The Heavenly Jerusalem

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Rev 21:9-14

One of the seven angels that had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came to speak to me and said, ‘Come here and I will show you the bride that the Lamb has married.’ In the spirit, he carried me to the top of a very high mountain, and showed me Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God. It had all the glory of God and glittered like some precious jewel of crystal-clear diamond. Its wall was of a great height and had twelve gates; at each of the twelve gates there was an angel, and over the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; on the east there were three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. The city walls stood on twelve foundation stones, each one of which bore the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The idea of the Heavenly Jerusalem awakens in us a longing similar to that which arises when we think of Paradise. Indeed, man longs to live in true harmony and peace; he longs for perfection. Deep down in his soul, he longs for God, even if he does not realise it or pretends to deny it.

In the context of John’s sometimes harsh visions in the Apocalypse, which describe, for example, the plagues that befall mankind and reach their climax in the fall of Babylon (chapter 18), the image of the New Jerusalem, the “Heavenly Jerusalem”, is particularly radiant, consoling and hopeful.

Human history will not culminate in annihilation, but in eternal life for all those who have accepted God’s love. In speaking of the signs that will precede his return, Jesus tells us: “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand” (Lk 21:28).

This text of the Apocalypse wants to introduce us to the reality of God, who prepares the way for mankind and holds everything in his hands, even in the midst of darkness. In this sense, the apocalyptic plagues are like birth pangs to usher in that era in which God “will be all in all” (cf. 1 Cor 15:28), and the Kingdom of God will be present on earth as it is in heaven.

This reality, the fullness of which will only be revealed at the end of time, can already be glimpsed in the Church, although it is still overshadowed by the sins of mankind, but the splendour of the tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles shines through history to the present day!

Although we often have to perceive the shadows that are still present in the Church, because of the sins and errors of its members, we cannot lose sight of the beauty of the Church and the holiness that God has bestowed upon her and that is reflected in her saints.

One of them is the Apostle Bartholomew, who is often identified with Nathanael. Jesus praises him as a “true Israelite”, in whom there is no falsehood (Jn 1:47). In people like him, in whom there is no falsehood and who have recognised God and serve him, in whom the work of redemption unfolds its efficacy and is carried forward; the New Jerusalem that comes down from Heaven is already manifest.

The apostles and all those who accept God’s grace and live in it are the living stones that build the New Jerusalem (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). The Church militant – i.e. the faithful members of the Church – is joined to the Church triumphant and the Church penitent (those who are still undergoing the process of purification after their death), forming a whole.

In those who live according to the Will of God, the Reign of Christ, in which the apostles participate in an eminent way, is already manifest. Peter once asked Jesus: “‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?’ Jesus said to them, ‘In truth I tell you, when everything is made new again and the Son of man is seated on his throne of glory, you yourselves will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mt 19:27-28).

Humanity is heading towards this judgement; day by day the Return of the Lord draws nearer, which will bring everything to its consummation. Until that day comes, we are still in the time of grace for humanity; the hour when God’s judgement can be carried out in his mercy.

In his Son, God offers us eternal life. If we accept this grace, we can already taste eternal life; a life which, unlike our passing earthly life, will never end. We can already in this life be conscious servants and members of the New Jerusalem, in union with God, with the Virgin Mary, with the apostles and with all the angels and saints.

In this way, the Heavenly Jerusalem, whose King is God Himself, who offers mankind the dominion of His fatherly love, is already being built up spiritually.

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride dressed for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, ‘Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them” (Rev 21:2-3).