While the Apostle John was living in exile on the prison island of Patmos, the Lord Jesus gave him a preview of the praise-filled throne room of heaven, the dreadful events of the Great Tribulation, the defeat of the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon, the glorious Millennial Reign of Christ on earth, and the final judgment of the unsaved at the Great White Throne. What an experience that must have been for old John! And what a gift to us! Through the miracle of Holy Scripture, God inspired John to record this revelation on paper, and then preserved its accuracy through the copies that were distributed and later combined with other apostolic writings in the New Testament. The book of Revelation is a treasure — without it our perspective on the future would be dim indeed.
In today’s chapter John is given a look at “final heaven”, the place where believers will live with the Lord forever. Planet Earth as we know it will not last forever, but will “pass away” and be replaced with a “new earth” (v.1). The implications of that future reality boggle the mind, as the beautiful creation of Genesis chapter 1 will be “set free” (see Romans 8:21) from the curse of Genesis chapter 3. We can’t be sure exactly what the new earth will look like or exactly where it will be located, but we can be sure that all who have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be there forever with God. (Note: verse 1 says that the new earth will not have a sea, suggesting a world without oceans or continents as we know them. This fact would have been significant to John who was separated from his friends and family by the Aegean Sea.)
Verse 2 indicates that the holy city, the New Jerusalem, will descend from God as the capital city of our recreated planet. I may be wrong, but (as crazy as it sounds) the New Jerusalem may hang suspended in the atmosphere as sort of a near-earth satellite which will be eternally accessible to all the inhabitants of the new earth. I offer that guess for three reasons.
1. New Jerusalem is a self-contained cube (v.16) which John said will descend out of the new heaven, but he never said it will touch down on the new earth.
2. New Jerusalem will take the place of the sun as the new earth’s light source (v.23), suggesting that it would need to be suspended above the new earth in order to shed its holy light on the nations of the new earth (v.24; this presupposes that light will behave then as it does now; it may not).
3. John was able to view New Jerusalem from the vantage point of “a great, high mountain” on the surface of the new earth as it descended. To me, this suggests that from the new earth we will have to look up to see it. In order to look down upon New Jerusalem, the mountain on which John stood would have to have been taller than the city-cube, which is “12,000 stadia” or nearly 1,400 miles high (at present, the highest mountain on earth is a mere 5.5 miles).
Thank you for indulging my guesses for a few lines; now on to what we know for certain…
New Jerusalem must have been a struggle for John to describe within the limits of human language. Cubic in shape (the same shape as the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple), he saw the city sparkle and glow with reflected and refracted light (v.11). Although it had the appearance of “pure gold”, John also said that it was “clear as glass” (v.18, 21). New Jerusalem is apparently very colorful, as John used twelve precious stones (in addition to pearls) to describe its design. John noted the dazzling beauty of the gates, the walls, and the streets — all so amazing that they defy adequate description. I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes!
Maybe the most beautiful qualities that John recorded are not what he saw, but what he didn’t see. The presence of our good God (v.3) will mean the absence of many bad things. John said there will be no death, no mourning, no crying, and no pain (v.4). Just think of life without any of those heart-breakers! There will be no perpetrators of crime or wickedness (v.8). There will be no temple, no place to “go” in order to worship God, for we will be in the very presence of the objects of our worship (v.22). There will be no sun or moon to give light or to measure time — the glory of God will light an everlasting day (v.23)! The gates of ancient cities were shut at night for security, but in the presence of God the gates are always open because there will be no more night (v.25). Finally, there will be nothing unholy there and no one impure there (v.27). It will just be our glorious God and His redeemed people — forever!