17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:17)
The final book in the NT canon is a curious one: Revelation. It is a work of apocalyptic literature; it describes events entirely through symbolic representations. As such, it is difficult for most and certainly has led to many interpretations of meaning. Most Christians have interpreted Revelation as an exposition on the End Times – the end of the world, when God will restore all things to the way they were intended, before The Fall. That may well be true; however, it is clear that Revelation at least describes the end of a world – the end of the Old Covenant world and the beginning of the New Covenant world where grace is the seed of a new creation. This is, of course, why Jesus came.
The end of the old Judaism, of the Old Covenant, must be of supreme importance to Christians; it is the root of our religion. But, you say, Judaism is not finished; there is still a practicing Jewish Faith today. Yes, there is a Jewish Faith today, and many Christians (including me) consider them to be our “older Brothers and Sisters” in the Faith, worthy of dignity and respect as such. The relationship between them and the Lord is not so clear, but there is no denying a relationship. There has been, however, a great change in key elements of the Jewish Faith, changes that happened within the first generation after Jesus. And those changes were prophesied in Jesus’ Mount Olivet sermon (Mt 24-25) and in the Revelation of St. John. Those changes from the ceremonial Law of the Temple to the new law of Grace are the foundations of Christianity.
In historical context, the changes were simply the end of a sacrificing priesthood and of any visible political authority. As was explained elsewhere, the Old Covenant refers to several covenants sworn between God and His people. The signs of the Old Covenant were the Sabbath rest (with Adam/Eve), circumcision (with Abraham), the sacrificing priesthood (with Moses) and the imperial monarchy (with King David). These last two signs were eliminated in 70 AD, when Roman troops under Titus conquered Jerusalem, destroying the Temple completely and sending the Jews into exile outside the Holy City. This marked the permanent end of animal sacrifices and the end of a meaningful Aaronic priesthood. The last king of Judea was Herod Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12:1), who ruled from 42-44 AD. From 70 AD, there have been no animal sacrifices and no rebuilding of the Temple. The Temple was replaced by the synagogue, and the priesthood replaced by the rabbinical structure. Likewise, Judah/Judea was politically replaced in 70 AD and the Jewish people have had no monarchy since. Christians believe that the Jewish priesthood was transformed into the Christian priesthood, and the Davidic monarchy continues today in the Person of Jesus Christ, King.
16 I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star. (Rev 22:16b)
Finally, we can come to our Bible text! If Jesus is king, then of what is He king? Where is His nation? When we consider the theme of Revelation – a change from the OT to the NT – then we should see a new Israel, a new Jerusalem. And we do.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." 5 And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. 7 He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. (Rev 21:1-7)
The first heaven and earth were those of the Old Covenant world; the New Covenant brings a new world. The sea – that ancient Hebrew symbol of primordial chaos and death – is no more. In this new world is a new Jerusalem, described as a bride and as a place where God will dwell with men. This new Jerusalem is the Church, where we embrace the Lord in the sacraments, those channels of grace through which the Holy Spirit comes to us and lives in us, making us new creations: divinized humans. Remember that “the Church” is not the hierarchical organization of clerics; it is you and I, the Mystical Body of Christ. We are that new Jerusalem, where God dwells with men, i.e., where the Spirit lives, intimately, in our souls. We become new Jerusalem at baptism, when we receive “the fountain of the water of life without payment,” when we become the sons and daughters of God.
And so we see the beautiful and powerful meaning in the initial text for this essay: “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” The Holy Spirit of God calls us, calls everyone. His bride, the Church – us! – calls to humanity: “come.” Come and drink freely of the life-giving waters of baptism, of all the sacraments – without price! The channels of grace are freely given and lead us to the Lord, to a life lived with divine intimacy, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls. This is the “new” that we Christians want to share, the novelty of our religion: we do nothing, nothing at all, and in exchange for such nothing the Lord embraces us, sharing His Life, His Nature with us. The sad fate of supernatural death is relieved, such death is no more. We no longer need to cry over such former things, as they have passed away.
And here is the best part: This great vision is not some “pie in the sky when you die” expectation for the future. It is here, it is now.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. (Rev 22:20b-21)