City of the Lamb


City of the Lamb
Brian Zahnd

In the last two chapters of the book of Revelation John of Patmos weaves a tapestry of images borrowed from Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. The culmination of John’s artistry is a stunning vision of hope — the city of the Lamb. In painting this portrait John borrows in particular from Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple.

Ezekiel was a priest and prophet during the Babylonian exile in the 5th century BC. At a time when the Jerusalem temple was in ruins Ezekiel had a vision of a new temple (or we could say a new Jerusalem). What Ezekiel saw wasn’t the Second Temple that would be built by Zerubbabel and later expanded by King Herod, but a mystical temple. Ezekiel’s temple was a symbolic temple reflecting a spiritual agenda.

Flowing from this mystical temple Ezekiel sees a stream of water (see Ezekiel 47). At first it’s just a trickle, but as it flows it becomes deeper and wider. This tiny stream from the temple flows into the desert, becomes a river with trees suddenly springing up along its banks. But these are no ordinary trees — they bear fruit every month and have leaves with healing properties. When the river reaches the Dead Sea the lifeless waters are healed and suddenly the Dead Sea is dead no more, but is teaming with fish! Everywhere the river from the temple flows there is healing and life.

This is Ezekiel’s vision of a mystical temple that brings life and healing to the waste places outside of Jerusalem. Ezekiel anticipates something coming from the center of the Jewish world that will bring healing to a deeply wounded world.

In the grand finale to his Apocalypse John borrows Ezekiel’s mystical vision of a a river of life with healing trees. This is the new society formed around the Lamb. This is New Jerusalem. And it is Jesus who has emerged from the center of the Jewish world to heal the nations.

And where do we find New Jerusalem? Wherever we find people banding together with the intention of following the Lamb in the new way of being human. Wherever churches enact a healing presence in broken communities New Jerusalem is there. New Jerusalem is both a symbolic vision and a tangible reality.

New Jerusalem is a marriage. It is the marriage of God and humankind, the marriage of heaven and earth, the marriage of garden and city. Adam’s lost garden and Abraham’s longed-for city are united in holy matrimony in New Jerusalem. As a garden city New Jerusalem brings well-being to both people and planet. In our hurting world every city needs communities of Jesus followers committed to bringing well-being to people and planet — now more than ever. With nations raging and warring, with a planet melting and burning, it’s time to live as citizens of New Jerusalem. Today humanity stands at a crossroads. The way of the Beast points to the Lake of Fire. The way of the Lamb points to New Jerusalem.

Those who choose the peaceable way of the Lamb become citizens of New Jerusalem. The citizenship of New Jerusalem (the bride of the Lamb) is to be an agent of healing for both people and planet. As the church eventually learned that followers of Jesus cannot treat people as their slaves, we now have to learn that we cannot treat the planet as our slave. God’s image-bearing creatures are to exercise dominion over the earth as healing caretakers, not as rapacious profiteers. To mistreat God’s good creation, people and planet, is always the highway to hell. We either cooperate with New Jerusalem or we cooperate with the Lake of Fire. These two alternative fates are both present in the closing scene of John’s theatrical Apocalypse: A lake that never stops burning and a garden city whose gates are never shut.

John presents New Jerusalem as the saving alternative to the burning lake. Kings and nations living outside New Jerusalem where the lake of fire burns day and night are invited into the holy city. To those living in the hellscape that is the abode of the dragon, beast, and false prophet, an invitation is offered:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
–Revelation 22:17

What a generous and gracious invitation! To nations living in the miserable land of the burning lake the Spirit and the bride invite the thirsty to come to the city of the Lamb and drink from the water of life as a free gift!

The city has twelve gates, but they are not for defense, for these gates are never shut. The gates are open on every side of the city telling us entrance into the heavenly city is always a possibility. All who repent and turn their backs on the Beast with its idolatry and injustice, and wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb will be received into the holy city. As John tells us,

“Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.” –Revelation 22:14

In Genesis God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden and blocked the way to the tree of life by an angel with a flaming sword. But in Revelation the Spirit and the Bride call to the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve living in the land of the burning lake and invite them to enter the garden city through ever open gates and partake freely of the tree of life!

To those banished from paradise and exiled to a living hell a way back home is offered. Prodigal sons and daughters don’t have to suffer forever in self-imposed exile in the far country — the door to the father’s house is always open. In the final chapter of the Bible we see the hands of a loving God reaching out to welcome weary sinners.


(The artwork is an original piece by Asia Katz that I acquired in Safed, Israel.)