Revelation 21-22:5. The city that God has prepared for those who love him. Its gates are open, and the nations who have survived the wrath 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)
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 (Isa 65:17). He will change the old for the new, just as the soul will be given new clothes, and the new heaven and earth will endure for ever, along with Israel’s offspring (Isa 66:22). But, ‘there will be no more sea.’
In the first world the ‘sea’, or ‘seas’, was the deep beneath the land (Ex 20:4, 11, referring back to the world as originally constituted; Hasel 1974) and surface bodies of water surrounded by land, like the Great Lakes of North America. It was these surface waters that teemed with marine creatures (Gen 1:20-22). During the Cataclysm the subterranean waters erupted through and overwhelmed the land, and the continents that re-emerged were surrounded by interconnected oceans, producing an altogether different world from the original one. In the declaration that God created the sea there is no sinister connotation (10:6 and 14:7).
Some suppose the sea will be destroyed because it is where the beast came from (13:1), but the sea in that context is a metaphor, not a real place of evil. The metaphor could hardly be a reason for abolishing the literal sea, any more than the false prophet’s rising out of the earth (13:11) would be reason for abolishing the literal earth. The crashing of waves, the cry of gulls, the smell of stranded seaweed, the crunch of pebbles, the unseen creatures that crawl and swim and burrow: who would wish them gone? – to say nothing about the sea’s being a source of food. Rather, in the new creation there will be no ‘great deep’ (the original ‘abyss’ and so translated in the Septuagint), no boundless ocean, no anglerfish imaging the demons of the abyss. Inasmuch as he will cast all our sins into the sea (Mic 7:19), there will be no sin in the new world.
Jerusalem (a dual in Hebrew, Yerushalayim), has a double reference, earthly and heavenly (Gal 4:25f). Both cities are ‘holy’, for Yahweh will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem’ (Zech 2:12). The new Jerusalem is personified as a bride, and her descent from heaven related twice. The first time, she personifies the redeemed of both the first and second resurrection. The city is settled on a new earth in which righteousness dwells and there are no unrighteous. The ‘former things’ having passed away, 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 mountain – elevated Mount Zion – and there sees the redeemed of the first resurrection descending to the present earth. The first vision anticipates the newness that the second moves towards.
The principal inspiration for the passage 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 of great joy. Restored to their land, the people of Israel will 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. Longevity will increase to what it was before the Cataclysm, so that a man dying aged 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, Isa 56:7f, Luke 2:32). ‘Peoples’ is therefore plural, and 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. His tent/tabernacle (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 temporary refuge – 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 all ten of his children 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. There is 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. It is specifically a promise for Israel, on the day God saves her from her enemies (Isa 25:8-10). ‘He binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wound of his blow.’ ‘He will gather the lambs in his arm.’
The present creation has many pleasures, and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore (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 its bondage to decay. 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, a place where we are totally loved. If we must become like children to enter the kingdom, will we not actually be like children? Childhood and adulthood will be reconciled.
‘It is done’ previously announced the end of God’s anger (16:17) and implicitly a new beginning for humanity. Finally, at the end of the millennium, God’s purpose in creating heaven and earth many ages ago will have been accomplished.
Water is essential for life. 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 2:13). On the ‘great’ last day of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus cried, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” On the day that the Messiah is revealed such a spring will open for Jerusalem, washing away sin and uncleanness (Joel 3:18, Zech 13:1). ‘You will draw water with joy from the wells of salvation.’
Let the reader remember the promises for every one who conquers (Rev 2-3). And here is an eighth: “I will be God to him and he will be a son to me”; he will inherit the covenant promises given to Abraham (Gen 12:7) and David (II Sam 7:14). To believe that God exists is of no account. What matters is that we should desire him, and that he 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 golden 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, like the vision of Babylon the Great, is introduced by one of the angels who poured out God’s wrath on the earth. The 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 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,
lays it low to the ground;
he casts it down to the dust.” (26:1-5)
“For the mountains will depart
and the hills shake,
but my love will not depart from you
and my covenant of peace will not be shaken.
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 the LORD,
and great shall be the peace of your children. (54:11-13)
The golden measuring rod indicates that Jerusalem will be rebuilt spiritually (Isa 28:16f), just as the reed measuring rod in Ezekiel’s vision indicates that it will be rebuilt physically.
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 is 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 (3:17, Eph 2:22), a vast multitude. Babylon was made of brick, the walls of Jerusalem of stone, the walls of new Jerusalem, figuratively, of adamantine. The Bride’s jewels are the gemstones in the high priest’s ‘breastplate of judgement’, engraved with the names of the twelve sons of Israel (Ex 28:15-21). They symbolise an imperishable heavenly splendour.
In 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 would become his consort.
The Gentiles were formerly alienated from the polity of Israel, but them too Christ washed, in baptism, by his word (John 15:3, Eph 5:26). The Bride will be the redeemed Gentiles as well as Israel. We share the citizenship of the city with the people he chose first (Eph 2:12-22), for it was with the house of Israel that Jesus made his new covenant (Jer 31:33, Matt 15:24). The twelve foundations of the city symbolise Israel’s sons; 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)
on all the bare heights they will pasture.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
nor will the desert or sun strike them.
For he who has compassion on them will lead them
and by springs of water he will guide them.
And I will make all my mountains a road,
and my highways shall 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)
This is not a vision of what Jesus was to do at the time of John the Baptist. Rather, his works prefigured the day when he would come in vengeance against Israel’s enemies (Isa 35:4), save the nation and heal those leaping from the grave (Mal 4:2), as he hinted when he added the raising of the dead to Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 7:22).
before her pangs on she produced a male.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen these things?
Shall a 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)
He will give to Abraham’s descendants the land he promised them in his first covenant, from the Negev to northwestern Syria, as far east as Damascus and the river Jordan (Gen 15:18-20, Jos 13:2-6, Ezek 47:13-21). “I will bring them to the land of Gilead and Lebanon, till there is no room for them” (Zech 10:10). Although the territory occupied previously was small, because the nation was small, ‘You have increased the nation; … you have enlarged all the borders of the land’ (Isa 26:15, 54:2f, Mic 7:11). So the land will be divided among the twelve tribes anew, including this time an allotment for the Levites. The Temple will be in the midst of Levi’s allotment, and the priests who minister (latreusousin 22:3, as in 7:15) will be specifically Zadok’s resurrected descendants. Created for his glory (Isa 43:7), Israel will bear the name of God on their foreheads, and no longer bear it in vain (Ex 20:7).
They will marry and have children (Ezek 44:22, 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 65:20).
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)
and a light to my path. (Ps 119:105)
reviving the soul. (Ps 19:7)
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 he will again fill the building (Ezek 43:1-5). “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 for ever.” God’s house and the king’s house will be one, because the king will be God.
When, and by whom, the temple will be built is not stated. In a passage whose opening lines (Isa 60:1-3) are often misapplied to the first advent, 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 it will be built only after Christ’s return and after Lebanon has been reforested. No measurements are given for his throne, since ‘the throne of his glory’ (Matt 25:31) already exists. He will enter enthroned above the cherubim.
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD. (Isa 66:23)
Once a year, the tribes 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 prince (Ezek 34:24, 45:17) and of the designated priests (44:15-41, Isa 66:21, Jer 33:21) even Israel must offer (Ezek 45:16f, 20:40, Mal 3:4), being still capable of sin. ‘Because of your temple at Jerusalem kings will bring gifts to you’ (Ps 68:29, 96:8, Isa 60:11). “The treasures of all the nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory,” as he said on the last day of the feast (Hag 2:7). 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). They will no longer be enemies of God, nor 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 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’ (Ezek 44:23, Acts 10:13), for not everyone will be admitted (Isa 52:1, Matt 22:11-13). The wicked must come in repentance.
The Sumerian King List opened, ‘When kingship came down from heaven, the kingship began 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, symbolic of a great, high mountain, and the gate at the top gave the city its name. Through this gate the gods walked down to the earth. But the kingship was illegitimate, a usurpation of what belonged to God. Babylon was not the City of the Great King (Ps 48:2) and not at the centre of the earth (Ezek 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 the gate of heaven.” Stairways branched half way down the building like the arms of a cross, a prefigurement of the true stairway between heaven and earth (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 planets, within the envelope of water whose frozen remains we call the ‘Oort Cloud’ (Gen 1:14-16, Ps 148:4), the source of the long-period comets. It was created as God separated the waters below from the waters above and thereby stretched out the space inbetween (Gen 1:7f, Job 9:8 Isa 42:5, Jer 10:12). The ‘heaven of heavens’ was the space beyond, containing the stars of the Milky Way and, as we now know, countless other galaxies. For it was only a hundred years ago – within my father’s lifetime – that we began to understand that the universe included other galaxies and was vastly greater than the mind could imagine. Yet God is greater than his creation.
its inhabitants like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heaven like a curtain
and spreads it like a tent to dwell in.
As with ‘water’, the Hebrew word for heaven is a dual and never singular. The duality goes back to the language’s origin and reflects the duality of the heavens/waters themselves; whether to translate as singular or plural is a matter of choice. The physical heaven is a representation of the ‘greater and more perfect tent’ which is God’s spiritual habitation (Heb 8:2, 9:11). In the beginning the solar system was illumined by an ultraluminous quasar (Gen 1:3). All galaxies began as ultraluminous super-energetic globes of fire. Later the quasar nearest us shot out jets that condensed into stars, forming the spiral arms of the Galaxy, while the remnant collapsed to leave a black hole. Thus the primeval 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 first light (II Cor 4:6).
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; its life-giving property inhered in God’s word. But instead man ate from the forbidden tree, forfeiting eternal life, and God expelled him. In the new Jerusalem 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 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. There will be no more condemning to ritual annihilation (Zech 14:11), as there was at the ‘banquet of God’ (Isa 34:5) and – the primary meaning (Zech 14:11, Mal 4:6) – as there was in AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed.
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), by Jericho. The Dead Sea will become fresh, and fishermen standing on its shores will fish there. As when Moses struck the rock at Meribah, the source will be an aquifer tapped by the great earthquake. On every mountain and hill there will be streams of water (Isa 30:25).
One might also venture an allegorical interpretation. A thousand years after the first Temple was built, 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, it will be deep enough to swim in (Ezek 47:3-6). The fish in the river will be caught in the nets of the kingdom, as all nations are brought in. 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, the waters physical and spiritual, will flow west towards the Great Sea as well as east (Zech 14:8).
When the children of Israel crossed into the promised land, they were commanded to follow the ark at a distance of 2000 cubits. God went into the river before them, just as Jesus was to do before they entered permanently into their inheritance (Mark 1:9, 10:38).
He who planted and uprooted Israel will plant them again, in their own land (Isa 5:7, 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 will dwell. He will make Zion’s wilderness like the primeval garden (Isa 41:19, 51:3, Ezek 36:35) and make it his sanctuary. Pointing to the future rather than the past, the walls of the holy of holies were lined with cedar and carved with 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, singing as from another world.
“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel,” Isaiah interjected (45:15). He 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 unfortunate, simply by moral evolution? Would wars cease? Would he still believe in goodness in the face of brain tumours, leprosy, mosquitoes, in the face of evidence that the Creator, if he existed, might not be good? Or would he curse?
God revealed himself for a time, then went away. Instinctively, we, knowing our nakedness and his holiness, hide ourselves from him as much as the other way round. But he will hide himself no more. The pure in heart will see him face to face, not dimly. At last we shall see the face of the one who made us. We shall know him fully, even as he knows us.