2018 Award

“And then 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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev 21:1-2).

This quote is taken from the last book of the bible, Revelation (from the Latin), which is sometimes also called the Apocalypse (from the Greek). Whichever way you look at it, the visionary and spectacular nature of it are intriguing. For centuries Scriptural scholars have been trying to unlock this apocalyptic piece of writing and it seems that every one of them offers something different. Some writers concentrate on the structure of the work and its divisions into sevens and sixes. But that does not seem to work properly. The book seems to defy structuring and like a vision, it is not held by rational delineations.

Through a series of visions given to a seer, a major battle between the forces of good an evil are described. This of course cannot be used as a direct prediction of any earthly struggle as it is imaging a cosmic struggle taking place between heaven and earth. There is a strong sense of liturgical imagery and patterning in the descriptions of the throne of God, the Lamb (Jesus) and all the angels and the righteous ones dressed in white, washed clean through the blood of the Lamb, singing in loud voices. The imagery is patterned on the Jerusalem Temple[1] which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70CE. The first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians and both destructive powers are given a scathing denunciation in Revelation. Did this writing influence the liturgy of the early Christians or was it in some ways a description of what they did in worship of God? It was probably written in the 90s in Asia Minor (Turkey)[2] and is powerful in its vision of God coming to earth to dwell, to be with the people, a period of happiness and justice that comes from the defeat of the brutal powers that have violated the earth and all its people. In the first century it was Rome that was consumed with violence but in today’s world we see others perpetrating all kinds of violence.

So what will it be like, this new heaven and new earth? How can we imagine a world that is free of despair and grief, violence and mayhem? What does it look like? For the people of the first century they used the image of the new Jerusalem, the city of God, adorned like a bride for her husband. Our world has been devastated by war for so long, and by scandals in institutions that we should have been able to trust. Economic powers feel emboldened to work only for the rich, the poor left to die or be refugees for the rest of their lives. When God lives among us death will be no more, every tear will be wiped from every eye. The image of God living among us resonates with Exodus 25:8 where the Israelites who escaped from Egypt and slavery are now directed to build a tabernacle, a place for God to pitch a tent among them. This is a very powerful image for the Jewish Christians and for today’s Christians, this presence of God comes through living in the light of Jesus’ teachings. How can we image that?

[1] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 798.

[2] Ibid., 799.

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Theme Commentaries and Reflections

Mandorla: A New Heaven and a New Earth.

Peter Sellick (Rev. 21:1)

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Revelation 21:1

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And I saw a New Heaven

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