Living in God’s Presence
Revelation 21:9–11; 21:22–22:5
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Recite ways that life in God’s eternal presence will provide peace.
2. Contrast the security of Heaven with the insecurity of earthly life.
3. Describe one way to bring the peace of Heaven into daily life.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, May 14—The Hope of Our Calling (Ephesians 1:15–23)
Tuesday, May 15—The Glory of the Lord (Isaiah 60:18–22)
Wednesday, May 16—An Unshakable Kingdom (Hebrews 12:22–28)
Thursday, May 17—The Hope of Glory (2 Corinthians 3:7–18)
Friday, May 18—John Sees the Heavenly City (Revelation 21:9–14)
Saturday, May 19—God Will Be the Light (Revelation 21:22–27)
Sunday, May 20—Blessings to Come (Revelation 22:1–5)
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Why Teach this Lesson?
We live in God’s presence now, but we will live in God’s presence in a much more profound way later. How does God expect us to do the former while we anticipate the latter?
For the Christian, life here on earth is to be spent preparing for the ultimate trip, the journey to the celestial city, the new Jerusalem. Preparations are made daily as we live in the presence of God. Two extremes are to be avoided. One is to get so focused on Heaven that we fail to live the life God has for us while we are still here on earth. This is called “being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.” The other extreme is to live in the here and now as if this were the only reality.
Today’s lesson will give us a taste of God’s eternal perspective. When we allow that perspective to sink in, we’ll know how to live!
A. A Run in the Country
I have no trouble admitting that I’m a city person. I love the country, but the fact is it does scare me. I grew up where the streetlights came on as soon as the natural light faded. I grew up close to convenience stores, hospitals, fire houses, and police stations. It was an ordered, safe, and predictable environment.
Recently my wife and I decided to get out into the country. So we drove up to “Amish country” in central Ohio. There we stayed in an old log cottage located at the back of a working farm. Fortunately the cottage had satellite TV, a weather radio alarm, fire extinguishers, a telephone, smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors, security lights, and all the conveniences of the city—right there in the country!
While enjoying the country life late on the first afternoon, I thought I would go out for a run through the woods at the back of the farm. I was a long way out when I realized that the sun had almost set. I found myself running along an old isolated road in the dark and not really sure of where I was. My idea was to keep running and hope I didn’t miss the gap in the trees that I had come out of an hour earlier.
I did, of course, miss that gap. So I ran and walked for a few hours. Every time I saw a house light, I’d run up and find that I was not in the right place. There were no shops to stop at, no water fountains to drink from, no food that was not still alive. Dogs ran after me, strange noises freaked me out, and I thought I saw a bear (in central Ohio?!). In short I was terrified. Suddenly I had a new appreciation for the city.
Although the city comes with its own dangers, my run in the country taught me something about John’s world. In today’s lesson John contrasts being inside with being outside the city to show us the security and abundance that will come when we enjoy the eternal presence of God in the new Jerusalem.
B. Lesson Background
We must always remember that Revelation was written to encourage first-century Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. Like all biblical prophecy, its primary value is in its original context. So our interpretation of Revelation must begin with the original readers.
The figures of speech that John uses come from the world of the first century ad. They are strange to us, and so we often miss the real value of the imagery. In Revelation 21–22, we have John’s description of Heaven as he experiences his revelation. Yet for John to describe the vision, he has to use images and terms from the then-current, physical world. He wrote Revelation so that his readers could appreciate the next world in such a way that it would make a difference in how they were living out their lives at the time.
John’s description of Heaven helps us appreciate its wonders. We should be cautious about taking the descriptions of our eternal home too literally, however. To make this mistake would be to limit Heaven to only the earthly things that we can imagine are valuable.
For example, consider how John describes the foundations of the wall of the city (Revelation 21:19, 20). City walls were valuable things in the ancient world, because they were physical barriers against enemies—it is an impression of security. Today, however, very few cities depend on walls for safety. Instead, we may think of safety in terms of early-warning radar (both military and weather). John uses ideas from his first-century world to create the most meaningful impression he can. When we allow John’s intended impression to shape our hearts, we will fall at the feet of Jesus in praise.
I. People of God (Revelation 21:9–11)
A. Their Status (v. 9)
9. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
We have already considered the image of the bride, the wife of the Lamb in earlier lessons; in Revelation 19:7 and 21:2, we saw this terminology used as a reference to all who belong to God. The focus was on the bride’s preparation, the way the faithfulness of those who belong to God prepared them for eternal life. When John refers to the Lamb, he draws attention to the fact of whose we are.
The counterpart of the bride is the great prostitute of Revelation 17:1. The purity of the bride is in sharp contrast to the filthiness of the great prostitute (compare Revelation 19:7-8 with Revelation 17:2). Mention of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues harks back to the judgment of God in chapters 15 and 16.
B. Their Future (vv. 10, 11)
10. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
In order for John to see divine things, he must see them from a spiritual perspective. John started off his experiences “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). Then when he was called into the presence of God, he also was “in the Spirit” (4:1, 2). When John was shown the demise of the unfaithful, it too was “in the Spirit” (17:1–3). Now for him to see the future of the faithful, it likewise must be in the Spirit (compare Ezekiel 40:2).
The significant point of this passage is what John sees while he is in the Spirit: the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. In the previous verse the angel said that he was going to show John the bride, the Lamb’s wife. What John subsequently sees means that the bride of verse 9 is the same thing as the holy Jerusalem of verse 10.
11. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
John uses breathtaking language to describe what he sees. What makes this city so beautiful is God’s presence among his people. John sees the future of all who have remained faithful and how they manifest God’s glory.
What Do You Think?
The church, the people of God, will reflect God’s glory in the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city. But how can we reflect his glory while here on earth?
The glory of God is more than mere brilliance. The glory of God is also what he achieves, what he does, and what represents him (compare Isaiah 60:1-2, 19). The opening phrase it shone indicates that the community of the faithful (the new Jerusalem) shows God’s glory by being in this place with him forever.
The image of precious stones creates a sense of a value beyond measure. And if you read this and feel like jumping up and down with excitement, you should! This is a place beyond compare, and we the faithful really will all be there one day.
II. City of God (Revelation 21:22–27)
A. Living in the Light (vv. 22–26)
22. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
John uses images that reflect important ideas for our understanding of eternity. The first is that there is no temple. The original audience of Revelation lived in a world where temples were the norm. Temples were thought to be the way to communicate with your god. Even those who served the true God in Solomon’s time and thereafter understood that if you wanted to be closest to God you should go to the temple in Jerusalem.
As John writes, the Jerusalem temple has lain destroyed for at least 20 years. But John emphasizes that there is no need for a temple because the faithful will live in the presence of God. The truth of this is seen in the descriptions of city, bride, and dwelling [tabernacle] up to this point.
John’s reference to the Lamb should remind us that we are forever dependent upon Christ’s sacrificial work. Our future abundance already has been secured through the cross; what is necessary for us to have eternal life Jesus already has provided! We can live a victorious life now.
23. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
A pre-electricity world is a dark world. And darkness naturally hides all sorts of dangers. Since the ancient world relied more on natural light than we do today, the difference between light and dark has greater significance to the ancients. The New Testament writers use this significance in their writings. Their light vs. dark imagery contrasts people who belong to God (those in the light) and people who do not (those in the dark); see examples in John 8:12; Ephesians 5:8–13; Colossians 1:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4–8; and 1 John 1:5–7.
This is also a contrast in the Old Testament; see examples in Job 29:3; 30:26; and Isaiah 5:20. The light that Jesus is said to bring in Matthew 4:15-16 is a quotation of Isaiah 9:1, 2.
What Do You Think?
In what ways has the church in general—or your church in particular—lost her “shine” for God? How can she get it back?
[Hint: some solutions can be found in 1 John 3:18; 2 John 4–11; 3 John 11; Revelation 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 11, 18.]
God’s Bright Idea
A composite photo taken from space shows the world at night glowing with light from thousands of cities. Yet well-ordered artificial illumination has been developed only within the last two centuries. In 1807 London could boast of the first gas street lamps. By the 1880s electric lighting was replacing gas lighting.
But with progress comes problems, and eventually the first blackout occurred. That happened in New York City on October 14, 1889. Headlines read, “A Night of Darkness—More than One Thousand Electric Lights Extinguished.” However, it wasn’t a power failure that caused the darkness; it was the outraged mayor who ordered all the lights shut off!
Streets of the time were illuminated by high voltage, carbon arc lights fed through a tangle of overhead wires. Several people had been accidentally (and publicly) electrocuted by the poorly maintained system. Something better was needed, and eventually the shift was made to safer technology. As a result, we can live in the relative security of lighted homes, streets, and public buildings.
We take light for granted, but the new Jerusalem will be illuminated by a light more brilliant than anything we have experienced. This light will be so bright that sunlight will no longer be needed. This light will never be dimmed by power failure, will never cause pain or death, and will signify absolute safety and security. There will be no danger of blackouts. What a bright idea that is! —C. R. B.
24–26. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
What Do You Think?
The nations will be gathered together as one in the new Jerusalem! What impact should that fact have on your church today?
The reference to the open gates and the absence of night reinforces the idea of security. Further, John now specifies that it is the nations that will walk by its light. The important concept of nations is woven throughout biblical history. A key part of God’s plan of salvation came into being when he called Abraham to be the father many nations (Genesis 17:5).
In particular, Abraham became the father of the nation of Israel. That nation bore the responsibility of preparing itself to usher in the Messiah, who would bring God’s light to the rest of the world (Acts 13:47, quoting Isaiah 49:6). Today, the church functions as a kind of new Israel as she communicates the light of the gospel to those in darkness (compare Acts 26:17-18).
The allusion to this final gathering of the saved from among the nations is clear in Isaiah 60:1–5. While Isaiah 60:5 refers to humans bringing their “riches” John magnifies the idea by saying that kings bring their glory and honor. This glory they bring or offer has always belonged to God in the same way that all power has always belonged to God. This is the ultimate point of the Isaiah passage: any power or wealth that seems to belong to us truly belongs to God. The faithful will surrender it all to him.
B. Promise and Warning (v. 27)
27. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
John’s Revelation is for those believers struggling to live in this world, to give us the hope we need to endure trials. But as we saw in Revelation 16–18, this book is not good news for everyone. John issues a warning for anyone who would dare to reject what God has provided.
On the one hand, we see a promise to the faithful that their future in the presence of God will not be compromised by his enemies. On the other hand, we see a warning that is especially pertinent to modern culture. Many seem to believe that they can avoid the consequences of their actions. But John’s message is clear: God will not overlook those who have rejected him. We see similar warnings in Isaiah 52:1 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
What Do You Think?
How has the warning given in verse 27 affected the church in both negative and positive ways?
The book of life belongs to the Lamb because it is Christ’s work that saves us. Those covered by Christ’s blood are those whose names are written in that book (compare Psalm 69:28; Exodus 32:32, 33; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3).
III. Peace of God (Revelation 22:1–5)
A. Eternal Abundance (vv. 1, 2)
1. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
As John moves the book toward its close, he brings together many of his previous points to help us understand the message. Thus he reintroduces the water of life image discussed previously (Revelation 21:6). The point of the image is that those who worship God will never have any want. John sees this abundant supply of our needs to originate from the presence of God. John’s frequent reference to the Lamb is a constant reminder that our eternity will always be founded upon Christ’s sacrifice.
2.… down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
A river sustains life, and John describes “the river of the water of life” (v. 1) as the sustainer of the tree of life (compare Genesis 2:9). The images are overlapped in order to reinforce the message: our eternal home will be abundantly supplied with all that we need.
John’s world is not technologically advanced. As a result, the food supply in his day is much less predictable than in ours. A bad harvest to John’s contemporaries means everyone will be dieting. Famine, common to the ancient world, is almost unheard of in Western democracies today. This fact can make it difficult for us to appreciate John’s point. This tree has not one but twelve kinds of fruit, and these twelve kinds of fruit aren’t produced just annually but every month! It’s always harvest time in Heaven, and the crop is always bountiful.
What Do You Think?
God wants us to produce fruit constantly and he empowers us to do so. How effective are you at producing the fruit of new souls? How can you do better?
Stench of Death, Provision of Life
God has created some very unusual plants! Do you suppose he did this for his own amusement or for our amazement? One of the strangest examples is known as titan arum—the “corpse flower.” It gets that name because its fragrance (if that is the right term!) is reminiscent of rotting flesh. The reason for the smell is that it attracts carrion beetles to pollinate the plant. Such beetles normally feed on—you guessed it—rotting flesh.
The plant was discovered in the jungles of Sumatra in 1878. Horticulturists subsequently brought the plant to botanical gardens in the western world. The tuber from which the blossom grows may weigh 170 pounds; the blossom can be from 6 to 10 feet tall and lasts only 2 days.
The blossom is rare in cultivated examples of the plant, but huge crowds will visit exhibits in spite of (or maybe because of) the smell. In 2003, some 16,000 visitors came to see the two-day bloom at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
How different this flower is from the trees that John saw! There will be no smell of death in Heaven. Instead, the tree of life will delight us with its unending provision. —C. R. B.
B. Eternal Security (vv. 3–5)
3a. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, …
In this one remark John spans the entirety of history, from the fall in the Garden of Eden to the final redemption. The fall of humanity occurred when Adam and Eve decided to privilege their own interests over God’s (Genesis 3:6). The resulting curse was not so much the hard work and pain (Genesis 3:16–19) as it was being banished from God’s presence (Genesis 3:22–24).
What happened after that is the long story of the Lord preparing for our return to his presence. That could come about only via the redemption from the effects of our sin. And now John makes this point: a time comes when the curse is finally gone. We will at last be back with our creator, where we should have been all along.
In the end, there will be no separation from God’s presence as there is in this fallen, temporary world. We cannot fail to note that John refers once more to the Lamb. It is the work of Christ that has rescued us from the effects of the curse.
3b.… and his servants will serve him.
Being in the presence of God is an experience we cannot fully comprehend. But John tells us that our natural joyful response will be to serve God.
4. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
John’s world does not have the experience of televised images or photographs. So for him and his original readers, the only practical way to see people’s faces is to be in their presence. Thus seeing God’s face repeats the previous point that we shall be in the presence of God (compare Psalm 17:15; Matthew 5:8).
By saying that God’s name will be on their foreheads, John reinforces that the future of the faithful will be abundant and secure. That is because we will be in the presence of God. A name or identity written on the forehead is a powerful image (compare Exodus 28:36–38; Ezekiel 9:4–6; Revelation 13:16; 14:9; 17:5). A mark on a forehead designates a certain identity; in this case, it identifies someone as belonging to God. God knows who we are, and we know we belong to him. We will forever be designated as God’s and thus forever enjoy his presence, his abundance, his protection. What a comfort!
5. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Visual for Lesson 12
Point to this visual as you ask, “In what ways does God give you a light right now that is better than sunlight?”
John reemphasizes the point that he has been making all along: the faithful shall experience the presence of God and enjoy the eternal security and protection that his presence affords. While it’s impossible for us to fathom exactly what John sees, we can still get the message from our limited perspective. Even though we may suffer now, even though our relationship with God may be tested, even though we may have fear now, our faithfulness will ultimately lead us to eternal security and abundance. “The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever” (Daniel 7:18).
If you ever take a class in ethics at a secular university, you may discover that the teaching is absorbed with the so-called gray areas. These are areas where right and wrong are determined by the individuals in the situation under consideration—and almost all situations are thought to be gray areas in some way!
Make no mistake: there will be no gray areas when it comes to determining who will live in God’s presence and who won’t. God knows those who are his and those who aren’t. The choice to stay within the love of Christ or reject him confronts us daily. What does your choice today say about where you intend to spend eternity?
Thought to Remember
Father, we praise you for the victory that you have already secured through the death and resurrection of Christ. We pray that we would have the strength to make that victory true even now in our present lives. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing