Saturday, July 23, 2016

HERE COMES THE BRIDE

The Presentation of the Bride  - (From Revelation 21:9-21)

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Revelation 21:9 NAS).

What follows in the text, what the angel showed John, is perhaps to me the most mysterious of any of the Biblical accounts. And I am not alone in this sentiment. When the Apostle Paul was speaking on the theme of husbands and brides and in referring to them, he said, “This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, NAS).

By using the word mystery, Paul did not mean it and I do not mean it in the sense in which we usually think of a mystery. To us, a mystery is Sherlock Holms or Colombo putting many seemingly insignificant clues together to solve something that was before unknown. The clues were always there, it just took someone with a superior power of observation and reasoning to put them all together.

That is not exactly the sense of a mystery in the Bible. In the Bible, mystery (mustērion) is a word that conveys the idea of one closing his mouth. (From mueō – shut the mouth). It means that there are many things concerning what John was shown about the bride of Christ that are not yet told to us. There are many things about all of this that are not yet revealed. We do not yet have enough information to really understand what John saw, nor did he have the words to communicate properly and fully what angels showed him.
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Although we may not have sufficient clues to solve the case, it is not as if we have no clues at all about which John was shown. In various parts of the Bible, we are given snatches of information about the bride of Christ. However, even the clues themselves are mysterious and may not add a great deal to our enlightenment.

The aforementioned writing of Paul in the book of Ephesians is a good example of this. The main subject of his writing was not really the bride of Christ at all, but marital advice for husbands and wives. However, this marital advice goes beyond what we would usually consider the purpose of marriage counseling. It is not only given so that the marriage and the home will be a happy one. His advice is also given for the purpose of demonstrating that a Christian marriage should correctly represent the relationship between Christ and the church.

As a matter of fact, Paul refers back to the very early days of creation and the union of Adam and Eve. At that time God gave some guidelines for marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his Father and Mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In more ways that we know, the union of a man and a women in marriage is a representation of the relationship that Christ has with his church, that is to say, with his people. Among the important aspects of marriage pointed out by Paul is that the husband should shoulder the responsibility of being the head in the marriage relationship. The wives, for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of the marriage, should allow the husband to have this responsibility in their relationship.

Responsibility is a vital aspect in this relationship. If the husband fulfills this well, all other aspects of the marriage usually will fall into place. Paul uses the words “to nourish and to cherish” when he speaks of how a husband is to treat his wife. This is a relationship of love, and one, as Paul says, that is given in reference to Christ and his church. 

The Bride of Christ

When the angel told John that he was going to show him “The bride, the wife of the Lamb,” I do not know what John expected to see, but the description that follows of what John was shown is not what I would have expected.

The angel who had said this to John then “carried him away in the Spirit.” I am not exactly sure what this means. It is as if John, who was already having a vision of the new heavens and the new earth, now has an additional vision within the first vision.

The angel carried him to a great and high mountain, presumably so that he could have a good view of the bride of Christ. As I said, what John saw is not what I would have expected to see, for what he saw was not anything resembling any image of what we have in mind when we think of a bride. He instead saw a city.

Here are John’s words: 

He carried me away…and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:10-14 NAS) 

John was told that he would see a bride and instead sees a city. Either he recognizes this specific city by name, or he is told that it is Jerusalem. It is not the Jerusalem of the earth, however, for this one is descending from heaven. As John begins to describe this city that he sees, we begin to form a mental image of what it must have been like. However, as he continues, all earthly logic disappears from the description. This is not an earthly city, at least not one of this present earth. This is a city that could be constructed only in a place unlike any that we can envision on this earth. It is the heavenly Jerusalem. 

The Description of the New Jerusalem

As John stood on that high mountain, he begins to describe what he saw. As he watched, the city was descending from above. As New Jerusalem get nearer, and as it gradually came into clearer view, John could increasingly make out some of the details of this. His description of it is a progressive one.

His first impression was that the city had the glory of God. It is this glory that gave it a brilliance, perhaps like the glory of God that is described when God met with Moses on Mount Sinai. When the people below viewed the mountain, the glory of the Lord is described as looking like “a consuming fire on the mountain top” (Exodus 24:17).

However, having a simple light-emitting quality does not adequately describe the glory of God, because this glory is also represented in the Old Testament in what is described as a cloud, as well as a fire (Exodus 40:35-38). Perhaps the best single description of the glory of God is given by the writer of the book of Hebrews in speaking of Jesus, when he says that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and “the exact representation of his nature, upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). This description may not help us in forming a mental image of how the New Jerusalem must have looked, but this must be the very essence of what the glory of God is like.[1]

But the coming of light is also certainly a significant part of the glory of God. After all, the very first words spoken by God in the creation was, “Let there be light.” The presence of God is often described as bringing light to dark places (Isaiah 58:8; 60:1). John compares the brilliance of the city to “crystal-clear jasper. Jasper was one of the stones most commonly brought to a fine and lustrous polish in John’s day, and much admired. It is not transparent, as the term crystal-clear would suggest, but only that the brilliance of the city reflected light like a highly polished stone. The streets have much the same qualities, except these are made instead from gold. “Like transparent glass,” John says.

As the city continues to descend, John sees that it is a walled city, as cities were in his day. This wall he calls “great and high,” with twelve gates, three on each side of the city. As John observed the gates, he saw that they each had a name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, a different name for each gate. Standing by each gate was an angel. The city also had twelve foundation stones. These were named for the twelve apostles who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

Up until this point, the city that John describes, although unlike anything that we have ever seen, it is mostly understandable to us. We could draw it out and see how it may have looked. The angel who was speaking with John even would appear to help us in this endeavor, because he begins now to measure the city, using a gold measuring rod.

The description of the measuring begins well for us. New Jerusalem is in the shape of a perfect square; that much we can picture. However, when the angel gets done measuring it, the city turns out to be about fourteen or fifteen hundred miles square! Think for a moment of a place that far away from where you are right now, and then imagine a city of that size. Never in our lives could we imagine a city that large. But this is not the most astounding part of the dimensions. The angel then measures how high the city is. It turns out that it is as high as it is square. It is fourteen hundred miles high!

By now we can see that this is not a city made on earth and not for this present earth. We cannot imagine how it could be possible for such a city to exist in our present circumstances and on our present earth. Indeed, it would be physically impossible for this place to exist in the physical environment as we know it now.
 
John continues to describe the New Jerusalem, and does so with some detail, although there is still much that is unclear. The wall of the city is measured to be seventy-two yards, but John does not specify if this is the height or the thickness of the wall. In many present day translations of the Bible, the translators have specified that this is the thickness of the wall, although this is not really stated in the text. In saying this, they are assuming (I suppose) that the wall must be the height of the city, which is a very high wall. This may or may not be the case. Normally, when someone describes a wall and gives only one dimension, he would not tell how thick the wall was, but how high it was. Whatever the true explanation of the dimension of the wall is, we can see this is a city that would be unsustainable on our present earth.

I have been giving the measurements in English units to give an idea of the size, but of course, the angel did not have a yard stick and not even a meter stick. When considering all of the ways in which societies have made measurements throughout the ages, I have always been slightly amused by John’s comment that angelic measurements are the same as human measurements. What does this mean exactly? Do angels use the metric system or the English system? Just how many barleycorns are there in an inch? We know that a foot is the measurement for King Henry’s shoe, but just how many barleycorns are in a foot?

The common unit for measurement in the Bible is the cubit, so perhaps this is the kind of golden measure stick that the angel had. To be fair however, one can see that even this is very subjective. The ordinary cubit was the distance between an elbow and the tip of the middle finger of an average arm length. We usually equate this anywhere from eighteen to a bit more than twenty inches. You can see that there may be great differences in this. They recognized this in John’s day, so they also had a cubit measurement that was even slightly longer, which was called the “sacred cubit,” or the “priestly cubit.” Still, any slight variation in the length of a single cubit would be enormous when multiplied several thousands of times.

With all of this, the actual length of the cubit is perhaps not so important as the number there were in the measurement of the wall. The wall measured one hundred and forty-four cubits. That is an interesting number, and one that comes up very often in the Bible. The other dimensions of the city, the breadth, length and height, although I told you that they were fourteen or fifteen hundred miles, is actually given in terms of the Greek measurement of the stadia. The measurement for these dimensions was twelve thousand stadia for each side plus the height of the city. Both of these numbers, you will notice, are multiples of twelve, which is also a number commonly found in the Scriptures. It is often said that twelve is a number of completeness.

It is likely that there is truly some significance to these facts, and many Bible students have drawn up very elaborate theories about what the meanings of these numbers are. It is not that I necessarily disagree with some of these theories, but quite a lot of it is very speculative.

I will not be pursuing this line of thinking in this study, since it is very speculative. In our attempt to envision what the new heavens and the new earth are like, there are already so many things about which we have to speculate. I do not want to add to the conjectures. 

Valuable Stones and Minerals

The same is true for the many splendid minerals and jewels that adorn the city. There is no doubt meaning imbedded in the presence of the many valuable stones which were especially in the foundation, but their significance escapes us for the present.

John had told us that the city had a brilliance like “crystal clear jasper,” and that the wall was made of jasper or at least something like jasper. The city itself was “pure gold, like clear glass.” This does not mean that it was transparent, as we would think of glass, but that it had such a luster, that it almost had the appearance of transparency. The word used actually does have an idea of transparency in its meaning.

The list of stones that John saw in the foundation as translated in the New American Standard Bible is jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth and finally, amethyst. Some Biblical writers through the years have drawn out what they call “deeper meanings” for the use of these stones. Since the names of the twelve apostles are written on the stones, there is no doubt some significance that each one holds. To each stone, some people have assigned the name of a specific apostle and also added an additional meaning to the stone that they say would correspond to each of the apostles. Thus, they say that each stone represents a certain virtue, such as kindness or mercy, etc.

I myself frankly do not know the significance of the twelve jewels in the foundation and do not place much confidence in those who claim that they do. We do not even know who would be the apostle in the foundation stone that would replace Judas the Traitor, since most assume that this disciple who delivered Jesus over to be crucified would not be represented in the wall. Also, even the very names of several of the various stones have had changed throughout the centuries, so there can be no certainty of what precise minerals the names are referring to. Is it chalcedony or is it agate, sardonyx or just onyx? Is it sardius, or is it carnelian or even ruby? Is it chrysoprase or is it turquoise?

However, I am impressed that John recognized all of these minerals and that he took the time to name them. Because of this, I do believe that there must be a significance to them, but I think that there is no one in this day who is able to tell us what their importance is, however tempting it is to do so. In recent decades, the use of stones as an alternative form of healing has become very popular among a certain sector of society, so much so that some have claimed that different minerals should be used to treat different ailments or different parts of the body.[2] There is absolutely no evidence that can be given to support such claims, but that does not prevent some people from believing firmly in this teaching. I am afraid it may be much the same if we try to assign meaning to the twelve stones found in the foundation of the city of New Jerusalem.

Concerning the gates of the city, we are told that they are also twelve in number, three on each wall, and at each gate, an angel. The gates also have names written on them, these the twelve tribes of Israel. These gates also hold a paradox for us, for John says that each gate was made from a single pearl. He does not tell us the size of the gates, but from the enormous size of the city itself, it is not unreasonable to assume that the gates were also very large. The fact that each gate was made from a single pearl defies anything that we have experienced, for we are accustomed only to pearls the size of peas, which are strung together to make fine necklaces. Even if John meant that the gates were made from mother of pearl, not the pearl itself, it is still something far beyond what we have ever seen on this present earth.

(I will continue this study of Revelation 21 next week)



[1] See Appendix – His Face Shown Like the Sun
 
[2] (As an example, taken from website, handsofspirit.com concerning the mineral agate) Agate balances the physical, emotional, and intellectual bodies with the etheric energies.  It also balances the yin/yang energies.  It stimulates analytical capabilities and precision, awakening inherent talents and adroitness.  It produces connection with and inspiration from entities in the spiritual world.  It strengthens sight, diminishes thirst, and promotes marital fidelity.

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