Chapter 21: The New Jerusalem

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

The Bible is a Storybook, with one Story to tell. That Story, which is of Jesus Christ and His salvation of the world, is presented again and again throughout the Bible, with innumerable variations on the same basic theme. One important aspect of that Story is of God as the Warrior-King, who raises His people from death, defeats His enemies, takes for Himself the spoils of war, and builds His House. For example, there is the story of the Exodus: “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent'” (Ex. 14:13-14). Accordingly, after the successful Red Sea crossing (the baptismal resurrection of Israel and the baptismal destruction of Egypt), Moses exulted: “The LORD is a Warrior!” (Ex. 15:3). Egypt and all its wealth and glory were completely wiped out; all that was left was what the Israelites had “plundered,” of silver and gold, and articles of clothing (Ex. 3:21-22; 11:1-2; 12:35-36). Much of this was later turned over to the Lord for the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s House (Ex. 35:21-29; 36:3-8), which He entered in flaming Glory (Ex. 40:34).

The pattern is repeated many times, another well-known example being the story of David and Solomon: David acts as God’s Warrior, fighting the Lord’s battles with Him (cf. 2 Sam. 5:22-25), and his son Solomon builds the Lord’s House (2 Sam. 7:12-13); and again, the sign that God has moved in is the descent of fire (2 Chron. 7:1-3). All these were provisional victories and House-buildings, anticipations of the definitive Victory in the work of Jesus Christ.

One of the most striking announcements of the coming Warrior-King occurs in the prophecy of Ezekiel. As we have seen, the Book of Revelation is self-consciously tied to Ezekiel at many points; and the last twelve chapters of Ezekiel are especially in the background of St. John’s concluding chapters. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet sees a vision of Israel in exile, represented as a valley full of dry bones; humanly speaking, all hope is gone. But as Ezekiel preaches to the bones and intercedes for the people with the Spirit of God, the Lord performs the miracle of re-creation, raising up the people of Israel to life, bringing them out of their graves, and turning them into “an exceedingly great army.” A united Israel is restored to her Kingdom, with David again ruling as King, forever.

After this Resurrection, however, there is the War: “Gog of the land of Magog” comes with the armies of the heathen nations to make war against the restored Israel (Ezek. 38). He is destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven, his spoils are taken by the victorious Israelites, and his armies are devoured by the birds of the air and the beasts of the field (Ezek. 39). Following this scene, Ezekiel writes some of the most elaborately detailed chapters in the Bible (Ezek. 40-48), in which he describes an ideal Temple-City, a New Jerusalem in which God Himself dwells among His people and sends blessings out from His Throne to the ends of the earth.

St. John has already used the resurrection-battle-Temple theme several times in Revelation (one of the most notable examples is Chapter 11, in which the two witnesses are resurrected, the Kingdom comes, God’s wrath falls upon the nations, the destroyers are destroyed, and the Temple is opened). But Ezekiel’s specific outline is clearly in mind in Revelation 20: The saints share in the First Resurrection and reign in the Kingdom with their greater “David”; then they are attacked by Gog and Magog. The enemy is destroyed by fire from heaven – the sign that God is entering His holy Temple. All this brings us up to 21-22, St. John’s vision of the final Temple, the consummate Paradise that has become the City of God, where God dwells with His people in perfect communion. Adam’s original task has been accomplished, and its cultural implications are fully realized as the nations willingly bring their treasures into God’s House and the River of Life flows out to heal the world.

All Things New (21:1-8)

  1. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any Sea.
  2. And I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband.
  3. And I heard a loud Voice from heaven, saying: Behold, the Tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them,
  4. and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
  5. And He who sits on the throne said: Behold, I am making all things new. And He said: Write, for these words are faithful and true.
  6. And He said to me: It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the Water of Life without cost.
  7. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
  8. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and sinners and abominable and murderers and fornicators and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the Second Death.

1          St. John begins this, the last and lengthiest in the final series of visions, with the words And I saw. Although this is the seventh vision in the series, it is the eighth occurrence of the phrase kai eidon – the number 8, as we have already noted, being associated with resurrection and regeneration (e.g., Hebrew males were circumcised on the eighth day; Jesus [888), was resurrected on the eighth day, etc.). St. John uses it here in order to underscore the picture of cosmic resurrection and regeneration: He sees a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, having fled from the face of the Judge (20:11). The old world is completely replaced by the new; the word used is not neos (chronological newness) but kainos (newness in kind, of superior quality). Adam’s task of heavenizing the earth has been completed, established on an entirely new basis in the work of Christ. Earth’s original uninhabitable condition of deep-and-darkness has been utterly done away with: There is no longer any Sea or Abyss. There is heaven and earth, but no “under-the-earth,” the abode of Leviathan. What St. John reveals to us is the eschatological outcome of the comprehensive, cosmic reconciliation celebrated by St. Paul: “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:19-20).[1]

Yet this vision of the new heaven and earth is not to be interpreted as wholly future. As we shall see repeatedly throughout our study of this chapter, that which is to be absolutely and completely true in eternity is definitively and progressively true now. Our enjoyment of our eternal inheritance will be a continuation and perfection of what is true of the Church in this life. We are not simply to look forward to the blessings of Revelation 21 in an eternity to come, but to enjoy them and rejoice in them and extend them here and now. St. John was telling the early Church of present realities, of blessings that existed already and would be on the increase as the Gospel went forth and renewed the earth.

Salvation is consistently presented in the Bible as re-creation.[2] This is why creation language and symbolism are used in Scripture whenever God speaks of saving His people. We have seen how God’s deliverances of His people in the Flood and the Exodus are regarded by the Biblical writers as provisional New Creations, pointing to the definitive New Creation in the First Advent of Christ. Thus, God spoke through Isaiah of the blessings of Christ’s coming Kingdom:

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing,
And her people for gladness.
I will also rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in My people;
And there will no longer be heard in her
The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.
No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
Or an old man who does not live out his days;
For the youth will die at the age of one hundred,
And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred
Shall be thought accursed.
And they shall build houses and inhabit them;
They shall also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build, and another inhabit;
They shall not plant, and another eat;
For as the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My chosen ones shall wear out the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
Or bear children for calamity;
For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD,
And their descendants with them.
It will also come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;

And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together,
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
And dust shall be the serpent’s food.

They shall do no evil or harm in all My Holy Mountain.
(Isa. 65:17-25)

This cannot be speaking of heaven, or of a time after the end of the world; for in this “new heaven and earth” there is still death (though at a very advanced age – “the lifetime of a tree”); people are building, planting, working, and having children. Isaiah is clearly making a statement about this age, before the end of the world, showing what future generations can expect as the Gospel permeates the world, restores the earth to Paradise, and brings to fruition the goals of the Kingdom. Isaiah is describing the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 in their greatest earthly fulfillment. Thus, when St. John tells us that he saw “a new heaven and earth,” we should recognize that the primary significance of that phrase is symbolic, and has to do with the blessings of salvation.

Perhaps the definitive New Testament text on the “new heaven and earth” is 2 Peter 3:1-14. There, St. Peter reminds his readers that Christ and all the apostles had warned of accelerating apostasy toward the end of the “last days” (2 Pet. 3:2-4; cf. Jude 17-19) – which, as we have seen, was the forty-year transitional period (cf. Heb. 8:13) between Christ’s Ascension and the destruction of the Old Covenant Temple, when the nations were beginning to flow toward the Mountain of the LORD (Isa. 2:2-4; Acts 2:16-17; Heb. 1:2; James 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 2:18). As St. Peter made clear, these latter-day “mockers” would be Covenant apostates: Jews who were familiar with Old Testament history and prophecy, but who had abandoned the Covenant by rejecting Christ. Upon this evil and perverse generation would come the great “Day of Judgment” foretold in the prophets, a “destruction of ungodly men” like that suffered by the wicked of Noah’s day (2 Pet. 3:5-7; cf. the same analogy drawn in Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). Just as God had destroyed the “world” of that day by the Flood, so would He destroy the “world” of first-century Israel by fire in the fall of Jerusalem.

St. Peter describes this as the destruction of “the present heavens and earth” (2 Pet. 3:7), making way for “new heavens and a new earth” (v. 13). Because of the “collapsing-universe” terminology used in this passage, many have mistakenly assumed that St. Peter is speaking of the final end of the physical heaven and earth, rather than the dissolution of the Old Covenant world order. The great seventeenth-century Puritan theologian John Owen answered this view by referring to the Bible’s metaphorical usage of heavens and earth, as in Isaiah’s description of the Mosaic Covenant:

But I am the LORD thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is His name.

And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people. (Isa. 51:15-16)

Owen writes: “The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God, was when he ‘divided the sea’ (v. 15), and gave the law (v. 16), and said to Zion, ‘Thou art my people’ – that is, when he took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state. Then he planted the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth-made the new world; that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty, from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth in the world.”[3]

Another such text, among many that could be mentioned, is Jeremiah 4:23-31, which speaks of the imminent fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.) in similar language of decreation: “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. … For thus says the LORD, the whole land shall be a desolation [cf. Matt. 24:15], yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark….” God’s Covenant with Israel had been expressed from the very beginning in terms of a new creation; thus the Old Covenant order, in which the entire world was organized around the central sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple, could quite appropriately be described, before its final dissolution, as “the present heavens and earth.”

Owen continues: “And hence it is, that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language that seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isaiah 34:4; which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. The like is also affirmed of the Roman empire, Revelation 6:14; which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24, he sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident then, that, in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by ‘heavens’ and ‘earth,’ the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, are often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which was then destroyed by the flood.

“On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state.”[4]

This interpretation is confirmed by St. Peter’s further information: In this imminent “Day of the Lord” which is about to come upon the first-century world “like a thief” (cf. Matt. 24:42-43; 1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 3:3), “the elements will be destroyed with intense heat” (v. 10; cf. v. 12). What are these elements? So-called “literalists” will have it that the apostle is speaking about physics, referring the term to atoms (or perhaps subatomic particles), the actual physical components of the universe. What these “literalists” fail to recognize is that although the word elements is used several times in the New Testament, it is never used in connection with the physical universe! The term is always used in connection with the Old Covenant order (see Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20). The writer to the Hebrews chided them: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elements of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb. 5:12). In context, the writer is clearly speaking of Old Covenant truths-particularly since he connects it with the term oracles of God, an expression generally used for the provisional, Old Covenant revelation (see Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2). St. Peter’s message, Owen argues, is that “the heavens and earth that God himself planted – the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church – the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinacy against the Lord Christ – shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed.”[5] Thus “the Land and its works will be burned up” (v. 10).

Owen offers two further reasons (“of many that might be insisted on from the text”) for adopting the A.D. 70 interpretation of 2 Peter 3. First, he observes, “whatever is here mentioned was to have its particular influence on the men of that generation.” St. Peter is especially concerned that the first-century believers remember the apostolic warnings about “the last days” (v. 2-3); Jewish scoffers, clearly familiar with the Biblical prophecies of judgment, refuse to heed the warnings (v. 3-5); St. Peter’s readers are exhorted to live holy lives in the light of this imminent judgment (v. 11, 14); and it is these early Christians who are repeatedly mentioned as actively “looking for and hastening” the judgment (v. 12, 13, 14). It is precisely the nearness of the approaching conflagration that St. Peter cites as a motive to diligence in godly living.

Second, Owen cites 2 Peter 3:13: “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Owen asks: “What is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isaiah 65:17. Now, when shall this be that God will create these ‘new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’? Saith Peter, ‘It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the Gospel, that I foretell.’ But now it is evident, from this place of Isaiah, with chapter 66:21-22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances, to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed in Hebrews 12:26-28.”[6]

Owen is right on target, asking the question that so many expositors fail to ask: Where had God promised to bring “new heavens and a new earth”? The answer, as Owen correctly states, is in Isaiah 65 and 66 – passages which clearly prophesy the period of the Gospel, brought in by the work of Christ. According to Isaiah, this New Creation cannot be the eternal state, since it contains birth and death, building and planting (65:20-23). The “new heavens and earth” promised to the Church comprise the age of the Gospel’s triumph, when all mankind will come to bow down before the Lord (66:22-23). St. Peter’s encouragement to the Church of his day was to be patient, to wait for God’s judgment to destroy those who are persecuting the faith and impeding its progress. Once the Lord comes to destroy the scaffolding of the Old Covenant structure, the New Covenant Temple will be left in its place, and the victorious march of the Church will be unstoppable. The world will be converted; the earth’s treasures will be brought into the City of God, as the Paradise Mandate (Gen. 1:27-28; Matt. 28:18-20) is consummated (Rev. 21:24-27).

This is why the apostles constantly affirmed that the age of consummation had already been implemented by the resurrection and ascension of Christ, who poured out the Holy Spirit. Once the old order had been swept away, St. Peter declared, the Age of Christ would be fully established, an era “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). The distinguishing characteristic of the new age, in stark contrast to what preceded it, would be righteousness – increasing righteousness, as the Gospel would be set free in its mission to the nations. Norman Shepherd shows how this is foreshadowed in the provisional new creation after the Flood: “Just as Noah sets foot with his family after the first household baptism (1 Peter 3:20f.) on a new earth in which once again righteousness dwells, so also Christ by his baptism – his death and resurrection – introduces his children by their baptism into him, to a new existence in which they can begin to see and participate in a new earth characterized by righteousness and holiness. In the power of the Spirit they cultivate the earth for the glory of God.”[7]

It is certainly true that righteousness does not dwell in the earth in an absolute sense; nor will this world ever be absolutely righteous, until the final enemy is defeated at the Second Coming of Christ. The war between Christ and Satan for dominion over the earth is not over yet. There have been many battles throughout the history of the Church, and many battles lie ahead. But these must not blind us to the very real progress that the Gospel has made and continues to make in the world. The war has been won definitively; the New World Order of the Lord Jesus Christ has arrived; and, according to God’s promise, the saving knowledge of Him will yet fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea.

Moreover, the phrase heaven and earth in these contexts does not, as Owen pointed out, refer to the physical heaven and the physical world, but to the world-order, the religious organization of the world, the “House” or Temple God builds in which He is worshiped. The consistent message of the New Testament is that the House of the New Covenant, over which Jesus presides as Apostle and High Priest, is infinitely superior to the House of the Old Covenant, presided over by Moses (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:1-6). In fact, as the writer to the Hebrews insists, “the world to come” has come; it is the present salvation, brought in by the Son of God in the Last Days (Heb. 1:1-2:5). In this specific sense, righteousness does dwell in “heaven and earth.”

2          St. John next sees, as the central aspect of this New Creation, the Holy City, New Jerusalem. Again we must remember that Jesus Christ has accomplished one salvation, one New Creation, with definitive, progressive, and consummative aspects. The final reality of the eschatological New Creation is also the present reality of the definitive-progressive New Creation. No aspect of this salvation should be emphasized to the exclusion or undue minimization of the others. The New Testament teaches that, with Old Jerusalem about to be excommunicated and executed for her violation of the covenant, Christians have become citizens and heirs of the New Jerusalem, the City whose origin is in heaven, which comes down out of heaven from God (3:12; cf. Gal. 4:22-31; Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 11:10, 16; 12:22-23). The New Testament then goes on to say: All this, and heaven too! (cf. Phil. 3:21); the New Creation is not only a state established definitively by Christ, and progressively unfolding now; someday it will be established finally, in consummate, absolute perfection![8]

The City is made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband. The Bride is not just in the City; the Bride is the City (cf. v. 9-10). St. John’s clear identification of the City as the Bride of Christ serves as another demonstration that the City of God is a present as well as future reality. The “Bride” of the weekly eucharistic Wedding Feast (19:7-9) is the “beloved City” of the Kingdom of Christ (cf. 20:9). We are in the New Jerusalem now, as the Bible categorically tells us: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal assembly, and to the Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven….” (Heb. 12:22-23).

3          If we are citizens of heaven, as St. Paul declared (Eph. 2:19), it is also true that heaven dwells within us (Eph. 2:20-22). Indeed, the Word Himself has tabernacled among us (John 1:14); He and His Father have made Their abode with us (John 14:23); and thus we are the Temple of the Living God (2 Cor. 6:16). Accordingly, St. John’s vision of the Holy City is followed by a loud Voice from heaven, saying: Behold, the Tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them. Again, this is a repetition of what we have already learned in this prophecy (3:12; 7:15-17). In the New Testament Church the promise of the Law and the prophets is realized: “I will make My Tabernacle among you, and My soul will not reject you; I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people” (Lev. 26:11-12); “And I will make a Covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting Covenant with them. And I will establish them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever” (Ezek. 37:26-28).

As verse 9 makes explicit, this passage is the conclusion of the Chalices-section of the prophecy. At its beginning, St. John saw the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle filling with smoke, so that no one was able to enter it (15:5-8), and then he heard “a loud Voice” from the Sanctuary order the seven angels to pour out their Chalices of wrath into the Land (16:1). At the outpouring of the seventh Chalice “a loud Voice” again issued from the Sanctuary, saying: “It is done!” – producing a great earthquake, in which the cities fell and every mountain and island “fled away” as the vision turned to focus on the destruction of Babylon, the False Bride (16:17-21). Now, toward the close of the Chalices-section, earth and heaven have “fled away” (20:11; 21:1), and again St. John hears a loud Voice from heaven, announcing that access to the Sanctuary has been provided to the greatest possible degree, for the Tabernacle of God is among men. Soon, that same Voice will again announce: “It is done” (v. 6), as the vision turns our attention to the establishment of the True Bride, New Jerusalem.

4-5      The Voice St. John heard continues: And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain. We can look forward to the absolute and perfect fulfillment of this promise at the Last Day, when the last enemy is destroyed. But, in principle, it is true already. Jesus said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). God has wiped away our tears, for we are partakers of His First Resurrection. One striking evidence of this is the obvious difference between Christian and pagan funerals: We grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). God has taken away the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:55-58).

All these blessings have come because the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the Throne said: Behold, I am making all things new. Here is another connection to the teaching of St. Paul: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a New Creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Again, of course, we are confronted with the fact that this is true now, as well as on the Last Day. The only essential difference between the subjects of 2 Corinthians 5 and Revelation 21 is that St. Paul is speaking of the redeemed individual, while St. John is speaking of the redeemed community. Both the individual and the community are recreated, renewed, and restored to Paradise in salvation, and this cosmic restoration has already begun. St. John sees that what has begun in seemingly (to the eyes of the first century) isolated instances is really the wave of the future. The New Creation will fill the earth; the whole creation will be renewed. This is true definitively, it will be absolutely true eschatologically – and it gives us the pattern for our work in between, for it is also to be worked out progressively. The New Creation must be unfolded, its every implication understood and applied, by the royal priesthood in this age.

The great Church Historian Philip Schaff understood this: “To the Lord and his kingdom belongs the whole world, with all that lives and moves in it. All is yours, says the apostle [1 Cor. 3:22]. Religion is not a single, separate sphere of human life, but the divine principle by which the entire man is to be pervaded, refined, and made complete. It takes hold of him in his undivided totality, in the center of his personal being; to carry light into his understanding, holiness into his will, and heaven into his heart; and to shed thus the sacred consecration of the new birth, and the glorious liberty of the children of God, over his whole inward and outward life. No form of existence can withstand the renovating power of God’s Spirit. There is no rational element that may not be sanctified; no sphere of natural life that may not be glorified. The creature, in the widest extent of the word, is earnestly waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God, and sighing after the same glorious deliverance. The whole creation aims toward redemption; and Christ is the second Adam, the new universal man, not simply in a religious but also in an absolute sense. The view entertained by Romish monasticism and Protestant pietism, by which Christianity is made to consist in an abstract opposition to the natural life, or in flight from the world, is quite contrary to the spirit and power of the Gospel, as well as false to its design. Christianity is the redemption and renovation of the world. It must make all things new.”[9]

6          And He said to me: It is done! This is the flip side of the declaration of Babylon’s destruction (16:17), both texts serving as echoes of His cry on the Cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). By His redemption, Christ has won the everlasting defeat of His enemies and the eternal blessing of His people.

The One who sits on the Throne names Himself (as in 1:8) the Alpha and the Omega (in English, “the A and the Z”), meaning the Beginning and the End, the Source, Goal, and Meaning of all things, the One who guarantees that the promises will be fulfilled. This is said here in order to confirm what is to follow, in Christ’s promise of the Eucharist.

We noted above that our Lord’s final announcement from the Cross from St. John’s Gospel (“It is finished!”) is echoed here; but there is more. For after Jesus made that proclamation He gave up the ghost; and when the Roman soldiers came and saw that he had died, “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). St. John Chrysostom commented: “Not without a purpose, or by chance, did these founts come forth, but because the Church was formed out of them both: The initiated are reborn by water, and are nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Here is the origin of the Sacraments; that when you approach that awful cup, you may so approach as if drinking from the very side.”[10] For this reason the Lord says: I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the Water of Life without cost. “Without cost,” that is, to us; because the fountain of Life springs forth from His own flesh. Our redemption was purchased, “not with perishable things like silver or gold… but with precious blood, as of a Lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The water feeds us freely, springing up within us and then flowing out from us to give Life to the whole world (John 4:14; 7:37-39).

7          The theme of the Seven Letters is repeated in the promise to the overcomer, the victorious Christian conqueror: He who overcomes shall inherit these things. This prophecy has never lost sight of its character as a practical, ethical message to the churches (rather than a bare “prediction” of coming events). We must also note that the inheritance of all these blessings is exclusively the right of the overcomer. As we have already seen, St. John does not allow for the existence of a defeatist Christianity. There is only one kind of Christian: the conqueror. The child of God is characterized by victory against all opposition, against the world itself (1 John 5:4).

Further, God assures the overcomer of His faithfulness to His covenantal promise of salvation: I will be his God and he shall be My son (cf. Gen. 17:7-8; 2 Cor. 6:16-18). The highest and fullest enjoyment of communion with God will take place in heaven for eternity. But, definitively and progressively, it is true now. We are already living in the new heaven and the new earth; we are citizens of the New Jerusalem. The old things have passed away, and all things have become new.

8          Any possibility of a universalistic interpretation is denied by this grim verse. God Himself gives nine[11] descriptions of the finally impenitent and unredeemed – a summary accounting of His enemies, the Dragon’s followers – who “shall not inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9; cf. Gal. 5:21), but whose part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the Second Death. Those condemned to final perdition are the cowardly, in contrast to the godly conquerors; unbelieving, in contrast to those who have not denied the faith (cf. 2:13, 19; 13:10; 14:12); sinners, in contrast to the saints (cf. 5:8; 8:3-4; 11:18; 13:7, 10; 14:12; 18:20; 19:8); abominable (cf. 17:4-5; 21:27; Matt. 24:15); murderers (cf. 13:15; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24); fornicators (cf. 2:14, 20-22; 9:21; 14:8; 17:2, 4-5; 18:3; 19:2); sorcerers (pharmakoi), a word meaning “poisonous magicians or abortionists” (cf. 9:21; 18:23; 22:15);[12] idolaters (cf. 2:14, 20; 9:20; 13:4, 12-15); and all liars (cf. 2:2; 3:9; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10; 21:27; 22:15). As Sweet points out, “the list belongs, like similar lists in the epistles, to the context of baptism, the putting off of the ‘old man’ and putting on of the new” (cr. Gal. 5:19-26; Eph. 4:17-5:7; Col. 3:5-10; Tit. 3:3-8).[13]

The New Jerusalem (21:9-27)

  1. And one of the seven angels who had the Seven Chalices full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying: Come here, I will show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.
  2. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high Mountain, and showed me the holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,
  3. having the glory of God. Her luminary was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.
  4. She had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.
  5. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west.
  6. And the wall of the City had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
  7. And the one who spoke with me had a measure, a gold reed to measure the City, and its gates and wall.
  8. And the City is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the City with the reed, twelve thousand stadia; its length and width and height are equal.
  9. And he measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.
  10. And the material of the wall was jasper; and the City was pure gold, like clear glass.
  11. The foundation stones of the City were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald;
  12. the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.
  13. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the City was pure gold, like transparent glass.
  14. And I saw no Sanctuary in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its Sanctuary.
  15. And the City has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
  16. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.
  17. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed;
  18. and they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it;
  19. and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose 
names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

9          This verse ties the final section of Revelation together, establishing the literary relationship of chapters 15-22. It is one of the seven angels who had the Seven Chalices who reveals to St. John the New Jerusalem, just as one of the same seven angels had shown him the vision of Babylon (17:1); and here the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb, is contrasted to the Harlot, the unfaithful wife.

10-11 St. John is carried away in the Spirit (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3) to a great and high Mountain, a deliberate contrast to the wilderness where he saw the Harlot (17:3). We have seen (on 14:1) that the image of the Mountain speaks of Paradise, which was located on a high plateau from whence the water of life flowed out to the whole world (cf. 22:1-2). The apostle sees the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. The picture is not, of course, intended to evoke images of space stations, or of cities literally floating in the air; rather, it indicates the divine origin of “the City which has foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

During Judah’s apostasy, the prophet Ezekiel saw the Glory-Cloud depart from the Temple and travel east, to the Mount of Olives (Ezek. 10:18-19; 11:22-23); later, in his vision of the New Jerusalem, he sees the Glory-Cloud returning to dwell in the new Temple, the Church (Ezek. 43:1-5). This was fulfilled when Christ, the incarnate Glory of God, ascended to His Father in the Cloud from the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50-51), thereupon sending His Spirit to fill the Church at Pentecost. There was probably a later image of this transfer of God’s Glory to the Church when on Pentecost of A.D. 66, as the priests in the Temple were going about their duties, there was heard “a violent commotion and din” followed by “a voice as of a host crying, ‘We are departing hence!’ “[14] Ernest Martin comments: “This departure of the Deity from the Temple at Pentecost of A.D. 66 was exactly 36 years (to the very day) after the Holy Spirit was first given in power to the apostles and the others at the first Christian Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. And now, on the same Pentecost day, the witness was given that God himself was abandoning the Temple at Jerusalem. This meant that the Temple was no longer a holy sanctuary and that the building was no more sacred than any other secular building. Remarkably, even Jewish records show that the Jews had come to recognize that the Shekinah glory of God left the Temple at this time and remained over the Mount of Olives for 3½ years. During this period a voice was heard to come from the region of the Mount of Olives asking the Jews to repent of their doings (Midrash Lam. 2:11). This has an interesting bearing on the history of Christianity because we now know that Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected from the dead on the Mount of Olives[15] – the exact region the Jewish records say the Shekinah glory of God remained for the 3½ years after its departure from the Temple on Pentecost, A.D. 66…. The Jewish reference states that the Jews failed to heed this warning from the Shekinah glory (which they called a Bet Kol – the voice of God), and that it left the earth and retreated back to heaven just before the final siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.

“…From Pentecost A.D. 66, no thinking person among the Christians, who respected these obvious miraculous signs associated with the Temple, could believe that the structure was any longer a holy sanctuary of God. Josephus himself summed up the conviction of many people who came to believe that God ‘had turned away even from his sanctuary’ (War, II.539), that the Temple was ‘no more the dwelling place of God’ (War, V.19), because ‘the Deity has fled from the holy places’ (War, V.412).”[16]

Writing while these events are still uppermost in the minds of the Jews, St. John declares that the Shekinah, the Glory of God, now rests on the true Holy Temple/City, the consummate Paradise – the Bride of Christ.

The New Jerusalem is further described as possessing a luminary (phōstēr) – literally, a star or light-bearer (cf. Gen. 1:14, 16 [LXX], where it is used with reference to the sun, moon, and stars); St. Paul uses the same term when he says that Christians “shine as luminaries in the world” (Phil. 2:15; cf. Dan. 12:3). This parallels the sun with which the Woman is clothed in 12:1 – except that now the Bride’s luminary, brighter than even the sun, shines with the Glory of God Himself: like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper, in the image of Him who was “like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance” (4:2-3). C. S. Lewis wrote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”[17]

12-14 The Woman of 12:1, in addition to her glorious clothing, wore a crown of twelve stars; this is now to be replaced with another twelve-starred crown – this time a “crown” of jewelled walls. But inasmuch as the Bride’s clothing also corresponds to that of the enthroned Glory of 4:3, St. John is careful to make her “crown” correspond to the circle of twelve in that passage as well. There, the Throne was ringed about with two twelves, the twenty-four enthroned elders. So here, the Bride-City is crowned with a double twelve: the patriarchs and the apostles. “The transition from a crown on the lady’s brows to a ring of city walls was mere routine for St. John’s contemporaries; the standing emblem for a city was the figure of a lady with a battlemented crown.”[18]

It is implied in Ezekiel’s vision that the City has a great and high wall, for “the gates about which the prophet speaks [Ezek. 48: 31-34] are the gatehouses, porches or gate towers which constitute a city wall”;[19] this is made explicit in St. John’s account. The twelve gates of the City are guarded by twelve angels (cf. the cherubim who guarded Eden’s gate in Gen. 3:24), and are inscribed with the names… of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, another feature in common with Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 48:31-34). Sweet comments: “The twelve portals of the Zodiac in the city of the heavens are brought under the control of the Bible: Israel is the nucleus of the divine society.”[20]

The City has three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. We saw in the discussion of 7:5-8 that the twelve tribes of Israel are listed by St. John (and before him, by Ezekiel) in such a way as to “balance” the sons of Leah and Rachel. The order in which the gates are listed (east, north, south, west) corresponds to this tribal list – which we would naturally expect, since St. John mentions the gates, with their unusual order, immediately after mentioning the twelve tribes. In other words, he intends for us to use the information in this verse in order to go back and solve the riddle of 7:5-8 (see the charts on pp. 210-11).

There is another intriguing point about this verse: St. John tells us that the gates are, literally, from the east, from the north, from the south, and from the west – giving, as Sweet suggests, “the picture of many coming from the four points of the compass (Isa. 49:12; Luke 13:29).”[21] As St. John later shows, the nations will walk by the City’s light, the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into her, and her gates will always be open to them (v. 24-26).

St. John extends his imagery: The wall of the City had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This, of course, is straight Pauline theology: “So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy Temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22). It should be needless to say also that both St. Paul’s and St. John’s concept of the City of God, the Church, is that it comprehends both Old and New Covenant believers within its walls. As the historic Church has always recognized, there is only one way of salvation, one Covenant of Grace; the fact that it has operated under various administrations does not affect the essential unity of the one people of God through the ages.

15-17 And the one who spoke with me – one of the seven Chalice-angels (v.9) – had a measure, a gold reed to measure the City, and its gates and wall. The Sanctuary had been measured earlier, as an indication of its sanctity and protection (11:1-2); now the City itself is to be measured, for the entire City itself is the Temple. To demonstrate this, St. John tells us that the City is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width: It is perfectly foursquare. And he measured the City with the reed… ; its length and width and height are equal. Like the Holy of Holies – the divine model for all culture – the City is a perfect cube (cf. 1 Kings 6:20): New Jerusalem is itself a cosmic Holy of Holies. At the same time, however, we should note another dimension of this imagery. The combination of a square with a mountain (v. 10) indicates the idea of a pyramid, the “cosmic mountain” which appears in ancient cultures throughout the world. The original Paradise was the first “pyramid,” a Garden – Temple-City on top of a mountain; and when the prophets speak of the salvation and renovation of the earth it is almost always in terms of this imagery (Isa. 2:2-4; 25:6-9; 51:3; Ezek. 36:33-36; Dan. 2:34-35, 44-45; Mic. 4:1-4).

Each side of the City – length, breadth, and height – measures twelve thousand stadia; the City wall is one hundred forty-four cubits. The absurdity of “literalism” is embarrassingly evident when it attempts to deal with these measurements. The numbers are obviously symbolic, the multiples of twelve being a reference to the majesty, vastness, and perfection of the Church. But the “literalist” feels compelled to translate those numbers into modern measurements, resulting in a wall 1,500 miles long and 216 feet (or 72 yards) high.[22] St. John’s clear symbols are erased, and the unfortunate Bible reader is left with just a jumble of meaningless numbers (what in the world does “216 feet” signify?). Ironically, the “literalist” finds himself in the ridiculous position of deleting the literal numbers of God’s Word and replacing them with meaningless symbols!

St. John makes the seemingly casual, offhand, and intriguing remark that these human measurements (stadia and cubits) are also angelic measurements. But this is not as mysterious as it appears at first. St. John is simply making explicit what has been assumed throughout his prophecy: that there are divinely ordained correspondences between angels and men. The angelic activity seen in the Revelation is a pattern for our own activity; as we see God’s will being done in heaven, we are to image that activity on earth. Heaven is the pattern for earth, the Temple is the pattern for the City, the angel is the model for man. Just as the Spirit hovered over the original creation, fashioning it into the image of the heavens, so our task is to “heavenize” the world, bringing God’s blueprint to its most complete realization.

18-21 The City is now described in terms of jewelry, as the perfect consummation of the original Edenic pattern (cf. Gen. 2:10-12; Ezek. 28:13):[23] The material of the wall was jasper, an image of God Himself (4:3; 21:11); and the City was pure gold, like clear glass (gold is an image of the Glory of God, and was therefore used in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and on the garments of the priests; and the gold associated with Paradise is said to be “good,” i.e. pure, unmixed: Gen. 2:12). The twelve foundation stones of the City were adorned with every kind of precious stone, like the High Priest’s breastplate, which has four rows of three gems each, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex. 28:15-20; The Bride has become adorned for her Husband (v. 2). The expression precious (or costly) stones is used in 1 Kings 5:17 for the foundation stones of Solomon’s Temple; now, in the eschatological City-Temple, they are truly “precious stones,” in every sense.

The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. There have been several attempts to discover St. John’s rationale for listing the stones in this order, the most well-known being R. H. Charles’ suggestion that the jewels are connected to the signs of the Zodiac, and that “the signs or constellations are given in a certain order, and that exactly the reverse order of the actual path of the sun through the signs.” This demonstrates, he says, that St. John “regards the Holy City which he describes as having nothing to do with the ethnic speculations of his own and past ages regarding the city of the gods.”[24] Charles has been followed on this point by several commentators,[25] but later research has disproved this theory.[26] Sweet points out that “Philo (Special Laws I.87) and Josephus (Ant. III.186) link the jewels with the Zodiac, but only as part of the cosmic symbolism which they claim for the high priest’s vestments; cf. Wisd. 18:24. John’s aim is similar. Any direct astrological reference is destroyed by his linking them not with the twelve gates of the heavenly city but with the foundations.”[27]

The most sensible explanation for the order of the stones comes, as we would expect, from Austin Farrer. He shows that the stones are laid out in four rows of three gems in each row, as on the high priest’s breastplate: “St. John does not adhere either to the order or to the names of the stones in the LXX Greek of Exodus, and any query we may raise about translations of the Hebrew names which he might have preferred to those offered by the LXX can only land us in an abyss of uncertainty. It is reasonable to suppose that he did not trouble to do more than give a euphonious list in some general correspondence with the Exodus catalogue. He has so arranged the Greek names, as to emphasize the division by threes. All but three of them end with s sounds, and the three exceptions with n sounds. He has placed the n endings at the points of division, thus:

Jaspis, sapphiros, chalcedon;
smaragdos, sardonyx, sardion;
chrysolithos, beryIlos, topazion;
chrysoprasos, hyacinthos, amethystos.

“Why should he trouble to do more? If he had made a list perfectly worked out, what could it have done but answer exactly to the list of tribes which he has already arranged for us in [Chapter] 7? And how would our wisdom be increased by that? St. John wishes to give body to his vision by listing the tribes; but he has already listed the tribes. So he lists stones which (as we know from Exodus) are to be deemed equivalent to the tribes. He makes two points: first, that the names of the apostles can be substituted for those of the tribes – and, after all, the new mystical twelvefold Israel is more truly to be described as companies gathered round the Apostles, than as the actual descendants of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and the rest. Second, he puts the jasper up to be head of the list and so, no doubt, to stand for Judah and its apostle (cf. 7:5). And jasper is both the general stuff of the walls above, and the colour of the divine glory. The meaning of the allegory is plain. Messiah is the chief corner-stone; it is by being founded on him that the whole city, or Church, acquires the substance and colour of the divine glory.”[28]

Instead of being aligned with the signs of the Zodiac and their twelve portals, the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. Obviously, these gates are decorative and ornamental only, not designed to withstand attack; but since the City is to comprehend the whole world, there is no danger of attack anyway. Emphasizing the tremendous wealth and glory of the New Jerusalem, St. John tells us that the street of the City was pure gold, like transparent glass. We may note here that the value which men have always placed on gold and precious stones derives from the prior value which God has imputed to it. God has built into us a desire for gems, but His Word makes it clear that wealth is to be gained as a by-product of the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). The Harlot was adorned with jewels, and she perished with them; the Bride is adorned with jewels because of her union with the Bridegroom. It is God who gives the power to get wealth, for His glory (Deut. 8:18); when we turn our God-given wealth into an idol, he takes it away from us and stores it up for the righteous, who use it for God’s Kingdom and are generous to the poor (Job 27:16-17; Prov. 13:22; 28:8; Eccl. 2:26).

Eight centuries before St. John wrote, the prophet Isaiah described the coming salvation in terms of a City adorned with jewels:

O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
Behold, I will set your stones in fair colors,
And your foundations I will lay in sapphires.
Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies,
And your gates of sparkling jewels,

And your entire wall of precious stones. (Isa. 54:11-12)

It is interesting that the word translated fair colors is, in Hebrew, eye shadow (cf. 2 Kings 9:30; Jer. 4:30); again, the wall of the City of God is merely decorative: built with jewels, with cosmetics for “mortar.” The point is that the Builder is fabulously wealthy, and supremely confident against attack. This, Isaiah says, is the future of the Church, the City of God. She will be rich and secure from enemies, as the rest of the passage explains:

And all your sons will be taught of the LORD;
And the well-being of your sons will be great.
In righteousness you will be established;
You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear;
And from terror, for it will not come near you….
No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,

And their vindication is from Me, declares the LORD.
(Isa. 54:13-17)

22-23 The whole City is the Temple, as we have seen – but there is no Sanctuary in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its Sanctuary. This is really another way of stating the blessings described earlier: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the Sanctuary of My god, and he will not go out from it anymore” (3:12); “For this reason, they are before the Throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His Sanctuary; and He who sits on the Throne shall spread His Tabernacle over them” (7:15). “Their city of residence is their temple; it contains within it no temple whose walls or doors intervene between them and the God they adore. God is temple to the city, and the city is temple to God.”[29]

Indwelt by God in the Glory-Cloud, the City shines with the original, uncreated Light of the Spirit. Thus the City has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the Glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb, as Isaiah had foretold:

Arise, shine; for your Light has come,
And the Glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth,
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you,
And His Glory will appear upon you.
And nations will come to your Light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising. . . .
No longer will you have the sun for light by day,
Nor for brightness will the moon give you light;
But you will have the LORD for an everlasting Light,
And the days of your mourning will be finished.
Then all your peoples will be righteous;
They will possess the land forever,

The branch of His planting,
The work of My hands,
That I may be glorified. (Isa. 60:1-3, 19-21)

24-27 In the same passage, Isaiah prophesies that the nations of the earth will flow into the City of God, bringing all the wealth of their cultures:

The wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
To you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land,

Young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
Bearing gold and incense
And proclaiming the praise of the LORD….
Surely the islands look to me;

In the lead are the ships of Tarshish,
Bringing your sons from afar,
With their silver and gold,
To the honor of the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel,

For He has endowed you with splendor….
Your gates will always stand open,
They will never be shut, day or night,
So that men may bring you the wealth of the nations.
(Isa. 60:5-6, 9, 11)

St. John applies this prophecy to the New Jerusalem: The nations shall walk by its Light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed; and they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This is what Jesus commanded His Church to be: the City on the Hill (Matt. 5:14-16), the light of the world, shining before men so that they will glorify God the Father. Obviously, the New Jerusalem cannot be seen simply in terms of the eternal future, after the final judgment. In St. John’s vision the nations still exist as nations; yet the nations are all converted, flowing into the City and bringing their treasures into it. Of course, “the other side to the fact that the Gentiles bring in their honour and glory, is that they do not bring in their abominations…. The access of the Gentiles here is in strong contrast with their access in 11:2. The mere presence of unregenerate heathen in the outer court spelled the ruin of Old Jerusalem; the New admits them sanctified, to her undivided precinct.”[30]

In another striking prophecy of the Gospel’s effect on the world, Isaiah wrote:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Behold, I will lift up My hand to the nations,
And set up My standard to the peoples;
And they will bring your sons in their bosom,
And your daughters will be carried on their shoulders.
And kings will be your guardians,
And their princesses your nurses.
They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth,
And lick the dust of your feet;
And you will know that I am the LORD;
Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.
(Isa. 49:22-23).

William Symington commented: “The prophecy refers to New Testament times, when the Gentiles are to be gathered unto the Redeemer. A prominent feature of these times shall be the subserviency of civil rulers to the Church, which surely supposes their subjection to Christ her Head. Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers is a similitude which imports the most tender care, the most enduring solicitude; not mere protection, but active and unwearied nourishment and support. If, according to the opinions of some, the best thing the state can do for the Church is to let her alone, to leave her to herself, to take no interest in her concerns, it is difficult to see how this view can be reconciled with the figure of a nurse, the duties of whose office would certainly be ill discharged by such a treatment of her feeble charge.”[31]

As the Light of the Gospel shines through the Church to the world, the world is converted, the nations are discipled, and the wealth of the sinners becomes inherited by the just. This is a basic promise of Scripture from beginning to end; it is the pattern of history, the direction in which the world is moving. This is our future, the heritage of generations to come. The gift of His Holy Spirit guarantees the fulfillment of His promise: not that He will make new things, but that He will make all things new.[32]

[1] See John Murray, “The Reconciliation,” The Westminster Theological Journal, XXIX (1966) I, pp. 1-23; Collected Writings, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976-82), Vol. 4, pp. 92-112.

[2] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 23-26.

[3] John Owen, Works, 16 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965-68), Vol. 9, p. 134.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p.135.

[6] Ibid., pp. 134f.

[7] Norman Shepherd, “The Resurrections of Revelation 20,” The Westminster Theological Journal, XXXVII (Fall 1974) 1, p. 40.

[8] Unfortunately, the almost exclusively futuristic interpretation of such passages in the recent past – and the accompanying neoplatonic outlook, as if to say that it is useless and even sinful to work for the “heavenization” of this world – has meant that a proper emphasis on the present reality of the Kingdom appears to reverse the movement of the New Testament. Where the Bible says: “Not in this age only, but also in the age to come,” our zeal to recover the Biblical perspective sometimes leads us to say: “Not in the age to come only, but also in this age.” The danger in this, obviously, is that it can produce contempt for a truly Biblical eschatology.

[9] Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, trans. John Nevin (Philadelphia: United Church Press, [1845] 1964), p. 173.

[10] St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John, lxxxv.

[11] Nine, that is, if the “Majority Text” reading of and sinners be accepted; both the Textus Receptus and the so-called “critical text” (Nestle, etc.) omit these words, leaving eight descriptions. According to some students of symbolism, the number 9 is associated with judgment in the Bible, but the evidence for this seems slim and arbitrary; see E. W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, [1894] 1967), pp. 235-42.

[12] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1975), p. 345. On the use of pharmakeia and its cognates with reference to abortion in both pagan and Christian writings, see Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian. Jewish, and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 48.

[13] J. P. M. Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1979), p.300.

[14] Josephus, The Jewish War, vi.v.3. On this and other events of A.D. 66, see above, pp. 252-55.

[15] See Ernest L. Martin, The Place of Christ’s Crucifixion: Its Discovery and Significance (Pasadena, CA: Foundation for Biblical Research, 1984).

[16] Ernest L. Martin, The Original Bible Restored (Pasadena, CA: Foundation for Biblical Research, 1984), pp. 157f.

[17] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1949; revised ed., 1980), pp. 18f.

[18] Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 215.

[19] Ford, p. 341.

[20] Sweet, p. 304.

[21] Ibid.

[22] See, e.g., the New American Standard Bible.

[23] See Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 32-36.

[24] R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pp. 167f. Italics his.

[25] See, e.g., G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), pp. 274-78; Rousas John Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, [1970] 1978), pp. 221f.

[26] See T. F. Glasson, “The Order of Jewels in Rev. xxi. 19-20: A Theory Eliminated,” Journal of Theological Studies 26 (1975), pp. 95-100.

[27] Sweet, p. 306.

[28] Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, p. 219. Fifteen years earlier, Farrer’s views on the subject were much more elaborate, as evidenced by his chapter on the order of the jewels in A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John’s Apocalypse (London: Dacre Press, 1949), pp. 216-44.

[29] Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, p. 221.

[30] Ibid.

[31] William Symington, Messiah the Prince: or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ (Philadelphia: The Christian Statesman Publishing Co., [1839] 1884), pp. 199f.

[32] See Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), p. 123.