I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
In the Ancient Near East, the presence of the gods was understood to be associated with temples. This was true, not only among the pagan religions of the Mediterranean world, but also among the people of God. The temple in Jerusalem was the “house of God,” the place where God made his presence known to Israel and throughout the world. Thus, In Isaiah’s vision of the last days, “the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2; see also Micah 4:2). (The photo shows the Temple Mount in Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives. Today, the prominent building on the mount is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Muslims.)
Yes, God is not physically present with us as he was in the person of Jesus and as he will be in the holy city of the future. But God is present with us now through the Holy Spirit, through the community of his people, through the truth of his Word, and in many other ways.
Thus, one of the greatest surprises of John’s vision of the New Jerusalem comes in 21:22: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” A holy city without a temple? Shocking! (It’s hard for Christians to grasp the significance of this for people in the ancient world. It would be rather like saying in the city of the future there will be no Bible. But even this analogy falls short.)
Of course, the reason for not having a temple in the New Jerusalem is more stunning than the absence of a temple. No temple will be needed because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” God is so present in the city of the future that he does not need a temple to represent him.
We’ll learn even more about the implications of God’s presence in the New Jerusalem as we read further in Revelation. For now, though, I want to consider the relevance of John’s vision for how we live today. Yes, God is not physically present with us as he was in the person of Jesus and as he will be in the holy city of the future. But God is present with us now through the Holy Spirit, through the community of his people, through the truth of his Word, and in many other ways. As great as it will be to experience God’s immediate presence in the future, we are blessed to do so in this age.
I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow. For now, I’d like us to consider how God is present with us today and what difference this makes.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How is God present with you in your life now? In what settings do you experience God’s presence?
What difference does God’s presence make in your life? In your work? In your relationships? In your activity in the world? In church?
Gracious God, how wonderful it will be to experience your presence in a way that exceeds our wildest imagination. How amazing to be with you without mediation or separation! This gives us such hope!
Yet, even in this life, we are blessed to know your presence, and for this we are grateful. Thank you for making yourself known to us through the Spirit, through the church, through your Word, through nature, and through so many other ways. Thank you for being with us at all times, even when we don’t perceive it.
Help us, Lord, to sense your presence, to become more attentive to you at all times. May we live each moment with you and for you, through Christ our Lord. Amen.