Session 6: Homecoming

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-8

Open with prayer led by one of the participants.

Lesson:

La nouvelle Jérusalem (Tapisserie de l’Apocalypse) / The New Jerusalem (Tapestry of the Apocalypse), 14th Century

We’re going to end our study with a scripture from the New Testament.  Just as the Bible ends with the New Testament, perhaps we should, too.

The Book of Revelation is a letter, written by a person named John to the Christians who worshiped in seven churches in Asia Minor (Turkey): Ephesus, Laodicea, Sardis, Pergamum, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and Thyatira.  Sending such a letter reflects the practice of other early Christian leaders, especially Paul, when they were unable to visit in person.  It was almost certainly intended to be read aloud in the congregations.  Although Christian tradition identifies the writer as John the Beloved Disciple, that cannot be verified from the text.  The writer says that his name is John and that he is a servant of God and a brother in Christ who shares the sufferings of these congregations.

The book was probably written in about 95 CE in the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, during which some of the worst persecution of Christians occurred.  The author’s intent was to prepare his readers for persecution, which, if it was not already underway, was imminent. He anticipates a period of unparalleled suffering that has begun or is about to begin, but wants to reassure his audience that God is in control, and that their enemy is also God’s enemy: the Roman Empire.  The book was written to encourage those who were about to face martyrdom, for whom the only deliverance would be in God’s realm, not in the human realm.  Several of the churches were commended for their fortitude, and one was explicitly warned of impending persecution.  All seven letters end with promises to those who remain faithful to the end.  By the book’s conclusion, God was no longer far away in heaven, but present and living with God’s people on a transformed Earth on which all suffering had ceased.

Revelation is the only book in the Bible explicitly identified as an apocalypse – the word “apocalypse” is a Greek word that means “to reveal.” Other books have sections or passages that are concerned with the end times, but only Revelation is a full-blown apocalypse.  It reveals the last things, the end of human history. The most important event in human history had already occurred in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so all history prior to that event is irrelevant to the writer.  He is concerned only with what is to come, the ultimate fate of humankind and of all Creation.

Segments of Revelation 21:1-8 appear in many places in the Bible.  It is often repeated elsewhere in Revelation, probably for emphasis.  Otherwise, it is reflected most frequently in the prophetic books written in the context of the Babylonian Exile – Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah – our old friends from earlier sessions in the Bible study we have done together.  Like those books, Revelation is primarily concerned with war and its consequences, issues that we care about, too, although our context and our war are very different from the wars those texts addressed.

Revelation 21:1-8 comes near the end of the book.  Just before this passage, the terrible battle has concluded and God has triumphed over evil.  Immediately after this passage, an angel takes the writer, John, on an otherworldly journey, to give him a good look at the New Jerusalem, the holy city of God, as it descends from heaven.

The principal issue of Revelation 21:1-8 is that the present troubles of the faithful will end with God’s intervention in human history and ultimate military victory.  God will comfort them, be present with them, quench their thirst, and make all things new.  God will renew the covenant with the people of God and will live among them.  God’s enemies – and their enemies – will be punished.  The writer wants us to know that patient endurance will be rewarded by God.  God did not abandon the churches of the Book of Revelation and God will not abandon us.

I’m going to read this passage in two different translations because there are some fairly significant differences in those translations that may make for interesting discussion.

Revelation 21:1-8

NRSV:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3And I heard a loud voice form the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”  Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  6Then he said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  7Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Phillips:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first Heaven and the first earth had disappeared and the sea was no more.  I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride dressed in beauty for her husband.  Then I heard a great voice from the throne crying, “See!  The home of God is with men, and he will live among them.  They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear form their eyes.  Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain.  For all those former things are past and gone.”  Then he who is seated upon the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”  And he added, “Write this down for my words are true and to be trusted.”  Then he said to me, “It is done!  I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give to the thirsty water without price from the fountain of life.  The victorious shall inherit these things, and I will be God to him and he will be son to me.  But as for the cowards, the faithless and the corrupt, the murderers, the traffickers in sex and sorcery, the worshipers of idols and all liars – their inheritance is in the lake which burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”

I read that passage from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and then from the J.B. Phillips translation.  Do any of you have a translation of the Bible with substantially different language?  If so, could you read that for us?

Discussion questions:

  1. What happens in this passage?  Let’s summarize the series of events.
  2. Are there any differences in the translations that caught your attention?(Take some time to discuss these)
  3. Let’s take a special look at the holy city of God, the New Jerusalem.  The scripture says that the city will “descend from heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband.”  This is an image that has captured the imagination of a number of artists.  Let’s look at some artistic representations of the New Jerusalem and see what you think of them.

[As each slide appears, take time to discuss it, as needed.  The artist and dates are on each slide.  Duncan Long and Mordecai Rosenstein are contemporary artists.]

Discussion questions after the slideshow is completed:

  1. What did you think of the art?  Did you have problems with any of these representations?  Were there any pictures that really stood out to you?
  2. Was there anything missing from these pictures?
  3. What do you need the New Jerusalem to look like?  If it is the holy city of God, a place where there will be no more suffering, and where all will live in God’s presence, what do you need it to be? [Make a list of the characteristics the veterans want/need in the New Jerusalem, preferably on an easel or chalkboard so that all can see them clearly.]
  4. If the New Jerusalem is our ultimate home, what does this story have to say about our home here on Earth?  How will you know – or how did you know – that you were really and truly back home?

Close with prayer, taking care to bring before God the concerns and issues raised by participants, and express thanksgiving for the time the group has spent together.

Other Sessions

Session 1: Introduction
Session 2: Suffering
Session 3: Grief
Session 4: Hope
Session 5: Restoration
Session 6: Homecoming