The New Order
Having described the fate that Satan and his followers will experience after the 1000-year reign of Christ, John now focuses on the destiny of those who were faithful to Christ, especially those who were faithful during the time of Antichrist and his persecution. According to John, just as Satan and his forces have a city called Babylon, so Christ and His followers have a city which is called ďThe New Jerusalem.Ē Moreover, during this time focus, will shift from Jesus to the Father. Since the beginning of creation until the end of the 1000-year reign of Christ, the Father has dictated that people focus on His Son. At the moment, the Father is placing all things in subjection to His Son. According to Paul though, at the end of the thousand-year reign, Christ will then turn to the Father and subject all things to Him that God may be all in all. At that time, all focus will be upon the Father and the Son (1 Cor. 15:28).
Before describing the new city which will be the dwelling place of the followers of the Lamb, John claims that he sees a new heaven and a new earth. The word translated new here is significant for understanding this passage. The Greeks had 2 words for ďnewĒ: neoV ( neos which is pronounced neíos) and kainoV (kainos which is pronounced kiínos). The first word, neoV, means new with regards to time. For example, a new baby is one which a little while ago did not exist. It is young in years. On the other hand, kainoV means new with regards to quality. For example, after a 47-year-old man takes a shower, he claims that he feels like a new person (Iím speaking about me). Well, heís not new with regards to time because he is 47 years old; however, the quality of life he is experiencing right now means he feels like new. The second word kainoV is the word John is using here. These new heavens and earth are not young in years because they have been around since the creation of the heavens and the earth. Rather, God has transformed them so that they are qualitatively new.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us insight into both our resurrection and also the resurrection of the material universe. When Jesus rose from the dead, He did not dispense with His body and get a new one. Rather, the Holy Spirit radically transformed that body. It was the same body but now a radically transformed one. Jesusí resurrection will impact not only our physical bodies but also the physical universe. Just like Christ will transform us, so He will transform the heavens and earth. These new heavens and earth are the old ones transformed.
John next claims that there is no longer any sea. The concept of the sea has been used 2 different ways in Revelation. First, it referred to the watery gulf which separated the rest of creation from God (Rev. 4:6). Next, it represented the nations which were in constant turmoil and which produced the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1). John may be referring to both of these. From now on, as we shall see, a gulf no longer will exist between God and His people. Furthermore, the nations will no longer be in turmoil. Instead, they shall enjoy the peace which Godís kingdom will usher in with the new order.
Next, John says that he saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, made ready as a bride adorned for her bridegroom. Note that this cityís name is ďthe New Jerusalem.Ē In the OT, God had stated that He had ordained Jerusalem to be His dwelling place. Although God had high aspirations for this city, it failed to live up to those aspirations. This is most dramatically seen in the fact that the OT Jerusalem put to death Godís Son. This New Jerusalem will fulfill all that God had originally planned for the old Jerusalem. Furthermore, John describes her as a bride adorned for her husband. In Rev. 19:7-10, we saw the wedding announcement for the marriage of the Lamb to His bride being handed out. Now the marriage is being consummated. The Father and the Lamb are going to be completely one with their people. (Whereas it may seem strange that a city is called the bride of the Lamb, remember that the people of God are going to be so identified with this city that being married to this city is tantamount to being married to this people.)
Notice also that John describes her as being a bride adorned for her husband. Earlier in Rev. 19, we saw the wedding announcement that God was distributing announcing the coming marriage between the Lamb and His bride. With Satan and death fully swept away, all is now in order for the marriage of the Lamb and His bride, the church. The relationship begun between Christ and Christians at the point of salvation is now consummated with the coming of the Holy City.
Before giving a detailed physical description of this new city, John lists the spiritual implications of living in this new city. A voice from the throne (Godís voice) declares first that with the coming of this city Godís tabernacle will now be among men, second that God will dwell among them, third that they shall be His people, and fourth that He shall be their God. We pointed out earlier the parallels between Exodus and the Book of Revelation. Two major concepts from that first Exodus were (1) Godís dwelling among His people in the Tabernacle and (2) the identification of Israel as Godís people. That first Exodus basically serves as a glance into the future. Although God to an extent dwelt among the Israelites in the Tabernacle, with the coming of this new tabernacle God completely dwells among His people. Also, whereas we saw the Israelites acting like Godís people from time to time, the citizens of this new city completely act like Godís people; they are justifiably identified as Godís people.
Next, John describes what will not be there. ďThere shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away.Ē It is really strange that at the beginning of this section John describes the New Jerusalem in a negative way by listing what will not be there. The reason he does so is that these elements are woven so intricately into the fabric of human existence. Whatever else characterizes human existence, death is its primary characteristic. Unless Christ returns in our lifetime, each and every one of us will die. Every animal that graces the earth will meet the same fate we will sufferódeath. Every green plant will die and return to dust. It is a deadly entity that produces mourning, crying, and pain.
Whereas such a description of earthly existence may seem strange to young people, older people know exactly what I am talking about. Michelangelo is noted for the famous Pieta which sits in the main section of St. Peterís Basilica in Rome. The men have just lowered Jesus from the cross and placed Him in the arms of Mary. All is serene. Mary has quietly accepted the fate God has ordained for her and her Son. There is peace all over Jesusí face. This is the work of a young Michelangelo. There is another Pieta Michelangelo later sculpted. It is the work of an old man. This time both Maryís and Jesusí faces are in pain. Instead of Jesus lying restfully on Maryís lap, she is struggling to hold Him up. Pain is written all over this sculpture. A younger man could not have sculpted this piece. Only the ones whoíve experienced life on earth with all its pain for a longer period of time could have sculpted it. Well, this element of human existence is going to be wiped away once and forever with the coming of the New Jerusalem.
Some of us can really relate to the statements John is making here. I will never forget the 3 years of 1988-1990. At 6:21 a.m. on Feb. 1,1988 Nancy and I heard the phone ring. I knew it was Mom because she normally would call around that time if she wanted to talk. I was not expecting to hear though what she was going to say. The oldest grandchild in our familyóChristióthat morning had committed suicide. Like most teenagers, she had gotten involved in some things which were beyond her; unlike other teenagers though, she could not handle them in spite of the good mom and dad she had. Christi was all so special to us because of the unique circumstances surrounding her birth. Losing her was like losing our own child. Her mom was and is so special to all of us, that we all wished it would have happened to one of us rather than to her.
Well, Christís suicide was just the beginning of the flood that was about to engulf us. Within 2 1/2 years, my father died with cancer (April 16, 1989), my grandmother died (summer 1989), and my youngest sister died (summer 1990). As bad as it was for me, think of how my mom must have felt, losing her mother, husband, youngest child, and oldest grandchild. Life was pretty scary for a while. After Nathan was born, he would have high fever. Since we did not know it was ear-related, I feared the worst. Was God going to taking him like He had taken everybody else. Relationships were scary because you feared that God was going to take other people away from you too.
God though is so good. Iíll never forget the Sunday night in the Family Life Center when Robert Jeffrees was preaching the revival service when Nathan was saved. A little after he was saved, we realized that he was saved on Sunday night, April 16, 1996ó7 years to the day my dad died. Three years later, Molly informed us she was read to be saved. After she received Christ, we realized that Molly was saved on Feb. 1, 1999ó11 years to the day that Christi died. Thatís what God does. He takes the worst and makes it new. The 2 worst days of our lives became the 2 days God brought my children to Him for salvation. Why are we surprised? Thatís the kind of God He is. He took the worst we could doómurdering His Son and used that event to save millions. God makes all things new.
DESCRIPTION OF THE EXTERIOR OF THE CITY (21:10-21)
After listing the spiritual implications of this new order, John goes on to describe the exterior of the new city. The issue facing us is whether or not these are literal descriptions of the city. They may be literal descriptions; however, much symbolism is wrapped around this description. Unfortunately some of our modern translations (NASB) fail to convey accurately the symbolism because they use modern measurements to describe the city. The literal measurements in Greek emphasize the symbolism. We shall see this as we come to the specific measurements of different elements of the city.
John states that one of the angels who had one of the 7 bowls of judgment carried him away to a great high mountain. This statement contrasts the difference between the unholy city of Babylon and this new city. When the angel showed him the city of Babylon (ancient Rome), he carried John out into the wilderness to impress upon him and us the barrenness of that city. Here John must be transported to a great high mountain in order to get the best look possible at this city coming down out of heaven. It is such a massive impressive structure that viewing it at ground-level would never give the viewer a full appreciation of the city. To get the best look at the new city, John must view it from one of earthís great mountains.
John next states that this city had the glory of God enveloping her. To symbolize this, John describes the city by comparing her to precious stones, especially the stone jasper which was one of the very stones John used to describe the Father Himself (Rev. 4:3). By describing both the Father and the city as jasper stones, John is claiming that this city is none other than Godís. (The jasper of Johnís day was probably equivalent to our diamond. John is saying that with the light shining from within the city, the city must have really sparkled like a diamond.)
Next, the city had a great high wall with 12 gates. Each of the gates has a name from one of the 12 tribes of Israel written upon them. At each of these gates stands an angel guarding the entrance to make sure that only people with the mark of the Lamb on them enters the city. There were three gates on the east, 3 on the north, 3 on the south, and 3 on the west. Furthermore, the wall was built upon 12 foundation stones. Each of the foundation stones had written on them one of the names of Christís 12 apostles. The angel then takes a measuring rod and measures the city. The city is in the shape of a cube, that is, it was foursquare. The wall measured 12,000 stadia (1,500 miles) in length, 12,000 stadia in width, and 12,000 studia in height. It also measured 144 cubits (~70 yards) in width.
It is not hard now to understand the symbolism of the city. Twelve is the number used in Revelation to symbolize Godís people; 1000 is the number to stand for completion. John is basically saying that God is preparing a place for His people which will completely house all of His people. It is so inclusive that it has 12 gates for entrance. Anyone belonging to the Lamb should have no problem at all in entering this city. Furthermore, there is no lack of space for the millions who will dwell there. Twelve thousand stadia (1500 miles) by 12,000 stadia will house a lot of people; however, add to that a height of 12,000 stadia and you really have a lot of dwelling places. A simple calculation reveals that such a city could house 150 billion people.
John describes the foundation stones in terms of 12 precious stones. He claims that each of the 12 gates is made from a single pearl. Furthermore, the city is made up of something like transparent gold, a metal not found on earth as it now exists.
The issue confronting us is whether John is describing something material or using material imagery to describe something completely spiritual. C. S. Lewis in his book The Great Divorce pictures the new world as being so real that it hurts anybody who goes there without being transformed. One man in this book who is yet to be transformed feels sharp pain as he steps upon the grass in that new earth. When he tries to cross a river, he cannot step down into the river but instead has to walk upon the river because it is so hard (real); he slips and falls down as he tries to cross it. What Lewis is saying is that whereas the present heaven/earth is real, the new heaven/earth is even more real (if that is possible). Weíre not going to be like ghosts but like the transformed Jesus who even though he was able to materialize out of thin air was still capable of being touched by His disciples. Thatís what John is conveying here. The new heaven/earth is real; however, it is still something beyond our understanding.
DESCRIPTION OF THE INTERIOR OF THE CITY (21:22-22:5)
John then continues by describing the interior of the city. The first thing he notices about the city is the absence of a Temple within it. The temple normally graced the most important spot in a city because that is where the god was supposed to dwell. Well, there is no Temple in this city because the entire city is a Temple. There is absolutely no place in that city where God does not dwell. John says that the glory of God (a symbol of His presence) fills the entire city. Whereas the New American Standard Bible says that the nations will walk by its light, the Greek literally says that we shall walk ďthroughĒ its light. In other words, Godís glory and presence are like an ocean which fills every part of the city. Everywhere you go, you walk through Godís presence and glory. They completely fill the city to the extent that it completely engulfs any and everybody in it.
All fear will be removed in that day because nightóthe symbol of fearówill be totally absent from that city. The city gates will never have to be shut like they were in most cities at night when danger from attack was the greatest because night will cease to exist. Only the light of Godís presence will fill the city. As God is eternal, His light will also be eternal.
At the end of chapter 21, John rejects all notions of universalism. Some claim that when Christ returns, all people will be saved. John completely rejects this. Outside the city wall are those who had either followed the Dragon and his Antichrist or those who had proved faithless to Christ while they were alive on earth. Although the gates are never shut to symbolize eternal entrance for Godís people, angels do guard the gates to ensure that only Godís people will enter the gates.
John continues his description of the city by pointing out the crystal river of life which flows from the throne of God through the center of the city. On either side of the river was an arbor in which grew the tree of life. This tree produced 12 different kinds of fruit, one kind for each month of the year. The leaves from the tree were used for the healing of the nations. By flowing from the throne of God, the eternal life which this crystal river gives come from God and God only. It reminds us of Ezekielís Temple in which a small brook flowed from underneath the Holy of Holies, out of Jerusalem where it became a larger knee-deep stream, until finally it became a flowing river which engulfed the person who tried to enter it.