Signpost 5 May2013: Acts 16:9-15; Rev 21:10-22; 22:5; John 14:23-29
When I was little, like most children, I had a recurring dream. A flying dream and I was trying to escape from something. The flying bit was exciting, the trying to escape bit was terrifying. Not entirely unlike the Book of Revelation: full of fantastic things and scary monsters. And this week’s reading is very dreamlike. A lamb marries his bride; a giant city floats down from the sky; its walls are covered in precious stones and its streets are paved with transparent pure gold. Can this be anything other than dreamland or a vision?
Actually yes, it’s a letter to seven churches. So it was meant to be read out loud and many scholars agree it’s almost certainly not a cryptic prediction of the end of time that might occur any day now. So don’t worry about that. If anything, it’s a condemnation of the way governments go about ruling this world. John is particularly talking about Rome, but he uses the name Babylon because that’s an archetype of an oppressive regime for all Jews. He could just as well have said Egypt or Greece and they’d have got the idea. His main message seems to be that, despite how people go about their daily lives, Christ/God is running things; he’s their Lord, not Caesar. To us he’d say, not Kim Jong-un, not Bashar al-Assad, not even Barak Obama and certainly not John Key.
Caesar demanded the same devotion as God – Caesar had proclaimed himself a god (even if he allowed you to worship your own god at the same time). If the Jews were annoyed at Jesus claiming to be God, John’s reminding them that Caesar claims the same thing in a different way. So why on Earth were they letting him get away with it?
Some modern translations render 21:16 in miles or kilometres and the like but that often causes us to miss the point. They are not literal dimensions, but perfect measurements, multiples of twelve – a perfect cube, like the OT Holy of Holies. It’s a city powered by love and illuminated by God himself. You might even say that that Rev 22:5 is the fulfilment of 1 Corinthians 13:12.
But dream on, as Paul does in Acts 16:9. That dream changes the course, literally, of Biblical history. Biblical dreams often do (Genesis 28:10-16; 1 Kings 3:5-14; Matthew 2: 12-13; Acts 10:9-16). And you could say that the whole of Acts is there to show that Jesus wasn’t dreaming in John 14: 25 and 29.