For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The City of God
The church has a glorious final destination, but a great challenge in the present.
Our Bible is a collection of 66 books, each and every one of them inspired by the Holy Spirit. Each one of them has its reason for being there; nothing exceeds, and nothing lacks. For example, what would our Bible be like if it lacked the book of Revelation? The Bible, without the book of Revelation, would be a book without an end. It is not by chance that this book is placed at the end. It is the last book, and it is located in the correct place, because it is the conclusion of the Bible.
The last vision
Everything that occurs from Genesis onwards has its culmination in the book that is placed at the end of the Bible, Revelation. All that begins in Genesis has its fulfillment, its culmination and its consummation, in the book of Revelation.
I would like us to look at what is the vision that ends the book of Revelation, that closes the whole revelation. Therefore, I want to invite you to have a look in Revelation 21, from verse 9 onwards. "Then one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me, saying: Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb".
With this last vision the book comes to a close and the Bible ends. "I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb". The vision, then, is going to be concerning the church. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the bride of the Lamb. The Revelation finishes with the vision of the church, and in this vision the wife of the Lamb is revealed to us.
Why is it that the book of Revelation finishes with the revelation of the bride of the Lamb? Because the church is the fulfillment of the eternal purpose of God. When, in eternity past, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit conceived this eternal plan and intended to carry it out through the centuries, the final result is precisely the one that we have in this last vision.
God the Father, throughout eternity, has wanted a bride for His Son. John saw it two thousand years ago. But the Lord Jesus Christ, the beloved of the Father, saw it in eternity past. Just as it is described in this last vision, so the Son saw it in eternity past. And for that reason, when he saw it, he loved it. And even when He knew, in His foreknowledge that she was going to fall - and that through sin she would fall so low that the prophets would describe her as a harlot-nevertheless, as He saw it accomplished, in its final state, He was willing to love her anyway, and to redeem her and to make her His glorious church. Blessed be the Lord! The Lord loved her first, and because He loved her, He was able to give himself up for her.
God loves us today, supports us today, and has patience with us today. And, do you know why He loves us? Because he already sees us completed. He has already seen us in our final state; He knows that what we are today is not what we will be tomorrow. Hallelujah! He has the capacity to see us already finished, perfected; and as He already sees us in this way, in anticipation, he can love us and support us and have all the necessary patience with us.
May this vision also help us to have patience with each other. For that reason, it is a good exercise to say to a brother: "Brother, have patience with me. I won't always be like I am today; tomorrow I will be as God has destined me to be". The Lord be praised!
A glorious bride, a perfect bride, a prepared bride, dressed in fine linen, white and radiant. A bride ready for her husband. John already saw her two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ already saw her in eternity past, and it is good that we also should see it. That is where we are heading, that is our final destination, and God is faithful to achieve His purpose.
The holy city
Now, let us continue with verse 10. When John prepares himself to see the bride of the Lamb, I don't know if he had a surprise, but for us it is surprising. After the angel invited him to see it, John says: "And he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the great holy city of Jerusalem that was descending from heaven, of God".
We said that this vision is about the church, the wife of the Lamb. But when John looks, what does he see? He sees a city. I don't know if that surprises you. Because when he goes to show him the church, what John sees is a city. A very special city, of course, not just any city; but it is a city.
Therefore the bride is the city? Isn't he going to show him here the place where the bride lives? No, he is showing John the bride herself. The bride herself is this city. Of course, through other Scriptures we know that the Lord has also prepared for us a literal city. If we are going to be resurrected with a body, then it makes sense that we will also live in a heavenly city. But in this vision, this city is not the dwelling place of the church; it is the church itself revealed in that way. Praise the Lord!
So then, when John is shown the bride in her fullness, having reached perfection, it is interesting that he is not shown the bride as Christ's body, nor as the family of God, nor as the people of God, nor as the temple of the Holy Spirit, but as a city.
From the letters of the New Testament, we know that these figures with which the church is described are very common: the church is Christ's body, it is the family of God, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But we pay very little attention to this fact: that the church is also the city of God. The church is a city; we are a city. And not any city: we are the city of God, the city that has its origin above, that has its origin in heaven, and which is here on the earth, but is from above.
The church is the city of God. And what catches my attention, brother, is that the figure or the metaphor that is chosen to reveal the church in its fullness is that of a city. This then means that, until the church is the city of God in practice, the purpose of God won't be fully reached.
When revealing the fullness of the church, it is seen as the city of God. It is a city made up of living stones. The foundations of the city are twelve, each one of them is a precious stone, and those precious stones correspond to the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This city is formed from living stones, it is made up of people. We are this city, who were taken from the dust, transformed into living stones; but finally, we won't only be stones, but precious stones.
Some aspects of the vision
We don't have time to comment on the whole vision that takes place from Revelation 21:9 to 22:5, but I wanted to highlight some main characteristics, where it is easy to see that this city of God that is the church, has the fullness of God.
In verse 11, when John begins to see it, the first thing that he notices about this holy city that descends from the sky and descends from God, is that it has the glory of God. The church, as the city of God, contains the glory of God and it shines.
Because one thing is to contain the glory of God and another thing is to reflect the glory of God. But this city that is the church doesn't only contain the glory of God, but rather it reflects it, expresses it, and projects it. The glory of God shines through it. Nowadays, the church contains the glory of God, and to some degree the church expresses that glory. But here it is seen in its fullness; here the glory of the Lord is reflected in its full form.
Verse 12 says that it also has a vast high wall. It is more than sixty meters high. Have you seen a city that has walls so high? What does this wall indicate in this revelation of the church? This wall makes a separation between the holy and the profane. This is a holy city, there is no mixture in her; it is already totally separated what is of God and what is not of God, the holy from the unclean.
For that reason, it says in verse 27: "no unclean thing will enter it, and no one who practices abomination and lying, but only those that are inscribed in the book of life of the Lamb". So this wall makes a separation, it indicates that in it there is no longer mixture, there is no longer confusion; it is a holy church, perfectly holy, a holy city.
It is very interesting to see 22:3: "and there will be no more curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it". Where has the throne of God finally been established? Inside the city that is the church. That means that God has taken full control of the church which is perfectly subject to God and to Christ and that the perfect will of God is now done in her, without any hint of rebellion or insubordination. "And His servants will serve Him". Without resistance, without rebelliousness, without opposition, His servants, willingly and whole-heartedly, will serve Him.
I wanted to begin with the throne. Let us return now to 22:1: "Later he showed me a clean river of the water of life, radiant as crystal, coming from the throne of God and the Lamb". For that reason I wanted first to draw attention to the fact that the throne of God and the Lamb is established in the church, because from that throne comes forth a clean river of the water of life. Is it not perhaps what the Lord Jesus Christ said in John's gospel? "The one that believes in me, as the Scripture says, from his inner being will flow rivers of living water". This is what we are seeing here: a clean river of water of life that comes forth from the throne of God and the Lamb, and flows to the interior of the city, to the interior of the church.
Verse 2: "amidst the street of the city, and on each side of the river, was the tree of life that produces twelve fruits, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations". The tree of life is also planted in it.
In Genesis, the tree of life was put along with man, in the garden, because God wanted the man to consent to it voluntarily. Adam wasn't prohibited from eating from the tree of life. God wanted Adam to eat voluntarily of the tree of life, and once he had eaten, that tree would have come to be inside Adam. But what was not achieved with Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, the second Adam, has allowed in His grace that that tree now may be implanted in our hearts.
So then, how will this not be the fullness of the church? The tree of life is in her midst, the throne of God and the Lamb is established in her. She contains the glory of God, and not only contains it, but also reflects it. Praised be the Lord! There is a clean river of living water that runs through her interior. So this is clearly the fullness of the church, it is clearly the vision of the final and fully accomplished state of the church.
The church as the city of God today
Let us bring that future, now, to the present. And the question is: is this vision of the church, applicable at present? Is the church nowadays the city of God, or must this vision be interpreted as something that we will end up being in eternity, but not today?
Of course we don't have the fullness today, but are we not the city of God for that reason? I want to declare that we are the city of God, even though we have not reached fullness; because nor have we reached the fullness of being the body of Christ, of being the family of God, or of being the temple of the Holy Spirit, but we are those things today. In the same way, the church is the city of God today.
So then, look at how interesting this is; I believe that this can change our perspective and vision a little bit: The church in Temuco is the city of God in Temuco, the church in Antofagasta is the city of God in Antofagasta, the church in Londrina is the city of God in Londrina. It is not only the body of Christ, it is not only the temple of the Holy Spirit; it is also the city of God.
I don't need to demonstrate -because we know the Word-that in each city of the New Testament where there was a church, there was always only one church. The local church was always the church of the town, the church of the city, and for that reason it was always a single church, and there is no text of the New Testament where in a town the word church appears in the plural.
And what is the reason? -Because that fact is made plain by the New Testament-What is the explanation? Why is the church in the town one? Why can it not be more than one? One of the possible answers may be here: If the church is the city of God, then inside the city there can only be a single church.
One city corresponds to only one city. And furthermore, we can ask ourselves: What size should the city of God have in the city of Londrina? It will be the size of the city of Londrina; its limits will be the limits of the city.
Territorially, the church as the city of God will occupy the space of the city of Londrina, of the city of Temuco, and of the city of Antofagasta. Culturally, the church in that town should also be an indigenous church, that is to say, a church that is native to that place. But it should also be an idiosyncratic church, that is to say that it should have its own form peculiar to the same people among which she rises up, that corresponds to their nature, race, and ethnic group.
And from the point of view of government, that local church that is the city of God in that locality, should be autonomous. Autonomous of any human hierarchy, so that it belongs only to Christ and Christ alone is its head. Autonomous, not to do what it wants, but free to be of Christ, subject to Christ and obedient to him.
In such a way that, if in a locality the church is not being faithful to Christ, and it is not subject to its head, the workers or the other churches are entitled to exhort it. There is no human hierarchy over the church. Christ is the head of the church, but we can watch over each other, demanding that faithfulness to Christ. We don't want any human hierarchy governing the church, but yes we do want to see it subject to Christ and obedient to Christ, and to that effect we need the care of everyone, the exhortation of everyone, the teaching of everyone. Praise the Lord!
So, brother, for some moments, put this vision in your mind and in your heart. Think of the local church where you belong, and consider it for some seconds as the city of God in that locality.
The local church is the city of God in that town, and is called to give testimony of the Lord, to contain and to reflect the glory of God, to build that wall that indicates that there is no longer mixture in it, that is pure and sacred and that nothing unclean or that does abomination enters it. It is called to give testimony that the throne of God, the government of God, the authority of God, is expressed fully through it; that the tree of life sustains it and feeds it, and that the river of living water waters it and purifies it. That is our challenge.
Now, brothers, the local church which is the city of God in the locality, is formed by all the children of God that live in that locality. The local church that is the city of God, for the fact that it is one and there cannot be either two or three, includes all those that God has received and that live in that town. If God has received them, we can not reject them; if they are children of God, they are our brothers.
So, the local church which is the city of God, called to manifest the fullness of God in that locality, has to meet under the principle of the locality. And what is that principle? That we are one church, that we are one body and that we are part of one city, with all those that God has received in that city; that we are one with all those that call upon the name of the Lord in that town.
The challenge of the unity of the church
So, when we are speaking of the restoration of the testimony of the Lord, at this point it is necessary that we challenge ourselves again with regard to the unity of the church. We on our own -spoken in an exclusive manner-cannot confess ourselves to be the local church. We can not, neither in our heart, nor in our attitude, nor in our declaration, leave any son of God outside.
May the Lord help us not to become exclusive. Brother Christian Chen also said it in the previous Conference. He said that we follow the way of Philadelphia, but we can not declare ourselves to be Philadelphia, we can not give ourselves the label "We are the church of Philadelphia". We can take the path that the revelation of that church shows us, but the day that we say "I am Philadelphia"', then we have become the church of Laodicea.
Because when we become exclusive, brothers, do you know what happens? We say from that moment onwards: "we are the local church. Let all those that want to be added to the local church come". Since we are already the local church, for the other ones, what remains for them? To come to be added to us. However, our attitude should not be to hope the other ones come to us who are the local church, but we, "wandering dreamers", go in search of our brothers and sisters.
Brother Christian Chen taught us last year that Israel has had two returns, from two captivities. In the first one, Israel returned from Babylon, with Zorobabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. But, from 1948, Israel experienced a second return, and this time it was from the fact of being dispersed throughout the nations of the world. Then, he made this application to the church: The church should not only come out of Babylon, but rather should also return from division. In the same way as Israel, the church is scattered, it is disintegrated. And we have this call of the Lord not only to return from Babylon, but also to return from division.
Will we offer ourselves to the Lord for this task that is humanly impossible? When one proposes this, obviously a thousand questions come regarding how, where, when, how far. Yes, because there are dangers, there are disadvantages, there are hundreds of things. But, as brother Hoseah Wu was telling us, God wants to gain something in this Conference. Not only do we want to gain something; God also wants to gain something.
The church is the city of God, and the church, as the city of God, is one in each town, and is made up of all the children of God, although they may be dispersed, although they may be in the denominations, and although they may be still in the world. Because, how many children of God are there in the locality that still haven't been saved, that still haven't been regenerated? So then, we are not even talking about those that are already, but even of those that will be. So not only the unity of the church, but also evangelization, is something that we can not leave to one side, and we must have permanently in our heart.
Since today we won't solve the problem of unity, at the very least I encourage you and challenge you, in the name of the Lord to open your heart a little more, and at least begin to pray. Let us demolish any barrier that is still in our heart. Even if our declarations need to be corrected, let us do it, in the name of the Lord. Let us give God the space and the possibility of turning us into dreamers like Joseph who -sent by the Father- go out in search of brothers.
I want to continue dreaming, and in the name of the Lord I challenge you to do it together with me, to allow the Lord to use us in the restoration of His testimony.