What do we see in our minds’ eyes when we hear the description of the holy city, the new Jerusalem? And what associations do its various features have for us? What do those features tell us about the city – what are the implications of that description?
“Why these particular features – what do they mean for this vision?” seems to be the central question to ask about our text – Revelation 21:10-21, the vision of the new Jerusalem – for Sunday, August 14. Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple more questions we might want to think about or discuss:
One way to think about this particular text would be to try to visualize the specific building materials described, and spend time trying to imagine (a) what that might look like if we were in John’s position – if we were seeing that, what would we be seeing? and then (b) what do we think of when we think of those things? For instance – what are the things “gold” means? What are the things “clear” means?
The “meaning” seems to be on at least two levels. One is concrete and aesthetic: what would that look like, what would that feel like? Another is what we might call “spiritual” or “symbolic”: what does that mean to us? [For instance, when it comes to “gold” we might think: “most precious,” “royal,” “pure,” etc.]
If we simply made a list of all the things this description makes us see, feel, and think, what do we come up with?
[More personal, maybe] What do we imagine it would be like – what would it mean to us – to see the new Jerusalem? What would it mean to us to enter the new Jerusalem? [It seems to me we might need to spend a good deal of time on this question.]
The text gives the dimensions of the city as 12,000 stadia (v16), length, width, and height. Twelve thousand stadia is approximately 1,380 miles. The continental United States, north to south, is approximately 1,500 miles. Mt. Everest is about 5.5 miles high. I don’t know whether John’s audience – or we – can easily imagine something 12,000 stadia/1,380 miles high.
Does knowing the city is this size make a difference? What difference? Why?
What is the significance of the tribes of Israel for us, inscribed on the gates? What is their relationship to us, do we think? [We might want to think here about what we know about Israel, the tribes, their overall significance in the Bible, etc.]
What is the significance of the apostles, inscribed on the foundations of the wall? What is their relationship to us, do we think? [Again, we might want to think about what we know about the apostles, what they do or have done, their overall significance in the Bible, …]
[More theoretical, but also more personal] How important to us is the “architectural accuracy” of this description? Why is that?
[A lot more theoretical, but still also personal] What do we ourselves think John saw? [That is, what do we think a vision is a vision “of”?] What difference does it make to us what we think here? Why is that, do we think?
Overall, it just seems to me there is a lot to think about if we simply try to hold the image being described in this text in our minds, and think about the meanings those words are suggesting to us. That is – simply to try to share the vision, and then pay attention to the effect of that vision on us. If we can do that, we will have done a lot.
Image: “Christ and the Samaritan woman at the Well,” [crop] John Linnell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons