We tend to focus on the seven churches of the book of Revelation and rightfully so. The book is addressed to those cities (Rev. 1:4) and the messages to those churches provide a multi-paragraphed communication of our Lord Jesus to His church throughout the world and throughout the age.
Those seven churches could be visited at the time of John’s writing. Though spread across Asia Minor they all shared a single address. They were located in this fallen world and were part of the church militant, the church on mission.
The letters to these churches describe the challenges of earthly pilgrimage for the people of God and the responsibilities for leaders of the local church in helping those in their charge in those challenges. The letters speak to both individual Christians and to congregations. They highlight those essentials necessary to persevere in their walk and witness for Jesus Christ, such as faith, repentance, love, sound doctrine, and right living.
The tone of the book of Revelation reflected in the letters emphasizes the suffering that is part of the Christian life for those in the world but not of the world. Overcoming calls for abiding in Christ against adversity and opposition orchestrated by the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). Battle lines are drawn in the knowledge that “we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19; see 1 John 3:7-8; 4:1-6).
But Revelation reminds us that our suffering and struggle now in the city of man are temporary. Looming before us is the eighth city that stands in stark contrast to the seven. While the seven are situated in the fallen world, the eighth city belongs to the new creation.
That city is the New Jerusalem and it is our home. We are pilgrims in this world. Revelation uses lavish language to give us a taste of glory, an inkling of our eternal abode. “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.... The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.... The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:10, 18, 21).
Real estate ads often use euphemism and fanciful expression to represent a home or property. They take great liberty with the truth. “Waterfront” might be used to describe the massive puddles that form in the yard after a heavy rain. “Unique” could refer to it being one of kind and that’s not a good thing. “Cozy” might mean cramped and claustrophobic.
But the language of Revelation to describe our heavenly home acts just the opposite. It labors inadequately to capture the glory that awaits us, using expressions like streets of gold and gates of pearl. As wondrous as that language is it fails to do justice to what God has in store for those who love Him. The images give us a taste of home, a brochure of sorts for glory.
While we live in the city of man, Revelation stirs in us a longing for the city of God. It exerts the gravitation pull of hope while we live in this world. But that longing is for more than relief from sin and suffering, more than delight in heavenly habitation; it is a longing for God Himself.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:1–3)
Like a soldier away at war keeps a portrait of his beloved with him, Revelation gives us a portrait of Jesus to carry with us in our journey. He is our risen, reigning, returning Lord, who died for us and lives for us and will take us to Himself. Peter speaks of that longing of love: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8, ESV).
It is no wonder the book of Revelation closes as it does: “Come, Lord Jesus!” We yearn for Him and the day when all things will be made new.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:16–17).
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.