ACCORDING TO THE HISTORIAN, THE HEAVENLY Jerusalem
as an "idea" is a mixture of various tendencies present during the three
centuries of Jewish history that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.
The notion is recorded in both canonical and non-canonical books: Daniel,
Zechariah, Ezra, Enoch, Jubilees, the Twelve Patriarchs, Baruch. Among these,
the Christian Book of Revelation is only one source, slightly different from the
others. The center where all these tendencies crystallized was obviously the
earthly Jerusalem. Seeing the woes and the suffering of the chosen people,
seeing the rending of the earthly Jerusalem and her impotence, the Jews of that
difficult, utterly disappointing period interpreted the prophecies that
proclaimed a blessed and glorious Jerusalem by referring them to the end of
time. All that was promised as coming to pass on this earth was to be
accomplished in heaven, after the end of history. This transformation of ancient
prophecies was not made arbitrarily, because of a desire to justify the
prophets, but in answer to the very authentic spiritual needs of the men of that
time. It was essential that God's people not be given over to a despair due only
to the adverse historical circumstances.
At the same time, say the historians, we may see among these religious writers
what has been termed a "mystical regression." Instead of staying with the
strong, realistic, concrete thought of the prophets, they let themselves go in
semi -poetical ventures, in a passionate disorder which was unknown among the
great prophets and does not seem to have been built on very solid foundations.
With no more spiritual truth to announce, or practically so, the apocalyptic
writers launched into a rather vague, poetic delirium. Everything became
universal, symbols were rampant while truths became blurred, history was
considered as a machine, and faltering inspiration was replaced by mysterious
conspiracies and bookish calculations. It was in this complex atmosphere that
the transfer from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem occurred, the
heavenly Jerusalem understood as a type about which it was legitimate to carry
everything written by the prophets about the earthly Jerusalem to the absolute
We can have no objections to such a view except that it is all pure hypothesis,
even pure imagination. For basically, everything is dependent on this very
rudimentary psychological conception: Things are going badly on earth, and so
let us fall back on the heavenly things yet to come. A rather artless
psychology, and perhaps more important, a rather modern one. Who can say what
the psychology of the Hebrew people was in the second century B.C.? How can we
judge - we who are so poorly acquainted even with our present psychology, in
spite of Freud? Certainly, nothing can be built on the few books mentioned
above. What particularly strikes me in this quest for the evolution of the idea
of a heavenly Jerusalem, is that the specific character of this evolution is
left unmentioned. It should be noted that this tradition is independent of any
foreign tradition (note, for example, the failure of the hypothesis connecting
the Jewish apocalyptic movement with Mazdaism). Furthermore, there is simply no
compelling evidence that the Jewish apocalyptic writers centered their vision of
the world to come in the earthly Jerusalem. We may in fact witness here the
birth of a new land surging from the sea, a radical step
forward in revelation
and the last step, for
the revelation regarding
Christ and his work had only to be completed before the coming of the Messiah.
What the historian cannot confirm is that the notion of a heavenly Jerusalem
corresponds to an objective reality. No textual or archeological data can give
him any constraining
proof of this
only the Spirit who
this notion in the prophets' minds. The humility of history: she is hardly the
great lady, terrible in her simplicity, whom Renan set up as the great dispenser
Yet, even if the interpretation of the historian is correct, in what respect can
this modify our view of the new Jerusalem? What would keep us from seeing it as
the revelation of objective truth? Obviously not the fact that this notion
appears at a given moment in history, since the originality of Judeo- Christian
thought is precisely that its revelation is always in terms of history. God
submits himself to a certain extent to its laws.
Another evolution must also be pointed out, and it is somewhat surprising that,
generally speaking, the historians have not emphasized it: the evolution from
Ezekiel's vision to John's. These two apocalyptic visions were on the same
subject, but were seen and understood differently. Ezekiel announces that he
sees a city (ch. 40), but it is never again mentioned in the following lengthy
description of coming events. He speaks interminably of the Temple, for seven
chapters, with all the minute measurements that any reader of Ezekiel knows so
well. He does at last, in the final lines of Chapter 48, add a few more words
concerning the city, but his emphasis is clearly on the sanctuary; everything is
understood in terms of the sanctuary - God's dwelling-place. This is certainly
one of the oldest apocalyptic texts, and is certainly to be placed well before
the movement of the second century B.C. And this evolution did not proceed from
the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly, but from the Temple of Solomon to the
Temple of God. In this context, Jerusalem is, as we have seen, only accessory to
the Temple. This evolution, then, is specifically spiritual, and not social, as
some would have us believe. Solomon's Temple, even well before Ezekiel, was only
an image of God's dwelling-place, as very old texts show. Therefore, in
Ezekiel's description there is nothing new, only the prophetic statement of what
Mosaic revelation already contained with regard to the ark. But in John's vision
everything is centered in the city. He says nothing of the Temple. On the
contrary it is strongly emphasized that there IS no Temple: "For the temple is
the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb."
I am well aware of all that can be said to explain this change. Some will cite
the fact that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed before the Revelation of
John was written, an event interpreted by the first generations of Christians as
the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy concerning the Temple. Others will argue the
thought that men must no longer worship in a temple, but everywhere, in spirit
and in truth, which is precisely the spirit of Revelation. Still others will
refer to the Christian conception of the desacralization of the temple by Christ
in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. And finally, some will point to the
extraordinary relocation of God's glory, no longer dwelling in the Temple, but
in the body of the crucified one. All these explanations are, however,
For there is no contradiction between these two visions. They are coherent. What
is important is the statement of God's total and exclusive presence
first his presence in
the Temple, and then, when the messianic conception had developed, in the entire
city. Jerusalem, accessory to the Temple in Ezekiel's vision and according to
his milieu, became altogether a temple, for God is all in all. This is only an
expansion of eschatological thought, and it is very significant that the
heavenly Jerusalem is in fact rooted and founded in the eschatological vision of
the Temple, and not in the earthly Jerusalem. The evolution de- scribed by
historians is perhaps psychologically true, but not spiritually. John on Patmos
also saw a Temple, but so great that it had become the new city. The very
meaning of Jerusalem, as we have seer (is to be the counterweight of Babylon.
And she can fulfill this role only if she is herself the Temple of God. The
Temple was a shadow of things to come, an earnest of God's presence in the city;
and when the city becomes God's, when the things to come have arrived, the
earnest and the shadow vanish into presence and fulfillment. And what Ezekiel
says concerning the city where the Temple is found should be considered the
seed, as we shall see, of what John saw -'the un- foreseeable progress of God's
solemn march, transcending even in its descriptions the imagination of the
inspired writers. What a striking distance between the disappointing apocalypse
of Enoch and the fantastic concatenation through the centuries of others writing
in the same Spirit!
* * *
But when the
time comes to speak of this new city, we are struck with fear. For we must not
try to penetrate God's secrets. We must not try to uncover what is hidden from
us. When we think of the texts given us concerning these things, we are tempted
to go beyond what they say and to try to lay hands on the mystery God has kept
for himself. We may also be tempted to give ourselves over to intellectual
speculations, to a kind of gnosis, which could be very attractive as a
diversion, but would add nothing to our faith and life in Christ. The texts
which speak of Yahweh-shammah are extremely moderate compared to the apocalyptic
luxuriance of the other Jewish books. They give us neither an explanation nor a
strictly real description of what is to come to pass. The rigor of John's
thought on Babylon
is in sharp contrast to the vagueness of his description of Jerusalem, which is
clearly unrealizable in concrete form. These texts avoid revealing to us God's
secrets, and are very discreet concerning last events and their conclusion. What
we must keep in mind first of all is that the city is presented to us as a
vision, something situated beyond the reach of our intelligence. It is not
something amenable to the laws of our reason. It is presented by God, seen from
the outside, perceived for only the wink of an eye. The work of our minds can
neither classify it nor dis- sect it. And we must not go much beyond this
vision. It must not be made into an element of an intellectual system. All we
can do is to stay as close as possible to the figure given and from there to say
what it is and what it represented for a man of Ezekiel's time or John's.
On the other hand, we must not lose sight of the fact that the language of the
prophets used material things to describe spiritual truths, and that the
description furnished us obviously does not correspond to a description which
would be materially exact. When we are told that the wall of the city is made of
fine gold, this is obviously not meant to be taken literally. We must see here
only images, at best symbols, which means that this city whose existence is real
possesses its reality in a complex situation, neither material nor abstractly
spiritual (as we usually understand something spiritual). It is the spot where
truth covers over and takes in reality, where all ambiguity ceases, and which is
therefore incomprehensible to us. The same problem arises for the city as for
our resurrected bodies, a question which we absolutely must not open, for that
is God's secret.
Finally, we must accept one last limitation, imposed on us by the goal of the
Book of Revelation itself. It is food for the present faith of the church and of
Christians, and was written as a response to certain problems of life (and not
to foster speculation). In the midst of the difficulties and anguish of the
present time, the hope furnished by God's revelation is first that our life, at
this moment, is hidden with Christ in God. Then, that history has a meaning and
a purpose, that it is going toward the end shown to us in the revelation of the
heavenly Jerusalem. This city, then, is nothing less than the object of our
hope. She strengthens us by the certainty that the events of history cannot
change its destination, and that everything is to be oriented in terms of that
unique goal. But we must not make this Jerusalem into something other than her
revealed nature. She must not be- come the object of some mystical system or
intellectual knowledge; neither must she become a means for escaping the present
life that Jesus Christ asks us to live.
Escape from our spiritual condition? The joyful hope must not make us forget the
fight of faith which we are called "to join. On the contrary, it is there to
help us in our combat. Its only worth is in this combat.
Escape from our material condition? The glorious vision of the city must not
make us forget the material city in which we are living. It must not detract us
from the material work we have to do. On the contrary, it is there to make that
work worth- while. It has no bearing except on that work assigned to us by God,
to us who are men fully alive and responsible on man's
I. THE NEW
block, with twelve gates, Jerusalem is coming, able to accommodate all those
whom God has chosen! She is corning down from heaven, says Revelation. She is
corning through destruction, announces Zechariah. For before she can come, the
definitive break must take place between earthly Jerusalem and the city of God.
The greatest sign of the "day of Yahweh" is the collapse of Jerusalem. And it is
no rejuvenation, no purification, no renewal, no modification of form, but a
complete break, the journey into death, complete destruction:
"I will gather together all nations that they may attack Jerusalem. The city
will be taken, the houses pillaged, the women ravished
. . . .
" Daniel also announced
that the abomination of desolation
would be present in the holy city and Jesus quoted his words. God destroys and
constructs. What the prophets are announcing is a complete break between
Jerusalem and Yahweh- shammah. The new city is solely the work of God. He alone
builds it (Ps. 51 :20), and he is both its walls and its Temple. This
declaration by the prophets is .all the more important since it contradicts the
historians' opinion that the Jews saw a continuity between the two Jerusalems,
with every glorious aspect attached to the heavenly city. The exact opposite is
true: only through the destruction of the earthly city can the other be
glimpsed. For the city as a representation of human security, guarantees, and
innate force must be destroyed. All these human means must give way to the
security granted of God. This city must be an act of grace (Ps. 51 :20). God
himself will be the city's strength (and not just her holiness). Her walls will
be salvation, and her gates the glory of God (Isa. 60: 18). God says: "I will be
to her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory within her" (Zech.
2:5). This implies that God's material work and his presence are absolutely
inseparable. A new incarnation has taken place, and such is the literal meaning
of the name given to the new city; Ezekiel tells us it will be called "Yahweh-
shammah," that is, "the Lord is there" (Ezek. 48:35). And this name, which has
replaced the old one of "Yerusalem," is the exact counterpart of the prophecy
concerning Emmanuel. In Christ, God is with us. In the new city, his presence
will be constant. Our communion with him will be without interruption. But one
other aspect of these prophecies must be emphasized: the simple fact that God
will adopt man's work when the new city is built does not ipso facto
imply that God will be present in that work. In other words, God prepares a new
world for man in the resurrection, and to ensure absolute communion, God is not
included in the new creation. He remains transcendent. God comes to the city,
but is not by nature a part of the city. God
this is what the
builds, he comes. He comes from the east (Ezek. 43:2; Zech. 14:4). What a
miracle in the harmony of the Holy Spirit - no accident, no design of man. He
comes from the east, as did Cain, in order like Cain to build and inhabit a
city. We have already studied the meaning of the east in Jewish thought. God's
coming corresponds exactly to Cain's. But it also completes Cain's journey. For
if Cain was never able to settle in a city, if he had ever to continue his
journey and throughout history come from the east, God's coming with the same
goal as Cain's puts an end to man's journeyings. This is where man's wandering
comes to a halt, and God is the one responsible be- cause he gives him the new
city. Zechariah adds the detail that before entering the city, the Lord's "feet
shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east"
(Zech. 14:4). How could one help but see in these words a prophecy of the night
Jesus was arrested? By this very road God enters the city. When Jesus himself
decided to go to his death, when he hum- bled himself to the most ignominious
condemnation, when he chose to be abandoned of God, then the new Jerusalem was
founded. This is when God came to her from the east, before taking possession of
her. She is therefore a city founded in humility, constructed in the acceptance
of God's decisions, in the acceptance of condemnation and sacrifice. This is the
of Yahweh-shammah. This opens a new perspective for us, one which we shall often
meet again: just as the new city is the accomplishment of what man was never able to realize, she is also the exact opposite of the earthly city, both in those elements of which she is formed and in her meaning. This is why Revelation establishes a parallel between Jerusalem and Babylon. Both are women, but one is a prostitute, the other a wife. Both are rich and adorned with precious stones, but one's riches are from the sale of men's souls, the other's are due to God's grace. One city is a place of "many waters," the other has only one river, the river of life. And the new city is the exact counterpart of what man had wanted to do
not in the sense of obverse and reverse, or type and antitype, but rather in the sense of the back
of a woven rug and its right side. While the side man works on
is a formless mess, the side God works on is the right side, the side of the new Jerusalem. God's presence is the essential point in whatever may be said about the city. He is taking possession of the world from which man wanted him excluded. He is him- self the city, since he is her walls, her gates, her central square and the Temple. He is everything and everywhere. But at the same time, he is infinitely other than the city. This unity is much more complete than at the time of creation. Properly speaking, there is no longer a world different from God, but a world where communion with God is perfect and limitless for all who live there. For this miracle is inseparable from the inhabitants of the city.
* * *
Yahweh-shammah is always represented as being on a high mountain: "On the holy
mount stands the city he founded" (Ps. 87:1). The Spirit of the Lord "set me
down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure to the south like a
city" (Ezek. 40:2). "And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high
mountain. . . " (Rev. 21: 10-11). The connection is certain between the two
places where the worship of the Lord was carried out, between the Jerusalem Temple and the mountains. This is certainly what the prophets had in mind. While worship on the high places was condemned to the extent that it was idolatrous, there can be no doubt that in God's revelation to his people, mountains played a great part. The worship in Jerusalem and the worship on the
high places was often compared. This is confirmed by Jesus Christ in his conversation with the Samaritan woman: "The hour is coming when neither at Jerusalem nor on
the mountains will you worship the Father. . . . " It is true that in the new creation the mountain has no more part in the worship service than Jerusalem has any reality of its own, but they are both present, nonetheless.
I believe that these facts have another meaning. So far we have seen that the new creation consists essentially of a city. However, many texts teach us that the whole of creation will be reconciled with God, that the mountains will leap like lambs for joy, that the wolf will eat grass with the lamb. Thus, the new creation reaches not only the cities, but the world in all its for111s. It is clearly declared to be a "new heaven and a new earth." This is a much wider perspective than the point we have been
But the city does occupy a particular place in this recreation: it is situated
on the holy mountain. A curious thing, this vision of a new world "where
righteousness will dwell" and where there will also be a holy place, a place set
apart. However, we can catch the underlying meaning: doubtlessly all of nature will be transformed, but after the resurrection man will live exclusively in the city. He will not be everywhere in nature. Only there. And this corresponds exactly to the situation in Eden: Eden was a garden in the midst of creation, not all of creation itself. Eden was a limited place made for man and the rest of creation
at the beginning, independent. After creating the heavens and the earth, "the Lord God planted a garden in Eden. . . and there he put the man whom he had formed" (Gen. 2:8). In the end of time, the new city will correspond to this garden. And this is a confirmation of what we were saying above about a line of progress going from Eden to Yahweh- shammah. It is a limited place made for man, and nature goes back to its relatively autonomous state. Another point is that this city is holy, is on the holy mountain, the city of the Lord. This means that she is the unique place in all the new creation where God's glory dwells: "He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. . . . And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light. . . " (Rev. 21: 10-11, 23). "I will be the glory within her, says Yahweh" (Zech. 2:5). Saying that God is her glory is another way of saying that God is. present there and that she exists only to the extent that his presence is there. But there is also the fact that she has in her- self God's glory. God's glory is the manifestation of his presence, or more exactly, the means by which God is designated in his reality. "God glorifies himself when he shows himself as he is,"
says Karl Barth. Thus it is in this city, and there only, that God will show himself as he is in the era of the new creation. This means that he will be with all and for all, truly the center and the fullness of creation, the center then revealed to everyone everywhere. That is why the city must be on the highest mountain, a place for man, a place of the divine glory, seen of all creation, raised to the highest point of all creation
not to glorify it herself, but in order that the whole of creation might be turned toward the God who is no longer a hidden God and who appears in the gleaming walls of fine gold and in the eternal light cast from the gates of pearl. This is the explanation of the ancient prophecy. We hardly need add that the authors of these writings did not consciously put all this into their signs, for
those signs could take on their full meaning and worth only
after Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
* * *
This city is not only the center of the new creation, but also the center of the nations. And God gives her a very singular part to play with respect to them. First she must be "a cup of reeling" for the nations (Zech. 12:2). Reeling, trembling, uncertainty. When the nations of the earth come before Jerusalem, they are struck with blindness. They know neither what to do nor say. By the presence of Jerusalem, they are deprived, as it were, of their own goals and their own wills
but by even more than her presence. The word "cup" is significant. It is well known that in Hebrew thought to give a cup is to deter- mine someone's destiny. To give someone a cup of blessing is not so much to bless that person as to set him out, by a magical act, on the path of blessings. The same is true in the opposite sense. Here we see that Jerusalem is given to the nations as a "cup of reeling." That is, the new city is going to overwhelm the nations, fill them with an intoxication which will take from them their real meaning. It is the first act of the progression through the judgement of the nations to the glorious procession climbing toward the new city. For this is the new bond established between men, their kings, and their nations and the holy city which they receive from on high. This city is first of all no longer "against" someone. It is no longer the city of war, no longer the city of slavery, no longer the world of confusion. The gates of Yahweh-shammah are always to be open. "Open the gates!" cries the prophet (Isa. 26:2). And all the other texts echo this order: "Your gates shall be open continuously, day and
night they shall not be shut" (Isa. 60: 11). "Its gates shall never be shut, for there shall be no night there" (Rev. 21:25). She is therefore a limited place for man, but always open. Jerusalem is an open city.
In our time, the notion of an open city has meant some- thing rather different. When Paris was declared an open city, we knew that the war was over
but in shameful defeat. Rome was also an open city - but bombed and massacred! And Jerusalem was declared an open city in 1948
but man's military
decision only initiated a new period of provocation and blood- shed. The open city of our day is nothing more than a defeated city asking for mercy, and a sign of what is threatening her.
The openness of Jerusalem, on the other hand, is the open- ness of triumph and fulfillment. It is to permit those men called of God to enter in, and even more important, to permit all nations to enter in. "Her gates will not be closed, so that the treasures of the nations may be brought in, and their kings with all their court," says Isaiah. Let others see here Isaiah's political thought, his economic liberalism and politics of alliance. They have that right. But this is no business of ours, and probably not the meaning of the prophecies, either. For Revelation answers: "By its light shall the nations walk, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it They shall bring
into it the glory and the honor of the nations" (Rev. 21 :24, 26).
This is another tradition constant in Israel. We have already
studied that magnificent psalm which proclaimed this view of the end of history
the glorious end when the nations of the earth will march triumphantly in an immense column toward the realization of all their goals, an innumerable cohort, with the wise men going to the Bethlehem cradle as their prophetic escort. This is the glorious end of all their efforts
man's glory acquired as tribute for the city! They are coming for the most prodigious census ever taken, to the place which has become their home and their birthplace. And, says the Lord, "Among those who know me I mention Egypt and Babylon; behold Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia, in Zion are they born. And of Zion it shall be said: there is where they were all born. . . " (ps. 87). Jeremiah adds his confirmation: "All the nations shall gather to Jerusalem, in the name of the Lord" (Jer. 3: 17). And the nations become the peoples of God. Revelation gives us a beautiful plural (21:3). There is no one people of God chosen from among the nations. All are now united in God, but still maintaining their particularities, their individual riches.
Why bring back what we have already said about the new city as a place of gathering together, not of dispersion? Babel is gone, gone because Yahweh-shammah plays that role which Babylon was trying to play. She has become the ornament of the nations (Isa. 60: 15), the very title given to Babylon (Isa. 13: 19). But in all this no glory accrues to man. But even here we see realized man's goal of putting into the city all his greatness, all his strength, and all his riches.
How essential it is not to understand these prophecies in a pejorative and restrictive sense! How essential that we say nothing
like the following: "These Jews and Christians, what a pretentious lot. The nations must become subject to their way of seeing things. They must accept the yoke of their city and the domination of their power. All the riches of every humanistic effort must converge in their personal history. (Humanism, because even intellectual thought and the arts are included: 'Singers and dancers alike say: all my springs are in you' Ps. 87:7.) The selfishness of a narrow faith, the sectarianism of people who think truth belongs to them!"
But this is the exact opposite of the true meaning of the texts. The act of God is an answer to prayer, not a crushing victory. It is an act of grace and not of constraint. What man has been seeking since the dawn of civilization he finally finds when God offers him the new city - the sum of all his efforts. The nations do not bring their riches just in order to make the city of the Christians rich: they do it for themselves. The kings do not bring their glory to increase hers. For what historical glory could ever increase that streaming from the presence of the Lord? Rather, they bring their glory in order to see it transfigured. What man wanted from his city he at last has
unique vision, both promise and reality, at the end of time. Man's riches and fugitive glory (who would deny it is so?) become eternal when they are brought and deposited in this city with open gates, in this open city where security finally reigns. And we can see how God completes for all civilizations. what he has done for the city. We can see how the city is truly the culmination of history. Our task, may we say again, is not our- selves to pass judgement on these riches; we are not to decide who may enter the city. For nations and kings are coming, and angels are to grace her gates. And we are told nothing of what happens then. We do know that they are not the flaming cherubim which guarded the gates of Eden, but the benevolent angels whom God has made messengers of his grace. Nothing is told us of the judgements they may decide for the glorious accumulation of men and things at their feet, of the great choices they must make
among the innumerable works of man. But we have a fine description of the men in the city. They have no more human glory or human beauty to conquer. They have truly had their fill.
* * *
We find the same antithesis between the inhabitants of Yahweh-shammah and man's condition as between the new city itself and earthly cities. The inhabitants of Yahweh-shammah are also different from the human crowd, even though they are in- numerable. We cannot here treat the general problems of eschatology or the judgement. We are concerned with the inhabitants of the city. They are characterized, as we have already said, by their communion with God. By this communion they become, and remain, righteous. Man's counter-creation is re-created so that it is now (something we cannot understand) both fully free as an individual creation, and in full communion with God and full unity with men. The city of division has become the city of knowledge and of unity in all its forms. This is also what is meant by "She is the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. . . " (Rev. 21:9). The first message of this verse is this: All that concerns her and all that concerns the inhabitants of the city is oriented
with respect to Jesus Christ. But it also leads us necessarily
the figure of the church as the body of Christ, or as his bride; to the bond between Jesus and his church, the same bond that unites a man and his wife. The bride finally appears to the eyes of all as the bride she really is.
Thus the city follows and takes the place of the church.
She is certainly not the church, neither in the present nor in the future. Her nature is not that of the humble servant of historical times. Here also we see a transposition: it is not proper. to say that the triumphant church follows the suffering church. Neither is it proper to say that in the new creation there will be no church. In fact, the city created of God becomes the substitute for the church as we know it, by an extraordinary synthesis of man's work adopted by God and the work of the Spirit brought to perfection. What we know in a mediocre way will then be fully lived out in the city. Can we take a step further? We must at least mention that the inhabitants of that city will all glory in the extraordinary light from God's eyes.
The whole vision bursts with light - the stones of the city's foundation, with their brilliant facets, mentioned by Isaiah;
the whiteness of the garments, the crystal waters, the glistening gold. Everything casts forth a light coming from God. But this
gold is no longer the heavy, proud gold of Babylon
it is light
and transparent like crystal. It is lit up by the glory of God, and the Lamb is its flame. The inhabitants of the city dwell in the light that sheds light on all the nations (Rev. 21:24). "I am the light of the world," said Jesus, and this is accomplished now, as the present tense used by the Son of Man indicates. The world's opposition cannot keep it from being what it is. The city, in its kingdom of darkness, can refuse the light, but in the end this light pierces through to her, and nothing escapes this reconciliation. Thus the inhabitants are truly sons of light, and this is perhaps what characterizes them the best. The darkness of the city, the darkness of man's 'grief in the city, the darkness of his work, all has been changed by the coming of this unique light. Nothing unclean, nothing dead is any more there; the dead faces of the men of the city shine suddenly with the beauty of God.
But who is worthy, who is worthy of such a thing? No one,
and no one has this light of himself. God's secret is entirely at the disposal of those who come in, of those who are in the light as God gives grace for grace. This is all we can say, for the king of light is also the Son of Man.
It is no longer in style today to search for the symbolic, figurative meaning of
a biblical text. The reason is easy to see: this leaves the door open to so much
fantasy that it is perfectly intelligent to reject this method. However, there
is one aspect of symbolism which absolutely must not be eliminated, and that is
the symbolism consciously used by the biblical authors to express their thought.
They all lived in a time when it was common to use symbols, and they made use of them also, not so much to hide what they were saying (which seems to us to be the case because we have lost the meaning of their symbols), as to explain it in a fashion to which their readers were accustomed. We must find the meaning they gave to their symbols, lest we misunderstand the message of these texts. If we refused we would be much like the reader of an algebra textbook who would refuse to see the reality hidden under the algebraic signs,
using the pretext that such language is not clear. In this case, we would still have the general idea, the general direction the texts are taking, but all the details purposely inserted by the author (meant by him to prove his point) would escape us. We are not bound to believe, for example, that the number seven is in itself the perfect number, but to understand, whenever we run into it in the Scriptures, that the author put it there to express the idea of perfection. Although this symbolism is constant throughout the Bible, it is more developed in the apocalyptic texts. What does this mode of expression teach us concerning the new city?
In the series of symbols dealing with the city, some are perfectly clear and simple. Jerusalem is surrounded with a wall, but this wall no longer has the meaning of a set of defenses, of a break between inside and outside. It is rather the sign of order, of harmony, of balance, of precision. That the holy city has for its foundations the twelve apostles obviously means that it is founded on the Word of God. It is not the apostles as persons who count, but the fact that they were bearers of the Word. This city is the opposite of the confusion of tongues, the opposite of Babel. In just this one fact we have the solution to the whole tragedy of our history. The fact that the gates of the city bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel is also very simple to interpret. The author is saying that one may enter the city only by going through Israel. Israel and Israel's angels keep her gates (and not Saint Peter). Israel is "restored to his unity and true destiny, that of being a door opened to the glory of the divine Kingdom." Everyone must, as it were, become a member of Israel in order to belong to God's people, as Paul himself taught. This implies that it is the bond between man and the city that is established by election, instead of the bond of power, and, most of all, instead of that unconscious belonging to the world of demons which characterizes the inhabitants of the city.
But other symbols are less clear.
* * *
Let us consider first the number symbols. There are only two: "four" and "twelve." And the number four is not expressly stated; Revelation says only that Jerusalem is built as a square, even as a cube, since her height is equal to her length and breadth. Now "four" is traditionally the number of the universe, which was understood. in antiquity according to a rhythm of fours: four cardinal' points, four seasons, four reigns, four elements,
and four even as the number of the human body. There- fore, this number
expresses all of creation. And when Jerusalem is thus presented as built in the
form of a square, this means that symbolically she includes all of creation - on
the one hand, because in her all peoples and all nations are called, and on the
other, because she is the keystone of all creation, which is borne by her to the
light of God. But Jerusalem is cubical in form, and this gives her a slightly
different meaning: the cube is the symbol of force, of constancy, of firmness,
and in the sacred writings God recommended the use of the cube (as in the ark
for example). This spiritual symbol was interpreted by Saint Augustine in the
following way: The cube is the symbol of those who are predestined, to indicate
that no temptation and no downfall can cause their definitive rejection (on Gen.
6: 14). We will leave Augustine himself the responsibility for his exegesis, but if it does correspond to biblical thought, this means that the city of God is definitively the city of the predestined and
that nothing can ever remove
them from communion with God;
the form of the cube is the guarantee that the story of the temptation and fall can never begin again, for all has been accomplished.
But the predominant number in Revelation is twelve. There are twelve gates and twelve foundations; the wall is 144 cubits high (12 x 12) and its circumference is 12,000 stadia. Now twelve is the product of three and four, which means symbolically the product of God (since God is the Trinity) and creation. It expresses, therefore, a complex reality. It expresses first the unity we mentioned between God and his new creation, which can never again be destroyed. This unity gives birth to a reality superior to any that existed ever before in creation (this is the meaning of the multiplication)a reality first indicated to us by the church as the body of Christ, but which takes on its full meaning only in its concrete form as the holy city. On the other hand (and this is a slightly different way of expressing the same truth), the number twelve indicates the diffusion of God's Word, of his Word and of his Spirit, into every part of creation. "Twelve" is therefore the ecumenical figure par excellence,
indicating as it does that creation is full of the Holy Spirit. The number twelve is, then, the number of triumph, because it ex- presses the end result of God's work, which was to reconcile the world with himself. It does not express much that we have not already clearly read in the text, but it does reenforce and strongly emphasize that meaning. In all this, moreover, John's vision corresponds with Ezekiel's, since the latter also presents
the city as having twelve gates. There are four walls, and each
wall has three gates.
Another element common to both John and Ezekiel is the symbol of the measuring rod. The measurements taken for the new Jerusalem by the angel are taken with a measuring rod, with a golden reed. The act of measuring expresses the act of establishing sheltered limits. The perimeter of the stronghold is established. The limit any enemy may reach is traced. This is very clear in the Book of Enoch. But it can also be a limit to Satan's action, or to the condemnation pronounced by God. The fact that an angel is measuring the city means that it is absolutely protected, both from Satan's threats and from God's judgements. The judgement is therefore stopped. And this becomes even more certain when we think that the reed is made of gold: it is therefore a perfect measuring rod, with a heavenly finality about it. But, rationalist exegetes will say, Revelation refers here to "a man's measure, that is, an angel's," or "a man's measure which is an angel's" (Rev. 21:17). And this means that John believes that in heaven measures are used which are the same as man's. This is only one more example of the gross anthropomorphisms of these texts. But, we must respond, this is surely to turn things around. For this identification does not mean that "in heaven" we will find man's measures, but that at that time there will be a similarity between men and angels, that the angel's act will also be the act of a man who has attained his perfect stature! We cannot isolate this text from others which teach along with the Gospel that men "shall be like the angels in heaven." This is the means that the seer of Patmos has chosen to tell us that even in their acts, the inhabitants of the new city will be dependent on a spiritual power other than that of the traditional city. Another angel is there. Everything is new.
* * *
The city wall rests on twelve foundations made up of twelve precious stones. The proper translation of the names of these stones is quite clear, but the meaning of several of them is extremely difficult to determine. What about the chrysoprase or the onyx? Even the more familiar stones, such as jasper or topaz, present a problem. When we read what Pliny wrote about them, we begin to doubt that he is speaking of the same stones, although designated in first-century Rome and in our day by the same names.
But the problem becomes even more complicated when we learn that these stones
are the same as those set in the high priest's breastplate. A lengthy
description is given in the lists of Exodus, after the law given by God from
Sinai, of the vestments worn by the high priest as he carried out his functions. Among these is a breast-piece called the breast-piece
of judgement (Ex. 28: 15 ff.). On this breast-piece are twelve stones, in four rows of three each, set in gold and attached to the cloth which formed the pocket for the Urim and Thummim. On the twelve stones are engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This for us is enigmatic. What is the meaning of this work? To begin, we are almost completely in the dark as to the identity of the stones used.
The Hebrew words designating them are hardly used again in other texts, and most of them do not come from a Hebrew root, but from Aramaic or Canaanite, or from some undetermined origin. Some translators have merely transliterated the Hebrew words, while others have referred to the text of Revelation, guessing that they are the same. And this hypothesis is not absolutely gratuitous or whimsical,
for the few names that are identifiable correspond exactly to John's list,
namely the topaz, the emerald, the sapphire, and the jasper. Furthermore, John
clearly chose these stones for their meaning, as we shall see, and the extant
Greek translations of Exodus render the names of these stones by the same words
used in Revelation (with one exception). So the tradition is a very old one, and
we can accept the identification of the twelve foundations of Yahweh- shammah with the twelve stones of the breast-piece. But this does not help us much. The enigma is still the same: Why these stones? Why were these
chosen and not others? What is their meaning? Some have attempted to explain
them by color symbolism, but this is quite uncertain when we are not even sure what stones we are dealing with.
They are doubtless all translucent stones, and all this colored light has led
some to say that John knew his color schemes admirably well. There is iridescent
jasper - many colored, drawing all the colors, once called the gem of God because of the many shades of color it reduced to unity. There is the violet and blue sparkling of the jacinth and the amethyst, the deep blue of the sapphire, the green of the emerald, united with the red of the carnelian and the ruby. These definite colors are in opposition to the more mysterious and complex shades of the opal, the human fingernail revealed in the onyx, and the diamond which is colorless but all light. However, the magic of light is not enough to explain why the prophets and apostles chose
these stones when nothing in Hebrew thought leads us to, such a symbolism.
Others have ventured that they are the stones of the zodiac. But what we know about the zodiac in no way corresponds with the little we can learn about the high priest's twelve stones. Some historians and exegetes have, on the other hand, come to the conclusion that these gems may have no meaning at all. It is easy to assume that since the Egyptian and Babylonian priests also had plates adorned with precious stones, the Jews were only imitating what was going on among the heathen. But this is hardly likely since the rest of the high priest's garments were not in imitation of Egypt. Moreover, the stones of the Egyptian amulets had nothing to do with what we can learn of the twelve stones of the biblical accounts. And can we believe that the twelve were chosen absolutely by chance? Or because these stones were abundant in Canaan? Why these different stones? Why such an abundance of explanatory detail if it all has no meaning? Is it not contrary to the mentality of the ninth or even the seventh century B.C. to want a piece of jewelry just for the luxury and beauty of it? Everything seems to indicate that the choice of these stones had some meaning. But where to find it?
There was, of course, a symbolism of stones used in magic.
All the precious stones were used in medical prescriptions and in sorcery, and it is surprising to notice that there is a certain agreement between the powers attributed to stones by the Chaldeans, for example, and by the Romans and later by medieval magical texts. But this is certainly not the direction we must take. It is not because the sard was thought to remove tumors and the carbuncle to drive out demons that the faith of the Israelite people used them to express a divine truth. This goes against the grain of all that Israel received as truth. No created thing was ever considered to have an innate power of its own. It is not because they had some inherent magical power that these stones were chosen, but rather for a reason contrary to magic: because they designate something divine. The only voices we can heed, then, are those of the rabbis who have expressed through the centuries what these stones may have meant for the people of Israel. It is of no importance to us to know what innate meaning the stones may have, or their powers. For we do know that if they were set in the high priest's breast-piece, it is because they had a meaning for the people when they were assembled to contemplate his majesty as he entered the Holy of Holies. And if John saw in them the foundations of the new Jerusalem, it was certainly for the same motives as appealed to
Israel in the past and which had not changed. So the reasons were purely symbolic. The problem is that the rabbis were very discreet about their symbolic meanings, and even here we must be content with guesses and inklings. The' odhem (ruby or sard?) was thought of as a sign of fire and blood and was connected with man himself, but man as God desired him to be in
Adam. So it is perhaps the sign of man's deepest and most perfect reality. The next stone in the first row is the topaz, the symbol of God's love, he who forgives sins and loves his enemies, who includes all of nature in his love. This love was described by the secret verse, Natura deficit, Fortuna mutatur, Deus omnia cernit. The third, the emerald, is the stone of lightning and of the sword's lightning-like sweep and is also the symbol of chastity and of truthful speech, of virginity and immortality. The second row begins with nophekh and has inscribed in it the name of Judah. It shines "like a burning coal" and is the sign of the union with God which, from the beginning of the Christian era, was connected with the Last Supper: for the early Christians nophekh was the figure of the Holy Supper. The sapphire is the stone of which God's throne is made according to Ezekiel (1 :26), and its very name is connected with writing, with telling and in- scribing, for the people of Israel an image of the man who tells the truth, the stone of true 'oracles, and of the miracles of God's justice. The next stone is the yahalom (a diamond?), the symbol of strength, of that which neither breaks nor varies. The third row begins with an unknown stone, the leshem, about which we are told only that it represents the charity of man for other men, and his humility. The shebho, whose Hebrew root evokes the idea of captivity, seems to designate complete happiness in God, in the sense that man is happy to be God's captive. This row ends with an 'achlamah, also unknown, which we can identify
neither as to name nor as to meaning. Some consider it as the symbol of a wage
or recompense given by God. Others see a connection with the meaning of its root
and interpret it as referring to the prophetic dream' by which man receives a
personal revelation from God. The tenth stone is the tarshiysh and normally is attributed baleful powers, but here represents man's position before God - broken, crushed, but receiving strength from God himself in whom he dwells. The next to the last stone is the shoham
(onyx?) and is the stone of fear: man upsets his world and prostrates himself
before God, who takes away the shame of prostrate man. The gem list ends with
the jasper, the sign of destitution, symbolizing repentance, to which God responds by granting purification.
If we are to keep these symbolic values, we must read the breast-piece from bottom to top. The bottom row contains the signs for man's repentance, fear, and humiliation, while the rows above contain the signs of man's encounter with God, of charity, of the strength to arrive at union with God, at kuth, and of the stature of a man perfect in God. This is certainly the way a "primitive" mind would read it, but it is also perhaps what the faithful worshipper was intended to see in the breast-piece.
This is all, then, oriented both toward God, serving as an image of the
perpetual Covenant, and toward man, serving as an image of God's splendor and
the humility of his creatures. Doubtlessly, other meanings are possible, and we have no way of proving that our interpretation is accurate. But everything leads us to believe that the same meaning can be given to the twelve precious stones of Jerusalem's foundations: that of a multiple relation between Adam and Yahweh, between the new Adam and his Father. It is in fact on this union of truth, righteousness, love, the humility of fear, and happiness that the city is founded. Thus we learn that the new creation takes in the Covenant, the function of high priest, and the glory of the breast-piece. But we must not forget that this breast-piece is a breast-piece
of judgement. The exact use of the Drim and the Thummim in the breast- piece is
beyond our present knowledge. But we do know most certainly that they were in
any case used to' learn God's judgement, to find out his Word and Will on a given subject. We also know that the two words meant "Light" and "Perfection," and that they were connected with the twelve tribes of Israel: "Thus Aaron shall bear the judgement of the people of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually" (Ex. 28:30). This is God's judgement on the city. And the new city is thus forever established on God's Word, which is his law of love, and on God's judgement, that of his mercy. We must not forget that the breast- piece belonged to the high priest. The stones are found in the city because they represent what the high priest bore. They decorate
the city, as once they adorned the high priest. They are hidden in the
foundations of the wall, as they were once hidden in the mysterious pocket from
which came the oracle of God's Word. They are present in the city to tell us
that the high priest's office has been accomplished and brought to perfection.
All the sacrifices offered by him have here their place and their meaning; and the victim, including the priest, fills the entire city, which in turn rests on the priest's office in its final perfection. All the high priest's mediations between God and man, all the prophecies he pronounced to and concerning the people, all of
God's justice that he embodied before Israel, are now at an end. But nothing he did has been lost, since the same stones which once shone on his chest as he went about his functions are now gathered' into the deepest life of the city - a monument of grace, uniting the mediation accomplished' by God with the con- quest man had undertaken. This is a part of what may be discovered
in John's adoption of the sacred jewels of the Old Testament. ,"
It would doubtlessly be incorrect to separate the meaning of these stones from Jacob's sweeping prophecy regarding his twelve sons. Perhaps their deeper meaning is tied in with the memory of this prophecy. In this case they would be a memorial. Or perhaps they are a contrary sign. Perhaps they are an appeal that the sons obtain the virtues denied them by Jacob. Dan's stone expresses wise and righteous speech, Reuben's, the ravaging and violation of the Father's rights. Joseph's stone may be that of blessing fulfillment, as Benjamin's may be the stone of tearing and bloody conquest.
But the twelve tribes of Israel are not the foundations of the city. For the original names' have now been replaced by the names of the twelve apostles. Oleaster's endeavor to learn which stone was for which apostle may have been childish, but the substitution itself should furnish us food for meditation. The names of the sons of Israel are now engraved on the gates of the city. To enter, one must become like Israel, one must be the Israel of God. But Israel is no longer the foundation. That right is reserved for those alone who carried Christ's words, his Gospel, those who were the instruments of judgement and mercy as they announced the good news to mankind and laid the foundations of the church. And now they have become forever the bases of the walls surrounding God's new creation: a monument of glory given to man for his light and perfection.
The people bore God's Word, but now the apostles have assumed that role. Perhaps we should conclude from this fact that in mystical tradition these twelve stones were vitualized as the totality of the message of revelation, pointing out the road that leads from repentance to the resurrection, and perhaps we should see in it a confession of faith, 'a theological statement. Thus, ever since the beginning of Israel as a nation,
the prophecy and the announcement by God's word and judgement were present in the heart of the Temple, in the heart
of the sacred place,'
However, the Scriptures enable us to take another step III our understanding of the symbolism of these gems. For the list
we have been studying is found not only in Exodus and Revelation, but also in Ezekiel (28:13). It is not ,complete, since only,
nine stones are mentioned by the prophet instead of twelve, but they are exactly the same as in Exodus, and the list is prefaced by the words, "You were adorned with every precious stone." The list is probably not meant to be limiting, then. However, is it to be considered in relation! with the breastpiece jewels? An historian would necessarily raise the question, and his answer would be the following: The Exodus text does not date from Moses' time. It is from the "fourth source," which was written in the sixth century, under )Ezekiel's direction. Thus the high priest's costume was decided by members of Ezekiel's "school." In this case he must have been well acquainted with the breast- piece and its stones. How could one doubt that if Ezekiel re- produces this list in one of his prophecies, it is intentional and he knows exactly what he is doing, that fie has in mind the new institution and is perhaps even announcing it? As for those who do not recognize any absolute worth in this historical criticism and who consider that the law and the high priest's costumes were established in the desert sometime between 1300 and 1200 B.C., they take Ezekiel's words as inspired of God, and see in his mention of-the stones a purpose of God and a reference to the high priest's breastpiece. And in what prophecy is this enumeration of the precious stones found? Whom were they adorn- ing in Ezekiel's mind? The Scriptures will always have new surprises for us. The prince of Tyre:
"Son of man, raise a lamentation over 'the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God: You... were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, topaz, and jasper . . . . With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. . . . In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the
mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of
the stones of fire." Thus the angel of the city, whose power and seduction we have already studied and
who inspired man to become a builder and who is
subject to God's judgements, is the very one adorned with the precious stones we find in the new Jerusalem. What better means could be
used to say that it was a heavenly power which had be- gun its work in the world of revolt, and which gave itself
over to God? What better way to say that these symbolic stones, were taken from
him because he had undertaken that very work condemned by God? What better way to state that man's city is
never founded on the Lord's presence or on man's truth? Neither on God's love
nor on man's mercy. Neither on the righteousness of the kingdom, nor on fear to
God. These stones are removed from the prince of Tyre because the city, his
work, is founded.
on God's absence and man's falsehood, on hardness of heart and a spirit of
power, on injustice, on fear. But these are also the same stones which God kept
in reserve through history, miserably represented in the imperfection of the
worked stones on the breastpiece, and which find their true place and their real
meaning when man's city is taken from the hands of the angel who revolted and is
transfigured, to become the Lord's
a city where everything has returned to its eternal nature,
where every light reflects the unfading light, and order reigns.
* * *
Finally, we shall study two symbols for which the apocalyptic writers seem to have had a special affection: the tree and water. In the midst of the city are found a river and a tree: "Then he showed me the river of the water of life, limpid as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of the city square, and on either side of the river, was a tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22: 1 ff.). This description agrees almost exactly with Ezekiel's (ch.
47). There, too, the river flows from the center of the Temple. This river is
also of living waters which spread their life everywhere they flow: bitter and
brackish waters (signs of sin and death) become sweet and healthy. On both banks
grow trees which give their fruit every month and whose leaves are for healing.
We can say, then, that the two visions are perfectly identical. And we are not overly troubled by John's use of images taken from Ezekiel. Perhaps this means only that the inspiration given by the Spirit of God was the same in both cases. But it is also certain that John understood his vision in a spiritual sense and not materially as some' commentators hold in the case of Ezekiel. Also, it is obvious that all John writes is enriched and upheld by the Gospel notions of living water, baptism, and salvation.
But we will limit our study to what this means for the city. One item stands out: the tree grows in the middle of the city, in the public square, but is also on both banks of the river (not an easy thing to visualize!). John's intention is clear (much clearer than Ezekiel's - certainly to be understood as progress
in revelation). The trees seen by Ezekiel have now been reduced to only one, and those trees with their marvellous
fruit and healing leaves now obtain their true name - the tree of life. The tree is therefore the tree of life planted in the
midst of the garden of Eden, from which Adam could eat before his disobedience,
but which was afterwards forbidden. It was forbidden be- cause eating of its
fruit when one is in disharmony with God, separated from him, is the very
essence of hell. This tree is found again, therefore, (and alone) in the new
Jerusalem. This is another obvious affirmation of what we have said about the
substitution of Yahweh-shammah for Eden.
But no longer is there any tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This means,
first, that what has been done is done, that the knowledge acquired in revolt is
not destroyed, but by reconciliation with God is put back in its right place.
Just as liberty is returned to mall in christ, but is not yet a glorious liberty as long as we are on earth but rather is precarious, threatened, and incomplete, so man's knowledge of good and evil is by the sacrifice of Jesus made an integral part of the new covenant, and is meant to blossom forth in the holy city. Thus, communion with God is more complete than it was at the be- ginning, and for the knowledge of devils is substituted the knowledge' of love proclaimed by Paul: Then shall I know as I have been known (I Cor. 13: 12). We shall know in a way different from anything we call knowledge today, since it will be the knowledge of Christ, learned when he gave himself by love. And this step forward gives us a new perspective on the city of God: it is the place where we shall know by love. The holy city bespeaks the triumph of love, instead of the triumph of objective
knowledge, of man's intellectual conquest, of his piracy of the world. As for
the tree of life which alone remains, its double function is clearly indicated:
it gives food by its fruit, and healing through its leaves. We have here the full assurance of life. The same shrewd reasoners who' note the absurdity of walls for a city threatened by no one, also point out that if life is eternal there is no need of the tree of life. After all, we are told just a few verses earlier that there will be no more sick- ness or death. Why medicine? But the shrewd reasoners are obviously slaves of their logic and, as such, are shut out from some realities. This is because the logic of these shrewd reasoners is not God's, as Paul teaches.
The purpose of this tree is to call to mind all of God's creation and the long history of redemption after the fall. Its purpose is not utilitarian, but by its very uselessness to repeat to
resurrected, glorified man, alive with the very life of God, the greatness of God's work, his patience and love. Why should we abandon the Christian tradition of this tree? Many have believed that the tree in the midst of the garden of Eden was the symbol of Christ's cross. But the tree in the midst of the city is the same cross! In fact, the term in the Greek text is "the Wood of life." Is this not a reminder of the wood from which the crucified Lord hung? It is the living sign, in the center of the city, of the healing and the nourishment which men have received from Christ, in his death. It gives its fruit indefinitely, twelve times per year, the symbol of the fruit that once hung on the cross. Thus the God who is all in all is still the redeeming God, the God whose sign among men is preserved in the midst of that work as adopted by God.
Another confirmation of this is the river itself -water of life, living water, flowing from the throne of God or the Temple, spreading health and purity everywhere it reaches. The immensity of the world represented by the sea is transformed by this river. Here again we meet the idea that the new Jerusalem is truly the capital of the new creation and the link between them is the river, forever flowing from the city, carrying to the surrounding creation communion with him who reigns in the city. "Wherever the river touches, everything will live." The river flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. What a perfect vision of the perpetual current of life flowing from the Trinity to bestowfulness of life wherever it reaches. Thus eternal life is not fixing life in one instant that lasts forever, it is not immovable, unchangeable granite, not a frigid immobility, the fusion of everything into a great whole. It is evolution, vitality, a rapid renewal like a bubbling stream from the mountains, youth for- ever re-created by communion with him who is Life itself. Can We avoid, when faced with the clarity and simplicity of the image used, when faced with the multitude of different images that converge, overlap, confirm, and support one another
can we avoid Christ's words?
The historians say that Ezekiel presented this vision with an historical meaning and was referring only to the transforma- tion of the Dead Sea. Others, believers in an earthly millennium, think that this verse will be fulfilled on this earth and that we will witness this river, like a river sweetening the oceans we know so well. But how can one forget the thought so constantly expressed, for example, by Jeremiah (chosen exactly because he is not an apocalyptic author): "Those who turn away from me [the Lord] shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken
the fountain of living water" (Jer. 17:13)? Here we see the op- position that exists between our modern, carnal world and the world which has been transformed by the fountain of living water. The same thought is in Jesus and makes him say: "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37-38). This river must be the sign of the total and absolute faith that characterizes the city created by God. It flows from the city and brings purification in Jesus Christ to the whole earth and to the whole of the heavens. It also corresponds to the four rivers flowing from Eden. But whereas those were prophetic of the fall, this river is the actuality of eternal life. For in it baptism
has become a reality. What was only a visible sign is now fully accomplished. We
have passed beyond death, we have gone through death with Christ, and we are in
possession of what the waters of baptism only prefigured. With Christ we have
left death behind, and this is what the river of living water means, there in
the very heart of the new creation as a reminder of the story of salvation. In
this city, then, we find the river to be a sign of life. The city has become the
world of life, the newest and the freshest city possible. The sign here is the
same as that given to us in baptism for every day of our miserable world's
existence. The awful mixture made by man is rearranged by grace and benevolence
and by the Lord's act of accepting and gracing the chosen city with his
presence. The order of it all is beyond our minds and expressible only by
figures of speech. But now the detestable, gangrenous suburb I have to walk
through, the workers' shacks with their peeling paint and permanent layers of dirt, the tool sheds sinking into the sewers and streams that reek of washings and toilets, and the corrugated iron that constitutes man's choicest building material- all are gone, transformed into a wall of pure gold, a new enclosure for the city, pierced by the river of living water, as by an eternal crystal.