Read Revelation 21:9-14 (ESV)
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the radiance like the most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb.
Why do you think it can be difficult to grasp the concept of God’s radiance?
Think about the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited. Maybe it’s a crystal clear lake that reflects the mountains or a white, sandy beach overlooking the vast ocean that sparkles like diamonds. Maybe it’s a field of colorful wildflowers or even a man-made beauty with stunning architecture like an ancient cathedral.
Now, imagine trying to describe that to a friend who was born blind. Do you think you’d be able to find the words to do it justice and help them picture it in their mind? Oftentimes, our words fall short, especially when we are trying to convey a message to someone who doesn't have the background experiences to help them grasp the concept.
In today’s passage, John described what he saw when an angel gave him a tour of the New Jerusalem. Some of his depictions make sense to us. We can picture a high wall with twelve gates, three on each side surrounding a huge city. The Old Testament tells us the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and if we study Numbers 2, we’ll see that the 12 tribes were arranged around the tabernacle in a similar way. We can visualize 12 foundational stones and we know the names of Jesus' 12 apostles. We can imagine looking down on this great, walled city from atop a high mountain.
But what I am struggling to imagine is what John described in verse 11. John said that this New Jerusalem is shining and sparkling with a radiance he compared to a rare, crystal clear gem. I understand that God’s glory radiates light. I can picture it refracting light the way a crystal does. Maybe the sparkling light casts rainbows of color all around? In the Old Testament, Ezekiel compared God’s glory to a rainbow and when He saw it, He immediately fell on his face (Ezekiel 1:28)
But while John’s description of the radiance of God is accurate, I am sure his words just don’t do it justice. It’s hard to compare God’s glory to anything when God’s glory is beyond comparison. It’s difficult to describe the indescribable. And it’s definitely difficult to grasp the concept of something that we have never experienced.
In Exodus 33:18-23, Moses asked to see God’s glory but God told him that no one can see His face and live. Instead, God sheltered him in the cleft of a rock and screened Moses’s face with His hand while He passed by. Even from indirect contact with His radiance, Moses’ face glowed when he came down from the mountain after talking with God (Exodus 29-30).
Habakkuk wrote: “His radiance is like sunlight; beams of light shine from his hand…” (Habakkuk 3:4). John agreed. Later in his vision, he wrote that the holy city doesn’t need the sun, the moon, or any other light. It is illuminated by the light of His glory (Revelation 21:23).
Friends, it’s hard for me to imagine a world with no sun or moon. Imagine, never having to flip on a light switch! But I can’t wait to experience walking in His light for all eternity. No longer will we need to be shielded from the light of His radiance. Talking to Him face to face will truly be indescribable.
Lord, I try to imagine Your radiant glory but I know that nothing in this world can compare. I am longing for the day when I will see Your glory fully, when I will have no need for any other light, when I will be able to see You face to face. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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