This passage presents the vision of shalom—wholeness, restoration—as we have not seen since the fall. All things will be made new! Author Eugene H. Peterson says that John’s vision shows us not only what is to come, but what is—though imperfectly—already ours.
Heaven reasserts the beginning. It clarifies the conditions of our basic humanity by putting us in touch with the abundant, creative sources of strength and health, water of life and tree of life. We never graduate from life and what maintains life. Heaven is not an advance over the basic, but a deepening of it. And what is basic, water and fruit, is also abundant. Our lives flow in a river. Our lives ripen into fruit. In such ways [the apostle’s] vision of heaven provides images of the conditions that support and promote vigorous growth in Christ and steady maturation in discipleship. We are already, in Christ, a “new creation” (2Co 5:17) and in our life of faith are presently “[being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit]” (2Co 3:18). We are therefore, in one sense, “in heaven”—part of and participant in the new creation, the holy city in which God is ruling and having his way.
But, says Peterson, we live surrounded by the world’s images; they are not conducive to our perception of glory, but are instead characterized by illusion and fraud. John’s images of heaven are, says Peterson, “a means for discovering the real in the tangle of illusion.”
By means of the vision, we come to know that heaven is not what we passively wait for, but that it is (among other things) the activity that furnishes images by which we achieve clarity regarding conditions propitious to our sound development as creatures in Christ.
Prominent among these conditions, as we have seen, are a holiness that is neither cramped or distorted, but spacious; an illumination that goes beyond the minimum of showing what is true by showing it extravagantly beautiful; a nourishment that is the healthy feeding of our lives, not the frivolous adornment of them. The dimensions of the city make our lives ample in holiness (for holiness is amplitude), the light of the city makes our lives beautiful (for the truth is many-splendored), the food of the city makes our lives robust (for life is abundant).
And, as always, the faithful will be stewards of their praise and worship of the Lamb of God.
The command requires repetition, again and again. [The apostle] repeated it: Worship God … The work of worship gathers everything in our common lives that has been dispersed by sin and brings it to attention before God … All of this does not take place merely in a single hour of worship. But, faithfully repeated, week after week, year after year, there is an accumulation to wholeness.
Think of someone who needs to hear about the reality of heaven and the hope of a better world. Share the Good News of Jesus Christ with that person this week.