Living Inside the City: It’s Not So Much About Heaven or Hell!
In Revelation 21 & 22 there is a fantastic description of a “new Heaven”, a “new Earth” and even a “new Jerusalem”. The New Jerusalem is implied to be the physical manifestation of the church, the Bride of Christ. (Rev. 21: 1-3) It is in this city that God makes his dwelling and from where the Tree of Life is implanted along the river flowing out from God’s Throne.
It sounds like a very cool place!
The passage goes on to state that not everyone, however, has access to this city but only those who have “washed their robes”.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
Revelations 22: 14
Inside The City
Inside the New Jerusalem is definitely the place the Bible says you want to be. Everything the most core part of our being groans for; to be in union with our Creator who is the source of our life, is to be found inside the City.
The dimensions of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:15-21) reveal the form of the city to be in the shape of an exact cube. Not surprisingly, the only other object described in the Bible with the same proportional dimensions is, in fact, the Holy of Holies. The implication being that the New Jerusalem is the final manifestation of the place where, as he did in the Jewish tabernacle and temple of old, God will dwell physically with his people.
In the Jewish temple system the average Jewish person would be in an area outside the Holy place where God’s presence dwelt (the non-Jew Gentiles had to be even further away). From inside the Holy of Holies the High Priest, who was the only one allowed to enter, would minister grace, mercy, and forgiveness from the presence of God to the people outside the outer courts.
Healing flowed from inside….to outside!
1 Peter 2:9 states in Christ, all that now receive him have been made a new royal priesthood. Faith in Jesus in effect, “washes our robes” and allows us entry into the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwells and grants us citizenship in The New Jerusalem
Yes, inside the City is the place to be!
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21: 3-4
Outside The City
But like any city, there are people who live inside, and some who live outside!
Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside (the city) are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
In Biblical times the Gentiles would often be referred to as “dogs”. The Gentiles were the “sinners”, the “immoral” and the “idolaters” not unlike the passage in Revelation describes. They were “outside” the presence of God. Jesus even uses this term, “dog” when testing the faith of a Gentile woman from Canaan who comes to him to heal her daughter.
A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Matthew 16: 21-28
Not everyone has “washed their robes”
Not everyone is part of the “new priesthood.”
Some people will live (and are living) outside the New Jerusalem!
The New Priesthood
The job of a priest was to act as an intermediary; a bridge for God to have a channel to his people that could not approach Him. What is the sense of being part of a new priesthood if there is nobody to minister the grace and healing of God to? In ancient Israel, the point of being a priest was to take the “Life” that was inside the presence of God and bring it to the outside to the people who need it.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The Tree of Life in the Age to Come continues to yield fruit for the healing of the nations! Yes, the curse has been removed (vs 3), judgement and accountability come (Rev. 21: 8), and everything that was not built to according to the Kingdom will be burnt up (1 Cor 3: 11-15). But then it’s time for the Gentiles, those living outside the City, to begin the healing.
Our job, as a new priesthood, is to minister Healing, Grace, and Life from the presence of God inside the City to those who can’t come in to the place where He dwells.
In the earlier reference in Matthew the “dog” was not animal to be kicked, but a woman with a family that needed healing.
Don’t think that the job of being a priest starts at some distant point in the future…
…the future starts NOW!! Our job as Christians, called to be priests, is to minister Life, Grace, and Healing to those who are separated from God today!
I don’t pretend to understand how the full picture manifests itself one day as indicated in Revelation. But I do know what it means to be a priest…and our job will not stop
An Example From “Lost”
The final episode of the hit TV series Lost captured in a small way the point I am trying to make. In the scene below the Lost characters have all died at some point and are assembling at a church in the afterlife. One of the key characters, Ben, sits outside. Ben spent most of the series as a manipulator, a liar, and ultimately, a murderer.
Very much the kind of person who the Bible describes as being “outside the City.”
Much of his evil came out of the pain he experienced in life. In the last few episodes however we saw him begin to change and start a journey toward redemption. Now in the afterlife he seeks forgiveness from John, a character he murdered in cold blood previously.
It’s one of the most beautiful scenes of forgiveness I have ever witnessed on the small screen (and all the more powerful if you’d been following the trajectory of the character). John then asks Ben what he’s going to do now. Ben says he needs to “stay outside and work on some things.” Right after that encounter another character, Hugo, who was instrumental in Ben’s turn back towards the light, pops his head out of the church door and asks Ben if he’s coming in.
He says he doesn’t think so.
Ben had come a long way, but he still had some healing that needed to take place. His “robes” had not been washed and he knew that he could not go in.
Today though you have a choice; Do you want to live inside the City…or outside?
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