We must see in this a portrayal of that holy community which is "the bride, the wife of the Lamb." It is the ideal representation of vital Christianity - Christianity as a system, but as a system embodied in the lives of men. The descriptions are of a glorious character. What can exceed the essential glory of the true Christendom, the true Church, the true bride, the veritable "wife of the Lamb"? It must not be separated from the heavenly, the final Jerusalem, the happy home of every weary pilgrim, the final abode of every spiritual citizen, the final resting place whither the feet of all humble, holy souls tend. But the heavenly begins on earth. And in this vision we must see the heavenly or, the earth.
The ornate language suits its heavenly character and its heavenly prototype. Babylon was the scat of the beast; this is the city of the great King. It may be practically impossible to decipher the symbolical writing, especially in its details, and it may be as unwise to attempt it as it is impracticable to accomplish it; but the main features of the symbolical teaching, considered in the light of our previous interpretations, may doubtless be traced. Not without fear that our prepossessions may mislead us, we will attempt to find in the words of this section a setting forth of the essential glories of the true and actual Christianity, however ideally considered.
I. ITS FIRST CHARACTERISTIC IS HOLINESS. It is set up in the midst of evil and in opposition to it. It is holy, for it is "from God;" it is holy, for it promotes holiness in its subjects; all who pertain to it are called to be saints. Whatever is not in harmony with true ideas of holiness can have no part in the holy city.
II. ITS ORIGIN IS DIVINE. "It cometh down out of heaven from God." The true Church has its fount in him. He calls the first band out of the surrounding darkness. All is of his grace. He gives the Word which is the seed of the kingdom, he is the Father of all. The Church's grandest idea is that it is of God.
III. IT HAS ITS HIGHEST ADORNMENT IN THE MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE GLORY. But "the glory of God" is the symbol of God himself. We approach the true Shechinah. The glory of the Church is the presence of God. How near is that manifested glory brought to us in the Incarnation! how near in the abiding Spirit's presence! This is the true light that shineth over the city.
IV. ITS STABILITY, HARMONY, AND ORGANIC UNITY ARE REPRESENTED IN THE FIGURE OF THE CITY. Here are taught the intercourse, the fellowship, the safety, the mutual interest, of the holy ones. What is here ideally presented may not always be actually found. We deal with the patterns of the heavenly things.
V. THE FREEDOM OF ITS ACCESS TO ALL NATIONS is here declared. The gates of the city, ever open, stand to the east, the west, the north, the south. But one city; but all may enter.
VI. THE CHURCH IS BUILT UPON THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. All the living Christianity has its basis here.
VII. THE SPLENDOUR, BEAUTY, PERFECTNESS, STRENGTH, AND GREATNESS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD - the living Christianity of ours and of every day, and the whole idea of the same - are set forth in the utmost wealth of symbolical extravagance.
VIII. THE INTIMATE ALLIANCE OF THE DIVINE SETS ASIDE THE EARTHLY AND IMPERFECT ELEMENTS. There is no visible temple. "The Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple of it." The illumination of the whole city is found in the life and grace of Christ.
IX. THE UNIVERSALLY DIFFUSED BENEFICENT INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY is declared. The nations walk in the light of it, and -
X. THEIR RECIPROCAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT is found in that they "bring their glory and honour into it."
XI. ITS IMMUNITY FROM THE CONTAMINATION AND DEFILEMENT OF EVIL is indicated. Nothing unclean, nothing untrue, nothing of evil nature, enters it. It is ideal. True. Yet no evil elements shall ultimately be found in the Church of Christ; and, as at first we stated, the earthly is lost in the heavenly, of which it is at once the beginning, the type, and the pledge. - R.G.
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The twelve apostles of the Lamb are for the most part obscure and hidden figures in the later gospel history. We have often wondered what became of them, and why the record of their toilsome, suffering lives was not preserved. We find them together on the day of Pentecost and a few subsequent days, and then persecution scatters them abroad, and their names, with one or two exceptions, appear no more. Paul, Peter, and John are the only members of the holy brotherhood whose services are honoured with historical recognition, and the rest ere passed over in silence. Tradition, indeed, partly fills up the blank, and imaginative works have elaborated romances to supply the place of history. But it is none the less true that of the labours of the great majority of the apostles there is no trustworthy record whatever. It may be that some of them suffered martyrdom at an early period of their ministry; some, perhaps, were prevented from achieving great success by imprisonment or banishment; while others, like Andrew, may have been men of unobtrusive and retiring nature, and withal of such inferior power, that the results of their labours were too insignificant to gain public notice. Be that as it may, at the very commencement of the Church's history their names drop out. The names, which no human historian thought worth inscribing, are gathered together by God's own hand, the dust swept from their obscurity, and stamped in jewelled letters on the foundations of the everlasting walls. The meanest and the humblest names are made equal to the greatest and most honoured.
I. CHRIST, THE MASTER BUILDER, WRITES THE NAME OF HIS SERVANTS ALONGSIDE HIS OWN. He takes care that those who have been willing to forget themselves for His sake shall be eternally remembered, and that if they have been in a very small degree companions in His patience, they shall be in a very large degree sharers in His kingdom. The jasper superstructure on which His name shines does not overshadow and obscure the meaner atones on which their names ere written. It rather illumines them by its more brilliant light, and makes the obscure names splendid. "Because He lives, they live also." They have been co-labourers with Him in His humiliation, and they are joint-heirs with Him in His glory. Now the "Ideal Church" is in this respect quite unique. There is nothing like it in the works and fashion of this world. On the great buildings which men raise only one name is inscribed. The founder or architect is immortalised, the helpers sink into speedy oblivion. Christopher Wren, maya history, built St. Paul's Cathedral; Michael Angelo, St. Peter's; and with superb disdain it sweeps all their co-labourers into the dust of forgetfulness. In every battle of the warrior it is the general alone who carries off the palm. And even in great moral and religious works the same rule holds. On the basement of the Reformation building we find only the names of Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, and one or two others. The rest, if they were ever written, have been worn away by the slow abrasion of time. Now were this rule carried out in the building of the Church, we should find no name on the foundation walls but Christ's. For He was the designer, His throughout was the directing and inspiring mind. It is a city, as John tells us, not earth-built, but coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and adorned throughout by the Divine hand of its builder. His name, therefore, is alone worthy to be inscribed on its walls. But the Master casts aside human rules, and honours His servants after a fashion of His own.
II. THE OBSCURE AND UNRECORDED WORK ABIDES IN DEATHLESS CHARACTER, AND REAPPEARS IN IMMORTAL GLORY. When the work of faithful souls is too insignificant to attract the attention of human scribes, God takes the part of historian, and writes the record, not on melting wax or fading paper, but on everlasting stones; or rather, He makes the work live and tell its own tale. Each one of these disciples, whether obscure or renowned, has added one precious stone to the eternal building. Their sorrows and tears and secret prayers, their pleadings of love and self-forgetfulness, their charity and faith and patience, have been thrown into God's alembic, into God's refining furnace; and there comes forth in each case a precious stone, with the name of the worker inscribed on it, and it remains for ever "a spectacle unto angels and unto men." It has taken its place as one of the never-to-be-forgotten facts; and heaven and earth shall pass away sooner than one jot or tittle of its glory shall be diminished. It is well that Christian workers of every kind should lay to heart this joyful lesson, and especially those who are ever complaining that they are labouring in vain, and spending their strength for nought. Such a thing is not possible in the holy building of Christ. No statistics have chronicled our exploits, no human praise has flattered our vanity — that is often all. But God writes success where men write failure. Heaven sees triumphs in what the world calls blanks. The only true history is that which God writes, and His history is made up for the most part of unrecorded facts. Here are the stones on which you laboured, which seemed like clay there, but are now sapphire and chalcedony, all beautiful and complete, the human marks in them made Divine, the lines of mingled light and darkness transfigured into perfect glow; and if you look on them carefully you will find that where you wrote only Christ's name He has written yours. Most men are trying to write their own names.
III. IN THE IDEAL CHURCH THE LOWLY AND OBSCURE WORKERS HAVE EQUAL RECOGNITION WITH THE GREAT AND RENOWNED. The most unknown of the apostles are placed in line with the best known. No one would be surprised to find the name of Paul in the foundation stones. We should look for that writ in largest characters of gold. For we know that with mighty signs and wonders he preached the gospel from Illyricum unto Jerusalem, won great trophies for the Master's kingdom, and laid more stones upon the building than any other worker. But we should hardly look for the names of Andrew, and Thomas, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and the rest, or if we did we should expect to find them writ in letters so small and indistinct as to be scarcely legible. For the part which they took in the great building, if measured by visible results, was quite insignificant. James suffered martyrdom almost as soon as he had put his hand to the work. Andrew was too retiring to do great things. But our text shows that the Divine Master has a grand disdain of all these differences. The great and small, the known and unknown, are equally recognised. The world measures men by their visible triumphs. "All history," says Carlyle, is at bottom the history of great men, and that means the history of men who have made most noise in the world, and achieved the greatest successes. "It is natural," says Emerson, "to believe in great men. The knowledge that in the city is a great man raises the credit of all the citizens; but enormous populations, if they be all beggars or all obscure, are disgusting — the more the worse. Our religion," says he, "is the love and cherishing of these great men." And this is the best gospel that the world has for those of us who are obscure, who do our work in quiet places. But, thank God, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the gospel for common and obscure men. Its promises of honour are given to the humblest. All that Christ requires is that the one talent should be used as faithfully as the five; that being done, the honour at the end is equal.
By engraving upon the "foundations" the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, John emphasises that standpoint, from which we view these foundations as representing the life and power of the Christ as received and manifested by His redeemed people, of whom the twelve apostles are here representative. The Christ becomes the foundation of the city only as He enters in all the fulness of His power and glory into the lives of men. The Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection uphold and upraise a new world only as they are transformed into vital truth and living force in the waking heart of human life. These precious stones have a human setting, and the brightness of them should and can be found in the lives of men. In brief, they denote all those Diviner qualities and forces that enter into the life of man from the Christ of the Cross. Thus we are led, as we anticipated, to see that John views the "foundations" as an adequate cause for the production of the ideal city. It not only supports the city, but the city must spring forth from it. It already contains the Divine energies by which the New Jerusalem shall be erected. If these foundations are present there can be no difficulty in conceiving a time when the completed city shall stand — the joy of the earth.
1. The preciousness of the foundations is very emphatic. The most precious material things in the world are chosen to symbolise it. John is clear on the point that the ideal city cannot be raised except on foundations of the Divinest quality, on a base where man's deepest life enters into fellowship with the glory of God. When we apply this principle to modern schemes for the construction of an ideal social life, we find that they disastrously fail to stand the test. For what are the foundations on which many would raise the temple of human glory? They would raise it on the foundations of intellectual advance, of scientific achievement and progress, of industrial invention, of the growth of moral science and art, of the increase of material resources, and of political changes. Alas! the foundations are brass, iron, wood, hay, stubble. No temple of true glory can ever be raised on such a base. The poverty of the foundations would be repeated in an intenser degree in the poverty of the city. The ideal city can stand only on a base of precious stones.
2. Another thought that forces itself upon us is the vastness and comprehensiveness of the foundations of the city. Not only does this city rise like a living growth out of a Divine root, where the most precious forces are encentred, but the preciousness of its base is equalled by its incomparable immensity. "I determined," said Paul, "not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." There are some that would call this a narrow sphere of action, but that is because they are blind, and cannot see the wonder of God. In Jesus Christ the fulness of the infinite stretches around us, beneath us, and above us. He that would see and feel the power of the immeasurable, let him come hither. There are those that would explain away the incarnation of God by calling it a beautiful fiction. And, having done this they desire to have credit for breadth! They reduce the unspeakable wonder of the Atonement to a human exemplification of heroic fortitude. And then they desire to pose as men of expansive views! Poor fools! Their little horizon has narrowed around them until they can touch it with their outstretched hands. The length, and breadth, and height, and depth of the world has disappeared for them. Their little foundation will not bear the weight of a single human soul, much less the city of God's coming ages of glory.
3. The manifoldness and variety of the city's foundations are also set forth graphically in this picture. They are adorned with "all manner" of precious stones. Not only must there be room in the structure of the city of God for a host of variant types, but such variety must of necessity be present in order to give it perfection and fulness. One uniform monotony would be an eternal weariness. So on far-extending and diverse foundations a rich manifoldness of life is based, and tree lives of every mould shall be upreared on the city's twelve foundations.
4. Our last thought is the homogeneity of the city's foundations. They are far-extending and various, yet through it all they possess a common nature. They are all "precious stones." They all pertain to that which is most precious — that is, to that which is Divinest in human life. John will have no admixture of the lower elements of life in the foundations of the city. The gospel of Jesus Christ will to orate no admixture of worldly wisdom or achievement. Such admixture would only destroy its power. Some very clever people have what they call an eclectic religion. They put together stray bits from different religions and call this a collection of treasures. Such a gathering of odds and ends can never be the foundation of the holy city. All that we need is found in Jesus Christ, and in the Jesus Christ whom the apostles proclaimed.
TopicsApostles, Bases, Engraved, Foundation, Foundations, Lamb, Names, Stones, Town, Twelve, Wall
Outline1. A new heaven and a new earth.10. The heavenly Jerusalem, with a full description thereof.23. She needs no sun, the glory of God being her light.24. The kings of the earth bring their riches unto her.
Dictionary of Bible ThemesRevelation 21:14
7024 church, nature of
7026 church, leadership
7135 Israel, people of God
7707 apostles, designation
7266 tribes of Israel
7241 Jerusalem, significance
LibraryNovember 18. "And He that Sat Upon the Throne Said, it is Done" (Rev. xxi. 5, 6).
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Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 20: 1874
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Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
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J. W. McGarvey—The Four-Fold Gospel
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