Revelation 21 (NRSV)
The New Heaven and the New Earth
After the worship in heaven and the removal of evil from the earth, one would expect God to constitute either a heavenly or an earthly paradise. John sees it otherwise. Conflict, anger, tears, and violence have filled the calendars of both places. Neither is the proper setting for what God chooses to bring about. God plans a new heaven and a new earth.
This has a precedent in the Old Testament. Isaiah had written, For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create a Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy (Isaiah 65:17-19).
It is the New Jerusalem, Jerusalem rejoicing, that John now portrays.
–Robert H. Conn
Seven final visions: No. 7
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
This is the Jerusalem of hope (Hebrews 12:22), the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26), the place of our real citizenship (Philippians 3:20).
coming down out of heaven from God,
Representing a sharp contrast to human attempts to build the tower of Babel up to heaven, this city is God’s gift.
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Vision of the New Jerusalem
Don’t be put off by the symbolism that is used in the Bible to describe heaven. This does not make it any less real. John Buckeridge, assistant editor of Alpha, says that when he was a child he imagined that everyone would be busy digging up the streets. “After all the preacher said that the streets of heaven were paved with gold—so I figured a jack hammer or pick-axe would be a lot more useful than a harp!” Heaven is no more literally made of gold and precious stones than the promised land of Canaan literally “flowed with milk and honey”, but the image being presented is clear enough in both cases. It is sad, however, when adults avoid the issues raised by the biblical teaching on heaven by poking fun at its symbolism. C. S. Lewis has a delightful passage in Mere Christianity about this:
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want to “spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
9 Then one of 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.” 10 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. 18 The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.
The primary echo here is of the breastplate of Israel’s high priest, which was adorned with twelve precious stones representing each of the twelve tribes (Exodus 28:17-20). For this new Jerusalem is the city of the new priestly people, and of the Lamb who has already appeared to John as the heavenly high priest (Revelation 1:13).
21 And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.
You know the story about a rich man who wanted to take his money with him beyond the grave. When he was nearing death, he prayed fervently about the matter. An angel appear to him and said, “Sorry, you can’t take all your wealth with you after death, but the Lord will allow you to take one suitcase. Fill it with whatever you wish.” Overjoyed, the man got the largest suitcase he could find and filled it with pure gold bars. Soon afterward he died and showed up at the gates of heaven. St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here with you.” The man explained how God had given him special permission.
“OK,” said St. Peter. “You can bring the suitcase in with you, but first I must check its contents.” He opened the suitcase to see what worldly items this man had considered too precious to leave behind. “I don’t believe it!” exclaimed St. Peter. “You brought pavement??”
22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
“The exhortation warns present readers that the only way to participate in the future city is to turn one’s loyalties to the Lamb now.”
–Alan F. Johnson
HERE is “Jerusalem” beautifully sung by the incomparable Jessye Norman.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.