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.
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But John says, nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lambs book of life; only those people who have repented of their sins and been washed in the blood of the Lamb are clean, and can enter the city, because their names have been recorded in the book of life. Beginning with the book of life, John gives us several images that invoke lifethe book of life (21:27), the river of the water of life and the tree of life, the latter two of which hearken back to Genesis. The tree of life in the new city of God is one that is evidently approachable for humanity, unlike their previous encounter with it in Eden where it was forbidden. Also, the river of life in Johns vision flows from the throne of Godall life comes from God and only in God can we finally attain life.
The tree of life bears its fruit each month, it bears 12 kinds of fruit and the leaves of the tree [are] for the healing of nations. Twelve is a number of completeness, and bears the added weight of representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve apostles who have already been represented in the construction of the city with the twelve gates bearing the names of the twelve tribes, and the twelve foundation stones bearing the names of the apostles (21:12-14)
John tells us in verse 22:3 that there will no longer be anything accursed, and seems to imply that the presence of God is working to sanctify all things; the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. It is important to note how John refers to the throne, it is the throne of God and of the Lamb. John does visually what is done elsewhere grammatically. Just as God is never referred to in the plural, by those writers who refer to God as both God and Christ, John fuses God and the Lamb by While this entire passage is a hopeful one, the last few verses proclaim an intimacy between God/Christ and his people that is amazing. There is an utter dependence upon God, he is everything, including light for them.
His name will be on their foreheads, is reflected in the Baptismal service where we are sealed and marked as Christs own forever. The seal of Baptism can be seen as God placing his stamp, his name, in an indelible mark upon our foreheadswe are therefore marked as Christs own and are in fact, slaves to God. There are also some implications for the idea of the atonement. We achieve redemption through solidarity with and faith in Jesus Christ, because he has died in our stead and washed us in his saving blood. In sealing us as his own, Christ is marking usnaming us in fact, demonstrating his authority over usas his own, with his own name, so that we are bound up in his holiness rather than being seen for the sinful creatures we are. We are hidden in Christ in this way.
The passage is hopeful too, for the peoples of the nations. Wilfred Harrington indicates that the nations presented as coming to give glory to the Lord in this passage are the same nations who were destroyed and laid waste after resisting God. John offers the hope that they will be healed and brought into fellowship with God. The final phrase, that they will reign forever and ever can seemingly be taken to refer to God and the Lamb, or God, the Lamb and the people of the heavenly city, who Harrington points out, are the kings and nations of the worldthey have fulfilled the Old Testament Prophecy and the full number has been brought in.
Despite its negative image in some quarters, the Revelation to John was a message of hope for the Church in his day, and remains one today. As clergy it will be our responsibility to acquaint ourselves with it, avoid errors in interpretation and help convey it to the people it belongs to.