By David Baumann
A Reading from Revelation 21:9-21
9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. 12It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; 13on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17He also measured its wall, one hundred and forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. 18The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. 19The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth onyx, the sixth cornelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.
The heavenly city is shown to Saint John, the receiver and transmitter of the revelation for which our book is named, who then describes for his readers its all-encompassing beauty and riches in detail. The city comes down out of heaven, and it is radiant with the glory of God, radiant with the amazing beauty of the most beautiful jewels. It is mathematically uniform and dynamically perfect. To drive home the exquisite flawlessness of the city, the angel measures the city in the sight of Saint John. The number twelve and its multiples occur many times in this passage. There are twelve gates; twelve angels; twelve tribes of the sons of Israel; twelve foundations; twelve names of the twelve apostles; twelve thousand stadia; 144 (twelve squared) cubits; and twelve pearls. Twelve is a mystical number that describes the whole body of the faithful, for God created the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, and Jesus chose twelve apostles. Surely there is no doubt whatever that we are being given a symbolic description of the True Church, the Bride and Wife of Christ, beloved by Jesus, whose divine and all-powerful love has redeemed and perfected the whole body of the faithful.
Marvelous as this description is, it takes on even more power and compelling beauty when we remember that this passage was written in a time of severe persecution. The power of the entire Roman Empire and much of the Jewish nation was arrayed against the ever-growing presence and influence of the Church. Can we imagine today a time when even slaves who were Christians had a greater grasp on life and hope and love than even the wealthiest and most powerful of Roman nobility? Even to our own day, the message remains the same, in all its perfection.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Evo (Nigeria) and the Rt. Rev. Innocent Ordu
Diocese of Exeter (England) and the Rt. Rev. Robert Atwell
St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne, Pa.