December 22: The City of the Bride

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God and of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelation 4:1, 21:2

The isle of Patmos is an isolated, barren, windswept place. It is a small island with an irregular coastline, a speck of land in the Aegean Sea. Perhaps it might be called insignificant in view of some of the earth’s greater landmasses, but in view of God’s plan for the ages, lowly Patmos hosted the greatest revelation ever known.

Located some 37 miles from what is now Turkey, and close to the islands of Samos and Icarus, Patmos is approximately eight miles long and less than three miles in width in places. Here, John the apostle found himself banished in 95 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Domitian for preaching the gospel. Tertullian records that John was first thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil at the Latin Gate in Rome, but emerged unharmed. Tradition accords that all who witnessed this miracle were immediately converted to Jesus Christ.

What then to do with someone who refuses to die? Domitian chose to exile John to Patmos. At the time, this island was a Roman penal colony, a home to criminals, rebels, protestors and all those who threatened the peace of Rome. It perhaps, then, was a miserable place to live. The island even now has limited water sources and contains acres of volcanic rock.

Today much has changed. You can drive around the island on its narrow roads and even enjoy traditional Greek food in the simple restaurants. There are now pine, eucalyptus, and cypress trees growing near the towns of Horos and Skala, although the rest of the island is still covered by rocks, windblown scrubland, and wildflowers. Patmos is a favored destination for pilgrims and tourists alike. Cruise ships and hydrofoils regularly call and the internet connects Patmos’ 3,000 residents with the world. The island is informally called “the Jerusalem of the Aegean.”

A Door in the Sky

For it was here that John saw the heavens open and beheld the New Jerusalem coming down from God. It was a vision into eternity and a preview into the last days. John was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day when he suddenly heard a great voice as of a trumpet. Turning, he saw one like the Son of Man with eyes like a flame of fire and hair white as snow. John was commanded to write: “the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are and the things which shall be hereafter” (Rev. 1:19).

Tradition places the apostle in a volcanic rock grotto, halfway up one of Patmos’ highest hills. Today the same place is revered by many. This Cave of the Apocalypse still emanates a divine presence and a peace from within it. It was here that John saw “a door opened in heaven” (Rev. 4:1). The Greek word for Heaven is ouranos. It can mean the sky, the heights above, or the dwelling place of God.

The Spirit in speaking to John told him to “come up hither” (v. 1). Perhaps as he looked upward, the darkness of the cave suddenly vanished, as well as the skies above him. John then found himself instantly spiritually transported through a divine portal, a heavenly door breaking through the physical sky. And yet such a wondrous event has happened before to others. The Bible records instances when familiar surroundings are eclipsed by the supernatural.

Jacob dreamed and saw a ladder extending from Earth to the heavens above with angels ascending and descending. He was so awestruck that he named the place he was at Beth El or “House of God” (Gen. 29:13). Moses and the seventy elders “saw the God of Israel” and there was under his feet “a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness” (Ex. 24:10). Isaiah also “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” along with visions of fiery angels (Is. 6:1-3).

The heavens opened during Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist saw “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.” He then heard a voice from Heaven saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:16). The disciples also experienced an open heaven, when Jesus was transfigured before them. They too saw a bright cloud which overshadowed them and heard a voice speak out of the cloud which said: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Mt. 17:2-5). The writer of Acts also records that Stephen shortly before being martyred said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

The Third Heaven

The Greeks saw heaven as being in three parts. Psalms declares that God “covers the heavens with clouds” (Ps. 147:8). This is the first heaven. Genesis records God made “lights in the firmament of the heavens” (Gen. 1:14-17). This is the second heaven. The third heaven is where God is said to dwell. Paul writes (referring to himself), that he knew a man who was caught up to this third heaven. Here he experienced hearing unspeakable words which were “not lawful for a man to utter.”

This incredible “door of heaven” will be opened for all to see when the Son of Man returns. At that time, “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout”, and “with the voice of the archangel.” Then the trumpet of God shall sound and the dead in Christ shall arise first. Then “we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (I Thes. 4:16-17). Paul writes that we should “comfort one another with these words” (v. 18).

A Bridal City

The culmination of John’s vision is seeing the New Jerusalem descending from heaven as a bride prepared. He is informed by one of the seven angels in the previous verse that it is “the Lamb’s wife.” Pure and spotless and radiating from within it the glory of God. This heavenly city descends from heaven, not from the earth. This New Jerusalem is also a people, holy, redeemed, and exceedingly beautiful. These chosen ones are the bride of Christ, righteous, filled with meekness, and love.

The writer of Hebrews reveals that “Ye are come unto to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:22-23a). The New Jerusalem is God’s gift to the redeemed. All who are believers, Jew and gentile alike, will walk in its streets.

It is a city that is made ready, taking millenniums in preparation. Jesus told his disciples that “I go to prepare a place for you.” Jewish wedding customs dictated that the future bridegroom first had to go away and prepare a place for his bride, then return. Jesus said “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am you will be” (Jn. 14:3).

The bride also had to prepare. Queen Esther serves as a type of the Bride of Christ. Before being accepted by King Ahasuerus, she had to spend a year undergoing special beauty treatments. For six months, Esther bathed with oil of myrrh and then was anointed for another six months with special perfumes. Only after this time of purification was completed was she permitted to enter the king’s house (Esth. 2:12b-13).

The Bride of Christ must also prepare to come before our Lord. Christ who is perfect must have a spotless bride. Yet, it is He who prepares us. John writes that Jesus who is the faithful witness has loved us, “and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” He has made us “kings and priests unto God and his Father” (Rev. 1:5-6).

The Bride of Christ will have a spiritual beauty about her. She will be adorned not with physical garments but attributes of godly love, obedience, holiness, righteousness, perfection, and brotherly love (I Jn. 3:14). The marriage of Christ to his Bride will inaugurate the eternal covenant planned from the foundation of the world (Rev. 19:8).

Jewish brides come to the Kotel or Western Wall in Jerusalem to ask God for a blessing on their forthcoming marriage. They stand before this ancient wall where tradition accords God’s holy presence dwells, and present themselves, holy and pure. Alone in God’s sight, the bride asks that she may be sanctified and found worthy in His sight. Her prayers are a type and shadow of John’s word: “the bride has made herself ready.” The bride then departs from this holy place and presents herself to her groom. Here, standing under the Chuppah, the groom slips the ring onto her finger and says “Behold you are sanctified (betrothed) to me with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel. ” At that moment, they are one: husband and wife.

Press Towards the Prize

Tradition accords that shortly after John received his vision of the New Jerusalem on Patmos, the Emperor Domitian died. A new Caesar, Nerva, came to power and released John. He returned to Ephesus, and continued to preach and minister. The apostle is said to have died there at the advanced age of 100 years.

John left Patmos re-fired. He was not broken by circumstances nor by the harsh living conditions. The disciple who the Lord loved received his greatest vision in the place of his greatest tribulation. John at the age of 95 received a new lease on life to preach and to proclaim the gospel.

Age does not matter in the Kingdom of God. You can still be of great value to minister. As servants of the Lord, we are not called to live in the past, nor to dwell on memory lane. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Philippians to forget those things which are behind, and instead we are to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

A Word of the LORD

I am a God of vision. My name is El-Roi. I dwell in thick darkness. No man can know my thoughts unless I give it to him by my Spirit (I Kgs. 8:12, I Cor. 2:11). I am a God of revelation.

My revelation is life changing. I gave Solomon wisdom. I allowed Daniel to see the heavens opened, and see one who appeared as the Son of Man. Elijah found me in a cave and heard my still soft voice. He went forth re-energized to do my bidding. Elisha saw me in the whirlwind and received the double portion. Ezekiel saw me as the wheel within the wheel.

Come before me. Press into me with prayer and by meditating on my Word. Be like my servant John and be in the Spirit. Come into my secret place. Wait upon me, and learn to recognize my presence. My Word says “deep calleth unto deep” (Ps. 47:7). Let me speak unto you. Be like John and write what my Spirit says.

I have prepared a place for you to dwell. You will rejoice ever more, for you will know my love and the Father’s love. You will dwell in peace and holiness in my house for all eternity.

Devotional Prayer

Lord, we pray for your Spirit of revelation. Disclose unto us the secret things which we are able to receive. Give us words of knowledge and wisdom for these times. Impart to us your Spirit of discernment, to know your presence. Help us recognize false angels of light and be swift to banish their suggestions and miracles.

Let us be aware when your “door “opens in heaven, and know what you require of us in that hour. Help us be like the prophets of old, and record what you give us. Most of all, help us see into your heart. Help us be like John, your apostle of love. Let us be your Bride and be ready. Let us answer the call of the Spirit and the Bride.

Lord, we pray Paul’s great prayer in Ephesians, and ask that you apply it to our lives:

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, give unto us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Lord, let the eyes of our understanding be enlightened, so that we may know what the hope of your calling is, and recognize the riches of the glory of your inheritance in the saints. Lord, may we know what is the exceeding greatness of your power to us who believe according to the working of your mighty power (Eph. 1:17-19).

Scriptural Reflections

“But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us, by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:9-10).

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (l Cor. 2:12).

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Rev. 1:1).

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come” (Rev. 21:17a).

 

Jerusalem, Lest I Forget Thee by Gene Little
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