The presence of God “seated on the throne” (19:4) marks the reign of God and of the Risen Jesus, bringing ultimate liberation from suffering, oppression, and death, and bringing divine Presence, relationship, for God’s people. The angel hosts raise a hymn of praise at the Lamb’s victory over evil and death. In reading these passages, it’s as if we find ourselves participants in a glorious, pull-out-all-the-stops liturgy! The heavenly assembly repeatedly shouts out “Hallelu/jah!”, the Hebrew for “praise”, joined with an abbreviated form of the divine Name, “Yahweh”. The Risen Jesus, as the bridge between the divine and the human, calls out, inviting the faithful on earth to join in this heavenly praise. In response, says John, “a great multitude”, i.e., the entire Church, raises its voice in praise, “like the roar of rushing waters...like loud peals of thunder...shouting”. If you can think in terms of Georg Friedrich Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” at the conclusion of Part II of his Messiah, multiplied infinitely in its majestic power, then you might have just an inkling of what John must have been feeling!
John’s vision in Chapter 21 reveals the coming to be of “a new heaven and a new earth”, “the new Jerusalem” or City of Peace. He lingers over his description of the situation of the holy ones. “The dwelling of God is with mortals”, John exclaims, and is characterized by the absence of all that makes life here below so painful: no more distress, chaos, separation, disappointment, death, or grieving.
Following the common Old Testament practice of personifying cities as women, John does the same in regard to what we’ve traditionally called “heaven”. John’s symbolic terms for it -- “the Holy City”, “the new Jerusalem” -- point to the deeper reality of the Church as it exists beyond time and space in God’s glorious presence, though even here on earth already, as Paul reminds us in Philippians, “our citizenship is in heaven”. (3:20) John sees the Church as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb”, “beautifully dressed for her husband” to receive her: in “fine linen, bright and clean”, God’s gift to her and symbolic of the good deeds of the “holy ones”. John notes that “there was no longer any sea”, symbol of the dwelling place of the Dragon/Satan. Chaos and evil are gone; they cannot exist wherever God is present, as God abides in each of us and in the Church generally. “The heavenly Jerusalem” is envisioned as having an external structure: a sign that the Church is everywhere, universal and excluding no one; and that it is a body “sent” [from the Greek apostello = to send] to reach out to others, and, therefore, apostolic. God’s Presence includes all who are willing to receive it. The Church’s foundation is Jesus’ teaching, coming to us through the Apostles, and handed on by each of us through the ages. The City’s symbolic geometric dimensions indicate its flawless and lasting unity. The precious gems and materials used to form the City -- softly radiant pearl, transparent gold, and incandescent jewels -- are images of the luminous and multifaceted richness and holiness which fills the Church. The ornamentation can be seen as the unique diversity of gifts and virtues of each member of the faithful, and the joy, refreshment and peace experienced by living in God’s presence. This profusion of stones is illumined by the transcendent glory of Godself. The spirit of each follower of Jesus, through his/her perfection, reflects and mirrors the perfection of God’s glory. Finally, “the river of the water of life” and “the tree of life” (22:1-2) symbolize the Holy Spirit’s presence poured out over the Church by the Father and the Risen Jesus [recall the blood and water from Jesus’ side at the Crucifixion]: symbols of divine Life and Spirit.
Jesus confirms that he himself has sent his “messenger” with this testimony, which is the whole book, for the entire Church. Jesus speaks of himself as “the Root and the Offspring of David” and as “the bright Morning Star”, resonating with Isaiah’s ancient prophecies, as well as with the magnificent Exsultet hymn of the Great Vigil of Easter. As the morning star promises the sun’s appearance, so Jesus proclaims the source of Light, the Father. In the words of the Creed, he is “Light from Light, true God from true God”.