“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’ ” (21:1-8).
Before we immediately jump to the conclusion that he is describing heaven after we die physically, let’s examine what John said here in light of other passages of Scripture. Twice in this text John described the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Compare this with what the writer of Hebrews said concerning this same heavenly Jerusalem. In Hebrews 11:10, concerning the promise made to Abraham, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” In chapter 12:18-21 he first described the time Moses received the old covenant when God was setting up the physical kingdom of Israel which would serve as a pattern for the spiritual kingdom promised to Abraham. He said, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’ ”
Then comparing that physical kingdom to the much superior spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ, in verses 22-29:
“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
The Hebrew writer clearly identified the heavenly Jerusalem as the church. He further stated that the old physical kingdom of Israel was passing away and, “…we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” John and the writer of Hebrews are referring to the same heavenly Jerusalem, the church. This is the city promised to Abraham whose builder was God. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The church is the “kingdom of heaven.” In John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” As the Apostle Paul said, our citizenship is in heaven. While we recognize the eternal, spiritual nature of this heavenly Jerusalem, the church, we are not waiting for the physical universe to be destroyed for it to be established by God. John was describing that eternal kingdom in which we enjoy citizenship now as well as throughout all eternity.
That John was not speaking of life with God in heaven after we die physically is further underscored by his wording when he said, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.” Jesus said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Yes, we will live with God in heaven forever. In the meantime, he lives with us through his Holy Spirit, whom he gives to all who obey his will.
Some may say this cannot be a description of life in the church on the earth because John said, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” As is the case from beginning to end of John’s Revelation, he was explaining how Jesus fulfilled Scripture at the “consummation of the ages” when the “mystery of God” would finally be revealed. In this description of the “heavenly Jerusalem” identified in Scripture as the church, he was referring to Old Testament prophesies that were being fulfilled.
Isaiah 25:7-8, “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” When did Jesus “swallow up death” and “remove the disgrace” (sin) of his people? Surely it was in his death, resurrection and atonement for sin.
Prophesying about the coming spiritual kingdom in Isaiah 35:8-10 the prophet said, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and 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.”
And in Isaiah 65:17-19, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Again, in Isaiah 49:8-10, “This is what the Lord says: In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.” In a typical “this is that” passage Paul quoted from this very same Scripture in Isaiah, indicating its fulfillment in the church, when he said in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” He said the prophet’s message is fulfilled NOW.
All the above prophesies, and many more, clearly indicate that in the kingdom of heaven, the new Jerusalem, the church, there will be no more sorrow, hunger, death, crying, etc. This does not mean these things will literally disappear from the earth, nor are these Scriptures referring to heaven after we die. The comparison is between the physical kingdom of Israel and the spiritual kingdom of heaven. The physical kingdom was subject to all these physical problems; wars, captivity, calamities, sorrow, hunger and death. The spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ is vulnerable to none of these things. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). In John 5:24 he said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Again, in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Paul, writing to Christians in Thessalonica said, “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The concept of “no tears, no sorrow, no death” relates to the spiritual nature of the kingdom of heaven as compared with the former physical kingdom. The former things have passed away, all things have become new.
“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass” (21:9-21).
There is no question that John here was describing the church. In Ephesians 5:25-27 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” The church is the bride of Christ. It is also the heavenly Jerusalem. Hebrews 12:22-23, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” It is also God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20).
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:22-27).
The temple in Jerusalem was built to house the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. That is where the High Priest would go to make the annual atonement sacrifice for the sins of the people. It represented God’s presence with the kingdom of Israel and was a prototype of heaven itself. There is no need for a physical temple in heaven since that is God’s dwelling place. He and the Lamb are the temple. The gates into the kingdom of heaven are always open to anyone who will submit to the king. We become citizens of the kingdom of heaven when we obey the Gospel message. As was the case with the Jews on, and following, the Day of Pentecost, the Lord adds to the church all who are saved (Acts 2). He writes their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Eternal life begins the moment a person is cleansed of his or her sins by the blood of Jesus. We live in victory for the duration of our days on earth, then, when we die physically, we simply go to be with the Lord forever in heaven.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place’ ” (22:1-6).
Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:10, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus was speaking of the water of life, pictured here in Revelation flowing from the throne of God. This is a continuation of the description of the church, the kingdom of heaven.
“Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book. I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’
Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.’
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (22:7-21).
The identity of the servant who showed John this vision of the church is not revealed, but his message should not be missed. Worship God!
To make sure nobody misses the point made in the beginning of the Revelation and misunderstands the time frame for the events described in this book, the Spirit directs John to repeat FIVE TIMES in the closing verses these things were going to happen SOON.
Revelation 22:6 “The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.’”
Revelation 22:7, “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”
Revelation 22:10, “Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.’ ”
Revelation 22:12-13, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
Revelation 22:20, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
In Daniel 8:26 the Bible says, “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” John was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). How can 490 years be the “distant future” and two centuries and counting be “very soon,” “at hand,” “at the door,” “what must soon take place,” “near?” We do not need to explain God’s time statements in these passages any more than when John the Baptist said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The meaning did not change, and we have no Scriptural authority to change it now. What is confusing people today are all the modern “philosophies of men” concerning the “end of time,” of which the Bible does not speak.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ as revealed to the Apostle John is not to be taken lightly. It contains a sobering warning. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
One final thought about John’s writing seems appropriate. If the coming of the Lord is to destroy the earth and bring to an end the possibility of one more sinner hearing the gospel and being saved, why would Christians want to hasten his coming? If, on the other hand, the Lord’s coming was to usher in the spiritual kingdom, to proclaim the completion of the atonement sacrifice of Jesus for sin, to destroy death and Hades, to reveal the mystery of God’s redemptive plan so that every sinner might hear the gospel message of reconciliation and have the opportunity for salvation, then by all means…AMEN! COME LORD JESUS!
He came! MYSTERY ACCOMPLISHED!