“That’s tanzanite!” said Bishop Amos Muhagachi of Tanzania when he saw one the stones on my windowsill. Indeed, the glistening green gem came from Tanzania, but I know it as chrysoprase. It completed my collection of twelve stones named by first-century prophet John on Patmos island (Revelation 22:19, 20).
John ministered among early churches in what today is western Turkey. It appears he got into trouble with Roman authorities, was exiled to Patmos, and there wrote a blistering blast against empire. The Roman empire, he charges, is a rampaging beast whose power issues from Satan. Mounted on the beast is the harlot “Babylon,” a derisive label that protesting Jews and Christians gave to Rome. She is “drunk with the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”
Condemning Roman emperor worship as blasphemous, John foresees divine judgment against the greed and violence of Rome. Rome destroyed earthly Jerusalem in AD 70, but now something better is coming. Beyond the gloom of his vision, John sees the light of a new Jerusalem.
If the beast represents Roman rule, new Jerusalem represents alternative citizenship that early Christians claimed in the kingdom of God. Babylon (Rome) “fornicates” with kings of the earth. It corrupts complicit client rulers such as the Herod dynasty, and extracts resources of all kinds from the provinces. The new Jerusalem, in contrast, produces a river of the water of life that nurtures trees for healing the nations. Apostles of the Lamb form the foundation of the city. This is heaven coming to earth, a city where God dwells with mortals to wipe every tear.
In contrast to empires, which always expand the chasm between rich and poor, the new Jerusalem brings equal access to wealth. The very streets on which inhabitants walk are gold. Foundations of the city are replete with jewels–the same that adorn my windowsill. This is an image of the church in mission, sharing wealth and seeking economic access for all.
In Old City Jerusalem, a shopkeeper supplies me with six stones named in Revelation: jasper, sapphire, onyx, carnelian, topaz, and amethyst. Paying a few dollars per stone, I walk away with a bit of heaven in my pocket, then round up the remaining gems on Ebay: jacinth from Cambodia, agate from Botswana, emerald from Brazil, chrysoprase (tanzanite) from Tanzania, beryl from Angola, and chrysolite from Pakistan.
Many people in the world would not have spare cash to visit Jerusalem or even to purchase such stones. The disparity of resources reminds me of the growing gap between rich and poor. Oxfam calculates that just eight men in the world have more wealth than half of humanity. Eight! Bishop Amos and his colleagues have a plan to grow the Mennonite church in Tanzania from 100,000 to one million. That is spiritual wealth.
I yearn for the day when the new Jerusalem is fully here, when material poverty is no more. John saw that the holy city already is breaking into the world–now! I consider what my part should be in the economy of that holy city: give generously to agencies that foster economic opportunity, support candidates who think globally, care for the environment, build relationships across boundaries of nation and class, live simply.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
© 2017 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************
The popular-level book I wrote on Revelation is now available in Spanish! See https://www.amazon.com/Apocalipsis-lealtad-pol%C3%ADtica-devoci%C3%B3n-Spanish/dp/1532991134/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1500927801&sr=1-1&keywords=apocalipsis+y+lealtad The English language version is Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics and Devotion in the Book of Revelation (Brazos, 2010). Walter Brueggemann calls it “fresh, vigorous, imaginative, demanding.”
Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/