Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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.’ 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. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates…
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… 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… 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.
REVELATION 21:9-12, 23, 27; 22:1
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ In Alan Bennett’s famous spoof sermon, the metaphor of journeying becomes a clichéd image of direction in life. But the spoof only works because the metaphor is so powerful – we might ‘take the road less travelled’, ‘start the longest journey with the first step’, or choose to ‘walk together’ with a friend.
The metaphor is found all over the Bible. Jesus called the first disciples to ‘Come, follow me’ (Mark 1:17). The whole middle section of Luke’s gospel is styled as a long, meandering journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Paul talks about ‘keeping in step’ with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), drawing on Old Testament and Jewish images.
The Book of Revelation also uses this metaphor of journeying, but in a more oblique way. John does his theological painting by numbers: the two witnesses, an image of God’s faithful people, prophesy for 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3), which (with months of 30 days) is the same as the 42 months during which the outer court is trampled and the beast makes war on the saints (Revelation 11:2; 13:5-7). John is recalculating Daniel’s time, times, and half a time of ‘tribulation’ (Daniel 7:25: 3.5 years = 42 months) and identifying it with the Exodus journey through the wilderness – which took 42 years stopping at 42 different places (Numbers 33).
In other words, we who follow the Lamb are on a new Exodus journey, from slavery to freedom in a new Promised Land. We are returning from exile to our true home in Jesus, and suffering tribulation until sin and death are finally defeated (1 Corinthians 15:55). Our destination is the New Jerusalem, which is not so much a place we will live but a people we will be – a community that is safe (high walls), welcoming (open gates), holy (no unclean thing will enter), radiant with the glory of God, and through which flows the Spirit, the river of life. And unlike on other journeys, as we head towards this goal, we actually become more and more like the place we are heading to – changed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So this week, as you go about life on your frontline, in which direction will you be travelling? Away from this destination, or one step closer to it? Becoming less, or more, like the people we will one day be?