The River of Life

One feature of the New Earth, that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the River of Life.  Once again, I don’t think this is a metaphor, but rather a physical feature running through the New Jerusalem.  That said, this river is not your usual water running downhill.

If you are familiar with the River of Life it is because it is found in Revelation 22.  Just like with magazines, a lot of us like to start at the back; so many people have read Revelation 22–the last chapter of the Bible.  You may be less familiar with Ezekiel 47.  Here is description of what is clearly the same thing.  So what is so strange about this river?

Let’s start with the source.  The river emanates from under the altar of the temple in Ezekiel and from under the “throne of God” in Revelation 22.  The temple was seen as a mini-version of what really existed in Heaven.  This is a reason to equate the future New Jerusalem with the current throne room of God in Heaven.

Water, as it spreads out and flows away, should get shallower.  This water gets deeper until it forms a river.  Along the river are trees which are identified as the Tree of Life in Revelation 22.  A presumably singular Tree of Life is mentioned in Genesis in the Garden of Eden.

This river isn’t the only thing to ever flow from beneath the throne of God.  In Daniel 7:10 a river of fire flows.  So what is this river?  The Holy Spirit manifests himself as many things:  a dove, fiery tongues and Jesus speaks of the Spirit as Living Water.  I think it is fair to understand the river as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and all life initiates with Him.  In Heaven and the New Earth, we may experience the Father and the Son as persons like ourselves in many ways.  The Spirit may be experienced in other ways including this river.

The Tree of Life is seen lining the river.  It, too, is an outgrowth, tool or manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Revelation 22 says, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  What healing will we need in the New Earth?

The honest answer is, “I don’t know”.   In Genesis, Adam and Eve were not forbidden access to the Tree of Life until after they had been exposed to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The reason was so that they would not “live forever”.  Here the reason is so that we will live forever.  Our physical bodies, though recreated, still may need the steady input of the Tree of Life; and not to worry, the Tree of Life is always in season.

I expect that our resurrected bodies will have some type of genetic information within them and some type of chemical metabolism.  Sustaining this metabolism indefinitely is whatever is in the Tree of Life.  It is the Spirit’s way of keeping us whole and alive.

No Eclipse in This City

This week was the long anticipated solar eclipse in the United States.  My city was very near the region of totality.  We experienced a 99% eclipse, which oddly barely dimmed the light.  As we continue to look at the New Earth, specifically the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 (this is the sixth entry), we find a wrinkle to the “new order of things” that relates to the celestial bodies.

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.

In the new Jerusalem you don’t need to go to a temple because you encounter God, the Father and Jesus, everywhere.  The presence of God is an interesting study in the Bible.  God is everywhere and somewhere at the same time.  He occupies a throne in Heaven and He also dwells in His people and fills all things.  You get the sense that His presence is different in each place, but very real.  Still, God’s presence isn’t something you can always sense in every place.  Not so in the New Jerusalem.  How we will encounter God in this city, I cannot say.  But I do believe it will be exhilarating, joyful and always desirable.

God’s presence in the New Jerusalem is so palpable that the city literally glows with God’s glory.  The physical radiation that accompanies God, His shekinah, makes the directional lighting of the sun, moon or any lamp irrelevant.  There is no darkness of any sort in the New Jerusalem.

On no day will its gates ever be shut, or 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.

As mentioned before, the walls of the city are not for a protective purpose.  Once the city has arrived on the New Earth, there is no need to shut the gates; not just because there isn’t any night, but because there isn’t any danger.  Evil is excluded.  The evil that affects us all is gone.  The human inhabitants and visitors to the city have left their sinful nature behind.  They are what we are meant to be–loving, truthful, good.

That part is more exciting than a new planet.  We will be literally new people.  You won’t have enemies or people you can’t trust.  You won’t be in competition but rather you will be in love, with everyone. We won’t need armies, police or really even laws. We will be with God, each other and a restored nature.

Is anything the same?  Will there be anything carried over from the current Earth to the New Earth?  “The glory and honor of the nations” is mentioned.  This could be simply a reference to the fact that there will be redeemed people from every nation, but it could also speak to pure elements of human culture–the very best of what we are today.

It is hard to imagine, but it isn’t hard to know that this is where you want to be.  Who will make it?  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  Jesus, the Lamb, has always known who will be His.  Their names are recorded in a book.  His people will know that He died for them and they will be bonded to Him through baptism.  Some will be His almost all their life.  Others will be late arrivers, coming to faith in old age.  Praise God if you belong to Jesus.  If not, it’s better late than never, as the saying goes.

How Large Is the New Earth?

The next paragraph about the New Earth gives a size and visual description of the New Jerusalem.  Both a very detailed.  This detail is the main reason I don’t think this is a metaphor for God’s people.  As mentioned before, some regard the description of the New Jerusalem to be a metaphorical description of God’s people because it says that the New Jerusalem is the “bride” of the Lamb (Jesus).  Both God’s people and Jerusalem are described as God’s bride in the Bible. Because of the complexity of the description given here it is hard for me to see this as a metaphor.  Rather, I think this is John describing what he sees.

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 (1,400 miles or 2,200 kilometers) in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured the wall and it was 144 cubits (200 feet or 65 meters) thick by man’s measurement.

This is one whopping big city–a giant cube or possible a square based pyramid.  The distance from Chicago to Miami is slightly shorter than this.  Consequently, the New Earth must be a massive planet, if it is a planet.  A lump 1,400 miles high would cause a spinning sphere to wobble like a flat tire.  Mount Everest is only 5.49 miles high. Why such a crazy thick wall?  The number 144 is 12 squared and God is very mathematical.  Is it symbolic of our protection?  Maybe.  It may also be a function of what it takes to move such a large object, possibly from another dimension.

Why measure it?  I think this is to make the point that this is a real, tangible thing.  It is not a fantasy, concept or metaphor.

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 of a single pearl.  The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

This part of the passage is of interest if you are really into gems.  It says that the foundation is decorated in layers of beautiful and recognizable gem stones. At least, this is what it looks like.  This is also where we gate the idea of “pearly gates” and “streets of gold”.  In popular culture these are attributes of Heaven.  This reference is to the New Jerusalem, unless, as noted earlier, they are one and the same.  Clearly gold is not clear.  John is using the best words he has to describe what he sees.

Beauty will definitely be a big part of the New Earth.  While much will be different as this is a “new order of things”, there seems to also be the familiar.  Beautiful aspects of God’s first creation brought into the next.

God’s people will be a part of that beauty.  The same, but also strikingly different.

 

The New Earth in Revelation (part 3)

We left off at Revelation 21:5 in my last entry.  Verses 6-9 are important but not about the New Earth, so I will pick it up at verse 9:

One 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 mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

An angel takes the writer, John, not only to a different place but also to a different time.  The time that the New Earth is being set up post-judgment day.  Being taken “in the Spirit” doesn’t necessarily mean “out of body” but in this case it must.  John sees the “new” Jerusalem coming down like a landing space ship.  It is called “the wife of the Lamb” because in Isaiah 62:4, God speaks of Jerusalem being called “Beulah”, which means married.  The Church is also referred to with such a metaphor, but in this case, I think it is referring to the new Jerusalem.  So what makes it Jerusalem?  It is the city where the visible presence of God resides.  It will probably bear no resemblance or use any material from the Old City of Jerusalem, but the old Jerusalem prefigured this city of the future.

A question I have is whether this New Jerusalem is actually something that exists in Heaven already.  Is this the throne room of God that we see in all of the visions of Heaven?  We can’t know this, but it seems a real possibility to me.  In that case the following description, which we often attribute to Heaven, actually is a description of both Heaven and the New Jerusalem.

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.

If you Google “new Jerusalem” and go to “images” you will see how various artists have wrestled with this description.  Did it look like a walled city of the past?  If so, why?  I think this describes something more like a city within a crystalline cube.  It is four sided, at least at the base.  The dimensioning is given in the next section.  The names on the gates remind me of gates at a football stadium, especially Lambeau field which happens to have a gate named after the Oneida Indian tribe.  Walls would not be needed to keep out enemies as in the past, but would walls be needed because of the mobility of this city?  Something similar to the “Death Star” in Star Wars, only beautiful.

Jaspar is a stone that is not typically clear.  John grasps for gems he knows.  I think it looks more like a diamond.  Its beauty is something that probably defies words, and it will be a big part of our eternal existence.