Touring the New Jerusalem

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)

John was given quite a vision.  He saw Heaven.  He the future of the Earth.  He saw Judgment Day.  All of it was either exciting or terrifying.  It was something from which he could not look away.  But few things in the vision of the Book of Revelation match the arrival of the New Jerusalem.  It is toward the top of the “Wow!” list.  Like, “Wow, what is it?”

First let me tell you what it is not.  It is not some metaphor for the Church.  Many commentators on Revelation say that Revelation 21 is somehow about the church because the word “bride” is used in the passage above, and God’s people, the Church, are collectively described as the bride of Christ elsewhere is scripture.  But this passage doesn’t say that the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ.  It says it is beautiful, like a bride.  So what John is witnessing is the future arrival of the New Jerusalem on the New Earth.

Why does it have walls?  Cities of the past had walls for defensive purposes.  Now that modern weaponry have rendered walls useless, why build them?  The New Jerusalem will not need to be defended from attack.  All enemies are securely and permanently stuck in Hell by this point.  These walls are part of the packaging.  This city moves.

So it this a spaceship of some sort?  Yes, Star Wars fans.  The New Jerusalem could very well be God’s throne room, described in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4, now moving to its new location on mankind’s new home base, the New Earth.  It’s big (essentially a cube 1400 miles on a side), it’s stunningly beautiful, and it constructed with the kind of symbolic symmetry that God loves to use.

Will we live inside of it?  No.  No doubt being in the New Jerusalem will be an exciting part of our lives, but our new living space will be far more than that.  If the structure of the New Earth is a spinning globe, then it would have to be massively larger that the current planet to accommodate the New Jerusalem.  We can’t assume it will be a spinning globe, however.  Revelation announces that the old order of things has passed away, so who knows if a globe that spins is part of the new order.  The sun doesn’t seem to be a part of the equation, so spinning might not be necessary.  (Revelation 21:23,25)

The lighting of at least the New Jerusalem seems to be unique.  Without the sun and moon, the city is still aglow, day and night.  This isn’t artificial lighting.  This is the glory (shekinah) of God and we are in the midst of it.

What will there be to see in 2.7 billion cubic miles of the New Jerusalem?  Much more than the Bible has to tell us.  But there are more details that we will go over in my next blog entry (September 25).

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.

The New Earth in Revelation (Part 2)

We are looking at what Revelation 21 has to say about the new heavens and new Earth.  We left off with the following:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God with with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This is hard to imagine.  We read that God walked around the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve interacted directly with God, but we have no similar experience.  There is a perceived distance now that will be taken away.  The fact that God will actually live with us is stated twice for emphasis.  It’s a big deal.

This passage demonstrates God preference for the human race.  He wants to be with His people.  I love that, but I don’t truly understand it.  I think that we can be a pain, but we will be different then.  We will not have a sinful nature.  All our undesirable but “human” traits like selfishness, clannishness, faithlessness, unrighteous pride (and I could go on) will not be a part of humanity.  That’s not just a blessing for God.  It will be a blessing for us.  Truly something for which to look forward.

There will be other changes as well.  There will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain, which is connected with the “old order”.    One thing for sure that is part of this old order is what the Bible calls “the curse”.  Do not think of an old Italian grandma putting on a spiteful magical spell when you think of the curse here.  This is something more like God taking a step back from maintaining the order of things.  It isn’t all “very good” anymore as it was in Genesis.  With the curse comes loss and suffering from various quarters:  natural disasters, poor health, aging, cycles of death and decay.  These are part of our current natural order.  A different natural order will exist then.  The specifics of this order are not revealed but it does spur the imagination of what is possible.

For instance, I ate something that might have sat out too long, the next day my digestive tract complained.  No more of that in the new order.  Hospitals?–won’t need them.  Nor will we need funeral homes, police departments, auto repair, dentists, most of government.  Won’t need pastors because God is right there.  Probably 90% of our jobs exist because of the curse.  What will we do?  Don’t worry, there will be plenty to do all and all enjoyable.  Labor is part of this order.

This description is very similar to what is found in Revelation 7:16-17, which is a description of Heaven, hence some of the confusion.  Heaven will be trouble free as well. Heaven will be living with God.  Clearly there are differences, but the differences are hard to discern.  Revelation 21 goes on to say:

He who is seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new! Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

It’s exciting to think what may be very different from what we experience today.  Perhaps even the laws of physics will be changed.  Biology will be vastly altered.  I would not go so far as to assume that there will be nothing familiar.  It is just that the familiar will be greatly improved.  Earth 2.0.  You can write that down because God guarantees it.

The New Earth in Revelation (Part I)

If the doctrine of a New Heaven and New Earth were not found anywhere except in Revelation, I would be inclined, as many are, to conflate the pre-Judgment Day Heaven with the descriptions of the New Heaven and Earth found in Revelation 21 and 22.  As we have already seen, information about the New Earth is found in both the Old Testament and Epistles.  The descriptions in Revelation 21 and 22 are not what we should expect in Heaven, but there are many parallels.

It starts like this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth and the first heaven and first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

The first thing that should be said is that “heaven” in this context is referring to the universe, not Heaven.  The Bible uses the same word for both, perhaps because people had no concept of the actual structure of the universe or the possibility of a parallel universe or other dimensions.  With that knowledge, I would conclude that Heaven is not necessarily a part of this universe at all. That conclusion doesn’t come with a lot of proof.  It is based on the 1 Peter 3 description of the destruction of “the elements” and the absence of any mention of the destruction of the current Heaven.

The passage above does clearly say that this universe as we currently experience it will cease to exist.  So the new heavens and earth will be a new creation, not a remodeling job.

Ocean lovers will find the end of this passage upsetting.  No sea, no beach.  Before you get too bummed out, keep in mind the method of reception of Revelation.  It is a vision, and John simply describes what he sees and hears.  Perhaps he just doesn’t see a sea.

This is perhaps a good place to discuss how literally we are to take this passage or any in Revelation.  Revelation is an apocalyptic vision.  Meaning that it is partially and intentionally veiled in its meaning, it does use figurative language, pictures and numbers, it is not necessarily linear in time; so in short, its a tough book to understand.  To some extent, you can use other Scripture to interpret this part of Scripture.  Being occasionally figurative doesn’t mean it is never literal.  So what are the rules for choosing between figurative and literal?  That is up to the Holy Spirit.  A strictly academic dissection will not be adequate.  To point, is “the sea” perhaps figurative for something like chaos? Maybe.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

In other parts of Scripture, God often speaks of a new Jerusalem and how pleasing it will be.  Here it is.  John sees it in a vision that is definitely the future for him and still for us.  It is described as being “dressed like a bride” and later “the bride, the wife of the lamb”.  This leads many to take this whole section figuratively as a description of the church (the set of all who are saved) which is described elsewhere as Christ’s bride.  Unfortunately, God uses certain metaphors in more ways than one. So this connection is not conclusive.  Weddings and brides were the pinnacle of beauty and rejoicing in many times and cultures.  It is relatable, so it gets used.  Because of the density of detail given of the new Jerusalem in the verses that will follow, I’m inclined to take it as a literal description of a city.

There is much more to come on this topic.  Check back as we pick it up again in Revelation 21