And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.--Revelation 21:10,11
"Selfishness works!" Thus did John Major, the former prime-minister of England, reflect on the collapse of the socialistic systems of government in Europe. He was speaking of capitalism, a system of human affairs motivated by the incentive of personal gain at whatever cost to others. Today we see the disappointment of the masses so vainly trying to change their system. Just over a century ago in volume four of his Studies in the Scriptures Charles Taze Russell foretold the collapse of every human system, including capitalism. Today we feel the tremors as economies plummet in distant parts of earth.
In 1516 Sir Thomas More published his book describing a perfect society. In it he coined the word "utopia" from the Greek. Idealistic as it was, the vision was but a mirage. It nowhere existed nor could exist without some remarkable changes in human nature. So More used a pun: the word "eutopia" means "Good place"; "utopia" actually means "No place."
From earliest times as fallen men have struggled to find ways to live together in some profitable manner, there have emerged visions of a better state, a perfect society. Blueprints of the perfect city have been devised, a city where every human need is to be satisfied. Sadly, of course, the practicalities have proved impossible to achieve in man's present condition.
But some have had a relationship with their Creator and with it, a vision of the perfect state that will crown his great redemptive program. Dissatisfied with every human attempt, they have sought a system of communal life, a city of which God is the maker and builder. Their vision lay in the misty "by and by," yet its sight brought deep emotions and longings as they welcomed it from afar. God has provided for them such a city.
Glimpses of the Ideal State
At many times and in various manners through the prophets came God-inspired glimpses of this ideal state. But it was in Jesus, God's Lamb, that the full purpose was displayed; in him the prototype of perfect man appeared.
"Behold, when a king shall reign in righteousness, princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."--Isaiah 32:1,2
The absence of a definite article with "man" suggests that the reference is to humankind, all of whom are to be the subjects in this kingdom. This ideal depiction of a sharing, caring and protecting relationship is epitomized in Jesus. "Wrong will be ended when Jesus is King." The very basis of that perfect society will be love of a heavenly kind welling up from every heart. The knowing of the Lord in that day will be intimate, a close relationship, as this term often implies in Holy writ.
The blessed vision which closes the last sacred book echoes the prophetic glimpses of old. To it have looked the persecuted saints of this age. Today we stand on the threshold of that period of preparation of mankind for the described blessed state here on earth. In a promise to Israel we gain a glimpse of what this process is about: "I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD" (Hosea 2:19, 20). Christ will achieve this state of permanent bonding between each human heart and that of its Creator. How he does this will be the wonder of the ages.
The very title of this New Jerusalem from above recalls at once that ancient city which today stands at the center both of desire and of strife. Our first glimpse reaches back to the time of Abraham and Melchisedek, King of Salem (Genesis 14). The last vision of Revelation reaches forward to the hour when the enemies of the human soul have been routed and the world has been brought to the Lord through that greater Melchisedek, where they render the homage and true worship due his name. What was once told in vague shadow is now symbolized in the bright splendor of imagery. Such visions are a poetic device for conveying to the heart what is still beyond the full grasp of intellect.
That every detail has meaning we cannot doubt, though it is not to ingenuity that we lean to grasp its deepest message. John was elevated high on a mount to view this wondrous sight. On similar heights above the plane of natural sight have worthy ancient men been granted a vision of those things. We too must wing our flight to highest realm to share that precious glimpse of things prepared for those who love the Lord, for these were things not to be perceived by natural eye. Crude concepts of the human mind leave a trail throughout the age since Patmos. Thank God we live in a time when harvest truth rewards the heart of those who hunger still for truth's great source. Set in array before us are those hopes secured and guaranteed by God's dear Lamb. For Jew and for Gentile lies yet a feast of fat things, bread and wine, while for the saints promotion to that glory of the divine. Each blessed hope relates together, each a part to be of that one joyful family with whom the Father yet will dwell.
The Church Described
It is with awe we see the Church described in terms that pause the heart, as Sheba's queen when viewing the array of Solomon's realm. This kingdom born in heaven reveals to those on earth wonders of wisdom, beauties of holiness, glories of grace, in vision compressed in such few words: "Having the glory of God." It is of us he speaks! The Temple, claimed of God for his eternal "rest," is being filled with glory now. This is that blessed change for which the hearts of saints were prepared, those who viewed in Jesus' face those sacred gleams of light divine. He was and is their Light. Now, joint-heirs, they enter into that inheritance of Light with him to share. Those precious stones, too bright for human eyes, represent in strange material form beauties of holiness divine outshining all earth's jewels. Yet answering each creature's need these glories of the divine bring light of guidance and of hope to their souls. How speaks the Spirit to men's hearts in that blessed day? We wait to see! Nor do we fully grasp the linking of the Bride with that sweet spirit's voice. Enough to know that he who even now prepares these instruments of grace will polish well the shaft (Isaiah 49:2), the vessel mould in perfect keeping with his high design. How faithfulness in little things relates to usefulness in that glad day we then shall better understand!
It is through the prophet that Salvation's walls are named, and entrance to that safe abode within the gates of Praise. The mystic numbers of this edifice reveal a height and depth unknown in man's attempts that perfect state to find, so great salvation shall it be. The human heart was blessed of God with powers to reason and to probe eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). All human thought will turn to him who dwells therein. Yet mankind will not even then exhaust the treasure house of knowing him, who is the source of life abundant. The walls so high that seem to reach to heaven link family below with that above. In its foundation glow so many gems of light, attested first by those who set the seal that God is true in faithful spreading of the Word. Each point of entrance makes appeal to a different class of the race depicted by the names of Israel's tribes. The names of Jacob's sons portray a wide range of human character. The first child brought his father joy: "See here a son." But later Jacob realized his faults, "Unstable as water." And so the innocent promise of each birth is often marred by sin. Yet for each need a way is found by the one who stifles not a smoking flax. Within each heart there smolders still some lingering burning of desire for better things, which gently will he kindle into flame. Then will the way that leads to life be precious as the pearl that cost his all to purchase for God's beloved world.
The truth that shines from God's dear Lamb will penetrate each mind. Its warmth will soften hearts. Its light will guide the feet to walk his ways, his love beget desire to know and emulate that King whose reign is righteousness. Before that light all former lights will dim. Within the radiance of his face the "leeks and onions" of a sinful past will be forgotten. For transitory pleasure would one then return to cruel bondage, having tasted the glorious freedom of the sons of God?
True Worship Returns
With sin must ritual too depart. True worship now in spirit, not in lip, delights the heart of God and satisfies the deep desire. Gods that were worshipped in the past claimed his life, yet nothing of its worth did they repay. Now he whose name is Holy can commune directly with each contrite mind and heart. But those who shun the mercies of that day outside salvation's gates will languish on, until their darkness deepens into death.
What blessed scenes will fill this earth with joy, as friend with friend once parted now unite. Death's icy grasp no longer can retain the prisoners of hope. Nor will its shadow ever again bring chill of fear or break tender tie and heart. That wood of life of Eden once lost, again will heal and all its fullness yield. A glimpse of hope in shadowy symbol told by serpent lifted up, met substance in his Son upon the tree. Thus by the tree were Marah's bitter waters healed. Now to mankind life's blessed fullness flows, a wood of healing by life's riverside. Each leaf, each page of Scripture in our hands today, will then have meaning to the fallen race, and what it tells of his redeeming grace will shine from every face. No darkness in the life will any know, no need the vain attempt of platitude to cheer, for broken hearts will never more be found. With one consent all human effort turns to serving their Creator and their God. What blessed prospects now will open up to fill the countless ages with delight as God with his creation cohabits and communes. In every human life his favor shines, while every grace proclaims the Father's name, and seals each child of his.
Before his suffering church the Master left this vision of delight to lift and cheer. What priceless privilege it is to know the truth, to totally engross the mind in our Creator's plan. What joys of hope are ours not for ourselves, nor even all the redeemed race, but for that wondrous day when he, the author of the plan, will know the priceless joy of love returned, a family of love in heaven and earth.
"Selfishness works"? Perhaps this illusion of the human mind, when it has done its work, will leave behind such bitter disappointments, such regrets, that like the bitter herbs of Passover, the Lamb will be more sweet. As a stage of preparation for those joys, that feast to yet be offered to the fallen race, we may assent that selfishness does have a part to play in wisdom's wondrous and mysterious tasks.