All the way back in Revelation 1:19, Jesus instructed His servant the Apostle John to “write the things which you have seen (this would be the appearing of the Glorified Christ to John in chapter 1), and the things which are (this would include seven letters written to the Church recorded in chapters 2 and 3), and the things which will take place after this.”
With regards to those “things which will take place after” the completion of the Church Age, Revelation 4 through chapter 19:10 document a period of seven years known as the Great Tribulation… Then the last 10 verses of Revelation 19 record the Second Coming of Jesus and Battle of Armageddon… With chapter 20 presenting the Millennial Reign of Christ on the earth which culminates in a final rebellion and the Great White Throne Judgment.
Transitioning from the 20th to 21st chapter of the book, we enter the last section of this grand revelation… Revelation 21:1, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.”
Beyond the Tribulational Period, the 1,000 year Millennial Reign, and the final Great White Throne judgment, John transitions to a description of an entirely new reality for the believer depicted in the idea of “the first heaven and earth” giving way to a “new heaven and earth.”
It’s worth taking a second and clarifying that when John references “the first heaven” as well as this “new heaven” the word describes the expanse of the sky including outer space and not the place in which God dwells. While following death or the Rapture we will live in heaven, after the Second Coming, it seems our lives play forth on this earth restored. Then, once the Great White Throne is completed, John witnesses a whole new reality ushered in.
Understanding that there were no chapter and verse breaks in the original text, it is not an accident John presents our new reality in direct contrast to the final few verses of the previous chapter. Moving from the daunting reality of hell (a place of eternal torment), we’re now given this presentation of what our eternal lives will look like on a “new earth.”
Right from the jump, I need to point out how incredibly detailed and specific this particular chapter happens to be. In this revelation to John, it will become evident God did not want to leave the future eternity of the believer a mystery. God wanted us to know what our everlasting lives would look like! It’s been said, “The glory of heaven should outshine all that would tempt us on this earth.” Our eternity should place today into an important context.
Regarding this “new heaven and earth” where you and I will live out our eternity, you should also keep in mind that God does not remodel or renovate this current heaven and earth as He did following the Tribulational Period. Instead, according to a parallel passage in Isaiah 65, God replaces this reality with something else entirely!
In Isaiah 65:17, the Lord declares, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” This Hebrew word the prophet uses for “create” is bārā which is the same word we find in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The word means to create out of nothing. Amazingly, this “new earth” will be a fresh creation manifesting from the imagination of God Himself.
John also mentions in the first verse how this new earth no longer had a “sea.” While you could read this literally as there being no beachfront property on the new earth (which I would personally find to be disappointing), this may not be the case. You see to the Jewish mind the sea was a figure that represented evil, uncertainty, and chaos. It may be that this new earth is void of any sea or that it’s a place of tranquillity, order, and assuredness.
As we unpack John’s description of this earth, it’s again worth acknowledging the fact this first-century, Hebrew Apostle looking many millennia into a future world tasked with the challenging job of putting to parchment what he’s seeing concerning this brand new reality will face some obvious linguistic limitations. John is detailed but his description is finite.
Revelation 21:2-4, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (literally the city was descending through the heavens), prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’”
In these verses, John presents three central characteristics to this new earth where we will live out our eternal lives… First, John records how “the tabernacle of God will dwell with men.” In the Old Testament, “the tabernacle of God” referred to a portable tent the presence of God would indwell on the earth. “The tabernacle” was a physical dwelling.
Building off of this imagery, in John 1:14, Jesus is first introduced as being “the Word” that “became flesh and dwelt among us” or more specifically “tabernacled among us.”
When John says, in this future, eternal reality, “the tabernacle of God will dwell with men,” he’s telling us we will live in total community with Jesus! “Jesus will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
Secondly, John also tells us this eternal reality will be very different from our present one “for the former things have passed away.” In this phrase, John reveals his struggle to put into words what he’s witnessing. Instead of describing what this reality will be like, he distinguishes it by listing some of the things this future reality will not include. Things like “tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain” central to this life will have no place in our future.
When John says “the former things have passed away” or departed he doesn’t mean our “former” earthly experiences and memories are somehow erased from our minds like what happens in the movie Men In Black. Rather, John is saying “the former things” no longer have the same impact as they once did because “God has wiped away every tear.” All of the things that have caused us pain and suffering have been resolved in our hearts by God.
Lastly, John says central to the new earth will be “the holy city” the “New Jerusalem.” It’s interesting that while the Bible began with man living in a garden created by God for his enjoyment, it ends with mankind dwelling in a “holy city” John describes as being like a “bride prepared and adorned for her husband.” This city is unique and wholly special.
Broadly speaking, in addition to dwelling “with God,” our eternal reality will also include dwelling with others! You see eternity will not be a place of isolation but one of perfect community. The “New Jerusalem,” no doubt patterned in some way after the original City of Peace, will be a place filled with people. It will be a city vibrantly full of activity and life.
It’s interesting that mankind has never once experienced perfect community. Sure, Adam and Eve knew what it meant to be “one flesh” but sin ruined things before any other person could be added to the mix. In fact, because of the fallen nature of man and knowing the power of synergy, God doesn’t seem to be keen on large congregations of sinners gathering. Case in point, the very first city referenced in the Bible was Babel — a city founded in direct rebellion against God’s command to spread out and fill the earth.
Today, the Church has been called by Jesus to emulate the community we’ll one day find in heaven. With this in mind, we know the heavenly community will be racially segregated with white, black, Latino, and Asian sections. We also know the worship of God will be divided into age-specific services. There will be a service for the old people who like hymns and another for the youthful residents who prefer a contemporary expression.
Aside from this, we know there will be different boroughs in the New Jerusalem. On one side of town, there will be a borough for those who prefer their Bible to be Old King James with the rebels who like the NKJV settling down on the other side of the tracks. In the trendy part of town, where all the hipsters live, they will only read out of the ESV.
In fact, some people don’t know this about heaven but for all of eternity everyone will spend their time arguing whether on not we chose to be there or God predetermined it!
Obviously, I kid! And yet, it’s sad how poor of a reflection of heaven the Church ends up being. While called to an ideal, the Church has always fallen very short in her mandate which explains why we’re constantly being exhorted in the Scriptures to “bear with one another” or to be “longsuffering.” Heavenly community is something we should work towards and desire as long as we know it’s impossible apart from heaven!
How refreshing the “New Jerusalem” will include a societal framework alien to this earth. For the first time, in this “holy city,” for all of eternity humanity, we will live with God and in complete harmony with each one another! The cultural vibe of this city will be incredible.
Revelation 21:5, “Then He who sat on the throne (Jesus) said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ (We find here an authoritative statement in the present tense declaring God’s plan to finally be complete. At last, a new day has dawned.) And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true (totally genuine) and faithful (completely dependable).’”
I love this! John is apparently so overwhelmed and in awe by this future, heavenly reality he’s witnessing that Jesus has to take a second to reminded him to keep writing!
Revelation 21:6, “And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” (Man’s need — He “thirsts.” God’s supply — “The fountain of the water of life.” How do we get it — God “will give freely to him.” Incredibly, this word “freely” is better translated as undeservedly. God gives what we don’t deserve. All man needs to do is drink!)
Revelation 21:7-8, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things (Paul wrote, in Ephesians 1:3, that we’ve been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”), and I will be his God and he shall be My son (a family member). But the cowardly (fearful), unbelieving, abominable (those who are foul), murderers, sexually immoral (pornos or fornicator), sorcerers (pharmakeus), idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.’”
Revelation 21:9-11, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.”
This invitation by the angel to show John “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” which then is introduced as being “the great city, the holy Jerusalem” is admittedly confusing. While there are some who see the New Jerusalem as being purely a figurative depiction of the Church in heaven, the details that follow don’t support anything other than this being a literal place.
Because, in verse 2, John says the city was “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” it’s likely the New Jerusalem is now called “the bride” because it’s the gift of the Groom to His wife. As Guzik wrote, “It’s the Bride because it’s where God’s people are gathered.” With that in mind, the imagery of the city being “prepared as a bride” is supposed to elicit awe.
The first thing John describes is being “carried away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain” which would provide him the necessary vantage point to see this awesome city “descending out of heaven” and coming to rest on the “new earth.” One of the things we need to keep in mind as we study the New Jerusalem is that an entire world exists outside of her four walls we’re told nothing about other than there are one mountain and no sea!
Pertaining to the city itself, John is initially taken back by “her light.” The general aura this city put off was incredibly bright — “like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” In Greek, this word “jasper” would be better translated as a precious gem and not a reddish stone. Attempting to conceptualize what John is seeing, imagine the aura being like a brilliant diamond.
John continues by giving us the structure of the city… Revelation 21:12-14, “Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates (gates exist to enter and exit a city by), and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them (the gates), which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: (as to the location of these 12 gates John says there were) three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city (four sides) had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
There is no question the structure of the city is both straightforward and awesomely detailed. John tells us the city had “a great and high wall” with twelve gates (guarded by angels and in whom the names of the “twelve tribes of the children of Israel” were written). The gates allowed passage into and out of the city from the “east, north, south, and west.”
This geographic reference implies John is seeing four sides to the wall giving the city a very defined parameter. As to the walls themselves, John notes how they were supported by “twelve foundations” that had inscribed on them “the names of the twelve apostles.”
Regarding the dimensions of the city… Revelation 21:15-17, “And he who talked with me (the angel) had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square (four equal sides); its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs (1,500 miles). Its length, breadth, and height are equal (the city seems to be a cube). Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel (this makes the wall 216ft thick which is a 20-story building laying on its side).”
In order to grasp the size of such a place, imagine a stretch of real-estate spanning from Maine to Florida and then from New York to Denver — then make it a cube! Think about that… 1,500 miles equals 7.92M feet which would be a 731,519 story cubed-shaped building. This is a little under 63T sqft which ends up resulting in about 1.44B square acres.
For a mental picture, since the radius of the moon is 1,080 miles, in the end, John is watching a city about 30% larger than coming down from heaven and being established upon the new earth (which gives us some insight into how massive the new earth must be). In many ways, the New Jerusalem is simply too big for the human imagination to grasp.
Now as to the beauty of the structure itself… Revelation 21:18-21, “The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: (It’s likely you had three foundations each 500 miles supporting each wall with a gate positioned in the middle, John says…) the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony (again this makes up one of the four sides), the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius (second side), the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz (third side), the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst (final side). The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl (we don’t know how tall the gates were). And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.”
It needs to be reiterated the Apostle John is attempting to describe a city that’s literally out-of-this-world using very limited human language. The big take-away from this passage is that the New Jerusalem is so awesome “pure gold” is functionally used as asphalt!
Now that John has entered into the city referencing the gates and then interior streets, he continues… Revelation 21:22-23, “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it (what is the glory?). The Lamb is its light.”
In the Old Testament, the temple was a physical place on the earth whereby man came to encounter God. And while, in the New Testament context, Christians became the temple in order to bring Christ into the world, in the Millennial Kingdom, the temple reverted back to its original function as being the place where Jesus established His throne.
It’s fascinating that in the “New Jerusalem” John sees “no temple” adding that “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Not only does this mean there are no longer any priests, procedures, ceremonies, veils or curtains, rites or rituals, or sacrifices. It appears in eternity Jesus is everywhere — an idea John further illustrates with this detail that the city had no need of “the sun or moon” for Jesus “is its light” the city’s illumination.
Finishing out the chapter, John adds… Revelation 21:24-27, “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
Other than the fact “only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” are allowed entry into this holy city, I have no idea what John is describing in this reference of “the nations and kings of the earth bringing glory and honor into it.” We know this cannot include the wicked who are judged and cast into hell before this. Could it be that we all have a home in the New Jerusalem but have lives somewhere else on this new earth? Who knows?
Continuing his depiction of important things inside this city, John writes… Revelation 22:1-2, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (John sees the throne of God and describes coming from the throne this river.) In the middle of its street (in the middle of the river), and on either side of the river, was the tree of life (singular), which bore twelve fruits (twelve different fruits coming from one tree), each tree yielding its fruit every month (this one tree apparently has many shoots and though there isn’t a sun somehow fruit is still yielded monthly). The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Originally found in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life now reappears at the end of the book! On the banks and in the midst of this river of living water that proceeds from the throne of God, John describes a real tree that bears twelve different kinds of fruit we get to eat and enjoy. Aside from the fruit, John adds how “the leaves were for the healing of the nations.” This word “healing” is therapeia which describes a service to the nations.
Revelation 22:3-5, “And there shall be no more curse (sin and its effect on God’s creation are totally gone), but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him (we will have work in eternity). They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”
This verse, Revelation 22:5, not only ends the narrative for the Book of Revelation but it ends the story-arch of the entire Bible. As we’ll see next Sunday, beginning with verse 6 and continuing to the end of the chapter, John will be given and relay a few final exhortations.
Aside from our eternal reality centering on Jesus dwelling with us, the former things passing away, perfect community being experienced with one another, and an incredible city to enjoy featuring this river of living water and the Tree of Life — the big takeaway is that in the new earth “there shall be no more curse” and we “shall see His face!”
It’s not an accident the Bible begins and ends in much the same place — man enjoying an unrestricted relationship with God with unfettered access to the Tree of Life. In Genesis, as a consequence of eating the forbidden fruit, both of these things became restricted. Man’s access to the Tree of Life was eliminated ushering into the human experience death. And his sin lifted a veil that limited his interactions with the holy, righteous God.
It’s interesting but there are a ton of similarities between the New Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden. Both places were created for man’s enjoyment. In both, man could eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. In both, God dwelt with man and there were no restrictions to this relationship. In both, there was no sin, no curse. While in Eden man was given the job of tending to the Garden, in the New Jerusalem the saints will serve in the city.
And yet, there is one HUGE difference between the two… Genesis 2:16-17, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is the one significant difference. In the New Jerusalem, no such tree exists nor do we have need of one.
I want to close our time together with a question I hope to use to make a much larger point about this passage… Will Adam and Eve enjoy the New Jerusalem more than they did the Garden of Eden because they ate of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil?”
The short end of the answer is NO! Sin never enhances. It destroys. Adam and Eve were not lacking in the Garden nor did they somehow benefit from sin. For example, I don’t need to become a heroin addict in order to know being sober is always a better experience than becoming sober. The life Adam and Eve had in Eden, before sin, lacks any equivalency.
And yet, the answer is also YES! For example, while being sober is always a better path than the need to become sober, it’s also true a recovering addict ends up having a much deeper appreciation for sobriety than the teetotaler. In Eden, Adam and Eve were ignorant of how well they had it. But, in the New Jerusalem, their ignorance will be gone because many years before they decided to eat of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
For you and me the conversation is largely academic because we never experienced the Garden of Eden and were born into sin. Humanity's original ignorance has been supplanted with “the knowledge of good and evil?” And yet, my point is that the case can be made the New Jerusalem will be a much deep experience for humanity than Eden could have ever been for one simple reason — sin! It’s why such a tree is no longer needed.
To me, it’s amazing that when man ruined the initial-eternal-experience God created for him His plan wasn’t to make a way for man to return to the Garden. In fact, the Gospel is not God’s plan of restoring things back to the way they were for “the knowledge of good and evil” can never be undone. Man cannot return to a state of ignorance.
This is why, instead of a Garden, God had a Holy City in mind. Following man’s rebellion, God launched a plan that included using sin (the very thing meant for our destruction) to create a new-eternal-experience that would be even better than the first.
It’s a fascinating idea but, while the Bible says sin unleashes havoc in a person’s life, it also creates a much deeper capacity within the person to experience redemption. In Romans 5:20, Paul says concerning this idea, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”
The New Jerusalem will be a much greater place than Eden for it will be occupied by men and women redeemed from sin and not those ignorant of such things. How awesome it is to consider the New Jerusalem will be the first and only place where the Tree of Life can be freely eaten by those who come with “the knowledge of good and evil.”
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