April 8, 2014

The New Jerusalem

by Nathan Busenitz

Have you ever thought about heaven as a city?

In the apostle John’s account of the new earth in Revelation 21-22, prominent attention is given to the New Jerusalem, the capital of the eternal heaven. Nearly half of Revelation 21 is devoted to describing the physical properties of the magnificent metropolis. Its glorious splendor will be the heart of the new earth, for it is here that God Himself dwells.

New_Jerusalem

Christians rarely think of heaven as a city, and yet that is precisely how God describes it (Heb. 11:16; cf. John 14:2). Cities have buildings, streets, houses, and citizens. They are places of political power, economic industry, higher learning, refined culture, and impressive architecture. These characteristics are true of the heavenly city as well, though the New Jerusalem will far outshine any of earthly city in both its magnificence and its might.

The fact that every major society on earth organizes itself into cities is indicative of the way God designed human beings. He created them to function in community with other people. It is not surprising, then, to learn that life on the new earth will center around a great municipality. As John MacArthur explains, “The concept of a city includes relationships, activity, responsibility, unity, socialization, communion, and cooperation. Unlike the evil cities of the present earth, the perfectly holy people in the new Jerusalem will live and work together in perfect harmony” (Revelation 12-22, 264).

In stark contrast to the harlot city of Babylon (destroyed in Rev. 18), the holy city of the New Jerusalem is free from God’s judgment (21:9). It is the home of the redeemed and the bride of the Lamb (21:2). It is also a realm characterized by the glory and presence of God (v. 11). Like a giant prism, illuminating God’s glory everywhere, the New Jerusalem will light up the entire new universe.

Unlike the dirty, smoggy cities of this world, the New Jerusalem glistens like a massive jewel as it descends from heaven onto the new earth. The Greek word translated “jasper” in Revelation 21:11 does not necessarily refer to the actual gem jasper, which possesses a reddish or brownish hue. Rather, it is a general term that can refer to any kind of precious gemstone. The further description, “clear as crystal,” suggests that John is describing a diamond. Thus, the New Jerusalem descends from heaven onto the New Earth like a jewel-studded crown from heaven. The image of a heavenly crown is appropriate because, as Revelation 22:2–5 describe, it is the very throne room of God Himself.

According to Revelation 21:15–17, the measurements of the New Jerusalem are immense, approximately 1,500 miles long on each side. By way of illustration, if one corner of the city were placed on Los Angeles, a second corner would sit on Mexico City, a third corner on St. Louis, Missouri, and the final corner on Edmonton, Alberta. If the center of the New Jerusalem rested where the current Jerusalem stands, it would stretch across three continents from Greece to Iran to Saudi Arabia to Libya. The current city of Los Angeles has an area of 468 square miles. The state of California comprises roughly 164,000 square miles. But the New Jerusalem will encompass over 2 million square miles. That is the equivalent of 14 states of California put together; or 4,807 cities of Los Angeles combined.

Callout

But the New Jerusalem is not just a big square. It is a cube. The highest mountains on earth are about 5 miles tall; but the New Jerusalem will rise into the air 1,500 miles—with walls over 200 feet thick. The massive city houses a total volume of more than 3 billion cubic miles. In light of the city’s immensity, some commentators have speculated that the resurrection bodies of the redeemed may not be subject to gravity. If so, the residents of the New Jerusalem would be able to traverse through space not only horizontally, but also vertically, making every part of this glorious cube inhabitable and accessible to the citizens of the New Jerusalem.

But there is more going on than just information about its enormous dimensions. The specific arrangement of the three gates on each side of the city, in verses 13–14, points back to the way the twelve tribes of Israel camped around the tabernacle (cf. Num. 2:1–31), and also the arrangement of the gates of the millennial Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 48:30– 35). Furthermore, the cube-shaped dimensions of the New Jerusalem hearken back to the Holy of Holies. As Mark Dever explains,

Any Christian who knows the Old Testament knows that John’s vision harks back to the Most Holy Place. This special place within Israel’s temple was itself a perfect cube and the most manifest location of God’s presence on earth. Now, in this cube-shaped heavenly city, God’s full, unmediated presence is given to all his people. The whole world becomes the temple. (The Message of the Old Testament, 39)

In Revelation 21:22, the apostle John transitions from an external description of the New Jerusalem to an internal one. Having established the physical dimensions of the capital city, with significant parallels to the Most Holy Place, he begins to describe the worship and activity that characterizes those who are inside. He primarily focuses his attention on the fact that the Triune God will be personally present there. As a result, there will be no need for a temple because God and the Lamb are the temple (v. 22).

The redeemed will live forever with the Lord in intimate worship and fellowship; they will not need a curtain to separate themselves from His holy presence, because they have been made perfect just as He is perfect (cf. 1 John 3:2). Above all else, it is God’s personal presence that defines the new earth as heaven (Rev. 21:3). It is not heaven because it is beautiful and glorious; or because the saints of all the ages are there; or because angels lift up their voices in magnificent hymns of praise. On the contrary, it is only heaven, because the Triune God will make it His dwelling place. In the words of D. L. Moody, “It is not the jaspar walls and the pearly gates that are going to make heaven attractive. It is the being with God.” In heaven, the redeemed shall be reunited with their Redeemer!

Spending eternity with Him in perfect fellowship, worship, and service is what makes eternity so glorious. His presence is heaven’s essence. Charles Spurgeon poignantly expressed this reality with these words:

Oh, to think of heaven without Christ! It is the same thing as thinking of hell. Heaven without Christ! It is day without the sun, existing without life, feasting without food, seeing without light. It involves a contradiction in terms. Heaven without Christ! Absurd. It is the sea without water, the earth without its fields, the heavens without their stars. There cannot be a heaven without Christ. He is the sum total of bliss, the fountain from which heaven flows, the element of which heaven is composed. Christ is heaven and heaven is Christ.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Arden

    Thank you, Nate. Good to meditate on our eternal state… one day closer!

  • Dan Phillips

    I appreciate you tackling this, Nate, thank you. One of my first pastors, a constant reader of the Greek NT, suggested that the city was a pyramid and not a cube. Does that have much resonance among commenters? What do you think?

  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    I’ve studied the tabernacle as well as revelation in recent months and it has fostered in me such an excitement and desire to know more about heaven. I’m reading “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn right now and it is fascinating! I marvel at how heaven has been talked about very little over my lifetime, as if it is a far-away dream, and yet the Bible tells much about it. Since I will spend an eternity there, and only a “blink of an eye” here, I definitely want to know more about my final destination!! Thanks for this great blog.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    The “New Jerusalem” is a literal city with walls, streets, etc., because the book of the Revelation–a book that is chocked full of symbols from the first chapter onward–describes it as such? Despite the fact that the angel, speaking with John, says he’s going to show him “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” and then proceeds to show him “the holy city, Jerusalem”? And despite the fact that we know that “the Bride of Christ” is clearly the Church in all the rest of the NT? And despite the fact that the New Earth–which is where believers will spend eternity–would have no use for literal walls because there’s nothing–and no one–to keep out or keep in?

    Doesn’t it seem far more sensible to conclude that the New Jerusalem–like the “woman clothed with the sun”, the “red dragon” whose tail “sweeps away a third of stars”, the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns, and the rivers of the world turning to blood–is God’s way of describing some reality in a non-literal way? If we’re going to understand those things symbolically (and there’s no other way to take them), why would we expect the “New Jerusalem” to be an actual city instead of standing for what it is called in the passage, the Bride–the wife of the Lamb, which is the entire company of the redeemed and therefore God’s people with whom He will dwell forever?

    I really don’t understand how some parts of Revelation are said to be literal and others obviously symbolic when clearly the whole book is a series of visions that would make no sense if taken literally. In the very first chapter, John sees Christ holding “seven stars” in His right hand. Is that literal? If so, then Jesus Christ must be the size of the solar system. No one would understand “stars” as being actual stars (as in, “Count the stars”), yet somehow this “city” is a literal city in a book that makes extensive use of symbols.

    I think this city a glorious symbol of a glorious–and priceless–entity: the people Christ died for. No wonder it’s described as having precious stones of all kinds. Its value is without limit.

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