First Impressions and the Divine Usher
"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal" (Rev. 21:9-11).
First impressions are important.
We know this because God gives them with the aim that they should shape our lingering impressions.
In Rev. 21:9-11 we are granted the equivalent of a first impression of the glorified Bride of the Lamb. Starting in v. 12 and extending, arguably, to the end of the Book, and thus of the Canon, this first impression is filled out with a sustained, awe-filled gaze. But first is the divinely purposed impact of the unprecedented beauty we behold, the dumbstruck wonder at the woman who has just been pointed out by the divine Hand. With his words, "and he showed me," we can imagine her having just filled the doorway with her light at the far end of the long aisle.
But seeing her properly requires the proper vantage point. It will not do to try to gain a faithful sense of her beauty by craning our necks and peeking through arms and elbows. And so the Angel who had once done his irregular, improper, yet necessary and holy work of pouring out judgement, now takes up his more fitting and gracious task, and invites us to come and to see. And at this word the Spirit rushes in and takes us right to the aisle, as it were, steadies our hands, our feet, our gaze as he gives us a tall perch with a perfect view from which to try to take her beauty in.
And what is that first impression? It is the unmistakable glory of God, not only a glory within Her but a glory that flows from her. She emits the Light, shines with it. A creature now fully and thoroughly fitted for her heavenly environment, she has become an effulgent one. She does not merely wear jewelry; she is jewelry.
And this, no doubt, is due to her being the telos of the incarnation: she comes "down from heaven" and so the dwelling place of God is now, finally and fully, with man (vv. 2, 3). The reader cannot help but link this with what is said in John 1 regarding the Word who became flesh and "tabernacled" among us, in whom we behold the glory of God.
This first impression, then, must be the initial image of the fullest "why" of the God-man. With the glorification of the Bride the glory-filled Groom is, in a sense, complete. It was not good for this Man to be alone, and he will not be. And therefore the whole point of the Garden-City-Tabernacle-Temple story swells up into this moment of our first impression of the Bride. No wonder, then, that we stand there with mouths and eyes wide open: here is our first glance at the final "why" of human being, longing, hope, and history.
But, again, we cannot overlook the prerequisite to this moment: the role of the divine Usher. We cannot see the Bride for the truth of who she is if the Spirit does not usher us to the proper vantage point. But, then, this is what the Spirit does: he teaches us the truth about the Church-City-Bride, for we would never believe it unless he persuaded us.
And of course this text is given that we might believe the truth about her now, about the work - this work - in progress she really is now, not just when the truth of it is finally disclosed to us then. Indeed, in the mysteries of his ways, God gives this inspired image of the glorious Bride as a means to its own end: by grace we become her the more we believe this about her.