In a sense, the whole book of Revelation heads toward chapters twenty-one and twenty-two, with images of the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, the river of life. Write about how these final images support the Christians to whom John writes and reinforces the imperatives to avoid idolatry, do justice, and persevere.
My answer, for now.
As a universal restorationist (Acts 3.21 NRSV), the final chapters of Revelation have come to give me hope and to firm up my convictions that those who do not completely reject the imago dei will find themselves in the New Creation, albeit somewhat separated from those who endured. Just as we have seen the two Jerusalems in John’s prophecy, as well as the Babylon and New Jerusalem, what begins to build is the line of demarcation between those in the city and those without (although, in the middle of the city is medicine for the healing of the Nations). Here, we find after the great climaxes of chapters 16-20, a breaking forth of serenity, not unlike what we experience with Pentecost after the climax of the Passion. From the skies, this (re)New(ed) Jerusalem which had been called for since before John’s time had finally come down to reside as the central location of God’s people and from that the New Creation springs forth.
The gates of Jerusalem will be built with sapphire and emerald, and all your walls with precious stones. The towers of Jerusalem will be built with gold, and their battlements with pure gold. The streets of Jerusalem will be paved with ruby and with stones of Ophir. The gates of Jerusalem will sing hymns of joy, and all her houses will cry, ‘Hallelujah! Blessed be the God of Israel!’ and the blessed will bless the holy name forever and ever.” (Tobit 13:16-17 NRS – GII)
“But God will again have mercy on them, and God will bring them back into the land of Israel; and they will rebuild the temple of God, but not like the first one until the period when the times of fulfillment shall come. After this they all will return from their exile and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendor; and in it the temple of God will be rebuilt, just as the prophets of Israel have said concerning it. Then the nations in the whole world will all be converted and worship God in truth. They will all abandon their idols, which deceitfully have led them into their error; and in righteousness they will praise the eternal God. All the Israelites who are saved in those days and are truly mindful of God will be gathered together; they will go to Jerusalem and live in safety forever in the land of Abraham, and it will be given over to them. Those who sincerely love God will rejoice, but those who commit sin and injustice will vanish from all the earth. (Tobit 14:5-7 NRS – GII)
It is the hope of the Jewish nationalist with the Christian understanding of who is the Mother of us all which is finally joined together in the cosmic answer to the question posed in Acts 1 by the disciples; nevertheless, the New Jerusalem is the cosmic signal that once again, God will walk in the cool of the day with His people. It is, as Gordon Fee says, ‘the only “heaven” one gets to in Revelation.’ (292 – Fee, Revelation). In that it is the final hope and one which only those who avoided the imperial sins will ever remain in, the need to persevere becomes that much greater. While there is ample evidence from this period and the communities which existed before (Qumran, various other sects) regarding the (re)New(ed) Jerusalem, there is simply not the time to completely investigate it, leaving me only to assume that John knew the other literature, as did his community, and more than that, believe it. For him, the New Jerusalem/New Creation was not the end of the road, so to speak, but a renewed relationship with God from which everything starts over. When God said ‘Behold, I make all things new’, John was able to show that the wrath of God had subsided, bring together into one vision the persecuted and the persecutors.
Further, there is John’s picture of divine justice. Justice is not eternal punishment for being human; instead, justice requires forgiveness and remediation. As we examine the vision that the City will in fact not only be the dwelling place of the People of God, but so too the source of the healing of the nations, we begin to ask ourselves about John’s picture of divine justice. I am of the opinion that John’s call to passive resistance to Babylon was to allow God’s justice to reign and serves as the picture of divine justice on earth. For John’s community, the answer of peace will not come through political rebellion or even through the ‘justice system’ but only when God is ‘all in all’. I tend to agree with commentators on this book who note that the Church is not the ultimate goal of the New Creation, but the coming Kingdom will be. The Church then must do Justice in order to give no place to the excuses of the Romans who could stand before God and claim that they in fact knew of no justice. The Church is not called to aggressively resist the Roman legions (as opposed to the Jewish revolts happening around John), but to wait upon God who is cosmically fighting these battles. The Church, for John, is called to wait and watch and God deals with the kings of the earth and the nations, resisting the temptation to be a latter day Jonah. For God’s justice to be accomplished, the Church must reside in humiliation and show grace to the persecutors. We see the ultimate goal of divine justice with the return of the Kings of the Earth and the Nations to take part in the final praise of God after the Second Death and Final Judgment upon these groups. While they are to remain outside the City, they are given the medicine from the Tree of Life for their healing.
It is of my opinion as well, that John’s insistence on not turning back and engaging in idolatry is a direct warning to be careful with the imago dei within us, and made clearer through Christ. Idolatry would have involved, for John, the Imperial worship, assigning to the Emperor that which can only be assigned to Christ Himself. Further, I believe it harkens back to Hebrews 6.1-7 in which we are warned against slipping away by denying Christ. Here, justice cannot be completed because we have rejected ourselves as a participant in the courtroom drama. Further, by clinging and then resting your hope upon the world order, you are refusing the hope of the New Creation.