The New Jerusalem and the New Eden (Rev. 21:9-22:5)

One of my favorite scenes in the movie The Longest Day is that of a British commando who has been given the task of holding an important bridge until the tanks from the landings on D-Day can get there.  At the briefing prior to being dropped behind enemy lines to attack and take the bridge from the Germans, he was told, “Hold until relieved.”  Throughout the mission, and especially from the time they capture the bridge and then begin to have to defend it against successive, brutal counterattacks, those words ring in his ears: “Hold until relieved.”  Finally, he hears the British tanks coming, and he realizes his mission has succeeded.  To be honest, it’s hard for me to watch that and not get a bit emotional.  Given the odds, it was remarkable and a feat of incredible bravery that he and his command were able to hold until relieved.

In a similar way our Lord has given each and every Christian the same marching orders.  We are to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).  We too are to hold until relieved.  In fact, the Lord Jesus gives almost identical instructions to the church at Thyatira: “that which ye have already hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25).

Just like the British commando, these are not pointless instructions.  We too have an enemy who walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8).  It can be difficult as we live by faith and not by sight, as we withstand the assaults of the flesh, the world, and the devil.  It can be difficult when we lose those we love, when our dreams die, when life doesn’t turn out the way we wanted.  What motivation then do we have to hold until relieved?  What motivation, especially when the world offers immediate gratification if we let go of the life of a disciple of Christ and do what it tells us to do?  What motivation when the world is calling out for us to love it?

Well, I think these last chapters in Revelation are important motivators for a life of faith.  They remind us that the world to come is worth waiting for.  They tell us that it is worth waiting for because it is incomparably better than anything this world can offer.  To sell out your soul for this world over Jesus, to be like Demas and forsake the gospel for the love of the world, is idiocy.  It is really stupid because despite what we suffer now, the glory of the age to come is just infinitely better and worth waiting for.  “Hold until relieved!”

Let’s see how this passage helps us to do that.  This is all about the New Jerusalem, the city of God, that descends from heaven to earth, the city of the redeemed, and the New Eden, the paradise of God.  There are three things I want us to look at here as we study these verses together.  First, what the New Jerusalem and the New Eden point us to; second, what they picture; and third, what they propose.

What the New Jerusalem and the New Eden point us to.

The first thing we really need to come to grips with is the referent of this vision.  What does the New Jerusalem point us to?  I argued last time that the city of God is both a place and a people.  But at this point we need to think about this a bit more.  Some argue that this is just an extended metaphor for the people of God and that we shouldn’t think this gives us any information about a physical place in the new heaven and new earth where God’s people dwell.  

Now, I can see where they get that, because this city is called the Lamb’s bride (ver. 9) and back in 19:7-9, God’s people are called the Lamb’s bride.  Also, we see that this city is a temple where God dwells, and very often in Scripture temple language is used to describe God’s people.  When Paul tells the Ephesian believers that they have been incorporated into the people of God, he uses this language: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21).  In a similar vein, the city of God described here is also built upon the foundation of the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:14).  

But I really do think this is pointing us to the city of God, the place where God’s people will dwell.  Here are the reasons I think that.  First of all, the fact of the matter is that part of the Biblical vision of hope which is offered the believer throughout Scripture is a heavenly place.  We are not just promised to be a part of a people; we are promised a place to dwell.  Here is the way our Lord put it: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (Jn. 14:2-3).  Notice the emphasis here that our Lord puts upon a place to live.  I think it is part of our humanness to want to have a place where we belong, as well as a people to whom we belong.  The New Jerusalem provides both for us.

Or here is the way the apostle Peter put it: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).  Again, I think we are making a mistake if we just interpret this in terms of a people to whom we are ordained to belong.  God has given us a place, and this place is incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading.  It is true that we do now belong to a people, the people of God, but we are not yet home.  Interestingly, Peter throughout his epistle describes believers as sojourners – that is, people without a place (1:1, 17; 2:11).  But we are journeying to a place, and that place is a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).  This place is what Revelation points us to.

Another reason I believe this is referring to a real city is that the OT background to this vision practically demands it.  If you read Isaiah 60, for example, you come away realizing that John is not the only one who saw this vision.  Isaiah saw it, too.  Ezekiel saw it in the final chapters of his prophesy.  For example, compare what John saw with this passage in Isaiah 60:

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. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.  (Isa. 60:19-21)

But it’s also pretty clear, and I think would have been clear to Isaiah and his audience, that this promise here was not just a description of the future people of God, but of a future place for the people of God.  The people inherit the land.  The people have a place.  The same is true of Ezekiel’s prophesy as well.  So the OT helps us to see that the hope offered us is that those who believe in Jesus have a sort of triple belonging: they belong first and foremost to God, then to his people, and then to his place, the New Jerusalem.

Finally, the fact that the vision of the New Jerusalem is followed in 22:1-5 by a picture of heaven as the New Eden shows that this is a place.  Eden was the paradise where God put Adam and Eve.  It was the perfect place, a place that not only had the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but also the Tree of Life.

Why do I say that 22:1-5 is a picture of the new Eden?  I say that because you also have the tree of life in this place as well (2).  Another prominent feature of this place is the river of life (1); just as Eden featured a river that watered it which split up into four other rivers (Gen. 2:10).  But the great key here is the announcement that there is no curse (Rev. 22:3).  This functions as a great bookend for the Bible.  The Bible tells us about the beginning of the curse in Genesis 3.  In Revelation 22 it tells us how it ends.  It ends in the new Eden, in the new heaven and new earth, in the New Jerusalem.

Now that doesn’t mean we have to go to the opposite extreme and take everything literally here.  Surely there is a path between the extreme, on the one hand, of taking everything literally, and, on the other, of seeing everything as a metaphor for a purely spiritual reality.  I think a more balanced position, and the right one, is to see this as pointing us, even if in symbols, to a very real place.

Of course the question is: why the use of symbols?  If this is a real place, why use symbols to describe it?  I think the reason is that we cannot in our current state fathom the glory of the age to come, of the glory of the new heaven and new earth.  Yes, there will be continuity between our present existence and our experience in the new world, but the differences will be so great that we are not yet able to put words to it.  I mean, think about what the apostle Paul said when he had his vision of heaven, how he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:4, ESV).  If this is heaven coming to earth then it would be impossible to speak about that which in our current sinfulness and limitations is unspeakable.  In other words, given what the Bible elsewhere says about our current condition in a fallen world with fallen bodies and fallen minds, we should expect that any description of heaven would be in symbols.  It would have been impossible to do otherwise.  And yet . . . that emphatically does not mean that behind these symbols is not a real place or that these symbols don’t give us real information about our place in the age to come.

Now I do think many of the descriptors here are symbolic.  The multiples of 12, for example, in the dimensions of the city are probably symbolic.  The references to gold like transparent glass or to pearls big enough for a city gate seem to be clear examples of symbolic language.  But again, the point of the symbols here is to try to say something about the very real glory and the beauty of this city.  To this we now turn.

What the New Jerusalem and the New Eden picture for us.

When then do these symbols tell us?  There are a number of things the portrayal of the New Jerusalem and New Eden tell us about the age to come.

First of all, we see the origin of the city of God.  John writes, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:10).  Some people say, “I don’t want to spend eternity on the earth, even if it is new.  I want to be in heaven!”  I understand.  I want to be in heaven too.  But the point of this verse is that in the age to come, heaven comes to earth.  If you want to be in heaven, you will want to be where heaven is, and heaven has come to earth.

I don’t think this means heaven gets degraded when it comes to earth.  Heaven was not five stars before it came to earth and now it’s three stars.  This is the point of the first earth passing away.  This earth is new, renewed, so that there is no longer any curse, or anything defiling.  Do you know what Eden was before the fall of man into sin?  It was paradise.  Where did our Lord promise to take the thief on the cross?  To paradise.  The point is that paradise was once on earth; now it is in heaven.  When our Lord returns, paradise returns to earth.  Heaven has come to the earth.

Second, we see the beauty and glory of this city.  We read that this city came down, “Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (11).  Throughout this passage the emphasis is on the radiance of the New Jerusalem, on the brilliance and beauty of the city.  One of the ways this is portrayed is by the many different kinds of precious stones that bejewel the New Jerusalem.  This is a city of light.  We are told that the wall of the city was bedecked with jasper (18) and the city and even its streets were of pure gold, the purest gold (18, 21).  The foundations of the city were either completely made of or at least bejeweled with twelve precious stones: “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” (19-20).  It’s hard to know exactly what these stones were, because of the lack of precision in ancient descriptions using the words for these jewels.  But they clearly show the beauty and the value of this city.  Also, scholars often comment that this probably reflects the breastplate that the high priest wore, which also had twelve precious stones in them, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, as he went into the presence of God.  The overall picture is of breathtaking beauty and brilliance.  As Robert Mounce put it, “The city is magnificent beyond description.” 

I think that is just the point.  This is unimaginable beauty.  There is no such thing now as gold so pure that it is transparent.  There are no pearls here so big they can function as gates for a city (21).  The point is that this world, as beautiful as it might be, can’t compare to the beauty of the world to come.  As wonderful as some of our cities might be, architecturally speaking, they won’t be able to hold a candle to the city of God.

Sometimes you get the impression that Christians shouldn’t care about appearance, beauty, or even be able to enjoy such things.  You get the impression that holiness requires a kind of austerity that can’t enjoy beautiful things.  But surely the picture of the new world shows the folly of that kind of thinking. Beauty exists because God exists.  All the ugliness of this world is not due to God but to the corruption of sin.  We can and should care about beauty and order in this world and our hope for the new world should reinforce that.  However, our hope also warns us against wanting too much out of this world.  As beautiful as this world can be, it cannot compare to the beauty and glory of the age to come.  

Third, we see the security of this city.  In ancient times, walls were necessary for protection.  You see this expressed in Proverbs 25:28, which reads, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”  But this city, the city of God, is totally secure, represented by the walls which surround it, which were “great and high” (Rev. 21:12) with an angel stationed on guard at every gate.  In verse 17, we are told that “he [the angel] measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.”  Scholars aren’t sure whether this represents the height or the width of the city walls, but either way the point is that these walls are impregnable (144 cubits is over 200 feet).

Of course, this is symbolic, clearly, since there won’t be any enemies left!  We are told in verse 27, “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.”  The point is that in the age to come God’s people will have no cause for anxiety of any kind.  We live with threats from various sources, but in the age to come there will be no more threats.  And that’s one of the things that these walls are meant to teach us.  In fact, though this city has walls, such is the security that the gates are never closed by day or night (25).

We also see the blessedness of the city.  The blessedness, or happiness, of the inhabitants of the city lies in the reality that it is the temple of the living God.  No longer, like ancient Jerusalem, in a symbolic sense, but in a very real sense.  John writes: “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” (22-26).

The wonder of this city is that God himself will dwell there.  If you ask what heaven is, I would say that heaven is the place where God manifests his presence most fully to bless.   Paul said that he would rather depart this life and be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).  Heaven is not primarily to be anticipated for its golden streets or pearly gates, all of which may just be symbolic anyway.  It is to be anticipated because that is where our Savior is.  And this is where we will forever bask in the light of his presence.  This is where we will understand what joy really is.  This is where we will really learn what it means to be satisfied.  It will be here that the reality of the psalmist’s hope will be fully realized: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).

I want you to notice, by the way, the close association of the Lamb with God.  The temple is the place of God’s presence, and we are told in verse 22 that both the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.  The Lord Jesus is not just in the temple; he is what makes the city the temple of God.  Also, we are told that the glory and light of the city comes jointly from God and the Lamb (23).  In 22:1, we see that the throne of God is the throne of God and of the Lamb.  Since God does not share his glory with another, we must conclude that the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is God himself.  For this is just impossible language if Jesus Christ is not God, if he does not fully share in the nature of God with the Father.

I think though that the blessedness of the new world, the New Jerusalem and the New Eden is most remarkably portrayed for us in Rev. 22:1-5.  Eden was paradise.  Man’s sin drove paradise from the earth into heaven. Now heaven has come to the new earth, and it becomes paradise again.  For in the New Jerusalem which has become a new Eden, we see “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1).  This hearkens back to the language of Ezekiel in chapter 47, where waters issue from the temple that becomes a river.  This is water that brings life, for it is on either side of the river that the Tree of Life grows for the healing of the nations (2).  What became barred for man is now open to him.

Above all, we are told that “there shall be no more curse” (3).  Everything that is bad and disappointing and discouraging and hard about this world is due to the curse from sin.  But in the world to come there will be no more curse.  No more hard labor.  No more sin.  No more pain and crying.  Rather, there will be undiluted and unending blessing in the presence of God: “but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (3).  

The summit of blessing is there in verse 4: “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.”  To see God’s face is what is often called the Beatific Vision.  No one has ever seen God in this way here in this sin-cursed earth.  Even Moses, of whom it was said, “there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10), even he was not allowed to see God’s face.  When he asked to see God’s glory, the response was, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (33:20).  Indeed, the apostle John writes, “No man hath seen God at any time” (Jn. 1:18).  

But in the world to come, we will see God’s face.  Of course this is metaphorical language in some sense since God is everywhere present and nowhere absent.  But it signifies the immediacy and nearness to the presence of God to bless.  There is nothing better than this.  There is nothing that could possibly come close to the sense of fulness and satisfaction and joy and happiness that will result from this vision.

The amazing thing is that as we see God, “his name shall be in their foreheads.”  In other words, as we behold God, creatures though we are, and sinful though we were, in need of grace and mercy, God will own us.  This is not a sight that destroys for the enjoyment of God here is that which he welcomes and encourages. 

Finally, the blessings that characterize the New Eden characterize the New Jerusalem because they are one and the same place: “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (5).  

What is this about the nations bringing their glory and riches into the city of God at the end of chapter 21?  This again is OT language, especially from Isaiah 60: 

And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory.  (Isa. 60:3-7)

This points us to the fact that the New Jerusalem is not just the dwelling place of physical Israel, but that the Gentiles have been in Christ grafted into the one people of God.  In other words, this is language that is celebrating the fact that it is not the keeping of the law that makes one a member of God’s family; it is faith alone in Christ alone, for we become the children of Abraham on the basis of faith, not works.

Finally, the symbolism of the city says something about the unity of the people of God in the city of God.  I mean unity here in terms of OT and NT.  Notice that the gates of the city are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (12), and the foundations of the city are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles (14).  The salvation that the gospel promises us is the same salvation that was promised in the OT.  In other words, what we are seeing here in these verses is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, going back to the Garden of Eden, through the covenants that God made with Abraham, David, and the prophets.  It is the same salvation preached in the gospel.  It again reminds us that God keeps his word.  Bank on that. 

What the New Jerusalem and the New Eden propose to us.

There is a point to all this, isn’t there?  We’ve already said it, but I think it bears saying again.  The point is that the hope that the gospel points us to is infinitely better than anything the world is offering you.  I think that is the point of the introduction of this section in verse 9.  Notice what John says: “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 shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.”  That is almost identical language to the way the harlot Babylon was introduced: “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” (17:1).  One is a whore that serves the beast, the other is a bride married to the Lamb.  In other words, there is a deliberate contrast being made here between Babylon and the New Jerusalem.  John wants to you to put them side by side in your mind.  He wants you to think about the contrast between the two.

As we pointed out in our consideration of chapter 18, Babylon the seat of the antichrist will be a force to be contended with.  Babylon is foreshadowed in the world of man today, with all his power and pomp and pleasure.  Babylon was foreshadowed in John’s day in ancient Rome and in our day in the nation-states of the world.  The world today wants you to drown God out in the busyness of business.  It wants to make God seem irrelevant by giving you everything you need for physical sustenance.  It wants to entice you with its offers of pleasure and prestige.  It wants to make righteousness look strange and sin look normal.

But Babylon will have an end.  And all its glories will go up in smoke.  That is the point of chapter 18.  Babylon is a future zoo for demons.  Is that what you want to give your life up to?  On the other hand, as glorious as Babylon is, it is nothing compared to the city of God.  Here is what the world offers you: temporary, sinful pleasures that will burn up in hell.  Here is what God gives his people: to belong to him, his people, and to give us a place forever in a new heaven and new earth which will be infinitely more beautiful, more blessed than anything this world in rebellion against God can give you.  How in the world does it make sense to trash the gospel for the garbage of the world?

My friends, the reason why we can know that this is attainable is because Jesus bought it for us.  He did it 2000 years ago on the cross.  He paid the debt, he fully satisfied God’s justice on behalf of sinners when he took their place and suffered in their stead. And he proved that he had really done this when he rose from the dead.  Who attains the world to come?  “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything . . . but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life” (27).  Those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life are those for whom the Lamb suffered in their place as a sacrifice to God for them.  How do you know that you are in that book?  Do you trust in him, that is the question.  Do you trust in him as Lord and Savior?  Do you thirst for the water of life that he gives?  Take it, for it is free.  Receive it from his hand.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father, except by me” (Jn. 14:6).  Come to the Father today through Jesus Christ his Son!


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