John tells us in Revelation 21:1: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." The millennium now being over, John is now introduced to a new universal order, the eternal state, where there are drastic changes in the cosmos as well as the marine environment.
The "day of God" will usher in the new heaven and the new earth (2 Pet. 3:12). Some scholars believe that the present earth and heaven will be renovated, while others argue strongly for the annihilation of the old order. Others note that the language employed is indefinite. They relate the new order in terms of a new relationship between God and His people. Yet many Old Testament passages stress the earth's continuance. Ecclesiastes 1:4 states: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever." Psalm 104:5 relates: "Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever." Psalm 119:90 declares: "Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth."
According to Vine, the word new (Kainos), means "not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old." Paul had a similar thought when he stated: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Swete notes that "it suggests fresh life rising from the decay and wreck of the old world." Alford also states that "the vision does not necessarily suppose the annihilation of the old creation, but only its passing away as to its outward and recognizable form, and renewal to a fresh and more glorious one."
There will be topographical changes: "there was no more sea" (Rev. 21:l). Whereas three-quarters of the earth is now covered by seas and oceans, the eternal state will find a reversal of these conditions. To the ancient mariner the sea symbolized the unknown, a sense of mystery. The Psalmist declared: "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known" (Psa. 77:19). For the Apostle John the sea meant separation from his friends. In the new order there will be no more mystery, no more separation. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Cor. 13:12).
Next John sees the "holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2). The new Jerusalem has ever been the hope and anticipation of the saints of both the Old and New Testament. We are told that Abraham "looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10). The OT saints are described as desiring "a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared them a city" (Heb. 11:16). Jesus had spoken to His disciples in the NT concerning its preparation (John 14:1-3). The Hebrew believers were told: "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). They were also informed that "here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Heb. 13:14). Paul speaking to the Galatians stated: "but Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all" (Gal. 4:26). The new Jerusalem is also mentioned in relation to the believer's in the church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:12). John will later be taken to a high mountain where he will be given a vivid description of the heavenly city (21:9-10).
Next John hears a voice from heaven: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:3-4). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). This will become a blessed reality in the eternal state as "the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them" (Rev. 21:3). "God hath said, I will dwell with them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Cor. 6:16). Paul stated that "for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17). The ills of the old order will not infringe on God's new creation. God had stated through the prophet Isaiah: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind" (Isa. 65:17).
John then hears God speak: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Mounce states that "the transformation which Paul saw taking place in the lives of believers (II Cor. 3:18; 4:16-18; 5:16-17) will have its counterpart on a cosmic scale when a totally new order will replace the old order marred by sin." The voice from the throne declares that "it is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely" (Rev. 20:6). With the declaration from the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30), the divine work of redemption was accomplished. With the declaration from the throne, "It is done" (Rev. 21:6), man's history has now come to a close and eternity begins. The gracious gospel message is declared in light of eternity for all who thirst for eternal life and the sufficiency which issues from it (cf. Isa. 55:1; John 4:10-14; Rev. 7:17). The overcomer is promised "all things," including sonship (Rev. 21:7); whereas, the eternal destiny of the sinner is described as the "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).
John is now beckoned by one of the seven angels who had the seven vials (previously poured out in judgment), to view the Lamb's wife, the bride (Rev. 21:9-10). This angel may possibly be the same one who carried John into the wilderness to view the harlot which sat upon the scarlet-colored beast (cf. 17:1-3). In describing the comparison between the two passages, G.R. Beasley-Murray notes that "the Revelation as a whole may be characterized as A Tale of Two Cities, with the sub-title, The Harlot and the Bride." The holy city, described in oriental imagery, is identified with the bride, the Lamb's wife.
Some interpreters believe that 21:9-22:5 is a description of the heavenly city as it relates to the millennial earth. In this view there are two descents of the city; one with regard to the eternal state (21:2), and the other with reference to the millennium (21:10). Ford C. Ottman notes that "this expanded vision of the new Jerusalem does not, for its interpretation demand a return in thought to the conditions existing during the Millennium. The Millennium is the theme, indeed, of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and beyond the Millennium these prophecies rarely go." Whether this is a reversion to the millennial earth or to the eternal state, the inhabitants of the city must be viewed in light of eternity; as the conditions within the city are eternal, even when viewed in relation to the millennium.
The Size of the City (21:15-16). The measurements of the city are staggering when compared to human standards. the angel having a golden reed (10' length), measures the city and finds it to be 12,000 furlongs (approx. 1,500 miles), with the length, breadth, and height equal (21:16). This would be roughly the distance from Maine to Florida and from the Atlantic Ocean to the state of Colorado. If the furlong equaled c. 607 feet, the distance would be roughly 1,380 miles; thereby giving approx. 1,904,400 square miles for each tier. The point is that there will be plenty of room for every saint of God from Abel to those saved during the kingdom age to live in the celestial new Jerusalem. Seiss comments that "great was the City of Nineveh, so great that Jonah had only begun to enter it after a day's journey. How long then would it take a man to explore this city of gold, whose every street is one-fifth the length of the diameter of the earth, and the number of whose main avenues, though a mile above each other, and a mile apart, would not be less than eight millions!"
The Shape of the City (21:16). The shape of the heavenly city is "foursquare" (2l:16), with the length, breadth, and height being "equal." Most scholars view the city as in the shape of a cube. Others, such as Clarence Larkin, believe the heavenly city will have the configuration of a pyramid; the throne being at the top of the city, with the river of life issuing forth from underneath." J. Vernon McGee thinks the celestial city will be a cube enclosed within a sphere of pure crystal, with a diameter of 2,600 miles and circumference of 8,164 miles. The Holy of Holies in the tabernacle was a perfect cube as well as the Most Holy Place in the temple of Solomon (1 Kgs. 6:20). Although the heavenly Jerusalem will possibly be patterned after the earthly Holy of Holies, it will be on a heavenly scale, unfathomable in its vast dimensions to the human mind.
The Scenery of the City (21:11-22:5). What would a city be without its scenery of tree-lined boulevards and well-designed streets and avenues? The celestial city of the new Jerusalem will be eminent beyond comparison to any earthly city in its beauty, having the "glory of God," which is compared to a "jasper stone, clear as crystal" (21:11). Many believe the jasper stone compares to our diamond in its brilliance, with features "clear as crystal."
The wall of the city measured 144 cubits or 216 feet high. In the ancient world walls and gates symbolized protection. In the new Jerusalem there will be no need to fear, for all opposition will be eradicated. The wall will have twelve gates, three on each side, with an angel posted at each entrance. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel will be engraved on the twelve gates (cf. Ez. 48:31-34). Each gate will be of one pearl (21:21a; cf. Matt. 13:45-46). Ladd notes, "Usually in ancient cities the gate was built into the wall as part of a tower; so each pearl was larger than the wall itself, constituting both the gate and its tower. Such pearls are beyond our imagination."
The wall will also have twelve foundations with the names of the twelve apostles inscribed on them. These foundations will not be underground hidden from view, but will be visible for everyone to see. The foundations of the city will be embellished with various precious gems. Each foundation will be a layer, the first composed of jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; and the twelfth, an amethyst.
Most scholars see a similarity in the foundation stones in the Apocalypse with the stones in the breastplate of the High Priest (See Exod 28:17-20). Some writers see a connection with Ezekiel 28:13 (concerning the king of Tyre), and possibly the signs of the zodiac. The wall of the city is composed of jasper (comparative to our diamond in brilliance), and the city itself will be of pure gold, clear as glass (21:18).
Inside the city we find we will walk on streets of gold! The word street (plateia), according to Bethwith, is "used collectively for all the streets, or, perhaps better, as referring to the one broad street characteristic of an oriental city." The street is of pure gold, transparent as glass (21:21). The glory of God will radiate throughout the city of the new Jerusalem, shining forth with brilliance, as light passing through a prism.
Inside the city John is shown the river of life, which is clear as crystal (22:1). Whereas Ezekiel saw the river proceeding out from under the doorway of the millennial temple (Ezek. 47:1); John views the river of life issuing forth from the throne of god and the Lamb. In the first garden a river is described which divides into four tributaries (Gen. 2:10-14), along with the tree of life which was in the midst of the garden (Gen. 2:9). Jesus was crucified in the midst of a garden (John 19:41), and from His pierced side a fountainhead of redemption has issued forth unto all mankind. Notice gold and precious stones are also associated with the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:11, 12).
In Ezekiel's vision the river provides healing and life-giving properties to everything it comes in contact with (Ezek. 47:6-12). Along both sides of the banks of the river were fruitbearing trees with leaves having medicinal qualities (Ezek. 47:7, 12). In John's vision the tree of life yielded twelve different varieties of fruit, a different fruit each month (21:2). In the garden of Eden man was prohibited from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and denied access to the tree of life. In the New Eden man will experience the fullness of God's blessings throughout eternity. Originally man was banished from God's presence and prevented access to the tree of life, but the believer is promised: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7; 22:14).
The Sanctuary of the City (21:22). In the Old Testament economy there existed the tabernacle and Temple with their Holy of Holies and sacrificial system and ceremonies. Ezekiel's vision of a restored Israel and future temple in the millennial land is also a dominant theme in eschatology (Ezek. 40-46). Paul described the church as a temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:2). Yet John saw no visible temple or sanctuary in the heavenly city. Swete explains that "the City possesses no Sanctuary, for it is itself a Holy of holies, as its cubic form suggests (v. 16);... The Divine Presence in Itself constitutes a Sanctuary which supersedes material structures." Jesus told the woman of Samaria: "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father" (Jn. 4:21). In the New Jerusalem symbol has become reality in the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.
The Sunlight of the City (21:23-25; 22:5). There will be no need of the sun or moon, or other artificial lighting, as the glory of God and Lamb will fill the heavenly city with their divine effulgence. The Lord declared through Isaiah: "The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory" (Isa. 60:19). Jesus proclaimed in John 8:12: "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." We as believers are heirs of that eternal glory, for "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). There will be no darkness to cast its shadowy gloom in the heavenly city as there will be "no night" there (21:25: 22:5).
The nations (ethne), meaning Gentiles, will bring their honor and glory into the heavenly city (21:24, 26). Obviously these are saved Gentiles in the eternal state who will have access to the heavenly city. These are seen in distinction from Israel and the church, as God has a plan and purpose for each (1 Cor. 10:32). There will be no need for security for there will be a perfect environment: "And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there" (21:25). All evil will be excluded and only those whose name is "written in the Lamb's book of life" will enter into the heavenly city (21:27).
The Servants of the City (21:24; 22:3-4). The consequences of sin resulted in a curse upon mankind and the serpent. As a result, the earth also was placed under a curse; whereby man would toil in sorrow and heavy labor (Gen. 3:14-19). In the millennium the curse will be lifted: "there shall be no more curse" (Zech. 14:11, RSV); yet the curse will not be eradicated until the new heaven and new earth. In the eternal state man will serve in perfect obedience and bliss. Leon Morris notes that "the verb latreuousin has overtones of worship, and indeed NEB translates 'his servants shall worship him.'"
There will be nothing to hinder the blessedness of fellowship, for we "shall see his face" (22:4). Jesus declared: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). Moses was never allowed to see the face of God (Ex. 33:20, 33); yet in the heavenly city this will become a blessed reality. His name will be "in their foreheads" (22:4) identifying the saints as His eternal possession, as "they shall reign for ever and ever" (22:5).
The Saviour of the City (21:22; 22:3, 16). The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the central figures of the heavenly City and the Lamb is the Divine Presence we will behold throughout eternity. He is the visible Presence of the Lord God and the source and originator of all the created order (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:1-2). He is the "root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star" (22:16). His reign is not limited to the mediatorial kingdom (see 1 Cor. 15:24-25), but will extend throughout eternity.