Some months ago, Dr. Peter Jones was at our church to speak on “The Da Vinci Code and the Attack on the Historicity of Christianity.” During his delivery, he made the comment that one of the most significant religious events since the cross took place in 70 A.D. When he asked the church what we thought that event was, he looked rather surprised when virtually the entire crowd responded, “The destruction ofJerusalem.”
Why would Dr. Jones say that the destruction ofJerusalemwas the most important even in religious history since the cross? Simply because, in 70 A.D., the old world came to an end, and a whole new world began. OnMountOlivet, the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). In the context of this question, Jesus had just told the disciples that the temple inJerusalemwould be destroyed (24:1-2). Jesus did not correct the disciples by telling them that the destruction of the temple and the holy city was not the end of the world; instead, He took some time to explain the signs of this end.
At one point in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (24:6). The disciples had asked about the end, and Jesus was answering their question: wars and rumours of wars would not herald the end. Later, Jesus told them when the end would come:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
The most obvious sign that the end was upon them would be “the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place.” Lest we be confused as to precisely what “the abomination of desolation” was, Luke makes it clear in his parallel account, “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” Luke described “the abomination of desolation” as “Jerusalemcompassed with armies,” a clear reference to the Roman siege that preceded the holy city’s fall.
It is my belief that Revelation 1-19 describes the end of the old world (the old covenant), and that Revelation 20-22 describes the commencement of the new world (the new covenant). Revelation 20 gives us a broad overview of this age, and Revelation 21-22 describes it in greater detail.
As we approach Revelation 21 in this study, we doubtless approach it with questions. What is “[the] new heaven and [the] new earth”? When does, or when did, it begin? I trust that I will be able to answer this question biblically and clearly in this study. As with previous studies, we must keep two principles of Bible study firmly in mind: (1) what does the text of Scripture say? and (2) Scripture must be allowed to interpret Scripture. That being said, let us begin our examination of the matter at hand.
The Exclamation of a Whole New World
In the opening verses of the chapter, it is as if John exclaims, “Look! I see a whole new world!” Of course, he describes it in more picturesque language:
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. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 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. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, 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. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
The Introduction to the New World
We examined the first verse of this chapter in our previous study. Without rehashing everything that we said in that study, Revelation 21:1 is lifted directly from the Book of Isaiah (65:17). In the context of Isaiah, the creation ofIsraelas God’s special people is described as the creation of heaven and earth (cf.Isaiah 45:1-19; 51:1-3, 12-16; 64:1-8). Thus, the creation of a new heaven and earth in Revelation 21 can clearly be understood to be the creation of God’s new special people: the new covenant church.
The people of God—whether the old covenant or the new covenant people—are described as heaven and earth because the world, quite literally, revolves around the church. There is a very real sense in which the only ones that matter to God are His elect. Unbelievers are ultimately discarded (cf. 21:8): God’s people alone are His focus in this world. Thus, in the same way thatIsraelof old was pictured as heaven and earth, so the church of the new covenant can today be rightly called the new heaven and the new earth.
As noted above, Jesus spoke in the Olivet Discourse of the end of the world, and implied the beginning of a new world. To put it more plainly, Jesus spoke of the final annulment of the old covenant (focused upon Judaism) and the full introduction of the new covenant (focused on Christianity). Jesus’ thought is now picked up in Revelation 21.
“The first heaven and first earth” passed away in the destruction of Jerusalem, which heralded the final annulment of the old covenant. It was at that point that the new covenant—“a new heaven and a new earth”—was fully inaugurated. This truth is painted vividly in the opening verse of Revelation 21, “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” (21:1). Simply put, John saw a glorious new covenant, for the old covenant had finally and fully passed away inJerusalem’s fall. John adds a most interesting phrase, “there was no more sea.” Lest the scuba divers amongst us become too disheartened, let me explain what is meant by this phrase.
The “sea” in the Bible is often used as a representation of Gentile nations, and nowhere is this clearer than in Revelation. When the Lord Jesus Christ, described as an angel, was seen by John with one foot on the land and one foot on the sea (Revelation 10:1-3), the picture was of Christ’s complete Lordship: He is Lord of both Jew and Gentile. The “land” here representsPalestine, and the “sea” represents the Gentile nations.
Elsewhere, the water is clearly defined as Gentile nations, “And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Revelation 17:15).
Taking this Scriptural usage into account, we find that John saw no more Gentile nations in the new covenant. Immediately, you might argue that there are still Gentiles today, and that this cannot thus be the proper interpretation. But John’s point is not that Gentiles will be wiped from the face of the earth. Instead, he argues the same point that Paul elsewhere argues, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12; cf.Galatians 3:28;Colossians 3:11). This is one of the glories of the new covenant: God is no longer “restricted” to one particular nations as He was (by His own sovereign initiative) under the old covenant.
John has seen the passing away of the old covenant (21:1), but what will replace it? The answer to this question is immediately given, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). God’s people of the old covenant are now replaced with His people of the new covenant. The old covenant harlot has been put to death; now the new covenant bride comes forth to meet her Groom.
Anyone who has read the New Testament is familiar with the bridal language that is used in 21:2. The church is the Bride of Christ. The bride had prepared herself for the marriage in 19:1-10; now she “walks down the aisle” as it were to meet her Groom.
The Identification of the New World
The new world is identified with God. Those of the new world are God’s people, and He is with them evermore, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 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” (21:3). Here, John is referencingLeviticus 26:11-12, “And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” In the same way that God covenanted to be with His former people, so He has covenanted to be with the church today. God tabernacles today with the church, just as He tabernacled withIsraelof old.
We should not here that “the tabernacle of God” is said to be “with men.” Not with Jewish men but “with men.” God’s dwelling place is no longer confined to a particular people or city. Now, the people of God have no geographic limitation. This truth is taught on several occasions in the New Testament:
- John 14:21-23—He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
- 2 Corinthians 6:16-18—And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
- Colossians 1:19-22—For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
- 1 John 4:13-14—Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
Everything that I have said thus far is clear. The old covenant people of God have been done away with, being replaced by a new covenant people. This new covenant church is identified with God: He dwells amongst them and they are His people. But now follows perhaps the most difficult verse to interpret in this entire passage, “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” (21:4).
Immediately, some may cry that this chapter cannot then refer to the church as we know it today. After all, there are still tears in the church. We hold funerals on a regular basis. Church members experience sorrow, and they weep. Pain is as real today as it ever was. How can these things then have “passed away”? This certainly appears to be a challenging verse, but we cannot allow an obscure Scripture to stand in the way of clear Scripture. Thus, we must seek an explanation of 21:4 that aligns with the interpretation already set forth.
What, then, is John saying in 21:4? How have all the tears been wiped from our eyes? In what way is there no more death, sorrow, crying or pain? In what sense have these things passed away?
First, let us understand that, when Scripture speaks of the glory of the church, there is often a “now” aspect to what is being said, and a “not yet” aspect. This seems to be the case right here. There is coming a day when this verse will be perfectly fulfilled for the church.
Second, however, there is a sense in which this verse has already been fulfilled. Scripture is clear that believers are even now seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10). Metaphysically, there is a sense in which all believers even now are free from tears, death, sorrow and pain. Paul explained it this way:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Notice that Paul uses past tense language here: “did foreknow,” “did predestinate,” “called” and “glorified.” Of course, no believer on earth today has been glorified in time and space. But in God’s eyes we have been glorified, for it is as good as done. And all the blessings inherited at glorification have also been given to us—no tears, death, sorrow or pain—for, once again, it is as good as done in God’s eyes.
Jesus added, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26). This is why believers are said to “sleep” at death (cf.John 11:11; 1Thessalonians 4:13; 5:10; etc.). For the believer, death is equivalent to sleep, for we “fall asleep” on this side of eternity and immediately “awake” on the other side. But even living believers are seated in Christ right now. And, seated in Christ, we are glorified, with nothing to fear: neither tears, nor death, nor sorrow, nor pain.
The Inauguration of the New World
John goes on to describe the inauguration of the whole new world:
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, 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. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
As John continues watching, “he that sat upon the throne” begins speaking. The King James Version translates His words, “Behold, I make all things new.” The Greek literally reads, “Behold, I am making all things new.” It is a present active tense: as the Speaker uttered those words, He was in the process of making all things new. This helps us again to understand the preceding verse. The One on the throne was making all things new: thus, the “not yet” aspect of 21:4 is highlighted. There was a promise that one day all tears would be wiped away, but the fulfilment of that promise was still to come; as it is still to come in our own time.
The language of making all things new again strengthens the interpretation that this chapter speaks of the inauguration of the new covenant. Paul wrote of the new covenant, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Once again, the Greek text of this verse reads, “All things are passing away; behold, all things are becoming new.” The new covenant has been fully inaugurated, but it is still heading for future culmination.
Too often, people look at the church and note everything negative about it. Whilst there is certainly a degree of negativity in the professing church, the true church is entirely positive. Jesus Christ is doing a great work in His church. Revelation 21-22 is an inspired picture of this truth: Jesus Christ is building and sanctifying His church.
The voice from the throne continues, “It is done.” This is extremely significant, for the theme of being finished, done of completed is a repeated theme in Revelation (cf. 10:7; 12:10; 15:1; 17:17; 22:6). From the beginning of history God was in the process of bringing the church to pass. Every covenant in Scripture ultimately finds its fulfilment in the new covenant, which was purchased with Christ’s blood on the cross and fully inaugurated with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. This is why the voice could proclaim, “It is done.” When the temple was destroyed and Judaism removed as a “threat” to the church, it was finished: the new covenant had fully come. This is why John could “write,” for “these words are faithful and true.” Jesus Christ now sits enthroned in the heavens, ruling from the right hand of majesty on high.
The fact that Christ had been coronated as King of the new covenant was evident in the fact that salvation was freely available to all. “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” (21:6). Nothing more is needed than thirst. Those who thirst can come freely to the throne of grace, assured that they will receive “of the fountain of the water of life freely.” Jesus said the same thing during His earthly ministry:
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Jesus Christ is the beginning (“Alpha”) and the ending (“Omega”) and He can grant salvation to all who thirst. On the cross, He cried, “I thirst” (John 19:28) and because He thirsted we do not have to. We must simply come to Him in faith and repentance, beseeching Him for the water of life, and it will be freely granted to us.
The voice continues, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (21:7). There is a promise implicit here: those who are given the water of life will overcome. And those who overcome “shall inherit all things.” The best part of that is God’s promise, “I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (cf.2 Corinthians 6:16). Salvation is no longer ethnocentric: it is for all who meet the qualification of thirst, regardless of ethnicity.
Sadly, all do not thirst for the water of life. There are those who are “fearful, and unbelieving, and…abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and liars.” These, who do not thirst for the water of life, “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (21:8). Once again, regardless of ethnicity, man who revels in his depravity will suffer God’s wrath forevermore. This serves as a solemn warning to us: it is far better to experience the new creation. The Jews, Romans and all other persecutors of the church will suffer eternal torment; but those who thirst will drink deep from the fountain of the water of life.
The Implication of the New World
All of this implies that the church matters, and that she matters a whole lot! Thus, as believers, we ought to place a premium on the new heaven and the new earth. Only then will we have an impact on the rest of the world, which is in dire need of the water of life.
The Explanation of a Whole New World
Having seen the bride—the new (holy) Jerusalem—descending from heaven, John now records something of a description of the glory of the church:
And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was 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; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The church is identified in these verses in several ways: as a bride, as beautiful, as a bulwark, as big, as brilliant and as booked. Let’s examine each of these Scriptures in turn.
The Church is a Bride
Significantly, John is approached by “one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues” (21:9). I say that this is significant because it shows us the contemporary nature of John’s vision here recorded. These angels had originally been sent by God to pour out His judgement upon first-centuryJerusalem, thus delivering the church from her most ferocious oppressors. Now one of the same angels is sent to John with another contemporary message for the church.
What is the message that this angel carries to John? It is this, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (21:9). He introduces the church as a bride. This again strengthens the contemporary interpretation. GeopoliticalIsraelhad been put to death for her spiritual fornication; now the pure bride of Christ is preparing to meet her groom.
The Church is Beautiful
Now we see something of the beauty of the bride. Although the world does not always see it, and even Christians sometimes miss it, these verses describe how God views the church:
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal… And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was 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; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
(Revelation 21:10-11, 18-21)
John is here “carried…away in the spirit to a great and high mountain,” where he sees “that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (21:9). Earlier, he had been “carried…away in the spirit into the wilderness,” where he saw “a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy” (17:3). This “woman” is defined later as “the mother of harlots” (17:5) and more specifically as “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (17:18). This is significant, for the desert in the Bible is often a place forsaken by God, whilst mountains in Scripture are often the dwelling place of God, or places of worship. Thus, the oldJerusalemhad been cast out, whilst the new Jerusalem had been invited into God’s presence.
The new Jerusalem had “the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” The vision continues with descriptions of priestly, pure and priceless jewels: “jasper,” “sapphire,” “chalcedony,” “emerald, “sardonyx,” “sardius,” “chrysolyte,” “beryl,” “topaz,” “chrysoprasus,” “jacinth” and “amethyst.” These twelve stones comprised the twelve foundations of the holy city. Add to this “pure gold, as it were transparent glass” and twelve pearly gates and you have a magnificent picture painted.
As with so much in Revelation, we must be careful of reading these verses with wooden literalism. There is no reason to assume that there will one day be a physicalJerusalemfrom heaven that will look like this. John is simply using prophetic and poetic language to describe the beauty of the church.
The Church is a Bulwark
John is also struck with the walls of the city: “And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (21:12-14).
New Jerusalem is surrounded by walls, with twelve gates in it. The walls, quite obviously, speak of protection; but they also speak of restriction. Later, we are given some insight as to the purpose of the walls, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). There is a guarantee that those within the city are absolutely safe; there is also the guarantee that nothing unholy will ever enter the city. This concept of protection and restriction is heightened by the vision of an angel at each gate. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and angels were placed at the gate to ensure that they could not enter again (Genesis 3:24). The angels at the gates of new Jerusalem serve the same purpose.
As a side note, we should observe the problem that these “guardian angels” create for a dispensational interpretation of Revelation. The dispensationalist would have us believe that the vision here recorded will become a reality after the second coming and final judgement. But if this is the case, what need is there for guardian angels? Are we not going to be perfect in eternity? Is it not taught in Scripture that there will be no sin once human history has come to an end? To place guardian angels at the gates of a city in eternity is pointless, for there will then be absolutely no threat of invasion by the unholy. Surely these guardian angels serve a purpose, a purpose which they can only serve if they are active in their duty prior to the return of Christ.
Whilst walls and guardian angels would serve no purpose in eternity, they are certainly important today. It is vital that the church have doctrinal walls to guard against the entrance of her enemies. Furthermore, whilst there are certainly unbelievers in our local churches (our “screening” processes are not, after all, perfect), there are no unbelievers in the true church! God makes sure of that!
The constant reference to the number twelve here (twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundations and twelve apostles), and particularly the reference to the twelve nations of Israel, is perhaps an indication of the merging of the old covenant church into the new covenant church. Whether Jew or Gentile, the church is one: “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
The Church is Big
The dimensions of the city described in these verses are incredible. The angel “that talked with” John “had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.” And John records those measurements:
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
The city is described as a perfect cube. This indicates quantitative completeness as well as vastness. The church will end up precisely as God designed it, and He designed it to be absolutely enormous. “Twelve thousand furlongs” is approximately 2,500 kilometres (which is, incidentally, as Kenneth Gentry points out, 2,000 km higher than a space shuttle flies). The walls of the city (144 cubits) are some 67 metres high.
Once again, the question must be asked, “Did John intend for us to interpret this verse with wooden literalism?” The most obvious answer is, “No.” Like most of the numbers in Revelation, these figures are meant to be taken symbolically. John is not interested in physical dimensions; he is interested, instead, in the vastness of the church. The church is so vast and expansive that its influence on the world will be unprecedented. This is not to say that the church is this vast right now, but it will continue to expand in the world until it is this influential. Throughout history, the church has had a positive effect on the world; she will continue to do so throughout human history. The church is vast, and God protects her—the true church—from all manner of impurity.
The Church is Brilliant
The glory of God is manifested brilliantly in and through the church. This is part of what makes the church as glorious as she is:
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.
Jesus commanded the church to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14-16), and a light she is indeed! Significantly, there is “no temple” in this city, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” The old covenant shadow has been replaced by the new covenant substance. Jesus is the church’s temple and there is therefore no need for a physical temple.
My wife recently commented to me that perhaps one reason that God has chosen some from every people tribe, tongue and nation is so that the sun never sets on people worshipping Him. How true that is! When I go to bed at night, someone in another part of the world is rising to worship God. When that part of the world goes to bed, someone else rises in another part of the world to praise the Lord God Almighty. Indeed, “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.” The church continues to expand; the sun never sets on her. The Old Testament temple was, at times, “off limits,” but the new covenant temple is always “open for worship.”
The Church is Booked
The closing verse of the chapter shows us that, in a sense, bookings are closed for membership in the church, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). The new world is an exclusive world; one must have a divine booking to gain access. “The Lamb’s book of life” was written before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Only those whose names are in this book can gain access to the church. Divine admission is required. The wall and the gates are clear testimony that not all will enter a whole new world. An invitation must be extended and accepted by the grace of God.
Is it not a terrible feeling to arrive at an airport or a hotel only to find that they have no record of your booking? But let us rejoice that God never misplaces a booking. All those who have been chosen will enter the holy city. This should give us the courage to extend the invitation to the nations, knowing that God will save those whom He has chosen. The church must be the focus of our attention and affection, for it is the church that will be used by God to impact the world for His glory.
The church is a world of its own in a world that God owns. But she is in the world in order to impact the world for God’s glory. She must take the message of salvation to the world so that God’s chosen ones will receive the water of life. The church is God’s vehicle by which heaven is brought to earth.
Dear reader, how important is the church to you? Have you entered? If not, then receive the water of life today! Do you belong? If so, then understand how precious the church is to God, and make sure that she is just as precious to you!
Jesus Christ will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Let us have faith in our God, in whose eyes the church is a bride, beautiful, a bulwark, big, brilliant and booked.