Posted by: stpowen | September 10, 2015

Revelation (16). Chapter 21. The New Jerusalem

 

Isaiah 65:17. ‘For behold, I create new heavens and new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind.’

Please read Revelation 21.

We are now coming to the wonderful climax of this great book.  The judgements and plagues are over, and all that remains is this wonderful vision of heaven; and yet it’s not heaven in the sense in which many people think of it- where we float about on a cloud, playing a harp.  There is a sense in which Christians don’t go to heaven, heaven comes to us!  ‘Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ (v.2).  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit……the earth!” (Matt. 5:5).  The new heavens and new earth is a physical place.  Its inhabitants will not be disembodied spirits, but have solid, resurrection bodies like our risen Saviour (Luke 24:39).  Those bodies will be recognizable, but different, and much, much better, like Christ’s.  ‘The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.  It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power’ (1 Cor. 15:42-43).

‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (v.1).  This is the fulfilment of the prophesies of Isaiah (65:17) and Peter (2 Peter 3:13).  Note that heaven and earth are not merely renewed- they are actually new!  Like our bodies, our new home will be recognizable, but different, and much better.  ‘Also there was no more sea’ (v.1).  What does this mean?  Will geography be re-arranged in heaven?  There are three possible meanings for this, and all of them are likely to be true.   Firstly, sea separates peoples and nations; there will be no separation of God’s people in the new Jerusalem.  Secondly, the sea is sometimes used in the Bible as imagery for the mass of unsaved people (eg. Isaiah 57:20).  Everyone in the new heavens and new earth is saved for eternity.  Thirdly, in 4:6 and 15:2, there is mention of a ‘sea of glass’ which separates heaven from the goings-on on earth.  That separation is now over, as we shall see in verse 3.

‘Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (v.2).   This is Mt. Zion, the home of the people of God (Heb. 12:22-23).  This is the ‘City that has foundations’ (Heb. 11:10) that Abraham sought and found; the city prepared by God (Heb. 11:16) for His people.  At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did not fill the temple at Jerusalem, but the hearts of believers.  God no longer dwells in the Holy of Holies, but in the hearts of His people.  The new Jerusalem, filled with God’s people, comes down to earth and heaven and earth are made one.

The reference to the adornment of the bride follows on from 19:7-8 and reminds us of Isaiah 61:10.  The bride is the Church of Christ, God’s people, and her adornment is not outward but inward; not physical but spiritual.  ‘Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water with the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish’ (Eph. 5:25-27).  In the O.T., Israel is often pictured as an adulteress or harlot (eg. Ezek. 23); here, the church is figured as the True Bride.  She has no blemish that might make her unsuitable as the Bride of Christ (Song 4:7).  In this she is just like her Spouse (1 Peter 1:19) who has saved her, cleansed her from her sins and brought her through all tribulation to Himself.

‘And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God’ (v.3).  Here we see the fulfilment of Ezek. 37:26-28.   The theme of God being the personal God of believers is a golden thread in the Bible, running from Gen. 17:7.  Believers are the true seed or descendants of Abraham (Gal. Gal. 3:6-9, 26-29).   There will be no grief or mourning in the New Jerusalem (vs. 4-6).  Death has been banished.  Once again, this is the fulfilment of an Old Testament text:  ‘And [God] will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people  He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken’ (Isaiah 25:7-8).

The wonderful promises of this chapter are made to him ‘who overcomes’ (v.7), but of course Christians are already ‘more that conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37).  If we have trusted in Christ we shall overcome, but it is nonetheless necessary that we do so.  ‘But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable……..idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’ (v.8).  The contrast between believers and unbelievers could not be more stark!  How vital it is to make sure that we are those who have repented of our sins and trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of them!  It is sobering to note that each time in these closing chapters when John rhapsodises about the glories of the New Jerusalem, he tempers his words with a sombre warning that the wicked and unsaved will never see them (v.27; 22:15).

Verses 9-10 present an interesting parallel and contrast to 17:1-3.  The same angel who took John into a wilderness to show him the great harlot {1}, now takes him up on a mountain-top to show him the Lamb’s bride.  The harlot is pictured seated upon a beast which corresponds to Satan (12:3); the bride is observed coming down out of heaven from God.  Which scene are you in?  Where is your heart?  Is it in the world as it lies under Satan (1 John 5:19)?  Or are you looking forward to the New Heavens and New Earth where righteousness dwells?

John now moves on to a detailed description of the New Jerusalem.  The first thing to note is that the description is figurative; the city as described is unfeasibly huge, measuring 1,380 miles in each direction- even upwards (v.16)!   There is plenty of room for all who will come.   There is only one other perfect cube in the Bible, in the holiest place in the Temple (1 Kings 6:20).  Into that place only the High Priest could go, and that only once a year.  In the New Jerusalem, the whole city is the holiest place- God’s manifest presence pervades it all (v.3).  There are parallels with Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek. 40ff), but also huge differences, not least in the size.  Both temples have twelve gates, for each of the tribes of Israel (v.12; cf. Ezek. 48:30ff), but the New Jerusalem has also twelve foundations for the twelve apostles.  The city is built on the apostolic doctrine (Eph. 2:20).  Twelve is the number of the covenant.

‘Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel’ (v.17).  the measurement of the city is a moral measurement.  ‘Behold, the Lord stood on a wall made with a plumbline, with a plumb line in His hand.  And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”  And I said, “A plumb line.”  Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them any more”’ (Amos 7:7-8; cf. Rev. 11:1).  Preachers are to run the rule over the churches to see if they measures up.  Here the city is a perfect cube- every side is 12,000; the whole city is the holiest place, and God is dwelling there.  The walls (v.17) are far too small for the city, but that’s not the point.  The walls are not needed; all God’s enemies have been consigned to the lake of fire.  The walls are only there to hang the gates on.

From verse 18, the beauty of the city is described- the beauty of absolute purity.  It is of pure gold, but a special sort of see-through gold, symbolizing transparent purity.  The precious stones of verse 19 are like those on the breastplate of the High Priest (Exod. 39:8-14).  Each one referred to one of the tribes of Israel.  Here, the Lord Jesus is the husband who takes His wife and lavishes on her sparkling stones and precious jewels.  Also, of course, God’s people are brought to the New Jerusalem by the prayers of the Great High Priest (John 17).   These precious stones also remind us of the covenant of peace promised in Isaiah 55:11-12.

Each gate (v.21) is one huge pearl, a picture of perfection.  Within the New Jerusalem are unimaginable beauty and unmeasurable riches.  The merchant in Matt. 13:45 sold all he had to gain the pearl of great price.  Is there a sin in our lives so precious that we will allow it to keep us out of heaven?

There is no temple in the New Jerusalem (v.22).  The temple itself was a figure of Christ (Matt. 12:6).  Where once the Israelites came to it to approach God by means of the sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood, today believers come to God through Christ our great High Priest who has offered the one perfect, acceptable sacrifice to the Father.  As we have seen, the whole of the New Jerusalem is the Holy of holies; we shall have immediate access to God.  Christ will no longer be High Priest; He will be the Bridegroom.   It is all the final fulfilment of John 4:21-24, the true worshippers worshipping in spirit and in truth in the very presence of the Father.  Even now, believers are the temple of God.  ‘Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?’ (1 Cor. 3:16).  ‘For you are the temple of the living God.  As God has said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ (2 Cor. 6:16).  These things, which are already a reality, find their final fulfilment in the New Jerusalem.  Eden is restored as God walks among His people.

‘The city had no need of the sun or the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light’ (v.23).  This verse references Isaiah 60:19-20, and also the first three days of creation before God made the sun and moon (Gen. 1:16). The ‘nations’ of verse 24 are the Gentiles.  In the Old Testament, the word usually meant those in opposition to God and His people (eg. Psalm 2:1), but now those nations and their rulers have ‘kissed the Son’ (Psalm 2:12) in submission to His rule, and have entered the New Jerusalem, becoming the ‘great multitude of 7:9.  The kings no longer reign in their own countries, for outside the City there is only the lake of fire.  The gates of the city are wide open; whoever wills may enter (22:17), but the only ones who do enter are those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life from all eternity.  This reflects John 6:37:  ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me……’ Here is predestination and particular redemption.  The father has given to the Son a people to redeem and He will lose none of them but redeem them all.  ‘…….And the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.’  No one who comes to the Lord Jesus in true repentance and faith will be turned away; there is room for all in the New Jerusalem.  The warrant for a sinner to come to Christ is not that he believes himself to be one of the elect, but that he is a sinner and the Lord Jesus welcomes such (Luke 5:32).  Let us therefore boldly stake our claim to heaven. ‘But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul’ (Heb. 10:39).

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Responses

  1. Thank you very much for this encouraging sermon: thinking about heaven provides much needed strength for living on earth!

    I was especially struck by one sentence: ” The first thing to note is that the description is figurative; the city as described is unfeasibly huge …”. I want to ask, unfeasible by what standards or laws?

    As you said, we’re talking here about a new heavens and earth, and since there will be no death or decay, that implies new laws of physics too (the existence of transparent gold also indicates new laws of chemistry!).

    It strikes me that our wonderful God has a way of fulfilling prophecy that is much more literal than we are often willing to believe. The virgin birth is one key example. How many of God’s faithful people were actually expecting that their Messiah would be born from a woman who had never been with a man? If we had surveyed them before the event, how many would have said that this description was figurative, perhaps of a woman of unblemished character (like Elizabeth and Zechariah are reported to be).

    Food for thought!


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