THE HOLY CITY, NEW JERUSALEM
A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois June 11, 1995
“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” (Revelation 21:3).
The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look to in what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the picture of the New Church as a radiant city descending from heaven. This picture represents the qualities that the church in our own lives should evolve toward.
The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.
Understanding the book of Revelation is not a matter of knowing about a single event, the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.
The final chapters of the book of Revelation present a wonderful description of the New Jerusalem. This heavenly city is a picture of the Lord’s church, both as it exists among all people who receive Him and also as it can be with each human being. It is the picture of the church that we want to look toward becoming ourselves. What are its qualities and how do they differ from what we sometimes find ourselves inclining to or actually thinking and doing?
The New Jerusalem is from no other source than the Lord. It is not a product of keen human intelligence. It is not the result of doing a certain number of good deeds. It is fundamentally a quality that a person’s heart has received from the Lord as he or she works to understand and live according to the Lord’s Word. Certainly we have our own role in receiving this life. John compares that city to a bride adorned for her husband. When you picture a woman preparing for her wedding, don’t you imagine her taking more care with each detail of her preparation than she would at any other time in her life? Don’t you picture her planning out each step in order? This preparation is not done from fear, nor from a self-absorbed focus, but rather comes from her desire to represent the importance of her relationship to her bridegroom. We prepare for our relationship with the Lord through taking the ideas and implications of His Word into our thoughts and deeds. How haphazard are we about this preparation? Is it like that of a bride adorning herself for her wedding? Is it that important to us?
The New Jerusalem is described as ” … having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11). One of the important qualities that the Lord wants for the New Church is that we understand His Word. He does not want us to be in blind obedience to rules that don’t make any sense to us at all. He does not want us to be befuddled about who He is, how He is a presence and powerful force within our daily lives, and how we can cooperate with Him. Certainly there will always be things that are hard for us to understand because of our finite perspective. We should not expect that doctrinal understanding will help us see specifically why some tragedy has occurred. We will still need to have a faith or trust in the Lord’s love and wisdom even when our eyes or thoughts don’t easily recognize that love or wisdom. But we are to grow in understanding about the Lord’s will and presence. We are to worship a visible God. This means that we come to see His presence more and more in our own lives, in the lives of others and in the events of this world. This will never occur without learning about Him and what He asks of us, reflecting on its specific meaning in our own lives, and then trying to live according to this understanding. Learning facts about the Lord is not enough. Neither is insight during moments of reflection distant from the daily ups and downs that so characterize this world. We need to learn; we need to see the personal meaning of this knowledge and we need to act from it. If we do this, our lives will be seen by the angels as having a light that “was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.”
The holy city has a wall that is described as great and high. For many this implies protection against dangerous enemies. But that idea is in conflict with the fact that the gates of the city are constantly open in all directions. The wall is not so much an image of protection against enemies as it is a definition of what is true and good. It is a picture of the clear boundaries that we place on what we will think, say and do. These boundaries come from our recognizing that the Lord has told us in His Word of the kind of life toward which He wants to lead us. Its strength comes from our calling from memory specific words and sentences that we have learned from the Word. It defines what we will and won’t do in work, friendships, marriage, and family. It stops us from saying hurtful things. It stops us from harboring thoughts of revenge. It helps define for us what it means to justly, faithfully, and honestly do the work that the Lord places before us each day.
The twelve gates of the city, three for each direction of the compass, represents all the ideas of what is true and good by which a person is introduced into the church (see AR 899). These ideas vary tremendously in the degree to which they reflect “more or less in the love or the affection of good, and for those who are more or less in wisdom or the affection of truth” (n. 901). One of the challenges that we tend to face as human beings would be imaged by a city with only one gate. We can get stuck on the idea that our view of an issue at some point is the only right one. We can close our mind off to considering other ideas and other values that might have an important contribution to a wise decision. We can do this by rejecting the validity of others’ opinions or by rigidly fixing our own mind on the one and only right way, even when the Lord is working to help us see the limitations of that view. The Lord’s church in our lives is to have an openness in all directions to come to understand what is good and true from the Lord. This openness is not an acceptance of every idea that comes down the road, but rather a willingness to consider its possible legitimacy and value.
The twelve foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with twelve different kinds of precious stones. We are told that these words signify that: ” … all things of that doctrine in their order from the sense of the letter of the Word, with those who immediately approach the Lord and live according to the commandments of the Decalogue by shunning evils as sins, for these and no others are in the doctrine of love to God and love toward the neighbor, which two are the fundamentals of religion” (n. 915).
With all the complexity and breadth of knowledge that has been revealed for the New Church it is absolutely essential that we keep in mind that the two fundamentals of religion can be stated quite simply. If we are to be grateful for any qualities that have a growing presence in our lives, they should be that of our love of the Lord and our love toward our neighbor.
The gates of city were twelve pearls, each one made from a single pearl. We are told that this signifies that: ” … the acknowledgment and knowledge of the Lord conjoins into one all the knowledges of truth and good, which are from the Word, and introduces into the church” (n. 916).
As John describes the New Jerusalem, he observes, “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). We might intuitively imagine that this holy city would have a magnificent house of worship. But the reason why it does not represents a problem that can come with such things as church buildings or other external expressions of worship and good. In this world it takes regular effort to keep external forms from becoming things in themselves. For example, many people are quite capable of saying the Lord’s prayer giving it no more thought than they do to the basics of walking. It can become a series of sounds made basically without any conscious reflection on their meaning. This is an external form without any internal. We are told concerning the New Church that: ” … in this church there will not be any external separated from the internal, because the Lord Himself in His Divine Human, from whom is the all of the church, is alone approached, worshiped, and adored” (n. 918).
At times we benefit significantly from compelling ourselves to go through external forms that do not at that moment have an appropriate internal of understanding and will. But while we do such things, we are called to approach the Lord, asking for that internal, praying for understanding and for the love that can properly motivate the external act we now are doing more from obedience.
In the New Jerusalem there was a river of the water of life. This represents the breadth and depth of truth from the Lord that is available to those who seek it from a desire to live a good life. Near the end of the final chapter we read: “And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). We are told that these words mean that: ” … he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light; and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without labor of his own” (n. 956).
And in that city there is also the tree of life. This is the same tree that is described in early Genesis as being the center of the Garden of Eden. The tree of life is unusual in that it bears not one kind of fruit but twelve. This represents all the good qualities and actions that will flow from our lives because of the church within us. And the leaves of the tree are described as being for the healing of the nations. These leaves represent the sensible and understandable ideas we have learned from the Lord that we can share with friends and acquaintances to help them lead better lives. Even when the source of these ideas is completely unknown, they can help others become wiser and more useful people.
The heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, is a picture of the Lord’s church both as it exists among all people who receive Him and also as it can be with each human being. It is the picture of the church that we want to look toward becoming ourselves. May we dedicate ourselves to receiving that church. May we daily approach the Lord with the prayer that it may descend ever more completely into in our hearts, minds and lives. Amen.
Lessons: Revelation 21:1-4, 9-26; Apocalypse Revealed 956
Apocalypse Revealed 956
“And let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that thirsteth come, and let him that willeth take the water of life freely” signifies that he who knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, should pray that it may come, and that he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light, and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without his own work. By “let him that heareth say, Come” is signified he who hears and thence knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and the New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, let him pray that it may come; by “him that thirsteth, let him say come” is signified he who desires the Lord’s kingdom, and, at the same time, truths, let him pray that the Lord may come with light; by “him that willeth let him take of the water of life freely” is signified that he who from love is willing to learn truths and appropriate them to himself will receive them from the Lord without any work of his own; by “willing” is signified to love, because that which a man wills from his heart he loves, and that which he loves, the same he wills from the heart; by “the water of life” is signified Divine truths through the Word from the Lord (n. 932); and by “freely” is signified without his own work. The things in this verse have the same signification as these in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven so also upon the earth” (n. 839). The Lord’s “kingdom” is the church which makes one with heaven; wherefore it is now said, “Let him that heareth, say, Come, and let him that thirsteth come.” That “to thirst” signifies to desire truths appears from the following passages: “I will pour water upon him that thirsteth, I will pour My spirit upon thy seed” (Isa. 44:3). “Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; buy wine and milk without silver” (Isa. 55:1). “Jesus cried, saying, If anyone thirst, let him come unto Me and drink; whosoever believeth in Me, out of his belly shall flow streams of living water” (John 7:37, 38). “My soul thirsteth for the living God” (Psalm 42:2). “O God, Thou art my God; my soul thirsteth for Thee; it is weary without water” (Psalm 63:1). “Happy are they who thirst after justice” (Matt.5:6). “Unto him that thirsteth I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6). By which is signified that to those who desire truths for any spiritual use, the Lord will give from Himself through the Word all which conduce to that use. That by “that” and “thirsting” is also signified to perish from lack of truth, is evident from these: “My people are exiled because they have no acknowledgment; the multitude is dried up with thirst” (Isa. 5:13). “The fool speaketh foolishness, and his heart doeth iniquity, and he maketh the drink of the thirsty to fail” (Isa.32:6). “The poor and needy seek water but there is none; their tongue faileth for thirst; I Jehovah will hear them” (Isa. 41:17). “Plead with your mother lest I strip her naked, and slay her with thirst” (Hosea 2:2, 3). Mother here is the church. “Behold, the days come in which I will send a famine in the land; not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Jehovah; in that day shall the beautiful virgins and the young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11, 13). But by “not thirsting” is signified not to have a lack of truth, in these passages: “Jesus said, Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall not thirst to eternity'” (John 4:13-15). “Jesus said, He that believeth on Me shall never thirst'” (John 6:35). “Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob; then shall they not thirst; He shall make waters to flow out of the Rock for them” (Isa. 48:20, 21).