John & Isaiah’s visions of work that lasts for eternity

The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into [the New Jerusalem]. (Revelation 21:26)

To quote a fictionalized Alexander Hamilton, I think we all “wanna build something that’s gonna outlive [us].” Today, we’ll begin to see the biblical evidence that that longing is shockingly, miraculously true.

In Revelation 21, John is sharing his glimpse of heaven on the New Earth when he says this about the New Jerusalem: “On no day will its gates ever be shut…The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it” (Revelation 21:25-26). 

What is John talking about? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder, because Isaiah answers that question for us in Isaiah 60. And even though Isaiah wrote some 600 years before John, theologians such as Dr. Richard Mouw agree that “both men were working with the same material.” And so, as Dr. Randy Alcorn points out, “Isaiah 60 serves as the best biblical commentary on Revelation 21–22.”

And in that commentary, Isaiah says this: “Your gates will always stand open…so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations” (Isaiah 60:11). This language is nearly identical to John’s. But Isaiah goes on to list out what some of “the wealth of the nations” are. They include “the ships of Tarshish” (v. 9), “incense” from the nation of Sheba (v. 6), and refined “silver and gold” from some unnamed nation (v. 9). 

Ships, incense, refined silver and gold—these are all works of human hands. And Isaiah and John are watching Jesus accept these acts of culture as gifts to adorn the New Jerusalem. 

The implication here is startling. These prophetic visions seem to suggest that some of the works of our hands—the product you’re building, the book you’re writing, the truck you’re repairing—have the chance of physically lasting into eternity.

N.T. Wright, whom Christianity Today has called “the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation” summarizes this idea beautifully, saying, “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire….You are…accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.”

This all sounds too good to be true. Should these passages be taken literally as I’m suggesting? Dr. Mouw says yes: Isaiah and John “are not merely engaging in utopian speculation.” They are “given a glimpse of things that the Lord will surely bring to pass.”

But as brilliant as Dr. Mouw is, we shouldn’t just take his word for it. Which is why next week, we will look at other evidence in Scripture that our work has a shot at lasting forever.


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