Commentary on Revelation 21
The next-to-the-last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 21, closes by alluding to world evangelism. That is very significant. A reference to world evangelism in Scripture's final pages trumpets the great importance God places on reaching all people with the Gospel!
To be sure, Revelation 21:23-24 is not an exhortation to us to finish the job. That's because it is a vision of the future. So, the phrase "the nations will walk by its light" celebrates the harvest that has been gathered from around the globe.
The Bible frequently uses light and darkness to contrast good with evil. Remember, for example, Jesus' bold proclamation: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12)? That proclamation was strengthened when John wrote in Revelation that the New Jerusalem will be totally illuminated by the Lamb of God.
Furthermore, John used his statement about the New Jerusalem's illumination to affirm that the gospel is for everyone on Earth. The Greek word in Revelation 21 that is rendered as "nation/nations" is ethnos/ethne. English words like "ethnic" and "ethnicity" come from that particular Greek word. Recognizing this, the Easy-to-Read Bible translation renders ethnos in Revelation 21:24 as "the peoples of the world." What powerful implications that has for the cause of world evangelism.
"Nations" in the sense of "ethnic groups" echoes the "every tribe and language and people" phrase used earlier in Revelation 5:9, 7:9, and 14:6. People from "the nations" walking in the Lamb's light will wonderfully fulfill the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring" (Genesis 28:14 as well as 12:3 and 18:18).
World evangelism has long been described as shedding light in dark places. Thus, when Ada Blenkhorn and E. Meyer collaborated in the early 1900s to write a song about Africa's unreached people groups, they called it "Dark Africa." Today that title can seem derogatory or disparaging. It was not meant that way. That century-old song was written to awaken people to the lack of spiritual light for "the nations" of Africa.
In addition, we must not ignore the fact that Revelation 21:23-24 announces a fulfillment of the Isaiah 60:3 prophecy: "Nations will come to your light." These two prophecies -- one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament -- will be fulfilled when believers carry out the Great Commission.
Thus, even though the prophecy in Revelation 21 appears descriptive, isn't it in some ways prescriptive for us? That is, shouldn't we be doing more than simply rejoicing that people from all over the world will be in the New Jerusalem? Revelation 21:23-24 grows out of every other biblical passage concerning our responsibility to share the Good News of the Gospel with every person on earth. As we work to carry out the Great Commission, we can rejoice that the vision of Revelation 21:23-24 is headed for fulfillment!
-- Howard Culbertson,
This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.
In John 8:12 Jesus is reported as saying, "I am the light of the world." So, it should be no surprise to read in Revelation 21 that the people groups of the world will walk by the light of the "Lamb" (who is Jesus Christ). Revelation 21:23-24 may also be considered a fulfillment of Isaiah 60:1, 3 that says, "Arise, shine, for your light has come . . . Nations will come to your light."