What about the sun and the moon?
23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:23–ESV)
The quick reader of verse 23 may draw a wrong conclusion: no sun, no moon. That is what I did, but upon a closer look found my error. John does not say there will be no moon or sun over the New Jerusalem. He merely says external lighting of the city would be unnecessary and goes on to speak of a different light source.
John says that God’s glory gives it light, and the context of sun and moon indicate more than the figurative. David said that God’s words were a light for him. They illuminated his path through the choices of life. David’s words were metaphorical, but John’s words have a literal context.
To help explain this let me tell about a trip my wife and I took a week before giving this lesson when we visited the Biltmore Estate. The French chateau which George Washington Vanderbilt II opened on Christmas Eve in 1895 still retains its magnificence. The things he did and built on that Asheville property speak for themselves. As the visitors walk up and down the stairs, peer around corners and crane their necks to see the vaulted ceilings imaginations run far and wide. This is especially so when coupled with the Titanic exhibit displayed there1. There is a glory that quickly runs into fantasy among the visitors.
The Biltmore house has brilliance in some manner, but it is a faded one. Its days are only now imagined for much of its ambiance drew from the original lives that built and inhabited it. Those lives energized it radiating a glory to the guests from around the world.
Contrast that to John’s vision of the New Jerusalem; there was a glory there as well. God’s glory, however, transcended the fantastic coming alive all the way to radiance. As God will never die nor will his resources run dry it will be a forever place; one not imagined, but one experienced. Somehow the glory will be expressed as illumination.
Part of me wants an explanation of the somehow, but that is not something which God has yet revealed to humanity at large. Perhaps it could simply be called a living glory.
Now off to the figurative
The last phrase of verse 23 brings Jesus’ glory into the discussion, and in doing so jumps back to metaphor. The sun and moon are not metaphors, but real lights while Jesus as lamp and light are. Jesus’ actions as Lamb of God are the purest expression of God’s glory. They are the power behind what I think we can call the living brightness of New Jerusalem.
When I think back to the Biltmore House, I quickly come to parallels. While the house has magnificence, glory if you will, it still represents the Vanderbilt family. Even more so while George Washington Vanderbilt II built it we of the 21st Century who do not know the individuals of that 18th and 19th Century American powerhouse connect the house with the wealth amassed by this individual.
While we toured the Biltmore House, my mind kept running out of the house and off to the man. See I would try to imagine George as he coordinated its construction and more as he and his family lived in it. In my mental assessments, I could not separate the deeds of the man from the place he left behind. The accumulations and his estate lost all value to him after appendicitis crumped him over.
Two days after my tour I sought out a book that might flesh out these deeds. Words like Robber Barron kept showing up. I bought T.J. Stiles’ book The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. While George Washington Vanderbilt II had charitable facets, his wealth accumulating ancestors seem marked by something less.
It is not my intent to cast aspersion on the Vanderbilt’s world. The legacy, though, behind the estates, university, and other philanthropies has some bearing the glory of it all.
Similarly, the Lamb of God has a bearing on the glory of God. That is how John is intertwining the literal sun and moon with the figurative Lamb of God. When these two meet at the New Jerusalem, it seems as if saw a living brightness that obviated the need for external illumination.