What a privilege for John to be shown what will take place in the distant future. And what a privilege for us too to see these remarkable things through John’s eyes! Satan, the beast and the false prophet have been finally dealt with, men and women who had rejected God are also dealt with and now it’s time for something entirely new.
You will remember that as we embarked on this journey through Revelation we noted in the 3rd verse of chapter 1 that there is a blessing for everyone ‘one who reads the words of this prophecy’, and ‘blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.’ Studying this book will do us good, especially if we take to heart its contents. We also noted that it is important that we do not mess about with the words of the book, we will suffer loss if we add to the words of the prophecy or if we take words away from it.
1. New Heaven and Earth
John had just observed the judgement of mankind. Now he sees a new heaven and a new earth! The first heaven and the first earth ‘had passed away.’ John notes that there was no longer any sea. This certainly distinguishes the new from the old. It seems that the originally created heaven and earth have been so contaminated by sin that it is necessary for God to create anew. Next John sees a new Jerusalem coming out of the new heaven, the source of the city is ‘from God.’ The city is prepared as ‘a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.’ This immediately raises a question: had not we just seen in chapter 19 that the bride is the church? Now it seems that the New Jerusalem is the bride. How can this be? Previously John had seen Babylon depicted as a prostitute riding on a beast, but Babylon was also a city and a system. It seems to make sense that we think of the New Jerusalem in a similar (but distinctly better!) way, it is both an institution, (the church), as well as a city. As we will see below, in some ways this New Jerusalem seems to bring together the church and Israel, but with distinctions nonetheless maintained. The contrast between the bride and the bridegroom and the prostitute and the beast is notable. The beast in the end destroys the prostitute, but there is perfect harmony between the bride and the bridegroom.
There have been a lot of loud voices in Revelation and again John hears a loud voice, this time from the throne: God speaks! When God speaks in a loud voice we ought to listen! Here’s what the voice said: ‘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.’ The final feast in Israel’s calendar is the ‘feast of tabernacles.’ The people celebrated this feast by inhabiting make-shift tents as they remembered their temporary residence in the desert. The significance of the feast seems to be that it looks forward to the time when God makes his residence amongst his people. God’s presence combined with this new order and city will bring benefits that we can scarcely imagine: there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying and no more pain. Whatever our current circumstances, whatever the problems are that we currently grapple with and worry over, this day will bring perfect and permanent change. The change is not so much better than the present, but is the best that can possibly be. Why? Because ‘the old order of things has passed away.’ This is new territory and is difficult to fully embrace with our minds, but there is great comfort in these words for the believer. What a contrast with the torment of the lake of fire.
I’ve heard a lot of Christians say that Revelation is too controversial and too divisive to spend too much time on, but look what happens to John next (verse 8): “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.’ These words are trustworthy and true: we have that on the authority of God himself. John was perhaps so overwhelmed by what he was seeing that he forgot to make a record, but God reminded him of his task, God wants us to know about these things. In contrast Satan wants to corrupt confuse and distort these words and sadly he seems to have done this with much success. Perhaps it is not so surprising that he does not want to contemplate or have others know what his fate will be.
John is addressed by God himself who describes himself as the ‘Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.’ When faced with the impossibility of the emergence of immensely complex biological life, Richard Dawkins has to admit that the problem is huge, (in fact it’s an insurmountable problem that simply cannot be solved by atheism). In response to this problem, Prof Dawkins retorts that creationists have an even bigger problem because they have to explain the existence of an even more complex entity than biology: God himself. The mistake that Richard Dawkins makes is that God is not in the category of the created: He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end – he is outside of creation. He is eternal. What does God say to John under these remarkable and highly significant circumstances – this should be worth hearing! It seems as though God anticipates that many people will read about this amazing new heaven and earth and this wonderful New Jerusalem, but they will also read with some as they read of the lake of fire. Here’s the all important message to John that he is to write down: ‘To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’ Do you want to participate in all of this? Do you want to realise the benefits of this new order, with no more death, or mourning or tears or pain? Well you can, and it’s free. (if we take a peek at chapter 22 we will see that this offer is repeated). The offer is for anyone who is thirsty and wishes to take the free gift of the water of life. Just to be absolutely crystal clear, this offer is for anyone who wishes. We used to sing a hymn when I was younger by Philip Bliss the chorus went like this: ‘Whosoever will, whosoever will, send the proclamation over vale and hill, ‘tis the loving Father calls the wand’rer home, whosoever will may come.’ Do you want to be part of God’s amazing plan? You can, there is no restriction, if you are thirsty, come and drink! The benefits are really beyond imagination: John is instructed to write that ‘those who are victorious will inherit all of this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’ God is keen to emphasise the alternative to becoming his child: ‘the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolators, and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’
The New Jerusalem
We had some building work done on our home a few years ago and it was always enjoyable to check out the progress of the work and imagine how the new rooms would look when the work was complete. It was even more enjoyable to move into the re-built part of the house. John is now given a preview of the New Jerusalem and we have the privilege of coming with him to take a look!
John needed a guide, the angel who had the seven bowls takes John for the preview. They observe the city from a suitably high mountain, John saw the Holy City, Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. We are told in Hebrews that Abraham was looking for a new city: ‘For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ (Hebrews 11:10). This certainly seems to be that city! The first thing John seemed to notice was that it shone with the glory of God! And it had a brilliance like that of a very precious jewel! This is an impressive city. It had sides facing North, South, East and West and on each side there were three gates, each gate was named after one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The outer wall, which was high, had twelve foundations with each foundation named after one of the apostles. Thus this city contains distinct references to both Israel and the church.
How big was it? The angel had a measuring stick! The layout was square and had the same dimensions in length, breadth and height: 1400 miles! That’s big! That’s super big! If half of the volume of the city was given over to public space and each individual inhabitant was afforded a space of 300 m3 which is a pretty reasonable volume there would be no difficulty in accommodating 8 billion people (about the current population of the earth)! There’s plenty of room for you.
The materials used to form the structure of the city were jasper (walls) and pure gold (city itself). The foundations were decorated with precious stones (jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst). The gates, each named after one of the 12 tribes of Israel were formed of a single pearl each! It has been recognised that pearls form due to irritants in the oyster – perhaps this is a reminder of the irritant that Israel was down through history until the day they finally repented! The great street in the city was form from gold as pure as glass. We can only imagine what this will be like, it will be super impressive and make some of our most impressive buildings seem poor in comparison.
There was no temple in the city but rather ‘the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’. It’s notable that the Lord Jesus is described as the Lamb, surely this will be a constant reminder that he was the lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. There is no lighting system in the city or need for sun and moon because the glory of God gives the city light – John was also told that the Lamb was the lamp. The apostle Paul came into contact with Jesus on the road to Damascus and was blinded by the intense light of his presence, the disciples saw Jesus in his glory and there was intense light too. This light seems to serve the purpose of guiding, we read ‘The nations walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into its lamp.’ This hints at a structure on earth which involves nations and kings – there will be a need for rulership over this and that role falls to God’s servants (see chapter 22).
John is given one last piece of information before the final chapter: nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. So who can enter this city? Those whose names are written on the Lamb’s book of life. Will your name be there? Are you thirsty to be part of this great future? Then drink from the spring of the water of life.