Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5

10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
22I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
25Its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more.
But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

BetterCity, Better Life,         Revelation 21:10, 21:22 – 22:5,      May 9, 2010

Revelation 21 is a passage with familiar language. No more tears. No more death. No more pain. Comforting words for the grieving and tested.

But the passage also has rich imagery. John is trying to give us a glimpse of paradise to come — and it isn’t puffy clouds sporting angels with harps.

It is a bustling city. The New Jerusalem.

But heaven can wait, or so we’re told. -- The 2010 World Expo is being held in
Shanghai, and its theme is “BetterCity, Better Life.” It began May 1 and runs through Oct. 30, if you think you might run by.

According to their Web site, “In 1800, only 2% of the global population lived in cities, but by 1950, the figure had risen to 29%, and by 2000, almost half the world population had moved into cities.
Despite all its glories/advantages, there is no denying that the city today, because of high-density living patterns,” faces many challenges: too many people; not enough space; ltd. resources.”

BetterCity, Better Life’ represents the common wish of humankind for better living future cities.

The theme “
BetterCity, Better Life” certainly captures that vision. And the United States pavilion is a great example of both that concept and America’s branding for the future. The pavilion is built around four themes: sustainability, teamwork, health and the Chinese community in America.

The Shanghai Expo and the Apostle John both envision the city similarly: no pain, no tears, full of beauty, and cooperation between peoples. But Revelation chapters 21–22:5 expands the image of the
new city:

• It’s holy (21:2).
• It’s as intentional and lavish as a wedding-day bride (v. 2).
• God sits within it (v. 3).
• It radiates with shekhinah as the temple used to (v. 11).
• Twelve gates (v. 12) are named for the 12 tribes but entered by God’s new people (v. 7).
• It’s built from precious metals and gems — valuables purified out of the earth.
• It’s filled with cultural imports from all nations (v. 26).
• It’s always daylight, never night — and restfully so (21:4, 23).
• It’s set in the middle of a garden with a tree (22:2).

Although this
new city is glorious, isn’t it still an unexpected image for heaven? It’s such a counterintuitive choice, God! Cities are full of busyness, noise, chaos and crime. Isn’t the city the place where we assume humanity is at its worst?

Why would God choose a city as the picture of sinless paradise? And what are the implications for the church today?

Redeeming the Garden

The more obvious or expected vision God could have sent John would have been of a garden. It all started in a garden, and it will eventually end in a garden redeemed. Isn’t that a much more poetic ending, and a much more heavenly locale?

But perhaps not. In Culture Making, author Andy Crouch suggests a natural progression from the garden to the city. It’s based on the “cultural mandate” that God gives Adam and Eve: Create and cultivate. In the words of Genesis
1:28, be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion. Just as God brought order out of nothingness (ex nihilo), humanity is to bring order out of created-ness.

A brief survey of Genesis will help us connect the Garden of Eden to the City of the New Jerusalem.

Genesis 1–2: God creates a world yet to be sin-tainted. A paradise. A peaceful, heavenly garden. Adam and Eve are connected intimately with each other, with God and with their life purpose. They are given a mandate to expand culture — to create and cultivate.

 Gen. 1:28a, 28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Gen. 2:15a,  15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Genesis 3: Adam and Eve give independence from God a try. The results are world-altering. They’re disconnected from God. Their creation and cultivation are cursed and will now be frustrated. They’re removed from paradise and banished from the garden.

Gen. 3:17b, "Cursed is the ground because of you;
       through painful toil you will eat of it
       all the days of your life.    AND
Gen. 3:23, 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

Genesis 11: The building of Babel. Misguided city-building. People are living out their cultural mandate but in human triumph and not divine worship; “us,” “we” and “ourselves” dominate the text. Genesis starts in a perfect garden — with connection to God, connection to each other and a call to divinely inspired culture creating. Ten chapters later, there’s aggressive independence from God and self-aggrandizing vocation in Babel.

Gen. 11: 4, 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." 
Now a city starts to make real sense in Revelation 21. The New Jerusalem is the redemption of Babel and Eden.

Once again’ there is dense inter-connectedness among people. The absolute, unfiltered, presence of the Lord is in its center, as once the temple stood. Created goods — “the glory and honor of the nations” — are pouring into it as evidence of the goodness of human creation and cultivation.
It’s a “
BetterCity, Better Life” than Genesis 3 (after the Fall) could ever imagine. It is the heavenly city the OT saints looked forward to.
C.S. Lewis said, If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Heb. 11:8-10, 16: 8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 
15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

“God’s hard instructions are never his last words to us, for . . . the tears of life belong to its interlude, not its finale.” —F.B. Meyer.
Redeeming the City

Envisioning heaven as a garden would surely have honored God for his redemption and creative beauty. Everything will be restored to the way the Maker intended it.

But envisioning heaven as a city honors us, as well. It’s God’s way of saying that the human project still is “very good” (Genesis
1:31, emphasis added). God is saying that what we create can be good. Things are moving ahead to what is new and not just back to what was old. And we partner with God in ushering it that way.

God’s “cultural mandate” (create and cultivate) still holds today. We’re still charged with creating and cultivating. Our jobs and our free-time pursuits are city-building. We’re to add to the glory and honor of the nations.

We please God by making beautiful art. Organizing complex data into understandable reports. Framing a house. Teaching our daughter to dress herself or teaching your son to tie his shoes. Helping out at the local shelter.

As we order the world around us, we contribute to the New Jerusalem. I wouldn’t normally quote from the movies, much less The Gladiator, but General Maximus applied Revelation 21 well in his statement,  “Brothers … what we do in life echoes in eternity.” I like that.
In addition, we should view ourselves as the new city. We are the people — the locations — that can usher the presence of God and deeper human interconnectedness into their worlds.

In The Good,
Great Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that by suburbanizing, America has lost its value on locations that promote a casual, public life: cafés, bookstores, pubs, the bygone soda foundation, etc. He calls these types of environments a “third place,” meaning environments that “host the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

Think of Norm walking into Cheers, the local bridge club, or spending all day at the hair salon together. Starbucks’ success rose out of this concept. After home and work, each local store wants to be the place where we hang out with each other.

Oldenburg says we’ll have better cities and better lives if we re-establish these types of third places. Jesus would probably agree.

We can join him in redeeming the city by more actively engaging it with our relational presence in our communities.
In Bastrop, we don’t have a “third place” but “third places”. PT’s, Super-One and Walmart are places to meet and chat with friends and neighbors. As we all know, it’s hard to go into any one of these places without seeing someone we know and talk with. 

As I see it, this congregation, already does what we can to help our community. So let’s continue to do the best we can with what we have for God’s kingdom and the betterment of our community.
Heaven isn’t a place we go to when we die; it begins right here, with us, right where we are.  Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz, First Presbyterian Church, Bastrop, Louisiana


Crouch, Andy. Culture Making.
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Oldenburg, Ray. The Good,
Great Place. New York: Marlowe & Co., 1999.

On World Expo 2010:,

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