An Old Joke and the New Jerusalem

I found this version of an old joke that you’ve probably heard before:

A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, “Religion?”  The man says, “Methodist.”  St. Peter looks down his list, and says, “Go to room 24, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”

Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. “Religion?”  “Lutheran.”  “Go to room 18, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”

A third man arrives at the gates. “Religion?”  “Presbyterian.”  “Go to room 11, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.” 

The man says, “I can understand there being different rooms for different denominations, but why must I be quiet when I pass room 8?”

St. Peter tells him, “Well the Baptists are in room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”

————————————————–

Thinking about that joke I remembered a passage from the Book of Revelation, where the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven “adorned as a bride for her husband” (21:3).  A little later in the passage John tells us:  “It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and [each gate was made of a single pearl]…. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west” (vss. 12-13).  And I smiled, wondering if there was a sign on each of those pearly gates, one that said “Methodists,” one that said “Lutherans,” one that said “Presbyterians,” one that said, “Baptists,” and so forth, all around the wall.

The joke, I thought, would be on all of us, when we dutifully entered through our respective gates and discovered that we were (in fact) all in the same place.  I hope we would only stare at each other for a moment before we all burst out laughing and said, “Good one, God!”

You know what’s funny?  In that passage there are actually names on the gates of the New Jerusalem.  “On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel” (vs. 12).  It makes me wonder if those twelve tribes sometimes had trouble getting along, if the tribe of Benjamin occasionally turned up its nose at the tribe of Dan, for example.  Would the twelve tribes be surprised when they came through their respective gates and found that they were (in fact) all in the same place?  Would they stare at each other for a long moment before they all burst out laughing? 

It doesn’t seem to be God’s intention to keep us separated.  He seems to want to bring his big, scattered family together in one place.  One of my favorite parts of this passage comes a few verses later, where John tells us that there wasn’t a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple; and it didn’t need the sun or the moon, because the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp; and the nations will walk by that light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into that place, and the gates will be open by day, and there is no night there (vss. 22-25).

Did you catch that last part?  The “nations” will walk by that light (the word in Greek is the same one used for “Gentiles”).  The kings of the earth will bring their splendor into the New Jerusalem.  It doesn’t sound like it’s only going to be a place for God’s chosen people; it sounds like it’s going to be a place for all of God’s people.  And the gates will be open by day, and there is no night there, which means, of course, that the gates of that city will never be closed.

The New Jerusalem will always be open.

4 thoughts on “An Old Joke and the New Jerusalem

  1. I hear ‘The Holy City’ being sung enthusiastically at a revival in the Haymarket section of Louisville in the 1940s–Henlee Barnette, pastor; Clarence Jordan, preacher; Carlyle Marney on the trombone!

  2. My brother, who is a Roman Catholic, heard that joke told, several years ago, by his Parish Priest while they were at a liturgical conference at the University of Notre Dame. The Priest inserted Roman Catholics in “Room 8″ instead of Baptists. I suspect that someday everyone in heaven will look around them and be surprised at some who are there as well as surprised that some who they thought would be there are not there. I hope and pray that all whom we think will be in heaven WILL be there including us, of course! Like Jack, above, I love “The Holy City” and am also reminded of “Tell Mother I’ll Be There” and “I dreamed I Searched Heaven for You”. I’d rather hear those songs performed by the First Baptist Choir led by Phil Mitchell of course! ;>

  3. Jim:

    I trust you are watching the PBS Frontline this Week, God In America.
    Last night was stellar with the trial of Anne Hutchinson by John Winthrop.
    Richmond’s James Slatton did a grand job.

    Two more installments to go. Looking forward to your blog review.

    And if I could be so bold, Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind is a Must read for you. UK Guardian Review by Karen Armstrong should close the sale.

  4. Reminds me of an old Tony Campolo quote ——
    “You don’t have to be a Baptist to get to heaven; BUT WHY TAKE A CHANCE!!!”

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