The following is a short exegesis paper I wrote for my New Testament class. I can’t remember if it was one I turned in or not, but here it is nonetheless.
The Revelation to John has been the cause of a great deal of controversy in the history of the Church. It was even doubtful for a time that it would even make it into the canon of scripture. The primary conflicts in regard to Revelation have centered upon the appropriate interpretation of Christs 1000 year reign, with the most widespread millennialist theology in the US today being the dispensationalist variety. This conflict is not new however, and dates from the early centuries of Christianity. Conflict was quelled for awhile by the ascendancy of Augustinian theology which taught that the Church itself was what was referred to in the 1000 year reign. The Augustinian consensus was thrown into turmoil in the 12th century by the thought of a Cistercian monk by the name of Joachim of Fiore, who interpreted history in three ages: the age of the Father, the age of the Son and the age of the Holy Spirit. His work was enthusiastically embraced by some Franciscans. These groups kept the millennialist strain of Christianity alive until it reached its fever pitch in the reformation with the establishment of the bloody Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster. The discomfort of Cranmer and others toward Revelation is understandable considering this history. The few passages of Revelation in our lectionary is a testament to this discomfort.
One passage from Revelation that does appear in our lectionary is read on the feast of the Holy Innocents. Revelation 21:22-22:5 is a description of the heavenly Jerusalem seen by John. The selection begins with John describing what he sees as he surveys the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. I saw no temple in the city he says, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. There is no need of a temple according to John; why should there be a need for a temple when God is residing in the midst of the people, as is the Lamb; there is no need of a temple or a sanctuary to encounter him. Additionally, the description of the New Jerusalem that John provides earlier in chapter 21 resonates with the descriptions of the Temple in the Old Testament. This city, the new creation, is Gods temple.
The presence of God has other ramifications as well, 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. Here John makes use of metaphorical language to describe the glory of God and the Lamb. The glory of God is so bright that the sun is no longer necessary; the Lamb reflects the glory of God like the moon and is therefore a lamp that can take the place of the moonthere is no more need of sun or moon for the source of all light has made his home among the people. By its light the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Here John hearkens back to Isaiah, who says And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isai. 60:3), in order to demonstrate the fulfillment of prophesy. All the gentiles and their kingdoms have come into the fold of God, the nations walk by his lightnot just physical light, but spiritual light, no longer doing what is wrong in the sight of the Lord. John tells is that the Kings bring their glory into it; while it is obvious that humanity cannot possibly add to the glory of God, our worship can glorify the Lord. Here John is saying that the kings of the earth are showing proper reverence for God, and glorifying him by their worship, bringing their worship into the light and knowledge of God from the darkness where it had been before.
John describes the city as a place where, in verse 25, its gates will never be shut by dayand there will be no night there. Cities in the ancient world used to leave their gates open in the day time in order to commerce to take place. Usually if city gates were closed in the daylight it meant there was a siege, some other type of military threat or a plague of some sort. John emphasizes the fact that the gates of the city will always be openfirst, they will never be closed because of a threat, and second they will never be closed at night, for there is no night in the heavenly city. They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations. John is telling us here that the nations, the powers that once stood against God are now coming to the New Jerusalem.