Not for nothing do the terms ‘climax’ and ‘climactic’ figure importantly in multiple spheres of human endeavor.
One learns, in this life, to wait and to anticipate. One learns to long. Life educates one to grasp, white-knuckled, hopes and desires that a more prosaic mindset might counsel one to abandon.
A sober-mindedness stands behind such counter-cultural, stubborn hope. Despite appearances, such unyielding refusal to cave to the way things are is more truthful than the cynical comprises we are urged to make. One sees, out of this stubborness, possiblity that has become invisible to pragmatism’s intoxication.
The penultimate chapter of the book of Revelation lends credence to this version of sanity. To refuse to hope, to deny counter-evidential longing, to compromise with this word’s pretensions to finality are from this angle of vision the true insanity.
Presence of mind holds out for Jerusalem Descending, knowing that reality most real is God’s gift and shall not be countered.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Those who, despite the Seer’s guidance, do not see are the insane. They are not so much to be despised as pitied. They have lost the capacity to peer behind events to reality. It is not entirely their fault. The better response is gratitude for vision, not condemnation of the blind.
A little-noticed detail of John’s revelation is the plurality of his climactic vision. So sure are some translators of what must be that they dissolve this remarkable plural into a convenient and familiar singular. The New Revised Standard Vision grasps better the text, come what may.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
Covenantal language, from Genesis to Revelation, is singular and Israel-specific. Indeed the vocabulary is willing to pay the price for the scandal for particularity. After all, in the First Testament YHWH has disclosed his intentions to no other people as He has to Israel. In the Second Testament, salvation remains—all convenient universalisms be damned—of the Jews.
So the astonishment of John’s climactic re-deployment of long-familiar covenantal language: He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples.’
Perhaps the plural is an accident of the moment’s euphoria. Perhaps Israel remains, even here, the be-all and the end-all.
But probably not.
As nations have, in prophetic vision, flowed to Jerusalem, so nations here receive Jerusalem descending. YHWH’s mercies are broader than it has been possible for us to imagined.
The unwashed heathen—with their strange accents and alien odors—dance in the streets. Everyone was wrong. Jerusalem is theirs, too. Some of heaven’s angels sing, others faint at the shock.
It was all for naught. It was all for everything.