On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. [Selah] Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia-- "This one was born there," they say. And of Zion it shall be said, "This one and that one were born in her"; for the Most High himself will establish her. The LORD records as he registers the peoples, "This one was born there." [Selah] Singers and dancers alike say, "All my springs are in you." (Psalm 87. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.)
A City whose Builder and Maker is God
Abraham's dream impelling him onward in his long journey of faith was for a city to dwell in:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:8-11)
Was Abraham looking only for an earthly city of God or did he envision a City of God in the heavens? Perhaps he was able to foresee both! Very often Biblical truth is not "either/or" but "both/and!"
Ezekiel's Temple and the Future Jerusalem
In a separate essay we looked briefly at an amazing future temple described by Ezekiel which has not yet been built in the land of Israel. I claimed that Messiah himself would build that temple, probably after the destruction of the Third Temple.
Ezekiel also describes the apportionment and division of the land among the tribes of Israel under Messiah's reign. The details are clear: the Fourth Temple is no longer in the city of Jerusalem but will lie in a special district, an "holy oblation" which will extend to the North of rebuilt Jerusalem. A sketch showing the approximate divisions is given below. (Ref. 1)
Major topographic changes will occur when Messiah stands again on the Mt. of Olives, the low places will be lifted up, high places will be lowered, and the crooked path will be made straight as foretold:
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:3-6)
These changes in the topography of Israel may be so drastic that sketch maps based on the present terrain and geography should be used only to give us a rough idea of God's plan for Millennial Israel.
Both Ezekiel and Zechariah describe a great stream of fresh water that will burst forth from beneath the Temple Mount when Messiah comes. That mighty stream will divide and flow in two directions. One great rivulet will flow west through the hills to the Mediterranean, and the other rushing current will flow east to renew the entire northern and western ends of the Dead Sea.
Since the Mount of Olives is identified as the place Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after his resurrection, and is also specified as the location of his return, the Fourth Temple could built on the present temple mount. The present temple mount is too small to accommodate Ezekiel's Temple---but some enlargement by tectonic forces may occur. Or, alternatively, we could assume the holy district and millennial temple are to be built north of the present Jerusalem, at Shiloh for instance. This is the view adopted by some Bible scholars, for example see the sketch below. (Ref. 2)
For the sake of argument let us grant the future generation of the city's fathers permission to built the post World War III Jerusalem south of the Temple Mount and what will be the site of Ezekiel's Temple.
Sadly, Jerusalem as we know it now is to be destroyed one more time according to the Old Testament Zechariah and also according to John the author of Revelation:
For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city (Jerusalem) shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (Zechariah 14:2-5)
and from the last book of the Bible,
...And there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as had never been since men were on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city (Jerusalem) was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found; and great hailstones, heavy as a hundred-weight, dropped on men from heaven, till men cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague. (Revelation 16: 18-21)
Modern Jerusalem today extends in all directions---gleaming white stone houses and office buildings, flowing over the steep hills and into the green valleys below like a great carpet. Three quarters of a million inhabitants live in comfort and---most of the time---in peace, enjoying the constantly changes light, shadow and sparkling beauty of God's chosen city. It is hard to believe that this beautiful city has been the focal point of so much hatred and violence directed against God and God's people.
But, earth is to be restored by God's Messiah. A great golden age if about to dawn on the human race as God will at last have His day. Messiah---Immanuel---God with us---will reign on earth---and He will rule from Jerusalem. Tiny Israel will be elevated to first place among the nations, and Jerusalem, City of Peace will be the world capital visited annually by pilgrims from all the nations:
...Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them. And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then upon them shall come the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the feast of booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the feast of booths. And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, "Holy to the LORD." And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar; and every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the flesh of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zechariah 14:16-21)
Ezekiel describes the renewed Jerusalem under Messiahs' rule in the closing section of his amazing prophecy:
...These shall be the exits of the city: On the north side, which is to be four thousand five hundred rods by measure, three gates, the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, and the gate of Levi, the gates of the city being named after the tribes of Israel. On the east side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits, three gates, the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, and the gate of Dan. On the south side, which is to be four thousand five hundred rods by measure, three gates, the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, and the gate of Zebulun. On the west side, which is to be four thousand five hundred rods, three gates, the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, and the gate of Naphtali. The circumference of the city shall be eighteen thousand rods. And the name of the city henceforth shall be, "The LORD is there---(Yahweh-shammah)." (Ezekiel 48:30-35
The city's circumference---18,000 rods---204,750 feet is equivalent to a respectable square about nine miles on a side. (The present Old City of Jerusalem measures less than one mile on a side). The configuration of the tribes is not the same as that ordained for the tabernacle of Moses in the wilderness which is diagrammed below:
A Strange Allegory
In his earliest epistle, a letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul resorts to an unusual approach not common elsewhere in the Bible. He teaches by means of an allegory. In a strange and enigmatic way he speaks of two Jerusalems---one Below, the other Above:
My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married." Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? "Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:19-31)
Paul speaks of the present Jerusalem as living in slavery because of her rejection of Messiah's rule of love and liberty. She has chosen legalism in place of freedom.
Then Paul tells all those who know and believe and trust in the living God of Israel that they are citizens of a second Jerusalem, in fact her children. She is our mother, he says.
This remarkable passage introduces a theme in the New Testament that will later emerge as archetypal. There is a City of God, it is now in existence, it is a heavenly home for all who believe. Meanwhile the present earthly Jerusalem awaits her redemption and Messiah's coming to set her free and to restore the earth.
The letter of Hebrews amplifies the subject of the heavenly citizenship of all who are true believers. Abraham and Moses and Elijah and David will be there, and all who have "followed the faith of Abraham."
...Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God...For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear."But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:1-29)
Clearly the writer is talking a city which is already in existence. Those who believe are already there in their spirits---but unable to see and perceive the glorious surroundings because they do not as yet have their resurrection bodies.
Earthly bodies allow us to tune in and observe the present space-time domain of four dimensions. As believers, our spirits and souls have been redeemed---made new---but not our bodies (Rom. 8:19-23). Resurrection bodies are marvelous in their capacity for space and time travel, and probably for their ability to perceive the multi-dimensional realities of heaven. Yet when we come to believe in Jesus, when we are spiritual reborn, God considers us already dead, buried and raised with Jesus---in fact, already seated with Him at the right hand of God (Eph. 2:1-7, Rom. 6:3-5).
One can think of all believers now alive and those who have lived in previous generations as being already in heaven---in their spirits---but not in body. As far as our time frame the resurrection of the dead has not yet occurred. The resurrection is a point in eternity that will one day protrude into our time frame.
Notice the wording of 2 Cor. 4:13,14:
Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised (in the past) the Lord Jesus will raise us also (in the future) with Jesus (our resurrection is linked to that of Jesus outside of time) and bring us (that is, us apostles) with you into his presence (all together, all at the same time).
Heaven then is presently empty since all believers get there at the same "time" and the resurrection has not yet occurred. This means that prayer to Mary or St. Jude is doubly meaningless. These two believers haven't arrived in heaven as yet. They are still time traveling in that split second in eternity that elapses between the death of any believer, and the resurrection. This is the reason Paul uses the term "the twinkling of an aye" in 1 Cor. 15:
...I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:50-58)
Those who know and believe in Jesus need not think of heaven as far off, beyond the far reaches of space. Heaven is another realm of the universe that interpenetrates the limited physical world of our present experience. God's throne, and our heavenly home, New Jerusalem is but a final breath away from any one of us.
An illustration, a pre-view of heaven is given for us in the gospel account of the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. With him were Peter, James and John. Joining them were Elijah and Moses, who by no means were contemporaries of one another. However, to step momentarily out of time into eternity unites instantly believers of all time periods:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:1-8)
Our new resurrection bodies are, in fact, ready and waiting for us. When we step into that new body we will immediately be attuned to life in heaven. Further, our resurrection bodies will be like that of Jesus. There is no intermediate state. When we die, we step immediately out of time into eternity, and "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" we time-travel to the day of resurrection and rapture.3 We are then instantaneously reunited with the believing dead of all ages. That is, all believers arrive in heaven at the same "time." We shall recognize one another in heaven, and believers of all ages will be able to meet together "outside" of ordinary earth-time frames. Resurrection bodies are capable of time and space travel and have vast capabilities our present bodies do not possess. This is in addition to the fact that in heaven we are removed from the presence of sin and our new bodies are sinless! These claims, unfamiliar to many believers today can all be established by a careful reading of a passage in Second Corinthians:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:1-9)
The New Jerusalem
The church of Jesus Christ is ultimately described figuratively as both a woman and a city in the Bible. A city is not only buildings and streets and parks and homes it is also a community of people living together. This heavenly city is the new family home for the children of Abraham. A great vision of the New Jerusalem was given to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos near the end of the First Century. In redeeming the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve God has not merely restored them to Eden, the original Paradise. The New Jerusalem is a more glorious home than Eden. Born again as sons and daughters of Jesus, the Last Adam we have been granted higher privileges, position and opportunity than was granted to Adam and Eve:
...And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." And 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 from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." 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, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man's measure, that is, an angel's.
The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, 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 made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day---and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever...
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood. "I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 21:1-22:17)
Bible expositor Ray Stedman offers the following commentary on this section of Scripture:
On reading this description people almost always ask, "Is this a literal or symbolic description?" The fact is, in this as in so many other passages of Revelation, we do not have to make that choice. God loves to use literal things to symbolize deeper truths. Throughout Revelation we have seen the blending of literal and symbolic meaning.Personally, I believe the city will have a literal dimension. It will be a great, visible city, brilliant and glorious, located somewhere above or within the atmosphere of the new earth. Some commentators have suggested that the New Jerusalem might even orbit the new earth like a second moon. It will be characterized by stability, symmetry, light, life, beauty, and ministry.
But it will also have a symbolic dimension. Let us look at the symbols of this new city and interpret their meaning.
The high wall of the city speaks of separation and of intimacy---separation from what is without, intimacy with what is within. If you want to have an intimate garden party you meet in a yard enclosed within a wall. The wall shuts out the outside and protects the inside, creating a safe enclosure for intimate fellowship.
All through Scripture God expresses a strong desire for what He calls "a people for my own possession." In a sense all that exists is His possession for it is His creation. All animals, all creatures are His. The billions of angels are His. The entire human race is His creation.
Yet He has created human beings with free will, the ability to choose Him or reject Him. Henceforth, only those human beings who choose Him are truly a people for His own possession. The saints alone are His possession, because with them He can share the depths of His heart. They satisfy Him and fulfill Him just as a bride satisfies and fulfills her husband.
The gates symbolize means of entering and leaving the city. There is an amazing verse in the gospel of John where Jesus says, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture." (John 10:9) This seems to be a portrayal of the widespread ministry of believers throughout the eternal ages.
The new universe will surely be as big or bigger than it is now---and its vastness is orders of magnitude beyond human comprehension as it is! Billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars like our own sun, sprinkle the heavens for as far as our greatest telescopes can see. Each of those stars may be circled by planets---perhaps even many earthlike planets.
These may be new limitless worlds for us to encounter, explore, develop, and experience. Every moment of eternity will be a new adventure of discovery.
The gates of the Holy City are named for the tribes of Israel. It is a perpetual reminder that "salvation is of the Jews." Access to the city is through Israel---not merely because it was the Jewish nation that gave us Jesus, but also because Israel gave us the Old Testament prophets and the godly traditions and practices of the Old Testament. Many of those brilliant but enigmatic Old Testament passages that now puzzle us will someday come to life as profound jewels of truth. Scripture that once perplexed us will one day lead us to adventures we never dreamed of in this life.
The foundations symbolize those aspects of the New Jerusalem that give it stability and permanence. They are named for the twelve apostles. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was replaced in the apostolic band by Matthias, as we learn in Acts 1. These foundations speak of New Testament truth and practice. Spiritual realities that we only faintly grasp now will become startlingly clear and meaningful in that eternal plane of existence---and especially those three things which Scripture says will abide forever: faith, hope, and love! "But the greatest of these," says Paul, "is love."
Language is inadequate to express the beauty and truth that is embedded in this description of the Holy City in the fact that the truths of God's Word will never pass away, in the fact that faith, hope, and---above all!--- love will never pass away, but will go on and on, enduring beyond this dying and temporary world and crossing the divide into that new heaven and new earth! How can everyday language express a reality that is light-years beyond the reach of our deepest joy and highest exhilaration? Yet it is my prayer, as you read these words, that God would enable the inner eye of your imagination to catch a glimpse of the profound experience that awaits us in the new heaven, the new earth, and that shining new city.
When God measures, it is a sign of His ownership. The number 12 appears repeatedly in this account: 12,000 stadia, 144 (or 12 squared) cubits, 12 gates, 12 foundations, 12 angels. The number 12 in Scripture symbolizes government. This, then, is the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah, "The government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
The city is amazingly vast, measuring 12,000 stadia long, high, and wide. In modern measurements, 12,000 stadia equals roughly 1,500 miles---about the distance from Los Angeles to St. Louis or from New York to Denver. For comparison, the moon is about 2,160 miles in diameter. The fact that the city measures exactly the same in all three dimensions does not mean that it is a perfect cube, only that it is a city of perfect proportions and symmetry. It may be intricately formed with spires and domes and graceful buttresses and bridges, or it may be a perfect pyramid. Whatever its shape it will symbolize perfection and it will be the realization of utter beauty.
Let your imagination savor this image: a structure of crystalline transparent gold surrounded by a wall of diamond-like jasper, rising from a layered, kaleidoscopic foundation of precious stones of all colors. Light cascades from great jewels embedded in the sides like the light from an intensely bright rainbow. The entire effect is so brilliant and variegated that it can only be described as heartbreakingly beautiful. To see it would bring tears to your eyes and a throb in your chest.
The multicolored foundations, as we have seen, symbolize the twelve apostles. They portray the fact that the truths proclaimed by the apostles shine forth with a many-faceted and brilliant light. Paul, in Ephesians 3, says that "now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." The Greek word in this passage for "manifold" (polupoikilos) literally means "many-colored" or "multicolored." The image Paul gives us is like that of the twelve multicolored foundations of the New Jerusalem: God's brilliant, prismatic wisdom flashes forth through the vehicle of the twelve apostles.
Each gate is composed of a single pearl (which suggests the existence of some very large oysters!). Despite all the jokes you have heard about Saint Peter standing at the "Pearly Gates" of heaven, there are in fact twelve such gates---and we don't see Peter guarding any of them!
The fact is that these gates of pearl have a deep symbolic significance. A pearl speaks of beauty born out of pain. The beauty of a pearl comes from the pain of an oyster. A pearl is formed when a tiny grain of sand gets inside an oyster's shell, causing the oyster to become irritated and uncomfortable. The oyster relieves its pain by covering the irritating grain of sand with a soft, lustrous nacre that hardens into a beautiful, glowing pearl.
This is a beautiful picture of how the redeemed have emerged like a beautiful, luminous pearl out of the pain of Jesus Christ. The Lord told a story of just such a pearl. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls," He said. "When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."(Matthew 13:45-46) The merchant in the story is Jesus, who gave up everything---His prerogatives as God, the worship that is due Him, and even His mortal life---in order to redeem the saints, which He deemed a pearl of great price. He sold all He had to purchase you and me for Himself...
Throughout Revelation we have seen references to a temple in heaven. That temple remains throughout the Millennium as the original model from which the earthly temple is copied. But in the new heaven and the new earth there is no temple. Why? Because the true temple, of which the one in the old heavens is a symbol, is the True Man, Jesus Christ Himself. God in man is the temple.
That is why Paul says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"(1 Corinthians 6:19) If God dwells in you, then you are a part of this heavenly temple. You share the honor of being the dwelling place of God.
The radiant light of truth emanates from this profound truth. People can see all things clearly by that truth. So glorious is it that there is no need for the sun or the moon. It does not mean that there is no sun or moon in the new creation. It simply means that the city is so bright that it needs no additional illumination. It will be lit continuously by the glory of God, which has come to dwell in man.
The gates of the city will never be shut because there is no night, and thus no need for protection. Cities close their gates at night as a defense against enemies. But there is nothing that can harm in the new world that is to come. The kings of the earth will bring their glory in---not to compete with the glory of God but to have it revealed by the light of God. Nothing impure can enter that city, because only the redeemed will be admitted.
Here is a thrilling picture of abounding fertility, of life on every side---a river of life, a tree of life, yielding life---giving fruit and leaves for the health of nations.
This description parallels Old Testament passages such as Psalm 46:4, which says, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God."
Similarly, the prophet Ezekiel relates his vision of a river, wonderful for swimming, which flows from beneath the threshold of the temple where God lives forever. Since there will be no eternal temple structure in heaven, the only temple that could exist in heaven forever is the one described in Revelation 21:22, which says "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." (Ezekiel 43:6-7, 47:1-12) Again, this is a parallel image of the crystal clear river that flows from the throne of God in the New Jerusalem.
The tree of life that is found by the river in the New Jerusalem is identified with the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:9, the tree of life is growing in the center of the garden, alongside the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Garden of Eden disappeared from the earth sometime after Adam and Eve were exiled from it, but in Revelation 22:2 it appears again in the center of the Holy City.
The river symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Jesus said of those who believe in Him, "streams of living water will flow from within him," to which John adds, "By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were later to receive." (John 7:38-39)
The tree is a symbol of Jesus Himself. He is the way, the truth, and the life---the tree of life. When we obey the Word of God we are feeding on Jesus, drawing life from the nourishment He offers. The tree of life gives us spiritual health, enabling us to flourish as we obey His word and live by His example.
From this magnificent scene of the life of the Holy City flow three ministries that the redeemed saints will perform:
What is it that causes boredom? Selfishness! The feeling of, "I want to be gratified, I want to be pandered to, I want to be indulged, I want to be excited, I, I, I!" But in heaven there will be no selfishness. There will be continual excitement, discovery, anticipation, gratitude, praise, and the joy of being a partner in an eternal adventure with God Himself! (Ref. 4)
- First, empowered service. The saints will joyfully serve God. There is no greater privilege, pleasure, or joy that you and I could ask than to spend eternity in service to the God of our salvation.
- Second, intimate fellowship. The saints will see His face and bear His name, just as a bride bears her husband's name and sees his face.
- Third, enlightened authority. The saints shall reign for ever and ever...
Vivid as this imagery of the heavenly city is, it is impossible to describe adequately to earthly, fallen creatures presently trapped in a one-dimensional time frame. How can we grasp heavenly realities, objects and situations in the multi-dimensional time frame of eternity? The Apostle Paul hints at the overwhelming nature of heaven in describing his experience of being caught up into the Third Heaven:
I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven---whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise---whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows---and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:1-9)
Two Jerusalems: One Below, One Above
In summary then the Bible speaks of two Jerusalems, not merely one. As Abraham was promised a heavenly family, as numerous as the stars of the heavens, and also an earthly family, a numerous as the grains of sand on the seas shore, so the coming time of redemption will feature a restored earthly Jerusalem, capital city of the Planet Earth, capital city of Israel.
But there is also a great space city, a magnificent gateway city to the rest of the universe, Jerusalem Above, the mother of us all.
Are the two Jerusalems connected? Probably yes. The Temple in Jerusalem on earth may well prove to be the "gateway" for "travel" to and from the orbiting space city New Jerusalem.
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
The prophet Isaiah continues to speak of that day,
Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth. The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples. Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him." And they shall be called The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought out, a city not forsaken. (Isaiah 62:1-12)
1. Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel, Moody Press, Chicago, 1976.
2. Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth, 2802 N. Park Ave., Philadelphia, 1918.
3. Ray C. Stedman, Authentic Christianity, Discovery Publications, Palo Alto, CA.
4. Ray C. Stedman, God's Final Word: Understanding Revelation, Discovery House, Grand Rapids, 1992.
Revised June 21, 1995