The vision reaches its surprising climax in John’s report of something he does not see, namely, a temple. The city has no need of a temple, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Their radiance is such that even the illumination provided by sun and stars is superfluous. Special sacraments are no longer necessary, because in the new eon “all truth will be openly and perfectly revealed” (Aquinas, Summa theologiae 3.61.4 §1). The life of the city will not point to God, it will be in God. But John’s remark that “[the city’s] lamp is the Lamb” permits us to say something St. Thomas does not: in the age to come, the vision of God will be mediated through the risen, glorified flesh of Jesus. The heavenly city is not the end of the church, for the church is simply God’s people. It is, however, the end of religion, the demarcation of sacred space from profane space and liturgical time from ordinary time, for the purpose of making present the absent god.
But perhaps the most unexpected thing of all in the new Jerusalem comes in the lines that follow: “By [the city’s] light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”
How did these kings get here? Are these the same kings who consorted with Babylon and participated in the beast’s warfare against the Lamb? While the kings in the present passage do not seem to be inhabitants of the city, they are evidently welcome in it. This scene, in fact, represents the eschatological fulfillment of Christ’s identity as “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). The Messiah rules not only over his people Israel, but over the goyim. Christ’s exercise of power radically differs from that of the earthly city, as Bernd Wannenwetsch comments: “Rome/Babylon’s wealth was extorted from all the world, in the New City the kings of the earth are said to bring their glory into it—of their own free will.”