The opening ceremony of a great event is always spectacular, but it's never as spectacular as the event itself.
While John the Apostle was exiled by the Roman Emperor to the island of Patmos, he was given one of the most comprehensive reviews of future events ever delivered by God to and through a human being.
John would write of such breathtaking scenes taking place on earth and in heaven that to this day, skeptics abound and his words are either dismissed or ignored.
John writes of the final contests between the dragon and the Lamb; between sin and the Savior, the armies of darkness against the forces of light.
He uses terms of conquest, victory, judgment, wrath, reward, an eternal Hell and an eternal Heaven.
And now in chapter 21, John introduces us to the opening ceremony, as it were, of the eternal state. He speaks of this magnificent heavenly city of God – the Father’s House – built with gold and bathed in light.
For more than 700 years before John wrote this Revelation, the Greek civilization had competed every 4 years in athletic contests – primarily foot races, at first. Later on, other events were added, such as wrestling, the javelin throw and the long jump.
The contests were originally held in the western region of Greece, at the Temple Olympia – and the first documented events revealed the games were dedicated to Zeus, their chief god.
The contests at Olympia continued over the centuries and began to include other nations. The modern world now calls it the Olympic Games.
The first modern Olympic contests were held in 1896 between 14 countries and they competed in 43 events.
The tradition grew every 4 years in cooperation and ceremony between nations and in 1908, the games began with its first opening Ceremony in London where the games were held.
By the way, with the World Cup just around the corner, I found it interesting that soccer – or ‘football’ to most of the world – was not allowed to be included in the Olympics due to the restrictions against professional athletes.
As a result of being barred from the games, the Federation International Football Association (FIFA) began their own World Cup, in 1930, and it is also held every four years.
And the world loves all of these games. To put it into perspective, a little more than 100 million people watched the last Super Bowl; a little more than 1 billion people watched the last World Cup. And just over 4 billion people watched the last Summer Olympics.
To this day, the Olympic Games are the most watched sporting event in the world and because of that, it has become the platform for national pride and as a display of national sophistication and wealth – especially for the country that hosts the Olympics.
It wasn’t always a show. But the bar was raised significantly when the winter Olympic Games were held in California in 1960. The chairman of the Olympic committee was a man by the name of Walt Disney.
Through his creativity, the opening day ceremony had an extra measure of drama and extravagance – there were high school choirs and high school bands, ice statues and firework displays; at one point they even released thousands of balloons and 2,000 white doves into the air. Then, for the big finale, all the nation’s flags were dropped out of airplanes circling overhead and they unfurled as they parachuted down.
One thing is obvious today . . . every nation seeks to outdo the other in an opening ceremony. Today, it costs some nation an estimated 100 million dollars for the opening ceremony alone.
If you would take your Bible and turn to the last paragraph of Revelation chapter 21, you have nothing less than the Opening Ceremony of the eternal state.
In fact, as I read this paragraph again and again, it struck me that here you have some wonderful parallels to an Olympic event where more than half of the world’s population tunes in.
You have the host city and a redefined Olympic torch; you have the parade of nations, a security release and the Olympic motto redefined.
And this opening ceremony makes everything else seem like child’s play.
The Host City
John has revealed shown us the host city, whose cubed measurements are given, I believe, as a sum total of somewhere between 1300 and 1500 miles, depending on the length of a Greek stadia, which no one is quite sure of.
That would mean the base of the Father’s house is somewhere around 11 miles in every directions, including its height.
Compared to the capital city of Heaven the tower of Dubai – the tallest tower in the world hardly shows up next to it.
Even Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world seems small compared to the Father’s House which stretches through the atmosphere to the troposphere.
By the way, the mention of 12 foundations fits perfectly with a pyramid styled structure – each foundation – or level – rising 11 miles plus into the sky. You could think of them as floors in a skyscraper.
They ascend higher and higher into the atmosphere until you reach the top level where I believe the throne of God is located in all its brilliant glory.
Now keep in mind, in this city, each floor would be nearly a mile high. You could have cities within this city – hundreds of millions of people living on each level.
As we learned in our last session, the tallest tower in the world today is the Dubai Tower – but in the Father’s House, you could build one on top of the other inside this first floor.
That’s a high ceiling . . . but you’ll never have to change any light bulbs, so never fear.
One artist by the name of Janet Willis drew an interesting sketch of what amounts to be the first floor of the Father’s house. It shows skyscraper after skyscraper on either side of the river of life. Some are taller than others, but all of them have a riverside view.
And it gives you just a little bit of an idea of how massive and accommodating one long block of this city can be.
The problem with drawing a picture like that is that everybody who sees it and loves the city will think – that’s magnificent. And everybody else will say, “I lost my backyard.” What happened to wide opened spaces?!
Well, keep in mind that we have been promised a dwelling place in the Father’s House (John 14:2) – you could render that Greek word translated place (topon) – an apartment – you can even render it “sanctuary, or sacred space” in the Father’s House. / Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Volume VIII, Edited by Gerhard Friedrich, (Eerdmans Publishing, 1972), p. 189
I dug a little deeper and found that this word was also used by the Greeks to refer to a territory.
Frankly, we’re not told how big or small our dwelling place is in the Father’s house. But every one of us will have a residence here – as Christ promised.
And keep in mind that doesn’t mean you won’t have a place or even places throughout the world and perhaps beyond where you will one day travel and explore and enjoy as you glory in your Creator God forever.
This is home base. This is the host city of the greatest kingdom ever described by God to mankind.
Now, the Apostle John makes a special note of the absence of particular feature as he moves us through the city gates and into the Golden City.
Take a look at verse 22, where John writes, And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
The Old Testament prophets foresaw the temple as the principal item in their descriptions of the glorified city, such as Isaiah’s description in chapter 44 and chapter 60 as well as Ezekiel’s description in chapters 40-48. / Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1995), p. 474
The temple that John had expected to see from what he knew of Old Testament prophetic descriptions was actually the restored temple in the Millennial Kingdom – which is now over.
And now it’s as if John wants to make sure the reader understands that the prophetic description should not be misunderstood.
The Millennial Kingdom has a Temple, but the eternal state does not.
Because in the Father’s House, God’s presence will not be limited to a single building – some Holy of Holies tucked inside a temple somewhere.
Not here, for the presence of God will permeate the entire city. / Kendell H. Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Holman, 1998), p. 401
There will never be a need to go to a sanctuary, a temple, a cathedral, a chapel or any other house of worship for in heaven we will worship in the very presence of God. There in the heavenly city He Himself will be the place of worship. / John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven (Crossway, 1996), p. 109
The trouble is we tend to think of worship as a song, or a service on Sunday morning.
The biblical concept of worship is far more comprehensive and we will finally get it right here in this place.
The biblical idea of worship incorporates all of life. Paul would write that even our eating and drinking and whatever we do can be done to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).
What Paul means is that anything you do that is necessary or legitimate in life can be considered an act of worship. Now that’s impossible for us to grasp and to practice here in our sinful bodies and with our sinful propensities, but here – in the Father’s House – we are perfected in every aspect, sinless in every regard, glorified in every molecule of our being and our lives will literally become non-stop worship. / Ibid, p. 110
What a host city . . . what a Creator, Redeemer. What a future for those who believe in Christ alone.
The Eternal Flame
Now if you’ve watched the Opening Ceremonies of the summer Olympics, you’ve been struck by the tradition of the Olympic Flame.
The Greeks believed that fire had been given to mankind by one of their gods and they considered fire to have sacred qualities.
We know from history that the high priestess of Olympia would use a special curved mirror to focus the sun's rays to ignite a flame to burn perpetually in front of that Greek temple.
I found it interesting to learn from secular sources that the Olympic flame was believed to represent purity and the pursuit of perfection.
It was in 1928, for the first time, that the tradition was begun to actually go to the ruins of that same temple in Olympia, and start the Olympic flame to be kept burning until the games were over.
Then, in 1936 a new tradition was created, called the Olympic Torch relay.
The flame was lit at the temple ruins in Olympia by a woman wearing ancient styled robes, using a curved mirror to focus the light of the sun and create the flame. Then a special torch was lit and a long relay of runners carrying one torch after another brought the flame from Olympia to the site of the games.
If you can imagine this, it took more than 3,000 runners to bring the flame through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and more countries until it reached Berlin, Germany – where the summer games were being held.
It was actually the idea of Adolph Hitler who planned to show that Germany had inherited the greatness of the ancient empire of Greece.
Hitler also planned to show the superiority of the German race to the rest of the world.
He disappeared not long after, deeply angered when an African American named Jesse Owens beat every German he raced against. Isn’t that just great?! Jesse went on to win 4 gold medals.
If you’ve watched the Olympic torch relay, you know that being a torch-bearer is considered a great honor; typically it is given to celebrities and famous athletes, but also to local residents where the torch is passing through . . . local residents with a record of faithful service.
Who in this city of gold would be the greatest celebrity . . . the most faithful servant of all.
John writes in verse 23. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Jesus Christ is pictured as someone not just bearing the lamp that burns eternally, but that Someone who radiates the light of God’s glory.
He pulled back the shades one afternoon and let some of His glorious light spill down over Saul of Tarsus who was heading for Damascus to persecute even more Christians and that ray of light emanating from the presence of the Lord knocked Saul to the ground. And Saul, later known as Paul the Apostle, said, “Who are you Lord?” And He said to me (Acts 22:8) “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.”
The city of glory will radiate light as bright as daylight so that John writes, over in verse 25, for there will be no night there;
even when the earth’s rotation carries the city away from the sun. / Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record (Tyndale House, 1986), p. 459
Keep in mind the earth, the solar system, the universe will be recreated – and perfected to last forever by the creative handiwork of Christ in this new creation.
But you’re thinking, we’re told there will be no sun or moon.
Look back at verse 23 a little more carefully. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
In other words, the glory of God will be uniquely displayed in this glorious city – and there will be no night there.
The City of God will be ablaze by the glory of God, mediated through the Lamb of God.
But that doesn’t mean that outside the city, throughout the new heavens and the new hearth that the glory of God won’t be uniquely diffused so that earth will continue to operate as God created it to do so with the normal cycles and patterns of light and darkness, sunrise and sunset, evening and morning.
By the way, God created the day and night, evening and morning, darkness and light before sin entered the world and He called it all, what? He said, “It is very good!” (Genesis 1:31)
Passages such as Psalm 148 and Daniel 12 imply continuity between the old creation of Genesis 1 and the new creation of Revelation 21 that includes the animal kingdom, the sun and the moon, planets and stars and a multitude of other created things we will enjoy forever.
The Procession of Nations
In 1908 following another volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the Olympic Games were moved from Rome to London. And for the first time in Olympic history, the opening ceremony included all the athletes marching into the stadium behind their nation’s flags. More than 2,000 competitors marched into the arena with patriotism for their nation in their hearts.
I don’t know about you, but every time I watch the Olympics and see the American flag and the athletes beginning to enter the arena representing my country I get goose bumps. What’s really moving to me is to see that gold medalist standing on the victor’s highest platform, with the national anthem of his or her country playing, to see that athlete standing there with tears coming down their cheeks.
What you have next in John’s vision is that awesome sight where patriotism for the Kingdom of God now takes precedence. Notice in verse 24. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Verse 26 says, they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;
There are some who believe these nations will continue from the Millennium throughout the eternal state, as immortalized humans who live on as nations and ethnic people groups.
I believe just the opposite is true.
John is telling us that national identities and patriotism are actually given back to the One who alones deserves all glory and praise. / Grant R. Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Revelation (Baker Academic, 2002), p. 763
People from every tongue, tribe and nation will enter the eternal city, as it were, in a grand procession, becoming as it were one nation under God.
As you know, it is the desire of the Olympic tradition to instill the brotherhood of nations. The Olympic flag contains five interconnected rings which symbolize the five continents of the world. They are interconnected to symbolize the friendship of the nations demonstrated by fair and friendly competition. The rings are blue, yellow, black, green and red – chosen because at least one of these colors appears on the flag of every country in the world.
But as hard as the world tries, it cannot reach the unity of nations it so long has desired.
The barrier to that unity is not a race issue; it isn’t a color issue or a class issue; it isn’t an economic problem, or a political problem – it is a spiritual problem that creates a heart problem.
We need a new heart. And for those who’ve been redeemed and had their hearts cleansed – they, the church, can demonstrate unity regardless of race or class or color or economic standing.
It happens in the church. Brothers and sisters of Christ’s church live it out . . . you see that’s because we’ve come to realize that in Christ we aren’t many races trying to get along, we are actually one race of the redeemed.
Jesus Christ didn’t come to get all the nations to act better toward each other, He came to gather up a new nation.
He’s come to find a bride and He will find one made up of every tongue tribe and nation.
Right now, we live and love imperfectly, in shadowy form, but here in our future heavenly state, our love and fellowship will be demonstrated in bright and perfect unity.
This is the final and ultimate fulfillment of who we are as God’s redeemed – We are a chosen race; a royal priesthood, [we are] a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that we might declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light . . . for now we are the people of God. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
The redeemed will one day process into the Father’s House under the banner of a new flag – all equally significant – all equally laying down the glory of their past as former diplomats walk side by side with former dirt farmers; as some former king links arms with a custodian.
I know one who will be there . . . that faithful custodian from East Cary Middle School who volunteered to open that school house for Colonial while we rented that space for several years. The band room was our sanctuary; the Home Economics room was our nursery, the rest of the rooms, including the mechanics shop were our Sunday school rooms. We used to give that old custodian, near retirement, a Christmas gift every year for being willing to give up his Sunday morning. He was always kind and always gracious, even as our church grew and more and more rooms were needed. He knew the Lord and he loved the church. He would often listen in from a back room, dressed in his old work clothes, preparing to sweep up after we left. One Sunday between Sunday school and church, I found him in the back shop where I’d gone to practice my sermon. Now I practice every Sunday at 8:00 o’clock. I talked to him a while and thanked him again for what he meant to us all; and he said to me, “You know Reverend, 6 days out of the week this place is a school. But on the Lord’s day, it’s a church.
For the redeemed who loved Christ and His church – talk about a processional . . . what pageantry . . . what joy.
So far we’ve learned from John’s Revelation:
- That heaven is on earth. The Father’s house – the heavenly city of gold – is situated on a newly created earth.
- And there is a new creation – which will include everything God created in Genesis chapter 1.
- Eternity includes glorious music, as we’ve already heard sung in earlier chapters.
- It includes the Father’s House of gold and precious gems – which also reveals architecture and light and design – and unity and fellowship among all of God’s redeemed forever.
Now you might be wondering, is there any way any of this could get messed up?
The last Olympics spent a billion dollars on security measures alone.
While the Olympic Games try their best to showcase the unity of the nations, I have read that the Olympic Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games in London planned for the greatest number of security risks since World War II.
Since the bombers of Berlin flew overhead. They are effectively trying to get ready for as many terrorists as there will be athletes.
But can anything mess up this glorious event?
To make matters even more at risk, John writes in verse 25 that the gates will never be closed. How’s that for security?
If this city were on the planet today, there would be people trying to figure out a way to peel some gold off those streets, or chip away at those gates of solid pearl.
And the gates are wide open.
That’s just another way of saying the Father’s House is entirely safe – from anything on the inside and anything on the outside.
A city in the ancient world opened its gates only if the threat of some attack did not exist. But even then it had to depend on its military scouts and the honesty of its soldiers.
When John writes that the gates are always open is one of the clearest ways he can communicate to his generation that this city is without any threat to its survival.
For God Himself is on the throne.
But it’s not only that truth, but the fact that every inhabitant has been changed.
Notice verse 27. And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Sin and sinners has already been dealt with. The believers are confirmed in holiness in their glorified state. The sin nature has been eradicated from our glorified bodies.
John wrote earlier, We shall be like Him – that is, Jesus Christ (1 John 3:2).
So when John writes here in verse 27 that no unclean thing will be a part of the eternal state – that means there will be no unclean thing in us.
In our glorified state we will be perfect. We will finally live without any sinful thought, selfish motives and sinful impulses or actions. This is what Paul wrote of as the final and eternal state of glorification in Romans chapter 8 and verse 30.
Imagine it. Every aspect of our inner man will function in divine righteousness. Our minds will learn of God, submit to God and love God with singular, undivided affection. / Stephen J. Lawson, Heaven Help Us (Navpress, 1995), p. 146
Our memories will remain – we won’t forget who we are and who we were on earth; in fact, God intends us to remember the names of the 12 Apostles and the 12 sons of Jacob – they remember who they are too. Evidently Jacob is still Jacob, Peter is still Peter . . . which means Susan and Tom and Stephen and Marsha and Jeff and Gwen and Robert and Cindy and Leo and Nancy are still them.
But they’re not married anymore . . . nobody say “amen.” Jesus cleared that up when He preached that we will be like the angels in this regard – neither married nor given in marriage.
But they will still remember – and whenever they see each other in the eternal state along with believing children they’ve had – they will have greater and purer love for one another than ever before.
Just as Jesus Christ remembered and loved His disciples after He was resurrected and glorified, so we will love our brothers and sisters after we are glorified.
And we together will remember we attended worship services together. We will rejoice in what we’ve come through and where we now are.
Listen, we will be made holy. One author wrote that our perspectives will be perfected and our consciences will be free from all guilt and our appreciation for the atoning work of Christ will only grow throughout eternity and we will forever enjoy living and serving with unrestricted freedom for the glory and pleasure of God as God originally designed and created us to live. / Ibid, p. 147
And unlike the first creation, this new creation will not have the potential of another Lucifer rebelling. / Nathan M. Meyer, From Now to Eternity (BMH Books, 1976), p. 203
An Adam or Eve sinning; for we all will be made holy – confirmed forever without the potential of sinning ever again.
The only ones in the eternal state of Heaven on earth are those who’ve gained their passport through the blood of Christ. John writes for the last time about names, verse 27, of those redeemed who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Just as John began his revelation of heaven at the beginning of chapter 21 by telling us what wouldn’t be there – you remember the no mores – no more death, no more mourning, crying or pain.
Chapter 21 now ends the same way – no more sinful things entering the city; no more abomination workers; no more lying.
This is the city of God – and sinners will have been dealt with forever; except for all the sinners who’ve come to the cross of Christ and found in Him forgiveness; we are justified forever through Christ. (Romans 5:1)
And so, one author wrote, and with this I close – Heaven is known for what it doesn’t include – “No funeral homes, no hospitals or abortion clinics; no divorce courts, brothels or bankruptcy courts; no psychiatric wards or drug rehab centers; no pornography, child abuse, rape or missing children; no racial tension, prejudice or drive-by shootings; no misunderstandings, injustice, or depression; no hurt feelings, emptiness or worry; no physical pain and no accidents; no heart monitors, no doctors, no nurses and no vegetables (okay I added that one); no rust; no false teachers; no hurricanes, bad habits and bankruptcies. We will never need to confess sin ever again. We will not need to apologize again; we will not need to resist Satan again and we will never have to resist temptation.” / Lawson, p. 149
Never, ever again!
So in this final paragraph in chapter 21, John informs us that:
- The heavenly city will be without any iniquity;
- Our own lives will be without any impurity;
- And our worship will be without any interruption.
What a future . . . what a promise . . . what an opening ceremony for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.