by Dr. Robert D. Luginbill
[from: Coming Tribulation: Part 6]
1. Introduction: The New Heavens and the New Earth
(1) And [then] (i.e., at the conclusion of the last judgment) I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth [appear]. For the previous heaven and the previous earth had passed away (Rev.20:11), and the sea [now] no longer existed [on this New Earth].
As we saw in the previous section (VI.1, "The Destruction of the Universe and the Interlude of Final Judgment"), the old heavens and the old earth had already been consumed before the Great White Throne judgment (Rev.20:11), so that John's mention of that event here is retrospective (i.e., they "had" [already] passed away previously, before this coming of the New Heavens and New Earth). The purpose of the repetition here is to emphasize that the New Heavens and the New Earth cannot exist in tandem with the old, that the making of all things new requires the prior destruction of the old, and, most importantly, that the New Jerusalem cannot exist side-by-side with anything sinful or corrupt or maculate in any way (also indicated by the absence of the sea; see immediately below). For the New Jerusalem is the abode of God, and God the Father will only come to abide with mankind again when the universe has been purged of every trace of evil and has become instead a place where only righteousness dwells (2Pet.3:13).
It is important to understand precisely what is being described here in verse one of chapter twenty one. First, the New Heaven mentioned here consists of both the sky (the first heaven) and the universe (the second heaven), but not what we often call "heaven" per se (i.e., the third heaven, the abode of God). The third heaven is "not part of this creation" (Heb.9:11; cf. Heb.7:26 where our Lord ascends to the third heaven which is "higher than the heavens"), and has not been contaminated by sin so as to require the same cleansing by fire undergone by the rest of the visible universe (i.e., the earth and the twin heavens). Indeed, the reason for the existence of the third heaven in the first place was to carve out, so to speak, a locality where God and the elect angels could continue to commune despite the pollution of the physical heavens and earth by Satan's rebellion.61 This deliberate separation and sanctification of God's presence from the corrupt universe was essential in order to preclude its immediate destruction (a judgment which direct contact of holy God with anything profane necessitates: Ps.5:4-5; cf. Gen.1:6-7; Job 38:4-7; Heb.9:11). This separation of the third heaven from the rest of the cosmos is seen most perspicuously in the symbolism of the veil which closed off the holy of holies in the tabernacle-temple and shielded the Shekinah glory of God: only the high priest could enter once a year, and did so as a type of Christ. The veil was split after Christ's death for sin (Matt.27:51; Mk.15:38; Lk.23:46), symbolically demonstrating that the way back to perfect God had now been opened up – for all those cleansed by Christ's sacrifice (Heb.10:19-21).62
That John's use of the singular "heaven" here means the twin heavens (i.e., the atmosphere and universe beyond the sky) can be clearly seen from his practice elsewhere in the book. While many biblical writers pluralize the word following the Hebrew custom (i.e., in Hebrew the word "heavens", shamayim, שמים, is always in the plural or, more accurately, the dual), of the fifty-one times in Revelation where John uses the Greek word for heaven, ouranos (οὐρανός), he employs the singular in every passage save one (Rev.12:10). Whether he means by this word the third heaven (as is frequently the case; cf. Rev.8:1) or the physical cosmos (as in, e.g., Rev.8:10) must be determined from context, but, as here, the meaning is always evident.63 We may therefore be sure that, although John's habit of expressing this concept is somewhat different from that of other biblical writers (Peter and Isaiah, for example), with the word "heaven" he is indeed referring here both to the sky and to the physical universe beyond it, namely, the visible "twin heavens", but not to the third heaven. For John, then, the term "New Heaven" means precisely the same thing as the phrase "New Heavens" found in Isaiah and 2nd Peter: the physical sky and the physical universe beyond earth's atmosphere – but not the third heaven, God's present dwelling place.
And the replacement of the old earth by the New Earth means precisely that. That is to say, we have to do here only with the substitution of the New Earth for the old earth, but not the replacement of the areas "under the earth" (places which, like the third heaven, are separated from the physical cosmos and not a true part of it). It is true that following the Great White Throne judgment, with all believers resurrected and with all unbelievers and fallen angels consigned to the lake of fire, there will be no further need for three of the compartments of Hades below the earth (i.e., Paradise, a.k.a. Abraham's Bosom; the Abyss, a.k.a. Tartarus; and Torments, a.k.a., Sheol). However, it is more than likely that this now otherwise empty nether region is also the place of the Lake of the Fire. The Lake of Fire and Hades, the (theologically but not materially) subterranean realm wherein the lake most probably exists, will continue that in existence forever, completely separated from the New Heavens and the New Earth.64 Theologically speaking, the third heaven and Hades are the two opposite poles which bound the present universe, and, like the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, respectively represent the choice which faces every human being: eternity with God through the reconciliation which the sacrifice of Jesus Christ effects for all who desire it, or eternal separation from God. The old cosmos has a limited life-span and will pass from existence in what is, compared to eternity, the blink of an eye. Heaven and hell are, therefore, the only two possible eternal residences, and neither is part of this present creation. But while hell in its permanent iteration will continue to be separate from the New Creation just as it was from the old (with the major difference being that the Lake of Fire will unquestionably be worse than the present day abode of deceased unbelievers, namely, Torments), heaven and earth will be separated no more. No longer will God reside apart, having deliberately and necessarily sequestered Himself from the material universe. With the descent of the New Jerusalem, heaven will come to earth, and there will no longer be any differentiation between the two.
(25) Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. (26) Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.
Psalm 102:25-26 NASB
"For behold, I am going to create New Heavens and a New Earth, so that the former things will not be remembered, nor will they [even] come to mind."
"For just as the New Heavens and New Earth which I am about to make are going to continue before Me", says the Lord, "so your seed and its name will continue".
(7) And the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire by that same Word (of God), preserved for the day of judgment and the destruction of godless men. (8) Let not this one fact escape your attention then, beloved, namely that one day is like a thousand years in the Lord's eyes, and a thousand years like one day (i.e., the "day" will span a millennium). (9) The Lord is not delaying in the fulfillment of His promise (as some think); rather He is exercising patience for your sake, being unwilling for anyone to perish, but desiring all instead to come to repentance. (10) For the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, a day in (i.e., over the course of) which the heavens will depart with a roar, the very elements will ignite and dissolve, and the earth and everything which has been done upon it will be laid bare [for the Lord's inspection]. (11) Since all these things are destined to disintegrate in this way, [consider] what sort of [Christians] we ought to be, [devoted to] holy and godly conduct, (12) as we wait with eager expectation and apprehension the advent of the Day of God. For on that day the heavens will burst into flame and dissolve, and the elements will catch fire and melt. (13) But we are awaiting New Heavens and a New Earth just as He promised – [a world] where righteousness dwells.
2nd Peter 3:7-13
As it says in Isaiah 65:17 quoted above, the wonders of our eternal existence will be so fantastic, that with an eternity to spend, the old order of things will not only not be remembered, but will never even come to mind. It is on this New Earth that God will reign forever, an earth restored, remade, and specifically reconstructed for saved mankind's eternal blessing. It will be better than the garden of Eden by untold orders of magnitude, better even than Jerusalem in the Millennium. The New Jerusalem will be the paradise par excellence, matchless, eternal, filled with all the blessings exemplified in the previous paradises but superior in ways and to degrees which we cannot even begin to contemplate at present. It will be without sin and without end; it will be the place where we will live forever in the presence of God Himself. The glory, the wonder, and the blessing of the New Heavens and the New Earth can only be dimly imagined at present, "for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (1Cor.13:12 KJV). Nevertheless, the Bible does allow us to say a few things about that blessed eternal state, keeping in mind our present perceptual limitations.
First, the absence of the sea mentioned here in verse one has a significance beyond its mere lack of presence on the New Earth. For one thing, without any sea the entire planet will be available for direct use (instead of the present one fourth or so of dry land). Coupled with the greatly expanded size of the New Earth (see below), this will result in ample and abundant space for all of us destined to inherit eternal life. Even more significant, however, is the symbolism behind the removal of the sea. As we have seen in the past (especially in part 2 of the Satanic Rebellion Series: The Genesis Gap), in terms of biblical symbolism the sea signifies evil, for the sea is one of God's most prominent instruments of judgment. So while many of us today may enjoy certain aspects of the world's oceans, their absence from the New Earth represents the complete and concomitant removal of every aspect of sin and evil with which the present cosmos has been permanently marred by Satan's rebellion (2Pet.3:10-13; Rev.21:7-8; 21:27; 22:14-15; cf. Is.52:1). Thus the lack of any sea is tangible proof that every trace of evil has now been burnt away (2Pet.3:7) so that on the New Earth only righteousness will dwell (2Pet.3:13): even God's most conspicuous reminder of judgment now past will no longer exist. The absence of the sea, therefore, constitutes a promise of eternal peace, blessing and prosperity. Just as the rainbow reminds us of God's pledge not to destroy the present earth by means of the sea (Gen.9:12-17), the fact of the sea's complete removal will be a pledge of the replacement of death and judgment with eternal life and limitless divine blessing, world without end. Once the glory of God has melted away every last trace of corruption, there will be no further need of any sea as a means of judgment and separation from God:
The sea represents death (Rev.20:13); but from now on there will be only life eternal.
The sea represents judgment (Gen.6-7); but from now on there
will be only divine favor.
The sea represents evil (Rev.11:7; 17:8); but from now on
there will be only goodness and blessing.
The sea was the source of antichrist (Rev.13:1); but from now
on we will live with Jesus Christ.
The sea (the "lid" on the underworld) represents separation from God (Gen.1:7; 1:10; Job 26:5; Ezek.1:22-28; 2Pet.2:4-5; Rev.4:6); but from now on the Father will tent with us.
Finally in this regard, we have seen in previous installments of this series that the heavenly sea, the "waters above" as seen from the heaven-side of things, constitutes a sort of viewing-port for the observation of all that is currently happening on the present earth (Rev.4:6; 15:2; cf. Ezek.1:22-28; 10:1).65 We are told in Isaiah's final verse (i.e., Is.66:24), that saved humanity will "go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched and they will be abhorrent to all flesh". So while the earthly sea will be no more, it is likely that the heavenly sea will come to earth along with the New Jerusalem, with phrasing, "go forth", indicating that the viewing-port will be somewhere outside of the city.
Second, we may draw some comparisons between the New Heavens and the New Earth and what the Bible tells us about the blessed resurrection body which every saved person will enjoy for all eternity. The New Heavens and New Earth appear to be "resurrected" in a fashion analogous to our rising from the dead: they are also transformed completely, but still bear a close enough resemblance to their previous forms to retain the names “heavens” and “earth”, even though they will be fundamentally “new”. Just as the new covenant is in truth a fulfillment of the promises of the old covenant (and better in ever respect: Heb.8:6), and just as the resurrection body is a fulfillment of the promise we now possess of eternal life (and better in every respect: 1Cor.15:35), so the New Heavens and the New Earth are the fulfillment of the promise of the present cosmos, a perfect world not only for the absence of all that is imperfect, but also for the presence of all that is good and right and blessed and delightful. Moreover, there is certainly a direct relationship between the resurrection body and the new cosmos, since the new order of things has been specifically designed by God for us as the place in which to enjoy our eternal life:
Just as the resurrection body will still be recognizable,
merely inestimably better than before (cf., Lk.24:31; Jn.20:16;
20:20; 20:26-28; 21:12), so the New Heavens and New Earth will
represent an improvement of unfathomable proportions over the
old order (while still being discernible as "heaven and earth").
Just as the resurrection body will retain all of its
legitimate functions, merely adding to them in ways as yet not
fully understood (Matt.28:10; 28:18-20; Lk.24:15; Lk.24:43;
Jn.21:13-15), so the New Heavens and New Earth will provide all
their previous joys and benefits to an infinitely greater
degree, and with many other wonders added thereto.
Just as the resurrection body will no longer be subject to
pain, disease or death (Rom.6:9; Rev.21:4), so the New Heavens
and New Earth will lack any trace of anything pernicious,
harmful, or disagreeable.
Just as the resurrection body will be perfectly attuned to
the glory, the power and the spirituality of the eternal life
which will be ours (1Cor.15:41-44), so the New Heavens and New
Earth will be perfectly adapted to us and for our eternal life.
Just as the resurrection body will be a body of light with all trace of darkness utterly and eternally absent (1Cor.15:43; Rev.1:16b), so the New Heavens and New Earth will be refulgent with the glory of the Father and Son, a place of light without darkness forever for all those who are "light in the Lord" (Eph.5:8).
In short, the transformation of the universe described here is in no way a subtraction of anything good (only of everything evil); rather it will be a multiplication of the good to something better by orders of magnitude we can only superficially and imperfectly limn at present. As will be the case with our eternal bodies, the New Heavens and New Earth will be neither immaterial nor intangible (cf. Matt.28:9; Lk.24:39; Jn.20:17; 20:27); rather they most definitely will be both tangible and material, only without any hint of sin or evil forevermore, like to the Garden of Eden, only without the presence of the tree of knowing good and evil (or any further need for it).
Third, as we have seen and remarked many times in the past, the New Heavens and New Earth are the seventh and the ultimate Paradise. As such, the new cosmos shares all the essential characteristics of the Edens which preceded it.
Beautiful and Awesome Topography (Gen.2:10-14; Is.14:13;
Ezek.28:14-16; compare with Rev.21:10; 21:16).
Sensual Delightfulness (the name Eden means "delight";
Gen.2:9; 2:18; compare with Rev.21:15-21; 22:1-2).
Enjoyable Occupation (Gen.2:15; Lk.16:25; 2Tim.2:12;
Rev.20:26; compare with Rev.2:7; 2:17; 2:26; 3:12; 3:21; 21:14).
Peace and Prosperity (Gen.2:16; Is.51:3; Joel 3:18; Mic.5:5;
compare with Rev.3:5; 21:26; 22:12).
Presence of and Fellowship with God (Gen.2:22; 3:8; Ezek.48:35; 1Pet.3:19; compare with Rev.21:3; 21:7; 21:22-23; 22:5).
Fourth, we can get a glimpse of how much better the New Heavens and New Earth will be by comparing their magnitude to that of the present cosmos. The habitable proportions of the New Jerusalem are 1,440,000 greater than those of the millennial Jerusalem (i.e., 1,200 times greater in both length and width; see section VII.6 below). Since the promises of inheritance to Israel will still be valid in the eternal state, we may posit that the eternal territory of Israel, and by necessity the size of the New Earth (and most likely therefore also of the New Heavens) will be expanded to the same, proportional degree. Yet we know from our Lord's resurrection body that our physical shapes will be of approximately the same size. Whether or not the New Heavens and New Earth will 1,440,000 times bigger – and therefore that much better – the imponderable factor remains that while we are now quite limited in our ability to enjoy the universe (spatially, temporally, and morally), at that time there will be no such limitations. Whatever its future size, it is safe to say that the eternity will not suffice to plumb its wonders. Best of all, of course, will be the complete and unfettered fellowship we shall enjoy with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ as well as with God the Father. That will be an inestimable joy for which there exists no present point of comparison.
2. The Descent of New Jerusalem
(2) And I saw holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, beautified as a bride adorned for her [future] husband.
The fact that the New Jerusalem is here described as descending is not meant to suggest that it never comes to rest upon the New Earth, staying suspended above the clouds (as some have suggested). The meaning here is clarified by the similar language used to describe this glorious event earlier in the book:
The one who wins the victory I will make a pillar in the temple of My God and he shall never go out again. And I will write upon him the Name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem (which is going to come down from heaven from My God), and My new Name.
The point in both passages is the provenance of New Jerusalem: it comes down from heaven. This phraseology places the emphasis on the eternal city's origin and upon the symbolism of its return to earth (for earth is the original paradise: Is.14:13; cf. Ezek.28:14-16). New Jerusalem is the abode of God (2Cor.12:4; Gal.4:26; Heb.12:22). It cannot return from its sequestration in the third heaven (i.e., "from God") before eternity begins, not until all sin and evil have been removed from the cosmos, and the earth and (lower twin-heavens) find themselves renewed, purged of everything and anything unholy: imperfection cannot stand in the presence of holy God (Ex.33:20; Ps.5:4). This descent from the third heaven of the New Jerusalem, holy and pure, signifies the holiness and purity of the New Heavens and New Earth along with all who will inhabit them forever, and heralds the return of the Father to abide with His creatures in this blessed new creation for all eternity (Rev.21:3).
Just as each iteration of paradise manifests certain important common features, so every Eden, every "place of delight", has its own unique characteristics. That is also true of the New Jerusalem, even though the city itself presently exists in the third heaven (from which it shall descend) in the form of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the present paradise whither all departed believers now go to be with the Lord.
(2) I know a man, [a believer] in Christ – fourteen years earlier such a one was snatched up to the third heaven (in his body perhaps, or out of it, I don't know – God knows). (3) And I know that this man (in his body perhaps, or out of it, I don't know – God knows) (4) was snatched up to paradise, and heard inexpressible words which are not permissible for a man to speak.
2nd Corinthians 12:2-4
But the Jerusalem above is free (i.e., the heavenly Jerusalem as opposed to the present, earthly Jerusalem which is in bondage to the Law), [and it is she] who is our mother.
(20) For our [true] citizenship has a heavenly existence (cf. in the Greek text: Acts 23:1; Eph.2:19; Phil.1:27), and it is from there that we expectantly await our Savior, Lord Jesus Christ, (21) who will transform this humble body of ours into one that matches His glorious body through His powerful ability to subordinate everything to Himself.
(8) By faith, Abraham, when He was called [by God], obeyed and went forth into the place he was destined to receive as an inheritance. He went forth, moreover, in ignorance of where [exactly] he was heading. (9) By faith, he sojourned as an alien in the land he had been promised, dwelling in tents with Jacob and Isaac, coheirs of [this same] promise. (10) For he was waiting for the foundation of that city (i.e., the New Jerusalem) whose architect and builder is God.
(13) These all died [while still walking] in faith, though they had not received the [fulfillment of their] promises. But [while they lived] they did catch sight of [these promises] from a distance and salute them, [so to speak], thus making it plain [to all the world] that they were [in effect] strangers and sojourners on the earth. (14) For people who express [their faith] in this way make it quite evident that they are eagerly in search of a homeland [other than the place they now occupy]. (15) Indeed, if these [believers'] hearts had yearned for the [land] from which they had departed, they would have had [ample] opportunity to turn back. (16) But they were zealous for a better place, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. He has, in fact, prepared a city for them (i.e., the New Jerusalem).
(22) But you have come [not to Mount Sinai but] to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, [that is, you have come to] the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of [elect] angels in assembly [before God], and to the Church of the firstborn enrolled [as its citizens] in heaven (i.e., all believers, living or dead), and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of justified [believers] [who have now] completed [their tasks] (i.e., departed believers in interim state now residing in the Heavenly Jerusalem), (23) and to Jesus, the Mediator of a better covenant, and to sprinkled blood (i.e., the work of Christ in bearing our sins) which speaks [far] more powerfully than that of Abel['s sacrifice].
For we do not have here [on earth] a city which [is meant to be] lasting; rather we are eagerly looking forward to the city that is destined [to come] (i.e., the New Jerusalem).
The main differences we may discern from scripture between the present, Heavenly Jerusalem, and the New Jerusalem to come are all explainable by the fact that the ultimate paradise will be attuned to the presence of believers in resurrection and to the New Earth which we shall inhabit forever. For example, in the present Heavenly Jerusalem there is still a temple (Rev.7:15; 11:19; 14:15-17; 15:5-8; 16:17), for the sanctification of God's holy Person against all that is profane is still a necessary symbol (i.e., the temple precinct represents the separation of the holy); no temple will exist in the New Jerusalem (Rev.21:22), since at that blessed future time no longer will any such distinction be necessary with all sin and evil having been cleansed from the New Heavens and New Earth. In the present Heavenly Jerusalem there is no discernible sign of the river of living water nor the tree of life (cf. Rev.4-5); in the New Jerusalem these will be central features of the city, designed for the blessing of the inhabitants, all of whom by that time will occupy resurrection bodies capable of enjoying these delights to the full. In the present Heavenly Jerusalem there is no discernible sign of any walls, or gates or foundations, and reasonably so since it does not rest upon the earth; but all of these features are notable additions to the New Jerusalem to come, familiar forms for our prior earthly existence, only exceeding the most magnificent such in human history by untold orders of magnitude.
3. The Advent of the Father
(3) And there was a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is [now] with men. And He has taken up residence with them, and they will be His people, and He Himself will be their God."
With the descent of New Jerusalem, the tabernacle, a structure which by its very nature is temporary, has become a permanent city (with all the accouterment of a fixed abode). The conflict that was human history is now over; God is here with mankind to stay – forever. The return of the Father to take up residence on earth once more and to dwell with saved mankind for all eternity is the final punctuation, the ultimate exclamation point, on what we know as "history". Satan's revolt, an event occurring untold eons before the creation of human beings, had occasioned the departure of the Godhead from the original earth. The devil's insurrection eventually met with severe divine judgment, executed upon the world of that prehistoric time, but not yet carried out upon Satan and his angels. Human history would constitute God's demonstration to all His creatures of the justice of all He had done in creating them with free will, and of all He was willing to do in His boundless grace and mercy to save those willing to repent of rebellion against Him. For mankind (some small portion of it at least) would do what the rebel angels would not: respond to God's gracious provision, not initially in the garden of Eden, but eventually by way of the cross which opens the way that leads back to paradise and to the presence of God.
Throughout all the ages of Man, God has never left Himself without a witness to the truth, for the whole creation sings of His existence and of His goodness (Ps.19:1-6; Acts 14:17; Rom.1:18-23), and when the fullness of times arrived (Gal.4:4; Eph.1:10; cf. Mk.1:15; Rom.5:6), He sent His one and only Son our Lord to make the promised reconciliation a reality by the sacrifice of Himself on Calvary's cross. Christ's initial return at the conjunction of the ages was the decisive event of the relatively short seven-thousand-year period which followed known to us as "human history". At the cross, He "put death to death" through His own death on our behalf (2Tim.1:10). Heaven has now received our Lord Jesus since His resurrection and ascension (Acts 3:21), and from the Father's right hand He awaits the time of His return when all His enemies will be made the footstool for His feet (Ps.110:1-7). Between the two advents of Christ, we believers of the Church Age, that time wherein the greatest number of His assembly is being called out, have been blessed to experience the advent of the Holy Spirit who empowers all our efforts on behalf of our Lord Jesus. His return too will be interrupted – not for two thousand years, but for the seven year period of the Tribulation (2Thes.2:6-7), after which He will return along with the Son, being poured out upon all mankind during the glorious millennial reign of Jesus Christ (Joel 2:28-39). At history's end, the Father will join the Son and the Spirit and the restoration will be complete. Eden, paradise, will then have been restored in its perfect and eternal form with the establishment of the New Jerusalem on the New Earth. From this point forward without end and forever, elect angels and saved mankind will enjoy sweet fellowship with the Trinity on earth as it was always meant to be, but in a universe superior in every way to all that went before. When God judges, restores and replaces, it always for the better, and that beyond comprehension.66
(21) For since death [came] through a man, resurrection of the dead also [had to come] through a man. (22) For just as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ, shall all be made alive. (23) But each [will be resurrected] in his own echelon. Christ [is the] first-fruits (i.e., the initial person and echelon of resurrection). Next [will be] those belonging to Christ at His coming (i.e., all believers at the 2nd Advent). (24) Then the end [of human history – the resurrection of millennial believers], when He will hand the Kingdom over to the Father, after He has brought an end to all rule, all power, and all authority (i.e., hostile human and angelic control). (25) For He must rule until He has placed all His enemies under His feet.
1st Corinthians 15:21-25
With the vanquishing of all God's enemies, even death (Is.25:7-8; Hos.13:14; 1Cor.15:26; 15:54-57), and with the removal of sin and unrighteousness from the world (2Pet.3:10-13; Rev.21:7-8; 21:27; 22:14-15), the way will be cleared for the return of the King, that is, the taking up by the Father of His residence once more on earth. He will return not to the original Eden which Satan defiled, but to a new and extraordinary paradise, the New Jerusalem, likewise a paradise of divine design, now constructed in the form of a city, that is, a paradise specifically designed for mass human habitation (Heb.11:10; cf. Heb.2:16). At that time, the Glory will truly return to earth (cf. Ezek.10:18), and God the Father, who gave His Son to take on true humanity in order to save it (Heb.2:14-15), will, along with Christ through whom He made the world and around whom He fashioned the history we are now contemplating, dwell with us and we with Him forevermore. At that time, God will "be all in all" (1Cor.15:28; cf. 1Cor.3:21-23), and that will be the most sublime completion to His creation imaginable.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Matthew 13:43 NIV
4. The Passing away of the Old
(4) And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And there will no longer be any death, or cries of pain, or grief. For the previous things have passed away.
Before moving on to the splendors of the New Jerusalem, John is given to assure us here that in addition to all the positives of the eternal state, all of the negatives of this present earthly life will have "passed away". Whatever grief and trouble we know in this world, God will comfort us in eternity. "Wiping away all of our tears" means the removal of every source of heartache and discomfort in a complete and absolute way.
[A]nd the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 35:10 NIV
Simply put, we will no longer even remember how to cry, we will no longer be capable of experiencing physical or emotional distress, nor will there be any possible source of such things any longer. Death, the ultimate cause of all our trouble and sorrow, will be no more (2Tim.1:10). Absent also will be any thought of or occasion for physical agony ("cries of pain") or emotional affliction ("cries of grief"). Totally apart from the wonders and blessings of the eternal life to come, all of the things that bring heartache to our present existence will be banished forever. They will not even be remembered.
"For behold, I am going to create New Heavens and a New Earth, so that the former things will not be remembered, nor will they [even] come to mind."
We should also understand this verse in a positive way, suggesting as
it surely does the bliss we shall have from our fellowship with God
Himself who is the One described here as wiping away our tears. Just as
the old material environment has now been replaced by an entirely new
one, so also the old spiritual environment will be completely
transformed in eternity. Everything in the past that clouded our view of
our dear Savior and interfered with our ability to focus on Him,
everything, that is, that disturbed the perfect peace which is our
heritage as sons of the Living God and members of the Church of Jesus
Christ, has now been taken out of the way. Given our inability now to
appreciate or truly understand the blessedness of this aspect of our
eternal life to come, this verse concerns itself with communicating to
us this future ecstatic spirituality in terms of our present frame of
reference by expressing it as the lack of our present-day negatives. For
although believers of great spiritual maturity do begin to get an
inkling of the rapturous nature of the peace and presence of the Lord
(Is.26:3; 54:13; Jn.14:27; 16:33; Rom.5:1; 15:13; 1Cor.7:15; Phil.4:7),
we cannot at present truly begin to appreciate how that eternal peace
and spirituality will suffuse and illuminate ever aspect of our eternal
existence. Since we cannot as yet even dimly assess this positive
feature of our coming life with Jesus, scripture expresses it in terms
of the comfort we shall have in the removal of all temporal negatives.
While false pagan pictures of the afterlife invariable focus upon the
sating of material lusts, the true, biblical picture of eternal life
with God is one of spiritual ecstasy beyond our present capacity to
5. The Father's Proclamation of Encouragement
(5) Then the One sitting upon the Throne said to me, "Behold! I am making everything new." And He says to me, "Write that these words are faithful and true." (6) And He says to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts [the right] to drink from the fountain of the water of life without cost. (7) The one who conquers (i.e., maintains the victory of faith to the end of life: 1Jn.5:4) will inherit these things (i.e., the blessings of the New Jerusalem), and I will be His God and he himself will be my son. (8) But as for the cowardly and unbelieving and foul and murderers and the sexually immoral and those involved in the occult and idolaters and all those who are liars (i.e., all who for a variety of reasons have rejected Christ) – their portion (i.e., "inheritance") will be in the lake burning with fire and sulfur which is the Second Death."
John is still viewing the descent of the New Jerusalem from his heavenly perspective (i.e., the same one he has had throughout this extended vision since he was told to "come up here!" at Rev.4:1). Just as he heard a voice coming from the heavenly throne in verse three proclaiming the advent of the Father, now the Father Himself is heard to speak from this throne in the present third heaven. With these words God the Father proclaims the blessings of eternity soon to be dispensed upon His children, thus offering very great encouragement for all believers to persevere through the Tribulation ahead:
1) "Everything new": The fundamental change of things which will obtain in the eternal state is hereby assured. Nothing will remain of the previous corrupt world; nothing will remain of our prior mistakes, regrets, troubles or tears. All that is to come will be "new" and intrinsically so.
We are now "of" the new creation (cf. 2Cor.5:17-19; Gal.6:15; Col.1:2), and we ourselves have in resurrection also been made completely new, having been made to bear "the likeness of the Man from heaven" (1Cor.15:49) in order that we may live with God forever in the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven.
2) "Words faithful and true": In an analogous way to the oath God took to Abraham which confirmed the promise (for his benefit and encouragement: Heb.6:13-20), so the Father here affirms the truthfulness and unchangeable reality of the blessings to come, reiterated here that we too may take courage during the dark days ahead. All scripture is God-breathed (2Tim.3:16), but here we may be confident of the truth of these encouraging words because the Father not only proclaims them in His own voice, but also underlines their eternal immutability for our benefit by pronouncing them "faithful and true".
3) "It is done": History is over. The plan of God is complete. All that was meant to happen, all that had to happen, all that God willed and His creature chose, written in the divine book of history since before the initial creation of the universe, has now been consummated. The old book has now been closed; the new one has now been opened – and will remain open forever. Those who chose for God have been saved; those who chose against Him have been removed from His Kingdom. Whatever deeds of faith had been accomplished by His faithful creatures have received their reward; and lost opportunities have been lost forever. The trials and tribulations of the life we now know are at this future point gone forever, even the most horrendous persecutions and plagues the earth will ever experience during the Tribulation. We may take great consolation and comfort in the sure and certain knowledge that even that terrible period to come has a definite end, so that even if it is given to us to cross through that terrible sea, we will at this point stand safely on its far bank, looking back at our deliverance and our Lord's great victory. The conclusion of history also means the end of any possibility of further change of status. All moral creatures have now made their choice and have been confirmed in that choice forever. For those who chose death, there is no further avenue back, to life. And, blessedly, for those of us who have chosen life and have persevered through fire and water safely to the other side, there is no further possibility of falling away from God. In eternity, there will be a tree of life, but there will be no tree of knowing good and evil. For through the process of history, divinely directed, evil has been thoroughly repudiated and defeated. All that is left is "good".
4) "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end": The end of history is nothing to be mourned. God's creatures are created to live with Him. He is our all and our everything, and when this present world passes away, when the Kingdom is handed over to the Father (1Cor.15:24), when these limited bodies are transformed into their eternal form, when we are capable of fellowship with Him in a complete and unencumbered way, He will be our "all in all" (1Cor.15:28), our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end, our prime delight forevermore.
5) "The right to drink the water of life": All who overcome, that is, all who give their faithful allegiance to Jesus Christ and maintain that faith firmly until the end, will drink this water of life. Salvation is here promised free of charge to all who are willing to be saved, to all who are willing to chose for Jesus Christ, to all who are willing to endure whatever may come in this life without relinquishing that precious faith, even if that means persevering through the coming Tribulation (see section 9 below for the further blessings this water of life accords).
6) "The one who conquers will inherit these things": All who overcome will not only be delivered from death and punishment, but will have a full share in Jesus Christ and in the New Jerusalem. Our Father makes this statement as John watches the New Jerusalem descend, no doubt a magnificent and overwhelming sight whose true splendor words cannot adequately express. Our eternal home and all it contains, eternal lodgings of transcendent beauty, the river of the water of life, the tree of life, the gates and the glory of the New Jerusalem, and most of all the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Father and ours will belong to us forever – in perfect, eternal bodies, decorated and blessed with the rewards we had won in the short span of time all history comprised. Seeing the goal in such a vivid fashion is surely encouragement for us to keep running the race, even if its course takes us through the gathering storm.
7) "I will be His God and he himself will be my son": Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all is this promise of the complete restoration in every single facet of the relationship with God which is ours by virtue of His creation of us. No longer will He be hidden from our view, and our relationship with Him will not merely be formal and will be well beyond amiable: it will be the perfect relationship of Perfect Father to sons made perfect through the sacrifice of our dear Savior Jesus Christ. For those who love Jesus now, the Bible promises sweet fellowship in the midst of this turbulent world, in tribulation and even during the Tribulation (Jn.14:23). For those who remain faithful to the end, this promise of the full experiential reality of the sonship which is ours by position in Jesus today is great encouragement indeed.
8) "The Second Death": As is common in biblical parlance (e.g., 1Cor.6:9-10; Gal.5: 19-21; Eph.5:3-7), the list of offenses given in verse eight is not meant to be comprehensive, nor is it meant to define those who choose against God solely by means of their conduct. Rather, just as godly works are a clear indication of salvation (Jas.2:14-26), so in the case of unbelievers their conduct demonstrates what it is they truly love, having chosen one manner of detestable behavior or another as a characterization of "who they really are" (cf. our Lord's use at Mk.4:40 of "cowardly" as the equivalent of "lacking faith"). For all those who reject the truth in order to embrace the lie in whatever manifestation, instead of having an everlasting inheritance in the New Jerusalem, their portion will be eternal residence in the lake of fire. No more powerful inducement exists for the believer than this reminder of the great benefit of perseverance – eternal life instead of the second death – and of the great calamity of allowing ones' faith to lapse in the trial of life: loss of every good thing which the Father has sworn here to provide for all those who, despite the cost, remain faithful to His beloved Son.
6. The Nature of New Jerusalem
(9) Then one of the seven angels who have the seven bowls filled with the seven final plagues came [up to me], and he spoke with me, saying, "Come. I will show you the Bride, the Lamb's wife". (10) Then he carried me in the Spirit to a mountain, great and high, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, (11) and [it shone] with the glory of God. It was radiant like an extremely precious gemstone, like a [purple] jasper stone, [only] translucent like crystal. (12) It had a wall, great and high with twelve gates, and at the gates were twelve angels. Names were written on [each of] the gates which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. (13) Three gates faced east; three gates faced north; three gates faced west; and three gates faced south. (14) And the city wall had twelve foundations, and on [the twelve foundations] were [written] the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (15) And the [angel] who was speaking with me had a golden measuring rod [which he used] to measure the city [along with] its gates and its wall. (16) The city was square in its design with its length equal to its width. And he measured the city with his [golden measuring] rod, and [it came] to 12,000 stadia (i.e., approx. 1590 miles): its length and its width and its height were precisely the same. (17) He then measured the [city's] rim, 144 cubits (i.e., approx. 84 yards) in human measurement which is the same [here] as the angelic standard. (18) The wall of [the city] was composed of [purple] jasper, and the city [itself] of pure gold [which was] transparent like crystal.
One of the Seven Angels: As mentioned in the previous installment of this series, these seven are the college of archangels of which only two are known by name, Michael and Gabriel. While we are not given his name here, Gabriel would seem to be a likely candidate for the angel speaking with John. For Gabriel is known to us from his explanation of eschatological visions to Daniel (Dan.8:16; 9:21), and from his proclamation of the coming of the Messiah and His herald (Lk.1:19; 1:26), and here we have both categories of prophecy combined into one: the Advent of the Father and of His eternal abode, the capstone of all eschatology in the coming of the New Jerusalem where Father and Son will rule forever.
The Bride: We have already been told (Rev.21:2) that the New Jerusalem appears "beautified as a bride adorned for her [future] husband". Here we see the eternal city actually described as "the Bride, the Lamb's wife". Of course we know – and at this point scripture expects us to know – that the believers resurrected at Jesus' return are "the Bride of Christ". Equating the place with its people is a figure of speech (technically known as a metonymy) where the residence takes on the name of the residents (cf. 1Cor.3:9-17; 6:19; Eph.2:19-22; 1Pet.2:21 and Rev.3:12, where believers are also compared to structures in whole or in part). Apart from the reference to our Lord, John is not given at any point to see the human or angelic residents of New Jerusalem. But since this is to be the Church's eternal residence, describing it as "the Bride" (since that is where the Bride will indeed life forevermore) certainly makes perfect sense.
The Mountain: The existence of this mountain, "great and high", on the New Earth is a clear indication that, apart from the absence of the oceans, its topography will be similar to that with which we are now familiar (though undoubtedly grander in every way as this description suggests). John is taken up to the top of this mountain in order to receive a better perspective of the whole on the new city (in a manner similar to the view the Lord gave Moses of the promised land: Num.27:12; cf. Ezek.40:2). This is our first hint of the massive size of New Jerusalem and also of its essential layout: like the prehistoric “Mountain of God” (Is.14:13) and the miraculously elevated millennial Jerusalem (Is.2:2; Ezek.40:2; Zech.14:10-11), so too the center of the new city must be of considerable height to necessitate this action.67
The Exterior of the City: Later in verse eighteen we will find that "the city [itself was composed] of pure gold [which was] transparent like crystal", although here we are told that it appeared to John "radiant like an extremely precious gemstone, like a [purple] jasper stone, [only] translucent like crystal" and that it "[shone] with the glory of God". The apparent discrepancy between the two descriptions has to do with John's change of perspective. Later, he has apparently been conveyed by the angel around the city's exterior and into the city proper (otherwise he would never have been able to see the gates on all sides of the city, or the throne, or the tree of life, or the river of living water, or any of the other sights within its walls). Within, the true nature of the city is plain to see: it is composed of translucent, crystalline-gold. Without, the city has a purple "radiance": the illumination of its exterior by the glory of God gives it an incandescent appearance of translucent, crystalline-[purple] jasper. This exterior covering has a similar function to the tent of the tabernacle (which was similarly composed of blue, purple and red materials), defining and visibly demarcating the holy space wherein the Glory of God dwells.68
The Wall: John employs precisely the same description for the wall, "great and high", as he did for the mountain. This fact alone makes it clear that the 144 cubits mentioned in verse seventeen is not referring to the height of the wall (indeed, it is not referring to the wall per se at all; see below). For as monumentally massive as a seventy-yard high wall would be in our present-day experience, those proportions are dwarfed by the size of the city. For someone given to see New Jerusalem in a panoramic view (one wide enough to take in the entire city at once as John is given to do), a structure of such relatively meager dimensions would be nearly invisible. We are not, in fact, ever given the dimensions of the wall, but they must be prodigious in order for it to be noteworthy from John's perspective, and especially in order for him to describe it as "great and high" even in comparison with the enormous size of New Jerusalem. We may expect that its dimensions are in perfect proportion to those of the perfect city. We should also note here that by the time the wall becomes visible New Jerusalem has most likely come to earth where John is now seeing it in situ.
The Twelve Gates: As in the case of the millennial Jerusalem described in Ezekiel 48:30-34, the New Jerusalem will also have twelve gates bearing the names of the tribes of Israel. There are differences between the two, however, and those differences are profound:
1) The naming of the gates of millennial Jerusalem proceeds in a clockwise fashion (i.e., north to south to east to west), whereas the New Jerusalem's gates are enumerated counterclockwise (east to north to west to south).69
2) Millennial Jerusalem has a gate for Levi and combines Ephraim and Manasseh into one tribe, Joseph, whereas the New Jerusalem has no gate for Levi and separate gates for Ephraim and Manasseh.
3) While in the New Jerusalem the order of the gates and tribes associated with them has everything to do with rank (see section VII.7 below, "The Foundations and Gates of the Wall", for the identification of the gemstones with their particular tribes and the significance of their ordering), the gates of millennial Jerusalem are ordered according to birth by means of a formula which takes into consideration both age and motherhood:
: the three eldest sons of Leah, Reuben, Judah and Levi.
east: the sons of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin, along with Dan, the first son of her maid, Bilhah.
south: Leah's three other sons, Simeon, Issachar and Zebulun.
west: Gad, Asher, the two sons of Leah's maid (Zilpah); and Naphtali, Bilhah's second son.
As will be seen below, by comparing the arrangement of the jewels of the high priest's ephod with the gemstones which serve as foundations for the wall (along with the gates with which they are thereby necessarily associated), it is possible to determine the specific tribes associated with each gate (and the probable significance of the linkage). This will be covered below in our treatment of Revelation 21:15-21 where these foundations are actually described and ranked. For the moment, it is important to point out that each gate represents a division of the Church, and it is for this reason that each gate has one of the twelve apostles and an angel associated with it. The angels are positioned "at the gates", while the apostles names are inscribed on their respective foundation stones. In terms of the apostles, they would seem to be in charge (or at least to be the titular heads) of the twelve divisions of the Bride of Christ; in terms of the angels, they would seem to be the liaisons to and/or comparable heads of the angelic divisions which correspond to and are eternally associated with the divisions of the Church (and we will suggest the particular identification and assignments of each college of twelve below). As we shall see, this magnificent vision given to John to see in all its glory is not only one of breath-taking beauty, but it also will give us a key to the possibilities of our eternal status, depending upon "what was accomplished through this body, whether it be good or worthless" (2Cor.5:10).
The Measurement and Design of New Jerusalem: Revelation 21:16 tells us that the city will be a cube measuring 12,000 stadia on each side. The stadion/stadium was a Greek measurement of 600 feet (cf. Herodotus 2.149), although the precise length of the "foot" varied from place to place. It is important to note, however, that the precise standard used here is the same one employed for the millennial Jerusalem in Ezekiel chapters 40-48. That is clear for two reasons; first, because in verse 17 we are told that the human and angelic measurement are identical here (i.e., the longer, angelic standard is being employed here for John just as it was when the angel measured the temple for Ezekiel: Ezek.40:5); second, because the length of the sides of the New Jerusalem are precisely 1,200 times longer than those of the millennial Jerusalem (i.e., millennial Jerusalem measures 4000 cubits or 100 stadia per side, subtracting the area for the temple-sanctuary which is not present in New Jerusalem: Ezek.45:2; 48:30), thus indicating that the same heavenly standard is to be understood. Based upon the above, the dimensions of the New Jerusalem would be approximately 1590 of our own statute miles in length, breadth, and height. In terms of the present day earth, the city would not only cover all of the expanded, millennial Israel, but also most of the middle east, with its border running roughly from the river Danube to the Caspian Sea to the Red Sea to the Libyan desert and back north again to the Danube (we know that New Jerusalem's borders run due north to south, and due east to west, because of the orientation of its gates: cf. Rev.21:13). Given the necessity for the eternal territory of Israel to continue to exist outside of this massive city, as suggested above we most likely have to do with a greatly enlarged New Earth which has been expanded proportionally so as to accommodate this need.
The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.
Genesis 17:7 NIV
One aspect of the New Jerusalem which sometimes leads to confusion is its height, described in verse sixteen as equal to its length and breadth. However, we should not think of the city as having "floors" stacked some sixteen hundred miles into the sky. Rather, this third dimension will be largely vacant, with the surface of the city functioning in precisely the same way as every other iteration of Jerusalem and of paradise, a habitable two-dimensional surface, but enclosed by a sanctified exterior of three dimensions. The holy of holies in the tabernacle furnishes us with the pattern of interpretation we are to use here. After all, we are explicitly told that the tabernacle was a model of heavenly types (Ex.25:40; Heb.8:5). We have seen before (and will consider below) some of these representations (for example, the ark of the covenant representing the chariot-throne of God, and the threefold illustration of Jesus Christ provided by the altar of incense, the menorah, and the table of the bread of presence).70 Apropos of our current discussion is the similarity between the holy of holies and the New Jerusalem in terms of spatial proportion, arrangement of pertinent contents, and exterior covering.
Both the holy of holies in the tabernacle and the New Jerusalem are perfect cubes (cf. Ex.26:16; 36:21). The holy of holies contained the ark of the covenant (corresponding to the throne of God the Father and Lamb: Rev.22:1-2), with the mercy seat and the cherubim overlooking it (corresponding to the angelic presence in the New Jerusalem). However, most of the actual space within the holy of holies was empty.71 In a similar fashion, only the surface of the New Jerusalem will be furnished (with the throne, the tree of life, the river of the water of life, the main street, and no doubt with other unnamed glories, our own personal, eternal habitations included). The throne will be found at the center of the city and will be elevated, and, given the proportions of the city, it is probable that the height of the central "mount" will be great (as indeed in relative terms the ark and mercy seat are proportionally quite high as compared to the floor-level of the tabernacle). This is in keeping with the residence of God throughout creature history:
Before the creation of mankind:
For you said in your heart, "I will ascend heavenward. I will set my throne above the stars of God. And I will take my seat on the mount of assembly on the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High God.
Now a river was flowing forth from Eden (i.e., downhill), in order to water the garden, and from there (i.e., after passing through the garden) it divided so that it turned into four headwaters.
In the present day third heaven:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
And I looked, and behold, the Lamb stood upon Mount Zion, and with Him were the 144,000, having His Name and the Name of His Father written upon their foreheads.
In the millennial Jerusalem:
At the end of days, the mountain of the temple of the Lord will be established as the chief of all mountains, and it will be raised higher than all [other] hills, and all the nations will flow to it.
The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
Ezekiel 47:1 NIV
And in the glorious New Jerusalem to come:
And He showed me the river of the water of life, bright like crystal, coming forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb (i.e., and so flowing downhill as in every other such case).
As indicated above, just as the tabernacle was completely covered with an exterior curtain, so the New Jerusalem will have its own distinctive, three-dimensional border. The inner layer of the tabernacle's curtain was composed of linen: blue (reflecting the heavenly origin of the only One who can give us access), purple (reflecting the royalty of the only One who can give us access), and scarlet (reflecting the sacrifice of the only One who can give us access). This layer was also embroidered with cherubim, symbolizing the holy abode of God, the third heaven lying above the firmament of sky and space (unreachable apart from Christ). The outer layer of the tabernacle curtain was composed of dark, leathery "sea-cow skins", symbolizing the firmament of the sky, glistening, shimmering, with a blue-black watery appearance, and impenetrable to the eye. In eternity, there will be no need to shield the glory of God from His creation. Instead of an intricate, multi-layered curtain, however, New Jerusalem will be clothed with translucent jasper, and through that covering the glorious light of His being will illuminate the universe:
And night will no longer exist. And those [with the Name of the Father and the Son on their foreheads] will not have need of the light of a lamp or the light of the sun: the Lord God will shine upon them.
Just as the tabernacle was illuminated by the lamp and indwelt by the Shekinah glory of God, so the New Jerusalem will be illuminated by the true glory of God, with that glory illuminating the exterior covering from within and everything without as well, in keeping with the proclamation that He will be "tenting with us" from this point forth forever.
For my tabernacle will be over them. Then I will be their God, and they will be my people.
(5) And the Lord will create over Mount Zion and over all her assemblies a cloud – one of smoke by day, and of a shining flame of fire by night. For there will be a canopy above the glory [of His presence, covering it] entirely. (6) It will be a shelter from the heat by day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.
The City's Rim and Exterior Wall: Contrary to what is found in most translations of Revelation 21:17, the dimensions of the wall surrounding New Jerusalem are not given. As suggested above, if the 144 cubits mentioned referred to the wall, it would indeed be most odd if this wall with its gates of pearl and foundations made of gemstones had even been particularly noticeable to John in comparison with the massive dimensions of New Jerusalem. Most (though not all) of the versions take the 144 cubits to refer to the height of the wall, though, strangely, height is not mentioned. The NIV is closer to the truth in understanding the measurement as referring to the width of the wall, thus allowing the structure the height necessary in order to be proportional to the towering city. In fact, however, no particular dimension is mentioned in regard to the 144 cubits because it is not the measure of the wall that is being specified (where we would need to know whether width or height was being specified), but rather of the rim or standoff space between the city and the wall. The reading found in most manuscripts, teichos (Gr., "wall") is incorrect. Sinaiticus preserves the correct reading: cheilos (Gr., "lip", or "rim"). It is easy enough to see how the former (identical in all letters except for the tau in place of the lambda) was accidently read for the latter, especially since the "wall" is in view both immediately before (vv.12, 14, 15) and after (vv.18, 19) verse 17. That is to say, this could be either an error of sense (“wall” is what we have everywhere else, so we expect to have “wall” here as well), or of vision (with teichos occurring throughout the context it would have been very easy for a scribe's eye to slip to a neighboring instance of the more common word).
Just as in the case of the tabernacle furniture which also has rims around its sides symbolizing sanctification (Ex.25:11; 25:25; 37:12), and just as in the case of the millennial Jerusalem where there is an area of free space immediately outside the sanctuary (Ezek.45:2), and also outside the city proper (Ezek.48:17), so it was appropriate for the wall of the New Jerusalem to be separated from the city by a symbolic distance (i.e., 144 cubits; cf. the 144,000 martyrs, and the twelve thousand by twelve-thousand-stadion sides of the city). The standoff therefore can only be one of width, and it is for that reason the text does not give us a dimension (whereas if the 144 cubits really were a dimension of the wall, we would be told which dimension).
The construction of the wall is the same as that of the exterior of the city, translucent purple-jasper, demonstrating the intrinsic oneness of city and wall. The wall, or course, will not be necessary either for defense (for never will anything hostile to the Lord exist in the new universe) nor for sanctification (for never will anything unholy exist in the new universe). Rather, as evidenced by the foundation stones which (as we shall see below) are memorials to the level of service to the Lord we His people evidenced here in time, the wall will serve as a memorial to the fact that the Lord has always been our bulwark of defense.
"For I will be a wall of fire for her, roundabout [Jerusalem]", says the Lord, "and I will be her glory [shining forth from] within".
7. The Foundations and Gates of the Wall
(19) And the foundations of the wall of the city were dressed with every [sort] of precious gemstone.
[The Southern Gates]
The first foundation was jasper (the gate of Gad).
The second foundation was sapphire (the gate of Simeon).
The third foundation was carnelian (the gate of Reuben).
[The Eastern Gates]
The fourth foundation was emerald (the gate of Zebulun).
(20) The fifth foundation was sardonyx (the gate of Issachar).
The sixth foundation was sardius (the gate of Judah).
[The Northern Gates]
The seventh foundation was chrysolite (the gate of Dan).
The eighth foundation was beryl (the gate of Asher).
The ninth foundation was peridot (the gate of Naphtali).
[The Western Gates]
The tenth foundation was chrysoprase (the gate of Ephraim).
The eleventh foundation was jacinth (the gate of Manasseh).
The twelfth foundation was amethyst (the gate of Benjamin).
(21a) And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each gate was made entirely of a single pearl.
In addition to its role as a memorial to the perfect protection and deliverance which the people of God have experienced throughout human history, the specific features of the wall, namely, its gates and its foundation stones, also serve to demarcate the particular division along with its "colors" to which each believer will belong for all eternity. The description of the foundations of the wall is nested in-between the initial description of the 12 gates in verses 12-13 (where we are told of the orientation of the gates) and their specific description in verse 21 (where we are told that the gates themselves are identical, made of a single pearl each). Thus the foundations are intrinsically connected to the gates; and, specifically, each gate is associated with a corresponding foundation. This is important for analyzing the particular identification, position, and rank of each foundation stone.
Gemstones were used by the Lord to represent in a memorial way the angelic clans (Ezek.28:13).72 They were also used on the high priest's breastplate to represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex.28:17-21; 39:10-14). The tribal structure of Israel is the ultimate organization into which all members of the assembly of believers in Jesus Christ (i.e., the ekklesia or "Church") will be distributed (Rev.2:17; cf. Ezek.47:21-23; Zech.2:11). This distribution will not be based on heredity (gentiles from before Abraham until the return of Christ will be included), nor on specific lineage (Jewish believers themselves will be rearranged in terms of tribe), but according to merit. We see an indication of this in the fact that the twelve apostles are specifically said in verse 14 to have their names inscribed one to a foundation, with each serving in the capacity of prince for his respective echelon of the duodecad. However, while it is not known to which tribe each of the apostles belonged, it is very clear that they cannot be literal descendants of the twelve tribes, one from each tribe. That is because several of them are brothers (e.g., Peter and Andrew, James and John). We may also be sure that Paul, the greatest of the apostles, will have a grander position than prince of seventh-ranked Benjamin (his ancestral tribe). Therefore we may surmise that the distribution of apostles will take place according to merit rather than genealogy, and that this will be the rule for individual believers in regard to their eternal assignments as well (cf. Gen.48:13-20; Is.66:21; Heb.7:13-14; Rev.7:5-8 [omitting Dan]). Just as the remaining angelic clans which stayed faithful to the Lord were rearranged after Satan's rebellion, and just as individual angels were apparently shifted with these clans as well (especially in regard to those of the three rebel clans who refused to follow the lead of their natural affinities), so also will it be with the 12 tribes (cf. Rev.3:4). In eternity, in addition to any individual rewards won, including our "new name" which will be perfectly reflective of who we are and what we achieved in time (Rev.2:17; 3:12; Is.65:15; cf. Is.62:2b; see section I.7 above, "The Judgment of the Church"), we shall all have a very definite rank and a very specific place in the eternal hierarchy of the New Jerusalem (for are all individually "precious stones" to God: Zech.9:16; 1Pet.2:5).
Although not generally understood (largely due to a failure to read
the correct sequence of John's viewing of the gates, i.e.,
east-north-west-south), careful attention to the details provided in
Revelation chapter twenty-one in comparison to the information about the
gemstones and tribes as they appeared on the high priest's breastplate
reveals that the order of the gemstone-foundations is identical to the
order found on the breastplate. John's tour of the gates began on the
east (the highest ranking side), and proceeded counter-clockwise to
conclude on the south. His description of the gemstones now begins
from that southern perspective. That is to say, John's
enumeration of the gemstones does not begin with the southern-gate
foundation stones because they rank first, but because this side of the
city wall is where he now finds himself after his first "lap"
around the city. Moreover,
not only do the gemstone-foundations reflect the breastplate-order in
terms of rank (once the ordering is properly understood: Ex.28:17-21;
39:10-14), but they are also identical to the encampment-order of the
tribes around the tabernacle (Num.2:1-31; cf. Num.10:11-33).
The positioning of the tribes in their encampment-order is identical to the positioning of their respective gates in New Jerusalem. There is, however, a difference in ranking nonetheless. The west-gate tribes in their encampment-order have the same rank as they do on the high priest's breastplate: Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin (for Ephraim was the leader of this triad: Num.2:18-24); however, while the eastern and southern groups maintain their rank, in the case of the north and west-gate tribes we see the first and last of each triad swapping rank in the circular ranking system of New Jerusalem. That is because the encampment-order was designed to facilitate the commencement of the march, whereas the New Jerusalem order reflects status in an absolute way. The result is the relative promotion of Benjamin and Naphtali (from 9th to 7th and from 12th to 10th respectively), and the relative demotion of Ephraim and Dan (from 7th to 9th and from 10th to 12th respectively.73 The spiritual application that we do not all end up in the order wherein we begin the Christian race, whether outperforming our station or failing to live up to our advantages, should not be overlooked here. All six of the west and north-gate tribes remain in the same geographic position as was the case when tenting around the tabernacle, but the significance in terms of rank has changed in the cases mentioned on account of the change of system from march-order to one of consecutive ranking.
In terms of that rank, the true order begins with Judah in the first position at the northernmost eastern gate and proceeds clockwise until we reach Dan in twelfth position at the easternmost northern gate. John's actual listing of the twelve is given in a counter-wise fashion, and begins in the middle of the order, and on the south at that (because that is the place where he starts his consideration of the foundations, and it is in that direction in which he is given to view the city). John begins with the foundation stones of the southern gates (because that is where he commenced his second lap around the wall), and concludes on the west:
(S.) 6, 5, 4 — (E.) 3, 2, 1 — (N.) 12, 11, 10 — (W.) 9, 8, 7
Given the impressive nature of the gemstone-foundations and the gates, it is likely that both are correspondingly massive in size so as to match the "great, high wall" which itself harmonizes in magnitude with the monumental New Jerusalem. The most likely layout of these foundation jewels, therefore, is that they occupy the entire area from gate to gate, being also as tall as the gates, with the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th foundations wrapping the four corners of the wall so as to connect their gate to the one preceding (leaving the wall itself above the foundations and gates a perfect band of uninterrupted, translucent jasper). The actual ranking (along with the reasons for it and the correct identification of the gemstones) proceeding in a clockwise direction and beginning with the position of honor is as follows:
East-side Tribes: The east side is the place of greatest honor, facing our Lord (cf. the orientation of the tabernacle and temple), and therefore the place of greatest fellowship with the Father and the Son (cf. Ex.25:22; 29:42). Members of the three eastern tribes have all fulfilled the plan of God for their lives, not only believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but growing up in Him spiritually, passing the tests of spiritual maturity, and completing the ministries assigned to them by the Lord. This level of achievement is represented in the visible human-face of the cherub who guards the front of the throne. East-side tribal members have advanced to the point of reflecting the Person of Christ (2Cor.3:18; cf. 1Cor.11:1; 1Pet.2:21), having become "complete" in their Christian walk and production of their assigned ministries (Eph.4:13; cf. Jas.1:4; 2:22). While all three eastern tribes share the honor of having accomplished their God-given missions, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Judah: Sardius: Hebrew: אדם /`odhem; Greek: sardion / σάρδιον (Gen.49:8-12; Deut.33:7).
2. Issachar: Sardonyx: Hebrew: פטדה / pitedhah; Greek: sardonyx / σαρδόνυξ (Gen.49:14-15; Deut.33:18-19).
3. Zebulun: Emerald: Hebrew: ברקת / bareqeth; Greek: smaragdos / σμάραγδος (Gen.49:13; Deut.33:18-19).
South-side Tribes: The south side is the place of second greatest honor on our Lord's right-hand. Members of the three southern tribes have all made great progress in the plan of God for their lives, not only believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but growing up in Him spiritually, and passing the high-level tests of spiritual maturity. This level of achievement is represented in the visible lion-face of the cherub who guards the right-hand side of the throne. South-side tribal members have advanced to the point of honoring the Person of Christ (1Cor.6:20; 2Cor.8:23; Phil.1:20; 1Pet.1:7), having courageously acquitted themselves in the Christian life (Prov.28:1; cf. 1Pet.5:8). While all three southern tribes share the honor of having trusted the Lord in significant testing, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Reuben: Carnelian: Hebrew: נפך / nophekh; Greek: chalcedon / χαλκηδών (Gen.49:3-4; Deut.33:6).
2. Simeon: Sapphire: Hebrew: ספיר / sappir; Greek: sapphiros / σάπφιρος (Gen.49:5-7; cf. Deut.33:8-11).
3. Gad: Jasper: Hebrew: יהלם / yahalom; Greek: iaspis / ἴασπις (Gen.49:19; Deut.33:20-21).
West-side Tribes: The west side is the place of third greatest honor in the special guardian position behind the throne. Members of the three western tribes have all made progress in the plan of God for their lives, not only believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but growing up in Him spiritually. This level of achievement is represented in the visible eagle-face of the cherub who guards the rear of the throne. West-side tribal members have advanced to the point of trusting the Person of Christ (Ex.19:4; Is.40:31; Col.1:10; 2Thes.1:3; 1Pet.2:2; 2Pet.3:18; cf. Eph.4:15-16: Col.2:19), having grown to the point of spiritual maturity in the Christian life (Eph.4:13; Col.4:12; Heb.5:13; Jas.1:3-4). While all three western tribes share the honor of having advanced in the knowledge of the Lord, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Benjamin: Amethyst: Hebrew: אחלמה / `achalamah; Greek: amethystos / ἀμέθυστος (Gen.49:27; Deut.33:12).
2. Manasseh: Chrysoprase: Hebrew: שבו / shebho; Greek: chrysoprasos / χρυσόπρασος (Gen.49:22-26; Deut.33:13-17).
3. Ephraim: Jacinth: Hebrew: לשם / leshem; Greek: hyakinthos / ὑάκινθος (Gen.49:22-26; Deut.33:13-17).
North-side Tribes: The north side is the final place of honor, to the left-hand side of the throne. Members of the three northern tribes have all responded to the plan of God for their lives, not only by believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but maintaining their faith safely intact until the end. This level of achievement is represented in the visible bullock-face of the cherub who guards the left-hand side of the throne. North-side tribal members have endured the trials of life while holding firmly to their faith in the Person of Christ (Is.1:3; 1Tim.1:18-19; 6:12; 2Tim.4:7; Heb.4:14), having refused to exchange that precious faith for a mess of pottage (Heb.10:35-39; Heb.12:16; 2Pet.2:21-22). While all three northern tribes share the honor of having kept faith with the Lord, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Naphtali: Peridot: Hebrew: ישפה / yashepheh; Greek: topazion / τοπάζιον (Gen.49:21; Deut.33:23).
2. Asher: Aquamarine-Beryl: Hebrew: שהם / shoham; Greek: beryllos / βήρυλλος (Gen.49:20; Deut.33:24-25).
3. Dan: Chrysolite: Hebrew: תרשיש / tarshish; Greek: chrysolithos / χρυσόλιθος (Gen.49:16-18; Deut.33:22).
In is important to note here that the exceptional achievements of some will not in any way disparage the lesser accomplishments of others. Regardless of the "regiment" into which we are eternally enrolled, just as each believer is a special living stone memorialized before the Lord (Zech.9:16; 1Pet.2:5), so each tribe receives its own unique blessings (as can be seen from a comparison of the blessings of Jacob and Moses referenced above). Moreover, each tribe is worthy of special, distinctive memorialization, as evidenced by the beautiful gemstone which is uniquely its own, and by its own individualized gate, each being associated with a specific, high-ranking angel and apostle-prince. Even the lowest-ranking person in the lowest-ranking tribe of Dan, that is, the believer who has earned the least possible reward of everyone in the entire Church, will still be blissfully happy for all eternity, possessing a full share of Jesus Christ, access to the tree of life, and an eternal lodging in the New Jerusalem. Thus even the absolute least in the eternal kingdom has "won the victory" (1Cor.15:54-57; 1Jn.5:4; Rev.2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21), receiving as a result "glory and honor and immortality" with eternal peace and blessing (Rom.2:7-9), and will be inestimably better off than the least unrighteous unbeliever of all condemned to the Lake of Fire.
Martyrdom and Eternal Rewards
It will be noted from the above that the tribe of Levi is not assigned a gate in the New Jerusalem. Levi, of course, was selected from the other tribes for special ministry to the Lord. As such, Levi was not represented by a gemstone inscribed with its name on the high priest's breastplate. That did not mean, however, that Levi had no place or inheritance in Israel. Quite to the contrary, the members of that tribe had chosen the Lord over their own flesh and blood (Ex.32:26-29). As a result, Levi's place was special (Duet.33:8-11), and the Lord Himself was their inheritance (Duet.10:9). The Levites were specially "set apart to the Lord" (Ex.32:29), being uniquely blessed on account of their dedication to the Lord rather than somehow left out. We see evidence of something similar in the existence of special colleges of elect angels (e.g., the cherubs, the archangels, the four angels of the winds, etc.), namely, specific individuals who have been set apart entirely from the organization of angelic clans, no doubt for exemplary service. In this regard, therefore, we may posit that in addition to these twelve divisions of the Church, there also exists an elite cadre of individuals, analogous to and represented by the tribe of Levi, who have an especially close relationship to the Lord – in reward for their esteeming Him beyond all other things in this life. The unnamed two who will sit at Jesus' right and left hands clearly belong to this category, and no doubt the apostles too, despite their princely leadership of the twelve divisions (analogous here to the archangels who likewise form a group apart). We may also expect the Old Testament prophets to be included in this elite group (inasmuch as the Church is built upon the foundation of "the apostles and the prophets": Eph.2:20). The key characteristic which will merit inclusion into this most august number, however, will be martyrdom (Rev.20:4). The 144,000 definitely seem to be included (cf. Rev.14:1-5), for example, and while some of the great prophets and apostles may not have been put to death for the Lord (and while some who die of persecution may not be accorded the honor of inclusion into this exclusive group), martyrdom on the part of exceptional believers who have otherwise achieved the highest level of reward and right to membership in the highest ranking named tribe (i.e., Judah), would seem to be the most common basis for inclusion into the number of the unnamed tribe of Levi, specially set apart to the Lord for all eternity. At the very least, we may expect that all such believers will have come to the point of experiencing serious persecution for the Name of Jesus, not only believing, trusting, honoring, and reflecting the Person of Christ, but also of sharing His sufferings (1Pet.4:13; cf. Rom.8:17; 2Cor.1:5; Phil.3:10; Col.1:24; cf. 2Cor.12:7-10).
(19) For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision that comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ, (20) in keeping with my expectation and hope that I will in no way be put to shame, but that now as ever, holding nothing back, Christ will be magnified by means of this body of mine, whether through my life, or through my death. (21) For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
While not specifically named, we may expect that the distribution of apostles and angels associated with the twelve gates and their tribes and gemstones is likewise based upon merit. Therefore it would be most unlikely if Paul were not the apostle of the Judah gate (with John and Peter filling out the east-side tribes). As to the angels, it is perhaps not unwarranted to speculate that the same angels who were associated with the seven eras of the Church are likely to be the individuals who continue in a mission of symbolic human-angelic liaison.74 To them we may add the unnamed head-angels charged with similar duties during each of the four millennial days preceding the Church, and the angel with this mission during the Tribulation (a special joint period between Israel and the Church, not covered under the seven angels' mandate).75
Finally, as suggested above, it is entirely appropriate that the names of the twelve tribes should be given to the divisions of the eternal organization of the Church; we are all now one in Christ, made near through His blood with the middle wall of partition which divided us removed by His sacrifice (Deut.32:8; Micah 5:3; Rom.11:17-21; Gal.6:15-16; Eph.2:11-21).76 Moreover, as we have noted in the past, based upon the information given by the Jewish ceremonial calendar the final composition of the family of God (Church and Friends of the Bride taken together) will likely be of original gentiles and original Jews in equal proportion (with Jews streaming to the Lord in disproportionate numbers during the Millennium).77
8. The Interior of the City
(21b) And the city's [network of] main streets was pure gold as if [made of] diaphanous crystal. (22) And I did not see a temple in the [city], for the Lord God the Almighty is its temple, and [so is] the Lamb. (23) And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb was its lamp. (24) And the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it. (25) And the gates of the city shall never be closed in the daytime. Indeed, there will be no night there [at all]. (26) And they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations (i.e., everything valuable and fine) into it. (27) And nothing profane and no doer of abominations or any liar will enter into [the city], only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The Streets: The Greek word plateia (πλατεῖα), usually translated "street" (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB; the NIV has"great street"), is actually referring to the main road-network which connects all the aforementioned gates to city's central hub, "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev.22:1; 22:3). Obviously, for a city of over 2.5 million square miles in area, there is more than one, single street. And just as obviously, each of its twelve main gates must have a major artery entering and exiting through it (for, after all, it must be through these gates that "the kings of the earth bring their glory into [the city]": Rev.21:24). Often, the Greek word in question is used of a city square, and we may imagine that each of the twelve major arteries in this network possess extreme width (in keeping with the vast size of the city and its gates). That is especially so when one considers that these streets will have the river of living water running down through their midst, with a veritable forest of trees, the tree of life, populating both banks in each case. These twelve massive streets must radiate out from the center of the city like spokes from a hub, intersecting the wall at their respective gates. While it is possible that the angles separating them are equal (i.e., 30̊ each), thus determining the positioning of the gates, it seems much more likely that the courses of these main avenues are determined by the need to intersect their corresponding gates (which are most likely spaced proportionally along the wall). As impressive as this network of boulevards will be, it is its composition which seems to have caught the apostle's attention. The grid is described in terms which are similar but not identical to those of the city. The crystalline gold of which the streets are composed is not merely translucent but "diaphanous". These words are synonyms in English, of course, but the latter word brings out the additional quality which the Greek adjective diauges (διαυγής) is meant to convey: not merely transparent but possessing an illuminative property which makes the golden avenues stand out perspicuously even in the midst of a city made of translucent gold. It is certainly appropriate for this network of radiating streets to figure prominently even in the midst a city more beautiful than the mind of man could ever conceive. In this way, both the entrances into the city (which will likewise be exceptionally conspicuous as gigantic, white, shining pearls) and the avenues which lead through the gates to center of the city will symbolize what was most important in this life: they will lead to and point towards the One who is the Gate to eternal life (Jn.10:7-9; cf. Matt.7:13-14), the One who is the only Way to the Father (Jn.14:6; cf. Matt.7:13-14), our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For the throne in the city's center will be the hub from which the twelve illuminated arteries radiate and whence they lead, towering above the city below (cf. Zech.8:3; Rev.22:1), and shining forth with the glory of God Himself (Rev.21:23; 22:5).
Lodgings: John's impression of the interior of the city as made of transparent gold (Rev.21:18b) is our only indication of the nature of the lodgings New Jerusalem contains. We have already seen that the city's major avenues will provide an abundance of open space. It also goes without saying that around the throne in the center of the city must be a very large open space to accommodate the assembly of the Lord's people in His presence as it was in the past (Job 1:6; 2:1), and as is presently the case (Rev.5:11; 7:9). Also, we should not imagine that the rest of the city area is entirely "built out" anymore than would be the case with a contemporary polis. That is to say, the Greek word πόλις (found at 12 times in Rev.21-22) may envisage an entire country, including all of its territory (and the size of New Jerusalem, after all, is nearly the size of the continental United States). We can say that the buildings must produce a profoundly moving impression to rate the general description John gives of the city proper.
Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in Me. There are many rooms in my Father's house. If there were not, I would have told you. For I am going in order to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also.
Given the enormous size of New Jerusalem and Jesus' promise above, it is clear that every believer will have an eternal lodging in the golden city, and we may be sure that even for the least and the last that residence will be wonderful beyond description. The present heavenly Jerusalem is also the abode of angels (Heb.12:22), and we may expect that to be the case in New Jerusalem as well (cf. Gen.3:24; Ex.36:8; Ps.36:7 [Hebrew]; Rev.4:4-10; 5:11; 21:12). We cannot say whether or not our eternal dwellings are already presently in place in the heavenly Jerusalem, but as the final full-complement of the Church is apparently precisely equal to the number of fallen angels, the possibility exists that believers will occupy the former residences of Satan's followers, just as we have replaced them in the family of God (cf. Lk.11:22).78
Each of the twelve tribes undoubtedly occupies the area on both sides of its main avenue to a parallel which is equidistant from the neighboring avenue on either side. If such is the case, the geometric effect will be that the territories of the four tribes occupying the four central-gate regions will be significantly smaller than those of the eight tribes on either side of each of the four corners – that is, assuming, as certainly appears to be the case, that the gates of the city are spaced at equal distances around the wall (and such would certainly seem to be so from the description given in verses nineteen through twenty-one, with the foundations stones appearing to identical in size, filling the intervals between the gates). For New Jerusalem is a square, not a circle, and therefore the angles at which the twelve major arteries will radiate outward in order to intersect with the gates so positioned will not be identical. The geometric result will be a noticeably smaller area for the tribes occupying the four central-gates regions. Certainly, this disparity might be offset in a number of ways (e.g., if the central square is positioned obliquely, with its four corners touching the east-west, north-south axes, then at some magnitude its expansion could theoretically render all twelve areas equal, though the unknown width of the avenues makes that point impossible to compute). However, it may also be the case that, as in all other things in the Christian life, extremes whether good or bad tend to be more frequent occurrences than the mean between the two. It may very well be that in all four classes of response to the plan and will of God, more believers have tended to cluster around minimal and maximal effort than to find a medium between the two. In terms of the particular location of our eternal dwelling within the tribe of our final allotment, it is clear that being closer to the Lord will be more desirable, and farther away less so. We may expect that in each case the greater the reward earned in this life, the larger the habitation, and the higher up the hill upon which the throne resides and the closer to the Lord it will be. But although a place near the wall is for these reasons the least desirable situation, it will still be infinitely better to be “a doorkeeper in the house of God” than to rate the most prestigious place “in the tents of the wicked” (Ps.84:10).
The Throne: We have had occasion to treat the present-day, heavenly throne along with the angelic elders and cherubs who attend it in our coverage of Revelation chapters 4-7 (in part 2B of this series).
(2) Immediately I came to be in the Spirit, and, behold, a throne had been placed in the [third] heaven, and [some] One was sitting [upon it]. (3) And the One sitting [on the throne was] similar in appearance to a gemstone of jasper or sardius. And there was a rainbow (i.e., the glory of God) around the throne similar in appearance to [something] made of emerald. (4) And encircling the throne were twenty-four [other] thrones. And on the[se] thrones twenty-four elders were sitting, dressed in white clothing. And on their heads were golden crowns. (5) And from the throne [of God] come forth flashes of lightning, voices and peals of thunder. And there [stood] burning before the throne seven lamps of fire, which are the seven spirits of God. (6) And in front of the throne [was something] like a sea of glass similar to crystal. And in the midst of throne, encircling the throne, were four living-creatures, laden with eyes in front and in back. (7) And the first living-creature was similar to a lion. And the second living-creature was similar to a young bull. And the third living-creature had a face similar to a man's. And the fourth living-creature was similar to an eagle in flight.
Apart from the absence of the indications of judgment (i.e., flashes of lightning, voices and peals of thunder), and the absence of the crystal sea (unnecessary as a view-port to earth since the city has now come to earth), the text suggests that the throne will be the same one upon which the Father and Son presently sit in state. There will be no temple building in New Jerusalem, however, as "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev.21:22; contrast with Rev.7:15; 11:19; 14:15-17; 15:5-6; 16:1; 16:17). Situated at the precise center of the city and on elevated ground from which the river of the water of life flows forth, the glory of God in the Persons of the Father and the Son will illuminate the world with a brilliant rainbow of light more intense than seven suns (Is.30:26), as the Shekinah glory can finally be unveiled without destroying the now perfected creatures privileged to gaze upon the Lord as He actually is (Ex.33:18-23).
Outside the City: The gates of New Jerusalem will always be open (Rev.21:25). For there will nevermore be any night (Rev.21:25; 22:5), no time of insecurity and danger, nor will anything profane even be able to enter in, since all sinfulness has been burnt out of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The "kings of the nations" will "bring their glory" (i.e., everything valuable and fine produced in the perfect new universe) into the city (Rev.22:24; 22:26), and the nations they represent will "walk by its light" (Rev.21:24). Furthermore, the leaves of the tree(s) of life will benefit these nations outside the city wall (Rev.22:2). From this compound description it is very clear that there will be a sizeable population living outside of the city wall. It is also clear that they, and in particular their leaders, will enter the city on a regular basis. Therefore this elect group must be carefully distinguished from those mentioned by John at Revelation 22:15 (i.e., "outside are the dogs", etc.). For those reprobates are being deliberately contrasted in that passage with this group which precedes it in verse fourteen, a whole host of people who have “the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city”. The “dogs” are those who have been committed to the Lake of Fire, with “outside” referring to the “outer darkness” (Matt.8:12; 22:13; 25:30); the key idea in both cases is one of complete separation from God (the Greek words are exo and exoteros respectively, the latter being the comparative form of the former). That is to say, "outside" refers not just to the New Jerusalem, but to being "outside" the Lord's eternal state entirely (i.e., in the Lake of Fire). For only the names of believers will still be found "in the book of life" as the names outside-believers are said to be (Rev.21:27).
Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.
Isaiah 52:1 NIV
The population of the New Earth outside of New Jerusalem will be composed of the Friends of the Bride, that is, the contingent of millennial believers not resurrected and rewarded until history's end. In number, these will equal the Bride, so that together saved humanity will be equal in number to elect angelic-kind (Satan and his followers having been replaced one for one by the Church, with the millennial cohort furnishing Christ with His "double portion").79 The Friends of the Bride will be composed of gentiles (whose kings are described in Rev.21:24), but also of Jews in disproportionately large numbers (we have posited elsewhere that the proportion of three to one of gentiles to Jews in the Church will be exactly reversed during the Millennium).80 Directly outside of the city, therefore, we may expect to find the New Israel, in proportion to its capital city greatly expanded in its territory (cf. Gen.17:7):
"Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring."
Genesis 28:14 NIV
The remainder of the greatly enlarged New Earth (and possibly also the rest of the New Heavens, for that matter), will be occupied and husbanded by the gentile Friends of the Bride.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He divided the sons of men, He established the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.
9. The River of the Water of Life and the Tree of Life
(1) And He showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal[s of ice], coming forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (2) In the middle of the [New Jerusalem's network of twelve main] streets and on both sides of [this] river [of the water of life which ran through them] was the tree of life, producing twelve crops, offering its fruit every month, month by month. And the leaves of the tree are for the enjoyment of [all] the nations, (3a) so that there will no longer be any division.
Just as the river proceeding from Eden (which watered the garden) and the river from the millennial temple (which will water the Arabah and western sea) are prominent elements of their respective paradises, so the river of the water of life will be a dominating feature of New Jerusalem. The same also applies in all three cases to the tree of life. For New Jerusalem, however, this prominence will be abundantly true not only from the tangible aspect of the blessings they will provide forever, but also for their important symbolism. The tree of life represents our Lord Jesus, and eating of its fruit symbolizes placing our faith in Him81; the truth about Jesus is the spring of living water welling up to eternal life for all who drink thereof:
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. The one who comes to Me shall not hunger, and the one who believes in Me shall not thirst forever".
And all of them (i.e., the Exodus generation) drank the same spiritual drink (i.e., divinely provided water symbolizing the truth in which one believes). For all of them drank from the spiritual[ly significant] Rock which followed them – for that Rock was Christ.
1st Corinthians 10:4
For those who put their faith in Jesus in this life, the water of life and the tree of life will provide spiritual sustenance and physical blessing beyond present understanding and for all eternity.
(7) [Lord,] how precious is your mercy! Both the mighty ones (i.e., angels) and the sons of men will take shelter under your wings. (8) They will drink their fill from the richness [that flows] from your house, for You will give them drink from your river of delights. (9) For with You is the fountain of life. Through your light [on that day] we shall see [true] light.
The River of the Water of Life: Just as the river that watered the garden came forth from God's place of "delight", Eden, and just as the millennial river of water which enlivens the Dead Sea comes forth from the temple, so the eternal river of the water of life will come forth from the throne of God, demonstrating clearly the source of eternal life and source of everlasting blessing. Instead of the river of fire which had flowed forth from the throne for judgment (Dan.7:10), this river emanates from the throne in its final resting place on earth as both a symbolic and tangible source of God's grace for His people.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, let him come to the waters!
As discussed above, the "street" mentioned in Revelation 22:2 above is really the New Jerusalem's network of streets. Therefore the river of the water of life which comes forth from the throne of the Father and the Son does not descend from the eternal Mount Zion in one channel only, but in twelve, flowing down the middle of each of the twelve capacious boulevards, and exiting the city through each of the twelve gates to water the face of the eternal Israel and the New Earth (cf. Ezek.47:1-12: while Ezekiel is given to see only the eastern stream issuing from the millennial temple, there are in fact two: Zech.14:8). The water itself, "sparkling like crystal[s of ice]", will be a delight to behold and will provide physical and spiritual blessings for all who partake of it. Since water is a biblical symbol for God's Word of truth (Is.55:1-3; Jn.3:5; 3:8 [Greek]; 4:10; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; 1Jn.5:8 [of the Trinity]; Rev.7:17; 21:6; 22:1; 22:17; cf. Ex 17:5-6; Num. 20:8; Ps.42:1-2; 63:1; 84:5-7; Is.41:17; 44:3), it will perhaps be the case that the particular spiritual nourishment the water provides is precisely that, namely, truth about the Lord, all He is and all He has done. For Jesus is the true spring of living water (Is.8:6; Jer.2:13; 17:13; Jn.4:10-14; 7:38; Rev.7:17). It is thrilling to consider that these waters will never run dry, and that even were a person to drink from them without pause for all eternity, it would still not be possible to drain to the depths the source of truth about the God who made us, loved us, and saved us in Jesus Christ our dear Lord.
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
Psalm 27:4 NIV
And the Spirit and the bride say "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
The Tree of Life: There are several important things to note about the tree of life which may not be immediately obvious from an English version. First, the word "tree" is used here in a collective sense. What we have do with here is a veritable forest of trees. Second, this forest lines both sides of the river of living water along all twelve channels, over 20,000 miles of network, and on both sides of the river channels at that. We can also only guess at the width of the river or of breadth of the wooded area occupied on each side, but the proportions of the city and the likely extensive span of each of the twelve avenues argue for a not inconsiderable distance. Simply put, the tree of life will cover a good deal of territory in New Jerusalem. Third, the twelve crops are not produced sequentially, but simultaneously, regardless of the time of the year (that is the meaning of "every month, month by month"). Rather than being temporally separated, the fruit is geographically separated: the trees along each of the twelve branches of the river bring forth a different type of produce, one for each tribe (in a manner analogous to the twelve loaves of the bread of presence set out in the tabernacle to represent the twelve tribes of Israel: Lev.24:5-9). This diversity of location will encourage the visitation of residents of every tribe to all other areas of the city, in order the better to enjoy and appreciate the whole of New Jerusalem.
(12) Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, (13) consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. (14) For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Psalm 48:12-14 NIV
When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.
Ezekiel 46:9 NIV
There are three important aspects to the tree of life and its fruit, all of which are symbolized by the furniture in the tabernacle-temple; and all of these symbols are inextricably bound to the Person of the One who is the revealed member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the true tree of life (Jn.15:1-8; Rom.11:17-24). The golden lampstand symbolizes the appearance of the tree of life (Ex.25:33-34)82; the bread of the presence on the golden table symbolizes its fruit (Lev.24:5-9); and the incense from the golden altar recalls its fragrance (cf. 2Cor.2:15). For Jesus is the light of the world (Jn.8:12), the bread of life (Jn.6:35), and the sweet savor of salvation which propitiates our sins (Eph.5:2; cf. Heb.7:27; 9:14). The tree of life will thus be the source of palpable joy in its appearance, fragrance, and taste (cf. Gen.2:9; Ezek.47:12). And in this last blessing in particular, the feature emphasized in our context with the reference to the twelve crops, the benefits and delights of partaking of the various fruits will be enormous, eternal manna from God, everlasting communion in the participation of the Body of Christ, a pleasurable experience that will surpass to infinity anything offered by this present, visible world.
We are also told that the foliage of the trees will likewise produce great benefits, though here again the English versions can be misleading. The Greek word therapeia (θεραπεία), the source of our "therapy", may indeed have a medicinal meaning, but not necessarily so. Its primary application has to do with care and oversight, a function which does not require some prior problem as in the case of illness (cf. Lk.12:42). Therefore "positive use" or "enjoyment" is a far preferable translation in this context where all tears have now been wiped away forever. This benefit of the tree of life will then be some sort of pleasurable activity apart from eating, and one its prime applications will be the production of unity among all believers. For the occurrence of the word "curse" found in most of the versions in verse three of chapter twenty-two is based upon a misreading of the text (as we have seen, the “curse” of Genesis chapter three had already been removed at Christ's return: Rom.8:21; cf. Zech.14:11 NASB only). As Sinaiticus makes clear, the correct Greek text reads katagma (κατάγμα) "division", not katathema (κατάθεμα) "curse". In New Jerusalem there will be no further divisiveness between the tribes, now composed of Jews and gentiles both, nor between the Bride and the Friends of the Bride. The therapeutic foliage of the tree of life will provide a pleasurable means of fellowship and harmony between all believers forevermore (Ps.47:9; Zech.2:11; Jn.10:16; 11:52).
Happy are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to [access] the tree of life, and [the right to pass through] the gates so that they may enter the city.
10. The Blessed Eternal State of the Saved
(3b) And the throne of God and of the Lamb is within her (i.e., New Jerusalem), and His servants will worship Him, (4) and they will see His face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. (5) And there will no longer be any night nor will they have any need of the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine upon them, and they will reign forever and ever.
The Character of our Eternal Life: As to the precise construction of the New Earth and New Heavens and our activities therein, scripture gives us only a little information. That is decidedly a good thing, because if we knew in great detail how wonderful the eternity we anticipate will be, we might be tempted to think of nothing else. Such detailed knowledge also might remove some of the challenge to our spiritual growth. As it is, believers have to exert a certain amount of sanctified will-power to "think about the things above" (as we are commanded to do: Col.3:1-2).
We are given to know certain things, however, and it is possible to make some sanctified assumptions from the information we do have. For example:
We will inhabit an amazing, perfect body forever. We know
some important things about our future resurrection body from
the example of our Lord in resurrection, since "when He appears,
we shall be like Him" (1Jn.3:2).83
We will enjoy the visual and sensual delights of the New
Jerusalem, the city itself, the river of the water of life, the
fruits of the tree of life and leaves of blessing, the beauty of
the city, its walls, gates and foundations, the novelties
produced and brought into the city, eternal fellowship with all
our kindred believers in Jesus Christ, etc. All these will be
eternal joys which will be all the more enjoyable because of the
perfect body we shall command, being not only incapable of any
ill-feeling, but also possessing a greatly expanded capacity to
appreciate the wonders to come.
We will likely have the expanded and perfected new universe
to explore forever. Since our Lord is capable of walking through
closed doors, moving immediately from one far distant place to
another, and ascending through the universe to the third heaven,
it would seem to be rather incongruous to give us His Church
bodies capable of such swift, amazing travel, then restrict us
to one particular place (viz., we shall be superior to angels,
and they currently ply the heavens).
We will have direct access to the Son and the Father for all time, and that will be by far the "best of the best" of anything anyone could ever possibly have or experience. We only understand that now in principle, but on that glorious day of days we will "know even as we are known" (1Cor.13:12).
In a word, we cannot yet truly appreciate what is to come. We behold that future glory only dimly as a distant reflection (1Cor.13:12), but we can take great encouragement from the contrasts scripture provides between the difficult life we now patiently endure and the blessed existence that awaits us on the other side of the veil.
Instead of death, only life (Jn.3:15-16).
Instead of sin, only righteousness (2Pet.3:13).
Instead of tears, only joy (Ps.16:11).
Instead of pain, only blessing (Rev.22:2).
Instead of want, only plenty (Rev.21:24).
Instead of trouble, only peace (Lk.20:34-36).
Instead of darkness, only light (Rev.22:5).
Instead of separation from God, eternity in the presence of God (Rev.22:4).
That this last contrast encapsulates all that will be truly good and wonderful in New Jerusalem may be seen from the context of our passage, Revelation 22:3b-5. For this passage summarizes our blessed eternal status by listing five salient characteristics of our glorious life to come, all five of which are focused not on us or our resurrection bodies but on the Lord:
1. Our Worship of God: "His servants will worship Him": The word often translated "serve" here is better rendered as "worship", for that is the substance of which our eternal service to the Lord will be composed.84 These acts of worship which we shall thoroughly enjoy, "with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng" (Ps.42:4 NIV), will not consist of the shadows of the Law or hollow, invented liturgies which are really only "the teachings of men" (Is.29:13; Col.2:22). Rather, they will be genuine and heart-felt acts of worship occurring in accordance with a perfect and specifically prescribed pattern. This perfect worship arranged, designed, and ordained by God Himself will thrill our hearts in an unimaginable way, and we will never have to wonder about when to come before Him, what to bring, what to do, or whether a particular hymn or rite or ceremony or expression is right or correct. Our worship, our service of adoration to the Lord will be perfect on that great day, and incapable of being otherwise, for we will be an eternal "kingdom of priests" (Rev.1:6; 5:20; 20:6).85
(23) But the hour is coming, and in fact has already arrived, when the true worshipers [of God] will worship the Father in spirit (i.e., spiritually: our spirit responding to His Spirit) and in truth (i.e., truthfully: our heart responding to His truth). Indeed, it is just such worshipers that the Father is seeking. (24) For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must do so spiritually (lit., in spirit) and truthfully (lit., in truth).
2. Our Fellowship with God: "they will see His face": While at present, no one living has seen God (Ex.33:20; Jn.6:46; 1Tim.6:16), on that great day we shall all see Him face to face (1Cor.13:12); we shall all be with and enjoy the presence of dear Lord Jesus in Person (Jn.14:3; 2Thes.1:10). For the Bride and the Groom will be united as one forevermore (Ps.45:9-11), never to part (Rev.3:12; cf. 1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19; 1Pet.2:5). For we shall be His people, and He will be our God (Gen.7:17; Jer.31:33; Ezek.37:27).
3. Our Relationship with God: "His Name will be on their foreheads": The levitical priests wore a plate of pure gold on their turbans inscribed "Holy to the Lord" (Ex.28:36). As a kingdom of priests, we too will have an special identification of our status as God's eternal possessions. For He will place His sacred Name on our foreheads that all who see may know that we belong to Him forever (Is.43:7).
4. Our Capacity to Appreciate God: "the Lord God will shine upon them": The darkness of this present world which symbolized divine judgment has now given way to a universe of light in which darkness has ceased to exist. The presently unapproachably brilliance of the glory of God on that day will be given to us to view in awe and reverence. Indeed, it will be the source of light, infinitely brighter than anything presently imaginable (cf. Is.30:26), which will illuminate the entire New Heavens and New Earth. In resurrection, we will not only have the ability to look upon the Shekinah glory without being immediately destroyed, but will also be able to appreciate the wonder of it. One in Jesus, the Light of this present world (Jn.8:12), we will no longer have any need of lamps or the sun or any other indirect source: from the eternal Mount Zion, the "Place-of-Light", the glory of God will suffuse the entire universe. Nor will there ever be another night, nor any need for us to sleep: there will be no need to miss a moment of eternity, and we shall have the capacity to appreciate and enjoy this and every other eternal blessing to the full.
5. Our Sharing of God's Reign: "they will reign forever and ever": Under the Genesis curse, hard work is required to survive in this present world. But mankind was never created to be idle. Even in the garden, Adam was given a desirable and enjoyable occupation, "to work [the garden] and take care of it" (Gen.2:15), and Eve was designed as a "helper compatible with him" (Gen.2:18). Therefore if the blessings already alluded to do not seem sufficient to pass eternity, we may sure that we will not find ourselves without delightful and pleasurable tasks to perform, work that is in no way burdensome, but instead perfectly complements who we each are. Beyond all question, the most wonderful such occupation to contemplate is that of sharing in the rulership of the universe with our Lord, a blessing of which our context makes clear even the lowest gatekeeper of New Jerusalem will partake. While the devil and those who chose his side had as their ultimate objective the wresting of universal rulership from God, we who have humbly chosen to follow and serve Jesus in this life will find Him and His Father generously sharing their eternal rule with us forever.
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.
Daniel 7:27 NIV
But of all these things, our greatest source of joy and surprise, engagement and wonder will be the Person of God Himself in the face our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We who have trusted God to bring us through the tough times of this life can certainly trust Him that, after the testing and trials of this life are past, He will provide us with only the brightest and the best, things beyond comprehension, "eternal delights at Thy right hand forevermore" (Ps.16:11). For Jesus has been our fortress and our refuge in this life, our Shepherd and our Friend. Jesus is our true home, and He will be so forever. Amen.
Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in Me. There are many rooms in my Father's house. If there were not, I would have told you. For I am going in order to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also.
[Go to: Coming Tribulation part 7: A Tribulational Code of Conduct]