The Eternal Value of Your Work (Revelation 21) - God’s Word for Work, Online Video Bible StudySmall Group Study / Produced by TOW Project and Partners
The Eternal Value of Your Work (Revelation 21)
1. Leader gathers the group in an online meeting.
2. Leader shares screen and audio.
3. Leader plays video. The video includes:
- Introduction to God's Word for Work
- Opening prayer
- Bible reading: Revelation 21
- 1 minute for quiet reflection
- Reading from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary: Babylon and the New Jerusalem
4. Leader pauses the video and the group discusses the readings.
5. Leader resumes the video with the closing prayer.
God, we invite you to speak to us through the Bible today. Show us what your word means for our work. Amen.
Bible reading: Revelation 21
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Reading from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary: Babylon and the New Jerusalem
The most important insights into the big picture of work come in the concluding chapters of Revelation, where the worldly city Babylon is set against God’s city, the New Jerusalem. The introductions of the cities in Revelation 17:1 and Revelation 21:9 are set in clear parallel: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters.” And “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.”
Babylon represents the dead-end street of humanity’s attempt to build their culture apart from God. It has every appearance of being the paradise for which humanity has always longed. It is no coincidence that its gold and jewels recall those of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 17:4). Like the New Jerusalem, Babylon exercises authority over the nations and receives their wealth.
But it is in fact a counterfeit, doomed to be exposed by God in the final judgment. Especially instructive is the cargo list, modeled on Ezekiel 27:12–22 and the fall of Tyre, but updated to include the luxury goods popular in Rome in John’s day. “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore—cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.” (Revelation 18:11–13)
The final note about human lives likely relates to the slave trade, and it is the final nail in the coffin of Babylon’s exploitative empire: she will stop at nothing, not even trafficking in human flesh, in pursuit of sensual self-indulgence.
The lesson that God would judge a city for its economic practices is a sobering thought. Economics is clearly a moral issue in the book of Revelation. The fact that much of the condemnation appears to stem from its self-indulgence should hit with particular force at modern consumer culture, where the constant search for more and better can lead to a myopic focus on satisfying real or imagined material needs. But the most worrisome thing of all is that Babylon looks so close to the New Jerusalem. God did create a good world; we are meant to enjoy life; God does delight in the beautiful things of earth.
If the world system were a self-evident cesspool, the temptation for Christians to fall to its allures would be small. It is precisely the genuine benefits of technological advance and extensive trading networks that constitute the danger. Babylon promises all the glories of Eden, without the intrusive presence of God. It slowly but inexorably twists the good gifts of God—economic interchange, agricultural abundance, diligent craftsmanship—into the service of false gods.
At this point, one might feel that any participation in the world economy—or even any local economy—must be so fraught with idolatry that the only solution is to withdraw completely and live alone in the wilderness. But Revelation offers an alternative vision of life together: the New Jerusalem. This is the city that John sees “coming down out of heaven” (Revelation 21:2), and as such it is the consummate representation of God’s grace. It stands in stark contrast to the self-made monstrosity that is Babylon.
At one level, the New Jerusalem is a return to Eden—there is a river flowing through its midst, with the tree of life standing by with fruit-laden branches and leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). Humanity can once again walk in peace with God. Indeed, it outstrips Eden, since the glory of the Lord itself provides the illumination for the city (Revelation 22:5).
But the New Jerusalem is not simply a new and better garden: it is a garden-city, the urban ideal that forms the counterweight to Babylon. There is, for instance, still meaningful human participation in the life of the celestial city come to earth. Central to this, of course, is the worship people bring to God and the Lamb. But there seems to be more than this in the note that “people will bring it the glory and honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:24–26).
In the ancient world, it was desirable to build a temple with the best materials from all over the world; this is what Solomon did for the temple in Jerusalem. More than that, people would bring gifts from far and wide to adorn the temple after its completion. It is probable that the image of kings bringing their gifts to the New Jerusalem flows from this background. It does not seem too much of a stretch to imagine that these gifts are the products of human culture, devoted now to the glory of God.
We must also consider the implications of Old Testament visions of the future, which see it in meaningful continuity with present-day life. Isaiah 65, for example, is a critical background text for Revelation 21-22 and provides its foundational teaching, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). Yet this same chapter says of the future blessings of God’s people, “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isaiah 65:21–22). We can certainly argue that Isaiah is pointing, in ways suitable to his times, to something much greater than mere agricultural abundance—but he can hardly be pointing to less. Yet less is precisely what is typically offered in a vision of heaven consisting of nothing more than clouds, harps, and white robes.
Parsing out precisely how this works is not easy. Will there still be farming in the new heavens and new earth? Will a godly computer programmer’s 1.0 software be consigned to the flames while version 2.0 enters the heavenly city? The Bible does not answer these types of questions directly, but we may once more look at the big picture. God created humans to exercise dominion over the earth, which entails creativity. Would it be sensible for such a God to then turn and regard work done in faith as useless and cast it aside? On balance, it seems far more likely that he would raise it up and perfect all that is done for his glory.
Likewise, the prophetic vision of the future envisions people engaged in meaningful activity in the creation. Since God does not go into detail as to how this transfer of products from the now-world to the new-world works, or what exact things we might be doing in the future state, we can only guess at what this means concretely. But it does mean that we can confidently follow the advice in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
- How does what you heard apply to your work?
God, thank you for being present with us today. Please stay with us in our work, wherever we go. Amen.