“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV).
What is the new Jerusalem? For many, this might seem to be a strange question. We have always been taught that the new Jerusalem is heaven. But if we look closely at what John writes about this city we might arrive at a different conclusion.
Notice that the new Jerusalem is described as “a bride adorned for her husband.” A few verses later, John is told exactly who this bride is:
“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…” (Revelation 21:9-10).
The new Jerusalem is “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” That should settle without doubt that this is not speaking of heaven but it is referring to the “ekklesia” – God’s people, what we often call “the church.”
Think as well about the description in both of these texts: John doesn’t say this is heaven but that he saw this city “coming down out of heaven from God.” How could heaven come down out of heaven? This is a new Jerusalem, replacing the old Jerusalem, which God prepared in heaven for his people.
As if to even give us more detailed information, we find that “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). We know from Paul’s letter to Ephesus that he describes the ekklesia as having the apostles as the foundation (Ephesians 2:20).
As we continue reading this description, we find this: “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:24-26).
In the new Jerusalem, people will continue to enter, as its gates will never be shut. Yet we realize that at the end of time when we receive our reward, people will not continue to enter (as time will be no more). Yet the gates are never shut to God’s kingdom.
But how does there being no mourning and crying fit into all of this, if it isn’t heaven? In Jesus, we have nothing to mourn or cry over. Sins are forgiven. God wipes our tears away. These are the blessings we now have in Jesus, not something we have to wait for.
And if we have all of this now as God’s people – including God dwelling with us (and in us – 1 John 4:13) – how much greater will heaven be?! We have great blessings now. We will have even greater blessings then. Let us live as citizens of the new Jerusalem!
Readings for next week:
26-30 December – a week to catch up on your Bible readings