Revelation 21-22:5. The city that God has prepared for those who seek him. Its gates are open, and the nations learn to live by its light.
and the heavens were the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away. (Ps 102)
He will change the old for the new, just as the soul will be given new clothes. And just as the original heaven and earth were his direct handiwork – they did not form by themselves over billions of years – so God will speak the new universe into being by his word of power. But, ‘there will be no more sea.’
No one likes the idea of there being no more sea. The crashing of waves against the foaming rocks is a thrilling spectacle, coastal resorts give pleasure, the creatures of the sea delight and amaze. But God will not abolish that which is good. In the context of creation ‘sea’ denotes the boundless ocean waters of the present world, the waters that had erupted from below during the Cataclysm. In the first world the ‘sea’ was the deep beneath the land (e.g. Ex 20:4-11), while ‘seas’ plural (Gen 1:10) were surface bodies of water surrounded by land, like the present Mediterranean or the Great Lakes. It was the surface waters that teemed with marine creatures.
Some suppose the sea will cease to exist because it is where the beast came from (13:1), but in that context the sea is a metaphor, not a real place of evil. The metaphor cannot constitute a reason to abolish the literal sea, any more than the false prophet’s rising out of the earth (13:11) might be reason to abolish the literal earth. In the declaration that God created the sea there is no sinister connotation (10:6 and 14:7). The physical significance is that in the new creation there will be no boundless ocean or watery abyss, no creatures such as anglerfish to image the demons of the abyss. The spiritual significance is that into the sea he will cast all our sins (Mic 7:19); there will be no sin in the new world.
The descent of the holy city Jerusalem is related twice. The first time, the Bride personifies the redeemed of the first and second resurrection alike. The city is settled on a new earth in which righteousness dwells, the unrighteous having been destroyed in Gehenna. The ‘former things’ have passed away, death is no more, and God makes all things new. The second time, the vision sets forth the significance of the city for the nations around it. John is taken to a high mountain – elevated Mount Zion – and there sees the Bride, the redeemed of the first resurrection only, descending to the present earth. The first vision anticipates the newness that the second moves towards.
The principal source is Isaiah 25:8 and 65:17-19. The latter verses announce the new creation as Jerusalem’s assured destiny. Jerusalem will be created a place and a people of great joy. The law’s curse on Israel (Deut 28) is finally lifted. Restored to their land, the people again build houses, enjoy the fruit of their labour and bear children. Wolves and lions will no longer prey on other animals. God will dwell on Mount Zion and wipe away men’s tears. A man who dies at the age of 100 will be considered young. Eventually God will swallow up death itself.
His intention has always been to make the nations his own (Ps 2:8, 82:8). ‘Peoples’ is therefore plural. The promise that Israel would be his people and he their God (Ex 6:7, Jer 24:7, Ezek 11:20, Zech 8:8) is expanded, as was always foreseen (Isa 56:8, Luke 2:32). His dwelling (‘tent/tabernacle’, Gk. skene) is with all humanity, for ‘many peoples will join themselves to Yahweh on that day’ (Ezek 37:27, Zech 8:3, 2:10-12). God comes in the company of the redeemed out of heaven – their former place of sojourn – to the peoples on earth, and sojourns (skenωsei) with them there.
I make well-being and create evil. (Isa 45:7)
even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Prov 16:4)
It is he who subjected the creation to death, consigning all human striving to futility (Rom 8:20). It is he who determines if a man is mute, or deaf, or blind (Ex 4:11). In the story about Job, Satan is given permission to strike everything Job has. After losing his children, all ten of them, in a storm, Job accepts this natural disaster as God’s prerogative to take back what he has given. “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept evil?” God makes these disclosures in order that we may grapple with them, in life as well as in theology. Perhaps there is a grain of comfort in knowing, amidst the darkness, that he is in control. But the knowledge that God allowed it, even willed it, can also augment the pain. Somehow we are to entrust our souls to the very person responsible for our suffering (I Pet 4:19).
The last judgement is the vindication of God’s justice following the injustice which vitiates this world. He wipes the wicked from the face of the earth (Gen 6:7); the sins of the penitent he wipes from remembrance (Ps 51:9, Acts 3:19), and finally he wipes away their tears. The verb is exaleiphω, in Hebrew machah, denoting complete erasure. It is an act of tenderness, the obverse of his justice and the vindication of his love. He wipes our faces the way a mother comforts her child. Having made us creatures susceptible to pain, and having been its ultimate cause – to test, to discipline, to purify, or for no reason that we can discern – he himself wipes the tears away, he who once also mourned, and wept, and was tortured. ‘He binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wound of his blow.’ ‘He will gather the lambs in his arm.’
At his right hand there are pleasures forever more (Ps 16:11). In his presence there is fullness of joy, his joy and ours, and one day we will enter it (Matt 25:21). Sorrow and sighing will flee away. So we wait for that day.
Progressive transformation leads towards the completely new. The creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption. The corruptible will put on the incorruptible and the mortal put on immortality. Somehow, he will give us back the Eden of our childhood: the innocence, the freshness of perception in the light of which everything is wonderful, the simplicity of feeling, the sense that here is our home, the place where we are loved.
‘It is done’ previously announced the end of God’s anger (16:17), thereby permitting a new beginning for humanity. At the end of the millennium God’s purpose in creating heaven and earth so long ago will have finally been accomplished.
Water is essential for life. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus cried, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Earthly Jerusalem had a natural spring, but it was outside the walls (II Chr 32:3), and spiritually she was dry. She needed a spring of living water, which was Yahweh himself (Jer 2:12). On the day the Messiah is revealed just such a spring will open for Jerusalem (Joel 3:18, Zech 13:1). ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’
Let the reader remember the promises for those who conquer (Rev 2-3). To believe that God exists is of little value. What matters is that God should choose to be our God: the greatest privilege, the greatest blessing. To those who courageously and faithfully overcome the world he gives his whole self, embracing them as sons and daughters.
And he who spoke with me had a gold rod with which to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with the rod: 12,000 stadia. Its length and its width and its height are equal. He also measured its wall: 144 cubits, a man’s measure being an angel’s. The structure of the wall was diamond, and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel: the first foundation diamond, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates being of one pearl, and the street of the city pure gold, like pellucid glass.
This second vision of Jerusalem is introduced by one of the angels that had poured out wrath. The vision of Babylon the Great was likewise introduced, for the previous plagues are not to be forgotten. Both cities are portrayed as female: one a prostitute, the other a pure bride. One is seated on waters representing the nations of the earth, in a desert; the other originates from heaven and comes to rest on a high mountain. One is adorned with gold, jewels and pearls; the other is actually composed of gold, jewels and pearls – her beauty is internal, not merely external.
as walls and bulwarks he sets up salvation.
Open the gates,
that into it may enter the righteous nation that keeps faith. …
For he has humbled those who dwell on the height;
the lofty city he lays low,
he lays it low to the ground;
he casts it down to the dust.” (26:1-5)
“Afflicted one, storm-tossed, not comforted,
behold, I set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I make your pinnacles of rubies,
your gates of carbuncles
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by Yahweh,
and great shall be the peace of your children. (54:11-13)
The city also extends into heaven, its cubic shape like the holy of holies in Solomon’s Temple (I Ki 6:20); but the entire city is now his sanctuary, and gold all the way through, not just overlaid with gold. John avoids saying that the city was ‘built’, or ‘made’. God’s residence is not a building but a newly created people (I Cor 3:17, Rev 3:12), a vast multitude. The Bride’s jewels symbolise a heavenly splendour. They are the precious stones set in the high priest’s ‘breastplate of judgement’, engraved with the names of the twelve sons of Israel (Ex 28:15-21).
In faithless Israel’s idolatrous and syncretistic religion, Yahweh already had a wife, the Canaanite goddess Asherah. The nation never supposed that in the latter days, after many years in the wilderness, they themselves, collectively, would be his consort.
The Gentiles were formerly alienated from the polity of Israel, but Christ washed them too, in baptism, by his word (John 15:3, Eph 5:26). The Bride will be the redeemed Gentiles as well as the redeemed children of Israel. We share the citizenship of the city and its temple with Israel’s saints (Eph 2:12-22). The twelve foundations of the city symbolise the sons of Israel; the twelve gates through which the righteous nation enters bear their names (Ezek 48:30-34). The apostles themselves were Israelites. There is no separate Gentile bride.
your walls are continually before me.
Your builders make haste;
your destroyers and those who laid you waste depart from you.
Lift up your eyes and look around:
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the LORD,
you shall put them all on as an ornament;
you shall bind them on as a bride does.
“Surely your ruins and desolate places
and the land of your destruction –
surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
The children of your bereavement
will yet say in your ears:
‘The place is too narrow for me;
make room for me to dwell there.’
Then you will say in your heart:
‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and put away,
but who has fostered these? (Isa 49:16-21)
and their pasture shall be on all the bare heights;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them
and by springs of water he will guide them.
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways will be raised up. (Isa 49:9-11)
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame man will leap like a deer
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isa 35:5f)
The prophecy is not of the works that Jesus would do at the time of John the Baptist. Rather, Jesus’s works of healing prefigured the day when he would come in vengeance against Israel’s enemies (Isa 35:4), save the nation and heal those springing from the grave (Mal 4:2), as he himself hinted when he added the raising of the dead to Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 7:22). He would gather the remnant of Israel from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind, the lame and the pregnant (Jer 31:8f, Mic 4:6f, Zeph 3:19f). In whatever condition they died, and whether young or old, they would be raised to life whole.
The landscape is desert, but physical springs and rivers will open for them, as in the first Exodus (Isa 30:25, 35:6f, 41:18, 43:19f, 49:10, Jer 31:9, 16:14f). They will be carried on horses and other physical forms of transport, laden with silver and gold. The nations themselves will bring them (Isa 60:9, 66:20). Settled in the land together with the Israelis who already lived there, they will marry and have children (Ezek 43:22, 37:26, Isa 65:3). Boys and girls will play in the streets (Zech 8:5). Their lives will be like a watered garden (Num 24:6, Jer 31:12). They will fill out their days, but nonetheless die at the end of them (Isa 65:10).
before her pangs on she produced a male.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall land go into labour in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth all at once? (Isa 66:7f)
you have increased its joy. (Isa 9:3)
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established on top of the mountains
and be lifted up above the hills.
And all the nations shall flow to it
and many peoples come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways,
that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isa 2:1-3)
who walk in the law of Yahweh! …
and a light to my path. …
and let me not be put to shame in my hope! (Ps 119)
till he has established justice on the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isa 42:4)
Days before the Babylonians destroyed it, the glory of Yahweh quit the Temple. Now his glory will again fill the building (Ezek 43:1-4). “This is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever.” God’s house and the king’s house will be one, because the king himself is God.
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD. (Isa 66:23)
In particular, once a year, the families of the earth will go up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, even the Egyptians (Zech 14:16-18). ‘Yahweh will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know Yahweh in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering’ (Isa 19:22). All must offer sacrifice (Zech 14:21), for sin will still need to be atoned for. At the direction of David their king (Ezek 34:24, 45:17) and of the appointed priests (44:15-41), even Israel must offer (45:16f, 20:40). ‘Kings shall see and arise, princes, and they shall worship’ (Isa 49:7). ‘Because of your temple at Jerusalem kings will bear gifts to you’ (Ps 68:29, 96:8). It will be a house of prayer for all peoples (Isa 56:7). ‘Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising’ (Isa 60:3). Earth’s kings will no longer be the enemies of God, and they will no longer war with each other (Ps 46:9, Isa 2:4). Rather, they will acknowledge that he alone is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing. The nations themselves are the ingathering envisaged by the feast, welcomed in order that they too may have life. They include the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame among the survivors (Luke 14:21), even the wicked (Matt 22:10). ‘Common’ has the sense of ‘unsanctified’ (Acts 10:13), for not everyone will be admitted (Isa 52:1, Ezek 44:9, Matt 22:11-13). The wicked must come in repentance.
The Sumerian King List opens, ‘When kingship came down from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu’. The kingship shifted from one city to another, until a great king unified the country and chose Babel, the ‘gate of God’, as his capital (Gen 10:10). Its builders erected there a terraced pyramid, not a cube, symbolic of a great, high mountain, and the city got its name from the gate at the top. Through this gate the gods walked down to the earth below. But the kingship was illegitimate, a usurpation of what belonged to God. Babylon was not the City of the Great King (Ps 48:12), and not at the centre of the earth (Ezek 5:5, 38:12). Later, Jacob dreamt of a stairway on which angels ascended and descended. When he awoke, he said in awe, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” The stairway branched on the way down and was configured like a cross. Only through the Lamb is there access to God (John 1:51).
“Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” Solomon exclaimed. “Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you – how much less this house that I have built!” (I Ki 8:27) The ‘heaven’ was the space containing the sun, the moon and the twelve planets, within the envelope of water whose frozen remains we call the ‘Oort Cloud’ (Gen 1:14-16, Ps 148:4). It was created as God separated the waters below from the waters above and thereby stretched out the heaven (Gen 1:7f, Job 9:8 Isa 42:5, Jer 10:12). The ‘heaven of heavens’ was the space beyond, what we call the universe.
and its inhabitants, like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heaven like a curtain
and spreads it like a tent to dwell in.
The word in Hebrew is a dual and never singular, so whether to translate as singular or plural in English is a matter of choice. The physical heaven is the representation of God’s spiritual dwelling, the ‘greater and more perfect tent’ (Heb 8:2, 9:11). In the beginning the solar system was illumined by the nucleus of the Galaxy. Later the nucleus shot out relativistic jets of matter that condensed into stars and the remnant collapsed into a supermassive black hole. In the beginning the earth had no need of the sun to give it light, though the sun still shone. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ will be like that primordial light (II Cor 4:6).
When, and by whom, the temple will be built is left unclear. Nowhere does Ezekiel say that Israel should build it. In a passage whose opening lines (Isa 60:1-3) are often misapplied to the first advent, though possibly the magi prefigured this day, Isaiah reiterates his vision of the return of Zion’s sons and daughters. Then he adds, ‘The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the cypress, the plane-tree and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary,” suggesting that the temple will be built, with hands, some time after Christ’s appearance. ‘The throne of his glory’ (Matt 25:31) will not be of human construction. It already exists, and it will come down from heaven.
First the physical, then the spiritual (I Cor 15:46). In the beginning God planted a garden, in the midst of which was a tree of life, and a river flowed there. Like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was an ordinary tree, but by his word God would have caused the man to live forever had he eaten from it. Instead he ate from the forbidden tree, forfeiting eternal life, and God expelled him. New Jerusalem redeems what was lost. There is again a tree, and a river. The way to the tree is no longer barred.
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither. (Ps 1)
As the nations eat from the spiritual fruit of the tree, their lives will be prolonged (Prov 3:16-18); as they apply its leaves, they will be healed of their diseases. The curse on the ground (Gen 3:17) and the curse on the descendants of Ham will be lifted (Gen 9:25).
In physical reality too there will be a river, flowing from the south side of the temple eastward and providing water for every kind of fruit tree (Ezek 47:1ff). It will get progressively deeper, emerging at the valley north of the Dead Sea (Joel 3:18). The Dead Sea will become fresh, and fishermen standing on its shores will fish there. One might also venture an allegorical interpretation. When Solomon built the first Temple, the river was only ankle-deep; a thousand years later, it was knee-deep; a thousand years later, waist-deep. In the millennium to come, the waters of life will be deep enough to swim in (Ezek 47:3-6). Alternatively the deepening signifies the progress of Christ’s rule during the millennium itself, for ‘of the increase of his government there will be no end’. Since the river is for all nations, it flows also westward towards the coast (Zech 14:8).
Israel was instructed to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in this manner: “On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Lev 23:40). He who planted and uprooted Israel will plant them again, in their own land (Isa 5:7, 61:3, Jer 24:6, 31:28, 32:41, Ezek 17:23, Amos 9:15). He will take them from the dust of the ground, breathe his spirit into them, and set them in the land where he himself dwells. He will make Zion’s wilderness like the primeval garden (Isa 51:3, Ezek 36:35) and make it his sanctuary. Hence the walls of the holy of holies were lined with cedar and carved with figures of cherubim, palm trees and flowers. This is the paradise that Paul was given a glimpse of, and which was promised to the rebel crucified next to Jesus. We ourselves have a glimpse of it whenever we raise our eyes to search for the blackbird hidden in the foliage, that cannot but sing.
“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel,” Isaiah interjected (45:15). God hid his face because of Israel’s sins (59:2), and because of our sins he still does. But there were also other reasons. Understanding that our parent’s instructions really were for the good, having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them without fear of chastisement, becoming parents ourselves – these are elements of growing up. How would man repay that gift of freedom? Would he become like God in wisdom and holiness and compassion for the weak, simply by moral evolution? Would wars cease? He revealed himself for a time, then went away. Instinctively, knowing our nakedness and his holiness, we hide ourselves from him. But he will hide himself no more. We shall see him face to face, not dimly. We shall know him fully, even as he knows us.