I will show you the bride,
the wife of the Lamb.”

(Re 21:9)

This reflects the imagery we read last week:

…also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

(Re 21:2)

But also, in a section of Revelation which we did not read, John previously spoke of the great whore of Babylon:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came
and said to me, “Come, I will show you
the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters,
with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication,
and with the wine of whose fornication
the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.”
So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness,
and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast
that was full of blasphemous names,
and it had seven heads and ten horns

(Re 17:1–3)

This continues with this week’s reading:

He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.

(Re 21:10)

Revelations assumes that Christians, both as individuals and as communities, must choose between being united with the whore of Babylon or the heavenly Jerusalem. John’s imagery is fluid. He will see the New Jerusalem both as the Bride of the lamb and the life within it. It is also earthly and recognizes that there is full physical commitment and participation. This was glimpsed by Isaiah:

Your husband is your Maker;
the LORD of hosts is his name”

(Isa 54:5)

To understand this however we must return to Ezekiel:

He brought me, in visions of God, to the land of Israel,
and set me down upon a very high mountain,
on which was a structure like a city to the south.

(Eze 40:2)

Ezekiel is speaking to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Their Temple has been destroyed and they feel adrift in the world. By any rational understanding, without worship to maintain the covenant they are doomed. Ezekiel assures them that God is still with them and that he will rebuild the temple. One of the extraordinary events of history is that this prophecy was substantially fulfilled. The temple was rebuilt, and the Jewish people were restored to life in their ancestral land.

The Book of Revelations uses this imagery but goes beyond it. The Resurrection of Jesus will provide a life and worship well beyond the restoration after the exile.

John leads us to this realization with the next line:

It gleamed with the splendor of God.
Its radiance was like that of a precious stone,
like jasper, clear as crystal.
It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates
where twelve angels were stationed
and on which names were inscribed,
the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.

(Re 21:11–12)

The splendor of God is his Glory. This is most clearly seen when the cloud of glory descended over Mt. Sinai, the tent of meeting in the desert and eventually the temple itself.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting,
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting
because the cloud settled upon it,
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

(Ex 40:34–36)

Ezekiel, who also saw the restored Jerusalem with twelve gates prophesied that the spirit would return to the temple.

And there, the glory of the God of Israel
was coming from the east;
the sound was like the sound of mighty waters;
and the earth shone with his glory.
The vision I saw was like the vision
that I had seen when he came to destroy the city,
and like the vision that I had seen by the river Chebar;
and I fell upon my face.
As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east,
the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court;
and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

(Eze 43:2–5)

A city was a sign of security and protection and what could be more secure than a city guarded by angels? The twelve gates now represent not only the 12 tribes of Israel but the apostles of the Lamb, the new Israel for the New Jerusalem.

Yet notice that the glory of the Lord does not just fill the temple but all of Jerusalem. The Lord is everywhere and there is no need for a temple:

I saw no temple in the city,
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.

(Re 21:22)

Everything revolved around the presence of God:

The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.

(Re 21:2)

This reflects the prophecy of Isaiah:

The sun shall no longer be
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give light to you by night;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
or your moon withdraw itself;
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.

(Is 60:19–20)

This is a God-centered existence, but not an ethereal one. Like Ezekiel and his people in Babylon, the community around John the Seer was persecuted and sought fulfillment in God. Ezekiel pleads with them not to lose hope but to persevere. We see the same with John. Ezekiel’s basic vision was fulfilled, John assures the early Christians that his will be as well. Yet however wonderful the prophecies of Ezikiel and Isaiah, they pale compared to what Jesus—the lamb—will do. With Jesus, the reality is always greater than the dream.